Oh the People We Meet

One of my favorite classes back in undergrad was my creative writing course. This is a piece that ended up as part of my final portfolio at graduation. It’s a mix of reality and creativity, but it contains the essence of every summer I spent at camp.

 My eyes are burning. Why is it so bright? What is that sound? I can’t move, everything feels different.

*****

 Growing up, I spent every summer at camp. Every day was a new adventure, and every night was a different prank. Camp was my getaway. Back home there were seven siblings, five older than me. Home was where I never wanted to be. My parents worked hard and provided for us, so life was good. We had everything we needed and wanted.  But I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes “everything” wasn’t what I wished for. I longed to be seen.

*****

 I hear something, but I can’t place it. I know it’s early, I always wake up at six in the morning. 

*****

 Back home, school starts at seven, so my body is internally set to rise on time. For some reason, today, six feels odd. There are only four more days left of camp. I can’t believe the summer went by so fast. I’ll miss Jessie the most, who’d of thought we would end up being best friends?

 The first day of camp, six years ago, I walked into my cabin and there she was. Jessie was sitting on her bed crying. Not tiny tears, the kind of crying that makes your shoulders jump up and down and your throat makes that deep sucking noise when you try to breathe. I laughed at her – really loud. After all, I had a reputation to keep. 

 Jessie became my target. If I found her hovering in a corner, I’d call her out. When she was taking a shower I made sure to flush all five toilets. Somehow, she came through it. After two weeks she stopped crying, stood up straight, and flashed a smile as my friends and I tormented her. I remember thinking, who is this girl?

*****

 I don’t feel different. But then again, I haven’t moved. If I stay still no one will wake up. Ten extra minutes of sleep are precious these days.

*****

 Family isn’t a word I use too often. I write letters to my “real” friends from the summer and talk to them on the phone each week. School is okay, I typically only have one other sibling in the same building so I can achieve separation most of the time.

 When my mom dropped me off at the bus for camp in May she said, “no trouble this year, Chenon.” I smirked and ran to the bus. Me, trouble? Well, how else am I supposed to get their attention? But I don’t get into trouble.  I just have fun. Since when did fun become a crime?

*****

 I don’t hear anyone else yet, just that sound. It is familiar, but not to the cabin, and certainly not to this time of day in the cabin. I’ll just lay here a bit longer; someone is bound to get up soon. 

 I wonder what we’ll do for evening program tonight. Last night was amazing, I’ll never forget it. Wait . . . is that water?

*****

 Last year for my speech class I did a presentation on summer camp. It was the best day of the school year because I got to talk about my favorite time of year. I also learned that Shane, the hottest guy in my class, goes to camp too. I wonder what he does at camp. He said his parents send him to Texas for five weeks each summer. 

 I remember the first time I went to camp. I was six and scared. There were so many kids, some older than me. I unpacked, made my bed, and went for a walk. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by kids introducing themselves and giving me a tour. For once, people were flocking around me. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was ready to go with it.

 That summer went on to mark fantastic beginnings. I made hundreds of friends, realized I could live without my mommy, and learned that I could be somebody. I had no idea that I’d be the somebody I am right now. Everyone knows my name, they run to my table at meals, and I’m always first picked for relay races. Maybe school could be like that this year, but I won’t hold my breath.

*****

 I don’t sleep near the bathroom, and the lake is on the other side of camp. It can’t be water. I’ve been coming to this camp for 12 years and I’m sure . . . oh wait, it could be raining. No, I checked the weather. I’m supposed to take my cabin on an all-day hike today, so I made sure we would be prepared. The radio said no chance of rain, pure sunshine. 

 I guess it’s time to get moving, the girls will be up soon. Wait, I can’t move, what is going on? Why am I outside? Oh no! They got me! But how did they get me and my bed on a floating dock? And how do I get free?

*****

 I’ve learned a lot over the years. Coming to camp helped me learn who I was and who I am capable of becoming. That summer I met Jessie was the year I figured out that being mean doesn’t make you a winner and it won’t always make your popular. Most importantly, I learned that best friends come in all shapes and sizes. Jessie turned out to be the coolest person I’ve ever known.

*****

 Help! Somebody help! 

 I have to pee. Wait, is that a box of tissues? Well, well, well. Jessie strikes again. Every time she pranks me, she leaves a box of tissues. As a reminder of what I didn’t give her on the day we met.  Here come the campers, it must be time for breakfast. I guess I’m on display. 

 Payback for years of pranks has finally come full circle. I love summer camp.

Where Do I Belong?

Going through files I came across this gem. I took a course a while ago that pushed me to explore creative writing. I loved it and this week I’m going to share some of those goodies!!

Walking through the doors on my first day of junior high I was speechless. Even though everyone around was familiar, something was different. The new building gave the impression that entrance on its own changed you from the inside out. Classmates that used to be my friends were merely acquaintances now. Apparently, growing up meant that you had to start all over. As the first days of junior high grew into weeks, something happened.  Everyone had to belong to someone else. Suddenly, we emerged from grade school with the inability to be alone. I have learned over the years that this realization became a way of life from that moment on. We all need to feel wanted and want to be needed.

 When in time did this desire to build cliques begin. Looking back through history I found instances where individuals came together in their own sects. In Biblical times the disciples were a group; the Pharisees and Sadducees were together; even the priests had their own inner circle. The United States was founded on the beliefs and dreams of an inner circle. Through these recollections it has become clear to me that as a race, we need to belong. We were born different, raised different, taught different, and matured different. But those differences bind us together in some form of social interaction.

 I find it interesting how social we are as a human race. The need to find a group feeds this longing. Even a hermit is needed by someone or something. While the majority of the world seeks out a group of likeminded and commonly grounded foes, the average hermit finds solace in four walls of shelter. After all, there is no part of history that dictates who or what we must belong to . We all scoff when reports surface of an old lady with 500 cats in her house. She longed for fur balls and the soft purr of a friend that enjoyed her company. Who are we to judge?

 This idea of finding a place to belong began way before junior high. But the lasting effects of this desire surface around the ages of eleven or twelve. Friends become more than someone you see at school or play with on the weekend. Friends become your guide and, in some cases, your moral compass. The groups formed in junior high have a fifty percent chance of surviving the social pool that is high school.

 Entering the doors of high school offers a similar experience to junior high. The difference is that we’ve had two or three years of practice. The halls are bigger, the teachers are meaner, the lines are longer, and the expectations are much higher. Suddenly we realized that finding a group needs to happen immediately, this can’t wait. All around groups are forming like a mass exodus to the only remaining ant hill in the field. Where do we belong, why must we belong? Do we stand out or fall in line?

 Even Aristotle and Plato had an inner circle. They were the brilliant minds of our past so, they must have had a heads up on this “belonging” business. Now that high school has taken over our lives the social need is greater. If we don’t belong to anyone or anything the days get longer, the tasks get harder, and the end feels like it may never have a sunrise. Once we found a place, a people that understood us, or so we thought, life became easier. These groups and cliques helped us navigate through struggles and life lessons hard fought. But were they the right guides? Did they genuinely care about us? 

 This innate desire to belong lives with us forever. We feel great relief when the diploma lands in our palm and the pomp and circumstance plays its last tune. The survival of the fittest has come to end and now, growing up wasn’t so hard to do – or so we thought. Life moved on at a quick pace, but suddenly we realized that this longing hasn’t gone away. Not only has it grown, it has become more complex. The things and people we need are more sensitive, their needs are greater, their lives are evolving, and most importantly no one stands still for long. If you take an extra minute to fix your hair in the mirror you might miss their departure.

 Now we must find a new belonging. The stakes are higher, while the formation of the school ground is in the rear-view mirror, the gathering of more sophisticated means is a figment through the windshield. But what do these groups look like? How, in a world of millions of adults, and things, do we find where we belong. Suddenly the need for guidance is lost, but the need for reassurance is much stronger. We are not growing into people any longer, we are trying to maintain what we have grown.

 This longing, this deep desire, is it required. Can we manage on our own? According to God and his followers, absolutely not. But what about those people that don’t believe in a higher power, why do they congregate? I have come to believe that no matter what or where we put our faith, the desire to share and have common ground is stronger than any self-disciplined individual. For that matter, even animals survive in groups. Walking through the zoo, nine out of ten residents have company. So, what will come of this odd inner struggle to find a place?

 Everywhere we look there are options. We can become athletes, join a book club, become communication Rembrandts, or simply fade into the collections we have created to fill the void. Whatever we chose, a selection is made. Life is about belonging. Beginning new jobs, joining new clubs, and becoming a member of a bigger family all raise that familiar feeling and universal question of “Where do I belong?”

 I have found that this simple question can be traced back to some of the memories and events of our past. Inevitably, at some point we chose the wrong group or person to belong to. Choice were made that took us down a path not so bright. I find it ironic that, while this longing is bread into us, the decisions aren’t always positive. Something we must do carries the weight of being completely wrong and life altering. Ask the guy in cell 453 at the local prison. He’ll tell you he belonged, but that belonging was built on progress not sustainability. How can such mere desire be backtracked and filled with disaster? I guess you could ask Adam and Even the same question. They are the ones that got us into this mess. They needed to belong to wisdom. Now they, nor us, know what to do with it.

 As a child we longed for the days of making our own decisions. As a teenager we would daydream of the moment our lives would become free and full of adventure. As new adults set free in a magic world, we begin to realize that not much has changed from our days on the recess yard. The view is bigger, and the needs are greater, but the outcome is still inevitable. Do we join the geek table? Or maybe the cheerleaders well accept us. Worst case scenario, the band cluster always has room for one more. The faces may change as an adult, but the need to belong will never go away. It just becomes more sophisticated. length;d

Must Have Been a Manic Monday

Our Monday Morning (actually Tuesday):

5:45 – Gotta pee, see the time and think “meh, I can get another wink in before 6am”.

6:00 – Alarm sounds … volume is down so I don’t hear it.

6:01 – 7:27am – Second alarm sounds at 6:40 and I don’t hear that either. At some point Ari crawls in my bed and starts jabbering away. I don’t EVER open my eyes and make contact during these times because eye contact means I’m awake and I don’t want to be awake.

7:28am – Ari: Maaaaaaaama, ma, ma, moom!!!!!!!

Me: WHAT!!!! (Eyes still closed)

Ari: Mr Gold Sun is UP!

Me: Pissed off and ready to slice this child, I look at my phone and it’s now 7:29am. 😳😳😳😳😳😳

7:29:53 – General household announcement that the bus is leaving in 10 minutes those not on it will suffer the wrath of Mama Known’s grueling cleaning schedule all day (uh, if you’ve been in my house you know this does not exist … EVER).

7:33 – Ari is standing on her bed, naked, clothes in hand. “I’m getting dressed mama”

Ashley is STILL in bed but swearing she is up and almost dressed.

7:37 – Ari now has pants on. Zoe has a collar and her legs are quivering from holding pee. Ash is nowhere to be seen. But send out a signal of life every 30-40 seconds.

7:40 – Ari and I dash downstairs, I make a pathetic PB sandwich and throw in a granola bar and call it a day for her lunch.

Ashley still has made no entrance.

7:45 – Ari has on her pants, socks, shoes, coat … underwear in one hand, shirt in the other. Ash has appeared in a nice dress and designer leggings. Good to know someone has the time for style today.

7:47 – (Ari should be in school now) Ari disrobes in the kitchen to put on the forgotten garments. Ash throws a breakfast sandwich in the micro, let’s Zoe out to pee and decides to change her clothes. Uhhh … NO! The second announcement is made that anyone in various states of undress will still be boarding the mama bus in 1 minute.

7:49 – Run to the truck that we left outside instead of in the heated garage. Winter has returned … nobody is dressed for the 37 degree shock.

7:49:17 – Ari doesn’t have her bag!!!! She runs to get it.

7:51 – Finally leaving for the school run.

7:53 – LATE so Ash has to walk Ari to her classroom.

8:03 – LATE so Ash has to be buzzed into to school while I call them and beg for mercy.

8:07 – PLEASE DEAR GOD DONT LET THIS MORNING BE IN VAIN … I CAN NOT MISS THE DIRECT TV AND INTERNET APPOINTMENT AT 8AM!!!! Mama Known needs her WiFi and HBO back.

Any other day and I would have declared it a no school day, handed Ari the remote, and gone back to sleep.

When the Natives Get Restless

It’s been a long winter here in Wisconsin. Kids are restless, they have lost their minds, refuse to wear appropriate clothing, and are demanding lemonade like it’s a requirement for life during what should be warmer months. What is a parent to do!?! Seriously, this may actually be my signal for help. Mom down! Sound the alarms! Woop woop!

I grew up in Northern Indiana and Central Michigan. I don’t have any clear recollection of seasons being skipped, extended, or left to be a mere figment of our grainy imaginations. I spent my summers at camp and the rest of the year in school. I guess you could say my life as a child was very similar to the Wonder Years.

Now, fast forward to today and this ridiculous cold streak that may never end. Oh, but wait … there’s hope! We’ve had 3 days above 50 degrees and might just fall near 30 at night, but not below for the first time in what seems like a century. You see, we adults can rationalize this weather system business. Kids? Not at all. At least not my kids.

My four year old firmly believes that since Mr. Sun is now waking up before 6am, not taking naps, and staying up until after 7pm that she should definitely be on the same schedule. She also spends her days finding new ways to attempt breaking in to the OUTDOOR pool because it’s summer already. When she can’t get to the pool she just strips and swims in her Sammy the Snail sand table. Oh yes, picture that … you will laugh for a bit.

My 15 year old is on a totally different spectrum. Not only is it supposed to be nice enough to wear shorts and tank tops, she believes by being strong willed the global system has no choice but to align. Yup, that’s right, apparently I’m parenting a child that has the power to persuade Mother Nature. After she’s done dressing for the beach on a brisk 35 degree day, she puts on a Xero Exposure four layer winter coat to keep the breeze from drying out her skin. Uhhh … legs aren’t important? We are just freezing them off now? I don’t think CPS is ok with you having nubbins simply because Mother Nature needs to shape up or ship out. Yeah, they would definitely frown about that.

So you see, as parents, we fight a losing battle. I wake up smart, look smart, fix and spruce up the unsmart factors, and enter the battle field. As always, I realize at the moment I hit the front lines that I’m not prepared; I’ve become a causality of disservice; and how in the hell will I escape this nightmare without 1. Causing lasting injury and 2. Maintaining even a modicum of self respect? The answer? A bunch of emoji’s that don’t quite say what I’m feeling or thinking on an individual basis, but together … they speak volumes.

😳🤨😂🤷🏼‍♀️😥😬😭🤢🤭☹️😡😬🙄🤦🏽‍♀️

To tame the wild she brought her outside slide in to practice while the snow melted.

Awe … they look so sweet and harmless. 🤯

I promise … this coat is the only smart clothing this child had on. Sometimes the battle is lost so you have energy for the wars to come.

I fought the Pot, and We Both Won

I took a step back.  I researched and studied.  And I stand (well, sit actually) here proudly and ready to share that I may have lost the battle, but the Instant Pot lost the war.   Yes, I’m dramatic, get used to it.  Just to recap, I attempted to make a pot roast in this beastly kitchen appliance a few weeks ago and was sadly disappointed.  I walked away damaged and destroyed by an electrical object.  However, my mama raised no quitter.  The internet may have a lot of fake news, but when it comes to the Instant Pot, it’s legit!

Not only did I win, but I made the best meal we have had in over a year.  I’m no Gordina Ramsey, but I’ve got chops in the kitchen.  I’ll admit, I can’t take much credit for the succulent pile of tender and juicy pot roast that was lifted out to a chorus of ooh’s and ahhh’s tonight.  Here’s the shocker . . . the roast wasn’t the star.  When preparing this most loved meal I always make mashed potatoes.  My potatoes are good, and I’ve perfected the recipe from a combination of friend’s recipes over the years.  But these potatoes?  I’d like to think they were amazing and the best I have ever had.

First of all, if you have come here for a healthy recipe, you will be disappointed.   If you have come here for a recipe in general, stay tuned, you’ll get that when I am able to recreate this genius and record it.  Let me just say, the potatoes cooked with the meat for 2hrs on high pressure.  After a natural decompression I then prepared them as if I were making mashed potatoes like any other day.  The magic was in how they were seasoned and cooked in the Instant Pot.  These potatoes tasted like GRAVY!  I’m not joking.  I didn’t even make gravy because these potatoes turned out so flavorful that we didn’t need it.  The meat was juicy, and every bite was like you didn’t deserve it for free.

I have a saying I live by: If you didn’t learn anything, go back and look again.  I truly believe this applies to every part of our lives, even in the kitchen.  After my first instant pot disaster I had to go back and figure out what went wrong and how I couldn’t get a stinkin’ kitchen appliance to comply.  It wasn’t easy and I’ll admit, there have been 2 other massive failures prior to this most excellent success.  But there is a bigger picture here, no matter what, keep going.  And yes, I just took this journey to an entirely different level.

In the kitchen, in the bedroom, heck, even in the bathroom, pretty much anywhere, if you feel like a failure, like there is no way to succeed . . . you just keep going.  I sat down to blog tonight and caught myself flipping through pictures.  Isn’t digital media amazing?  I love that I can tap something, swipe another, or just speak to Alexa and I have my past looking back at me.  This Instant Pot war reminded me of my mom.  She couldn’t cook for crap.  Seriously, the lady had eight recipes and rotated them with Chinese take-out, Little Caesars Pizza-Pizza, and Arby’s.  But this lesson goes beyond the kitchen, it reminded me of my moms’ tenacity and her incomparable desire to be the best she could be.

This woman fought a rare cancer for 16 years.  She fought for two years prior to that to even get a doctor to listen to her and believe something was wrong.  She died on April 6, 2012.  She did not die from cancer.  Cancer did not win.  She passed due to all the complications and damage that years of chemotherapy had done to her heart and her lungs.  She experienced remission three times!  Her last breath was on her own terms, with her family by her side, and with no shame.  Would she have wanted another day?  Absolutely.  But she lived her life and lived it well.  She didn’t let the little things, or the big things derail her for long.  And when she noted a derailment, she made the corrections. 

My mom (front left) with my grandma, aunts, and uncles (2009).

“We aren’t supposed to be perfect; we’re supposed to be whole”.  I heard Jane Fonda say that once.  We get whole by seeking out the lessons, learning, rebuilding, and trying again.  In the face or aftermath of disaster, we must keep going.

A picture of our meal, or even an Instant Pot seems appropriate.  But instead, I decided to throw in some pics of the reason I keep moving.  We all have them; we just need a reminder from time to time.  Sure, some of these pictures remind me of heartache, rough times, lost love, and moments I’d love to bury. I won’t bury them because they remind me what I’ve learned and where I’ve come from.

Idiocy At It’s Finest

Measurements. Fractions. MATH!!!!  I consider myself to be fairly intelligent.  After homeschooling my daughter for 5 years I think I’ve got the hang of pretty much everything but complex chemistry because its dumb and I have no use for it (though it would probably come in handy with this whole instant pot business).  However, I have come to tell you that children, especially teenagers, will turn you into the dumbest person in the neighborhood.  You doubt this statement? I have proof!

My teenager came home with an assignment to make a batch of cookies.  Great, we can do that!  She gathered the recipe and informed me that first, we must purchase cream of tartar.  Of course, my response is, “nah . . . that’s a fancy phrase for baking powder”.  Forty-five minutes later (I did a test batch to check my theory) and the nastiest snickerdoodles I’ve ever tasted, we trucked ourselves to the local Piggly Wiggly.

Safely back at home, the kid goes to work.  The first step is to take a recipe for two dozen cookies and break down the measurements to half of that.  Awesome, that’s math.  Not her favorite subject, but I hammered this stuff into her head for five years, surely, she can do this without me.  Ten minutes later in prances my child with a recipe and the conversions for ingredients.  For a moment I was certain my eyes were playing tricks on me.  They were not. 

2 ½ = 1 ½

2 ¾ = 1 ¾

Yeah . . . apparently, I must educate today.  Just so you are aware, I have an internal gauge for my blood pressure.  In times like this there is a bar in the upper right-hand corner of my vision field with 5 lights in succession from yellow to red (moving right to left).  They light up the more agitated I get.  I was already clearly at stage 1 because that first yellow light was quite blinding and the second one was starting to blink as I looked at these conversions and wondered if either of us would survive this assignment.

I took a breath (the second light went dark!!!!) and explained that ½ does not mean you just take away a whole number.  That doesn’t make any sense at all.  Let me stop here and explain a little something.  When a child, any child, is tasked with making cookies they do not give a crap about the process, they want the cookies!  I swear, this kid was already drooling just knowing what was coming in her near future.  Moving on, she huffed and puffed and marched back to the kitchen counter to re-evaluate the situation.  Stage 2 skipped the blinking period and immediately lit up in a darker stage than the first. 

From my perch in the living room I can see everything.  As I observe I notice light number 3 start a slow blink.  I’m aware that my child is standing there utterly baffled by this NASA level complication.   So, I offer verbal assistance.  “Child!  What is the denominator?  What is the numerator?  How many parts are in a whole?” Her response: “Can I use a calculator?”  You guessed it, stage three is full blown orange and no longer blinking.  This isn’t hard.  I gave direction and a hint. 

I directed this wonderful child of mine to break down the original measurements into quarters.  Her response was some form of “dollar quarters or time quarters?”  Obviously, my words came quickly, harshly, and full of a level of sarcasm that would rival many of my prior comebacks.  “Uhhh . . . how about cooking quarters?”  I could go on to explain the insanely ignorant conversation that ensued, but I’ll save you those five minutes.  I couldn’t save them for myself, but I will do that for you. 

Now that we have defined what a quarter is, we can proceed.  This child, my child, a child I know has a brain, proceeds to announce that 11 has no half.  It is a prime number, and this is the dumbest recipe ever.  I agree on the dumb part, but I will reserve to whom or what it applies.  She can’t remember to comb her hair, but she knows 11 is a prime number?  Come on!!!!

After one of the most painful 4 minutes of my life, she managed to get out the measuring cups and realize that ½ and ¼ show her how many “parts” a whole has.  Another nail on chalk board two minutes later she uses these tools to figure out that 5 ½ is the total of parts that she needs to convert.  Are you confused?  Because here is where things get ugly.

We’ve now invested well over 15 minutes into this conversion ordeal.  I’ve reached stage 4/5 in my journey to oblivion/maximum annoyance.  My child, this wonderful cherub, reached her own level 5 about 10 minutes ago.  But we press on, there are snickerdoodles on the line.  Mass confusion ensues because I’ve spent so much time explaining what the “parts” represent that I’ve managed to uneducate myself and have no idea what ½ of ¾ is. 

I’m not going to admit that to her!  So, I do math in my head.  Nope, that’s not right.  I do math out loud.  Nope, now I sound kind of dumb.  Finally, in a sudden moment of reality, I go to google.  Google responds quickly and promptly with 6 tablespoons.  Wait . . . what?!  You mean I was expected to calculate a conversion to a different type of measurement?  More importantly, why did I take on this task?  We have a smart home!  Alexa is the queen bee around here. 

And just like that my trader child grabbed the measuring spoons, shook her head and called her fairly intelligent mother an idiot.  She’s pretty lucky that stage 5 only blinked and that she has school tomorrow because survival would have been questionable if things shifted any other way.  I’d also like to add that the second idiot involved in this little situation produced some sort of ok cookies . . . but there’s no need to spill those beans.

Lessons of Laughing

Parenting. The word needs no introduction and it definitely needs no explanation.  In my world, a world full of kids with traumatic backgrounds, parenting is a dirty word.  My kids came to me with parents, what they needed was loving.  So, I practice loving.  Every breath, every step, every thought is centered (or supposed to be) around loving unconditionally and openly.

Genuine laughing heals the soul.

                Ironically, along with that loving comes an awful lot of humor.  I have a great friend and mentor that passed on some wisdom to me a few years ago.  She said, “don’t call someone stupid, that’s rude.  But, by all means, call them an idiot”.  Ironically, that is the direct opposite of the actual definitions, but I like the way it sounds, so I’m sticking to it.  With that being said, I love and raise idiots.  Even the pets, all of them, straight up idiots. 

                Why?  Well, let me lay out some examples.  One of the boys used to turn on the shower, then dance around in the bathroom until he felt he had wasted enough time.  Then come out in clean clothes and act as though he had showered.  Oh, did I forget to say he was 15 at the time?  Another prime example would be one of my daughters that decided the best way to not get caught stealing food and hiding it would be to cut a hole in her pillow and stuff the evidence there.  That’s great if you actually cleaned your room and didn’t allow the hidden treasures to get so severe that they were falling out of the pillow case. 

                Wait, I’ve got more.  How about the time one of the boys faked a football injury so he could have rub downs and private time with the hot team trainer – for the entire season!  The fakery went to the extent of x-rays and cat scans and a specialist finally saying that there was nothing wrong.  He got caught in the lie when he smelled fried chicken and came running down the stairs . . . on the “injured” leg.

A little bit of crazy and a lot of love.

                We will definitely get more in depth with the levels of idiot I experience each day, but there is also a point to you and I coming together today.  A long time ago I knew I wanted kids.  I knew they would be my world, and I knew I wouldn’t birth them.  I actually sat in my doctor’s office at the age of 15 and begged the lady to cut out my “woman parts” and get it over with.  I had and still have no use for them.  Of course, she refused sighting some “first do no harm” clause.  Anyway, fostering and adopting kids has always been a dream of mine.  There are plenty of kids that need a home and a chance, I wanted to be those things for anybody that would come. 

                So, after our first year of marriage my used-to-be husband and I got approved as foster parents and the fun began.  We were very open about only taking in teens because that was the age group that was overlooked by most foster/adoptive families in our area.  We also sought kids that had traumatic pasts, due to my own education and profession, and were very open to special needs limitations, etc.  Basically, we wanted the kids that everyone else passed on.  And we definitely had no desire to take on any child younger than 12. 

We can learn a lot from animals. These two figured out their living situations weren’t changing so they agreed to disagree.

                As the story unfolds, you’ll see a lot of ups and downs.  But in all honesty, I wouldn’t be where I am today without everything I’ve experienced.  God has blessed me with the ability to find humor and happiness in almost any situation, and practicing love with my family has been the funniest experience I’ve ever had.  Someone asked me once, “what should a reader walk away with”?  I smiled and was very clear, “I want them to laugh and be ok with it”.  Kids, family, work, life . . . it’s not meant to be easy.  It’s meant to build character and exact purpose.  If we can’t find the humor in what we live through, then we most certainly aren’t finding the lesson either.  Because, what I want to you walk away with is this: WHEN WE SEEK THE LESSONS IN LIFE, WE STUMBLE UPON THE HUMOR OF THIS THING WE CALL LIVING. 00000000

Drop It Like It’s HOT!

Every person walks their own path. It is our job to guide and direct them. Sometimes, that means holding firm on issues that don’t and won’t seem logical. In the end, they will never lose, they will either win or learn.

I have had the greatest honor by being the parent of more kids than I can count.   Now, I use the word “parent” loosely because I certainly am not on all their birth certificates.  Heck, some of them may not even know how to spell my name correctly, let alone pronounce it.  I define “parent” as a person that guides and protects.  Over the years I have guided and protected hundreds of kids.  But, to appease those of you traditionalist, I have had 8 wonderfully talented, beautiful, and welcome children in my home at one point or another.  Those relationships are so sacred that I can’t imagine my life without each one of them.  Gah . . . it’s not time for the mushy stuff yet!  Back to “parenting”. 

  During one of my excursions as an Assistant Camp Director for the YMCA I learned how to make homemade pretzels.  Not being satisfied with the outcome, I tweaked the recipe and started making homemade cinnamon rolls.  I taught this wonderful skill to hundreds of kids, parents, and staff over the course of 18 months.  I only bring this up because it is the example I use when explaining to my kids about my unchangeable rule on fighting.  When you smell a hot and fresh cinnamon roll, one of the first things you do is go to grab it.  Forget the fact that it just came out of a 400-degree oven; or that you can visibly see the butter, icing, and other sorts of yummy goodness oozing out of it.  It’s human nature to snatch it up, bite it and drop it while fanning your mouth because you have just sustained third degree burns to your tongue and roof of your mouth. 

            My rule is straight forward.  I don’t care if Goliath himself is staring you down.  I don’t care if you are certain your death is eminent.  If in a situation where physical violence is about to or has already begun, you had better “drop it like its hot”!  Hit the deck, kiss the floor, dodge the ball, turn the other cheek, offer them a candy bar, do anything but do not engage!  Mama will not tolerate your hands touching anyone else is a way that is harmful or violent.  That, my loves, will be the end of your fun and happy life for a long and dreadful period. 

   Of all the lessons I’ve had the joy and heartache of teaching, this has been the hardest.  In our world it is such a foreign concept to communicate and be constructive, rather than destructive.  I wasn’t raised to be non-physical, that could very well lead to why I am such a strong advocate for it now.  Nothing good can come from hitting another person.  Status?  Well, let me tell you, status comes and goes.  I was popular last week, and then I passed gas from the piano on Sunday and all of a sudden, I’ve been avoided like a plague.  Status has no value and no purpose.  Reputation, my kids would say.  “Mom, I gotta let know I don’t play like that”.  My response, every time, would be, “No, you don’t play like that . . . ever”. 

            You see, its much harder to be a person of words, than a person of strength and intimidation.   Words take intelligence, they take practice, they take courage, and most of all they take humility.  Anyone can learn to throw a punch with a little practice, but learning the art of defusing a dangerous or violent situation is a work in progress.  My kids learned that they won’t always succeed, and they will probably get their butts kicked, but in the end, one day, they will see that it took way more ability to abstain than it did to clock someone in the jaw.

   At one point we had three teenage boys, all 16, in the house at the same time.  Not only were they the same age, but they were only separated by about a 14-week span in age difference.  As you can guess, this created some healthy tension in competition and that unfortunate attitude of “status”.  One of the boys deemed himself head honcho because he was the first one to live there, another of the boys demanded acknowledgement of his presence simply because he was bigger and stronger, and then the third (my favorite) sat back in his chair with an air of “I’m better and I don’t even have to prove it”.  While in the middle of a move to a new town, the boys were left to pack up the basement.  The basement consisted of my home office, our pantry overflow, general storage, and the kids game room and chill space.  Now, over the years I learned that the only way to combat idiocy with my kids was to install cameras.  However, the most amusing part of having your house on 24/7 surveillance will be the times that your kids forget that the walls have eyes.  Whilst packing, my lovely boys got into a turf war and guess who got beat up?  The strong and mighty took the fall . . . and my chill relaxed favorite knocked his lights out.

   I never said my kids followed the rules.  But these are teachable moments.  And I taught. . . to the tune of 50 boxes of books that had to be moved up two flights of stairs and out to the garage.  And those boxes, well, they could only be moved on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons and evenings.  My point was well made, nothing good comes from putting your hands on another person.

   I once joked with my ex-husband that I was against physical violence simply because I knew I could never win a fight.  I much rather offer my adversary a candy bar and be on my way.  I mean, who can turn down a candy bar?  And if you can, we should meet, I need to get inside your brain.  But my joke was simply a smoke screen.  I grew up in the church.  I was taught, by all the adults in my life, save my parents, that the human body is to be treasured and appreciated.  And more importantly, that words have power.  I am sure there is some amazing research on how many fights are the result of miscommunications.  I’m not privy to that research, but it’s probably out there somewhere.  Think about it, how many times a day, or week, or month, or year, do you get angry because you think you thought you heard someone possibly say they might have heard that you were maybe thinking about doing something that could probably make them or someone they knew upset?  Did you follow that?  Anger serves us no positive return.  All anger does is zap you of the energy you’ve worked so hard to build up.  If we are continually draining ourselves by being angry at others, then who are we slighting?  Our mates, our kids, our friends, ourselves?  Drop it like its hot, my friends.   Give it time to cool off, its worth it.  Maybe not immediately, but someday you will see the benefit.  Walking away doesn’t make you weak, it actually shows tremendous strength.

“Sing (Sing a Song . . . Sing Out Loud)”

Do you think music has changed over the years?  The other day I was relaxing and chatting with my amazing little four-year-old granddaughter, Ari.  In the background the Beatles “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was bopping away and Ari was humming and swaying to the music.  It got me thinking, does the music we hear now affect us the way music did when we were younger?  Let’s discuss . . .

My mom was an interesting character.  She was a strong independent and opinionated woman.  She paved a path thought to be unconventional and often exceled at anything she set out to do.  Anyone that spent a few hours with her walked away knowing her love of music.  My siblings and I were raised with a fantastic musical tapestry to highlight not just moments, but life in general.  We grew up on Jim Croce, Elton John, Billy Joel, Iron Butterfly, George Michael, Paul McCartney, The Beatles, Wham, Chicago, Phil Collins, The Carpenters, Don McLean, Anne Murray, and so many others I can’t even begin to name them all.  But these here, these were the classics that forged a musical medley for everyone in our household.

Road trips are etched in my memory not for the excitement and destinations, but for the “mix” tapes mom would make in preparation for the car rides.  I use the term “mix” loosely because the woman didn’t mix anything!  She would record one song, back-to-back, over and over, one after the other for the entire side of a cassette tape.  If we were lucky, she’d change it up and have a different song on the B side.  We weren’t always lucky.  This, my friends, is the sole reason I know every word to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “Careless Whispers”, and “Love Song”.

These artists and their tunes are simple.  Simple isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but it is so different from what I hear when I turn on the radio or give Alexa a bit of choice in my song selections.  Play a few older songs, then turn on the radio.  Do you notice the difference?  I won’t lyric hate.  I believe that if all the annoyance and distraction is stripped away from several modern songs, the lyrics are stunning and can and do stand on their own.  But when did it become necessary to add all that junk in behind the words?  I’ve learned in my old age that I like simple.  I love the genuine flow of a song that allows the words to do all the work, no bass drop needed.

I will also admit that these older songs aren’t always peppy.  That’s for another discussion!  My kids will openly inform you that I’m boring and my music is like attending a funeral.  That is not true!  But I do like calm tunes to back up my day.  I can get excited and rowdy all on my own, I don’t need music to yell at me and tell me to “jump” or that “thunder” is coming.

Where am I going with this?  I have no idea.  But I will say this, music transports me.  Music has become not only my soul grounder, but my way of communication.  Life gets messy and we forget to stop and take a minute or three for ourselves.  Take time today to sit and listen to a song you haven’t heard in a while.  Before you know it, it’ll be 35 minutes later, and you’ll have taken a journey in your head to places near and far.  Even better, share those songs with your kids!  When my kids are caught humming songs from well before their time, I count it as a parenting win.  Are you winning today? 

As much as I love all genres of music, nothing gets me like the oldies.  Phil Collins knew me well; Rod Stewart speaks my language, and in the calm of the night, Paul, Ringo, John, and George sung me many lullaby’s.  Rhianna, Imagine Dragons, and Ed Sheeran just don’t have the same effect on me.