Imperfectly Nice

I like kids’ books and I cannot lie

I was challenged by a couple of friends on Facebook to post 10 books that have stayed with me long after I put them down. Of course, I am entirely too wordy for Facebook as I feel the need to explain why these books are the ones that stayed with me over time. I also realize that this list is not just about books, it is about the people who introduced me to the worlds books create inside my head, and even about the authors who created those worlds in the first place.

You will notice that while many of these books are often read by adults and go far beyond their intended children’s lit or YA audience, they are all, in fact, books for kids. There is a line in “You’ve Got Mail” where Kathleen says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” Agreed.  I do read books for grownups, and I love many of them. But these … they have never left me. They have taught me that being brave and kind are probably the two most important things you can be, and that we are all ultimately flawed and all ultimately worth fighting for.

In no particular order, my 10 books are:

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – C.S. Lewis taught me that magic and entire worlds can exist in ordinary objects like wardrobes. He also helped me understand the sacrifice of Jesus, not always an easy thing for kids to grasp, through Aslan.

All of the Harry Potter books – I was a Harry Potter holdout for a long time. I didn’t care about the hype and didn’t read them or even watch any of the movies until a couple of years ago. Y’all … those were wasted years. Wasted, I tell you. J.K. Rowling is a genius storyteller and weaves plot details in that you don’t even notice until you pick the books again. And again. And maybe one more time. I love these books so much, I have a Gryffindor shirt and seriously considered buying a Marauder’s Map until I saw the price. (I am a fan, but I am not an idiot.) I also might just know which house I would be sorted into on Pottermore (Ravenclaw). The obsession. It is real.

The Percy Jackson series – I read this series when I was pregnant with my son and remember thinking that I wanted my son to be just like Percy. So far, so good. Here’s hoping. The books are fun and funny and, much like Harry Potter, teach lessons about bravery and friendship. THEN you read the author – Rick Riordan’s – story about how these books came about and you fall even harder for them. (link)

“The Giving Tree” – I have been a regular reader of the great Amalah for many years and, a few years before I had my own child, I remember reading this post and being amazed. Wait … what?! She is totally right, the tree IS the parent. As a child, of course I didn’t realize this fine detail; I just loved the book, even though I thought the boy was kind of a jerk. Then I read Amalah’s post and got it, then I had a child of my own and holy tree leaves, I really got it. I am the tree. I AM THE TREE! WAAHHHHH! For those who feel similarly about this book, this year is the 50th anniversary of “The Giving Tree” and the Shel Silverstein website has some really cool activities and lessons based around the book.

“From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” – E.L. Konigsburg’s story about a little girl who loves complications and runs away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her little brother, the tightwad. Hilarity, and a fantastic story, ensue.

“Scorpio Races” – Maggie Stiefvater is amazing. I love her words. I am consumed by them when I read them. She can say more about who a character is in one sentence than most people convey in hundreds of pages. She makes me want to write, more than anything.

From “Scorpio Races”

“This time of year, I live and breathe the beach. My cheeks feel raw with the wind throwing sand against them. My thighs sting from the friction of the saddle. My arms ache from holding up two thousand pounds of horse. I have forgotten what it is like to be warm and what a full night’s sleep feels like and what my name sounds like spoken instead of shouted across yards of sand.

I am so, so alive.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” – This is possibly the only book I read in high school that I was supposed to read. I’ve always loved to read and have always hated being told what to do, so there you are. I missed out on a lot of classics because I was too stubborn. Harper Lee (or Truman Capote, depending on what story you believe) broke through my rebellion of classic literature by force and I love her for introducing me to the Tom Robinsons and Boo Radleys of the world. And the Atticus Finches, of course.

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” – I found this book on an old bookcase on my grandparents’ screened-in porch, along with many other old hardbacks that belonged to my granddaddy. We read Tom Sawyer on the front porch swing together. We would sit and rock and shell peas fresh from his garden and laugh until we cried. That copy, which he got for Christmas in 1926, is my most prized possession and still has dried up pea hulls in its yellowed pages.

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” – Mark Twin is one of my literary and life heroes. He was smart, funny and just a little wicked. I want to be just like him when I grow up. Oh, and he was brave. So brave. THIS passage from Huck Finn …

“I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”- and tore it up.”

 “Looking for Alaska” – Trying to choose my favorite John Green book is like asking me to choose between chocolate and peanut butter. I just don’t think I can do it. I chose this one because it was the first of his books that I read, and I If we are voting for class favorites like we did in high school, John Green gets my vote for the male favorite, with Maggie Stiefvater coming in as my favorite female. They are a somewhat unlikely pair, but both are equal parts nerdy and bad ass and way too cool for me to hang out with, not that they would ever make me feel that way. That’s just how they are. (I am assuming.) John Green writes about kids who are figuring out who they are and who they will become in the most real, thoughtful way. I want him to write more and more so I can read more and more of his words. Now I just have to decide if I want a Nerdfighter or Deathly Hallows tattoo, because my love for John Green rivals my love for Harry Potter. Maybe.

Honorable mentions go to all of the books read to me on the laps of my mother and granny, those read to me by my granddaddy while we paused during our walks in the woods, and those read to me by my father with his deep, rumbling voice. (I bet he doesn’t even know his voice rumbles. It does. I have been blessed to be raised by people with good reading voices.)

I just know that I will soon be adding another book to this list, and that is “The Envelope,” written by my friend John. It is a book written for grown-up type people, but I have a good feeling about it anyway. You should just go ahead and buy a copy, and also read his blog.

So, there is my list. I read like a 16-year-old girl. Or possibly a 10-year-old boy. I probably always will, and that is okay with me, because as much of a cynical adult I can be, those are the books that make me believe in magic.

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Sweet summertime

  
The world is bleached blue in the fading light, the frogs and crickets and cicadas playing their nightly song while the fireflies blink like tiny, white Christmas lights.

I lay on the front porch, fingers scraped and stained from picking blackberries on the fence row between our house and the farm behind us.

I watch the moon rise with my little one close against me. I lazily swat mosquitoes away from him and his still downy, soft hair tickles my nose. 

He whispers to me to tell him “secrets” (stories) about when he was a baby. I tell him about the all of the time we would spend circling the back deck or the front yard when his colic and reflux were at their worst, while I would sway him and sing “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

I would tell him the man in the moon was smiling at him while he cried and I paced. Then, I didn’t think those would ever be sweet memories, but they are.

He asks if we can dance and sing under the moon now, and we do, him giggling as we spin. 

Eventually, the mosquitoes chase us away, back to the warm light of the house. 

The magic of nighttime during the summer has spun its quiet spell around us and we look up at the moon one last time before we head off to bed. 

A Summertime PSA from: My Husband*

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Summer is approaching, and beach vacations are imminent. We are all counting down the days until our behinds are in a beach chair, the smell of sunscreen and salt water (or maybe margarita salt) coming together to form the olfactory heaven that is summer.  The warm sun and the ocean breeze are intoxicating, and we find it hard to remove ourselves from our beach chairs. We are blissed out and joyfully reclining, Jimmy Buffett music playing on a radio a few towels down, and we feel the need to document the moment. Because this is of those moments we wait for. When deadlines are swallowing us whole and the cold won’t quit, this is what got us through – the promise of a white chair and a striped umbrella. We don’t just want to document it though, we want to share it. With our loved ones and people we probably went to high school with, but really don’t remember, and that person we met at that conference that one time. Also, we kind of want to make everyone at the office a little jealous, because we can be jerks sometimes. The phone comes out, the photo is snapped, we spend copious amounts of time deciding if LoFi or Valencia makes the water bluer and the clouds whiter, and then we post. We post a picture of our feet facing the ocean. Not only do we post it now, we post it over and over again, all summer long every time we are beach- or pool-side. And my husband has something to say about it. Stop. Please stop. He doesn’t care if your pedicure is fresh, he still thinks you have jacked up toes, and desperately wishes for something else in his newsfeed in the months of May through September besides your sandy ankles.

I understand the temptation. I have been there. I have taken photos of my feet at the beach. Half of our honeymoon video is me taking shots of the Jamaican surf slowly covering and uncovering my toes. There is practically nothing better for our five senses to experience: the smell of the salt, the feel of the foamy surf between our toes, the sound of waves crashing, the taste of a cool drink, and the sight of the blue water … perfection. But here is the thing. It is perfection for YOU. While YOU are at the beach. You know what the rest of us experience when you post these photos? Your weird crooked toe and that tattoo you got on spring break in college that you now kind of regret. That is all. We don’t hear the waves or feel the surf between our toes.** I’m not telling you not to take the picture. By all means, document. Document away. Take a million photos of your feet and filter and Photoshop them to death. Print them and keep them in your desk drawer this winter because, for a brief moment, it will take you back to that perfect moment on that perfect day. But please don’t share them. My husband is freaked out by your hammertoe.

*The words are mine, but the sentiment is his. And he is correct.

**This is NOT a solicitation for VIDEOS of your feet at the beach. Still can’t feel the sun or taste the cool drink in your video, so no.

Special note: This announcement is made for those who are traveling to the beach sans children or with nanny and/or grandparents. Anyone trying to keep a toddler from swallowing half of the Gulf obviously doesn’t have time to take feet pictures. Lounging? Ha! 

Regrets

Carrie: Are we EVER going to see each other again?

Me: No. No we, apparently, are not. 😦

This was a conversation I had on Facebook with Carrie last summer. I was wrong when I said this. We did see each other again. On her death bed. And again at the funeral home. I dropped everything including work and my family to go to her side. Of course I did. There was no question that I wouldn’t. So why then? Why not before? Why not all of the other times we tried to get together and some stupid, little thing kept it from happening? Why wasn’t it as urgent then? It should have been.

I always loved the fact that Carrie and I had one of those rare friendships that allowed us pick up right where we left off. We could go days or weeks or months without speaking and still go on as if no time had passed. I used to think that was one of the beautiful things about our friendship. Now, I realize that was just a horrible reason not to try harder. Because she would always be there, and our friendship would always be there. We would always love each other and there would be a million more chances to see her, to hear her sing. I hate it when I am wrong. Really, really hate it.

I have memories. And I will hold them dear. I wish there were more. I wish there were memories of our kids playing. I wish so much that I had a memory of Vaught sitting in her lap while she sang to him. But there isn’t. There’s just the wish. And Vaught sitting in my lap while I sing. Y’all, I can’t sing. He will know her through her music. I will make sure of that. But it won’t be the same.

If there is someone in your life that precious, someone who you have a friendship with that can pass the tests of time and distance and life, don’t let the time and distance be excuses. I remember not going to see Carrie sing in Laurel because she was singing on Thursday night and I had work on Friday. I don’t even think I had a meeting or a deadline, just work. I had the vacation time. I didn’t use it. It was a work day and you go to work on work days. I gave up an opportunity for a night I would never forget for one insignificant day of work that I will never remember. Sometimes, rules are meant to be broken. I promise you, Carrie, that I will try to stop seeing the rules and the little hiccups along life’s path as things that will deter me from doing what is truly important. I know we tend to have a huge wake-up call that changes us and then we slowly but surely slide back into our comfortable molds. When I feel myself start to slide, I will listen to your music. Your voice will remind me that today, there are friendships to nurture and people to love and life to live. There are memories to be made.

Speak now, or forever hold your …

Dear Disney/Pixar animators/executives/overlords,

I must first tell you how much I appreciate your films. They are charming. They make me laugh. They make me ugly cry. (“Up” and “Toy Story 3”? Mascara and nose running – every time. Every. Time.) My three-year old is also a big fan, and has already developed several Pixar obsessions including, but not limited to, “Cars,” “Incredibles,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Monsters University,” the “Toy Story” trilogy and “Nemo.” Which is odd because I honestly don’t think he has ever seen “Nemo.” It matters not to him. He knows Dory exists and loves her. THAT is the power of Disney Pixar. Just the mere suggestion of Ellen DeGeneres as sea life and my son is sold. Hook, line and sinker. (See what I did there?) The force is strong with Pixar. (Now even more so, since Disney bought Lucasfilm.) I am on board with the Pixar party line in most cases. “Toy Story” teaches friendship and loyalty. “Nemo” teaches that we never give up on those we love.” Cars” teaches that maybe we aren’t the most important person we know and that things are better shared with friends. “Up,” ah “Up.” There is so much about “Up” to love. I could go on and on about the wonderful lessons my child has learned from me allowing the television to babysit him on those kinds of days. And I thank you for every single one of those lessons, overlords.

But I must appeal to you as the mother of a fairly new public restroom user. Let me explain. I heard about the horrors of potty training from other moms and dads, and quite honestly, I found them to be greatly exaggerated. We were pleasantly surprised when our son showed interest and just kind of started going to the potty without a huge amount of fanfare or pressure from us. Charts and targets and special songs? Please. Clearly, my child is a professional pottier and needs no such motivation. (Fellow parents, please do not think I am being a smug mother about this. Vaught has consistently done the “hard” stuff like teething and potty training without much fuss, yet continues to do things other parents think are “easy” and even “enjoyable” with a maximum amount of tears and gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. Both ours and his. It’s just God’s way of having a little fun with us, I think.) So, while potty training was not the Stephen King novel I thought it would be (both in terms of length and horror), I quickly discovered something much, much worse than potty training, and that is a toddler in a public restroom.

I swear to you, there are days I long for the disgusting koala bear changing table where I could lay down a changing pad to be thoroughly cleaned at home later. Now, my son climbs on to the public potty using both hands. BOTH. HANDS. I don’t care if you Clorox the entire seat for 20 minutes, watching your child hold on to the seat using his bare hands will make you want to vomit. I don’t care if you are a germaphobe or not. This will easily make you one and test your gag reflex all at once. Then, once he is on the potty, he wants to play with the little trashcan featured in most ladies rooms. Also, Walmart is apparently a blooming laxative for my child.

See what I’ve got going on here, Disney? Quite frankly, I’ve got enough potty problems to handle without you adding to the ever-growing list of Things That Make Mommy Gag. And don’t sit there looking all innocent, like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You know.

I’m talking about this:

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And this:

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And now, this:

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How resourceful of Woody to escape Sunny Side by climbing on to the toilet paper holder and out of the bathroom window. Guess what my child tries to do now in public restrooms? Go on, just guess. If you guessed that he attempts to stand on the metal holder with his pants still around his ankles to escape like Woody then you would be correct. It’s fun for both of us.

And since it was sooooo hilarious for Mike Wazowski to accidentally drop his foot into the toilet, guess what is equally hilarious (in his mind) for my son to pretend to do?

Oh, and now that “Nina Needs to Go” is on the air? Gosh, mommy won’t it be absolutely the best thing in the world EVER for me to wait to go until the last possible second to tell you I need to go and then expect you to perform all sorts of acrobatics and high jinx a la Nina’s grandmother to get me to the potty in time? Won’t it? Won’t it?

Guess what again, Disney? It won’t. It really, really won’t.

So, please Disney and Disney Pixar, please, for the love of the CDC, stop including “cute” little scenes like these in your movies and animation shorts. I am already trying to figure out how to help my son, um, clean up while dodging the stuff that shoots up when I accidentally trigger the autoflush function. It’s too much. On behalf of myself and mothers of toddlers and preschools everywhere, might I suggest a nice scene in your next film where the main character thoroughly washes his or her hands/flippers/tires and doesn’t touch ANYTHING until they get home? Or maybe a sidekick who thinks about putting that toy they just dropped on the bathroom floor in their mouth and then decides that would be disgusting and then maybe he just chucks the toy in the trash can on the way out? Just a thought. I would pay $8 a ticket to see that.

Sincerely,

April Lollar, mother of one and rotavirus activist

My To Do List for 2014

So, I am totally stealing this from my friend John, because I have never been good at, and have never liked, resolutions. I am always a tad down in January, and it is hard for me to work up the energy to make sweeping, life-changing decisions when it is cold and dark and too far from summer. Thank GOD I live in the South where it isn’t really that cold and summer temperatures aren’t really that far away. The thought of actually waiting for May or June for pretty weather and sunlight is exhausting. Anyway, John works at a co-op in Missouri and one of the operating principles of cooperatives is cooperation among cooperatives, so he is practically required to let me steal his idea. I am working in the principle that since working at a co-op is like working with family, this rule applies to our personal lives/blogs too and that it is fine with him if I steal or “creatively borrow,” as my friend Lorri likes to say, his idea. Also, Shia LaBeouf told me this was okay.

Instead of making a list of a few, BIG resolutions, John chose to make a list of lots of things he wants to accomplish in 2014. Some are big, some are simple. I don’t want to use the word small because they are not small. Taking your son to a ball game or taking your wife on a picnic are most certainly too important to be called small. I guess they are too important to be called simple, too, but in the end they are. They are simple gestures and actions that make the big picture better for us. Taking your wife, who homeschools your boys, on a date lets her know she is loved and appreciated and builds a better marriage. So see? Simple but not small. Anyway, enough about how John is going to rock the world in 2014 and on to my list. Although, are some similarities between the two lists, I promise that stealing isn’t intentional. These are things I really want to do. It may not rock your world, but I hope it will make me and those in my world a little happier and better when 2015 arrives.

My 2014 To Do List:

  1. Take Vaught to Disney World.
  2. Splurge while we are there. Yes, he needs to learn that you have to work hard to get things and not be spoiled, etc. But for the love of Mike, it’s Disney World. I want him to know that sometimes, things are just magical. Sometimes, you can have the toy in the store. I want to have enough saved that if he wants the $30 balloon; he gets the $30 balloon.
  3. Oh, and a pair of mouse ears with his name stitched on them.
  4. Capture as many moments on film as I can while there, but don’t forget to be IN the moment, too.
  5. Go to a parade.
  6. Go to bed at the same time Neil does. We miss out on a lot of time together when I fall asleep in Vaught’s room every night and stumble to our room in the wee small hours of the morning.
  7. Give more love and attention to this blog. Make it prettier.
  8. Post more. One that I am obviously failing miserably at right now.
  9. Celebrate Neil’s graduation with a surprise.
  10. Figure out what to do what Vaught’s college savings.
  11. Buy rain boots. I work at an electric co-op and live in a place where hurricanes happen. It is ridiculous that when I go take photos of crews working, I am wearing completely inappropriate footwear. I tromp through the muck so the guys working won’t think I can’t hack it, but it just looks silly. And not very credible. It is also dangerous and gross. And ruins my pretty, red nail polish.
  12. Read at least 40 books.
  13. Make sure some of these books are written by new or “new to me” writers.
  14. Make sure some are classics that I have somehow neglected to read because someone told me I had to.
  15. Read one of the above mentioned book by a pool. By myself.
  16. Start a collection of hard cover Harry Potter books.
  17. Make a photo book for the year.
  18. Try a new drink.
  19. Try a new food.
  20. Try at least three new restaurants.
  21. Make writing – and not just here – a priority. Which leads to …
  22. Researching the query process. But AFTER I write, not before. Cart and horse in the correct order!
  23. Make that cool Christmas present for Mom I’ve wanted to make for several years now.
  24. Go to Shaggy’s on a pretty day.
  25. Eat Oreo pie on my birthday.
  26. Get a tattoo. Or not. I want to be a bad ass, but I am scared of my Dad. Which proves that I am not, indeed, a bad ass and have no business getting a tattoo. Also, old and saggy tattoos? Not cool. Also, also Tina Fey says you shouldn’t get one and I pretty much do what Tina Fey tells me to do. Or not do as is the case here. So … yeah, jury is still out on this one. Maybe just make a decision about getting a tattoo?
  27. Go look at Christmas lights.
  28. Celebrate Christmas Eve at EFUMC.
  29. Blow bubbles.
  30. Play outside.
  31. Take walks in the woods. I grew up taking walks in the woods with my granddaddy, and they are still soothing to my soul. Bonus points if I can find an old stump where Vaught and I can sit and read books, just like my granddaddy used to do for me.
  32. Volunteer – something Vaught can do with us. I want him to know how good we have it. That the $30 Disney balloon is NOT reality for most people.
  33. Complete random acts of kindness.
  34. Go to at least one movie that is not a cartoon.
  35. Try to be less angry when football season arrives, and we don’t see much of Neil. (Notice I said “try” and “less angry.”)
  36. Get a cool lunchbox for Vaught’s first day of pre-school.
  37. Take an obnoxious amount of “first day of school” photos.
  38. Exercise. Regularly.
  39. Be in more pictures with my son, even if it means forcing my phone on someone and demanding they take one. Even if I don’t feel pretty. Even if I think my arm/leg/behind/earlobe looks fat.
  40. Hang photos in the bedroom.
  41. Get artwork for my office.
  42. Study, study, study.
  43. Get CCC certification.
  44. Go to a local festival. There are a TON, and we never go.
  45. Call and/or write my grandparents more often.
  46. Same for my sister.
  47. Cookie Day!
  48. Spend a night away with Neil. Just the two of us.
  49. Do something to honor Carrie.
  50. Write down my mission statement for my life. This is a big one, and one that our preacher has been talking about. I know that “finding the meaning of life” is a pretty big task, but I want to do it. In writing. Focus on that and don’t get caught up in the things that don’t support that. Easy, right? Ha!
  51. Make Vaught’s yearly video montage.
  52. Meet my deadlines.
  53. Stick to my social media editorial calendar.
  54. Spend a day in New Orleans.
  55. Get a new car. Sigh.
  56. Sell/donate stuff that is taking up space in the house.
  57. Spend as many days at the beach as possible.
  58. Dance until my legs are sore.
  59. Get a present for Vaught’s babysitter before he leaves for good in August.
  60. Go to the Justin Timberlake concert in August.
  61. Have at least two girls’ nights. Two – ambitious, I know!
  62. Buy something just for me that I normally wouldn’t.
  63. Buy something for Neil just because.
  64. Have a picnic.
  65. Camp out with my boys.
  66. Get a new pair of sunglasses.
  67. Read to Vaught every day.
  68. Visit Oxford at least once.
  69. Take pictures of Vaught in the Grove.
  70. Make sure there are at least a few pictures of me and Neil together, and more of the three of us.
  71. Slip and slide this summer.
  72. Have a “sleep over” in the living room with Vaught.
  73. Have at least four movie nights at home.
  74. Watch fireworks.
  75. Tell Neil and Vaught that I love them every day and kiss them both as much as I possibly can.

So, here’s to 2014 and all of the small, yet important, things that are going to make it great! 

Juan-uary – I can’t even with the convoluted spelling

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Juan Pablo – Professional Latin Lover

I do not make any secret of the fact that I loves me some bad TV. I have several guilty pleasures including more than one Real Housewives of … series, “Dance Moms” and, what is probably my favorite, “The Bachelor.” This show, where 25 attention-seeking young ladies (?) with daddy issues parade themselves in front of the Bachelor in hopes of finding representation for their budding “independent film” career love, provides me entertainment each January and, as embarrassing as this may be to admit, helps me get over my seasonal depression. How can you not smile while these girls who have aged out of real pageants, enter this one? It’s not a pageant, you say? I beg to differ. There is evening gown (what they wear to the cocktail parties), interview (what they say, or slur, at the cocktail parties) and we all know and love the talent segment when 100-pound girls who have been fed nothing but a steady diet of champagne and squeezed into gowns made entirely of sequins with neck lines down to there and slits up to there try to dazzle the guy who is the prize with their operatic range, their ’06 cheer competition routine, a scrapbook page, a poem wherein the word heart is rhymed with approximately 67 words, and whatever other talent their mamas have lied to them about having. Now, I am not saying these girls don’t have talent, but what I am saying is that these talents don’t always translate to performance art that should be seen on national television. My mama loves me, y’all, and she loves me enough to tell me that maybe God did not bless me with a voice made for solos. Or duets. Or anything other than rocking out in my car. These girls’ mamas are either blinded by their love for their little precious ones, or they are sick and twisted women who enjoy watching their daughters embarrass themselves. I can only assume that there are at least a few who fall into the sick and twisted category and that is WHY little precious is dieting and waxing herself into oblivion for maximum camera time during the ever-present hot tub scenes.

Anyway, tonight, Juan Pablo takes the stage (or stone-paved driveway in this case) as our bachelor. I am not going to lie to you, folks – I am excited for this season. Besides being easy on the eyes and having a great accent, Juan Pablo is a former professional soccer player and World’s Greatest Padre (so says his coffee mug) to daughter Camilla. I may or may not (read: totally did) watch last night’s Juan Pablo preview on ABC and have a few observations:

1- I loved Juan Pablo when he appeared as a contestant on The Bachelorette. I don’t think one single person who watched that show understood why Des decided to send out Latin lover packing. We knew she was going to, but we don’t understand why. She instead chose the guy who didn’t want to choose her but oh wait now I totally love THAT guy because he is still here and already made the effort to put on the suit and all. But back to Juan Pablo … dashing, funny, self-deprecating, a good father and family man by all accounts, and the ONLY one to actually make the ridiculous spaghetti western episode work for him. (Again, she sent him home for the guy who sort of kind of looked like John Mayer used to before he started wearing that ridiculous hat who didn’t pick her. Gah, Des!) And last night, we saw much of the same. However, I couldn’t help but notice that there is something that is a touch smarmy about any bachelor they choose. I don’t care if this is the most awesome, down to earth guy ever in real life; there is something about becoming the bachelor that makes them a tad … cheesy. I think it is because of all of the contractually obligated scenes they have to film shirtless. (Except for Ben. Thank you, Chris Harrison, from everyone in – as you fondly call it – The Bachelor Nation, for NOT putting that clause in Ben’s contract.) And all of the contractually obligated scenes of said bachelor starting into the distance contemplating his future while his voiceover talks about “finding love” and “the journey” and, and and. Or maybe, MAYBE, it is because no guy most of us would actually choose in real life would sign up to be on a show where he is contractually obligated to take his shirt off 97 times a day while writing poetry.

2- Juan Pablo might be the Padre del Año but he is clueless about car seat safety. Seriously, I could pay no attention to anything else because Camilla’s chest restraint was somewhere around her belly button and her right arm strap kept falling off completely. You know her mother was mentally tightening those straps when she watched last night. And what of you, Bachelor producers, camera people, boom operators and mic folks? NONE of you have children and understand proper child restraint? I mean, kudos to Juan Pablo for keeping her in that five-point harness at her age and all, but I would feel less itchy if someone would tighten those straps for her.

## 3- In spite of the improperly restrained yet adorable daughter and my admission that, while I appreciated Juan Pablo’s shirtless Latin dance moves in a tunnel (Or was it a bridge? I can’t remember exactly, but there was traffic, I believe. It was odd.), I also found them a little, well, much, I will STILL watch this show. I will DVR it and love it and wait anxiously for [Lincee’s recaps.](www.ihategreenbeans.com) I will get mad at ABC for choose a group of 25 women who were NOT chosen for Juan Pablo as they claim, but because they will make “good” TV. I will watch because I am a romantic who believes that MAYBE just MAYBE two people can find love on what is essentially a ridiculous game show that sets totally unrealistic expectations in a very short period of time. I will make fun because I am a cynic and because come ON. You’ve got me ABC. I am part of “The Bachelor Nation.” I will read good books and listen to NPR and think deep thoughts tomorrow, but tonight, I will sit on my couch and watch “The Bachelor” and love every cheesy second of it.

Three

My little man,

You are three now. A question you have asked me every day since your birthday. “Mommy, am I still three?” Yes, you are still three. You will be three for an entire year, but I have a hunch it will feel like too soon when I am reassuring you of your status as a four-year old. Next year, you will have just started school when your birthday arrives. You will be exiting the car on your own to run into pre-school with your little back pack swaying and bouncing with your steps. You will know new friends and have new places to go and learn so many new things. But I won’t think of any of that now. No, now, I am going to enjoy three.

The problem is, though, that I don’t think I’m very good at three so far, and that is troublesome. Three, three is the age I have been looking forward to the most, I think. Well, three and four. When I worked in the summers in college at a daycare, I adored three. Three with all of its unpredictably hilarious behavior, three that still has chubby fingers, three that is independent but still so sweet …

Well, my son, you are knocking the gently hazy edges of three right out of my brain. There is nothing gentle and hazy about three. Three is wiggly and challenging and alive. So alive. Three is you being able to express your emotions with your very adult vocabulary, but not quite knowing that you can use those words all of the time, instead of screaming your discontent. You can say, “Mommy, I am frustrated with (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank) but it takes us so long to GET THERE. Your first reaction is tears and squeals when I know you’ve got it in you to just tell me about it. It’s that, your amazing capacity for words, that makes me expect too much from you. The tantrums and screams are puzzling to me because you have the words. I’m sorry I expect you to know at three years and a few weeks old exactly how to use them, when there are so many grownups who never learned to do so. I should understand, especially me, who is so much better on paper, who can’t always get there when I have to say the words out loud instead of typing them.

Three is wonderfully funny and fiercely loving. There is desperation in your little fingers when you cling to me when I try to crawl out of your bed at night to head to my own. You are tenacious, wanting and needing me to hold you, to let you sit on my back piggyback style as I go about my business. At least, as much as I possibly can go about my business with a three year old cutting off my supply of oxygen. I have been told I shouldn’t let you. I have been told I should really make you sit in your own seat to eat and not in my lap, grabbing my hair with your food-stained fingers. And I know. I know that I shouldn’t but then I think, but next year, he may not want me this ferociously. Someday, all too soon, you will be a big boy and I will miss those days that I couldn’t eat without you wiggling on my lap. And my confession is that there is desperation for me too, when I kiss you goodnight and leave you. My grip is tenacious, too, little one, because I know you will want it less and less the older you are.

You already tell me now that you are a grown up. You tell me this when it is time to get in your car seat and when I try to make you do any of the things you deem fit for babies only. “But moooommmeeee,” you protest. “I am a GROWNUP!” Oh, my love, you are so grown up in so many ways, so let’s hold on to those things that make you my baby for as long as we can. Let’s make tents with the sheets, and pretend, and play, and read, and laugh until we can’t breathe.

In the meantime, I’m going to collect these moments, these memories, so I never forget. I wish there was a way to record each and every one of them. I want to write volumes – an entire encyclopedia set’s worth of memories. Except I don’t want them to sit and get dusty like encyclopedias tend to do. I want them to be well read and loved, with cracked spines and worn pages. I want them to be your favorite books, the ones you’ll read until you are quite an old man. I won’t be able to write as much as I want. If I did, I would spend so much time writing about you, I wouldn’t really experience you, so I’ll settle for something in between.

I want to remember that you say “sher” instead of she or her. That you get upset when I tell you I love you because YOU want to love ME, so I tell you that the great and awesome thing about love is that we can love each other infinite amounts. And, now, when I reluctantly drop you off at the baby sitter’s every morning, you say, “We both can love each other.” And I turn into a little puddle on the floor because that is the sweetest thing my ears have ever heard. You still ask, “Mommy, can I hold you?” when you want me to pick you up. You are loving and kind. You helped me shoo a grasshopper out of the house last night for 10 minutes, telling him the whole way, “I KNOW you can do it, grasshopper!” You love our dogs, and you love to be silly. You are still a little question mark to me in many ways, and I have a feeling that won’t change with three or four or maybe ever. But I wouldn’t change it all, any of it, for the world. Even the moments I worry, or feel frustrated. Not one single moment. Well, maybe the one where you accidentally slammed a hand weight down on my ankle the other night, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. Keep challenging me, my little man, and please keep asking me to snuggle with you, to kiss you good night, and please keep reminding me that we both can love each other. We can. We do. And I am so, so lucky because of it. 

The post I never wanted to write

Image

It has been almost one month since Carrie died. I have wanted to post things, but I find myself unable to do it. I know this post needs to come first before I can move on to talk about anything else, but I just haven’t been ready until now. But before I can write anything else that is real, and honest, I have to write this.

Tonight, Carrie’s best friend, Sam, sent a message to a few of us who loved her best, and we just got to say things to each other that we can’t really share with anyone else. Mind you, I have met exactly one of these women, ever, at the funeral, and we spoke for mere minutes. She was comforting and calming and just very earth mama, you know? I, on the other hand, was an awkward mess. Because I just am. The point is, that through our shared grief, we have bonded, me and these women I don’t really know, but I am thankful for them. And now, I can face this post.

I was planning to visit Carrie on a Monday. The Thursday before, I was making arrangements, figuring out who would drop off and pick up my son and doing all of those little logistical things that needed to be done. I was writing about Carrie. The news that her cancer was terminal had come shortly before, so I was making it my mission to write memories down for her girls. I went to bed around two, and my phone rang at 3:30. It was Carrie’s husband, telling me that if I waited until Monday, I would probably be too late. He told me he would buy me a plane ticket or put gas in my car, but to come, just come. This man, who was facing all he was, offering to help me. I pulled out of my driveway as the sun was rising to make the four hour drive to Carrie. I prayed a lot. Mostly for Carrie and her family, but I asked for strength for myself a lot, too. When I was just minutes from her house, I made a quick stop and I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I can face this.” And that small, still voice said, “YOU are facing this? No, my love. Carrie is. You don’t have to face anything. You get the privilege of being one of those people she wanted to see, so honor that.” It was like walking through a muddy creek bottom, but my feet took me back to my car and the rest of the way to her house.

Carrie is an only child, but her extended family is large, and they were all there for her. All of them beautiful, and crying gracefully into tissues with no visible streaks of mascara or puffy noses. (I am reminiscent of Claire Danes when I cry, so I was in awe.) You could feel the love in that family and in that house. They were so very gracious to allow me to be there, during a very private time, and I will always remember how gentle they were with me, in a time where they need comfort themselves.

Michael was there, coordinating and DOING things, all of the things. So kind, so thoughtful. Carrie’s mom and dad were there, keeping watch and care over her, protecting her and loving her. And there she was. Carrie. We talked. I held her hand. We got to remember silly things, and say big things and tell each other we loved each other, which is, after all, the biggest thing there is to say to anyone, ever. I will consider that day one of the biggest blessings of my life for the rest of my life, no matter how long or short it may be. To see that kind of strength and grace, to know she wanted me there when she had such precious little time …

She died the next day. I spoke at her funeral the next week. I was in what I like to call my politician’s wife’s dress, feeling stiff and wrong, my dad by my side. He held my hand, and I will forever be glad he was there, lending me strength. See, he loved Carrie, too. I got through my speech by meeting his eyes, and seeing her family there, knowing that, again, the hard part wasn’t mine.

As the family stood to leave, Carrie’s oldest daughter turned and, for a moment, when I saw her, all of the breath was sucked out of my lungs. Because it was her. It was my friend, just as she was when I met her. She might have been walking down the hall to meet me after school. The moment passed quickly – I don’t think my dad even realized I paused – but for just one minute, I saw that little girl who I spent so much of my childhood with, right there in front of me. 

I have had moments since that have given me that breathless feeling. My grief can catch me unaware sometimes, like the day I was in the ice cream shop with my son, and the song, “When I get Where I’m Going” came on the radio. As a rule, I am not a country music fan, but I do make an exception for Brad Paisley, so I knew the song. The line about matching his granddaddy step for step always makes me cry because I pray for that opportunity one day, too, but I was not prepared for what would happen as I sat on a sticky white couch with my cup of mango sorbet. The effect was almost immediate. I sat there with tears silently rolling down my face, hoping my son wouldn’t notice and be alarmed. Other days, it is there with me, always tugging at the edges of my brain. It is persistent, my inner voice whispering, “Carrie, Carrie, Carrie,” to me all day long. And, sometimes, it is little things that affect me, when they shouldn’t. Carrie is still the first person listed on my “favorites” list on Facebook, and there are days it pains me to see her face popping up, a constant reminder of the loss. But the day I thought she had, somehow, been taken off of that list, I panicked that I wouldn’t see her face in that familiar spot several times a day. I frantically tried to MAKE IT COME BACK, until it did, just a funny little Facebook glitch. 

Sometimes I think if I could just explain to someone, they would realize a mistake has been made and correct it. Because this just isn’t logical, can’t everyone see that? Carrie was supposed to be a grandmother – the kind who sneaks you extra Christmas cookies and has a great lap for sitting in when you want her to read a book or want a quiet place for comfort. She was supposed to celebrate milestone anniversaries with Michael and dance so hard at her daughters’ weddings, that she, oh, I don’t know, blew out a knee, just like she did at the homecoming dance our junior year of high school. She was supposed to sit with me and make me laugh so hard I cried, and tell me truths that only dear friends can tell you. She was supposed to do so much more. She was supposed to teach her girls to do so much and be so much. 

Of course, as a Southern woman, a million lines from “Steel Magnolias” have been running through my mind through all of this. I had to stop myself from telling people I didn’t know how their insides were holding up, but their hair looked fantastic. I actually did offer, many times to “fix something that freezes beautifully.” I also keep thinking of Annelle’s speech about how Shelby wanted to take care of people, but her little body just wouldn’t let her so she became an angel. It rings true. But so does Sally Field’s next line, “Well, I want her here.” Selfish, I know, but there it is.

A dear friend of mine and Carrie’s said, after her death, that we are all broken now, but she is healed, and that seems like a pretty fair trade. He is right. He is so right. Many people don’t get to experience a person who lives and loves quite like Carrie did. How very blessed I am that I got to call her my friend.

“Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.”

– William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude-  (Yep. Totally got this from the beginning of “Deathly Hallows.”)

Carrie

We can do it

Carrie as Rosie the Riveter last Halloween.
Because we CAN do it!

“She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.”

I have written and deleted hundreds of words to try and make this post perfect, and I have decided it’s just not going to get there. I am used to stumbling and failing in speech, but not so much on paper. I can always find the words to write, but words are failing me now. So, I have decided to publish this anyway. I am going to say things wrong, and I am going to struggle to find the words I need, but at this point, saying something is much more important to me than getting it exactly right.

I have a sweet, funny friend named Carrie. We have been friends since we were seven. There have been times we have talked almost nonstop every day and times where we didn’t talk for years – not because we didn’t love each other – but because that happens sometimes in life when you move and live and grow and love in different circles. The thing about Carrie and me is, though, that we always find our way back to one another, no matter how long it’s been. And each time I hear her voice, it’s like no time has passed. She is my friend now, just as she was when we were little girls, and I love her dearly.

Last week, Carrie was diagnosed with stage four cancer and I feel the need to share what a remarkable person she is. How often do we take the time to just shout to the universe how truly awesome someone we love is? Not often enough. So … here goes. I hope that somehow, through these words, you will come to know Carrie the way I do, and see her as I do.

I met Carrie when we were seven on the bus that drove us from our elementary school to the high school where our mothers taught, about 100 yards away. She was little and had long, blonde curls and bright blue eyes and wore a navy beret. I thought she was pretty and stylish and I wanted her to be my friend. I don’t remember exactly, but I am guessing she is the one who approached me. Because that’s what she does. She envelops everyone around her into her ball of energy. We were fast friends, and my family’s move a couple of years later didn’t do anything to change that. That just meant high phone bills for our parents and frequent slumber parties when I visited Mississippi each summer.

Six years after we moved away, we moved back. I was devastated to leave our home. I was hurting over leaving my best friend, and I wasn’t handling the move back well at all. Carrie was my salvation. The group of friends I’d had as a kid had fractured. As we got older, they didn’t want to hang out when I came back to town like they had before. We were growing up and moving on to other friends and other things. But not Carrie. I mean, yes, she was growing up and doing new things, but she never stopped having time for me. She never thought I wasn’t as cool as her new friends. We just never outgrew each other.

When I called her to tell her I would be moving back and we would be starting our 10th grade year together, she was so excited, it was the first ray of hope I had felt for a while. The first day of school was totally awkward. Starting back in a place where a lot of people knew me, but weren’t really my friends just did not have me rushing to start the school year. The morning was just as awful as I thought it would be, made even more so by being told I was breaking the school dress code within the first two minutes of being there. (Um … what? These shorts are too short? Hand to God, they were probably no more than four inches above my knee. Seriously. We were staying at my Granny and Granddaddy’s house during the move and Ava Nell would have never allowed me out of the house in something that even bordered on inappropriate. Ava Nell is the reason for the name of this blog. The one with an endless list of things that nice girls don’t do. And nice girls certainly don’t go to school in slutty shorts.) I made a mental note to make an emergency run for culottes after school and spent the rest of the morning dreading lunch, which I did NOT have with Carrie. All I could picture was a sea of faces of people I used to play with, giving me a less than welcoming reception while I struggled to understand why. You know, your basic teenage nightmare.

I spent 30 seconds alone before a slender, dark-haired girl introduced herself and told me Carrie had told her to keep an eye out for me. And just like that, she became my friend, too. I wonder if Carrie even understands how much she did for me that day. She cared for me. She made sure I wasn’t trying to navigate the minefield of sort of new girl status alone. She took someone who was devastated and feeling untethered and threw me a lifeline. I held on to that lifeline dearly for the next three years. Actually, if she’s realized it or not, I’ve never let it go.

Carrie is full of life and light. She has a big personality and her enthusiasm, her silliness and her laughter are contagious. She loves fiercely and completely. When she steps on a stage to sing, she is larger than life. You can’t help but stare, and you can’t help but thank God He gave people talent like that. To me, she is fearless and brave. She is a big reason this blog even exists. I see her putting herself out there in a way that inspires me and makes me want to be fearless too. Or at least to not let the fear stop me from being. She is my friend and my sister and I love her.

She is fighting. I am fighting with her in the only ways I know how – praying, writing, trying to think of silly packages to send to her. I am asking you to fight with her, too. Pray. Even if you don’t know her or will never know her – pray. She has a husband who loves her and two beautiful little girls who need her. She has a mama who worries about her and a daddy who will be strong for her. She has a million cousins who are just as funny as she is and who will all be caring for her, I am sure. She has friends who adore her. She has a lot to fight for. And she will. But her body is tired. It is hurting. She needs our help. Carrie, who has taken care of so many of us, needs us to take care of her now. As Glennon Melton says, “we belong to each other.” We belong to Carrie, and she belongs to us. So, please pray. Let her name ring in God’s ears endlessly. She can’t raise her beautiful voice, so I am asking you to raise yours for her. She belongs to us. 

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