Showing posts with label Random Essays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Random Essays. Show all posts

Monday, June 30, 2014

Challenge Create and a Very Sick Cat

Skirt Fixation
Audrey and the girls over at Skirt Fixation have created a fun challenge for sewing bloggers: Challenge Create: Fabric Swap Edition. The premise is that participants send each other fabric that fits a theme, and we can use the fabric we receive to create anything we want -- clothes, home decor, quilt -- anything. We sent/received two yards total, and I cannot wait to show you what I've created from the beautiful fabric I received from Amy and Tasha. My post goes live tomorrow. 

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We arrived home from vacation last week, and a day later VBS began for the boys at their grandparents' church. It was nighttime VBS, so they didn't get to bed until 9:30 five nights in a row (1.5 hours later than their regular summer bedtime). Our routine was severely out of whack, which is why it took us several days to realize our 14-year-old cat, Mozart, was very sick. (Our cats hide while the kids are awake. Really, who can blame them?)

He didn't eat anything for at least three days. (I suspect it was closer to four or five in hindsight.) Friday night I stayed up with him and held him. Neither of us slept, and although he didn't seem to be in any pain, he struggled to even hold his head up. It was pitiful. Saturday afternoon he couldn't even stand. He lay under the bed, completely still. Our other cat lay beside him the whole time; she didn't eat either. 

We all said our goodbyes. I was a MESS. 

I don't consider myself an animal person. A pet is a pet. A human is a human. I don't treat our cats like people, and while we feed them, clean them, and give them attention, the truth is there is a pecking order in our family and they are not at the top. Dressing pets in clothing confounds me. (LeeAnn is rolling her eyes.)

So imagine my surprise when this all started and I sobbed for two days straight. My heart was broken. As much as I gripe about the puking (which he loves to do immediately after I mop), sweeping up their messes, and cleaning cat hair from every available surface -- the truth is he's been with me for 14 years and I couldn't look at any spot in the house without imagining him there. He sits by me every single night, and if I'm sewing, he's in there with me. I couldn't bring myself to even go in the sewing room. If I'm blogging, he's lying across my lap, so typing on the computer was out of the question. (Which created a challenge for the deadline for the first part of this post, as you can imagine.)

14 years ago I was in a new city in a new career far from my family. Ryan was a poor graduate student in another city, and when a friend told him his wife was allergic to her new cat, Ryan offered to take the tabby home as my Christmas gift. One weekend when I arrived at his apartment in the wee hours of the morning to visit (my schedule was GRODY), I sneaked into Ryan's room to wake him. Suddenly a huge rat skittered across the floor! I screamed, and Ryan said, "Merry Christmas!" 

I certainly wasn't a cat person. My apartment complex (nor his) allowed pets without a deposit we couldn't afford. Mozart was a MEAN kitten. I was not thrilled. 

But Mo kept me company. He kept my secrets and listened to my dreams. He cuddled with me when I was lonely, homesick, or overwhelmed. He didn't mind that I stunk from smoking or stumbled in at all hours of the night. He knocked over my Christmas tree the first year I celebrated the holiday without my family. He rode shotgun with me every time I went home to Memphis to visit. (It gave the drive-thru workers a thrill to see a cat hanging his head out the window, meowing loudly at anyone who'd listen.) He stalked me, and slid down my legs when I'd get out of the shower. (He almost didn't survive that feat.) Ryan and I got married and added another cat to the mix. Mo reluctantly adjusted to that and our adding kids to the mix, too. He attacked me while I was breastfeeding Lee, and after a visit to the vet where I was instructed to "assert my dominance," we had a mutual understanding. We've gotten along swimmingly since.

He's moved six times in 14 years. He's a tough cat.

Late Saturday night I brought food to him again and begged him to eat. He stood up, wobbled over the bowl, and ate three bites. Later when I checked on him he did it again. Then he emptied the bowl. (Our youngest cat still didn't eat to allow him to fill up. If you've seen her -- all 25 pounds of her -- you know that in itself is a miracle.) He's very, very slowly working his way back. He's alert again and moving more easily. The vet recommended watching and waiting -- taking him in could set him back again. 

So we wait. And watch. And hope and pray for just a little more time. And really, I'm also praying for a second chance to show him that even though I'll never put him in a tutu or call him my "baby," he's a pretty important part of our family and I'm glad he's here. Puke and shedding hair and bad breath and all.




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Reports

See that over there? ----------------->>>>>
In my description of this blog, I included among its possible contents "essays about life." A series of unfortunate events squelched my desire to publish those essays, but my fan (Hi, Miss Judy!) has requested a few "Life" posts thrown in between the "Sewing" posts. Considering my fan and her daughter (Hi, LeeAnn!) have been reading my humble blog for SEVEN years now, I'm overcoming my hesitation and obliging. So, I'll start with something pretty tame.

I started reading fiction again.

For the past, oh, SIX years my reading has been nonfiction. Getting pregnant. Being pregnant. Childbirth. (Oh, LANDS, the childbirth books.) Breastfeeding. Sleep Training. Parenting. Positive Parenting. Education. Home Education. Self Help. Spiritual Help. Spiritual Self Help. Marriage. Sewing.

I've returned to the World of Fiction. I read a book NOT written by an expert! It was about fake people! Some of them weren't even parents!

First up, Sycamore Row. It's John Grisham's latest novel. It takes place in Clanton, Mississippi, where we meet back up with one of my favorite fictional characters -- Jake Brigance.

Have you read A Time to Kill? For years I couldn't get past the first chapter. (It's brutal and disturbing.) It's been many years and several kids since I read it, but I've seen the movie roughly 179 times.

When Ryan and I were newly marrieds, we lived in separate cities for six or so months while I finished grad school. I lived in Elizabethton, TN, in an outbuilding that had been divided into four totally gross one-room rentals. No bathroom door. No cable. There was a tiny TV and VCR, so I brought my VHS tapes and watched them every night in order to get to sleep. (The guy next door chain smoked and sang "Shall We Gather at the River" at the top of his lungs. I had to drown it out.)

The thing that always struck me about Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) and Carla Brigance (Ashley Judd) was their sweat. Everyone in the movie A Time to Kill sweated. All the time. Jake and Carla especially. Now, I'm from Memphis and I know it gets HOT in the summer. But really. Most of us (even in the Deep South) have air conditioning now. Or at least a rag or something to mop our brows.

Oh, My Goodness. That's the longest digression ever. Maybe I should write more often.

I love Jake, or at least the Matthew McConaughey version of Jake. So naturally I loved Sycamore Row. It has lots of entertainment value. Toward the end of the book, the pace picks up and the suspense held my interest. It reminds me of Grisham's old novels that I enjoyed -- A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Client, The Rainmaker, and such.

Secretly I'm hoping they make it into a movie and I get to watch Matthew McConoughey speak in a glorious Southern drawl and sweat for 1.5 hours. (Secretly I also hope if they make said movie they will work with Ashley Judd on her accent. I mean, she didn't have one in the first movie. She just threw in an occasional "Honey" or "Sugar." Weird.)

On to my second, even more sophisticated book review.**

Gone Girl.

This one's been around for a while, right? I think everyone went ga-ga for it a couple of years ago (when I was elbow-deep in one of those Self-Help books) and I missed it.

Life's all about timing.

It seems like someone should have warned me this book is about an unemployed woman whose husband compels her to move to his hometown, and she subsequently GOES CRAZY and/or DIES.

Seriously.

It's a psychological thriller. I get why people like it, but maybe I've read too many Self-Help books to put much stock or worry into the contradiction between images/visions of how we imagine life should be vs. how life really is. I just didn't feel it. Also, I predicted things very early on, so I don't see the "suspenseful" part.

Instead of actually using that degree to which I referred and giving an intelligent critique, I'll just say it wasn't my bag.

Last up. And this one is the BEST.

Sue Grafton.

While I'm sewing late into the night, Kinsey Millhone keeps me company. Since August, I've been downloading Sue Grafton's books on audio from our local library. (A is for Alibi, B is for Burgler, C is for Corpse, etc.) I'd read the series before, but it had been years since my aunt introduced me to the books. Listening to them in order has allowed me to binge on Kinsey and really get to know her.

As entertaining as the plots of Sue Grafton's novels are, it's Kinsey that makes them spectacular. Kinsey is a private detective. She's a quirky character with whom I'd want to be friends. (I'm convinced she'd make an exception to her I-Have-No-Girl-Friends-and-Don't-Want-Any rule for me.) Kinsey is an information junkie. She describes herself as a terrier when there's an unanswered question. She owns one black dress and lives in boots and jeans. She runs 3 miles every morning at 6am. She is disciplined and determined.

Plus she's stuck in the '80s, which is pretty stinkin' awesome. (Sue Grafton's books are sequential, and because each case is only a few months apart, the whole series has taken place in less than a decade.)

I'm listening to W is for Wasted now, which is the last one Grafton has written in the series so far. I highly recommend these books if you enjoy a relatively suspenseful mystery with a kick-butt heroine who has no intention of kicking butt.

That's all I've got. Reading fiction - sitting down and reading a hard-copy of a book - is a little difficult for me. From the time I was Lee's age I was obsessed with books. If I pick up a fiction book, all of life goes on hold. I carry it with me everywhere and read it whenever I can (and lots of times whenever I shouldn't). There are whole summers I don't remember because my nose was buried in a book.

I won't be returning to my veracious, demoniacal reading tendencies while the kids still need help wiping their rears, but I do hope to have one of these posts every once in a while. That is, if the fan(s) approve. (Hi again, Miss Judy and LeeAnn!)

**My graduate degree is in English. And I'm a librarian by profession. I should be able to write a comprehensive, intelligent book review. My Self-Help books have taught me when to say, "That's just not working for me today."

(Disclaimer: all of these books are rated R. Or PG-13 if, for instance, you read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood as a 12-year-old girl.)

How about you? Have you read any good books lately? Are you (like me) waiting, PANTING with HEAVING BOSOM for Diana Gabaldon's latest Outlander book to be released this summer? <<<< If not, you totally won't get that joke. I'm neither panting nor do I have a bosom.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

On Being Melodramatic

A couple of years ago, I took stock of my personality traits. 

Starting with Over Thinker. Obvs. 

I thought about how I'd describe myself, how others perceived me, things I wanted to change, things I didn't think I could change, and quirks I cherished that were meant to be mine. 

The first to go was People Pleaser. Man, it was tough, but it had become a disingenuous part of me, and it was wreaking havoc in my head. It still pops up very occasionally, and if I react out of habit I end up apologizing for things for which I shouldn't be sorry or saying "yes" when I should say "no."

The second to go was Silent Sulker. My philosophy was if I was upset about something, it made sense to retreat and process my feelings rather than risk saying or doing something hurtful (see above re: People Pleaser). Of course, now I realize not saying anything is much more hurtful. This one's been tough, too, but it's been a long time since Ryan got the silent treatment. 

He may be longing for that trait to return, actually. 

The third thing to go was Perfectionist. I never thought it was a bad thing until I saw myself projecting it onto my husband and kids. Not good. Not good at all. I've employed several strategies - prayer, reading, talks with friends, etc. but the single most effective tool for reigning in the Perfectionist has been sewing. I can be fanatical in my sewing and it doesn't affect anyone. I can nitpick and seam rip to my heart's content. And it does content my heart. 

Over Thinker stayed. It sometimes makes me (and others) crazy, but it's served me well. Introvert stayed. It took 33 years to realize being outgoing and talkative doesn't equal being an extrovert. I need time alone or one-on-one with a BFF to soothe my soul. Passionate and Compassionate stayed. So did Principled and Intentional

There was one with which I struggled. Melodramatic

I haven't been listed in a playbill since 1999. Unfortunately, I don't even sing in the church choir anymore. (Our new church doesn't have one. *sob*) Being dramatic in those places is perfectly normal. But if one is dramatic by nature, everyday life is one's stage.  

Please don't mistake me. Personal drama makes me uncomfortable. You're fighting with your boyfriend and your best friend talked about you behind your back?

Gag.

I mean waving hands while speaking; using words like "gag" and pantomiming the action; relishing storytelling, but often embellishing for effect; laughing loudly enough to turn heads; dancing and whooping when your child reads his first word; clapping and shouting when your child pees on the potty; fist pumping and singing at the top of your lungs during a long run; calling your mom and sobbing when somebody questions your parenting, attacks your character, insults your marriage, when your car breaks down, you're homesick, etc. etc. etc. 

My poor long-suffering mother. 

With regards to my long-suffering mother, I do not recommend being melodramatic while in the car. The only time my mother lost her proverbial stuff when I was a kid (I know. Once. The only time. Saint.) was when I did this during the morning commute:

SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH IN THE MOST DRAMATIC GASP EVER, ACCOMPANIED BY WAVING ARMS
"OH NOOOOOOOO!" I wailed. 
"What? What? What happened? What is it?" she panicked, considering we were in Memphis rush hour traffic. 
"I! FORGOT! MY! HOMEWORK!"

Needless to say, my display may have been a bit of an overreaction. Add to that I'd done it (the exact same way) for the previous two mornings, and well. Bless her. 

In the 30 years that have followed, she has talked me down from many ledges. 

I've a tendency to overreact in general. Everything is BIG to me at first. HUGE. Eventually things land in perspective, but it often takes a teary call to my parents to get there. Now they just put me on speaker phone and both talk me down. It's an art form, really. Dealing with a dramatic soul. 

So, why would I keep this trait other than to terrorize my mother?

Because it's a huge part of what makes me Me. My kids beam when I make a big, dramatic deal of milestones. They love watching me dance around the kitchen and play air guitar (and dancing with me). They laugh when I speak in an operatic voice for the morning. Ask them who they want to read books to them. (Hint: the loud, dramatic one with an arsenal of character voices.)

Most of my closest peeps are low-key. I exhaust them, but I'd wager they like having me liven things up a bit sometimes.   

Truth be told, it exhausts me occasionally. To have to convince Ryan that THIS time it IS A REALLY BIG DEAL when I've cried wolf, say 1,372,593 other times. We're learning, though. He's learning how to calm me down and when to let me jump. I'm learning to count to five before I react. He's learning that gesticulation and volume don't always mean anger. I'm learning to tone down the gesticulation and volume when I am angry. 

During this season of the new year and navel gazing, it's good to remember being imperfect is awesome. Necessary. Being genuine is even better. What some see as tiresome or annoying traits may have legitimate purpose in our lives. Be careful not to go too far in "fixing" things. 

This year and every year, I'm continuously striving to improve and grow while embracing my God-given quirkiness. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to hit publish then spend the next three days over-analyzing the words in this essay. But only after I read it aloud to Ryan, complete with all the inflections and hand gestures that Blogger can't translate. 

Happy New Year, friends! *insert wild dancing and loud singing*

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Tattoo


This post was my husband's idea. 

I was at the gym on the treadmill. The women on the recumbent bikes behind me were chatting away when I arrived, but then lowered their voices when I stepped in front of them. It suddenly occurred to me when I heard "tattoo" and sighing that I was the reason for the volume adjustment. I've got weirdly good hearing, and was kind of stuck and bored, so I listened to the conversation. 

Before they moved on to all of their friends' children and grandchildren and neighbors and such who'd gotten tattoos, and all the stories about sagging and regret and whatnot, they assessed mine. They concluded that I'd regret it, and they said I should be covering it. 

Honestly I wasn't offended but only wished they would have asked me about it. Because I love to tell people about it. What it is, how it came to be, why I got it.

I'm aware people object to tattoos. I know all about the religious reasons, the moral reasons, the practical reasons, the preference reasons. My folks said, "I mean, it's not my thing, but whatever. You're an adult."  (If you know me and my parents, you know they've become pretty adept at making that statement for the past 18 years.) I knew there would be people who didn't approve, but seeking approval isn't my thing. 

Still. It got me thinking. I didn't think I'd regret it, but would I? I asked the person who knows me best. 

"I think you'll regret it when you're 60," he said. 

"But that's exactly when I plan to be moving back to the mountains!" I said.  

"It just won't hold the same importance in 25 years," he said. "You'll forget why you felt so passionately about it.  You should write it down."

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We moved to Asheville under duress. Ryan had been involuntarily relocated by a company he's since left. We had two options -- Iowa or Asheville. We had already lived near the mountains of East Tennessee and had hiked hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail and through the Smokies. We felt connected to the mountains -- a spiritual connection that made God physically present for us, and a physical connection that made us realize how spectacular He created us to be. 

Asheville trumped Iowa, and we moved with heavy hearts from a place we called home (Paducah, KY) to the mountains we adored. 

We'd lived there a week when my mom and I took a walk downtown in Black Mountain (our town). She saw a woman walking toward us in a broomstick skirt, wearing Keens or Birks with hair down her back. She wasn't wearing makeup and probably carried a baby on her back. 

"Michelle," she said.  "You've finally found your fashion Mecca."

It was my homeland. It was the first time I felt like I belonged. Every single bit of me belonged. People were open-minded. Happy. Accepting. Family-centered. Earth-friendly. Active. Outdoorsy. Diverse. Interested. Eager to learn. Artsy. Spiritual. 

It wasn't perfect. Some "hipsters" can be presumptuous and condescending; however, we spent time with people our age (and older) who had moved there purposefully. From all over the country, they came to Asheville and its surrounding towns because of the food, the art, the weather, the breweries, the mountains. 

We spent our 10th Anniversary hiking the Appalachian Trail for a week, which reinvigorated our marriage. The mountain streams in Montreat helped energize my mama self. Max Patch renewed my faith in a God who created and is creating. Erin showed me there was room in my heart and life for one more best friend. Central UMC provided us a community in which to help teach our children about The Lord and in which to sharpen our faith with committed friends and clergy. The sunsets at Craggy Gardens, hikes at the NC Arboretum and Biltmore, and the summit at Lookout Mountain allowed us to share the beauty of the earth with our kids. 

The mountains hold a piece of my soul. 

My tattoo is a view from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. When we first moved there, and I was depressed, confused, and overwhelmed, I would often put the kids in the car and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'd wait til they were asleep and pull over, praying and reveling in the awesome sight. 

We don't live there anymore, and it Breaks. My. Heart. We will live there again. It's my home. 

Until then, there's a picture on my back that brings alive everything about the mountains that makes my soul sing. It's a piece of my soul, artfully illustrated and displayed on the outside of my body. 

Plus it's in a place unlikely to sag. So maybe, just maybe, I won't regret it after all. 


Friday, April 5, 2013

On Living with Spider-Man

Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can. Spins a web any size. Catches thieves just like flies. Look out! Here comes the Spiderman.

Since December, we have known Daniel as Spider-Man. I'm not sure when it began - maybe it was when we discovered Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends or the 1967 cartoon version of Spider-Man on Netflix.

One day he put on Lee's Spider-Man costume and never took it off.

Is he strong? Listen bud - He's got radioactive blood. Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead. Hey there! There goes the Spiderman.

After watching him trip and fall over the too-long legs and constantly having to roll up the arms, I got online and ordered a costume in Daniel's size. The moment the mailman delivered it, we ripped open the package. He was practically vibrating with excitement as he slipped on his new identity. When we got him a "web shooter" for Christmas, the ensemble was complete.

February 2013
In the chill of the night, At the scene of the crime, Like a streak of light, He arrives just in time!

Now there are only three times Daniel isn't Spider-Man: when the costume is being washed (only when absolutely necessary), when he goes to church (they have one in the Sunday school room that he immediately slips on when he arrives), or when he's at another formal event like a funeral. (He wore his costume on the way to the funeral, we changed him in the car, and we changed him back into the costume on the way home.)

Otherwise He. Is. Spider-Man. At the grocery store. In the backyard. At the playground. In bed. Walking around town. At Biltmore. In the car. Picking up Lee from Farm Class. At friends' houses. Under a coat.

It's been mended again and again. Despite washing it on delicate and hanging it to dry, it's showing signs of wear. There's the hole he cut as an experiment (and regretted deeply). There's the deflated muscles, the not-so-sticky-any-more velcro, and the unraveling edges.

Daniel is That Kid. He dares to be different. He's confident and fun. People smile in his presence. He's strong, daring, and bold. He's so adorable it makes my teeth hurt.

The stuff of superheroes.


Spiderman, Spiderman, Friendly neighborhood Spiderman. Wealth and fame, he's ignored. Action is his reward. To him, life is a great big bang-up. Wherever there's a hang-up, you'll find the Spiderman!

When I'm too old to remember the tantrums and the difficulty teaching him about self-control, when I'm too old to remember the sibling warfare, when I'm too old to remember moments of huddling in the corner praying for patience -- I will remember Daniel as Spider-Man.

In my Forever Memory, Daniel will be lying in his bed sound asleep, warm in his Spider-Man costume, wearing his Spidey half mask that still allows him room to suck on his pacifier.

In my Forever Memory, Daniel is -- just as he believes. Daniel is Spider-Man.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Date Night: The Only Resolution

I'm a New Year's Resolution Queen. Unless you count all the failed resolutions. Then I'm just the Queen's incompetent stepsister.

This year I've got one resolution. Have a weekly date night with my husband.

Here's how I imagine date night plans going.

MICHELLE: Les Mis is coming out on Christmas day. That's my favorite musical of all time. I've seen it twice in the theaters.
RYAN: That sounds great! I'll call my mom and ask them to babysit.
MICHELLE: No, your folks kept them last weekend for our date night. I'll call my parents. They'll be thrilled.

Here's how date night plans actually go.

MICHELLE: Les Mis is coming out on Christmas day. That's my favorite musical of all time. I've seen it twice in the theaters.
RYAN: I know. I went with you once. Why do you need to see it again?
MICHELLE: Hello?! Anne Hathaway! Hugh Jackman! Russell Crowe! The trailer gave me chills and made me cry.
RYAN: So, who's keeping the kids?
Michelle slaps forehead when she remembers their parents live eight hours away
MICHELLE: Sigh. I'll figure it out.

Then I proceed to email/call the three babysitters we've found who are A) able to drive and/or live close by, B) able/willing to keep three kids five and under, and C) available.

When I strike out, I beg Ryan to find somebody at the hospital. He does (eventually). In the past it's been an intern, a director's daughter, etc.

The night of the event, I scramble to get dinner ready so all the babysitter has to do is serve it up, play with the kids for a bit, and then put everybody to bed. I try my best to put on mascara and pray Ryan doesn't have to work late.

Then I go online and try to sell a kidney to pay for the whole thing.

It takes gargantuan effort. That's why we're going with a weekly date night -- at home after the kids are in bed.

We've picked a night that's least likely to have interference. We'll alternate who's in charge of planning for that week. We can watch a movie, order in a special meal, slow dance, play a board game. . . hopefully the Internets will help us be creative because we are not idea people. What's important is turning off the electronic devices and giving each other complete attention.

We're excited about devoting one night a week to gazing into each others' eyes and whispering sweet nothings.

Or at least enjoying some good takeout in our pajamas.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Road Trips with Little Ones -- No Pin-worthy Tips Here


Back when I was first addicted to Pinterest, I saw several pins for Traveling with Kids. Bloggers listed dozens of ways to keep small kids occupied on long trips, both in the car or on a plane.

The ideas were brilliant. Felt boards. Quiet books. Singing games. Magnets. Snack bags. Almost all left DVDs as a last-resort suggestion at the very bottom of the list.

Magnet boards are fine if you can crawl out of the passenger seat while Daddy is driving and go in the back to fetch a snowman's head that's somehow wedged itself between the seat and cup holder.

I've done the math, and for a total of 62 hours in the past month I've been in a car with three pre-school-aged children ON THE INTERSTATE. Most of those hours I was alone with them.

I'm calling myself an expert on traveling in a car alone with little kids. As an expert, I've developed a list. This is not a pin-worthy list, mind you. It's a list for solo parents who want to stay sane.

1. In-car DVD players are the best invention ever for people who live far from family. I mean, we don't drive around Asheville with the DVD player constantly cranking out Fireman Sam, but I have no qualms about letting the DVD time exceed reasonable limits on an extended, solo road trip

For long trips, we keep a basket of DVDs under the console. I can pop them in and out without swerving off the road. We even have headphones if I get tired of hearing Curious George's curious monkey noises. But really I never tire of George. (Really. Love George.) We only have two headphones anyway.

2.) Have those snacks. Make them tossable. When we're traveling, we drink out of water bottles. I can toss them to the kids, and the kids can open them and drink. Food stuff also has to be tossable, openable, and holdable. I put fruit, crackers, and cookies in plastic containers that have easy-open lids.

3.) Pack lunch. This is my biggest tip for those traveling alone with three kids. We pack lunch and it saves money, time, and the headache of serving/cleaning up ketchup. We picnic. It's more challenging to find a place in cooler months, which brings me to. . .

4.) Utilize rest areas. In the warmer months we eat at the picnic tables and run around the grounds. If I'm feeling especially over-achieving, I'll pack bubbles and a ball. We spend an hour at lunch getting fresh air to (hopefully) ready them for naps. Rest areas are much easier to use for potty breaks. We don't have to leave the interstate, and they're generally cleaner than gas station/fast food restrooms. When the weather is colder, we take our picnic lunch into a fast food restaurant. We'll order a frostie or something and call it even.

5.) Caress your iPhone. I have fallen madly, deeply, passionately in love with my iPhone for so many reasons, not the least of which is Pandora and streaming NPR while driving. Even through the remote areas, 3G lets me listen to music or news to my little liberal heart's content. (PSA: don't text/surf/etc.while driving.)

6.) Be patient. My body still starts twitching uncontrollably when I think of the traffic jam I encountered on the way home at the end of October. Our trip was lengthened by three hours. No exaggeration.  The traffic between Knoxville and Gatlinburg was bumper-to-bumper. For hours.

(Excuse me for a second. Deep Breaths. In. Out. Breathe, Michelle.)

Forget patience. Call your mother and cry. That's what I did.

7.) Enjoy it. Cray-cray, as my sister would say. (That's short and hip for crazy, FYI.) My most stressful motherhood moments have happened while in a car. BUT, so have my most warm and fuzzy motherhood moments. When they're all peacefully snoozing in the backseat, and I'm cruising down the road listening to cheesy country music, and the mountains are looming in the distance . . . Praise God, it doesn't get much better than that.

We bond on the road. Seriously. We've peed in inappropriate places, eaten in the median of an outlet mall, and stopped by a river to hear the sound of the water crashing over rocks. We've gotten lost, found new exciting views, and all screamed together loud enough to almost shatter the glass.

It's not easy, and I'm dreading Sunday's drive home, but traveling alone with the kids has created memories and adventures that (almost) make the twitchy times worth it.


Monday, November 19, 2012

I Joined the Gym (Spoiler Alert: There's a hot tub)

I joined the gym.

First let me clarify -- I am not an athletic person. Running. That's it. Except for a brief (traumatic) attempt at intramural soccer in college, and a brief (traumatic) attempt at t-ball in pre-school, I've never played another organized sport.

The gym combines two of my biggest phobias: people and sweaty people.

Here's how the conversation went when I told Ryan about the possibility of joining:
Michelle: We got a coupon in the mail. The gym will waive the initiation fee. I think we should join.
Ryan: Ha! So we can pay $70 a month for you to go TWICE? Ha. Ha.

Then we placed a bet. Because that's what we do.**

Granted, my history with gym memberships has been as successful as the attempts at soccer and t-ball. (Both resulted in blood, bruising, and swelling.)

The first time I paid to go somewhere and run, I was a sophomore in college. There was a gym near my parents' house, and I had plenty of daylight hours to kill because I worked second shift during the summer. The former captain of our high school cheerleading squad was the personal trainer who showed me around. Some part of me must've thought if I forked over the cash to use their equipment, I'd suddenly be one of the "cool kids."

I went twice. Maybe.

The second time I was a young, single reporter with friends who enjoyed working out. Vanessa talked me into a dance aerobics class. The last time I had gyrated in a choreographed way was at age 15 when I had a brief (traumatic) brush with cheerleading. "Um, Michelle. Can you come over here? We've broken this down extra extra slow and easy so you can get it," was a common refrain I had heard from the coach and captain.

The dance aerobics class did not go well.

The third time I was young, married, and determined to be open minded about the positive aspects of weight training. On my second visit to that gym, I warmed up briefly on the treadmills.

A man stepped onto the one beside me. He was working hard and breathing harder. He'd had onions with lunch. Maybe I could have tolerated his horrendous breath (maybe). But then he flung sweat on me. His sweat touched my body.

It's taken years for that memory to fade.

There are several awesome things about our new gym that are helping me recover from Gymphobia.

The main clients are old people and stay-at-home moms. It's rare for old people to sweat enough to fling it, and stay-at-home moms like aerobics classes. The treadmills are almost always empty!

We go early on the two slowest days, so my brood doesn't completely fill the closet-sized playroom. They have a great time.

One of the childcare workers is Lee's former pre-school teacher.  Love. Her.

It's possible to watch TV on my iPhone while I'm running. Watching bad TV (Nashville) is distracting and mind-numbing, which makes speed training breezy.

They've got a (relatively) heated pool and generous family swim time. Ryan and the boys have enjoyed that. (Seeing everyone's lips turning blue discourages me from getting in.)

There have been a couple of iffy moments. My first day I got in the weight-lifting rotation behind a woman my grandmother's age. Every time she got up from a machine and I sat down, I had to adjust the weight way, way, WAY down. That was an ego blow.

Then there was the woman in the locker room who was head-to-toe naked the entire time. Having a conversation. Naked. The entire time. I'm all for confidence, but it was the first time I'd seen a real-live head-to-toe naked woman. Having a conversation. Naked. *shudder*

The Number One Awesome Thing about our new gym is this:


I don't have to sweat for the full 1.5 hours. In fact, I can run a bit on the treadmill and skip straight to the leg-soaking part. Soaking my legs in a hot tub, watching smut TV, and knowing my kids are in excellent hands?

Awesome.

** I won the bet. It was official Saturday morning when Ryan came home from his workout, gave me a hug and said, "Thank you for joining the gym."

Being right feels almost as good as a soak in the hot tub.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This I Believe (an old favorite)


The marathon is in two weeks. My training has been mediocre, but I'll make it to the starting line. I've no illusions of personal records; my prayer is to finish strong and happy.

The approaching race has me feeling nostalgic and a little cuckoo (they call it taper madness), so here's an essay I wrote in February 2009. It was for a prompt from NPR -- "This I Believe."

This I Believe

I believe in running.

While running, I’m a voyeur. I know who’s doing laundry, who’s a closet smoker, who keeps Christmas decorations up year round, and who leaves the lights on in unused rooms.

I’m a child of God. I pray, and He talks to me through a creeping sunset, reflection of red and yellow leaves in a pond, and silent deer in a corn field.

I’m a mother and wife. Long lists of chores scroll through my mental palm pilot; I plan grocery lists and menus. Epiphanies dawn about how to build a better marriage or how to relax in motherhood.

I’m a writer. I compose imaginary novels, moving manifestos, ironic blog posts, and angry letters to editors.

I’m a cynic. I critique landscaping choices, scoff at unleashed dogs, lament garbage volume, and shake my fist at reckless drivers.

Running is as vital for me as breathing, eating, sleeping, or praying. If I don’t run, my relationship with my husband goes awry, everything seems darker, and I don’t like being around people. I fear the end of my running days; there’s no possibility of water aerobics, yoga, or walking holding the same joy.

I’m a runner. I squeeze into slinky, brand name clothes that contradict my non-running persona, lace up shoes that cost more than any other item in my wardrobe, and don a reflective hat that has escaped my almost fanatical cleaning habit. I’ll never win a trophy, won’t place in my age group, and will never know the feel of a podium beneath my feet. But as long as I’m working toward crossing a finish line, I am spectacular because I run.

Monday, October 22, 2012

On Sewing

We've had some heavy stuff going on in our Families of Origin.

Death. Birth. A very serious diagnosis and upcoming surgery. All in the last three weeks.

The kids and I have been out of town three weeks of the past four. Ryan is at a significant crossroad in his career. I'm at the peak of training for marathon #4. After a five-year hiatus, PMS has returned with a vengeance. Our cat is puking blood. The truck won't start.

There have been moments of bliss, but mostly Ryan and I feel like we're riding a roller coaster in the middle of a tornado.

Last week while I was chugging away at my sewing machine, I probably should have been doing something else (like sleeping). The same questions kept nagging: "With all the stuff going on around you, why are you sewing? Why are you posting pictures on a blog? Why does this matter?"

Those other things are beyond my control.

I can't keep our families healthy. Or predict that phone call that will change everything. I can't shorten labor. Or find Ryan's dream job. I can't fix Ryan's truck. (And apparently neither can anyone else.)

Like running, sewing is my escape. It's something I can control. A + B = C. It's tedious at times, but mostly the effort expended yields proportional results.

The instructions are written and (hopefully) easy to follow. If I complete the steps, there should be a wearable result.

There will be failures, but they are easy to remedy. If not, it's easy to move on.

When I'm speechless from confusion, grief, and fear, there is one thing that doesn't require words. I don't have to find a babysitter or put on a jacket. I can tune out the world and focus on the thread at my fingertips.

I've got everything I need to get away -- right here in my dining room.

So, I sew.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Dear Me: A Letter to Teenage Michelle


Dear 15-Year-Old Michelle,

Here's the deal. I don't want to tell you anything that will alter the course of your life. There are stupid, insane things you will do. There are some really brilliant decisions you'll make. If I tell you too much, you won't be 35-year-old Michelle, and 35-year-old Michelle is pretty awesome.

Trust me.

So, I'll just give you little tidbits. Just enough to make you hold on a little longer. Because right now you're not feeling like there's much to hold onto. There is.

First, I'll address the topic that's always at the front of your mind: boys. FOR THE LOVE, I wish you'd stop thinking about boys, but whatever. You're 15.

Misty and Angela are right. You're wasting your time. He makes you laugh, but he'll cheat on you. (Ending this relationship now will do nothing to alter your future dramatically. It'll just give you a few more months to obsess with T.J., who is the one you really want to be with anyway.)

Misty and Angela are always right. They'll save your life someday. Over and over when you do stupid things, they'll be there to save you. Literally. Cherish them. Tell them you love them. They're what's keeping you going right now, and without them you won't make it to 35.

Go easy on your family. They love you. They do. Someday you'll call your stepdad "Dad," and he'll be your friend. You'll want to talk to him. You'll randomly pick up the phone to call him on a Tuesday afternoon. He'll be your biggest fan. You'll love your sister with a fierce, protective passion. Your mom will still be your hero. (And she'll still laugh at your jokes.) You'll all get along better after you move out.

This will be your last year as a cheerleader. You'll be grateful, especially after you almost get kicked off the squad for being suspended from school. (Don't ask.) Go hug Coach Harger and Dr. Brewer. The only extra-curriculars from high school that will last are running and singing. They'll become part of your personality in ways you can't imagine.

Also, Ms. Moss-Ayad doesn't like you. Get over it. You've got a strong personality; there will be many more people who don't like you. With her - it may have something to do with your preference for Danielle Steel novels over assigned reading. Wait until your senior year. Mr. Raney's loony, but he'll introduce you to British Literature. You'll be hooked.

You're starting to figure out there's not a "popular crowd." By your senior year, none of that junior high stuff will matter. Be kind to everyone. I know you will, but I'm just reminding you. Oh, and don't skip out early on the date with Brian Beech. He'll look forward to it, and it'll hurt him when you sneak out during intermission when he's still got half the performance left. He won't believe you were sick. You'll regret it.

That computer lab on the second floor? Spend a little more time in there. After battling MS-DOS in typing, you'll swear off computers.

Not a good idea, lovely lady.

You tried smoking a cigarette recently. You hated it. You'll try it a few more times, and then you'll buy your first pack. Don't.

You've drunk a bit of alcohol already. You've already made a fool of yourself. Stop. Really. It'll become a problem, and you'll depend on whiskey too much. Nothing good will ever happen when you are drinking.

Nothing.

Stop.

Watch your mouth. It's not cool to cuss. You sound ridiculous and trashy.

Study abroad in college. You've wanted to since you visited Florence last year. You'll get sucked up in your major and think you've got to get out of college quickly to start your career.

Nonsense. Take on the debt and spend a semester in Florence.

While I'm feeling bossy, I'll also write -- Don't dye your hair black the year you get married. It will look awful, and no one will tell you. You will have to chop it all off to get the color out, and then it will look like a skunk is writhing in pain on the back of your head.

When you're 34 and experience a huge life change, your Aunt Tina will write down the title of a book. She will have planted the seed years before, but on one particular visit she will write it down and tell you, "Go get it." You will.

It will be nothing short of miraculous. You will discover your life's purpose. You will discover yourself. Get ready.

For a while, it will be ugly. You will feel anger so hot you think your skin is melting away. You will be confused. You will cry and cry and cry and cry.

Then you will be free.

You know who Jesus is. You believe what they tell you to believe. Or at least you say you do. Someday you'll know who he is. You'll know it in your heart and soul.

And you'll know who you are. You are kind, smart, funny, beautiful, and worthy. You are a good person. You don't believe that, do you?

Trust me.

I won't tell you what you'll be doing at age 35. You wouldn't believe me anyway. I certainly won't tell you whom you'll marry. All the relationship stuff leading up to your marriage is messy, glorious, brutal, and beautiful. You've got to experience it.

One night, when you've been married ten years, you'll be sitting on the couch across from your husband. He will be reading, and you'll be typing on the computer. (See? I told you to cozy up to that computer lab!) You will both look up at the same time and lock eyes. At that moment you will know. Really know. You will have a partner for life.

Again, just hold on a little longer, sweet girl. It will get better. 

You have an awesome future ahead of you.

Blessings,
Your Brilliant Future Self

(I'm writing this as part of a prompt from Emily P. Freeman, author of Graceful {for young women}, a book I wish my 15-year-old self had read. I'm linking this post to her blog, where she's inviting other authors and bloggers to write letters.)

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