2017: My Year in Review

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(Inside cover of inweekly–one of Pensacola’s local magazines)

It was the best of years, it was the worst of years.  It was a time of trial, and a time of triumph over that trial.  It was a time of change, and a time of recording that change.  It was a time of deconstruction, a time of reconstruction.  It was a time of friendships lost, a time of friendships found.

It was bad luck and no luck at all.  It was false hope mixed with hopelessness.  It was a culmination of every right and wrong decision my husband and I had ever made.

*

Twenty-seventeen will always be the year my family and I lost our house (security), our car (independence), and a Precious Moments snow globe I’d had since before I married, which I’d kept close in an attempt to keep my daughter’s bedtime routine familiar.  I’d lugged it around for the same reason I lugged her ladybug light around–so that wherever she slept, if it was dark enough and she closed her eyes, it would be like she was back in her old room.

It would be like nothing had changed.

*

I must have foreseen our situation more than three years ago. Not the displacement, necessarily, but the constant financial struggle which bled into everything else, and almost destroyed my marriage.

This, this was why I had gone back to school at the age of thirty-two.

*

Through this experience, I found out who my fair-weather friends were, as well as my stormy-weather ones.

I also realized that my husband’s church family had become like-minded acquaintances, but I guess it’s like that with any family–you have to go to the reunions (i.e. services) every once in a while.

I’m very blessed that my family—all of whom had gone through a degree of what we had—were there for us.  Someday, I hope to be able to repay them tenfold, just as I want to repay the other people (including the pastor who married us and is now retired) and the entities and organizations who helped us, be it through time, taxes, or donations.

Though we’re estranged from what’s left of my husband’s family, my husband and I have made it past the worst. “For better or worse” was in my vows, and I believe the better is coming.

I couldn’t go on if I didn’t.

As it states in the Mormons’ Thirteenth Article of Faith (and I am only quoting part of it), “we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.”

During this time, I felt that everyone else had it all together, but it was towards the end of the semester that I realized I wasn’t the only one going through, for lack of better words, “really bad shit.”

Knowing this made me feel less alone.

*

Through the infighting and the angst of not knowing where we might be sleeping a week hence, through squatting in the Publix Wi-Fi area where we didn’t feel we had to buy anything and to avoid being stuck in that depressing shelter, through sneaking in to the hotel where my brother worked to eat dinner, I still managed to conquer the one class (or rather, the class that was a pre-cursor) to the class that I’d let keep me from finishing college the first time:  Intermediate Algebra.

I not only passed it, but aced it–all while my world fell apart during final exam week.

What others might have allowed to destroy them, I could not because my life wasn’t just my life anymore. I had a family, and I needed this degree to pull out of the quagmire that was poverty.

My “unhoused” (that sounds so much better than “homeless”) experience didn’t change who I was, but it changed my perspective.

When I see the homeless on the corner, I think, if only they had a family, or a family that cared. True, I don’t know their situation, but I do know we weren’t far from it.

I’m still a strong believer in self-sufficiency (for I am working hard, or rather, studying hard, towards that), but I also realize that to be against the very things that have helped me pull myself up would make me a hypocrite.

There is no shame (nor pride) in accepting help; it’s what you do with that help.

It’s why I chose to major in healthcare rather than English—I wanted to be a good steward of the gift I received. There’ve been times I was sure I’d chosen the wrong major, but I like to say it will be my healthcare degree that will pay for my creative writing degree (something I’ll be working on while I work in the medical field).

I’ve learned, albeit the hard way, that doing things in the right order is essential for success.  That’s why I didn’t choose to major in English first.

When I look at what little money my husband and I brought in, I realize that my family got our Christmas miracle early.

Because a Man fed 5000 people 2000 years ago, my family and I were taken care of, so that we could live to fight (or simply live) another day.

Creative Writing Prompt: Polar Bears in the Desert…

Or, in other words, write a story about someone who is at odds with their environment.  Some examples are a minister in a political race (okay, maybe not so much), a domestic goddess who switches places with a CEO (that one could really be fun), a Millennial hipster stuck in the sixties, to name a few. 

Living in the South, having to deal with Yankees who make a deal about my “yes sir” and “no ma’am-ing”, was the inspiration for this farcical piece.

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When Melissa Met the South

Melissa Caldwell blotted her temple with a handkerchief. It was so undignified to sweat, or perspire, as her aunt Addie would say.  Her aunt Addie believed every word had a gender—men sweated, women perspired, men tailored, women sewed, men were chefs, women were cooks.  She even still used the terms male nurse and lady doctor.

It had been more than twenty years since she had seen her father’s aunt. Even though she’d been five the last time she had been in Pensacola, Florida, she hadn’t remembered it being this hot.  The humidity made her feel as if she were walking through a steam room.  She stopped at a café to get a cup of coffee—iced, that is—then realized she was a couple of eggs short of hangry.

“Would you like grits with that?” the server, whose nametag read Mandy Claire, said.

“What are those?” Melissa asked, and this little pissant waitress had the nerve to look at her like she was stupid. Well, at least she wasn’t a waitress; she had gotten an education.

“Okay, never mind,” she said with a wave of her hand and a roll of her eyes. “Do you have anything gluten-free?”

“Gluten-free?” Again, the look.

Melissa blew up her imaginary bangs in exasperation. “You know what?  Just bring me an iced coffee to start.”  Mandy started to walk away, but Melissa called out.  “Oh, by the way, do you know where a good Jewish deli is around here?”

“Publix has a really good deli,” Mandy said, then scurried off before Melissa could ask what in the hell was a Publix.

Melissa took that as an opportunity to fish her cell phone out of her Prada bag and call her best friend, Marisol Fernandez.  Melissa spoke Spanish fluently, so she chose to be respectful of her friend’s culture by speaking in her language, garnering a few glares from nearby booths.  She loved the privacy of being able to speak in code, but she could’ve sworn had she been speaking English, she would’ve been ignored, so she transitioned.  Funny, how they were all about “speaking the language”, yet they couldn’t spell worth it a damn.  The funniest one she’d seen had been on a church sign that said, “Not haven Jesus in this life is hell on Earth.”

“So, how is Jennifer and Kathy’s wedding coming?” Melissa asked her friend.

The waitress gave her a funny look as she set down her coffee, topped with a copious amount of whipped cream. “Anything else, ma’am?” she asked, seeming reticent to disrupt the conversation.

“Ma’am?” Melissa said, mid-conversation. “Please, I’m not even thirty.”  Melissa dismissed her by resuming the discussion on hers and hers bath towels.

The girl looked confused, then went back to work.

~

A group of people were having some kind of Bible club behind her while she finished her coddled eggs (another thing Mandy had never heard of), and it was making her uncomfortable. She turned around, looking aggrieved.  “Would you guys try holding that praying jazz down?  It’s really offensive to those who don’t believe.  Thank you.”  That was how she always got what she wanted—assuming she would get it anyway.

“We’ll pray for you, Sister,” one of them called out, so she sucked down the rest of her coffee, leaving a ten dollar tip. As she looked back, she saw the waitress’s astonished expression.  The girl did need some dental work, after all, and Melissa’s inherited wealth was a bit embarrassing.  She was like the only one-percenter in this greasy spoon.

A young, Mormony-looking couple holding hands walked by her car, pointing and shaking their heads. “Coexist only works if the others don’t want to chop your head off or blow you up,” she heard the man say.

God, what the Christian hell is wrong with these people? They are so paranoid, Melissa thought. This part of the country bled red, so it was no wonder.  She couldn’t wait to get to Aunt Addie’s house.  She’d kept in touch with her lonely great-aunt for the past several years, and she’d always seemed like a fairly rational person, albeit old-fashioned.  She didn’t know how her aunt stood living in a place that was so damn American Gothic Horror.  It was like freaking Pleasantville.

~

When she reached her aunt’s beach house, she was in awe. The sand was as white as sugar, the gulf vacillating between emerald and sapphire.  A wrinkle in the sky divided land from sea, and the sea oats swayed like dancers in love at the end of the night.  She even though she saw a dolphin making a graceful arc.  There wasn’t anything like this in New York.  The Jersey Shore didn’t even compare.

“Melissa?” a sixtyish woman said, coming out in a tank, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops. An ivory Virgin Mary blended in to the landscape, but the “Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman” bumper sticker did not.

Melissa had always been vocal about her beliefs and non-beliefs, but she had never quite pegged her aunt as a Christian conservative, and yet, here she was, welcoming her into the folds of her embrace like it didn’t matter. It was then that Melissa knew she was in very grave danger here—of losing her heart to this place where it was flip-flips and bikini tops all summer long, where it didn’t snow, but rained at Christmas, and where everything was fried (except peanuts, which were boiled); where there was a church on every corner, and a hobo or Bible-thumper on the other.

Yes, she was, indeed, afraid of falling in love with this lovely place.

 

Creative Writing Prompt: Make Something Interesting

So I’ve been taking “Creative Writing 101” at the college for about a month now, and I’m learning new things as much as my imagination is being stretched in new ways.  One of our “journal entries” this week was to make something we do every day more interesting, or turn an ordinary day into an extraordinary day.  I chose to “keep it real”, as the Millennials would say (though I may be using that phraseology wrong, and I say this as “one of them”).

I chose to talk about my daughter, who is a great source of inspiration, and came up with a sort of how-to article.  Motherhood isn’t always fun (there’s just no way to put a bow on a poopy diaper and call it a present), but there are many ways to make bath time, feeding time, etc., more fun.  I chose feeding time because it’s my favorite time of the day.

~

Feeding your child can become very routine, but there are seven ways I’ve found to make feeding my daughter more of an experience for the both of us.  (By the way, it’s often easier to throw them into the bath afterward than try to keep them clean while eating.)

1. Feed your child new things (experiment with different kinds of fruits and vegetables) on a regular basis.  However, don’t be a picky eater yourself, because if she doesn’t like that four-dollar wad of goat cheese wrapped with cranberries and apricots that the Publix employee described as “tangy”, then you are stuck with it.  If you are always experimenting with new foods, you’re always teaching them new words (I clap out the syllables for long words, like avocado), colors, tastes, textures, and shapes, making feeding time more interesting for the both of you.

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2. Make up a silly song for each food they eat—it helps them remember.  Every time I feed her a peanut butter sandwich, I sing a little ditty I made up, extolling the virtues of plain PB&B (peanut butter and bread; we never have jelly).

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3. Let them get as messy as they want before a bath.  (Mine loves avocadoes, and they’re great for the skin, too.)  It actually is easier to just throw them in the bath to play than try to wipe them down.

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4. If you’re feeding your child dry cereal, put a piece on each one of your eyes and then pitch forward, so it looks like your eyes are falling out.  It just might make them laugh!

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5. Let them help you prepare (or watch you prepare) the food.  It may take a little longer, but everything takes longer with kids.  Do a little dance and clap or turn on the radio.  Let them rock out with a whisk and a pot or pan.

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6. Eat together.  Eating isn’t just a nutritional function, but a social one.  Let them experiment by tasting your food, as well.

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7. Learn sign language.  It’s a fun and great way to stretch your memory muscles, gain added dexterity in your hands, and teach your child objects, emotions, etc.

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Why I Write (among other things)

August has been a busy month.  My daughter’s first birthday was on the sixth.  Interestingly, my husband’s two sisters’ firstborn children were both girls, born on the seventh of August.  Tootie and Becca are only a year apart in age, but my daughter Hannah, is the true baby of the brood, with seventeen and eighteen years separating her from her eldest cousins.  I’d tried to hold out till the seventh, so as not to break with tradition, but it was so not happening.

In a way, I don’t mind so much, because it’s nice not having to share Hannah’s special day with anyone.  We had a small birthday party for her (an excuse to show her off and catch up with my husband’s side of the family).  We got a free “smash” cake from Publix, and though I rarely post pictures of my child on here, this one I have to share.

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I just started school today, and this blog post is a brain break from algebra homework.  I’ve neglected my blog a bit for the past month, and all writing in general.  My friend, Mandy (who has inspired me in so many ways), has been reading my nursery rhyme collection for me; we’ve decided to see if we can find an art student (she works at a university) who would be willing to collaborate with me.

I would prefer to have illustrations to submit along with the stories (but I won’t let it stop me if I don’t); just like a photo on a blog catches the eye, it’s the illustrations that catches the eye when it comes to children’s books.  I’ve never been a fan of Dr. Seuss (story or illustration-wise), and I would be horrified if that style of garish, hideous drawings accompanied any of my work.  I prefer what I call softer illustrations–like a cross between Dick and Jane and Norman Rockwell; those types of drawings would complement my rhymes, which I believe have the charm of Mother Goose, still popular today.

However, these are the best young children’s books I’ve come across.  I never tire of reading them.

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They are beautifully written, and beautifully illustrated, and by the same author, too.  Someday, I hope to be talented and skilled enough to do the same.

Though I write primarily because I love it, I came up with several other reasons why I do so:

Top 10 Reasons I Write

  1. I love to make !@#$ up.
  2. I love to kill off people in my stories–people I loathe in real life.
  3. I believe an imagination is a terrible thing to waste.
  4. I want something of my own mind (if not by my own hand; no writing longhand for me) to live on after I pass away.
  5. I am naturally good at it.
  6. Writing is a way to produce something wonderful, while consuming little.
  7. One can make lots of money doing it.
  8. I love to read, therefore, I love to write.
  9. I can do it in my skivvies (and look like hell while doing it).
  10. I…can’t…stop.

The shopping bulimic

I have a very bad habit of returning things I’ve bought (whether from a department store or Walgreens, or even the grocery store)–a condition which I’ve heard referred to as shopping bulimia.  I like that feel-good feeling I get from buying something, only for it to be replaced with uncertainty and then a strong desire to get my money back (if I’m not positive that I like it 100%).

I just ordered a mirror online from Kohl’s to go over my bedroom dresser, only to go into the store, see it and not like it quite as much, despite the clearance price.  I’d already found the perfect mirror at Lamps Plus (which is twice as much, and which I don’t have a charge account for), but I can wait till I save up the money (I’d rather save up for something nicer anyway).  What I save on coupons and free shipping using store credit cards, they get back in interest.

I just returned a couple of things to Walgreens (one item that didn’t work, one I didn’t need) to buy something else; I also returned a jar of sundried tomatoes to Publix that I haven’t gotten around to using in the weeks I’ve had them.

How I wish I could just become a shopping anorexic.  This is one of my struggles, because growing up, I often didn’t have nice things.  However, what I do to get my shopping fix without spending anything is to add items to my Kohl’s or amazon.com wish list, as I’m not tempted to purchase online like I am when I am in the store and can physically hold the item, thus forming an attachment to it.  No wonder one of my favorite series is the Shopaholic series, by Sophie Kinsella.  (However, I do think Becky Bloomwood needs to get some therapy in the end.  She needs help!)

My main character in a chick-lit novel is going to have this problem, among many other hang-ups.  I’ve never written a chick lit before, but my goal is to write in as many genres as I can, at least until I master one (meaning sell a ton of).  I still have no idea what qualifies as literary fiction, though I have a feeling if some egghead calls it such, it won’t sell well.

Moving the Goal Posts

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So I spent my New Year’s watching the “Twilight Zone” marathon on the Sci-Fi channel.  I didn’t make black-eyed peas (I prefer field peas, even though I don’t know what the difference is).  I have also since decided that coming up with a healthy menu I will stick to isn’t easy.  No matter how hard I’ve tried, I just don’t like cold cereal (or bananas, for that matter, or fruit much in general), though I don’t relish the thought of eating eggs everyday.  I have also decided that unless a dessert has chocolate in it, I may as well save my calories.

My breakfast of choice growing up was a chocolate milk and a brownie.  Every morning, before my dad dropped me off at Pensacola Christian School, we’d stop by Delchamps and I’d get just that.  Let’s just say that my stories, “A Cafeteria Thanksgiving” and “A Trashcan Christmas”, were inspired by my family–the gift that keeps on giving (when it comes to my writing).  My dad burned everything and the only thing my mother knew how to cook was goulash (which was interesting, as we weren’t even Hungarian).

I read somewhere than men are more successful at losing weight because they just give up stuff altogether, rather than trying to find substitutions.  See, I am already thinking about making almond flour brownies to last for a week’s worth of breakfasts.  However, Diet Coke is still a no-go for me.

We are getting back on track with our spending (mainly, because we don’t have it to spend, which, in turn, is helping clean out our fridge, freezer and pantry).  Since Apple Market doesn’t offer their $5 off $50 or $10 off $75 dollar coupons, which Publix accepted, we don’t feel bound to spend at least that much whenever we go to the store.  I much prefer to buy as I need, and stock up on the staples when they’re on sale.  Less food goes to waste that way.

We’re slowly getting back on track with a lot of things; our tax refund will help us get there quicker.  Sometimes you just need a shot in the arm (pardon the cliché) to get ahead.  I know I need a plasectomy (as Dave Ramsey calls it), but I’m not ready to give up my Kohl’s and Target card.

Not yet.