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 IAMNOTYOURMOM.com. 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,

What Derby Day Means to Me

7066AD5C-EC31-4B64-973A-A0CF970732A8When I was 10, I moved to a Kentucky horse farm. I was a suburban kid who had lived in the same house in Nebraska for all my life. The only horses I had known up to that point were the lazy, slow, old, and seemingly drugged kind that people ride at campgrounds. But there I was, suddenly living on a real working farm, where the horses were not the campground kind.

They were thoroughbreds and it didn’t take long for me to learn the sheer power of these creatures. My 18-year old stepsister took me riding with her one afternoon. A bird spooked our horse, he jumped unexpectedly, and we fell off. I broke my right wrist. I never rode another horse on the farm again.

But I did live all my tween and teen years around them. I watched them prance in the pastures, I watched mothers give birth, I watched babies grow, I watched many of them get sold to new owners, and I watched them race at several different tracks. All these activities were underwhelming and often downright boring to me, the former suburban kid.

Then I went away to college, graduated, and started adulting, all next door in Indiana. As if overnight, I developed an appreciation for my background as the child and stepchild of horse farmers.

It was fun to tell people I was from Kentucky. They usually reacted with a snarky comment about kissing cousins or a joke that claimed Hoosiers to be superior. I would always defend my Bluegrass State by saying “We have just as many jokes about Indiana as you people have about Kentucky!” I’m lucky no one ever asked me to tell one of those jokes because I didn’t actually know any.

While still in college, I attended my first and only-so-far Kentucky Derby. Let me be clear that it was not the proper way to attend The Derby. I didn’t wear a huge hat or a fancy dress. I was part of the mosh pit called The Infield. I don’t recall seeing a single horse; I drank cheap beer, not classy mint juleps; and, for whatever strange reason someone sprayed a container of ranch dressing from their cooler into the air, and I was one of the victims struck by it. Did I mention I wasn’t there with any of my good friends? I had been invited by a boy one year ahead of me, so I was there with his friends. I was desperate for mine!

So we can chalk that Derby experience up to a good story, but not much fun. But I do have happier ones to share that happened years later…one is the story of My Big Win.

As a young adult, I started betting on The Derby. I would make my picks by the morning of, then get to a track or an OTB (off-track betting) to place my wagers. I have always preferred the trifecta, a bet where you must pick the top 3 horses that finish best. The type of trifecta I use allows my horses to come in any order, rather than picking the exact 1-2-3 placements. Each year, I study the horses during the week leading up to the race. I look at their win records, their earnings, and their speeds from similar runs. There’s a science to my picks; they’re never random. Except in 2004.

It was the 130th running of the Kentucky Derby, and I was 5 months pregnant with my oldest daughter. I had identified 2 horses I really liked, Smarty Jones and Lion Heart, but I wasn’t feeling drawn to a third. So I went with the pink jockey silks paired with a horse named Imperialism, in honor of my baby girl on the way. I remember so well watching that race by myself in the basement of my first old house in the hipster part of the city. I remember the finish and thinking maybe I had won. Once I confirmed it, I whooped and hollered and jumped up and down, even in my much larger than normal physical state. I remember calling both sets of my parents to share the big news: yes, I had indeed won $987.60 on my Kentucky Derby trifecta ticket.

I paid for a crib and bright duckling yellow paint for the nursery and other baby stuff we still needed. And you better believe, ever since, I never miss betting a trifecta on The Derby.

Even my dad who hates Vegas and all other forms of gambling enjoys “betting the ponies.” So it runs in my blood from both sides of my family. No wonder I have a knack for it.

After moving to the suburbs in 2008, I started throwing Derby parties, complete with a cash betting pool and handmade mint juleps in different flavors. Because, trust me, a plain one tastes gross. I’ve created cherry, peach, and raspberry. All have been popular with my partygoers and quite delicious. (Fun Fact: I’m known among my friends for my mixology skills.) One year I made bourbon margaritas on, and everyone was surprised when they really liked them. I also served plenty of Mexican food for that Cinco de Derby, in lieu of the usual Southern snacks. May 5th is our pug CiCi’s birthday, too, so we had “pupcakes” in her honor.

This year on the first Saturday in May I will be placing a bet, but I will not be throwing a party for multiple reasons. I’m in the middle of a big move, plus I won’t be home. I am attending a wedding…

My dear friend “Rizzo” came to my desk last fall to share her important news with me. “We picked the date for our wedding and it’s May 4th, and, yes, that’s Derby Day,” she stated to me matter-of-factly. It was as if she thought I might be inconvenienced, because she knew about my infatuation with The Derby.

Of course I responded with the true joy I felt for this announcement, “Well, that is such a cool day to have a wedding!”

Riz came to my company seven years ago in her early twenties. She started and quickly excelled in an entry-level position and soon interviewed for a sales job in the same department as me. So we became coworkers separated by just a few cubicle walls. Then we became fast friends, connecting on a deep level about so many things – relationships, career paths, family matters, and our childhoods.

She’s not only a friend; she has become like an aunt to The Precious Pair, exchanging notes and gifts with them over the years. We have visited her at home, too. There was once an epic scavenger hunt inside an antique mall that she created for them, and last fall we had a sleepover at her house that turned out to be one of those unforgettable game nights. – see previous blog “It Was My Family, in the Kitchen, with a Board Game…”

Riz and I have also shared more Milanesa chicken sandwiches than I can count at a place called Bakersfield, not too far from our office. It’s our little lunch tradition. Lunches with her are rare these days since we’ve both become busier in our roles at work, yet whenever we can squeeze one in, it’s always mutually rewarding.

I value my time with this bride. She’s wise beyond her years, which allows her to be one of the best listeners and advice givers I’ve ever known. We’ve been lucky to get to know her hubby-to-be, too. He is incredibly talented (he can create just about anything from a hunk of wood), and he’s calming, kind, and a ton of fun to be around. But he’s never once worked in a soup kitchen, so he might want to work on that! (An inside joke that’s fun to include here.)

For their Happy Hour Shower at work, there was only one gift worthy for me to give them: a set of commemorative 2019 Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses emblazoned with their upcoming wedding date of May 4th. I told them I will get more sets in the years ahead to honor the special timing of their wedding day.

There are certain days in all our lives that mean so much to us. Birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays are the obvious ones. Other special days are more obscure and individualized. Think about it – what are the days that feel like holidays to you every year, even if they aren’t official? Derby Day is that to me. It represents so many things…My Old Kentucky Home, my friends and my parties, rich traditions, Lady Luck, and now it will also signify the union of two dear people I adore.

Sportscasters often refer to it as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” With a dirt track of 1 1/4 miles, The Derby is a race that’s about speed first, then endurance.

I’m proud of and inspired by Miss Rizzo and Mr. Finley because they have the special endurance and dedication that’s needed for marriage, the same traits the Derby horses and their hard-working humans need to end up as winners.

You’re already winners to me, Finzos. And I look forward to watching you two succeed more and more together. Watch for invitations to my Derby Parties in the future. We will toast mint juleps in your honor for your anniversaries.

But first, I can’t wait for your spectacular wedding day!


There’s a First Time for Everything…to Go Wrong

When think about high school, there’s nothing more iconic than The Prom. I’m reminded of it every year at this time when social media becomes a frenzy of gowns, tuxedos, corsages, and, at times, yes, awkward couple-y poses. The Prom is one of my favorite springtime traditions, even though I haven’t attended one in nearly 30 years.  

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Rural Kentucky – not quite Appalachia, but “Horse Country” Kentucky – where bluegrass thrives on hilltops as far as you can see and where my high school prom took place in a former oil tycoon’s stately mansion, now referred to as Spindletop Hall.  

The Prom was a really big deal at my high school. Wasn’t it at yours?  

But – WOW – none of us in the middle-aged category or older can compete with the even bigger deal The Prom has become in recent years. There’s so much build-up now: the videos of the wacky invitations to The Prom and the photos of shopping for the gown – the high school version of “She said YES to the dress!” Back in the ‘80s, we were lucky to get a hand-scrawled note stuffed inside our locker as our invitation and prom dresses were sometimes hand-me-downs. Even a decade after my own high school days, my sister wore her Maid of Honor dress recycled from my wedding to her Senior Prom in the Spring of ‘99. Luckily, she looked lovely in seafoam green! 

As I flip through all the fun and colorful prom photos every Spring on Facebook, I always take a stroll down my own Memory Lane. (I mean, don’t you?) Those recollections often take me to my sophomore year when I attended the Junior-Senior Prom with one of my first boyfriends. One year older than me, his name was Jim, and he was an identical twin. People often got Jim and his brother Bob confused, so they referred to both of them as “Jim-Bob” to avoid choosing the wrong name. My own stepfather called them this since he could never tell the young men apart. 

Even before we went to the Spring of ’89 Prom together, Jim asked me on my first official date. I was 16 at the time. My mother was protective and hesitant to let me go. After all, I was her only daughter, and a typically sassy teenager, but a good, clean kid overall. So, she eventually caved and agreed to it. Next thing I knew, I was headed to Lexington, about 20 miles away, for a night at the movies. My first real date ever. I wish I could remember what movie, but since I never got to see it, that detail escapes me now. It could have been “Say Anything” or maybe “Field of Dreams” – two true classics from early 1989…

Whatever the flick, we were double-dating with another young couple from Bourbon County High School (yes, that really was the name of my high school.) Bill, the other guy, was driving. At dusk, we were taking backroads into the city. If you’ve ever been to Central Kentucky, you know that these roads are windy, twisty-turvy, narrow, and bordered by endless miles of plank horse farm fences. And behind those fences live actual horses. The kind that occasionally jump those fences. 

You might be putting the pieces together about what happened the evening of My First Date. Two teenaged couples. One car. Curvy backroads. And, you guessed it, a horse that jumped the fence.  

Boyfriend and I were in the backseat. When the horse’s head went through the windshield, we ducked as the glass shards flew our way. Amazingly, none of us were hurt, not even the girl in the front passenger’s seat, although the horse’s head came just inches from her own. Somehow, Bill as the driver had effectively slammed on the brakes and controlled the car enough to avoid diving into the deep ditch or crossing over into the other lane. And the biggest miracle was the horse itself. Only his head made impact with the car through the windshield, and he pranced away with a few scratches. Eventually, his owners wrangled him back into the safety of his fenced, calm bluegrass pasture.  

After State Police arrived, checked everyone out, and took a report, they sent all of us back home. No movie. No buttered popcorn to romantically share out of one bucket. No first real date for me 

What relevance does this 30-year old story possibly have to life in 2019 

We face many firsts in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s the first time we meet someone or the first time we do something or the first time our kids experience something new. Thinking of memorable first-time events in recent years, there was the first time I became the mother of a teenager, the first time I watched my younger daughter score a soccer goal (in fact, she had a hat trick during that game!), the first time I posted a blog here at iamyourmom.com, and the first time I parasailed, only a month ago. Looking forward and God willing, there will be countless more firsts for both you and me. I can only imagine how fantastic and emotional they will be. I often think about when The Precious Pair will graduate, leave for college, get married, and have children of their own. Yikes, Life! Please slow down the milestones, would you?    

Yet one thing is truer than true. Things have gone wrong. Things do go wrong. Things will go wrong.  That’s what’s interesting about life and growth. Without the curves and obstacles and busted windshields, we aren’t challenged. We don’t gain the same kind of experience and wisdom when things go perfectly. So, we must learn to live with the things that go wrong. Learn to welcome them into your day like the hidden favors and lessons they are. Learn to recognize all the first times that go awry as the true gifts of second chances they become.  

My next opportunity to go on a date with my first love Jim was The Prom, where this blog began. Since he and I had endured together the strange collision with the horse, we were as happy and cute and carefree as ever, crossing arm-in-arm over the threshold of the building pictured above.   

There’s a first time for everything to go wrong
Luckily, that’s often followed by a second chance for things to go quite beautifully.  

Feeling nostalgic,


The Beast Called Feedback

I’m ready to move. I found the house I love in the location I love, and, yes, it has a white picket fence and a wraparound porch. What else could I possibly need? Of course, it comes with a mortgage. There’s always that part, even when we’re talking about a “dream home.”

But first, I’ve gotta’ sell this house I’m in. Tomorrow is our second Open House from 1 to 4 pm. Somebody’s out there who will come along and love this one as much as I did 11 years ago. It’s bound to happen. I just need it to happen within 30 days. That’s the timeframe of my accepted purchase agreement with contingency. The sellers of my 1900-ish seafoam green house on the corner, as referenced above, expect me to be ready in 30 days — which has already shrunk to 20. Eek.

So what do I do when I start to panic about such things? I look to my favorite poem, and we’ll get to that shortly. But back to my panicking…

Yes, I know I’m supposed to remove all signs of personalization from this house before showing it to strangers. But I cannot bring myself to do it entirely. I did take down most of our family photos. However, I cannot magic erase the homemade growth wall away. I tried. I just cannot do it. I’ve decided though if someone comes through this house tomorrow and takes great offense at my children’s heights marked on the wall in pencil since 2010, then so be it. Those people can keep on looking. If they don’t have a sentimental bone in their bodies, I don’t want them to live here anyway.

After all the purging and packing and hauling and cleaning and staging, that wall is what stops me in my tracks. It’s the symbol that best represents our decade-plus of growth in this house and with these kids, and my gosh, moving sucks.

But just like like last time, I left one house broken-hearted and crossed the threshold of this new one encouraged and hopeful and excited. This house has given me mixed memories, but many, many happy ones that I will pack away in my heart, wrapped up in protective, emotional bubble wrap for life. I am obsessively grateful to be moving on to the third house I’ve ever owned and the first one I’ve ever owned all by myself. But before that can happen, panic. We need that special somebody to come along. My Buyer. 

It might be a husband who convinces the wife to love it or a wife who persuades the husband. (“Happy Wife, Happy Life” they say!) Or maybe the kids will nag their parents into loving it. After all, we serve Break & Bakes at our Open Houses! So clearly this is an  awesome house with awesome owners. And there’s a fenced yard for the dog and a big carpeted basement for a new ping pong table. There’s something for everyone here — enough to look beyond a few stains on the carpeting and 19 year-old oak kitchen cabinets. Just paint them gray! Everybody wants gray kitchen cabinets these days.

My Dear Home Shoppers, you are right about one thing. JoJo Gaines did not decorate my house, so please quit complaining about “interior needs improvement” on my showing feedback form. I decorated it — a full time working (now single) mom who commutes 2 hours per weekday and writes a blog in the middle of the night when she cannot sleep. (Timestamp: 4:27 am) So forgive me if this place is not perfect.

Am I defensive? Yep. After all, my house does not smell like cats, even though that’s what another recent visitor has claimed. My cat died in October, and I’ve had carpets shampooed and a professional cleaning lady here since then – not to mention we’ve vacuumed and mopped and scrubbed this place several times. Maybe it’s my pig-like pug you’re sensing in the air over the scent of my Lavender-Vanilla Wallflower. That’s far more likely. She snorts and grunts and sweats and lays around on the couch for most of the day. Surely, that’s who you’re detecting. Not a cat.

What about curb appeal? Thank you to the viewers who accurately deemed it “Excellent.” Yes, indeed it is. Wraparound porch and all. I even planted yellow pansies, and who even bothers with PANSIES. The name itself implies that no one does. They are for sissies, and they die within a month. At this rate, mine will shrivel up before my purchase agreement expires. To the people who claimed “cat odor” and rated my curb appeal only “Good,” well, we already know all about them.

This rant would not be complete without me mentioning the couple I will call “Cindy and Brandon” – names changed to protect the guilty. The infamous Nosy Neighbors who showed up here at the stroke of 1 pm during our first Sunday Open House. My Realtor, who we now adore and consider a family friend, greeted them at the door and quickly learned they lived here in the neighborhood. Nothing shocking about that. There are always Open House snoopers, and I’ve been one of them in the past. But Cindy and Brandon were unique. Not only did they want to know all about the house, they had several questions about my personal situation and why I was moving. Apparently, they wanted “The Scoop” about me. Ha! This is quite simply hilarious… and rude. Thanks to the inquisitive and distracting nature of Cindy and Brandon, my Realtor burned the Break & Bakes. So rather than a freshly-baked cookie smell wafting through the house, she had to burn countless candles to cover up the chocolate chip char scent instead.

So here I am on the eve of my second Open House, not sleeping, blogging and panicking. Thank God above for my favorite poem, written by a man born right here in Indiana and a fellow alumnus of my beloved DePauw University, where he attended 75 years before me. To the late Mr. Ehrmann, I say thank you for your wisdom, your calming spirit, and your lovely thoughts all wrapped up in this prose-poem that has brought me peace for the past 20 years since I discovered it. The title means “Desired” and defines what the poet wanted out of life for himself and what he highly recommended to others.

I have this hanging on my oldest daughter’s wall. I think at our new (actually it’s really old) house, I will display it in a much more public location like the kitchen or the living room so our visitors can see it and enjoy and soak it up for themselves. It’s advice that’s too good not to share broadly, which is why I’m sharing it now, at a time when I do need to be “gentle with myself” and “keep peace with my soul.”

This poem is the feedback I need to hear right now. I hope you will adore it as much as I do. I hope you will hang it on your wall.

On the Move,


Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.
Source: http://mwkworks.com/desiderata.html



What April Fool’s Day Means to Me

1. Whoopie Cushion
2. Fake Melted Ice Cream
3. Exploding Can of Chips
4. Rubber Earthworms
5. Water-Spraying Bowtie

I’m not kidding when I tell you this was my youngest daughter’s packing list for Spring Break. We were leaving the eternally chilly Midwest for a few days under sunnier skies and much warmer air. Our destination: Fort Myers Beach. Our arrival: The Night Before April Fool’s Day.

You see, this timing is important to note and precisely the reason she did not want to arrive ill-prepared for shenanigans on the silliest day of the year. So she packed up her pranks and tricks to unleash on her grandfather all day long today here in Florida where my stepdad and my mother “snowbird” every winter.

To be honest, I’m not much of a Florida fan. It’s where everyone I know flocks for Spring Break, yet the mystique is lost on me. I don’t tan. I don’t swim. I don’t like humidity. What saves Florida for me are the great beach bars with their endless rum-based cocktails. Include the umbrella, please, and hold the sand. I’ll sit right here at the bar and admire the Gulf and the adventurous parasailers from a nicely air-conditioned building, thank you so much!

While I’m not enamored with Florida, this set of my parents has been coming here for years. So I do end up visiting here on a fairly regular basis like I’m doing this week, with The Precious Pair, of course.

As I’ve made it perfectly clear before, I am not your mom. But she is mine. Who? The lady born on April Fool’s Day 79 years ago today…

When I did a quick Google search to better understand the origin of April Fool’s Day, I didn’t learn anything definitive about it. Historians don’t agree about how it started, but it has certainly stuck with us in modern times and many media outlets and companies try to trick us every April 1st. Maybe you have already fallen for something today? I’ll have to report back about how the gags we packed will go over. Hopefully, no one will get kicked out of the condo for messing too much with the old man who lives here! My mother, on the other hand, will surely enjoy watching her youngest granddaughter play all her tricks. It should make for perfect birthday entertainment.

I’m willing to bet most of you can relate to the fact that she and I are very different people. My Mom and Me.

– She’s conservative. I’m moderate and even borderline liberal about several topics.
– She worked in accounting and bookkeeping for most of her life. I picked words for my career.
– She still has a flip phone. Yes, you heard that right. I am an iPhone aficionado, and I’m trying desperately to get her switched over.
– She likes cats. I really don’t, except for My Remy who passed away last fall of a heart attack. But he acted more like a dog trapped in a cat’s body. He probably deserves his own blog entry someday.

I read an article recently stating that most people begin to adopt and notice similarities to their parents around the age of 33, especially when it comes to the language, expressions, interests, hobbies, and quirks your parents have. According to this statistic, I’ve had about 13 years of experience and practice acting like my mother.

We all say at some point – “Don’t let me turn into my parents!” It’s common, and I’m sure my own children while in their teens and young adulthood will feel the same. However, fortunately for me, I have a strong relationship with all my parents, and I have no fear or shame about turning into any of them.

As an example of my mom and her quirks, she has a theory for various types of itches you might have. Yes, strange, I know. If your hand itches, you will be getting some extra money soon. (I love it when my hand itches.) When your nose itches, it means you will be kissing a fool soon. (I’m not kissing anyone these days.) And now that I’m writing about itching, I’m starting to itch all over, so I’ll move on from this illustration. The crazy thing is, now I share these same theories with people when they’re scratching their hands or their noses. So I must believe they’re true.

And what’s not to believe about what my mom tells me? She has always been straight with me. Brutally honest at times. In fact, on a recent phone call, I blew up at her about that straight-forward style. We were discussing my recent dual home sale/home purchase situation. I explained to her I had found a practically perfect house in the exact local area I had dreamed about for years. Then the barrage of questions began.

“How much is it?’
“Is it worth that price?”
“Is that price in your budget?”
“Are the stairs really steep?”

This whole line of questioning hit a nerve with me, and I lost my patience.

“Why do you have to be negative about something I’m so excited about?” I challenged.

She defended herself, “Well, I’m not trying to be.”

And I’m sure she wasn’t. This scenario shows yet another difference we have. She is quite practical. I’m hopelessly creative. She is also a multi-property owner, so it’s in her nature to ask questions before buying. She owns several homes right here in Fort Myers, Florida, including the one where we’re staying now — with not only her and my stepdad, but also Dora the Cat and “Sexy Rexy” the Corgi.

While we are split on cats, my mom and I do align about dogs. She has her second Corgi currently and has inspired us to get our own this summer as a companion to our 7-year old pug. (See previous post – “The Pig in My Blankets”) My first-ever family dog as a young child was Sandy, a sheepdog mix. She was white and fluffy and you could never see her eyes; they were always buried in fur. One of my vivid memories of Sandy and my 30-something single mom at the time was a camping trip we took when our beloved pet clashed with a skunk. Rather than sleeping with a stinkbomb for the rest of the trip, my mom launched into problem-solving mode, and we found a grocery store and purchased blue laundry detergent and red tomato juice. We bathed her in both, and when combined with her white fur, she looked just like an American flag. God Bless the USA and Sweet Sandy.

Back to today – April Fool’s Day and my mom’s 79th birthday – we are making our plans for the day. We’ve decided on some sea-shelling on the beach, shopping, a stop for ice cream, and shrimp scampi for dinner. And beach cocktails are for certain – pink wine is her favorite. I feel super blessed that we get to spend this special day with her. You see, since I left for college at 18, we’ve never lived again in the same state. For part of each year, we are in neighboring states so we are able to visit a few times. But in the winter months when they fly the coop, we are separated across many miles, and we go several months without seeing each other. My kids get older and taller while Mom and I get older and shorter – shrinking seems to begin already in middle age! So physically we do change, yet our bond never does. We are close for life.

My mom has been one of my biggest lifelong fans and supporters, and this past year I have needed a LOT of fan support! Thank you, Momma. You’re the best and you’ve made me want to be the best I can be, too, even with my flaws and failures. But you will probably respond to that comment by saying I don’t have those because that’s what Moms do — they overlook our goofs and pick us up and dust us off and they love the crap out of us no matter what.

Happy Birthday to my mom – also known as Grandmaw – born on April Fool’s Day, but, trust me, she is no fool.

From Florida this time,

How to Choose Your Masseuse by Bob Marks

NOTE: This is my first installment featuring a guest blogger – my Dad! Many thanks for his willingness to share a story here on my new site. I’ll be hitting up other family and friends soon 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. 


I am comfortable being your first guest blogger, Michelle, because I am definitely not your mom. I am, in fact, your dad. I even pinned your name on you. I chose it because (1) I love the melodies of the French language and (2) I was thinking that the song “Michelle” by The Beatles described my feelings about you very well. Your readers may want to dial it up on Youtube or their MP3 or Alexa or whatever they do these days. I first heard it on a vinyl LP33. To our family you are now known as “Mitchie”, which pretty much dilutes the French sonority, but is probably an even better fit.

In any case, my purpose today is not family history, but a contemporary illustration of the old saying, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” This antiquated homily apparently originated in the days when it was not uncommon to receive a horse as a gift. The idea was that one could tell the age of any horse with a careful examination of the animal’s teeth. But it was thought to be bad form, and probably politically incorrect, to do a dental exam after getting the poor creature for free!

My dear daughter, Mitchie, gave me a gift certificate for Christmas last year. It was good for one hour of “therapy” at a popular, nation-wide spa which I will not name. Suffice it to say that I have been very envious of the many massages she has enjoyed from her membership in this wonderful establishment. Two months had gone by before I really noticed the certificate sitting unused on the top of my bookcase. So, I phoned (by land line, of course, since I don’t have a phone that doesn’t plug into a wall) and the spa’s rep immediately assured me that they were delighted that I would be coming in tomorrow. I was told my massage therapist would be Erin, and I had an appointment at noon!

I eagerly announced my arrival (“Robert Marks for Erin!”) at 12 sharp the next day and could tell right away that I was not nearly as eagerly awaited. The charming woman at the front desk was profusely apologetic, but had to tell me they could not locate me in their register and, oh sorry, but Erin wouldn’t be coming in after all. I guess either one of these failings absolutely precluded my getting a massage at noon. I asked if Erin had flown the coop, but was told that, no, she just wasn’t scheduled to come in that day. To make up for my “inconvenience”, they wondered whether I could reschedule for 3 p.m., same day. If so, I could choose my therapist, either “Becky” or “Rylyn”. I was surprised because Mitchie’s older daughter has a good friend named Rylyn, a rather unusual and very pretty feminine name in my mind. Naturally, I took dibs on Rylyn, and we agreed on the 3 o’clock rubdown.

When I bounced back in at 3 on the dot, I was greeted fulsomely and assured they had verified me in their world-wide records and Rylyn was ready for me. Then I was ushered into the “relaxation room” where I plopped into a vibrating chair with visions of my masseuse dancing in my head.

I was drifting off after ten minutes of lovely vibrations when my reveries were interrupted by a gruff voice wanting to know if “Mark” was in the room. I looked up to see a hulking, 250-pound male with a knitted wool cap holding my appointment slip. He was not so much a lineman type; more like a linebacker. He asked me if my last name was Roberts, and I said, “No, it’s Marks, but my first name is Robert.” He told me he was “Rylyn” (male spelling unknown). As he led me down the hall to the cozy room where I anticipated soft new age music and fragrant aromatherapy, it dawned on me that Rylyn the Linebacker was the newly-selected massage therapist with whom I was going to spend the next hour in very close contact.

I got as comfortable as possible on the table and told him to use as much pressure as he thought I needed. He then proceeded to pound the stuffing out of me. I was in pain nearly the whole time, but decided to stick it out because it must be good for me or Rylyn surely wouldn’t be doing it. When I finally emerged from the massage chamber, the ladies at the front desk cheerfully told me I was “good to go!” Was that a giggle I heard behind me as the door was closing? There’s a fine line between massage and manipulation.

I don’t want to seem so unkind as to suggest that my daughter’s gift to me was anything but appreciated. I’m not looking that gift horse in the mouth. To prove all’s well that ends well, as a gesture of the spa’s gratitude for allowing them to cater to my massage needs, they awarded me another free hour of their services. To make this happen, they told me that Mitchie’s original gift certificate to me is still valid!

Thanks for giving me a chance to begin and end my blogging career on a site as distinguished as iamnotyourmom.com. Michelle, ma belle, your words go together very well.

Massaged and Manipulated,

It Was My Family, In the Kitchen, With a Board Game…

My memoir about Family Game Night begins with that time the younger daughter swallowed a chip from her Headbanz board game. The incident required two weekend visits to the emergency room and started with a hypothetical question, “What would happen if Cici swallowed a piece from a game?” she asked.

I replied not thinking too much of it, “Well, it would depend on what type of game piece it was. What are we talking about here?”

“Maybe a flat blue round chip from a game?”

“Really? Well, we would probably need to take Cici to the emergency vet if she did that.”

(Insert child’s blank terrified stare.)

Finally realizing where this was headed, I panicked, “Wait, did YOU eat the flat blue round chip from the game?”

Needless to say, the hypothetical situation quickly turned to reality with a trip to the human emergency room where the six-year-old’s throat and gut were thoroughly checked via X-ray. The chip was translucent, so it never showed up on the images. The ER doctor assured me that was a good thing; it must not have gotten lodged and, therefore, wasn’t blocking any essential bodily functions.

They sent us packing, but first told us to “watch for the chip” if you know what I mean.

But we were back the next day after she complained of feeling ill. I had pictured the piece lodged in an important spot. In retrospect, she probably had only pangs of guilt. The entire process above repeated itself.

PSA to Children and Childish Adults: Do NOT swallow the game pieces.

These things happen though. My older brother, six years my senior, reportedly once shoved a bean up his nose. Something he found in the yard. It quickly got stuck in his nasal passage and required his own ER visit. My most memorable trip to the hospital warrants its own full story, so I will be sure to write about it soon, but I’ll keep you in suspense about it for now.

Speaking of injuries and hospitals and games, everyone knows the traditional board game Clue results in a murder. The victim is Mr. Boddy. My older daughter recently observed “With a name like that, you’re just asking to be murdered.” She has a point.

For the under 8 crowd, there’s Clue Junior. We discovered it earlier this year. Rather than a gruesome shooting or stabbing or clubbing of the head by The Candlestick, the non-violent mystery to be solved is “Who ate the chocolate cake?” You follow a trail of crumbs straight to the culprit. This is what happens in my house every night. I come home from work and identify who has eaten what for their after-school snacks based on the morsels and bits I find on the counter, in the sink, and all over the floor. Just call me the Snacking Sleuth.

In the classic version of Clue, the colorful cast of characters and suspects includes the well-known Miss Scarlett, Mrs. White, Miss Peacock, Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, and Professor Plum. We have a newer version of the game in which Dr. Orchid appears on the scene. Where did she come from? I wonder what kind of doctor she is? The kind who sees children who eat stuff they shouldn’t? I am skeptical of her, the same way I am typically skeptical of the new person in Book Club or the new neighbor who moves in across the street. This is a tendency I’m not proud to admit.

Just ask my dear friend K. about it. When she showed up as a coworker at my office 15 years ago, she wanted us to be friends. I resisted aggressively for months. Back then, in my early 30s, I was cocky and thinking I had plenty of friends and didn’t need anymore. But K. was determined to prove me wrong. She made it her mission to make us friends. Ultimately, she won. Thank goodness, she did.

My hesitance to befriend Dr. Orchid aside, Clue is one of my favorite games to play with The Precious Pair. However, the past several times we have played, one of them has beaten me. Yes, I am in the transitional stage of life when my kids are starting to beat me at board games. What does this mean? Am I losing my edge? Or, most likely, am I overthinking games (and everything) in my middle age?

The last time we played Clue, the younger daughter claimed victory, having guessed the suspect, the room, and the weapon accurately before I had even a clue about any of the solutions. (Pun intended.) I had carefully marked my Ex’s & Oh’s on my tracking sheet to show who had what cards, or what cards I thought they had. In the end, I was way off the mark.

I need to work on my board gaming strategies. I am a competitive person, so losing all the time against them is not going to work well for me long-term. As these two keep maturing and getting smarter, I need to up my game. I need to get back in touch with my childhood Family Game Night roots so I can dig into their little psyches and better understand how they’re playing…

Yes, Family Game Night has represented something special to me since I was a kid. As a lifelong devoted eater of food, my memory goes directly to the snacks! Salty stuff like popcorn or a cheese & summer sausage tray, and sweets like ice cream and, to wash everything down, ALWAYS “pop” – as we called it in the Midwest. That older brother of mine, the one who shoved the seed in his nostril, had a game night comedy routine where he would guzzle his pop, burp loudly, and pretend he was drunk. Yep, it was the classic teenage boy comedy act. Circa 1980. His 8 year old little sis – as in me – loved it. Even better were the nights when my stepmom would join him in this silly gig. My dad has it captured on movie film.

Few would disagree how priceless it can be to have family members coming together like this, even for just a few hours, with common goals: to focus, to compete and, yes, to win. And it’s okay to want to win. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. That’s why it’s called a game. Our family was competitive, and when we sat down to play Trivial Pursuit, Uno, Pictionary, and many others, we weren’t messing around. Each of us was there to win, even our baby sister when she came along. She learned a love of games and the family art of competing at an early age. That edge stuck with her, and today she is the most successful of all three siblings, as an attorney in the often intense area of family law.  

But even more important than winning, we were all there to bond. And to laugh. And to sit in close proximity to one another, where we could enjoy each other’s company and comedy routines. Sharing a game creates the ultimate example of togetherness among families, friends, neighbors, classmates, and even coworkers. (Wow, you have not seen true competitiveness until you meet the people where I work!)

Board games on the kitchen table with their playing tokens and pretend money and indigestible chips do far more for family bonding than today’s modern digital gaming habits. I pray for board games to stick around. To think my grandchildren might not enjoy the tradition of my own childhood and that of their mothers’ childhoods, well, that would be a shame. May the power of video games and apps and virtual reality never snuff out the real intimacy and down-to-earth entertainment value of Family Game Night.

In It To Win It,

Stop and Save the Scribbles

I’m a sentimental saver. This is not to be mistaken for a hoarder. I would not qualify for one of those cable shows you get sucked in to watching for hours on a Saturday afternoon. Because, after all, you have nothing better to do, right?

No, my saving habits are not problematic. It’s actually a sweet trait I possess. If you give me something – as a gift or as a hand-me-down or for whatever reason- I will remember you gave it to me and when and where and why. If the time comes to pack up a house and move, I will not want to part with said object due to the sentimental connections I’ve mentally fabricated among it, you, and me. Did I say this tendency is not a problem? Well, I fibbed…

It becomes a problem at a time like this, when I’m facing the monumental challenge of sifting through 13 rooms and a semi-finished basement to prep and stage our house for sale. My Realtors explain the objective is “to create the impact of a model home” and “to remove ‘all signs of work’ from the house.” Both statements mean you must remove everything you need to function daily as a human being: dish soap, laundry soap, body soap (as people, we do use a lot of soaps), but also kitchen appliances, bath mats and small rugs, garbage cans, hampers and piles of laundry, all family photos, and any signs of the dog. Ultimate success will come to us only once it appears no one actually lives here at all. And it certainly won’t hurt if the master bath ends up looking, feeling, and smelling like a spa. White fluffy towels required.

You can likely sense by now I am stressed. I have packed and moved a house only one other time in my adult life, and that was 11 years ago when I had one child versus two and a much smaller house to shove into boxes and bins. Even then, I splurged and paid packers. As a much more sensible middle-aged woman, I can’t justify an expense like that when we have three able-bodied people to handle the task.

Have you noticed how trendy it is to purge these days? We’re living in a Purging Revolution with tiny, adorable Marie Kondo at the helm. If you’re not familiar with her, look her up. I feel extra trendy to say I was a fan of Marie long before her new Netflix show which has fast-tracked her to fame. My dear friend K. from college gifted me her book “The Joy of Tidying Up” a few years ago. I’ve read it once already and have started it again. It has a fascinating impact. It makes you WANT to tidy and organize everything you own. Of course, I will never part with this book. I will always associate it with my friend K. who sent it to me via Amazon as a “just because” type of gift. See, I really do remember the details behind the objects I own.

But back to the three able-bodied people who live here. As is often the case with a mother and her daughters, each of us plays a distinctly different role in everyday life, and this process of packing up the house is no exception. As I’ve said, I am the Sentimental Saver. The older daughter is the Minimalist. The younger daughter is the Clutter Keeper. These competing positions have already led to multiple disagreements about what we should keep, toss, donate, or share with their younger cousins.

For instance, I sunk to the depths of digging through my teenager’s trash can after she decluttered her room recently. Inside I found multiple homemade birthday cards from her mother, as in me. What the heck?!? I was hurt. I made her keep a couple of them.

Related to this startling discovery, this same daughter confided in me during a recent car conversation, “When I’m a parent, I might not do a good job of saving my kids’ artwork. I don’t attach emotion to material things like you do, you know? I mean do you have to save every scribble?”

“No, you don’t,” I replied, “Even I have been known to smuggle a drawing or two into the trash when nobody was looking.”

Then I got sappy on her, “But, let me tell you, be sure to save a few of the scribbles. You’ll want and need those someday to help you remember your kids were actually tiny once and capable of only scribbling at the time. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m starting to forget more and more what that was like.”

And this is precisely why the piling, purging, and packing exhausts me. Granted, it’s physical work loading boxes into the car and unloading them at the storage unit, but it’s the mental work that’s especially draining. This process requires letting go of possessions that represent our shared past – their toys, their art supplies, their clothes. All of it speaks to me about our earlier years in this house and as a family. If I part with these items and have less evidence of them when they were little, will I remember them that way even less? Ugh.

As this question weighed heavy on my heart, we went to service at our new church this past Sunday, and the pastor’s message was made for me to hear — “Do you want more stuff or more stories?” he challenged. Wow. Mind blown. Yes, of course, I want more stories! Who would answer any differently? In fact, I want more trips and game nights and backyard BBQs at a new house we have yet to find. I want frequent visits to see family and friends and visits from them to see us, too. I want more money to donate to the causes we care about. I want less time cleaning a big house and more time writing about what happens in a smaller one. And I really do want less stuff, so I can fit it into less space with a more reasonable mortgage payment.

This is my path to freely affording more experiences versus more things. Yes, please. Sign me up for this life.  The simple and decluttered kind where peace, happy times, and all the people I love are there; not the stuff.

Well, except maybe the scribbles.

The Reformed Sentimental Saver,