"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for June, 2015

Let the Next Chapter Begin

Tyler (right) and one of his good friends at the Graduation ceremony.

Tyler (right) and one of his good friends, Jeff, at the Graduation ceremony.

At the end of May, Tyler graduated from high school and we celebrated with a party a few weekends ago.  Thankfully, after a week of continuous rain, we dodged a bullet and had a dry day for it.  We needed to put down a couple of bales of straw purchased at the last minute so the backyard volleyball court didn’t turn into mud volleyball.  Other than being the typical Midwest hot and humid, it was a great day for an outside party.

This past weekend, we visited his college campus for Freshman First Day; a day to meet Academic advisors, finalize schedules and explore campus.  As we settled in at the hotel the night before, I realized that it was at Freshman Orientation at the University of Missouri that Darrell and I first met almost 26 years ago.  I tried to remember what my parents had been like back then, but honestly I couldn’t remember very much other than they came with me.  The main thing I remember from that day was the reality that I was going to have a heavy course load that first semester and I thought that blonde guy who sat next to me at the Orientation was really cute.  I had a boyfriend from high school at the time, and had no idea that cute boy would eventually become my husband. (Let me tell ya about it sometime—it’s a great story.)

I’m not sure why it came as a surprise to me when I was reminded that our firstborn is the same age that we were when we met.  With everything going on these days, I hadn’t had time to process that our little boy was on the brink of adulthood.  Yes, the kid who can’t keep track of where his car keys and shoes are most of the time is moving four hours away where he will be in charge of himself completely.  While I know that we will miss him doing Tyler-esque things like walking around the house, strumming his guitar and bugging his sisters with impromptu songs about whatever it is they’re doing, I can’t help but be excited for him as he starts this new chapter in life.  Where he has trepidation about making all the right decisions, I see nothing but a blank slate of potential.  I’m not so old that I don’t remember the uncertainty of being 18, but I wish he knew that when it’s all said and done, he’ll look back at this time and wish he’d savored it more instead of wishing it away to be an adult in the working world.

When you’re 18, your family, high school and the people you’ve been in school with over the past few years are truly your realm of experience.  For many, college is the first point in life where you step into your own.  It’s a time for learning more about yourself and how you fit into this big, wide world.  You meet people with personalities and ideas that you may have never been exposed to before.  It can be a little intimidating, but ultimately shapes you into the person you were meant to be.

I am convinced that the timing for a child’s (ahem, I mean young adult’s) departure for college correlates perfectly with his parents’ patience (aka tolerance) level for having another almost-adult present in the home.  Little things Tyler does, like leaving shoes all over the kitchen—nothing new—seem to get under my skin a little more than they used to.  I think it goes both ways, because I feel like Tyler gets annoyed with us about things, too.  In these waning days before he heads off to school across the state, I look at my son with a little more tenderness.  I overlook the empty Pop Tart wrappers he leaves around the house and grumble a little less when he forgets to put his dishes in the dishwasher.  (I said a LITTLE!)  I find myself giving in a little more often when he asks if we can do breakfast for dinner.

At the heart of it all, I’m proud of all he’s accomplished, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

The happy graduate with me and his dad, that cute blonde boy from Freshman Orientation all those years ago.

The happy graduate with me and his dad, that cute blonde boy from Freshman Orientation all those years ago.

Life is Better When I’m Dirty

Life's a garden--dig it!  - Joe Dirt

Life’s a garden–dig it! – Joe Dirt

I glance at the reflection in the mirror and frown.   Hair escaping its ponytail—and not in the good way like it does in the movies—smeared eyeliner under the eyes from my earlier make up and a sweaty smudge of dirt across my cheek.  The woman in the mirror looking back at me looks old and tired.

The world has its natural beauties—those fortunate women who can get by with a touch of mascara and lip gloss.  And then there are women like me, a pretty outfit and an hour with some make up and styling tools and we can really glam it up when the occasion calls for it.

When it’s early in the morning and I’m going for a run or the gym, I’m lucky to even have on matching shoes if I don’t set them out the night before.  Of course it’s not until I get there (and of course the gym is full of wall to wall mirrors) that I see the extent of my messy appearance.  It’s not that I’m vain—it’s just a little disappointing when I realize I really do look my age and can’t pull off the I-didn’t-even-try-but-look-at-me look.

I’ll blame the movies and television for these high expectations of looking good no matter what the circumstances.  Remember Helen Hunt in the movie Twister?  They were in pounding rain storms and high winds—a tornado even—and she still had a clean white tank top on with her hair only mildly tousled.  Or in television shows when someone wakes up in the morning and they still have flawless skin, bright, lash-fringed eyes and only a stray hair out of place for effect.  No eye boogers or drool tracks at all unless they are supposed to be rousing from an all-night drinking session.  Ah, the willing suspension of disbelief we give to Hollywood!  Do you imagine the farmer’s daughter milking a cow at 4 in the morning completed her chores with her hair neatly braided?  Me neither.

I contemplate the notion of my aging appearance as I finish up the row I am digging out in the garden.  And later while I’m scrubbing the floor of the bathtub.  I’ve spent a lot of money these past few years on magic potions and creams to hide the sun damage spots on my cheeks and to prevent wrinkles.  But as much as I love getting dressed up and playing with make up, once I’ve gotten my hair and make up done and put on something nice, looking at me is about all I’m good for.

The truth is, life is better when I’m dirty.  When I haven’t taken the time to do hair and make up and put on halfway decent looking clothes, I don’t mind breaking a sweat or getting up to my elbows scrubbing toilet bowls.  Because when I’m streaked with dirt and grime, I’m not trying to please anyone.  Although it may involve cleaning or another chore I don’t particularly enjoy doing, the end result makes me happy—a well-kept yard, a clean house or a stronger body.  When I do put on that dress and spend an hour primping in the mirror, that person is a happy one from the inside out.

Standing back to admire my work, I catch a glimpse at the reflection in the window I’ve just cleaned. Sweat prominently streaks through the foundation I put on for work earlier and my shirt is covered in grime and dirt.  I take one more swipe at a missed smudge on the glass and smile.

Happy Golden Anniversary

Mom and Dad cutting their wedding cake, June 5, 1965

Mom and Dad cutting their wedding cake, June 5, 1965

Today, June 5th, my parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  In honor of the occasion, last Sunday we had a dinner reception for them with their friends and family.  The event truly turned out better than I could have imagined, even if we were a little concerned in the beginning because Mom was having a rough health day.  The following is some thoughts I shared at their party.

There once was a girl named Joanne.  She worked at First National Bank with a few friends who liked to go cruising when they weren’t working.  One of those friends, Diane, thought it’d be a good idea to set Joanne up with a friend of hers named Paul.  Diane and her boyfriend, Del, knew Paul from high school.

The day after Valentine’s Day, February 15, 1964, they went to the movies to see Love with the Proper Stranger.  Joanne thought Paul was tall, and later would describe him as “sweet”.  Paul knew right away he wanted to get to know her better.  Of course, they ended up having many more dates over the next several months, fell in love and decided to get married.  A June wedding was planned for the following year.

One of my favorite stories from when they first began dating sprung from tragedy.  My grandpa had a pretty serious accident at work that landed him in the hospital for several weeks.  This happened April 1st; so they’d not even been dating for two months at that time.  They’d stopped by the hospital before going out on a planned dinner date.  As they headed out, Dad, being the gentleman he is, told her, “I’m not trying to be a cheapskate, but I know your heart is back there with your Dad.”  They spent their “date” in the hospital with Grandpa.  By the way, he wasn’t Grandpa back then, it’s just hard not to think of my mother’s father as anyone but Grandpa.

I tell you this story for two reasons.  First, I love hearing stories of how couples met one another.  And second, I think it speaks to what has characterized their relationship these past fifty years—a love of, and devotion to, family.

Although I haven’t been around the entire 50 years of their marriage, I’ve learned a few things about marriage, relationships, family and life in general over the years from my parents.  Some notable things include:

  1. The first anniversary is celebrated as the paper anniversary. A toilet plunger does not make for a good anniversary present.  Even if it’s not presented as an actual gift, possibly even in jest, the offering of spending the last of the household money for the week on such a necessity that close to your wedding anniversary is sure to be a bad idea.
  2. Dogs that have middle names like “Skyrocket” can be temperamental. Scamp Skyrocket, though lovable to us, his own little pack at home, didn’t find it necessary to share the love with neighborhood children who played tag with us kids in the yard.  Or just about anybody who visited the house in the first five minutes of their visit.  Unless they had Milkbones or were Grandpa and Grandma.  So think twice before you give your dog a middle name.
  3. Hobbies are good for your soul and help keep you young. Growing up in a home where artistry was admired and encouraged made me an appreciator of many creative outlets.  Mom had her dolls, both the porcelain ones she painted and put together and the ones she crafted with cloth bodies and embroidered faces.  Dad had his model railroad trains and their layouts, complete with buildings he hand-designed and built from balsam wood.  What kid couldn’t have fun with that?  Mom would take us to ceramic studios and let us get messy with paint and art projects at home.  We also visited the book store almost every Friday night while Dad went to his Model Railroad Club meetings at Mark Twain Hobby.  I learned to love books, reading and scratch and sniff stickers at the old Bookmark Bookstore.  Mom and Dad taught me that creative people never get bored.
  4. Just because you were once athletic and a wrestler doesn’t mean your teenage son won’t be able to outrun you at some point. Although the offense has long been forgotten, the shocked look on Kevin’s face when he realized he had to kick it into high gear to outrun Dad is hard to forget.  Neither is Dad’s answer when he had to concede to losing the chase after Kevin made a hard jog to the right and was able to get just out of reach.  His words:  “He has to come home some time.”
  5. Scooch over and let your kids snuggle up with you when they get scared in the middle of the night. You may get an elbow or a foot in the face, but the security it gives them growing up knowing that you are always there for them, even during the night, outweighs the back pain you may have the next day by a landslide.  And if you don’t tell your friends or family about your thunderstorm-fearing child the next day (or at least don’t get caught by said child!), you get bonus points.
  6. Dishwashing liquid is not the same as dishwasher soap and thus are NOT interchangeable. If you put dishwashing liquid into your dishwasher, you will get more bubbles in the kitchen than one kitchen floor should be exposed to in its lifetime.  And it takes a lot of effort to get those bubbles all cleaned up.  They spew out of the dishwasher like lava from a volcano.  And though it’s soap, it’s still very messy.  Remember that for some things there are no substitutions.
  7. A good way to size up your friends is to see how they act around your parents and siblings. This I didn’t believe until I had my own kids.  Just like Mom said, I can always tell what kind of person my kids’ friends are by if they acknowledge me as a real, live human being in the house.  Sorry I ever doubted you, Mom.
  8. There’s always a place to meet in the middle. Dad is six foot three.  Mom is…not.  Before such luxuries as tilt steering wheels and power seats, drivers who had such a difference in height had to improvise, so Mom had a denim, blue-jean looking pillow she would sit on so she could see over the steering wheel and still reach the pedals of our ’75 Ford Torino.  It just goes to show that it’s not necessarily compromise that makes a situation work, sometimes it’s adaptability.
  9. After your husband’s had a long day at work, when he’s tired and hungry, is not the best time to show him all the bargains you picked up when you were shopping that day. Even if it’s the cutest thing ever and was on sale for an unbelievably low, low price.  Let him come in, sit back in the recliner and get some food in his belly.  THEN you can show him what you bought.  Note that this is also the optimum time to show him any damage to the car that may have occurred and Kevin’s report card.
  10. I’ve learned that to stay together 50 years, you need to be patient, forgiving, and learn to live with what you may see as some of your spouse’s faults. You have to realize that there are highs and lows in life, but you always have each other to lean on–just being there for that other person—sometimes as a sounding board, sometimes to tell the painful truth and sometimes just to laugh at an inside joke the two of you share.  Always remember to love, even during the times when you don’t actually like the person at the moment.  It’s okay to agree to disagree.

So, Mom and Dad, thank you for teaching me to cherish family, to nurture my faith and that it’s okay to do things my own way.  I am blessed to be your daughter.  Happy Anniversary!  I love you.

50 years later, Mom and Dad re-enacting the cake cutting at their anniversary party

50 years later, Mom and Dad re-enacting the cake cutting at their anniversary party

Our family today with a few more pounds and wrinkles.  From left to right, my brother, Kevin, Dad, Mom, me and my husband, Darrell

Our family today with a few more pounds and wrinkles. From left to right, my brother, Kevin, Dad, Mom, me and my husband, Darrell

2015 RT Convention: A Newbie’s Perspective

Two weeks ago I attended the 2015 RT Booklovers Convention in Dallas, Texas, with my fellow book-loving cousin and aspiring author, Kim.  Neither one of us had attended an event like this before, so part of the fun was not having any expectations of what it would be like.  In fact, the only thing we really knew was to bring along an extra suitcase for all the books we’d be bringing home.  I registered for the conference as a blogger, although I think the types of blogs they had in mind for that type of attendee were those that specialized in book reviews.  Rookie mistake.

The Blogger listing page in the RT Convention program

The Blogger listing page in the RT Convention program

The “RT” stands for Romantic Times, so primarily the authors and books featured were romance writers, but there were several Young Adult authors there as well.  In fact, many YA authors have romance books out there—sometimes they use a different pen name to distinguish their works between those marketed for adults.  Before attending this conference, I hadn’t realized how many subgenres fall within the romance novel umbrella, and they were all represented—from Inspirational to Erotica and everything you can imagine in between.

From the time we arrived in Dallas, it felt like events fell into place in our favor.  Our flight arrived earlier than what we’d planned, and we got to the convention in time to attend the RT Convention newbie workshop, where we learned some tips to best negotiate the conference.  Being the book nerd that I am, these authors are my rock stars; it was great to be told to be sure to seek out and talk to my favorite authors.

Kim and my obligatory selfie upon our arrival at the convention

Kim and my obligatory selfie upon our arrival at the convention

I grew up loving to read, and when I hit my teens, romance novels, especially anything that was historical romance geared towards teens, were my favorite.  There was a book series in the 80’s called Sunfire that I absolutely devoured as a teen.  All of the books featured a young heroine growing up in various historical times in American history like the Civil War, western pioneers, or the American Revolution.  Think the American Girl doll books of today with the girls growing from young teens to young women, trying to decide between suitors that represented opposite ways of life for the time period.  Only a few months ago I found a couple of my books from this series at my parents’ house and ordered a few more from Amazon.  I started re-reading them and I still think they are great reads.  When I got older, I enjoyed other types of romance books, but historical romance holds a special place in this reader’s heart.

Our goal was to attend the workshop sessions geared towards writing—and there were plenty to choose from.  Two of my favorite sessions about writing were “Oops, Your Research is Showing!” and “All Things Old Are New Again”.  The first one, which ended up having one of Emily’s favorite YA authors, Lydia Kang, on the panel, gave great information about ways to go about researching topics for your writing.  Everyone on the panel shared how their books’ storylines had aspects that required they find out specific information to ensure their novels felt authentic, without bogging down the reader with too much information.  In “All Things Old Are New Again”, the panel of authors discussed ways they continue to come up with new ideas book after book.  At this session I met Erin Knightley, who is one of my new favorite authors.  In part because she really is a gracious person who was generous with her time in talking to Kim and I, but also her books are historical romance.

In addition to the workshop sessions, there were several publisher sponsored events with opportunities to meet the authors and get free copies of their books.  These events were heavily attended, so there were a lot of lines to wait in and it could get a little overwhelming, but these events were a lot of fun.  Not that I enjoy waiting in lines, but for the most part I found interesting people to talk to in line with me.  Most of the time I would just wait in a line, not even knowing what book or author was on the end of it.  In doing so, I was introduced to various books and authors I would not have otherwise found, and I loved it.

One of the authors I met this way was I.G. Gregorio.  Her YA book, None of the Above, would have never been on my radar.  In reading the premise of the book, which is about a teenage girl who learns rather traumatically as a senior in high school that she is intersex (meaning she was born with both male and female parts), it seemed like an interesting premise that I had never really thought about before.  I didn’t want to pass it on to any of my favorite YA readers without screening it first, so I started reading it that night and I couldn’t put it down.  I finished it by the next morning.  Later, at the giant Book Fair held the last full day of the convention, I sought her out to let her know how much I enjoyed the book, which she seemed to honestly appreciate.

The Book Fair, included as part of the convention, is open to the public and draws an amazing number of book lovers.   The authors are arranged by genre in alphabetical order at huge tables.  Kim and I made it a point to meet up with authors we had met during the convention to get signed copies of their latest books.  I had a list of YA authors that Emily had asked me to look for, and I scored some big time Mom points getting her books that were signed personally to her.  After the Book Fair, we went up to our room to try to figure out how, even with the extra suitcases, we were going to get all these books home without going over the weight limit for our bags.  It wasn’t easy!

Lydia Kang, one of the authors Emily asked me to visit, was kind enough to sign Em's book and pose for a pic

Lydia Kang, one of the authors Emily asked me to visit, was kind enough to sign Em’s book and pose for a pic

This conference rekindled my love of reading as well as reminded me of how much I enjoy the writing process.  I learned so much in the various sessions about the writing and publishing world, met some great people, and was introduced to several new authors that I’m sure will become favorites.  Now if only I can find the time to get to all those books!

Here are the books I brought home with me, many of them signed by the author.

Here are the books I brought home with me, many of them signed by the author.

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