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funerals, cakes, and casseroles

February 23, 2015

funeralfoodWhat is up with all the funerals lately? I’m kidding. The past week has been unusual, though. And yes, unusual equals sad, too. I’m not a total jerk.
I mean, people die. It’s part of life. Sometimes though, it seems like death is everywhere. It feels like more than we can handle.
A friend’s grandmother, Jewel, passed away after a long, full life. She wasn’t sick, but she was prepared to die. She’d told them for years she was ready. She was an artist, she met her grandchildren, and she loved God. She was proud of her family.
Her service was short and sweet and attended by her closest family. It was at the church where she was a member. The pastor knew her well and told stories about her life. She’d painted the giant painting hanging above the baptismal pool. The church ladies served us lunch afterward in the fellowship hall. Do you want to guess what we had?
The same friend’s aunt died two days later. She wasn’t sick either, and it was completely unexpected. She leaves behind a family, who is stunned and deeply saddened by the empty space she left behind. These women were from different sides of my friend’s family, but they knew each other. They were both from the same small town.
At the funeral home for the aunt’s visitation, there was another service taking place at the same time. Now, if there’s one place we shouldn’t be surprised to find the deceased, it’s there, but bear with me here. This place was packed. I can almost guarantee everyone in this small town dropped by. They were all mingling in the hall between the two open caskets, chatting about the shock and sadness. They’d walk out of one room and go across the room to the other guest book and sign and get in line. I guess it was convenient?
As an outsider, just there to support a friend, it was mildly entertaining. I wouldn’t ever find joy in sorrow, but the culture of it all is so interesting. Traditions come to an end. At the very least they change. Some people are comfortable with it all. Some wandered through the funeral home wide eyed and awkward. Bowls of mints and boxes of tissues on every little table, and hushed tones abound. There was this one lady who didn’t understand a hushed tone, though. She talked loudly and laughed like she was trying to win a contest. She stood off to the side gossiping and making jokes. Maybe that was her nervousness coming through. We all have our ways.
An entirely different friend experienced loss on a whole other level. One of her 5th grade daughter’s friends, a beautiful, sweet little girl, lost her battle with cancer this week. It’s a part of death I can’t imagine and don’t ever want to realize. Gone too soon.
Aren’t they all, though? A lengthy illness passes too quickly. Sudden deaths are wrought with unsaid words. Children shouldn’t ever die really, and when they do, the pain and reality of a life cut short is more than we can bear. It’s hard to understand the purpose.
Hug your people, people. Hold that little hand a few minutes longer. Tell them you love them, and make sure they believe it.
And it was fried chicken, obviously. I think I counted 13 casseroles, and at least ten had cream of something soup. There was even one that I think was just cream soup with buttered crackers on top. No veggies. Oh, and there were cakes. Red velvet, chocolate, pineapple upside down with coconut and cool whip, and pound cake. They brewed gallons of sweet tea, and we drank it right up. We toasted our loved ones and laughed at the memories. Here’s to yours, too. Cheers, y’all.

*originally published in The Metro Spirit, Augusta GA on 2/12/15 http://www.metrospirit.com

Parents need not apply (though we could try)!

February 6, 2015

Thump thump. Thump thump. I’m sure my heart beat was audible. I pulled in to the parking space right in front. It was a good sign. I gathered everything I needed, being careful not to forget a thing. I did turn the car off and locked it, keys in hand.
The front doors were all locked. Well, all but one. Signs on each door advised us that no weapons were allowed, and we were to use the main door only. I proceeded with caution. The lady at the main desk was especially kind. She knew I was nervous and unsure. She guessed my reason for coming, and she was correct. There were bunches of us, after all.
Some stayed with her and nervously made small talk. Others followed the one before them. I waited for her instructions. Not one misstep. She told us to proceed around the corner and follow the signs.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the line was only about 5 deep. I’d heard horror stories about hour-long waits. One lady talked about getting there right as they were closing. They didn’t bend the rules.
Obviously feeling the stress of the unknown, two women in line, strangers only minutes before, bickered back and forth about which way to go. One had been told this way, the other was told that way. After a few minutes and many nervous smiles among the bystanders, it was determined they were there for entirely different reasons. The one in the front of the line wasn’t taking any chances, though. She watched as her new enemy bypassed the line and entered an office down the hall. Thump thump.
“Next in line!” It was my turn. We were provided a checklist, and I checked it much more than twice. Every time I was sure I had all the parts, I’d check again to be sure. The deadline was clearly posted, but I verified it on a near daily basis. I was a day early.
While the employee went over my materials, I laughed at her jokes, even complimenting her sweater. It couldn’t hurt, right? I was so organized. I had every single thing she asked for, right down to the self-addressed stamped envelopes. The unfortunate soul in line ahead of me had forgotten hers. I smiled, pleased with my organization, as she was lectured for her mistake and told to come back tomorrow.
The sweet lady with the cute sweater filled our folder with everything I brought and completed her own checklist. She smiled warmly and told me about the next step. I thanked her one too many times and went on my way.
My heart beat resumed its normal volume, as I walked away, leaving it all behind. The next steps weren’t up to me.
Y’all. All I had to do was turn in the application.
In the coming weeks, hundreds of Richmond County students will apply for Augusta’s magnet schools. There’s a 4 hour test day, and for Davidson Fine Arts, there’s a pretty hefty audition. It may seem dramatic, and the drama may have been a little less than I let on, but this is a big deal. For many of these kids, this’ll decide where they go to school from 6th-12th grade. Not only that, but these are great schools with even better opportunities.
Prayers, juju, positive thoughts, and crossed everything for them as they go through the process. As parents, all we can do is drop them off on the assigned days. I’m good with that. I did my part. The rest is up to him. The Boy has mad skills. If he doesn’t get it in, it wasn’t meant to be. Meanwhile, you can find me impatiently waiting for that self-addressed stamped envelope.

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*originally published in The Metro Spirit, Augusta GA on 1/29/15 http://www.metrospirit.com

Science (is) Fair

January 28, 2015

FullSizeRenderIt’s science fair project season. Ask just about any parent, and they’ll tell you it’s more like torture season. In theory, science fair projects are a good idea. They provide good training for completing big project, step by step. Students learn about science.
They also learn to pick an experiment that requires minimal effort and outside research. They should probably choose something involving food, and they shouldn’t ever depend on the weather. Plan ahead if your experiment involves growing anything or waiting on results. Growing mold takes weeks. Get ready to be resourceful.
I don’t mind that my kids have a project to do. Science fair projects are so much, though.
Here’s the real problem. I refuse to do my kids’ schoolwork for them.
For a regular night of homework, this isn’t a big deal. Even a book report is manageable. My kids are pros at making posters. I might’ve made a few suggestions along the way, but my neat handwriting obsession doesn’t even take over. But science fair projects.
This year might’ve seemed especially bad, because this was the first time we’ve had two going on at once. The Girl’s original plan backfired. She needed sunlight. We started over. The Boy came up with an idea, which was easily doable, but he’s a procrastinator. It runs in the family.
It’s not that we’re underachievers. We’re realists. Neither kid seems interested in winning the science fair, or placing for that matter. After asking what they’re interested in doing for their projects, we help them formulate a plan. When The Boy suggested trying to prove something or other about the earth’s rotations around the sun, I promptly redirected him. I want him to shoot for the um, sun, but we don’t exactly have the resources.
He said he wanted something to do with music and people and decided to see how music affects a person’s heart rate. She wanted something, anything to do with chocolate. She was willing to repeat The Boy’s project from last year. Now that I’m thinking about it, I should’ve let her. Shortcut unrealized. She settled on testing how long it takes hot chocolate to cool, before she could drink it. Sounds easy enough, right? If you’re the average person, yes. If you’re The Girl, and you drink warm drinks cooler than room temp, it’s a pretty lengthy and detailed data recording process.
Her original procedure, which was already written in ink and copied for the poster, read that once the beginning temp and drinkable temps were established, temps were taken at one minute intervals until the hot chocolate reached said drinkable temp. Hot water, straight out of the Keurig, takes about fifteen minutes to cool to Girl’s Drinkable Temp. Multiply that times several rounds of testing (all in the name of science, obv), and the project took much longer than anticipated. Originally, the variable was a Styrofoam cup. We quickly switched to a wide soup bowl instead and rewrote the info for the poster. Sub 5 minutes for cooling in a wide soup bowl. Noted.
On the last night, when we only had a “little to do,” we were keeping our supervisory sanity (barely), and The Girl mentioned how fun it was. I nearly choked on my Styrofoam cup of wine.
Their projects aren’t perfect, but they’re finished. The lettering is slightly crooked. Construction paper borders have crappy scissor shredded edges. The handwriting is of varying size and shape. No real research was required, because the results aren’t all that scientific. Prize winnings are unlikely, but they’re done. Complete. Over until next year.
As we were packing everything up to turn it in, the part of me that always loved doing posters thought, “Gosh. Does her poster need more? It’s so simple. Is it too blank?”
Right when I was about to open my stupid mouth, The Girl started excitedly talking about her project. “I LOVE this poster, Mama. I think I did such a good job, and I can’t WAIT to show my class.” And that, my friends, is exactly why I hover just enough to provide guidance, but I never do their work. Seeing her pride was worth all of the frustration. The wine helped, too.
I still believe that all science fair projects come directly from hell. Oh, and to the lady at Publix who thought I was referring to my kids: I was talking about research and experiments and purposes and hypotheses. I wasn’t referring to my kids as the Devil’s work.
As a reward for our sacrifices, we had a surprise party today. Sure, the kids were surprised we were having it, but it was more like SURPRSE! EVERYONE IS ALIVE!
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Originally published in the Metro Spirit, Augusta GA on 1/22/15 http://www.metrospirit.com

a proposal! in real life! in a restaurant!

January 22, 2015

proposalBecause I’m always watching for people to do crazy things, I was elated about the inside info I got recently. A crazy thing was about to happen. My friends Erin, Gary, and I were sitting at the bar at a local restaurant, when the GM (thanks, Darby!) told us the plan.

A guy was coming in to do a singing proposal.

“Right here? Right now?” I couldn’t believe my luck.

Just as he was wrapping up, important people started to shuffle in. Someone taped a mic to the table. A camera was set up. Family and friends filtered in to the back of the restaurant. Because of where I was sitting, it would’ve been obvious if I turned around to watch the door. The bartender and I came up with a code. It was covert. When he said “would you like a lemon,” I’d know the op was underway.

It’s not that any of this was my business, per se. It was their moment. I feel justified for staring. After all, this was in public. At a restaurant.

Back in the olden days, when The Man proposed to me, it was a simple affair. Thank goodness. He proposed to me, after a few glasses of wine and some extra liquid courage, on our sweet little screened porch, at our sweet little first house.

It was funny, and it was ours. I was rocking in the chair, and suddenly he was on the floor. I wondered what in the heck he was doing. He told me he loved me. I loved him back. He told me he really, really loved me. I told him the same. Ok, we love each other. Why are you on the floor? Before I could ask, he was telling me about his great grandparents and their love for each other. He wanted us to have the same love, the kind that lasted for ever. I had to be reminded of the speech later. Once the ring box opened, I had tunnel vision. This was it! The moment. Our moment.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know my answer. I wanted to tell the whole world. I asked if my dad and friends knew. He told me I could call them if we could share one glass of wine first. I drank that wine like it was happy hour on a Monday and got on the phone.

There are people out there who like something a little more, well, overt. We’ve all seen the viral videos. I’ll cry like a baby while I watch, but that’s not my sort of thing. Not my husband’s either. Thank goodness.

The bartender forgot to offer me a lemon, but I helped myself. The proposal people were in place, at the appropriate table. The Proposal Guy (PG) got up, leaving his (hopefully) Future Bride (FB) to sit and wait. She seemingly had no clue. PG was gone for what I’m sure was eleventy minutes, and the ambient music stopped. This was it!

PG wandered up from the back of the restaurant, now appropriately accompanied by a couple of instruments. He started singing. FB was confused. I’m not sure if she loved it or wanted to crawl under a rock.

If there are any future PGs out there, let me give you a bit of advice. Pick a short song. Shorten the song you love. All songs are too long for such things. The restaurant waited while PG serenaded FB. The family came from the back, carrying small votive candles. Mood enhancement, I suppose.

We couldn’t hear what happened next, but he must’ve proposed. They hugged, so her response was probably of the affirmative nature. They hugged again, this time with FB’s head buried in PG’s shoulder. It was sweet, but as nosy as I am, I still felt a little voyeuristic.

It’s what they wanted, though. Actually, it’s what he wanted. Here’s why I don’t have a problem with that: the proposal is probably the very last decision the guy will make, on his own, for the rest of his life. Go for it, buddy.

Best of luck to all PGs out there. May your songs be short and your videos viral. Remember your moment. Sincere words and kind gestures (and maybe some bling) will earn you all the yeses you want. Oh, and pick a good honeymoon spot. It’s the reward for wedding planning. Trust me, you’ll need one. Cheers!

Are you curious, too? Find the full deal here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=em-share_video_user&v=Jt7HhOyqDoE#

*originally published in the Metro Spirit, Augusta, GA on 1/15/15 http://www.metrospirit.com

15 in 5

December 29, 2014

Because I love a list. Especially a random list.

1. My dad is coming from Chicago to celebrate Christmas, just as he does every year. After our last winter storm, I think he feels a bit tentative. In Chicago, at least they’re prepared for nasty, cold, snowy weather. Their lives don’t slow. It’d be a cruel twist of fate if he came here only to be stuck in a powerless, frozen home for 5 days. Fingers crossed.
2. The Man’s mutton chops caused quite the stir among strangers. People at two different liquor stores asked if he was going for the Wolverine look. Um, no. Let’s try 1800s England.
3. Let’s also try limiting ourselves to one liquor store per week. It’s a lofty goal.
4. I remembered something this week. Moving is terrible. Even if the people moving are super nice. Tension is high. No matter how far ahead you begin packing, you’re always tossing crap in boxes on that last night. Oh, and you’ll always need more boxes. Boxes filled with books are very heavy.
5. I learned something this week. Hire movers.
6. When your 10 year old asks to go see Santa, you go. Even if he’s only motivated by gifts, I’ll take it. I’m fully aware of the fact that it might be his last year.
7. If you want to receive, you’ve got to believe, and don’t screw it up for your sister.
8. We took The Boy to middle school open house last week. As cliché as it is, I’m not ready. He’s ready, though. Hearing him talk about walking those halls melted me into a puddle of proud tears. Let’s see how I feel when the hormones really kick in.
9. We were leaving a party the other night and some guys tried to fight us. We didn’t acknowledge them. As it turns out, that made them even madder. They yelled derogatory, nasty things and started coming at us. We continued to ignore them. They came closer. We got in the car and drove off quickly.
10. To all the Debbie Downers and Negative Nathans piping up out there: we weren’t downtown Augusta. We were in Columbia County. I’ll tell y’all the story someday.
11. Thinking of getting a pet? Try the Augusta-Richmond County shelter on Mack Lane. The adoption fees are very affordable and include vaccines, sterilization, and microchipping. Besides, puppies are cute, but they eat bags of Fritos and deposit them on your Oriental rugs. Older dogs are already sweet, and trust me they know they’ve been rescued. Our Lizzy came from the ARC shelter. It’s a kill shelter, and the day we adopted her, there was a sale, with percentages off based on probability of adoption. Those who weren’t were no longer. We would’ve taken home 15 dogs that day, if it was possible. Find them on facebook for info about sales and events.
12. Stepping off my soapbox for the year, I have but one more thing to say: assume positive intentions. People aren’t always out to tick you off or hurt your feelings. Think before you react. Choose your words, because words do hurt. Kumbayah and hearts and unicorns and stuff.
13. If 2014 was good year for you, here’s to an even better year to come.
14. If you’re ready to see 2014 to the door, may all your misfortunes go with it.
15. Happy New Year to you and yours! Fill your glass with something bubbly and hug your people, people. Cheers!

*originally published in the Metro Spirit, Augusta, GA 12/25/14

God Bless Y’all, Every One!

December 20, 2014

Thank goodness for photo evidence, because otherwise most of you wouldn’t believe me. Unless you were there to see it in person, it seems awfully far-fetched. My husband was on stage last weekend. He stood in front of an audience and did stuff. Yep.
Over the past several weeks, people have said “I didn’t know Brice could sing!” and “I didn’t know Brice was into that kind of stuff!” Well, he didn’t either.
“Can he sing?” Debi Ballas, legendary Director and mind behind The Augusta Players (HBIC, if you will), asked when she saw him. He had a beard, and she thought he’d look good in the show. I told her we sing together all the time, but he wouldn’t ever in a million years say, “Hey, I want to sing today!” She wanted to see him anyway.
“Do you sing?” she asked my wide eyed husband.
“Um, in the car,” he told her.
“Will you sing for me?” Uh oh.
And he did. I left to take the kids home, while he “auditioned.” Nearly an hour later, he called. “So, I guess I’m in A Christmas Carol.” Before I could hear any details, my sappy self cried happy tears. I love watching my kids in shows. Now I’d get to be a theater wife, too? “Not only am I in it, but apparently I have to sing alone. Like, by myself. I also say the first spoken words when the curtain goes up.” He might’ve used slightly more flavorful language. He would be A Beadle. We didn’t know either. It’s a constable of sorts. He helps enforce the collection of money.
The shock wore off, and hours and hours and weeks and weeks of rehearsals brought us all to production week. We listened to a previous year’s recording dozens of times. We know every word. My husband walked out on stage in knickers and a large feather hat. He learned to apply eyeliner. On himself. He carved mutton chops out of his full winter beard. He understands that upstage seems like a backwards term and stage left isn’t really left. He also knows what it feels like to screw up and get yelled at. A lot.
Most of all, he figured out that it’s a team effort. All hands on deck. This team comes together to put on a fantastic show for you, their people. They hold each other’s babies, sew countless buttons, alter and re-alter little girl’s dresses, meet in the alley for a quick pep talk, fix bad wigs, praise perfect notes, collectively roll eyes when the director yells HOLD yet another time, make do with missed entrances and broken props, answer late night texts, fluff wigs, share Doritos and candy, and make inappropriate noises during the most perfect toe touch. This team comes together to put on a fantastic show for you, their people.
If you saw The Augusta Player’s production of A Christmas Carol this year, you know what I’m talking about. It was extra special. It’s a gorgeous show every year, but this one sparkled a little more. It doesn’t have anything to do with my three people being on that stage (though it helps!). It has everything to do with the incredible talent we have right here in Augusta.
There will be more chances to support your local theater group. Westside Story is coming up in February, and Shrek! The Musical is in May. A Christmas Carol will be returning next year. The Beadle is considering it. If he’s game, I’m game. I’ll be in the wings cheering him on. Until then, we’re taking a well-deserved nap. Merry Christmas, and God bless y’all every one!

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*originally published the The Metro Spirit, Augusta, GA on 12/18/14

Photo credit: Wesley Latch

Save the Date: you won’t want to miss it!

November 5, 2014

champagne heartIf you don’t have kids, you might think I’m crazy for bringing this up. Hell, most of you probably think I’m crazy anyway. Back to what I was saying. If you don’t yet have kids but are planning a family, or if your children are young and overwhelming, hear me out.

Go on dates with your HusbandWifePartnerMate (HWPM). For the sake of your relationship and children, make it happen. Don’t get me wrong, taking your kids places is a great idea. When The Boy was but two weeks old, we took him to Mellow Mushroom. We planned the outing based on his feed schedule and held our breath. He only cried a bit, but it was that sweet newborn cry that no one seems to mind.

We took him so many places back then. None of our friends had kids yet, and he was a very easy baby. If the dinner was early enough, along he came. We knew our boundaries, though. Sometimes, kids aren’t welcome. We got babysitters (thank goodness for my In-Laws) and went out with friends. Our kids are seasoned restaurant patrons, knowing their manners and to sit still at the table. They sit through church every Sunday. Our life didn’t slow down because we had children. Although some obvious adjustments were made, we brought the kids in to our life, instead of watching it all come to a screeching halt.

That’s all good and well, but in my short 12.5 year marriage, I’ve learned that one on one HWPM time is crucial. Not to bring it up again, but you people without kids are probably saying, “obviously! Just go out!” It’s not that easy. So many parents, especially first-timers, fear leaving their kids too soon. If breastfeeding, it seems impossible. Getting a sitter, a trustworthy caregiver, is hard work, especially on a weekend.

At the risk of sounding like an ad campaign, just do it. Do it before it’s too late. Go on a date. You owe it to yourselves.

Our babies are precious and wonderful. They’re fun and constantly learning new things, none of which we want to miss. Life is busy. Look, I get it. These dadgum kids are a full time job, what with their play rehearsals, piano lessons, homework, and everything else. The adults are busy too. We are tired.

Our babies are so precious, we’d like to show them to everyone. Why would we need a babysitter, when we can just tote the little cherubs along? Because your HWPM deserves your time and your undivided attention. You deserve theirs.

If money is the issue, be creative. Not all dates have to include roses and an expensive dinner. On many nights, when we couldn’t find a babysitter, we put the kids to bed (often early), and grilled steaks at home. A date is whatever you make it. Is this week nuts? Mine is. Schedule a coffee date. Set an early alarm.

The other night, I was disappointed that our date night plans were slowly unraveling. I stayed in a generally bad mood, trying not to make an issue of it. Our kids are unusually busy for the next few weeks, and we’re pretty overscheduled, too. What was supposed to be dinner at our favorite restaurant, while both kids were at play practice (free babysitter!) turned into a night of building the set for the kids’ next play. I pouted. “We are too busy,” I said. “How can we not even get a free night for dinner?” We made it work. I bought an especially nice bottle of wine, which we drank while we worked on building the set. Okay, to be fair, he built the set. I talked his ear off and marveled at his ability to build things. I asked to help, but I was relieved of my duties when I not only stripped the screw but ruined the drill bit. Oops.

The point is, it was still a date. It was time we set aside, without our children, to reconnect. If we don’t do it now, when will we? When the kids are in college? By then, we’ll have so much catching up to do. We’ll barely know each other anymore.

If you’re nursing, put the baby down between feedings and talk to your HWPM. If you’re broke, wait until the kids go to bed, and talk to your HWPM. Go to dinner together. Drink wine together. If you don’t drink wine, pour whatever you like. Leave the kids at home from time to time. No, not alone. They aren’t dogs, and a bowl of water in the yard will not suffice. Share stories. Hold hands. Laugh.

One of the best gifts you can give your children is the love you have for your HWPM. It’s up to you. Start tonight. Make it a date, y’all. Cheers!

*originally published in the Metro Spirit, Augusta GA on October 29, 2014

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