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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

  • Wednesday, July 19, 2017 4:00 AM
    Last year we had the privilege of living in Belize for two months. Most Belizean grocery stores are owned by Chinese families or German Mennonites, so finding familiar ingredients can be a bit of a challenge. I can give you the names of three stores that sell pig snouts, and two that sell chicken feet by the pound, but only one that sells vanilla extract. Every shopping trip was a scavenger hunt, and since the milk and bread go bad so quickly, we shopped every day.
    My favorite store was owned by an elderly Chinese man whose name I couldn’t pronounce, so he told me to call him Jim. His store is the only one in town that has automatic doors. Not the kind we have here, with separate doors for entering and exiting, but two gigantic, solid glass, sliding doors that open and close like an elevator.
    In the U.S. if you shop in one hundred degree weather, upon entering any place of business you will feel a welcoming wave of coolness. Not so in Belize. The heat inside is sometimes worse, and definitely more stifling, than outside.
    Here at home you can locate items by simply glancing across the aisles and reading the signs. In Belize, everything is jumbled together in a way that never made sense to me. I would find myself sweating profusely, trudging up and down every dark aisle, over and over trying to find the simplest items.
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  • Wednesday, July 12, 2017 4:00 AM
    Last week, I overheard my daughter and her best friend discussing the upcoming school year. They enthusiastically declared that fifth grade will be the best year of their lives.
    I laughed at the thought that the pinnacle of their existence might occur before the age of twelve, but then I remembered that, for me, fourth grade was a banner year. In fact, it was so good that I am soon hosting a fourth grade reunion. 
    I know that’s a bit unusual, but back in 2009, I posted a thirty-year-old class picture on Facebook, which prompted an ongoing discussion amongst my former classmates that now rivals the length of a movie script. Even our dear teacher, Miss Purcell, chimed in a few times. Only she’s not “Miss Purcell” anymore. She’s married now, and insists that we call her by her first name. It’s hard though. It’s like one of the hardest things ever. I think she is just going to have to remain “Miss Purcell” even though, as it turns out, we are not all that far apart in age. 
    Since posting the picture, I have re-connected in real life with several of my fourth grade buddies, and renewed some deep and abiding friendships. 
    It’s odd, really. Unlike typical schools where most of the students were born in the same community, and often times a teacher remembers having had a student’s dad, uncle, or cousin in his class, ours was a bit transient. A small Christian school in Tennessee, most of the students, myself included, came from other states. Our parents were either students or professors at the affiliated university, and once their time was over, they moved on. 
    Missionary kids would attend only when their parents were back in the U.S. on furlough, which was typically every four years. That is how I came to know Lenita. Her parents were missionaries to Brazil, but we attended fourth grade together. She had gorgeous, long, brown hair, and could harmonize beautifully with her older sister. I was especially fascinated by her lunchbox depicting famed Brazilian soccer player Pelé. 
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  • Wednesday, July 05, 2017 4:00 AM
    Recent conversations with Hudson Charles, my nine-year-old son: 
    The kids rode the “Wipe Out” at the carnival which prompted me to download the song. As it started playing in the car my daughter remarked, "Hey! They played that on the ride!"
    Me: "I know, but this is the original."
    Hudson: "Original?"
    Me: "From the 1960s."
    Hudson: "So from back before people were terrified of clowns?"
    Me: "Clowns? It's a surfing song."
    Hudson: "Did clowns used to surf?"
    Me: "Not that I know of. Why do you keep talking about clowns?"
    Hudson: "Because that laugh at the beginning sounds like a murderous clown. Why is it even called Wipe Out if they aren't murderin' people?"
    Me: "Because a big wave can ‘wipe out’ a surfer by knocking him off his surfboard. It doesn't mean they die."
    Hudson: "So it only happens if there is a tsunami?"
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  • Wednesday, June 28, 2017 4:00 AM
    Here’s a recap of my summer thus far: one son graduated from college, one daughter got married, I had recurring issues with a surgical incision, I attended a conference in New Hampshire with a side trip to Maine, made multiple trips to Tennessee, ran over my son’s foot with the car, obtained my first piece of property, celebrated 1 years as a weekly newspaper columnist, moved one daughter back home, sent two kids off to camp, and held a Boa Constrictor while driving a Camaro. 
    I didn’t really intend to hold a Boa Constrictor; it just sort of happened. I also didn’t intend to drive a Camaro, but the rental car place asked if it would be okay, so I said yes. 
    Every time I stopped, or even slowed down, while driving from New Hampshire to Portland, people would call out, “I like your car!” 
    At the rest area, the hotel, stoplights, it seemed the entire world was enthralled with the sporty little vehicle. It was quite the novelty for someone who typically drives a Ford the size of her living room. The only compliment I’d previously heard was, “Nice job only taking down three fence posts with that tank instead of the entire row!”
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  • Wednesday, June 21, 2017 4:00 AM
    I flew to New Hampshire without my luggage. It wasn’t lost, mind you, I know exactly where it’s located; right smack dab in the middle of my living room. Eager to get to my conference, I simply jumped in the car and drove to the airport empty-handed. 
    Standing in the parking garage, staring interminably into the empty boot of my vehicle, I finally had to accept that my suitcase was not going to appear.
    The Mall of New Hampshire wasn’t busy when I arrived. I hate shopping, so I made a beeline straight for the Macy’s clearance racks, and attempted to find a dinner dress that would not require purchasing a new pair of Spanx. 
    In the dressing room, a small voice called out, “Is anyone here?” 
    “I’m here,” I replied. 
    “Can you give me an opinion?” 
    Pulling back the curtain, I was greeted by the sight of a tiny, eighty-year-old woman with brilliant orange hair. 
    “What do you think of this skirt?” 
    With both hands she smoothed the fullness of the plain brown fabric, her toes barely peeking out from the hem. 
    “It’s a nice skirt, but does it come in a smaller size?” 
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  • Wednesday, June 14, 2017 4:00 AM
    The National Society of Newspaper Columnists just wrapped up its annual conference, and as always, I am motivated and brimming with ideas. 
    I have been a member of NSNC for at least ten years, maybe longer, but I’ve only attended the last five conferences. My first was in Hartford, Conn., where, after years of entering my column in the annual contest, I finally received an award. I had won other awards, but this one I truly coveted. The celebratory dinner was the highlight of the conference weekend, and at that point, the highlight of my writing career.
    I wish I’d been surprised when the person who should have been the most supportive, ended up trying to ruin the day. The relationship had become increasingly difficult and tedious, but I still hoped to share my winning moment via Facetime.
    But the emotional and mental trauma started early that morning. By evening, I was trying to feel as beautiful as the event called for, but instead I was hiding in a bathroom stall, sobbing, and begging over the phone to be forgiven for whatever minor infraction had caused that day’s anger and devaluation.
    Prior to that weekend, no one in NSNC had heard of me. I was a peon in this world of journalistic giants whose syndicated columns ran in major newspapers, and whose novels made the New York Times Best Seller list. But I only knew these things because I recognized their names. They never mentioned their accomplishments or acted pretentious.
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  • Wednesday, June 07, 2017 4:00 AM
    I have now entered the world of mother-in-law. The big wedding came off without a hitch. The bride was stunning, the groom looked dapper, and there was love, joy, and peace all around. 
    I’m not gonna lie. Since my divorce, I have been pretty skeptical of marriage, and commitment in general. I have attended a few weddings over the past two years, and wanted to stand up mid-ceremony and shout, “Stop! Don’t do it! It’s not worth the risk!”
    Instead, I stayed still, gripped the edge of my seat, and hoped for the best.
    I think maybe I have moved past that now. Watching my daughter and her new husband made me think there really is such a thing as a positive, healthy relationship. Just because I have never experienced one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. That would be like saying unicorns don’t exist just because I have never seen one. Or leprechauns. Or health food moms that don’t judge when you let your kids have Coke. I’m sure they’re out there, you just have to know where to look.
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  • Wednesday, May 31, 2017 4:00 AM
    Sunday is the big day! I know, technically, the event is not about me, but it kind of is because it’s the day that I will take on my newest life role: Mother-in-Law! You can call me Mil for short. 
    As you can see, I’m pretty darn excited about expanding the family. Previously when I have added a kid to my brood, I had to go through nine months of pregnancy and a C-section. But this time, another mom did all the hard work, and I get the finished product. It’s a boy!
    I know the term “mother-in-law” has many negative connotations, but my personal experience with them has been quite positive. My own mother only got to fill the role for six years before she passed away. But during that time, she chose to be a mother-in-law who was respectful of her daughters’ husbands and their decisions, even when it meant a big move, and her first grandchild being born in another state. 
    She also put genuine effort into buying gifts that her sons-in-law would appreciate. Christmas 1997 was her last. Back in those days, “Big and Tall” men’s clothing was not easy to come by, and our budget was pretty much zero. My 6’4” husband had mentioned how chilly it was in our old farmhouse when he got up to help with the babies at night. So, mom determined that she would gift him a comfy pair of sweatpants. 
    For years after her death, we held onto the IOU certificate she created and tucked in with his favorite candy and soda pop, promising that eventually she would find sweats that were exactly the right length.
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  • Wednesday, May 24, 2017 4:00 AM
    I’d like to have a chat with all of the young people out there who are eager to get married and settle down. I know it’s an exciting prospect. I started dreaming about my wedding when I was six-years-old. I used to tell my mom that I would marry the first man who could write my name in the sky. I am not sure why I romanticized skywriting, but as a child it seemed like the ultimate profession of love. 
    I didn’t find my dashing pilot, nevertheless, I was engaged at 19, married at 21, and had my first baby at 22.
    Twice, I attempted college. The first time, I dropped out after a semester so I could work two jobs and pay for my “dream” wedding. Total cost of the grand affair was under $3,000, and didn’t include a honeymoon. I wasn’t aware of my own worth at that time, and I settled for much less than I actually wanted (something for all of you June brides to think about). 
    The second time, I started class when my newborn was less than a month old. Money was tight, so, ignoring doctor’s orders, I also went back to work full-time much earlier than recommended. There were a number of other factors that made this one of the most exhausting periods of my young mothering years, but I wanted to be the woman who could do it all. 
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  • Wednesday, May 17, 2017 11:57 PM
    I’m afraid you’re going to have to listen to me do the “bragging mom” thing this week. I know it’s kind of annoying when other people talk about how great their kids are, but if you could, please, indulge me for a moment. 
    I had the privilege of spending Mother’s Day celebrating Alexander, my twenty-two year old son. At 9:30 Sunday morning, he graduated (with Distinction) from Purdue University with a degree in Biology and a minor in Spanish.
    He’s going to be a doctor. I’m trying to say it casually, like it’s no big deal, but if you could see the dopey grin on my face as I typed those words, you’d be extra annoyed.
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  • Wednesday, May 10, 2017 12:16 AM
    I decided to work from McDonald's today. As I was squinting to read the menu board, a crew member cheerfully said, "Here! This will help,” and she handed me a large print menu.
    I experienced serious brain trauma as my emotions and thoughts instantly split between being ever-so-grateful, and thinking, "My god, I really am getting old!"
    It’s not that I mind aging, it’s just that the changes are happening so rapidly now. I discovered my first gray hair on my 30th birthday. It felt rather ominous at the time, but it was a couple of years before I found another. 
    Same with my wrinkles. When I was 28, a friend of my aunt noted that I had, “beautiful skin and barely perceptible crow’s feet.”
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  • Wednesday, May 03, 2017 4:00 AM
    I’ve been a little scatterbrained lately. Could be stress. Could be age. Or it could be the fact that I’ve never really been the most observant person anyway, and not noticing things gives one the air of being, well, an airhead. 
    Throughout my life, I have been accused many, many times of “not paying attention.” It’s not that I don’t pay attention, it’s that I’m not fully aware that there is anything to pay attention to. 
    I can still hear the frustration in my father’s voice whenever a new dent or scratch would appear on my old ’78 Cougar. 
    “Don’t tell me you didn’t know there was a telephone pole. There are telephone poles every 150 feet!”
    “You’re saying you sideswiped that car because you didn’t see it PARKED next to you?!”
    I won’t even share the details of his reaction that time I pulled in front of an oncoming vehicle and completely obliterated my T-Bird. I don’t understand why people ask, “Didn’t you see it coming?” 
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  • Wednesday, April 26, 2017 4:00 AM
    As part of my ongoing plastic surgery saga, allow me to give you a rundown of my day thus far. It has been nearly a month since I had the third set of procedures that were intended to correct the original botched surgery. Last night, I went to bed with some pretty serious pain in my thigh. When I awoke at 5:30 a.m., it was still quite intense, so, I did that thing you are not supposed to do, and began Googling my symptoms. 
    After an hour or so, I determined I was suffering from a rare condition called Dysethesia. It never occurs due to liposuction, so I knew without a doubt that mine was a unique case. As I contemplated how I would convince my doctor of the diagnosis (he rarely validates my internet research), I looked down and noticed that the sheets were covered in blood. 
    I ran to the full-length mirror and carefully examined each of my 10 incisions. The first nine were completely intact with no sign of infection. I half-heartedly glanced at my right side, assuming it would also be nearly healed, but what I saw reflected in the mirror left me terrified. 
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  • Wednesday, April 19, 2017 4:00 AM
    I had just a few minutes to run a quick errand before checking into the hospital for surgery. I pulled into a downtown Chattanooga parking garage, and the attendant, an older woman, struck up a conversation. When she found out I needed to park for less than 30 minutes, the following dialogue ensued:
    She: "Oh, honey, you don't want to park in here! You can park on the street and it only costs 50 cents for thirty minutes."
    Me: "I don't mind. I'm not good at parallel parking."
    She: "You just hold on a minute."
    Proceeding to leave the booth, she walked out to the street. 
    Upon her return: "There are several spots right up the block. You'll find a big one, and your car will slide in easy as pie!"
    Me: "Really, it's ok. If you could please just lift the gate, I'll go on through."
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  • Wednesday, April 12, 2017 4:00 AM
    It was April 6, 1998, when my mother, after a full day of teaching third grade, was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pain. The following day we started saying goodbye, and on April 10, she passed away. 
    Every year during this time she is heavy on my mind. Even more so right now because I am in the city where she raised me. 
    Each morning for the past week here in Chattanooga, I have enjoyed listening to the whistle of the crossing guard who directs traffic outside of my apartment. When I was a kid, my mom was a city crossing guard. 
    Early every morning, and again each afternoon, she stood at the Fourth Street exit. Not only is it a dangerous traffic location, but the area is sketchy to say the least. 
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The Paper of Montgomery County,
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