The Octogenarian

0D4D394B-62E0-4898-841E-E6551CB47204.jpegWriting a blog for someone works nicely as a substitute for a birthday card. Have you noticed the price of greeting cards? My jaw drops when I flip one over to find it marked near or even more than five dollars. I can buy myself a pumpkin spice latte with that same amount.  But coffee and my habits and treating myself to things, these are not the points of this installment. My dear old dad is the point. You see, he is The Octogenarian of whom I speak. Robert, usually “Bob.”

He is celebrating his 81st birthday on Monday. So, he has now had a full year of experience in his 80s. Last year when he turned this milestone age, he explained to my oldest daughter (his oldest of three granddaughters) and me (his middle child) that, as a child himself, he never expected to live beyond his 60s. In 1948, when he was ten years old – the current age of my youngest daughter and his middle granddaughter – life expectancy for a man was only 64.6. Today, it’s much closer to 80.

Back in 1996, when my dad was a youthful 58 years old, he had quite the scare with a heart attack. This was deeply concerning to all of us because his own father, also Robert {“Harold”),  had passed away from a heart attack far too young, before any of Bob’s three children had been born.  Fortunately, my dad’s own heart condition did not require major surgery or bypasses, but could be treated with stents that worked quite well for decades. That is, until late this summer, when a new cardiologist discovered one valve 100% blocked again and another near that. And, thank heaven, they could go in and place new stents before a cardiac event took place.

But there were complications during his recovery, caused by his meds, and he was in and out of the hospital and medical care for two weeks. Stressful.

Fast forward one month, and I’m on a plane to Omaha, my birthplace, my hometown until I was 10, and the city  where my dad and stepmom have lived together for nearly 50 years. There I will see both of them (“Du and Mu”); my brother from Arizona, also Robert (“Rob”), my sister from Arlington, Laura (“Lu”); her husband, Scott (“Scoot”); and my 2 1/2 year-old niece, Julianne (“Jay”), who is the youngest of the three granddaughters.

You may notice I did not mention The Precious Pair on this trip, and this is tough. They are back home. We will miss them. Timing and logistics did not allow me to bring them. Yet they will be with us in spirit while they have a ball celebrating Homecoming Weekend with their friends back in Indiana.

But before I left, I did ask for some input about Papa Du’s Birthday Blog from my girls.

The youngest did not hesitate to suggest a memory from the archives of his 80th Birthday Weekend that all of us attended last September. There were many fun activities we did as a family, but one did stand out: a trip to a medieval-themed indoor putt putt center…

My dad raised us as putt-putters so this outing was a good choice for his birthday. I grew up putt-putting, not only in Omaha, but on some of the most beautiful courses in Colorado, where we took many summer road trips. Yes, mini-golf is a family tradition.

My stepmom “Grandma Mu” had spoken highly of this particular course in the days before we visited it. She told my girls it had a zip line and other unique and interactive elements, all enhanced with castles, knights, and dragons as decor. We were hyped upon arrival and as we began the course.

Sure enough, we encountered the zip line and my girls tried it. Impressively, so did Mu, age 70 at the time. So when we reached Hole #12 with the ballpit feature in between the tee and the hole, she was feeling especially confident and volunteered to fall into the ballpit after she took her first putt.

I’m grateful to this day that my teenager chose to video-record this moment on her iPhone, for posterity. Sadly, the video is not posted here for your entertainment, so I can explain the scene.

Mu fell in slow motion into the pit, with a sort of belly-flop landing onto the soft plastic balls. Immediately, she realized getting out was going to be far more challenging than going in. She doggy-paddled her way from the middle of the pit to the far side, while losing her sandel in the process. At that point, I remember asking if she was okay because she looked a bit panicked. My dad responded for her from the sidelines, “Well, of course she’s not okay.”

My brother extended a helpful hand while my girls and I stood by giggling. (I know that sounds insensitive, all considered, but you had to be there.) My oldest kept recording. The family behind us had gathered in the peanut gallery to watch. They acted concerned.

At one point, Poor Mu muttered “I’ll never get out of here!” but, low and behold, she did after what seemed like five minutes or so. By that time, we elected to skip finishing our play on this hole, and I decided it best not to experience the ballpit myself. Mu took one for the team of adults in our group by being the only one to take the fall into the balls.

This was the most unforgettable aspect of my father’s 80th birthday last year, provided by his adoring and loyal wife of nearly 43 years. It was a memory all of us treasure and none of us shall ever forget.

To continue this tribute to my dad, I’ll continue reminiscing, but I’ll go back even a bit further to speak to a few of my favorite things about him:

I’m lucky to have endless holiday and birthday memories from my childhood days in Omaha. For many reasons, my visions of December 31st have stood out to me over the years. We never went out for NYE. It was always a fun night in, consisting of a home cooked dinner, board games, cutting up newspaper confetti, watching Dick Clark’s show featuring the ball drop in Times Square, throwing the newspaper confetti, picking up the newspaper confetti and throwing it again and again, and, after the stroke of midnight, my dad belting out a passionate solo of “Happy New Year” a lesser-known track from the popular 70s/80s group ABBA. It is still one of my favorite songs, and ABBA is my favorite band along with The Beatles, by whom my namesake ballad of “Michelle My Belle” was created in 1965.

I’ve attempted to duplicate the family magic of those vintage New Year’s Eves with my own kids in recent years. They, too, are big fans of celebrations of many types.

Passionate Interests.
Bob is a Renaissance Man, with multiple hobbies and collections. You should see his basement – it’s a museum of sorts, housing his stamps, Omaha post cards, and library filled with thousands of books, mostly mystery novels, and many first editions and signed copies. I have a stamp collection of my own that he brought to me this summer to keep. My favorites feature Disney characters and baby animals. I learned many lessons from my early stamp collecting with my dad. The people of Omaha have also learned many lessons from him, based on his deep knowledge of the city’s history. He even co-authored a set of books about it, and that brings me to the next topic…

Word Nerdiness.
Writers can name the writers who inspire them. One of mine is my dad. He has always encouraged me in this area with his own prolific habits of writing essays, skits and plays, limerick poetry, and famous Christmas letters. He has written for this blog once already with plans for his second guest appearance in motion. Not only do we both write, we like to talk about writing: word choice, rhythm, origins of idioms… These are the topics we like to cover and debate. Word nerdiness at its finest. It’s a love we both share, and I’m grateful for having this in common with him.   

Quirky Humor.
When I was in the second grade, my dad visited my classroom on Career Day to talk about his job as a corporate tax accountant at Mutual of Omaha. But instead of explaining his job, he came prepared to charm and entertain my fellow second graders. True to his signature style, he was funny and silly and passed out postcards featuring wild animals from the weekly “Wild Kingdom” animal show his company sponsored on TV. I remember this visit so vividly, and I recall how proud I felt when my friends said to me after his presentation “Your dad is so funny!” His sense of humor has always been a great source of pride and inspiration to me. After all, I ended up being pretty funny myself. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. My siblings could give me a run for my money about who is the funniest among us, but I’ll just go ahead and state publicly that it’s definitely me.

John Mayer has a moving song called “Daughters” which is ironic because as a celebrity he’s considered a bit of a man-whore. Never married with no children to speak of. But it’s an incredible ballad, all the same:

“Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do.”

And this is the most important thing. I can thank my dad for: his influence in my ability to form strong bonds with people throughout my life. His huge capacity to love others has served as a beautiful example for all of us in the family. He has always developed and maintained healthy relationships with family members, countless friends, and his team at work, who adored him, too. He is a favorite person to many. He is indeed at the top of my list of All-Time Favorite Persons. And he is – hands down –  my favorite octogenarian. Then again, I don’t know many of them! …ha, ha! 

Happy #81 and Many More, Papa Du, with love,
(aka Meesh to most of you)

5 Things That Keep Me Up at Night

fall moonSleep and Middle-Aged Me have an interesting and confusing intimate relationship.

It’s important to know I’m not including naps in the following analysis. Naps and Me are on solid ground. Nothing will ever get in the way of our special bond. To prove the depth of my passion and agility for napping, I have a paper plate award that declares “Nap Queen” handmade by one of my oldest daughter’s best friends whose mother happens to be one of my best friends. What is a paper plate award, you ask? Talk to a teen or tween or look it up on Pinterest. It’s a thing. And I’m proud to have a precious few of them…

Napping aside, it’s even more important to know about my background with overnight sleep. For as long as I can remember, I have adored it. It came easily to me for most of my life. In fact, I slept so soundly in my childhood and young adulthood that it was difficult for others to wake me up or for me to wake myself up. This is the primary reason I was the only nerd in detention doing my homework during high school. One too many morning tardies and my first period teacher threw the book at me. Except it was a pink slip, and it declared I was due at Afternoon Detention, along with all the thugs who were there for many reasons worse than being 5 minutes late to AP Biology.

So, at what point did my ease for sleep change? I will exclude the many years of interrupted sleep with babies, toddlers, and young children in my 30’s. Even then when I was up multiple times per night, I never had a problem drifting right back to sleep. No, my habits did not truly shift until 13 months ago when my life truly shifted.

Without going into great detail, that’s when – at age 45 – I began a chapter of enormous life metamorphosis. Separation, Divorce, Shifting Children Back and Forth, Packing Up the House We Lived in for 11 Years, Moving to the New House, Figuring Out Financial Things, Settling into the New House, Starting Freshman Year for the Older Half of The Precious Pair…and here we are in September on the brink of Fall 2019 – and it’s my favorite season. I don’t remember much about Fall 2018, so I’m really looking forward to it this year. Maybe with the crisper air and the calming sounds/smells/sensations that come with October, I will experience better sleep…

But currently and typically, my overnight pattern looks like this: I snooze soundly for the first 3 to 4 hours each night. The waking and staying up usually happens between the hours of 1 am and 5 am, but in varying blocks from 5 minutes at a time on the low end to a max of 3 hours at a time. Most nights, I simply lie in bed, shifting around, thinking. On some nights, I fall prey to grabbing my phone. Always a bad idea and never conducive to falling back to sleep. On other nights, I get up and do something. I might write a blog. Or clean a room. Anything that feels productive.

Recently, I’ve started thinking about why this keeps happening. After all, I am on the other side of all those transitions I mentioned. So, why can’t I sleep normally again? Here are five reasons I have identified:

Yes, (Some) Fear & Worrying.
This is where the pattern started, for sure, 13 months ago — with great concerns for my livelihood. And for my children. And, yes, even for my ex. For the latter half of last year and the first quarter of this year, I lived in a state of fear and worry, day and night. I’ve come a long way since then. At times, new and different concerns come creeping in, but they do not consume me anymore. Yet they can still rob me of some sleep. I highly recommend a worrying stone by your bedside. I recently received one as a gift, and I’ve since gifted the same to my daughters.

Too Many Ideas.
I am a creative type. Thus this blog. I also work by day in a role within Marketing/Communications/Advertising. I am a powder keg of ideation most days, all. damn. day. I curse here because this is somewhat of a curse for me. It’s tough to calm my brain. It runs constantly like a garden spigot you can’t seem to switch off. (Yes, the running water is not only an analogy, but a real-life challenge right now. I need to call somebody about this.)

Too Much Caffeine.
A dear friend of mine recently staged a semi-intervention with me about my coffee intake as part of a detox plan she’s recommending. I explained to her I cannot possibly give up caffeine altogether. But I have agreed to go from a Venti to a Grande daily, cutting out a whopping 4 ounces of coffee; usually Starbucks. (Have you heard about the largest Starbucks in the world opening in Chicago in November? It’s as if the Mother Ship is calling me there! I MUST go.)

Maybe My Needs Have Truly Changed.
My nightly norm seems to fall in the range of 5 to 6 hours of sleep. If I get any more than that, I feel completely exhausted, all day long. This leads me to believe that my need for sleep has decreased in its duration. Less is more, they say. Maybe this now applies to sleep for me.

Yes, (Plenty of) Overwhelming Joy!
I read a quote recently that said maybe we can’t always sleep at night because our current reality exceeds even our best dreams. And this is the reason I like to think about the most. Making it through all the dramatic changes of this past year has led me to a new place and new people and new emotions. I’ve also experienced renewed relationships and communications with beloved friends and family members. So there are nights when my mind is racing with happy thoughts, and it can be tough to quiet those, too.

But I am on a mission for better sleep by changing some habits, such as having an earlier bedtime, taking small doses of melatonin, limiting my phone time at night, and reading more from actual books with hard covers and paper pages. Print is not dead! Especially to us writers. Most of us want to hold a real book in our hands. Don’t you? (I ask this while you are reading a blog on an electronic device!)

One thing is for sure…even though it’s unpredictable, I still love my sleep. I crave it. I enjoy it. In fact, I treasure it. And I appreciate it more now than ever before. One of my favorite quotes is an Irish proverb: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” If something is bothering one of the Precious Pair, I simply prescribe her a night of sleep. All problems seem smaller in the morning light.

And the laughter part? Well, no matter how tired I get, I laugh a lot every day, and I love to make others laugh. Nothing feels better. Except maybe a good nap.

Don’t let the bedbugs bite,

This is 15

15Sweet 16 gets all the glory. But what about 15? It’s the younger sister to 16, hanging around in its shadow — unless that is, you are Latino and having a quinceanera. Which we are not.
But we are having a 15th birthday in our family, and it’s tomorrow. And rather than buy a birthday card off the shelf, I’m dedicating this birthday blog to the older half of The Precious Pair, the one who is celebrating.

So, what is 15? Here are a few of my current observations:

It began not even a month ago with intense nerves. And now, we are already in a groove. Geometry sucks. And it’s a really big deal when upperclassmen are nice to you. These are the challenges that come with the first year of high school. Especially when you are attending a school with 3,000 students. And your mom went to a school with 500 and finds it hard to relate to some of your life at this point. But she is here for you, and so are lots of other people. As you will see in the rest of this blog.

This is a very important task when you are 15, especially in the morning on the way to that huge high school mentioned above. You are super lucky. You do not have to take the bus in the morning. This is a good thing, because you have several things to do in the car: your hair in one of 75 different styles (the braids are the cutest!), your light make up – even though your mom will tell you to add more color to your palette. But you will stick to your guns about that. Because she is her style and you are yours. And your styles are very different, yet complementary.

As part of that unique bohemian style you are rocking, you have a unique gift for thrifting. You walk through those doors and come out with huge bags of treasures, and it’s mind boggling. Your mom was way too snobby at your age to shop at Goodwill. So she is fascinated – and grateful – that you can find 90% of your wardrobe there.

Much like your mom, your bonds and loyalty to your friends are fierce. You have a friend group like none other. Mostly the same ones since second grade. You adore them, and the feeling is mutual back to you. They are smart, sweet, fun, funny, and beautiful, both inside and out. You will be friends for life. No doubt about it.

As you say yourself, some people don’t even have one dog, and you have three. CiCi the Pug and Sunny the Corgi at your mom’s house, and Daisy the Dane at your dad’s house. Your deep connection and affection for animals are admirable traits. You just might have been a doggy yourself in a former life.

You throw far too much shit away, and this causes conflict with your mom. But you have the prettiest room in your house because you designed it yourself. Your bedroom is also the guestroom, and it is generous and accommodating of you to share it in this way. You do not attach emotions to things. You attach them to people. And isn’t that the way life should be?

Uh-oh. Did you really think this blog was going to be all sunshine and roses? You procrastinate with the best of them. You have many all -nighters to pull in your future when it comes to both high school and college obligations. Please do not become too dependent on whatever they call Cliff’s Notes these days. Leave time to read the actual book. Do not fall too far into the trap of procrastination that your mom has  patterned for you over many years.

Yes, you were raised to become this. It was inevitable. You like your Pink Drinks and your teas. In fact, you say you will always be a tea drinker versus coffee. And you definitely have the calmer vibe that tea drinkers possess. By the way, keep up this gentle side of you. Because it benefits everyone around you.

You are vegetarian. This is important to you. So is the planet. Your mom has learned more about the rain forest fires from you than anyone else. You love the blessing of nature, everywhere you go. You notice sunsets and leaves and the clouds in the sky. You never take these things for granted. Thank you for this.

In addition to your predictions regarding the importance tea will have in your life, you have also decided you will not drink alcohol nor will you swear, ever. Keep those visions. You do you. And if you change your mind about these things, no judgment here.

You are artsy. Music. Language and writing. Arts and crafts. Food. These are the many ways you express yourself. And it’s lovely to witness. Never deny the creativity inside you. Releasing it is essential to your well-being. You are an old soul who has wisdom to share and stories to tell and feelings to make into art, in many formats. Your talents run deep, although you often say you are not the best at anything. You will find your best. As soon as you release the pressure upon yourself to find it.

Even at 15, you think you know what you want to be when you grow up. This has changed many times in your childhood, but you seem to be quite settled on becoming a teacher. Probably social studies. Probably middle school. You have the patience and the passion and the love of kids that this profession will require of you. And you do not care that you will not make a lot of money in this line of work. Because after all, as noted , you are a thrifty minimalist who will never require a large paycheck. Good for you.

They are paramount to you. Your parents, your younger sister, your grandparents, your aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even extended family beyond these relationships. You love them wholly, and they love you back even more. You are remarkable to them. Keep paying them the attention they deserve. Call them. Send them text messages. Write them letters in the mail. Honor them. Because, as you know, they are life’s most precious gifts.

This is the theme of your 15th birthday. Actually, it is the theme of your life. There is nothing in this list that makes your loved ones prouder. You will never lose this part of yourself, because it is pure and ingrained.

This is number 15 on the list. I end here because this is most important and makes you who you are. Your relationship with God is unique and deep. Your spirituality is shown through your sixth sense. You understand things and animals and people better than most. You just know things. You can sense someone’s story. This is why you give great advice to your friends and even your middle-aged mom. Sometimes it is not fair that people constantly look to you for your counsel; however, it is the greatest compliment to you. In fact, when you say you are not the best at any one thing, that is not accurate. This is what you do best. Being present. Being faithful. Going beyond the surface and discovering the layers of life that others will never notice. This is your gift from God. Your parents wish they could claim credit for it, but they simply cannot. It is beyond DNA.

And so this is my birthday card to you, ESP. I could not end this tribute without acknowledging the challenges you and I are facing during this chapter of life. You are a teenager. I am not. I used to be, a while back. And those times and that experience was much different than what you are living right now. I was a lot like you when I was 15. Now that I am 40 something, I am a much different version of myself. For these reasons, we are very different yet the same in our fiber. This is why we clash. This is why we often disagree. This is why we raise our voices to one another at times. You are opinionated, strong, and soulful. You are passionate. These are the things I see in you that I see in myself. And so, we will keep clashing for now. And that is perfectly okay. This is what is intended for you and me, once in a while, right now. This is our type of love. It is true and honest and raw at times. But I would never want you to change nor would I want to change for you. Even when we are disagreeing, I love being with you. I always love being your mom.

If this is 15, I will prepare myself for 16. But please let it be slow in coming. Time is greedy and selfish. Time never understands. We will not let Time rob us though. Right, Elle Belle? We will make the most of what we have left of these teen years and high school and all the wonders (and even the struggles) that come with it.

Happy #15 with All My Love,
(also known as “Mommy”)

The Curse of the Blue Bins

blue parachute

“It’s time to make the doughnuts…”

If you’re a child of the ‘70s, you should remember this commercial. Please Google it so you can either experience it again or watch it for the first time. The premise is there’s a guy who has to drag himself out of bed, in the wee small hours of the dark morning, to go make those delicious Dunkin’ Donuts. He is miserable at that hour of the day and moving quite slowly through the motions to make the donuts (or is it doughnuts – I’m never sure!)

I feel like the donut/doughnut guy right now. Except I am lamenting “It’s time to unpack the Blue Bins.” This task has become my biggest life challenge at the moment. Allow me to explain…

Back when I moved in early June, I hired a highly recommended local moving company to assist with the monstrous task. We were moving only 3 miles due north, the equivalent of a 10 minute drive, to our new smaller, older, far more charming “Old Town” home. The company (which I will not name here to protect the innocent) offered packing services, as well. I desperately wanted to hire them to bubble wrap every single plate I owned, but I simply couldn’t justify the expense or the lazy factor associated with me not packing up my own belongings.

So I didn’t hire them for packing. I hired my friends instead. But I didn’t pay them anything. So technically, I didn’t hire them. Actually, I guilted them into packing for me. I quite simply did not give them a choice in the matter. I became desperate to pack the things. They showed up. They packed the things. And they packed a lot of the things into the now infamous Blue Bins.

The rental of the plastic storage bins was yet another convenient service offered by my movers. (As my 10-year old has noted, it’s not entirely accurate to call them blue. They are clear with blue lids.) When it was evident I would not have enough cardboard boxes for my belongings, I decided it would be economical and environmentally-friendly of me to rent 50 of these handy bins. I recall it cost me around $200, or $4 per bin – about half the cost of purchasing the same. Smart, right?


I moved on June 5th. Originally, there was a 2-week agreement attached to the bins, meaning I needed to unpack and return them in that time frame. It is now August 15th. I missed the 2-week deadline. But I view life through a lens of adaptability and most everything is negotiable in my world. One of my mantras at work on various deals is “the price is never the price.” I usually approach deadlines and rules with this same style of flexibility. This tendency provides for a great sense of “go with the flow” for me, yet can cause a sense of frustration for those around me, I realize quite well. In this case, I’m talking about Jordan, Bobby, and Shawn at my moving company. They now have me on speed dial, and currently – tag, I’m it! I owe them a call back.

“Miss Payne, we need to hear from you about the bins, please.”
“Miss Payne, we really do need the bins back.”
“Miss Payne, we have the bins rented to someone else.”


At this point, I must mention that several weeks ago, I did work out special circumstances about me keeping the bins “for as long as you need them, Miss Payne.” This arrangement came after the estimate for my move versus the actual cost got missed by $1,200. You can imagine my shock and awe when, after a 13-hour moving day, my bill came to $2,050 versus the $850 I was planning for. Thus, I told them I was going to keep the bins for a nice long while, and they agreed to that accommodation.

Now, let’s do some counting.

I started with 50 of the Blue Bins.
I unpacked 30 of them fairly quickly, and those got picked up.
I unpacked another 11 just the other day, and those got picked up.
They tell me I still have 17 in my possession.
Uh, that’s more than 50, but in any case, I’m in the home stretch and I need to return the remaining Blue Bins ASAP; it is now URGENT.


But I’m not even certain of the location of all 17 bins. I can confirm that seven are in my mudroom – one of the two rooms inside my house that has become a catch-all and a pit of total disorganization. The remaining ten MIA bins must be in my garage, where about 80% of what I own has landed.

Oh yes, let me tell you about my garage. It is a nice, large 2+ car-sized, detached garage, and opening the door to it gives me instantaneous anxiety. This is why I leave the door tightly shut. Occasionally, The Precious Pair and I will go hunting for something out there, and amazingly, we’ve been able to find what we’ve needed so far. But generally it’s best just to stay the hell out of there. Needless to say, my car does not fit in the garage. Luckily, I have a great little parking pad in front of my house.

Why is it such torture for me to get through the two remaining cluttered interior rooms, my garage, and especially those 17 Blue Bins? Most likely because it signifies the end of my year-plus transition, and the beginning of a new, calmer time for me. And, in this case, why would I avoid and prolong that kind of closure?

About five years ago, a former boss and mentor assured me wisely that I didn’t need to thrive on the chaotic tendencies of my personality and my lifestyle. He would say things like: Calm the storm inside. Cover it up. Own a new you. So, I took his feedback, and over time, I designed a better professional brand for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still fidgety and swirling on the inside, but I’ve learned to tone down my public anxiety.

Yet over this past year, in my personal life specifically, I have learned to thrive on Chaos. As an example, I have conditioned myself to function on about five hours of sleep every night plus loads of caffeine and adrenaline. (current timestamp 4:08 am)

So what will happen when I reach the bottom of those bins? What will happen when the rooms are all set and straightened and organized? What will happen when my garage has brand-new 2-by-4 wooden shelving with all the colorful plastic bins I own versus rent stacked neatly in rows? Will I discover the Consistency and Reliability and Predictability I’ve been craving for my life for so long? Along with those things, will I find the sweet ending to my Chaos?

The answer is, I have no idea. And, so, I am cursed by the Blue Bins.

The entire past 13 months for me have represented one major life decision after another. This move signifies the ending of that chapter and the beginning of the next. And remember those Choose Your Adventure books? The kind where, based on the decisions you made, the story ended in different ways. There is one possible scenario in my story that currently annoys me a bit. It’s the one where I finish all my unpacking, and I simply fall apart.


A friend recently observed how busy and active I stay. That person also suggested I might be doing that as a survival mechanism, and maybe if I were to sit still for any amount of time, the weight of all the change I’ve endured would set in, and I might begin to feel things I haven’t yet felt. This could very well be true. At the same time, not gonna’ happen. Nope. No spiral. Not for this girl.

I am ready to draft this next chapter. I am ready to embrace true Peace. I am ready for Calm to take my hand at the breakfast table. I am ready to spend endless hours on my porch with the people who matter most to me. I am ready to become a new and different version of me. One who does not have Turmoil to hide inside anymore. One who can truly discard Chaos for good.

Throughout my unpacking process, it’s important to note there is one thing I have done consistently and obediently by the urging of my smart and wonderful friends. I have created many piles and boxes of things to purge. Those same friends are begging me to load all of it up and take it to straight Goodwill in one full swoop. But I have a different plan. In line with my new love affair for the wraparound porch I never stop talking about, I am planning a Porch Sale to happen this fall.

We hosted countless garage sales at our former house. We would spend the night before organizing and tagging and pricing things. Then the next day, we would be lucky to make $50 selling our discarded wares. But it was always fun to set up shop in the garage and run our business for a day. And it taught the girls a lot of things like counting money, placing value upon items, and the discipline of letting go of things, too.

So when I was walking in my new neighborhood the other day and I spotted the sign advertising a Porch Sale, I knew instantly we needed to have one of those. And it will be huge. I have a ton of stuff from those bins to sell.

To add a fun twist to the plan, The Precious Pair has already decided they want to donate a generous portion of our profits to local charities. I am highly in favor, and in fact, I would like some of the funds to go to a local organization that helped me over the phone for several hours one stressful night and in the following days about a year ago. So they will receive some of our proceeds as well as the local animal shelter and likely one or two other places the girls and their friends will select.

Cleaning up the Clutter from my life in this fashion will bring me Closure. Once I sell those extra belongings and haul the rest away to Goodwill, I will consider myself officially settled. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, soulfully, gratefully settled.

Please watch for details about our Fall Porch Sale. We would love to see you there! No need to purchase any of my junk; just come to visit and swing for a bit.

17 Blue Bins & Counting…

I’ve Got Change in My Pockets

C35B97FC-8F2A-4EC2-BDEA-54C5D1154220.jpegThis is not a story about money. In fact, quite the opposite. But allow me to begin with a money-related moment.

A week or so ago, the younger half of The Precious Pair suggested we begin a “Swear Jar” on the kitchen counter. It would require a payment from me for every 4-letter word I use. The suggested fees are 25 cents per standard violation or one dollar per severe violation. I agreed this might be a good idea. (Notice I said “might” which is why we still do not have the system in place.)

When I mentioned the idea to the teen half of The Precious Pair, she replied wryly “Great, we will probably make enough to go to Disney World next year.”

Her implication is probably accurate. I’m not sure that paying coins or cash will deter me from swearing. It’s a habit I have, and I probably enjoy it too much to stop right now.

Did you know cursing is a sign of integrity and honesty as well as effective communication and free-flowing expression? No wonder it feels so damn good!

While I do try to watch and limit this habit around my girls, I tend to feel quite free with my language among friends. And, yes, FRIENDSHIP, that’s what I’m really here to talk about. Specifically, I want to pay kudos to my “friend-family” or “framily” which is a term I just learned the other night, while I was out with – you guessed it! – some friends.

Back in February when this blog began, I wrote about different types of love in honor of Valentine’s Day and I defined each type. Here’s exactly what I said about “friend love” …

“Reliable and strong and endlessly fun. Life is sweetened by the friends in our lives. They know us best, yet still want to hang around with us. By the time we’re middle-aged, we’ve known many of them for decades. If we’re lucky, we’ve met and made newer ones in our adult lives more recently. That old Girl Scout tune tells us that friends represent silver and gold. If the song were true, imagine your friends as valuable metal coins, clanking around in your pockets, a treasure trove of support always within your reach. My heart feels the reassuring pull of full pockets, every day.” –  

If you’re reading this as one of my friends, you likely fall into one of the following loving categories, listed in chronological order of my life:

VINTAGE FAVORITES. My connections from birth through high school. This category covers my friendships from the 70’s through the early 90’s.

COLLEGE FAVORITES. My bonds from some of the best years ever – most of them from my sorority life – and a few people I met after graduation as a young adult.

WORK/LIFERS. My work friends, but we share lots of Real Life together, too.

HOMETOWN HEROES. My friends where I live. Mom Friends, Dad Friends, Neighbors, and more from the community  I adore.

THE NEWBIES. New friends I’m meeting and making. A year ago, I had no time, capacity, and desire to make more friends. But this is now. And they are here, and they are enhancing my life, too.

Thanks to these groups that have helped me get through the past year of my life, and recently they are why I’ve had the fun-filled summer that I wished for. The kind of summer I’ve never had before as an adult. How was it different? It was pure and worry-free, mostly, and full of good food, cocktails, porch parties, and memory-making. It was wildly entertaining and hysterically funny, in multiple ways.

I got to take two unforgettable trips with friends – one with 4 of My College Favorites to Nashville, TN and one to Traverse City, MI with 4 of My Hometown Heroes. The first trip at the end of May to the Honky Tonk Capital of the World included some epic dining, a yoga experience, and some rooftop wine time. The second excursion at the end of June to Pure Michigan included visits to wineries that rivaled Napa, lots of shopping ’till we were dropping, 70’s music blaring in the car, and – yes – CHERRIES. Everything cherry-flavored. Popcorn. Cream Cheese. Hard Cider. Those were a few of my favorites. And ever since that weekend in June, my buddies and I have been craving cherry stuff. (Mental Note: Must get a cherry-dipped cone at DQ soon!)

These trips served as tremendous therapy for me because I got to spend extended quality time with some of the best humans I know on this planet, and those humans spoiled me – with their time and attention, with their humor, with gifts – every way possible. They spoiled me, and I let them do it. Because I knew that’s what they insisted on doing. And I knew I needed it.

Yes, my “framily” has been vital to me over this past year. The time and effort I’ve poured into friend-making and keeping and repairing in recent months has paid me back tenfold. My soul is so much richer these days thanks to my attention to these relationships. Who doesn’t want a richer soul? Oh, you do? Then focus on friendships. Whether that means making new ones, strengthening existing ones, and/or patching up broken ones.

As I mentioned, a year ago at age 45, I had gotten to a place where I thought I didn’t want or need more friends because I couldn’t properly maintain the friendships I already had. I had lost touch with many of them, and there was even one best friend with whom I had lost all communication. Life had built a wall between my home and my outer world – it was a wall that made me wilt. I can be a delicate flower, at times. Even my physcial health declined in many ways – my weight, my skin, and my joints suffered.

I have always said this about friends: They don’t magically appear in your life. They require a level of commitment and some amount of time and effort. And because I have resurrected my commitment, time, and efforts toward my friendships, I can attest that I’m right about this. Friends thrive on mutual love.

Earlier this summer, The Precious Pair and I had a lively conversation with my stepmom about The Fruit of the Spirit. If you’re not familiar, it’s a term that refers to the 9 attributes of a person who is living in accordance with the Holy Spirit as defined in Galatians 5: “love, joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Ironically as I write this, I realize a few of these qualities contradict my enjoyment of swearing! But guilt aside, the fruits represent how to become and remain the best kind of friend to others. I find myself as the beneficiary of such friends all the time, proven by these recent true-to-life examples:

They pack your belongings for your move, even in a frenzy the night before the truck arrives.

They unpack your belongings after you move. The moving company called and needs those bins you rented back, one of these days.

They assemble IKEA furniture for you, because let’s face it, you have no spacial reasoning abilities or handyman skills to speak of.

They volunteer to be your designated driver all summer long, since “you deserve a fun night out!” They might even go dancing with you against their will, just because you really want to go do that.

They say encouraging things all the time, and you know they mean what they say with their entire brain, heart, and gut.

They laugh at your ridiculous comments and behavior over and over again. And this makes you feel good about yourself. You love to make people laugh.

They forgive even your occasional obnoxious behavior when you’re having a little too much fun, like that time you threw the snacks at your friends while riding on the bike bar. Maybe, just maybe, you threw a bottle of bubbles on them, too. (Oopsie.)

They agree to take endless selfies with you, well, because that’s what you do now for the sake of wooing those Newbie friends.

They go on a shopping spree to Home Goods and surprise you with a slew of adorable things for your new dream home. ‘

They worry about your $0 checking account balance even though your bills are paid, and you’ve got a big deposit hitting tomorrow. They might slip you some cash “just in case” or buy your drinks without you asking.

They will listen deeply to what you say and remember it and repeat it back to you later. You are not used to anyone listening to you that intensely, ever in your whole life.

They will always take the time to congratulate you and thank you and hug you, even if they aren’t really a hugger themselves, but they know you are.

They surprise you with the perfect text, inspiring quote, crazy meme, or sentimental song because they are thinking about you and wanting you to know that.

And there are countless more favors your friends have done for you during this past year and especially during this incredible summer, and you are grateful. Forever grateful.

In the list, “you” is me. And “they” are you – both my new silver version and my old gold style of friends. I’m not sure what I’ve done in my life to be blessed with this kind of wealth. All I can do is promise to pay forward what you all have done for me, because there’s no freaking way I can ever pay you back.

…See what I did? I saved a buck. 😉

With Love, Hugs & Heavy Pockets,








The Lost Art of Being Bold

4HI have an extremely low pain tolerance. (Ironic with a surname like mine, don’t you think?) When my teenager went to put my hair up in a messy bun for me the other day, I cried like a baby because she pulled it so hard. The accompanying conversation went something like this:

Me: “Stop! That hurts really bad!”
Her: “Quit being such a drama queen.”
Me: (quite immaturely) “Takes one to know one.”
Her: “Takes a big one to raise a little one.”

Wow. Despite the pure sass that came roaring through the comment, I couldn’t help but be impressed with her quick, snappy, and clever comeback.

Teenagers are bold. We parents typically don’t adore this characteristic about them. They get a bad rap for it. But based on a few of my own recent experiences, I’m beginning to empathize with them. What is it about boldness these days? It’s a trait that’s misunderstood, under-appreciated, and downright shocking to people. How do I know? Because I’m learning that I, too, am bolder than I realized.

What does this term mean? When I Googled it, I found “fearless and daring” as well as “clear and distinct.” The adjective “bold” is not to be mistaken with “rude” which means “socially incorrect behavior” or “lacking civility or good manners.” There is a significant difference between the two in my mind. After all, rudeness is a pet peeve of mine! So much so that my girls and I are often verbally pointing out the rude people and behaviors we detect around us. It’s like a sad version of “I Spy!”

“I spy a lady who just cut me off in traffic.”
“I spy a man who jumped ahead of me in line at Starbucks.”
“I spy a kid who is screaming his head off in the middle of the violin recital, and his parents are allowing it.”

What is wrong with people?

As an illustration of Bold VS. Rude, we can refer to Sunny Bunny the Corgi, 4 months old, of British descent, yet born in Rural Kentucky. She has lived with us for 2 months now in our new home. While she is beginning to show brief shades of “civility” – see definition for “rude” above – she is generally lacking in self-control.

Barking and biting are her favorite pastimes. I can’t decide which one annoys me more. In my middle age, loud noises make me instantly anxious. I had to stay indoors for most of the 4th of July due to my disdain for the fireworks. I find my barking pup to be equally loud and disturbing, and her tiny canine teeth are like pins or needles or razor blades, whichever is sharpest. Her favorite place to chomp is the back of your ankle when you can’t see her coming, which makes it extra painful and infuriating. Yes, I do cry when she attacks me in this way. (In my own defense, I cry only when I am injured. Or when I’m watching Disney movies. Hardly ever beyond these two scenarios.)

Is the puppy being bold or rude in her efforts to assert herself and learn her place in the family order? I hate to break it to her, but her spot is bottom of the barrel behind me, the girls, AND her  sister pug who is 7 years her senior. But she doesn’t know this yet.

Society seems to see the difference between bold and rude as a thin line, but I have an easy way to make the distinction…

Rude is disappointing and depressing.
Bold is inspiring and energizing.

Sunny toggles between the two. And her rude side isn’t even her fault. It’s nature’s fault. That whole alpha dog thing. Hasn’t domestication taken care of that yet? Clearly not. That’s why K9 College – the place where you send a pup away for a month and they come back the dog you dreamed about when you put the $200 deposit down on her when she was only a twinkle in her mother’s womb – that place costs about as much as a semester of human college tuition.

Much like my high-strung puppy’s boldness, my own tendency to get this way with others startles many people, and that’s what has prompted this story.

What is it with not being real and direct with one another? It seems to be far too rare these days, especially when meeting and getting to know new people.

Call it bold, but I do ask a lot of questions. Everyone knows that game “20 Questions” – don’t you? Pick an object, animal or inanimate, and proceed to answer your competitor’s questions to narrow down the options. Through the process of elimination, you can often identify an object among all the possibilities in the world by simply asking only 20 “yes or no” questions or less. This game alone highlights the sheer power of questioning. It’s how we learn and solve mysteries. And people are mysteries. And how else does one have a compelling conversation with a person she doesn’t know yet without asking questions? Tell me. I’d love to know.  Until then, I’ll continue my inquisitive approach. Yet it aggravates people. It wears at their patience. It causes them to say out loud, “You do ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”

I also tend to cut to the chase, more than most it seems. I say what I mean. I mean what I say. I am impatient. I don’t have time to dawdle. Does anyone? No. So why are we busy people as a whole lacking in boldness? It saves time, yet it’s not a common virtue. I’m beginning to think that being bold is a curse. Then again, no. I like this part of me – so much so that I’m training The Precious Pair to possess it themselves. These are the lessons I share with them almost daily:

“Speak up and be heard.”
“Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Look people in the eye, especially adults, when you are talking to them.”

I’ve saved my best recent story about boldness for last. It comes from the Kids’ Chicken Barbeque Cookoff at the County Fair last Friday. My 10-year old was competing in this event for the first time. Her sister had participated over the past 4 summers, so we know a lot about how the cookoff works. It’s about hot coals, grill marks, and tasty, juicy chicken cooked beyond 160 degrees. It’s also about orchestrating a lot of steps in a pressure-packed competitive outdoor environment at a young age. Stressful, indeed.

My youngest was keeping her cool incredibly well, despite the blazing heat. That was until half her chicken went promptly from the grill to her cutting board to the ground. Instantly, tears spilled down her hot, rosy, famously round cheeks. From the cheering section, we shouted words of encouragement – “It’s okay! Keep going.”

Meanwhile, my close friend who I call Mel B. was there for support like she is every year, and she asked me what we were going to do with that chicken breast in the grass. “I don’t really know,” I replied. And with that, she stood up, walked over, and picked it up off the ground. As she came up with that chicken in her hand, the professional grilling judge noticed her out of the corner of his eye.

“What are you going to do with that?” he asked her.

She froze. She was busted. She stood there and stared at him for a few seconds contemplating what to tell him.

Then, matter of factly, she responded, “I’m going to go wash it off. Then I’m going to eat it.”

“Good. That’s exactly what I would do,” he answered.

That’s what happened next. Mel rinsed off the chicken inside and laid it back on my daughter’s charcoal grill where it sizzled happily.

Sometimes in life, you accidentally dump your chicken on the ground and you think it’s all over, then that same life surprises you an hour later with a purple ribbon. My daughter won her division as the Champion Beginner BBQ’er that morning. She received kudos from the judge for her perseverance under challenging circumstances. In fact, he asked her to share the story with the crowd about what had happened at her station: how the chicken had fallen onto the ground and how she/we/Mel B. boldly saved it and cooked it anyway. All of us who were there as part of this experience will not soon forget it.

Bold is beautiful in my book,


The Improbable Tale of Nellie North


When you survive hard things, you know they’re meant to be. I know this for a fact based on the past year of my life, and my recent move is yet another prime example.

This story begins as many of mine do, with my children, The Precious Pair. They have a quirky habit of giving names to things, not just living things like pets and plants, but also cars and houses. For instance, my former car was Tessa the Taxi. My brand-new one is yet to be named. And they called the house we lived in for 11 years and sold earlier this month, Larry Sommerwood. The name they’ve given our new home (actually, it’s super old/circa 1900) is Nellie North, based on a variety of factors I can’t really explain on the girls’ behalf. But it seems to fit the house well, all the same…

Back in March as I was prepping to list “Larry” for sale, one of my best friends was substitute teaching at the grade school located in the downtown area where I’d been searching for a house since August 2018. This particular property was not even listed for sale, but it did appear to be under renovation. So I did what any proactive, semi-pushy person would do, and after driving by it several times on my own, I sent my trusted Realtor to knock on the door. After all, I had fallen instantly in love with what I was seeing, at least on the outside. I needed to see more.

On that afternoon that set my milestone in motion, my agent encountered a small crew of contractors, she scored their boss’s business card, and she and I proceeded to wander uninvited through the half-finished, yet clearly adorable little sage green house on the corner. Once we had finished the walk-through and based on the size and scope of this home, we both determined there was likely no way I’d be able to afford it. We waited to hear back from The Flippers.

Meanwhile, I drove the girls by this house as I had done with many others. “What do you think of this one?” Well, they too deemed it practically perfect at first sight. All of us were crushing on Nellie North.

About a week later I got the lucky call from my Realtor. She had made official contact with the owners, and amazingly the price was doable for me. Within days, I signed a purchase agreement and began the mortgage process which went swimmingly until The Appraisal, which came in a whopping $23,000 under the sale price I had offered to pay. The transaction fell suddenly on the rocks and looked like it wasn’t going to happen after all. My Flippers experienced sticker shock at the deep discount suddenly applied to their diamond in the rough. Ultimately, after another full week, we met almost exactly in the middle of the differential. I agreed to overpay the appraisal and bring a hunk of cash to the table, and they agreed to give up about the same amount in their profits. The only stumbling block now would be The Inspection and The Re-Inspection. There were a ton of back and forth disagreements during this phase of the deal, and somehow we made it through all of that, too.

I loved just about everything about the house. The size. The layout. The kitchen, large enough for dancing. 4 bedrooms. 2 full baths. A mud room with a boot bench. A vintage staircase. A wraparound porch. A fenced backyard. There was only one exception: The Basement.

You can’t even call it that. It’s not worthy of the term. I’ve used many others words to describe it to people, mainly to the multiple vendors I’ve already sent down there in 3 weeks’ time. Let’s see, I’ve referred to it as “The Hole” – “The Dungeon” – and most frequently – “The Cellar.”

Have I mentioned I have never actually seen this area of my home myself? Nor do I ever intend to see it; NEVER. Brick walls. Dirt floors. No lights. I tell people that zombies are the sole reason I would ever lift that trap door in the floor of my laundry room beneath the dryer and descend the 8-foot ladder into that space. As much as I hate tornados, I won’t even go down there for that purpose. We have a perfectly fine windowless interior hallway for storm protection. Zombies on the loose: that’s the ONLY way you will find me in my “basement.”

But there were and there continue to be problems in that part of the house. Leaks. Clogged drains. Seepage through the walls. I’m told I need a $2,500 sump pump and an additional $4,000 worth of work on the drains/pipes. I uncovered these matters after my toilets flushed inconsistently upon moving in, my tub backed up brown gunk, and the entire house bubbles and gurgles and burps anytime there is a water-based event like a load of laundry, a sink full of dishwater, or a shower. Of course, my home warranty is useless to me, so we’ve lived with these issues while pursuing our options. Based on the best advice I’ve gotten so far, I invested in a $20 bottle of enzymes called Main Line Cleaner from Lowes – my most frequently visited retailer this month. I’ve dumped and flushed this stuff for two nights into two toilets. I feel like it’s working something out down below. I can hope.

On the other side of this real estate transaction, at midnight on Moving Day, after 13 hours of loading and unloading with our moving crew, the girls and I returned to the empty house to say our goodbyes. We took CiCi the Pug along and left Sunny the New Corgi Puppy behind. (Trust me, she deserves her own blog posting soon.) After our final walk-through, we headed to the car, CiCi jumped inside, and then I had a late-breaking idea. “Girls, let’s go back inside for a minute.”

I took them straight to the growth chart wall in the entryway, the wall I’ve spoken about before here on this site and on Facebook. I had contemplated many different ways to transfer or preserve the markings I began on this wall in 2010. Ultimately though, I decided there was no duplicating it, not in an authentic way. I decided to leave the notches behind, including the final two measurements I took and dated in pencil that night. We took photos by the wall to commemorate this bittersweet moment in time; then we were done and more than ready for sleep.

We got to the car and pulled at the doors. Locked. But where are my keys? Inside. No way. Of course not. How would that happen? And there was CiCi inside peering out at us. She had locked us out of the car in the driveway of the home we technically – as of midnight – no longer owned. Thank goodness for our friends at Triple A, and the $89 membership Little Payne won for me at the State Fair last year by spinning a prize wheel. That night I called them for help for the 5th time in 2019, so far.

After the locksmith rescued us and reunited us with CiCi, we headed three miles due north, the driving equivalent of 10 minutes. And we spent our first night in our new home on June the 5th.

Since then, three weeks have passed. Despite the plumbing woes, I’m utterly thrilled to be there. It seems at times unbelievable that we made it , with all the obstacles and uncertainties we faced. I’ve described this house to some friends as “my little piece of Maine right here in Indiana.” And if you know me at all, you know my love affair with the State of Maine, where I hope to retire someday.

Why should I ramble on and on about my real estate transaction? I consider it a lesson to any reader out there that Life. Is. Hard. Right before it becomes sheerly wonderful.

I have a day coming to me, Lord willing, that I have spoken about many times in recent months with others, both in person and on social media. It’s a vision of myself sitting on my new wraparound porch on my white porch swing with a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) in hand. The coffee is spiked with bourbon, which is a fun thing I like to do to my Starbucks once in a while. The timing is important because this day will likely take place in early fall, my favorite season and at a time that will represent a full year and then some of me enduring hard things. There will be a slight crispness in the air. The kids will be back in school. (Have I mentioned we live across the street from a really cool elementary school playground!?!) This vision of myself is within reach and reality with only about 100 hot summer days and nights and a mountain of moving boxes to unpack in my path. But it’s closer than ever after surviving one of the most stressful experiences of my entire 46 years, and that was the purchase of Nellie North and the move that followed.

What I learned from it:

Keep moving.
Keep asking.
Keep pushing.
Keep pulling.
Keep pressing.
Keep purging.
Keep packing.
Keep resting.
Keep cursing.
Keep praying.
Keep fighting.
Keep hugging.
Keep laughing.
Keep loving.
Keep enduring.

Whatever you do, keep. Whatever that looks like to you. Whatever that means. Continue to do things purposefully and to represent yourself intentionally. This is why we’re here, so I believe. Even when life sucks, we still owe it. We owe life the best part of our brains, our hearts, and our guts. If you’re not transacting life with these three forms of payment, why the hell not? What’s stopping you? What’s in your path? If it’s boxes, literally like mine or figuratively your own kind, unpack them. One by one. Empty them. Recycle them. Donate them. Then be done with their contents, or at least store them tidily on a shelf in the garage. (Oh my gosh, you should see my garage!?! It’s where half of what I own is currently kept. My goal by the first freeze of Winter is to clear a spot big enough to squeeze my car in there. Hopefully by then, she will be properly named!)

This is what Nellie has taught me so far. Undoubtedly, much like Larry did, she has many more lessons in store. Probably a few are lurking in my zombie bunker. But you’re far more likely to find me on the porch.

Moved — in more ways than one,

What We Can Learn from School Lunch


It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and there is only one four-day week left on the 2018–19 school calendar. It seems only fitting to post a school-inspired story right now. There are so many memories and things to choose from since last August, when The Precious Pair began eighth grade and fourth grade. In this past year, all three of our lives have changed dramatically. We have established what we call our New Normal. More about that soon…

But let’s start with a question I’ve had on my mind – what’s the deal with school lunch? I’ve heard and read about it becoming more of what it should be in recent years, thanks largely to Michelle Obama during her two terms as First Lady. She made it her mission to clean up school nutrition nationally, pushing through new and more stringent guidelines for what is served in school cafeterias throughout this fine country.

Seemingly, based on all we’ve heard, we ate poison as school children back in the 70’s and 80’s. My memories of school lunch begin as a student in the primary grades, when my mom worked part-time as a substitute lunch lady. As a single mom of two, she had several diverse jobs. But my personal favorite was her role as the occasional lunch lady. On the days she appeared with a hairnet and plastic gloves passing the pastel plastic trays to my fellow students and me, I felt like quite the celebrity. Everyone knew that was my mom behind the lunch line, smiling and serving us. I took great pride in being her daughter on those days, and now nearly 40 years later, I’ve experienced that same beaming pride time and time again.

But even my own mom never noticed or mentioned that the food at school was killing us softly. You would think that was the case anyway, according to today’s trendy standards and comparisons to yesteryear’s menus.

Fruits and vegetables are now served in droves, not merely doses – at least in some of the local schools. The canned green peas of 1976 certainly no longer measure up. I mention those specifically because of that one time my older brother in the third grade plucked one of those peas from his tray and flicked it with a fork onto the ceiling. Of course, it got stuck up there. And he was caught green-handed by the cafeteria monitor, and he was sent to the dunce corner or whatever they did back then as discipline. Heaven forbid that had been a day when my mom was working the lunchline. How embarrassing that must have been for her! Shame on you, Big Brother.

Vegetables no longer come in a massive white generic labeled can at school. They appear bright and fresh and speckled with dew drops. I know because my youngest enjoys the luxury of a fresh produce bar at her grade school. I am always in awe of the spread that’s provided. And I think to myself, whomever is responsible for washing and prepping and peeling and chopping all of that, bless them, because it has got to be a huge pain in the ass. But some dear soul does it all in the spirit of increased vitamin intake for the kids.

So, yes, there do appear to be many healthier differences between school lunch in 2019 and that of decades ago. However, I am perplexed about a few of these differences:

#1. Ironically, if you’re vegetarian in middle school, you’re tough out of luck. Despite what I said about fruits and veggies above, the teenagers I know claim middle school is No Man’s Land for a vegetarian meal. You can count on a side salad or an order of four smiley-faced mashed potato fries. (Ew.) Or there’s the Hummus Kit, and thank goodness for that, or my 8th grader would pass out on the days she forgets to pack her lunch. I hope high school brings her a few more heartier options.

#2. What has happened to the rectangular slice of pizza? Today they serve a triangular slice. Or – get this – a full, round personal pizza! Why they had to mess with the delicious rectangular slice from my memories, I do not understand. After all, it used to fit perfectly in the spot on the lunch tray. As if it was meant to be there in all its cheesy gooey glory. I mean, do you know anyone who did not eat school lunch on Pizza Day in 1988!?! Even though it was typically served with those peas I already mentioned.

#3. Proteins are now served as Rings, Poppers, Chips, Nuggets, Chunks, and in Various Other Unnatural Formats. WTH? How can an order of Chicken Chips or Rings be something healthful? I’m not comfortable with this.  How about the old-fashioned breaded chicken filet or the even healthier, trendier grilled chicken breast?  These preparations don’t feel like outlandish requests when it comes to chicken.

#4. “The nasty hamburger with the nasty cheese.” This is the way my youngest describes the hamburger entree at school. Although I’m not a big meat eater, I do not recall eating a nasty cheeseburger in my entire life. Even a low-quality cheeseburger normally tastes delish. And 99% of little kids love burgers. (No source for this stat.) Yet the school soyburger tastes bad, even to a little kid. Yuck.

One thing I can say about school lunch back then and still today is that it’s consistent. Picture the color-coded calendars that show you the Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue Weeks that spell out specifically the menu each day, right down to entree choices and multiple side items. A parent and student can always find out “What’s for Lunch?” Even if it’s reliably terrible. (The only exception is next week, when the menu goes rogue with the year’s leftovers or “Manager’s Choice” as I believe they spin it!)

Last year in August when school was starting, my girls and I began talking about our New Normal and what it was going to mean and what it was going to look like. At that point, we felt the incredible weight of that newness. Our lifestyle was suddenly something foreign and uncomfortable, for sure. It was a daunting task to achieve what was ahead of us – healing, adjusting, re-calibrating, and becoming a very different family unit.

Luckily, my reliable old friend Consistency has been here for us. It’s a quality I cannot speak highly enough about. It’s the real reason I’ve been yammering on about school lunch above, as a timely analogy – and if you read my last entry “Zombies Can’t Open Doors” you already know how I love a good, creative analogy.

Some would associate Consistency with Boredom. But I do not. There’s nothing boring about being a good steward of your behavior and habits. It is, in fact, quite admirable, responsible, and beautiful to be the person you are on a reliable basis, for the benefit of those who surround you daily, including but not limited to: your children; spouse, partner, or date; parents, siblings, and other family members; friends; neighbors; coworkers, direct reports, and bosses; your kids’ teachers; the quirky clerk you always see at Dollar Tree; and the hipster barista you know at your Town Square coffee spot where the motto is “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks” (Lord knows, I drink gallons of that, too, though!) When these people see you coming, they want the comfort of knowing you and what you represent. As humans, we crave normalcy and predictability and stability and security because those feelings are good and simple and pure and calming, among all the chaos of our surroundings.

So I plead with you, be consistent. As I said, that’s how we’ve tackled the challenges my daughters and I have faced together thus far. We consistently talk, cook and bake, listen to and sing along with our favorite tunes – sometimes really loud – via Alexa, our loyal DJ. (ABBA makes an appearance on our playlist nightly.) We enjoy our creature of habit comforts such as our soft living room blankies; phone calls and FaceTimes with grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins; and treats like Rapid Pick-Up Panera, lately enjoyed out on our screened porch because we like to dine “al fresco” when the air is just right. And, for added comfort and support, we go to our new and very accepting church regularly, and we visit our amazing counselor frequently.

Annnddd, now we’re getting ready to dump Consistency on its head. We have a pending move to a new and smaller home. This will coincide with – thanks to my terrible yet well-intentioned timing – the arrival of a 10-week old Corgi puppy we’ve named Sunny. There she will join 7-year old pug, CiCi. Yikes! As in the case of chicken served as rings, I never could have predicted all of this would be happening.

But life takes on new and unexpectedly different forms every. single. day. We either enthusiastically consume the opportunities presented to us, or we resist them and go hungry and angry. (Hangry.) I recommend keeping an open-minded appetite for what The Day brings. If I may borrow an awesome one-liner, I consistently choose to “rejoice and be glad in it.”

Let’s do lunch soon!

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I Used to Be Cute, Then I Had a Kid by Laura Marks O’Brien

sistersnew momNote: This is my second installment featuring a guest blogger – my Sister! Many thanks for her willingness to share a story here on my site. I’ll be hitting up other family and friends to commit to more guest appearances. I have lots of Word Nerds in my life who inspire me, so this is my special way to feature and thank them for their positive and encouraging influences upon me. 


If I’m going to be completely honest, I probably stopped being cute a number of years before I had my kid. But I came across the photo above of my sister and me in Charleston in 2007, when times were different for both of us in many different respects. And, since this is my sister’s blog, I thought it would be fitting to display the two of us looking our best. Hence the picture from 12 years ago.

Like my sister, I was an English minor and have always enjoyed writing. I even (voluntarily) took creative writing classes through the county back in 2006 and wrote a number of short stories based upon randomly assigned themes. There’s a “My Writings” folder saved to my Yahoo e-mail account (yes, I still use Yahoo) that hasn’t been added to since 2007. Aha, the year I started law school! Yes, one day in late 2006 I suddenly realized that my LSAT scores were about to expire, and it was now or never. So now all of my writing consists of drafting documents beginning with “COMES NOW THE PLAINTIFF” (or Defendant – I practice family law, so we represent both) and ending with “WHEREFORE.” Until now, when my sister Mitchie (a.k.a. Meesh or Michelle) asked me to be a guest blogger on So here goes.

My best ideas for writing come to me when I am awake in the middle of the night, on the cusp of sleep, but not quite, my mind racing yet tired at the same time. Unlike my sister, who tends to draft her blog entries during bouts of insomnia, I just lie there, tossing and turning, sweating, pushing the dog over as many inches as I can, because she’s encroaching on my space again, all while formulating some really great ideas, even down to the sentence, but not actually writing anything down. Such a waste of potential! Maybe Apple can invent a device to track our thoughts and record them at all times so our productivity can be maximized to its fullest extent! Or not…

Anyway, back to the theme of my blog entry: on Valentine’s Day 2017, Cupid delivered the most precious gift ever . . . my six pound, four ounce little bundle of writhing and wrinkled joy, wrapped in the ubiquitous white, pink, and blue baby blanket that appears to be distributed to EVERY SINGLE child born in a hospital in the United States. (Did you know that these blankets are made in Pakistan? Funny, since 99.999% of the other baby/toddler/child products that I own are MADE IN CHINA.) The second photo above is the first photo taken of Baby J and her proud mama. For real. I think I was still in shock that the ultrasounds hadn’t been misread, and she actually had 10 fingers and 10 toes and a perfectly formed head and all of her body parts seemed to be present and intact. (Upon viewing this photo, you now surely understand why this blog entry is entitled “I USED to be cute.”)

Twenty-four hours after being admitted to the hospital, 22 hours after having Cervadil shoved up you-know-where, 12 hours after the first dose of Pitocin was administered through an IV, and after having two “peanut balls” shoved between my legs, one epidural jammed into my spine (yes, it only took one! Lucky me!), one catheter inserted another you-know-where, and a gazillion ice chips later (um, no one told me you couldn’t even drink WATER while in labor?!), out she came at 7:39 p.m. (EST). In the course of 24 hours, my birthing canal (or whatever the medically correct term is – I don’t want to gross anyone out by the use of any gynecological terms; although I know that my fellow mom readers will understand, because they, too, have had their legs spread for all the world to see at one point or another) had gone from the “size of a pencil tip” to 10 centimeters! And the expansion from 3 to 10 centimeters had occurred in less than an hour! And this birthing tale is no sweat compared to so many others.

It’s fun to share mom stories. The authors of #IMomSoHard (one of whom, Jen Smedley, actually went to my high school in Bellevue, Nebraska!) recently published an entire book of their mom tales. Like they say, “From trying to get your kid to eat just one freakin’ green bean, to wondering why it feels like you disappeared the day you became a mom, they get it. They get you.” (Wondering if Mitchie will require me to add a citation here. Regardless, this is a great book and I highly recommend it!) (Do I use too many parentheticals, by the way?)

In true legal fashion, I share with you the following bullet points illustrating just a few of my tales of momdom, in no particular order.

  • Wondering why your toddler still hasn’t woken up by 7:45 one morning and entering her room only to be greeted by a giant pile of barf in her crib, with her face half-lying in pile of said barf. This would probably not be that memorable or repulsive of a moment to most, but when you are a true emetophobe (emetophobia: intense anxiety pertaining to vomiting. It is for real – look it up on Wiki! Matt Lauer and Denise Richards are fellow emetophobes! My emetophobia is the reason I avoided all professions relating to medicine or teaching. But then I became a mother…) it is particularly gut-wrenching. Especially when your husband has just departed several hours earlier for a morning flight to Columbus, where he will be on a work trip all day. Yet, although you are repulsed and disgusted with the prospect of dealing with barf all day, you are secretly radiating with happiness that you get to stay home from work and spend the whole day with your baby, just the two of you.
  • Multitasking to the extreme such that you don’t actually complete any tasks at all. A true oxymoron. For example, seeing a bowl in the sink that you intend to put in the dishwasher which reminds you to fill the dog’s bowl with food which reminds you that you need to take the dog out (the dog who used to be your “fur baby” but suffered a complete downgrade in status since baby came along) which reminds you to replenish the dog’s poop bags which are stored in a little bone shaped dispenser hanging from her leash which reminds you that the baby’s diaper genie is full which reminds you that you need to bring more diapers downstairs from the stash which is stored in your child’s bedroom which reminds you that you haven’t actually changed your child’s diaper in five hours which reminds you that you really need to start potty training which reminds you that you need to buy a toddler potty which reminds you to look at the different options available on the Target website, and we know that once you open that Target website or enter a Target store, there’s no turning back. Oh yeah, and that dirty bowl is still in the sink. And while you’ve been looking at the Target website on your phone, the dog has taken a giant dump on the carpet and your kid has climbed on top of the kitchen table and has removed her shirt, only to be standing there in a dirty diaper, topless, screaming that she wants to watch Peppa Pig.
  • And speaking of Peppa Pig, being able to recite the names of every single member of Peppa’s playgroup – Rebecca Rabbit, Suzy Sheep, Emily Elephant, Pedro Pony, Danny Dog, Candy Cat, Zoe Zebra, Freddy Fox, and in later episodes, Gerald Giraffe, Molly Mole, Mandy Mouse, and Pandora and Peggi Panda, AND each of their parents’ respective professions – I mean, you didn’t know that Daddy Pig is an architect? – but when asked today’s date, you seriously have no idea and might not even recall the current month. But you do know if it is a Monday through Friday, because you have to go to work on those days and leave your child, the most important person in your life, with strangers, essentially (a.k.a. DAYCARE).
  • And speaking of daycare, rushing out of work no later than 5:00 p.m. in order to get to daycare by 5:30 p.m., only to find that there has been an accident on I-66 because there is ALWAYS ongoing construction and putting the daycare’s destination into Waze and being routed through streets and neighborhoods you didn’t even know existed in order to get to your final destination in what ends up being 40 minutes rather than the routine 20 minutes.
  • And speaking of work, usually leaving work by no later than 5:00 p.m. even though before baby was born you never left any earlier than 6:00 p.m. and knowing in the back of your mind that you are being resented and prevented from being paid more because of it – but also knowing that those few hours you spend with your child from the time you pick her up until you put her to bed two hours later are priceless.
  • And speaking of putting your child to bed, you then take a shower because the only time you have to sufficiently cleanse yourself is after she is in bed. Which means that you go to bed with wet hair because you are too tired to blow it dry and thus wake up with crazy bedhead which you not-so-proudly sport to work each morning.
  • And speaking of wishing you could be a stay-at-home mom but then after one full day alone with your kid, looking forward to going back to work where you can have a cup of coffee without interruption and have conversations that do not revolve around Doc McStuffins.
  • And speaking of Doc McStuffins, knowing all the words to her theme song, which floats through your head all day long, and also knowing all the words to “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” which is your daughter’s favorite song, and wondering why she loves the song so much when it refers to a man as a “master” and a woman as a “dame.” I mean, WTF?
  • Sitting on the floor all the time – at your house, at the library, at the park, on the sidewalk, everywhere, so you can be at your child’s level. And feeling really old when you have to use both hands in order to push yourself up from off the floor.
  • Only wearing makeup on “special occasions” and realizing that your mascara has dried out because it’s been so long since you’ve last applied it.
  • Telling other moms how old your kid is when they ask and always receiving the response, “Oh, what a great age!” And then wondering if this age (i.e., two) is supposed to be so great, then what am I in for in the future?!
  • Crying when you see ads for diapers or Johnson & Johnson products, or really any product that shows a baby growing up. Or maybe you don’t watch TV because you really don’t have time for it. Or maybe you only watch Masterpiece on PBS and British police dramas on Acorn TV because you’re turning into your own parents even though you’re not even 40 yet.
  • Having to sit through meetings where clients go on and on about their own children and really just wishing that you could spend this moment with your kid instead.
  • Wondering how on earth parents can handle multiple children, especially children who are close in age, because you struggle to keep control of just one.
  • Breaking out in a sweat every morning, because that’s how much effort it takes to clothe your child in a diaper, shirt, pants, socks, and shoes. The same exertion of effort applies when you try to brush her teeth, although lately she’s been complying if you tell her she has play-doh stuck in her teeth and you have to get it off or else her teeth will rot.
  • Speaking of play-doh, that stuff is described as “non-toxic,” but wow, will it ever do a number on your carpet.
  • Breaking out in a smile because you can’t get over how cute it is when your daughter serves you a plate of play salami and a plastic T-bone steak when in reality, the only meat she will even come close to touching is a Tysons Dino Nugget made of “chicken breast with rib meat.” And it’s considered a huge victory if she eats the entire nugget.
  • Still subscribing to the old school Yahoo email which is filled daily with tons and tons of emails from BabyCenter, Parents, The Bump, The Nest, Mothers of North Arlington, HowToBeAGreatMom, etc. which you glance at and think, wow, I could really learn something from this, I’ll read it someday! But you never do and now your inbox has 737 unread messages.
  • Waking up to your child’s cries as early as 6:15 some days, but still feeling that rush of excitement pump through you each time because the best part of your day is seeing your little girl’s face.
  • Belatedly sending others’ birthday cards, gifts, and other tokens recognizing special occasions, but planning your kid’s birthday party at least two months prior to the big celebration. Which also entails purchasing a gazillion dollars of items on Amazon, including a 4 foot Peppa Pig balloon.

Speaking of belatedly acknowledging holidays, a belated Mother’s Day and early Father’s Day to those of you who are lucky enough to be parents. I am blessed beyond belief to have the privilege and honor to be a mother, and equally blessed to know so many amazing, dedicated mothers, including but not limited to: my own; the owner of this blog; my mother-in-law; my sister-in-law; and my five fellow mom co-workers, with whom I love sharing my tales of momdom. And if there’s any point to this blog, it’s to encourage you to share your own tales of momdom and daddom and auntdom and uncledom and sisterdom and brotherdom and whatever the heckdom with anyone who is willing to listen. Because everyone has these wacky moments, mom or not. And when we share our downfalls and delights, not only do we make others feel better, but we end up feeling better about ourselves, too.

Dedicated to Baby J,

Zombies Can’t Open Doors

13A31014-E3E0-4D31-8BCF-1D6B8D513C49If you know me even a little bit, you know I am a coffee addict, a night owl, and a word nerd. Trust me, it has taken a lot of caffeine and many late nights to keep this blog going for three months in a row now. In three years, I know I will look back on this statement and scoff at myself for thinking three months as a blogger was an accomplishment. But here I am, pretty darn happy I have kept this thing up so far.

My love of words started as far back as I can remember. Around age 4, I decided to be an author when I grew up. In first grade, I wrote a play and it won a contest and kids actually performed it. The story focused on an elephant in a toy store, and I can’t remember much else. Yet I do remember it was a milestone in my writing history.

Then middle school, high school, and college happened and with those years came countless essays, term papers, and creative writing assignments. I ended up as a Communications major with an English minor at a liberal arts college. I went on to become a 25-year communications professional, and still going. One trick pony? Sometimes I think maybe…

But as the lifelong word nerd that I am, I have to say I’m quite proud when I see shades of the same within my two children, The Precious Pair. Nothing has stirred this pride in me more than a recent car conversation with my youngest.

This entire blog revolves around an analogy she created, but first let me comment on analogies. All good writers know their purpose is symbolic comparison, and they are to be used sparingly and creatively in one’s writing. Nothing worse than an overdone analogy, otherwise known as a cliche. Word nerd writer types like to turn cliches on their heads with original spins.

My 10-year old’s analogy was a true original, and ever since she mentioned it, I can’t stop thinking about it:

HER: “Well, you know how zombies can’t open doors?” (She asked me this matter-of-factly, as if everyone should know it already.)

ME: “No, I guess I never realized that, but it makes sense. Their arms aren’t really functional, since they’re dried up and dead, right?”

HER: “Right! So think about it, all of us are zombies when it comes to someone else’s heart.”

ME: “Okay, how do you mean?”

HER: “We are all zombies because we can’t open the door to anyone’s heart, unless it’s our very own heartdoor to open. The zombies are my family and friends. They can lean and push against the door to my heart. But only I can decide to let them in.”

ME: (Mind blown.) “Wow, I guess you’re right. That’s a pretty fantastic analogy.”

HER: “Yes, and happy people let the zombies in. Unhappy people have a harder time letting them in, which is a little sad.”

ME: “I agree. I’m glad that people like you and me let a lot of people, I mean, zombies into our hearts.”

HER: “Me, too, Momma.”

This recent exchange has led me to think deeply about the past year of my life and several different doors I’ve been leaning on and pushing on like a zombie. Personal relationships, career challenges, legal struggles, and real estate transactions, all included. The past 10 months have beat me up on many days. But as in the analogy, a zombie doesn’t feel pain.

Maybe that’s why I keep pushing on some impossible-to-open doors so hard. I’m not allowing myself to feel the pain; that is, until one of the doorkeepers opens their door a tiny crack to say “This one is not gonna’ open for you, so why make a fool of yourself trying?”

Then reality sets in. I’m not a zombie after all. I’m a living, breathing, feeling, flawed, and – yes – sometimes foolish human being. And I’ve encountered my fair share of door slamming lately.

What do I mean? People whom I wish would heal who aren’t ready to heal. Promotions I’ve gone for that I’m not going to get. Employees I want to hire with no budget to do so. The quiet cubicle I need that’s still one year away in the blueprint. The price I ask for my house that no one is willing to pay. My moving date that keeps moving. A clear view of my future that appears only as a fogged mirror.

Wow, that’s quite a list.
Yet, this list is Life.


Sometimes we zombies need to take a step away from the locked doors to find different ones. Look for glass doors you can see into. Screened doors you can feel the breeze through. Colorful painted doors that welcome you. Automated doors with the silver button on the wall – even a zombie can lean against that button and open that door!

Find your doors. The ones that are meant and made just for you. The ones that joyfully fly open when they see you coming!

Matters of the heartdoors are complicated. That’s why we have the expression “a change of heart.” The muscle in our chest is not the most reliable tool for decision making. That’s why I now insist on blending and balancing the emotions of what my heart tells me with the sensibility of what my brain tells me. The heart and brain work together to form the reliability of the gut instinct. The gut allows the door of the heart to stay closed for protective purposes, and in other cases to open more readily when the rewards just might outweigh the risks.

“There are no guarantees.”
“Always listen to your gut.”                           “If it’s not your door, it won’t open.”               What great clichés!

“Lean on your fellow zombies.”
No cliche intended.

These deep thoughts were sponsored by my daughter, The Little Analogy Genius. I will encourage her to keep up with her word-nerding along with her number-nerding. (She’s wayyyyyyy better at math than her sister and me.) In fact, I hope she keeps on nerding in general because we‘re going to need her and all the other young smart ones when the REAL zombies invade!

With love from my gut,