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Rules are made to be broken. (??)

August 14, 2014

kidsI’m coming to you in advance, asking for forgiveness. I’ve got back to school brain. I haven’t been officially diagnosed, and it’s a manageable case, but I’m suffering nonetheless. Everyone else is, too. My brain seems to be locked in a semi constant state of chaos. My brain is only operating in brief, list-like thoughts.

I miss summer. It’s only been a week, but let’s go back. Although the final weeks were busier than I’d have liked, I miss when we weren’t rushing to school early for Hall Monitor duty. Dance started the first week. Piano starts soon. We keep a minimally overscheduled schedule, but it gets nuts from time to time.

I’m glad my kids are back in school. Parenting is confusing like that. Y’all know I love my kids, but Lordy pete. I don’t miss the fighting. To be fair, The Boy doesn’t necessarily start fights. He does terrible things to his sister, which makes her terribly upset. He touches her and looks at her. He doesn’t just look at her. He looks at her like that. He’s smiling the whole time. At least he’s having a good time.

This summer required a revised set of house rules. The Kids are getting older. It seemed we were well overdue:

First, absolutely no touching, unless it is clearly and unquestionably a hug or an accident. You’d think I was being clear, but accidents are often hard to determine. You know the drill. You whip the wet towel close enough to your sister’s leg, missing every time but one. “It was an accident,” doesn’t work when she’s crying over the softball sized welt on her calf. Some things just aren’t accidents. Hugging only counts when you’re actually, well, hugging. No pushing allowed.

If your sister screams, you’re probably gonna get in trouble. As a former kid, I fully realize that she just removed your arm with a dull, rusty knife, but I can’t take the screaming.

Your brother is older, and therefore his rules are different. It’s that simple, and I’m not going to debate his later bed time each and every school night. When he turns 16 he will drive. You will be 14 and will not. It’s time for you to learn it: life is not fair.

For the most part, I don’t care why it’s happening. Please don’t tell me every little thing that he just did which is now requiring you to tattle. I just want you to stop.

You’ve finally figured out that “we’ll see” can mean whatever I want it to mean. Sometimes, I’m just buying time, because I don’t feel like telling you “no” yet. It’s my privilege and pleasure.

“No” really does mean “no.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out who taught you otherwise. Don’t ask again and again, expecting different results. If you’ve asked, and I’ve answered, we’re done here. In the words of a dear friend, “Can’t grant.”

While we’re on it, this all might go more smoothly if you don’t ask for ridiculous things. “No, you can’t have ice cream. Dinner is on the table.” See how silly that sounds?

Don’t ever ask if a friend can spend the night, if that friend is standing with you. I’ll always say no.

I know you are growing very, very tired of hearing me repeat myself. Rest assured; I don’t do it for kicks. Saying “please empty your laundry basket” eleventy billion times per day isn’t my idea of a picnic. If there’s some other language I can learn to expedite this process, please clue me in. Rosetta stone is expensive, but I hear it’s worth it.

When I pester you about this being “your only sister” or “the only brother you’ll ever have,” I’m not trying to depress you. Y’all will need each other someday, when I’m gone. You’ll be surprised when you’re suddenly real friends. Right now, while you’re telling each other to BE QUIET YOU ARE SO ANNOYING, it’s hard to imagine, but it’s true.

Addendum: Just as y’all started to get good at this, we went back to school. The all too soon arrival of August. I heard y’all talked on the playground, and I hope you were kind. Always look out for each other. NO. That doesn’t mean watch his every move, hoping he screws up so you have a chance to tattle. Just love one another. If you absolutely cannot, at least try to whisper. We wouldn’t want to draw attention to any questionable behavior. Of course, my perfect angel children would never, ever have to worry about that.

College is So Much More than a Lecture Hall

August 11, 2014

ramen19 years ago, I was packing for college.
19 years ago, I knew so much more than I know now. With each passing year, I’m happier to admit that I am, in fact, clueless. Academic advisors in Athens were plentiful, but no one ever told me this stuff. Maybe I just didn’t hear them.
Ramen noodles are a complete meal. So are instant mashed potatoes. Kraft mac and cheese can definitely be made without milk. If you have milk, you can live for weeks on cereal alone.
The $6 cab fare is always worth it. If the school bus system has a Family Housing (for example) bus that goes downtown, you can take that, too. It’s free. Be aware of the schedules. They don’t run all night.
The free t-shirt they give you for signing up for a credit card isn’t really free. It comes with a hefty 17% monthly interest rate. It doesn’t matter that the cute card has your college mascot on it. It will still get you in trouble. Stick with cash.
Living on a budget is possible. Low checking account balances enhance creative thinking skills. It’s also possible to work, go to class, and still have a life.
Check the couch cushions. Once, we found almost $10 in change in there.
Even if you’re going home for the holidays, get a Christmas tree. A potted plant can be decorated on limited funds.
Moving every year isn’t that uncommon. It doesn’t ever get easier. You can get packing boxes for free at the liquor store. Getting the security deposit back is totally worth the effort.
If you’re lucky, you’ll make forever friends. High school friends will always matter, but late-night porch talks after $1 beer night are the ties that bind. Are there still places that sell beer for $1? Remember when we had nickel night?
Even the best of friends don’t make perfect roommates. I’m incredibly messy. I tried to at least do the dishes. I kept my bedroom door closed most of the time.
Sharing clothes with your roommates is expected. Taking clothes without asking and wearing them to a smoky bar isn’t. You will get caught, and the rest of the apartment will talk about you.
Fights between roommates can be settled with a box of wine.
Just because she goes out with you doesn’t mean she wants to spend the night.
The first guy you date probably won’t become your husband.
I knew three people who got dogs in college and actually took care of them. As a general rule, wait until graduation. Your parents only recently got rid of you. They probably don’t want your dog.
Joining a sorority or fraternity isn’t mandatory or necessary, even in The South.
Promising to cook fried chicken for your boyfriend is a lofty goal. It isn’t as easy as it looks on TV, and unless the oil is the perfect temperature, the chicken will still be bloody when you go to serve it. Practice first, or stick to the basics. After eating ramen for the past three nights, he’ll be impressed by a Stouffer’s lasagna and bagged salad.
Sign up for 8:00 am classes as a last resort only. If you can avoid Fridays altogether, I highly recommend it. Trust me. Attendance policies are no joke.
Skipping class on the first sunny day in the spring is not only acceptable, it’s required.
Every year, take at least two classes not required by your major. You might be surprised.
Don’t feel pressured to declare a major on the first day of classes. And yes, you can change your mind.
Your parents don’t have to know about the cash refund for returning your textbooks. Consider it a bonus. Buy milk.
Have fun, but don’t get sent home. Remember the dog? They don’t want you back, either. Mom and Dad have been looking forward to this for years.
They’ll cry when you leave. They’re sad and proud. They’ll celebrate your absence. During holiday breaks, they’ll tell everyone you’re coming home. They might seem crazy. The day your first child is born, it will all make sense.
I don’t have regrets. Ok, I kind of wish my friend hadn’t prank called my high school boyfriend – did you know you can go to jail for that? Otherwise, I’d do it all again. My only complaint is that I can’t. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids. The rest of your life is an 8am class. Attendance mandatory.

15 in 5

August 4, 2014

Because I love a list. Especially a random list.
cocktail (2)1. I did jinx myself last week. Everything was still great in Augusta, but when we left Chicago, there were cancellations, oversold flights, and a 24 hour delay. At the time, it seemed stressful, but if that’s the worst thing that happens all summer, I’ll consider us pretty fortunate.
2. Hey, US Airways? If you don’t give meal vouchers, why did the girl next to me in line receive three, with instructions on how to combine them to get a nicer meal? Your employees in Augusta are top-notch. There seem to be some consistency issues at O’Hare.
3. We got to stay in a hotel. As you’d guess, The Kids didn’t mind. Apparently, they’d never used a key card before? I let them hold the key and open the door. It was better than pushing the elevator buttons. I aim to please.
4. Hey, Other Travelers? Let’s remember that, although Miguel didn’t give me any meal vouchers, he wasn’t responsible for the flight delay. Unless your specialty is aviation computers, sit tight and wait. I don’t know about you, but I’m totally fine with grounding a broken plan. I’d rather be delayed than be part of a corpse count in a debris field.
5. Every summer seems to pass more quickly than the last. We are days away from routine and chaos. As much as I like a routine, I like lazy better.
6. If you don’t like the word lazy, try “relaxed,” or “laid back.”
7. “The whole family slept until 10 am and didn’t get dressed until right before dinner. They’re so laid back.” See? Totally different.
8. As much as I think Augusta is a great place to raise a family, The Kids had better energy in Chicago. There’s a never ending list of things to do and see. We have a good, long list here, but the Chicago scale is much, much larger. If you’ve never been, you should go. After living there, I thought part of my heart belonged to NYC. Chicago, with its kind people, clean flower lined streets, and a beachfront with city views, wins by a narrow margin.
9. Unfortunately Chicago comes with months and months of brutal winters. I’ll take our heat over being stuck in a snowstorm for half the year.
10. Truth be told, it hasn’t been all that hot this summer. Surely I’m ruining August for y’all, but we haven’t had a day over 100 yet.
11. Our screened porch construction project is finally complete. It may have taken much (much, much) longer than anticipated (read: promised), but it was well worth the wait. Just as the heat has finally shown up, so have the mosquitoes.
12. Cocktails taste better on a screened porch. Try it.
13. I’m looking for inspiration. What’s been your go-to drink this summer? If you see me out and about, give me the recipe. I don’t do diet Coke (or any of its cousins). I only do really fruity things if I’m on a boat or a beach. I’m not interested in sweet wines. It doesn’t have to be alcoholic, but, well, you know.
14. Sometimes, when life seems too chaotic and crazy, it’s okay to cancel plans. Downtime is good for the soul. I had to take my own advice last weekend. Saying NO isn’t always easy, but my sanity is priceless. Just ask my husband.
15. Here’s to the last bit of summer. May your drinks be cold, your porches screened, and your schedule relaxed. Or lazy. Either way. Cheers!

sugar and southern spice

June 17, 2014

sweetteaIn the South, we’re known for many things. Ask for tea, it comes on ice, and with sugar. It’s hot in the summer. We say “y’all,” which means “all you people.” “All y’all’s” is possessive, and it refers to something (or things) belonging to all y’all. “I picked up all y’all’s towels at the pool.” It doesn’t get very cold here, and when it does, we freak out if school isn’t cancelled. If it snows, everything shuts down. Seriously. You can eat at Waffle House, because it never closes, but don’t expect the trash service to run. We’re nice. Well, we try to be, anyway. Or maybe we try to seem nice.
Once on a group email, the messages went back and forth regarding change in the group. Half wanted new things, and the other half wanted to leave it as it was. We were having a seemingly fine conversation, with suggestions for change and reminders of why it should remain. After a few backs and forths, someone piped in and reminded everyone to be nice. What? I thought it was a pleasant discussion. Discussion does not equal argument. Opinion doesn’t mean anger. Sorry if it hurts your feelings when we don’t all agree with you, darlin’.
Talking to a friend today, she told me she hates upsetting people. No one loves it, dearheart. There’s a difference between squashing someone’s hopes and dreams and telling them it’s irritating when they repeatedly cancel appointments. We do that, though. I find that, with age, I’m much less likely to try and ruffle feathers. Is it that we can let it go more easily? Do we care less? Life’s too short to fight about it all, but I’d rather not be a doormat, either. It’s tricky.
We wouldn’t dare complain about someone in public. All complaining and gossiping is done in The Trust Tree. Never been in a Trust Tree? Sure you have. You just might not’ve known its name. “This is between you and me,” is an invitation to the Trust Tree. The Trust Tree is where nice people go, with friends and hushed tones, to be themselves. Ok. I take that back a little. The Trust Tree can also be a place for sharing family secrets that include anything besides white picket fences and sweet tea. They serve bourbon in The Trust Tree. The Trust Tree is a very busy place.
All rules go out the window, if you sass our Mama or pick on our kids. You may never hear us cuss (well, you’ll hear me cuss), and Bless Your Heart means you probably don’t really want to know. There’s always a nice way of saying it, sweetie, even if you don’t feel all that nice about it.
If this makes us sound catty, I’m sorry. We do love you. We’ll pray for you on any occasion. We very rarely show up without an iced cooler full of beer. We may say, “hey y’all! How are ya?” as more of a reflex than a question, but we’ll come running with a casserole every day if needed. If the obituaries tell us your great aunt Glad died, you’ll at least get a pound cake.
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. With many exceptions. When in doubt, climb the Trust Tree, and pour wine. Sweet tea will occasionally suffice. Cheers, y’all!

*originally published in the Metro Spirit, Augusta, GA 6/12/14

101 Years

June 9, 2014

charbonnayPardon me. I interrupt your otherwise peaceful (and relaxing?) summer to talk about death. I suppose it might be more about life.
Funerals are sad, right? Even seeing traffic pull over and stop for the procession makes me cry. It’s hard to go to one without tearing up at least once. Sometimes, we’re sad, because death is just so damn tragic. A young father dies too soon, or a child can’t be healed with medicine. These are the worst of the worst. They catch us off guard. They don’t feel right.
We took The Kids to a funeral on Monday. This wasn’t their first, but The Boy even said, “That was actually pretty lovely for a funeral. It wasn’t too sad at all.” He wasn’t kidding. There were tears, but it was a true celebration of a life well lived.
Martha Shueler lived 101 years. 99 of them were in the same house. With the exception of a very, very brief time just before she died, she had a caregiver who stayed with her during the day, bringing her meals and driving her around town, but she lived by herself. Her daughter visited regularly, buts she got herself ready for church each week and never missed lunch with a friend or family member.
She was Nama (pronounced Namaw) to 4 grands and 8 great grandchildren, but so many of us got to try her chocolate cake. Nama’s Chocolate Cake. It might be a little confusing when you first taste it. The cake part isn’t chocolate, but the icing is. It’s still called chocolate cake. Her grandchildren will tell you of conversations over a Snickah (sic) Bar and a Co-Cola. She liked to tell stories, but she loved to hear other people’s stories even more.
When she was born, across the street from the house she owned until she died, there was no such thing as television. Woodrow Wilson had just defeated Teddy Roosevelt and Taft to become President, and she’d see sixteen other men elected. Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb made the news, and Alaska had yet to become a state. The Masters wouldn’t start for another twenty two years. The Titanic went down months before her birth. That was just 1912.
Throughout her lifetime, so much happened. Can you imagine if someone told her, when she was a teenager, that one day we’d have these phones you could take anywhere, and they’d have a camera and could answer any question you could think of? She probably would’ve laughed. She wasn’t ever really interested in learning about the internet, but it must’ve amazed her. She often drank a glass of wine. Her CharBONnay, as she called it. Proudly.
There are hundreds of funny stories about Nama. Those who knew her well can talk for days about the things they love about her. She was the oldest living native of North Augusta when she died. The list of things she saw in her lifetime will blow your mind. That’s not my point, though.
It’s not about death. It’s not necessarily about her life. It’s about how she lived.
When asked about her secret for staying so healthy and living so long she always replied, “a positive attitude.” Is it that simple? She wasn’t smiling and happy every minute of every second of her 101 years. That’d be unrealistic. All of us have bad days. Was she able to focus on her positive attitude better than the rest of us? Shortly after she was married, her father died, and she moved home to help her mother. Her husband died many years ago, and not long after that, she lost her only son. Her life wasn’t without heartache. She was able to thoroughly enjoy what she had, while looking past what she didn’t.
There’s something to be said for positivity and longevity. Lower stress, longer life. We can’t eliminate the stressors, but maybe we can handle them better.
I’m also going to continue my little wine habit, and I’ll throw in a slice of chocolate cake on a regular basis. Nama would approve, I’m sure of it. Let’s all try to assume good intentions, listen to other people’s stories, and have a positive attitude. For Nama. First, though, we’ll raise a glass of charBONnay (or Co-cola), and toast a superb Southern lady and a life well lived. To Nama! Cheers!

*originally published in The Metro Spirit, Augusta GA June 5, 2014 http://www.metrospirit.com

15 in 5

June 2, 2014

20140602-205457.jpg
Because I love a list. Especially a random list.
1. Have I told you how much I love summer? So far, we haven’t enrolled in a single organized activity. I’m sure we will, but sleeping in and being lazy hasn’t made anyone complain.
2. I never slept in much as a kid. If I went to a sleepover, I’d always wake up before my friends. Sometimes I’d cough a little too loudly or tug at the covers and pretend to be asleep, just so they’d stir. I was a jerk sometimes, I guess.
3. Now that I appreciate a good night’s rest, I don’t get the chance to sleep late very often. If I did, I’d be super mad at anyone to tried to wake me like that.
4. Isn’t it strange how we fight napping as a child, and as adults we’d like nothing more than time to simply rest in the afternoon. I love naps.
5. Watching these seniors graduate takes me back to a time of seemingly huge responsibility, but, sheesh. It was nothing. Life was easy in Athens. Want to get a pitcher of beer at 3 in the afternoon? Sure, let me study for 20 minutes, first.
6. My only advice is to have fun. You still have to study and go to class (because otherwise why are you there, and if I don’t say that, your parents will kill me), but it’s ok to relax. You think college is stressful? Buckle up, and enjoy the ride, because you can’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever go back.
7. I actually wouldn’t go back, unless I could be sure my life would end up just how it is today. Then, I’d only go back to have the chance to go through it all again.
8. If given the opportunity, I might be more diligent about using all allowed excused absences for college classes, if you know what I mean. Perfect attendance doesn’t go on your resume. You can get the notes from someone. I’m not suggesting you skip class. I’m just saying, you have a certain number of excused absences per semester, and it’d be a shame to see them go to waste.
9. It doesn’t get much better than sitting around, at the lake, in the sun, with great friends, laughing so hard you’re all in tears.
10. Well, ok. That all might be even better on a boat. Actually, it is. We tried it.
11. Heads up: fried chicken eaten by children on a boat results in a very greasy boat. Slippery when not wet.
12. If you aren’t aware, the life jacket laws changed last year. All kids under 13 years old must wear a life jacket while on a moving vessel in the water.
13. Oh, and hey? It seems a few of you missed this memo: The 100 Foot Rule prohibits people from operating any vessel at a speed greater than idle speed within 100 feet of any vessel which is moored, anchored or adrift outside normal traffic channels, or within 100 feet of any wharf, dock, pier, piling, bridge structure or abutment, person in the water, or shoreline of any residence or public use area.
14. My last safety reminder is brief, but important. Watch your children in the water. If they can’t swim, make them wear a flotation device. Don’t rely on other parents to watch your little ones. That’s too much to ask. Drowning is quick and quiet.
15. Trust me. I don’t want to take the fun out of summer. It’s the best time of the year. Be smart, people, and enjoy your friends. Drink responsibly. Cheers, y’all!

Summertime, and the livin’ is (well, should be) easy

May 28, 2014

photo (20)School gets out this week. By Friday, I’ll have a 3rd grade girl, and a boy in 5th. If I think about fifth grade too much, my chest tightens a bit, and I might cry. I’ll deal with that when it’s really time. For now, it’s summer.
I love summer. The heat doesn’t bother me. It needs to be cold where I sleep, but the extreme humidity is welcomed after winter. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Y’all can complain. I never will.
I’m looking forward to lazy days with my kids. Because The Boy is 10, I know he might not want me around for a whole lot longer. I plan on secretly smothering him this summer. He won’t really know it’s happening, but I’m soaking it all in.
In the meantime, let’s get real. I love my kids, and I’m so glad and thankful and blessed and blah blah blah, BUT, they will be home every day. Every. Day. Right around this time each year, I’m in limbo between planning enough activities for them and making sure we have more than enough downtime. The beauty of summer is the lack of schedule, right?
Several of my friends went to camp all summer long. If my kids asked, I’m sure I’d oblige, but fortunately they haven’t. They expressed interest in going to a two-week sleepaway camp, but it never materialized. I always wanted to go to such a camp. It seemed so cool in Parent Trap and Poison Ivy (the Michael J. Fox one), what with having a cabin and a counselor and camp food. My parents never suggested it.
Maybe we were unusual. We did swim team for the first six weeks or so, but besides a trip or two to the beach, we didn’t make plans. Summers consisted of wandering the neighborhood with friends, with nothing to do but get out of the pool during adult swim and wait for the ice cream man. This is mostly what our summer looks like now, too.
I feel a bit of pressure to sign The Kids up for things. It’s almost as if they’ll fall behind, compared to their friends, if they take the summer off. I’m not caving, though. Mine love having a day to do nothing. And by “nothing,” I mean The Girl builds Fairy houses out of found objects and The Boy reads Harry Potter or hits golf balls in the backyard. That’s my kind of day. If you ask me, which, per usual, you did not, that’s how kids should spend summer days.
We have a couple of trips planned already, which will take up about 2.5 weeks of what feels like an already too short summer. They go back on August 11th. It will be here before it’s time to reapply sunscreen. There will be days when they drive me crazy and we separate to watch different movies, but at least we won’t have to eat dinner in the car or rush from here to there.
I want to let them relax but keep them just busy enough not to bicker all day. I want our biggest decision to be whether we go to the pool or not. I want to teach The Girl to water ski and watch The Boy kayak until his arms give out. I want to grill supper as often as possible. I want to enjoy them while they still enjoy me. That time is fleeting. I’m not saying they’ll hate me next year, but I’m not taking any chances. It’s a short temporary season. Don’t let the heat get you down. Wear bug spray. If you feel an “it’s too hot” complain coming on, find a sprinkler or cold beer. It ain’t that bad. It’s summer. Cheer’s y’all!

*originally published in the Metro Spirit, Augusta, GA on 5/22/14 http://www.metrospirit.com

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