These three….

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These three are my world and I could not be prouder of them.  They are not perfect and I couldn’t be prouder of that either.  Not one of them fits a formula (Straight A-student, star athlete, Rhodes scholar….).  We get compliments all the time on how nice, funny & respectful they are and that is what makes me proud.  Their teachers, administrators and fellow peers seem to adore them and that’s important to me.  More important than perfect grades, scholarships and accolades.  I want them to grow up to be what they want to be.  We know more and more people lately who will only finance their kids’ college educations if they follow the plans they think will produce a lucrative job at the end of the line – medicine, law, nursing, accounting, engineering, physical therapy, teaching……..Wouldn’t the world be interesting if those were the only professions we had to choose from?  Next time you take in a movie, think of how exciting it would be if Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese were all partners in a law firm.  The next time you get your hair done, think of how you’d look if your favorite stylist thought nursing was her only option.  Last year on our family vacation, while paddling in the middle of a lake, I thought, “Wow, thank God someone used their imagination and came up with the Yolo Board!”  It takes all kinds.  And it takes all sorts of interests and passions to make this wonderful thing we call a world go around.

I have a theory that there would be many more creative people if not for the expectations of their parents and grandparents.  We are experiencing this in our own life right now, both good and bad.  My dad loves my kids completely unconditionally.  He loves that they are caring, unique individuals with diverse interests in life. Sometimes I wish he would teach a course on how to love unconditionally.  It’s not all about having an arsenal of brag fodder. Some say,  “How are their grades?  What?  Not straight A’s??”  “He wants to be a director? Good luck with that.”  “He’ll never be an athlete if he doesn’t eat better or practice more!”  And to this I simply say, “Are you serious???”

I look at my three children and I see bravery in my girl,  the one that broke from the pack and went off to a university where she had no close friends.  She sought out and got a job without being told to when we told her we couldn’t squeeze any more out of our budget to help her with expenses.  She works hard and she makes us proud.  She has always chosen good friends who help round out her life.  She has endured people erronously thinking she has an illness, for God’s sake, with grace and dignity.  She travels the world with little or no fear, once with two broken toes, and drinks in life fully with every breath.  I have no doubt she will succeed in life.

I look at my middle child, the free spirit, the one people find hilariously funny…..and I see great things in his future.  At his old school, he was routinely dismissed as not paying attention, not giving it his all, sometimes being a pain…..  At his new school, he is embraced.  They find him hilarious and go out of their way to find things that will interest him and use his abilities for a greater good.  He has found a sweet spot in drama and improv and he has developed a heart that makes me proud.  On a recent trip to New Orleans, his dad had given both he and his brother $20 to spend.  Over dinner, Wyatt asked if it would be ok if he gave his $20 to the struggling musician with the loyal dog curled up beside him.  I’ll take that over “straight A’s” any day.  I love that at his new school, on many occasions, teachers and administrators have told me, “We don’t know what he’s going to do with his life but we know it will be something successful that we will all remember.”  I believe that too.

I look at my youngest.  My shy one, my introvert.  He’s talented at many things, including baseball and cooking.  He’s got an eagerness to learn that is admirable and an eagerness to make his money grow that I still do not have :) His attention to detail on projects can be both impressive and frustrating!  In many ways, parenting him  is my biggest challenge because I take for granted that he’s fairly outgoing like me when he’s actually much shyer and more withdrawn that even HE projects to others.   He played basketball for his school this year and gave it his all.  No matter what the sport, he’s so fun to watch.  I admire that he is generally over a loss by the time he’s off the court or in the car.  He likes to have fun and he is good with kids younger than he is.  He is funny too.  All three seem to have that gene.

What’s not to be proud of?  Why would I need straight-A’s?  Have I told you all how much I hate that phrase?  I’ll say it again.  I hate hearing how your kid has straight-A’s.  Would you like to know why?  I’ll tell you anyway.  In many instances, those straight-A’s result from pressure from parents and the fear of failure they’ve instilled, whether conscious or not.  I hate that phrase the way I hate “gifted and talented” programs, though all my kids took part in them at some time or another, with very little benefit.  Take a kid who is naturally gifted at playing concert violin but has a 2.9 GPA.  Is he not gifted and talented?  Or is he talented but not gifted?  WTF does that phrase even MEAN?  What about a child who starts a charity to collect shoes for the needy and helps more people than many adults his age but struggled terribly in history and science and only graduated with a 2.5?  Does he have nothing to offer this world?  People, we are setting kids up for failure when we make them believe they are only worthy if they get into the best schools, have a high starting salary upon graduation and have to reward their parents & grandparents with a long string of successes to brag about.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s no mystery to me that there is a rash of suicides today among teens and young adults.

I feel qualified to speak on this issue because for a long time I was one of those kids.  No, I wasn’t suicidal, but I was a high school kid who had a grandparent who talked about me like I was perfect.  I did make good grades.  I excelled in music.  At one point I was the top student in my class, and then the 2nd and then the 3rd and by graduation, the 6th.  Why?  Because I grew weary of having to keep up the facade of being perfect.  I really didn’t think it would affect my lot in life and it hasn’t.  I do what I love now.  I am a mom, a wife and a photographer, who takes images that hopefully have a positive effect on my subjects, whether I’m photographing a new baby, an engaged couple, a senior in high school or a beautiful woman.  I don’t make a fortune.  I don’t even promote myself much, if truth be known, because I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where I can pick and choose my work.  I’m not a perfect wife or mother by any means, but I think I’m happy.  I have my days, don’t get me wrong, when I consider hanging it up and fleeing for the nearest secluded beach.  But overall, I’ve got it good.  Would I be happier as a hotshot LA attorney with a degree from Stanford?  I doubt it.  Actually I can pretty much guarantee it.

What I do know for sure is that the person who affected my life the most was the one who supported me no matter what I chose or how I failed and not the one who expected me to be perfect.  Which one are you?

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Strength

A favorite memory - riding the ferris wheel each year with my dad...

A favorite memory – riding the ferris wheel each year with my dad…

My dad used to constantly tell me, “I may not always agree with your decisions, but I’ll always be here for you & I’ll still love you no matter what happens.”  Now that I am a parent of three children with distinctly different personalities, I realize how brave – how EXTREMELY BRAVE – that was.  At the heart of that statement, I now know, was a bold faith.  He was confident in his faith that I was intelligent & would choose wisely.  I didn’t always make the right decisions but I’m alright – educated, happy and content – & I think he always had faith that I would be.  How in the WORLD he kept this unwavering faith in me through the early teen years is beyond me.  Jack Daniels, maybe?  I love my three with the deepest emotion and intensity that one can muster.  Somewhere, buried in my heart, I know that same faith exists.  In those moments when they are just TRYING the last vestige of patience that is hiding in a remote corner of my soul by not turning in homework, forgetting tests, or talking back, I long to have been given some sort of warning when they were born.  “This one’s a Level 5!  Take cover! In a therapist’s office, if possible!” or “This one, a level 2,  will cause some waves, but you will easily ride it out.” Something….anything…. I often tell people if I ever host another baby shower I will order a cake that says, “Get ready. Your life is about to be turned completely upside down & any confidence you had in your ability to lead will be shattered.  But CONGRATULATIONS!”  Had I been warned, instead of childproofing with cute outlet plugs I would have barred the windows, intensely researched the best therapist instead of pediatrician and had a locksmith put locks on the OUTSIDE of their doors.  (Kidding……sort of.) I made it through these stages with my firstborn, a spirited, outgoing, FUNNY, beautiful daughter.  In college now, she amazes me all the time.  She is someday going to be living on her own, continuing to make me proud & we will barely remember we had to wrap our arms around her tightly in the car to keep her screaming, writhing self from jumping out the door of our 95 Geo Prizm on the way to school because the socks she wanted were not clean.  The drama that ensued when her dad lost her Halloween wig right before Halloween night rolled around will be but a distant memory.  When you’re opening that Diaper Genie you considered essential and smiling between bites of cake, no one will tell you how hard it is, but you too will survive.

We are left with two boys at home.  They are REALLY making me question where my dad found that faith.  He tells me they’ll be fine.  Not only did he have faith in me, but he has it in my kids.  He is the epitome of unconditional love & has never expected them to be anything more than what they are.  That’s a fine example to have and I struggle daily to live up to it.  When one of my kids forgets to turn in a 50 pt. assignment, or gets a speeding ticket, or comes home with one shoe because the other had been taped to his locker by the teacher & he just didn’t notice it, I usually hang my head in prayer.  “God, help me.”  I now understand why my grandma, who I grew up with, would look at the sky sometimes & simply say, “Strength.”  It used to seem odd to me but I get it now.  Oh, Lord, do I get it!

“Strength! (looking skyward) Strength!  And if possible, a little faith.  And thanks.”

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Why Our Son Is Leaving Baseball….At Least For Now

What???

“You CAN’T let him quit!”

“You’re teaching him it’s ok to be a quitter!”

“He’s got potential!  Why would you not foster that?”

“You’re letting your kid be in charge!  I’D teach that kid to get down to that baseball park and play!”

“You’re not teaching him to be a team player!”

“If he quits now, he’ll never play again!”  

“He’ll never make the pros if he quits now!”

I’ve heard it ALL.  Our son started playing baseball when he was in what they call the “rookie” league.  I think they’re 6-7 at that age.  He liked it “ok”.  He sat out a season because he was bored & just didn’t like it.  We let him.  He was, after all, 7 years old.  The next summer he really got into playing catch with his dad and watching the Cardinals play.  It lit a fire in him.  He was inspired and he was ready to get back at it.  He wanted to play again and we encouraged him every step of the way.  He showed potential to be good. His love of the game bordered on obsession, but in a positive way.  At the next level of baseball, you get “drafted”.  Yes, at 9 years of age, you try out in front of prospective coaches and some get chosen and some don’t. (Eyeroll.) We felt very lucky and happy that our son was chosen to be on a team in the “Cal Ripken” league, yet a bit apprehensive as to what we might be entering into.  Cal Ripken is a four-year commitment.  It is four years of baseball with the SAME team, moving up from single A competition and ending with AAA competition, before you graduate from that and try out for the Babe Ruth league.  Four years with the same team.  Theoretically, four years with the same coaches and same players.   We loved the coach who drafted him and most importantly, our son loved the coach.  From outward appearances, you might not think our son is introverted.  In fact, he’s extremely introverted.  Shy.  Observant.  One of those kids who sits quietly and takes everything in while not making a sound.  He’s analytical.  He’s a perfectionist, in some ways to a fault.  He’s got a lot of his mom in him.  If you get on his nerves, he’s likely not to give you the time of day.  Yet, if someone reaches out and makes a connection and shows that they want to get him on a personal level, he will let you in wholeheartedly.   He’s got a lot of his dad in him in that he’s shy but people sometimes mistake that for being rude or snobbish.  (After birthing two extroverted children, this has been somewhat of a change for us, but it’s HIM and we love him & we are slowly learning to adjust to this.)   Our son’s first “Cal Ripken” coach made a connection with him, taught him well and continued to inspire his love of the game.  He seemed to “get” him and that important connection was made.  For unfair reasons I won’t go into here, that coach was let go and we were thrust swiftly into the world of the nasty politics of youth baseball.  It wasn’t pretty.  We were in limbo.  Did he even have a team?  Then he got a new coach.  After a while, that coach started to make a connection with him.  He began to get over the disappointment of losing the coach he loved and continued to play.  It was a bit hard because there was now a rift in our team.  Some left. Some stayed.  It wasn’t his old team.  He eventually began to relish his role as a leader, being one of the oldest (& certainly the tallest!)  on the single A team and wanted to keep playing.  And then that coach left to form a traveling baseball team.  So we were in limbo again.  At this point in time, I saw my son slowly begin to lose his love for the sport.  He had also switched schools at this time and started to develop a love of basketball.  He’s eleven at this point & I feel strongly that no child should have to choose one sport to focus on at eleven.   Although they may think they do, most kids have no clue what they want to focus on, in sports or life in general, at age eleven.  After a long wait, we finally learned that our second team would be disbanded and the kids would be farmed out to other teams based on the needs of coaches while trying to take into consideration which teams the parents would prefer their child be on.  So, yet another change.  At this point, my husband and I made a huge mistake.  We thought we were doing the right thing.  We thought he should be on a team with a coach who had no dog in the fight (he’s been at the park for decades and has grown children) and who would have no desire to leave the ballpark & join the world of travel ball.  Our son had asked to be put on a couple of teams where he had friends, and yet we chose to put the coach of our choice first.  Parents know best, right?  Not always.  Add this to my list of regrets.  We viewed stability as the most important factor at this point, forgetting he was just eleven and the most important factor was fun and a sense of being part of a team.  Although this third coach was a wonderful coach and improved our son’s batting average, tremendously, he’s just not a coach who tries to form a connection with his players.  Or parents.  I think he said 5 words to me the entire time he coached my son.  He’s more of a manager in some ways, leaving much of the coaching to his “staff”.  This is fine for some people but when you couple this lack of connection with the coach with the fact that we took a totally introverted kid and put him on a team where he had absolutely no friends, it was a recipe for disaster.  By now, he was completely tired of being moved around.  And although he was on a team of mostly nice and welcoming boys, that team feeling just never, ever came.  I’m proud of him for playing one spring season with this new coach and giving his pitching and his new position in the infield his all.  I’m proud of him for enduring heckling by one horrid dad who constantly yelled at him when he didn’t pitch perfectly or missed a ball at shortstop.  (I’m proud of me for enduring that dad also.)  I’m very grateful to my son for the opportunity to stare into the storm that is youth baseball and see it for the ugliness that it’s become.  He may want to play again someday and I laugh at the people who say he will never be able to.  It IS true that it’s hard to compete with the kids whose parents insist they play year-round, get the extra pitching and batting lessons, have them train with weights,  drive them all over the country and basically try to produce a college-level or professional athlete.  Guess what?  In 99.99999% of cases, this isn’t going to work and your child is either going to end up with damaged muscles, lost opportunities in other areas of life or really the chance to just be a kid. (I know, I know – your child WANTS to do it.) Parents these days obsessively count the number of pitches their kids are throwing. AT ELEVEN!  Some kids on travel teams are simply commodities to these coaches who use them to win tournament after tournament or the ultimate goal, a trip to the “World Series”, which is actually one of many, many “World Series” held each year for youth baseball leagues.  Youth baseball has become a money sport. Sad, but true.  I had parents come to my son’s games to watch how he was doing and relish the games in which he didn’t do so well.  Sportsmanship in many of today’s parents is deplorable.  If it’s hard for adults to take, imagine being a kid out on the field.  Embarrassing at the least.  I ran into a parent the other day whose kid was sitting out of sports for a few weeks due to a stress fracture in his back.  She said it was due to too much intense football, basketball and baseball.  AT ELEVEN!  It’s disturbing what we are doing to our children these days when it comes to athletics.  They don’t have to do it all and they shouldn’t do it all.  I tell my son, if you want to play again someday, you’ll find a way to play.  A professional baseball player once watched him pitch and told him, “Someday you’ll be a great pitcher.”  In our minds, that seems awesome.  A professional baseball player??  But what if that’s not what he wants to be. I was forced to take piano lessons against my will for years.  I played and I played well.  I have not touched a piano since I left for college.  Someday I might want to, but it certainly wasn’t going to be for me what my grandmother hoped because it wasn’t MY dream.  Think twice about what you’re asking of your kid.  If your kid wants to play three competitive sports at once, be the adult.  Tell him no.  Teach him to make decisions and prioritize.  And ask yourselves, “Am I in this for my child or the kudos I’ll receive when he excels?”  I say this because I know for a fact that you just might destroy your child in the process and I refuse to be this kind of parent.   At eleven, they’re kids, not athletes.  I will miss seeing that boy on the mound.  I will miss watching the fierce determination inside him become visible in his eyes as he releases that pitch.  And I will miss him sliding into home.  I will miss so much.  But I don’t want to be “that” parent. If he ever decides to pursue a sport with all of his heart again, I will be there to support him and help guide him, but for now he’s retiring his cleats.  And that’s OK.

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On beaches and beach towns……

IMG_1113The idea of doing a series of posts on Florida’s gulf beaches and beach towns has been in the back of my mind for some time.  Each year, especially around this time, I get numerous requests from people asking me to recommend restaurants, resorts, beach houses, etc. for spring break and summer vacations, mostly along Hwy 30- A in Walton County, FL.  We’ve been vacationing at the beach since 1997, at various locations from Ft. Morgan, AL to Seacrest Beach, FL.  Our tastes & needs have changed and we have become much more knowledgeable about the area.  I’m happy to share what I know.  I base my opinions on years of traveling to and studying the areas mentioned.  For the first installment, let’s get to know the most popular beach communities from MS to FL.

IMG_1776cpyMISSISSIPPI:

BILOXI—I am often asked if Biloxi is good for a spring break trip or a short summer trip for those who are on a limited budget or have very little time to travel.  I like Biloxi, and it’s always a wonderful part of the trip when we reach the Gulfport/Biloxi area, because I swear the air changes and you start to feel those wonderful gulf breezes. I adore the people of this area — genuine, good-hearted, resilient — & I loved spending a week helping rebuild after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.  However, as beach vacations go, it’s not the best.  Being so close to the mouth of the mighty Mississippi, the water tends toward brown more than blue and the beaches are far from white sand.  Biloxi is where our daughter first put her toes in the sand and we had to be careful to avoid litter & sharp objects in the process.  Its beaches just aren’t too conducive to sand castles & bare feet.  However, I do like Biloxi and you won’t get a better meal than you will find at Mary Mahoney’s Restaurant.  The building the restaurant resides in was built as a private home in 1737 and became Mary’s restaurant in 1962.  It has survived many a storm and hurricane and has a HUGE live oak tree on the property.  It’s worth a stop, even if you’re just passing through.  For a short stay or quick get-a-way spring break trip, I can recommend the Hard Rock Hotel and the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino.  Both have wonderful pool areas and ocean views.  They’re a bit on the upscale side but you will appreciate the amenities they have to offer compared to other resorts.  If you’re wanting to spend days lying on the beach, skimming waves and swimming in clear blue waters, you might want to move on down the coast.

ALABAMA:

DAPHNE/FAIRHOPE—First, let me clarify that these are not beach towns.  They sit on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.  I’m going to include them because if you split your trip down to the Florida coast into two days, this is an excellent place to stop.  There are many wonderful accommodations.  I highly recommend the Homewood Suites in Daphne.  It’s very clean and has a nice outdoor pool for the kids to work off the pent-up energy from your car ride.  Daphne is located right on I-10 and there are many chain and local restaurants where you can grab an evening meal.  We usually try to eat at Guido’s/My Cousin Vinny’s for Italian or El Rancho for Mexican.  We miss the Nautilus, a wonderful seafood restaurant that had beautiful bay views and we wish someone would resurrect it!  Fairhope is further off the interstate but the quaint little town will reward you with a wonderful independent bookstore, galleries, a toy shop and numerous boutiques for shopping.  A trip down to the Fairhope Pier is a must.  If you have a nice budget to work with, spring for a night (or two!) at Marriott’s Grand Hotel, next to Fairhope in Point Clear, AL.  It’s located right on the bay and is a wonderful family resort with so many activities for the kids including swimming, tennis and even jet-skiing on the bay.

GULF SHORES/ORANGE BEACH/FT. MORGAN—We began our beach vacations by going to Seaside, FL in 1997.  We just had Ryder, who was a wonderful traveler and we took our time, meandering across the gulf on backroads and eating in local cafes and restaurants.  Along came the boys in 1999 and after taking a break from any vacations at all for a couple years, we were looking for somewhere that wasn’t quite so far.  For two years, we rented homes in Ft. Morgan & had a wonderful time.  Ft. Morgan sits out on the end of a peninsula and is quiet, non-commercial and just a peaceful place to spend a week with your family.  We always stayed in a neighborhood called The Dunes and rented through Meyer Real Estate, who I can wholeheartedly recommend.  We loved these vacations.  Being in the middle of the restaurants and stores was never a big deal for us so Ft. Morgan was perfect.  If you like to be near things, go out to dinner nightly and have a bit more of a party atmosphere on the beach, you might be happier in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.  The Beach Club and Martinique  are excellent places to stay when in this region of the gulf coast.  As for things to do in this area, you will find water sports, dolphin cruises, a water park, a large outlet mall in nearby Foley, and restaurants galore.  There are also charters that will take you for sunset sails or deep sea fishing.  The water here is bluer than MS but still far from the blue of the Emerald Coast of FL.  If you don’t like to be in a land of high-rise condo units & hotel chains, this might not be for you.

IMG_1816cpyFLORIDA:

PERDIDO KEY—I’ll make a confession right now:  I get very tired of people telling me I don’t need to go all the way to 30-A when there is Perdido Key.  Perdido Key is nice.  It’s located between Orange Beach, AL and Pensacola, FL.  Don’t get me wrong, it is nice, but it’s not 30-A.  It’s beaches are roughly 60% federal and state park land, which allows for a lot of unspoiled beauty.  It’s less crowded than it’s neighbors and the water is perhaps a tiny bit more blue here than it is to the west. But here’s the thing.  For me, it’s still a land of mainly condos and high rise condominium resorts and I’m just not into people stacked on top of people on my beach vacation.  If condos are your thing at the beach and you don’t want to go all the way to the Destin region of FL, this may be your pick.  It is a nice getaway and by going just a bit further east than the trio of beach towns discussed above, you will step it up a bit in terms of privacy and fewer tourist traps.  I miss all the fine dining and unique shopping on 30-A.

PENSACOLA—I have not spent much time here.  When we made our first trip with Ryder, in 1997, we stayed in a very old, retro hotel that was right on the beach.  It was destroyed in one of the hurricanes that tore through Pensacola since we made that journey.  The beaches are beautiful and something about the ocean currents makes the water so much nicer than the previous places mentioned. (Are you sensing a trend?  Travel east and the water gets bluer?)  Jimmy Buffett opened one of his Margaritaville Hotel and Resort complexes here and I kinda want to try it out just to see what it’s like but I have not done that yet.  I do know, from my visits, that you can find anything to rent in this area from a beach shack to a luxury home or condominium.  It’s a huge mish-mash of high rises, homes and commercial stuff and has just never really appealed to me.  If you do book in this area, be sure you know whether you are renting in Pensacola or Pensacola Beach because there is a difference.  Pensacola Beach is where the nice, blue water is.

NAVARRE BEACH—I’ve driven through Navarre Beach two times & it was so pretty we stopped to walk on the beach.  We have never stayed here.  It’s a gorgeous area with very little commercial development.  It’s further east than Pensacola Beach.  If you want to go somewhere with very little restaurant/tourism development around, go here.  It’s so quiet.   It’s perfect for families who are truly going to hang out at the beach day after day and like to cook meals in their condo.  It’s NOT for the family who needs to be entertained and fed by others, with the exception of a Stinky’s Fish Camp.  There you will find some good food!  The water is gorgeous, the people are friendly.  If you MUST seek out something commercial, there’s a bridge that will connect you to the mainland.  This beach is about as close to unspoiled as you will get.  Or it was the last time I was there.  It’s amazing the change that can happen in one season along the gulf.

FT. WALTON BEACH—I’m being honest here so Ft. Walton Beach is just not my thing.  I don’t really agree with the info in the link I posted.  I find it very congested and low on higher-end accommodations.  There is a Gulfarium Marine Park here that our kids enjoyed when they were wee ones.  Other than that, I don’t have much to say about it.IMG_1451

DESTIN– Destin has high rises for miles, but more of an upscale feel than Panama City.  This is a great place to stay if you don’t mind insanely tall high-rise condos and you want to be entertained almost 24/7.  There are tons of restaurants, both local and commercial, a huge water park, watersports galore, giant outlet mall, huge non-outlet outdoor mall, nightclubs, seafood shacks, boat charters, dolphin cruises, etc.  We used to make the trip back to Destin a couple of times a week when we would stay on 30-A.  Now we rarely go.  I think the kids have gotten older and require less to stay entertained.  I like to think they just enjoy simply hanging out more but probably not!  The traffic.  Ugh, the traffic.  We even bypass it on I-10 on our way now and avoid it altogether.  Sandestin is a resort within the town of Destin & is a little more private/exclusive.  I have eaten there and shopped there but never stayed overnight in Sandestin.

PANAMA CITY/PANAMA CITY BEACH—Aaaah, the original redneck Riviera.  Visit and you’ll see why!  I really wish I could be more positive about Panama City Beach/Panama City.  There are some places we go when we are staying in Seacrest that are in PCB – Thomas’ Donuts, Goofy Golf, Funland and sometimes, the new Pier Park, which was a huge attempt to salvage PCB’s redneck reputation and is a nice shopping/entertainment complex.  The problem with Pier Park is that it’s surrounded by a mix of new condo units,  dilapidated condo complexes and old, old hotels.  It’s quickly losing it’s appeal for me, plus I’m not too into shopping at mall stores on my beach vacation.  Tattoo parlors ABOUND in Panama City, along with the occasional sex shop.  More than one fugitive has been found hiding in the dilapidated infrastructure of Panama City Beach.  And yet, parts of it are charming.  In all honesty, I wish I could have visited in it’s heyday.  That would have been much cooler than visiting now.  We sometimes drive over to play miniature golf at Goofy Golf, the longest-running business on “the strip”.  (The fact that it has a “strip” will tell you it’s touristy!) Goofy Golf is a quirky, retro place to spend a couple hours after having dinner at Captain Anderson’s Restaurant, which, also rather retro in style, is a fine dining establishment that sits right on a harbor.  Glorious water views and good food.  It’s worth wading through the madness.  Funland is an old-fashioned dairy bar & arcade that has been in continuous operation since 1953.  Our daughter Ryder will no longer go there with us but the boys, Chuck, my dad and I love to go get some good dairy bar food and play a few games.  Thomas’ Donuts, on the western end of the PCB strip serves up wonderful breakfast food and donuts and has also been around for many, many years.  Get there early unless you want to stand in a long line.  Save for a few condo complexes off the beaten path, I don’t even want to discuss accommodations here.  HOWEVER, if a town being ultra clean & neat is not important to you, crowded beaches are ok and you want to be in the midst of constant activity, this might be your place.  You can always take a jaunt over to Shell Island, a pristine island with perfect sand, crystal-clear water and not one business, home or hotel.  Not one.  Unfortunately there is also no bathroom either,  so you’ll want to time your trip just right.  I highly recommend renting a pontoon and getting yourself there as opposed to going on the shuttle.  HIGHLY.  Unless you love to study tattoo art.IMG_1837cpy

SEASIDE/GRAYTON/WATERCOLOR/ROSEMARY BEACH/ALYS BEACH/WATERSOUND/SEACREST BEACH (ALSO KNOWN AS HWY. 30-A) —- You had to know I would save what I consider to be the best for last.  I will be the first to admit that if you are looking for a budget vacation, this might not be your best bet.  I’m sure there are ways to save like going in on accommodations and cooking all of your meals in but to really get a feel of this area, I don’t recommend that.  Highway 30-A is a county road in Walton County, FL that forms a 28.5 mile loop off of Florida Highway 98 dipping down several miles east of Destin and coming back up to Hwy. 98 just west of Panama City Beach, FL.  Seagrove Beach and Grayton Beach were the original beach communities on this stretch of highway and it was mostly an isolated stretch of beach until Robert Davis developed his vision of a perfect beach town, known famously now as Seaside, FL.  When we first began visiting 30-A, Seaside was just coming into it’s own & was nothing like it is now.  I remember after we visited we got constant information on the NEW communities of Watercolor and Rosemary Beach that were barely even under construction.  (Oh, how I wish we could have bought a home there in the early stages of development!  Hindsight’s 20/20!)  Long story short, since 1997, this area has exploded and I’ve heard naysayers condemn all the development.  I disagree, because it still provides a beach experience far above what I’ve had elsewhere.  There is only one tall high-rise on the beach and one semi-tall condo unit.  I think I speak for all 30-A fans when I say I wish they could be torn down and replaced with homes but what’s done is done.  Regulations stopped future high-rise development and so though you will find some condo complexes that have been around since the early days, it’s mainly a 28.5 mile stretch of beach homes ranging from 2-bedroom to 8-bedroom.  Although there is a Tom Thumb convenience store and a Publix supermarket along this road, the rest of the businesses are private establishments, mostly owned by people local to the area or those who have visited and been inspired to stay.  You’ll find an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, small businesses ranging from spas to a doctor’s office or two, bike rental facilities, etc.  You can seek out watersports such a parasailing, windsurfing and paddle boarding but they aren’t in-your-face as in most beach communities.  Everything is low-key here.  Bike riding is the favorite pastime.  Many of the towns have village squares where they host movie nights, farmer’s markets and mini-festivals.  As I said earlier, we used to go into Destin a couple times but now we rarely leave the community we are staying in.  We have personally stayed in Seaside, Watercolor, Seagrove and Seacrest Beach.  I’ll go more in-depth about these communities in a future post.  It’s insanely clean, very little need for police presence and the beaches are absolutely fantastic.  There’s a feeling about 30-A that you just can’t describe to someone who hasn’t been.  You’d have to be an awfully uptight person not to enjoy a vacation here.

I hope you found this helpful & I really hope you’ll plan a trip to the gulf coast.  It’s my happy place and I constantly encourage others to experience it.  In future entries, I hope to address restaurants, finding a perfect beach home, day trips, ways to save $ on your beach vacation, etc.  If you have any questions or topics you would like me to post on, feel free to leave a comment below.

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Golden Globe Glamour…….and not.

I always love live-tweeting awards shows with my friends and bonding via the mutual love of tearing down those who are insanely successfully and make more money than most of us will ever dream of.  Hey, whatever makes us feel good.  That said, this was a less-than stellar awards show in terms of fashion, in my opinion.  Now, I know it’s usually a little more casual than the Oscars, but for God’s sake people, please at least look like you weren’t startled out of bed.  I’ll start with my favorite attire of the night:

462073237_10_gallery_mainThis is a horrible picture of her gown but when Margot Robbie walked out on the stage to present in this she looked like absolute perfection.  She wore that low cut well.  And I liked the hair with the dress.

1389576217_olivia-wilde-lgI love Olivia Wilde and I know, I know……you think she’s intentionally channeling Angelina Jolie here.  Who cares?  She’s pregnant, elegant and I thought this was stunning on her.462081789_10_gallery_mainEvery single awards show, I love Kerry Washington.  This was a simple way to show off a baby bump.  Pure elegance.

462072717_10_gallery_mainMonica Potter.  I liked this.  I thought she mastered the art of simple yet stunning.  There wasn’t much of this on the red carpet tonight so I found this look refreshing.  A bit of gold, some simple black and perfect hair to go with it.

462081759_10_gallery_mainSosie Bacon, daughter of Kyra and Kevin looked so elegant and mature in her muted gown.  I thought she deserved a shout out for having such classy taste at a young age.

1389580693_julianna-marguiles-lgJulianna Margulies.  She can be hit or miss.  I was on the fence for awhile but I ultimately put her in the “win” category.  It’s elegant and a bit of Old World Hollywood, which is always refreshing to see on the carpet.  And she is just radiantly beautiful no matter what she has on.

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Robin Wright.  I know there was a moment during her speech where a little side boob was visible and at times it appeared to be a little loose but she has an incredible body for it and the back was stunning.  Wide open but so attractive on her.  And she just looked radiant and happy.  I like it “a lot”.  Isn’t she radiant in this close-up?

462133321_gallery_mainNow for the LOSERS!  Whew!  This was hard to narrow down to less than 25.  So much horrid fashion on the carpet this evening.  It wasn’t so much a lack of taste, though that was certainly present.  It was more like no one cared!  I mean, take Kaley Cuoco……

462133035_gallery_mainShe seriously looked as if she slept over at Courtney Love’s house and grabbed something off of Courtney’s closet floor after waking up horribly hungover.  Why???

1389575689_drew-barrymore-lgHolla, everyone!  It’s time to get those Valentine’s Day cards if you haven’t yet!  Just a friendly reminder from Drew Barrymore!

1389576278_sandra-bullock-lgNo.No.No.  This looked like something that would have been in a blister pack of Barbie clothing in the early 1980′s.  Complete with matching shoes.  And the hair looks like something you would wear for your kid’s soccer game, not an awards show.

1389577207_emma-watson-lgI don’t have a photo of the horrid back of Emma Watson’s frock but it looked like something that was more “running of the bulls” and less Golden Globes.  Ole!

1389576025_julia-roberts-lgNope, Julia.  You’re classy.  You have style.  You missed the mark here.  It looks as if she was late finishing her shift at Olive Garden (twins to support, you know!) and just slipped a gown on before taking off her white button-up shirt.  I mean, I don’t even understand why someone would design this dress let alone buy it.  I’m torn on her hair.  I like it and yet I think it looks a bit like her husband wanted her to dress up and play teacher.

1389575904_jennifer-lawrence-lgShe’s adorable.  America’s new sweetheart.  Rocking the pixie cut.  Not so much this dress.  It looked like perhaps at the last minute the following conversation took place:

J Law:  “Bye dad!  Heading to the Globes!”

J Law’s dad:  “Awww hon, you look beautiful, but that dress is missing something.”

J Law:  “What can we do to add interest??  I’m America’s sweetheart!”

J Law:  “Well, I’ve got some ‘lectrical tape in my toolbox.  Let’s see what we can do….”

Another one I don’t understand.

1389577069_amy-adams-lgI could handle this so much more if it was ALL the color of red that it is on the bottom.  As it is, it looks like it was designed for someone who couldn’t decide of they are an Alabama fan or an Arkansas fan.  And her boobs are way too small to pull this off.  Lord, Amy annoys me.  And yet she’s a hell of an actress.

462073645_gallery_mainI HATED this.  I thought it was Battlestar Galactica meets Britney Spears.  I thought it was horrid.  Too much of everything and not enough of something.  Show us a better side at the Oscars, Elisabeth Moss.

I could keep going.  But that’s enough of my snark.  I’m sitting here in ripped jeans and an old Fred Thompson for President sweatshirt so you might take my opinions with a grain of salt.  It did make my night to see Matthew McConaughey win.  Gotta love a man in green velvet.

Happy New Year…..and farewell to the holidays of 2013!

photo-21Well….I’m a bit relieved that it’s over and I’m ready to begin the new year.

I thought I would appreciate being home this Christmas after traveling to Colorado for a ski vacation last year during the holidays.  I was wrong.  I missed the mountains.  Don’t get me wrong — I loved decorating our tree and waking up in our house to open gifts on Christmas morning but I have to say, getting away from all the madness and holiday stresses (relatives) is a good thing! I really missed waking up each morning to the sound of ski boots crunching on the ground as people headed to the lifts.  Sigh….

I do love the fresh feeling of a new year beginning…an imaginary clean slate on which we write our good intentions.  I kinda like that. I know it’s hard to believe but I really do try to improve myself!   This year I’m doing two projects that are year-long and will require me to “attend” – to pay attention and be present, even if being present means I’m on my computer in the comfort of my own home, participating.  I have ALWAYS loved to read.  As a child, nothing excited me more than my dad announcing that we were making the 40-mile trip to the nearest bookstore, Readmore Books.  I realize now how small it was but when I walked in the door I was transported to a whole new world.  It’s odd that I’ve never taken part in a book club but I have not & this morning, the girls on one of my favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess, announced an online book club.  The first selection is The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.  I already had the book so that’s one reason I jumped right in.  I mentioned that I was taking part in this on Facebook and before I knew it several friends were searching for copies and committing to the book club as well.  I suggested we get together at a restaurant and discuss the monthly selections & that was well-received.  This takes the stress of having to host the club & clean and cook & find a place for your kids to go on the evening we meet, completely away.  I AM toying with the idea of hosting a final holiday get-together and using that as an impetus to actually complete the home improvement projects that I have on our agenda this year.  Sometimes I have to have things to hold me accountable, don’t you?

Jumping into something like the book club is very, very out of character for me, which brings me to the second project I am taking part in. I LOVE  Ali Edwards.  For a few years, I worked in the scrapbook industry and although I never met her, she quickly became one of my favorite designers and I love & admire the brilliance with which she built her brand.  She blogs about, well, LIFE.  And she makes you realize that documenting your life while you are here is not only a responsibility but a fun thing to do and with Ali at the helm, it can become a way of life if you follow her principles.  Obviously I find her very inspiring!  Every year since 2007, she has done a “One Little Word” online workshop.  You can read more about it by clicking the link but you just choose one word and in, Ali’s words, “You live with it. You invite it into your life. You let it speak to you. You might even follow where it leads. There are so many possibilities.”  Ali gives you monthly video and PDF prompts and at the end of the year you should have a journal that has helped you gain insight into how this word can work for you and change you for the better.  My word for 2014 is “TRY”.  In so many areas of my life, I could try harder – that’s one way I need to have this word in my life!  I’m also hesitant to try new things.  New foods, new hobbies, new ways to promote my business, new styles of photography, new ways of dealing with kid issues, etc.  I’m reluctant to TRY.  So that’s sorta what my journey is going to be about this year.  Not being lazy or reluctant and giving things my all.  I think it’s going to be so much fun & perhaps a little enlightening.

As far as resolutions, I prefer to do a bucket list for the year.  I’m still working on it.  I’ll share it as soon as I finish.

Many of my friends have started this new year by saying final goodbyes to the people they love the most, so as 2014 begins, I wish you good luck, much faith and happiness & someone to lean on when things get tough.

xoxoxo

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O, Christmas Tree!

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays.  I love the fact that you can have eight houses on a block that all decorate for the holidays differently.  Of those eight imaginary houses, there’s a good chance I’m going to like five or six or well, ALL of them!  When I was a child, Christmas was a time of wonderful celebration in our home.  Decorating the tree was an event and my dad loved to have lights outside.  I was always drawn to blue Christmas decorations and wrapping paper and I was completely mesmerized by homes that were decorated in solid blue lights.  My grandma, God bless her soul,  would never decorate with blue lights and discouraged me from buying blue foil wrapping paper because “That’s all for the Jewish people, honey.  Let’s leave that for them. We don’t celebrate Hanukkah.”  I’m not sure how she explained the fact that our town Christmas decor consisted of large blue tinsel arcs  with yellow lanterns attached to the light poles.  They lined Main St. & the main thoroughfare that ran through our small town, Highway 25.  Those blue decorations were beautiful in my young eyes and the one Jewish family in our town must have been especially proud.  Yes, one.  Needless to say, I now go overboard on  the blue paper and decor and we have a bubble light candolier that resembles a menorah to such a degree that it prompted Wyatt, at three years of age to ask with a very puzzled expression, “Mama, is we Jewish?”

We are putting our fraser fir tree in it’s stand tonight and hope to start decorating it tomorrow.  I’ve never been much on trees that look like they were decorated by a designer.  Ours is a hodgepodge of vintage Shiny Brite and polish ornaments, antique russian clip-ons, Old World Christmas birds, Christopher Radko ornaments that Chuck and the kids get me each year and my favorite, ornaments that we have picked up on vacations to other cities. Several years ago Target had beautiful, multicolored glass garlands and I bought several.  Those add a uniqueness to the tree & our finishing touch is an “angry” paper angel that Brooks, our youngest, made when he was about 4.  Hopefully by the end of the week I will have photos to post but until then, I thought I would share some lovely trees I found online.  They’re all different yet all festive and beautiful.  Enjoy and be inspired!

This is the most beautiful tree I’ve seen lately!  If you are not following Michael over at Inspired by Charm, you should be. This is just one of the beautiful trees in his gorgeous farmhouse.IMG_7633-687x1024A similar tree that just happens to be in the White House……love those glass balls!  Makes me happy just to look at it.  Almost Dr. Seuss-like!

8d99a42c35fe3d0569092f24bf8ea6a9This one has a coastal vibe & since I consider the beach my second home, I love it.  The unique blue-grey of the ornaments strikes a chord with me.fce2669b024019a8dbeb2d0f737bad0b

I absolutely love to get a heavy snowfall during the Christmas season.  Living in Arkansas, we are not always guaranteed one but when we do it’s neat to see outdoor trees sporting lights with a layer of snow on top.  They’re almost ethereal!cd59607141f5b4bdfddfaa10de9a3be0163b52095e3e1aced07c8e2f1bfbee46

Last year, there was a snow-covered tree outside our condo in Keystone, CO and I loved going down to the hot tub each night (soaking my torn ligament) & relaxing in the green glow.  (My grandma would have approved of their choice of green lights!)  Right across from the condo was this tall, heavily adorned tree.  We could go out on our balcony and enjoy it every day because it was right across from us!IMG_0247IMG_0239Someday I’d love to do a tree in shades of red, white and blue.  This is another tree from the White House and I love the way it seems to be dripping with ornaments. Isn’t it cool how they used red and silver and just put a few blue accent ornaments?

WHC08-EastRmTree_s3x4_lgThis tree reminds me of my youth.  Bubble lites & icicles, which were my dad’s favorite things.  My dad could adorn a tree with icicles better than anyone!6018360b63b27642cc665ae3b5004ea3This tree is very different and being a lover of color, I’m surprised it jumped out at me but I love the simplicity and the sense of calm this room has with the white tree. The marshmallow strands and the logs in the fireplace add to the feeling of coziness.7fd27ca294ade81167dde4173da89cd7Of course I love this tree.  It’s got a hefty dose of blue!  I love having a small tree or two in addition to the main tree and this one would be perfect in an entryway or the corner of a kitchen.  I think it’s so creative that they used a silver punch bowl to stand it in!eea3c0194bb45d78ead1fc31d2909955Soon I will post photos of our tree(s).  What’s your favorite color scheme for bringing your tree to life?

Prayers…and Thanksgiving!

When I talk about my life, people often say, “You should write a book!”  My usual response is, “I’m waiting until some people (99% of our relatives) have passed so I don’t make them angry.”  I care less and less about that as I age because life is what it is.  When I have no family left that speak to me, you, my fair readers, can feed me on holidays.  I’ll be right at home in your laundry room, using the washer as a table.  Just save me some rolls & slip me a glass or two of wine. White, please.  A nice Pinot Grigio.  Speaking of holidays, this Thanksgiving provided me with a classic “relative” moment to share & brought similar holiday moments of the past to mind.

Chuck invited me to move in with him after I graduated from college in May of 1992, one semester behind him.  It was TOTALLY his idea, regardless of what you might have heard when his mother stood up in front of her Baptist church congregation and asked that we be prayed for because we were “living in sin.”  I appreciated those prayers, and felt them working deeply as I was swinging naked from our cheap brass light fixture, but NOT as much as I appreciated the calls from friends saying, “Holy SHIT, Chuck’s mom told the entire church congregation you were living together!”  Those, I appreciated.  So……I took him up on his offer & my dad helped me move from Springfield to Kansas City. I had a lot of t-shirts, a cheap O’Sullivan coffee table & an end table that was made to look like a dalmatian.  It was an easy move.

My dad is the sort of man whose train of thought goes something like this:  “She’s moving IN with him?  Before marriage?  Well, at least she’s not pregnant and I didn’t have to pay for a dime of her college expenses and she’s never given me an ounce of trouble and HOT DAMN!  That boy is willing to take this hot mess on? Where do I sign?”  That’s my dad.  He wasn’t overly upset and as my former college roommate likes to point out, my grandma was likely sure I was sleeping on the sofa because I was such a good girl.  God LOVE that woman – I do miss her.

Our apartment was in a really nice, new complex in Overland Park, KS, the most vanilla, suburban city in which one could lay down roots.  I longed to live near downtown Kansas City, which was undergoing extensive urban renewal at the time but Chuck liked to be literally five minutes or less from his office.  The apartment was 762 square feet and had one bedroom, one bath, a living/dining area and a small kitchen.  It sat right next to a major four-lane highway.  I loved the traffic noise & Chuck hated it.  Furnishings were sparse. Our used microwave oven was so old and heavy that when it quit, we had to disassemble it and carry it to the dumpster in pieces. Amana Radarange, baby!  We were living the life!  Remember those old sofas from the 60′s and 70′s that were made of a knotty, plaid fabric woven in a lovely array of fall colors?  Had one!  Chuck’s grandparents had donated it to him for his first apartment.  We were very happy and really proud of our first home, despite it’s shortcomings.

We hadn’t made a lot of friends yet and didn’t entertain much (or at all), but Chuck had relatives who also lived in Overland Park and once when several members of his extended family were in town, he invited everyone over.  If I remember correctly, in that tiny apartment were Chuck, two aunts, two uncles, a cousin or two and his grandparents, who (bonus!) got to reminisce about their old sofa!  Chuck decided it would be nice to give everyone a tour of our place, which, had he thought, could have been accomplished by letting people stand beside the kitchen (card) table and spin in a circle while he yelled out the room names. Now remember, these people are all very, very uncomfortable with the idea of us living together because history will tell you that living with your future mate is bad.  Charles Manson and all of his followers?  Lived with their mates before marriage.  John Wilkes Booth?  Assassin and co-habitator.  Healthcare.gov website developers?  ALL CO-HABITATORS.  So you can see why the worrying was rampant.  Chuck wanted his relatives to really experience our place and file through all four rooms.  He led them just like a realtor needing one more sale to wrap up a good month and when he got to our bedroom, they would not go in.  WOULD.NOT.GO.IN.  A team of sled dogs couldn’t have pulled them across that threshold.  Poor Chuck was all the way in the room pointing out the lovely features (“This is where Noelle was stricken with her first kidney stone!”) and some of them didn’t even go near the open door while others peeked in like one might peek into a room fully expecting to see a dead body but hoping like hell not to.  I hurried to look in there thinking, “Have I left a teddy on the bedpost? Panties on the ceiling fan?  K-Y Jelly on the dresser?  IS THERE A LARGE SPIDER?”  Nope. Nothing.  I  sat back down, as did Chuck, eventually, and the circle of visitors had taken on the look of a gathering of relatives waiting for the doctor to come out and tell them if their loved one survived a harrowing surgical procedure.  Apparently just thinking about the sex that went on in that 9×9 room had them all entirely discombobulated.  After a few attempts at conversation – “How ’bout a game of Monopoly?” “How ’bout those Chiefs?”  “Isn’t that George Brett somethin’?” – the party was clearly over and everyone left.  Chuck walked them out and came back inside.  He looked at me with an odd expression and said, “Did they think a giant condom was going to attack them if they went in our room?”  We still laugh about it today because it was just so…….INANE!

A few weeks later we were (surprisingly) invited over to his aunt and uncle’s house for Sunday dinner and his uncle’s sweet, elderly mother, who is no relation to Chuck, was there for a visit.  We were all sitting at the nicely appointed dining room table eating dinner when the woman blurted out, in the clueless manner of Aunt Clara on Bewitched,  “DO THEY PAY RENT???” You can’t buy these moments, people.   We still laugh about it because our assumption is that she was so absent-minded she thought we lived in the basement or another part of the house & had just come up to dinner.  I wanted to yell back, “NO! We live in sin over on 103rd!”

By now, my hope is that you’re getting an idea of why I cringe when holidays roll-around.  One year, I walked into Chuck’s grandmother’s house and she greeted me with, “Wow, you’ve really been a-putting it on ain’tcha?  You used to not be that big!”  I wanted to say, “Yes, Chuck looked into moving me up the Mississippi on a barge but in the long run it was cheaper to just rub Crisco all over me and shove me in the car.”  Instead, I turned to Chuck and said, “WHAT THE HELL?” At a previous holiday dinner, she had accused me of not eating enough.  I was pregnant and she said, “You’re gonna kill that baby!”  I walked out that time and drove to my own grandma’s house.  THIS IS WHAT I ENDURE.  All out of respect for Chuck.  Well, this grandmother is 89 now and still going strong.

Last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, we had dinner with some extended relatives on Chuck’s mother’s side and you guessed it, she was there (although she’s on his dad’s side).  Being the nice person that I am, I walked into the living room where she was sitting with Chuck and sat down on the couch.  Wyatt was in the recliner across from us, watching TV.  The woman looked at me, flung her hand toward Wyatt and said, and I am not EVEN kidding, “That one there, he goes to a school for special kids, don’t he?”

Who SAYS that??  “Special needs or not!  Who SAYS that?? A special school?  NO. No, he doesn’t.  He’s been in the family for 14 freaking years.  He’s perfectly normal, if not extremely intelligent and how many……I literally have no words, except NO, he does not go to a “special” school! Now before you sensitive readers freak, I have nothing against children with special needs, obviously, but if your child does NOT have special needs, you don’t want people to say that they do and you certainly don’t want a grandparent who has known the child for over a decade to be telling people that your child has special needs when they don’t!  I took a deep breath, counted to 10 and said, “He and his brother go to a private school.  His sister went to a public school.  They’re both great schools.”  How do you even answer that? Thankfully, we don’t think HE heard her asinine question.  We’re trying to laugh about it now but I have to tell you that one has just left me shaking my head.

All I know, is at this point in my life, all bets are off as to how I respond. To any relative.  About anything.  And all of this is happening to me because I CO-HABITATED, right?

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Quiet

I recently purchased Quiet:  The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I know. I know.  You’re thinking “HER??? QUIET???”  And for the most part you would be right.  I wasn’t always as bold and talkative as I am now.  As a child I was, for the most part, shy, quiet, unassuming & perfectly content to be alone reading, drawing or watching tv.  Then, and very much now, I found myself in situations where I was surrounded by people and noise & just wanted so desperately to find a pathway out that no one noticed so that I could be back in my little world of solitude and quiet.

Right now, I’m sitting alone in my home & although I do love the times when I’m surrounded by my family, I am, in this moment, incredibly happy and content.  In the seventies and eighties, when you were asked to do things that made you feel uncomfortable by teachers, parents or even friends, there was much more of a sense that you should do it because it was the appropriate and mannerly thing to do.  I regularly found myself suspending the “introverted Noelle” and trying out for plays, being in school programs where I was required to SING, which mortified (& still mortifies) me & raising my hand in class to participate.  I have vivid memories of being scared that I would be called on.  Anyone but me, anyone!  Outward appearances clearly showed that I wanted to be a part of things.  I went to school dances and danced.  Dancing is as bad as singing for me.  It requires some liquid courage.  Chuck gets frustrated that I let people take advantage of me in my business because often this closet shyness prevents me from standing up for myself.  Self-promotion?  Horrifying to me.  I have always been overly concerned with what people think of me, though as I age that seems to be rapidly dissipating.  If you’ve seen me at Kroger, I’m sure you’re nodding your head.

The challenge I face now is having a child who is even MORE introverted than I ever was.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, yet I don’t want him to miss out on life.  Looking back, I’m glad there was that sense of unintentional pressure to participate.  I have lots of happy and funny memories I wouldn’t otherwise have. I want him to have them too.  He seems to share the mechanism of lifting his introverted ways to do things he REALLY wants to do like pitch a baseball game.  I’ve asked a million times if he’s doing it for him or for us.  He loves the game so he does what it takes.  He is very, very comfortable around his best friend’s family & isn’t at all shy around them.  It’s a comfort zone for him.  A safe place. Kids like that need those.

Today, I’m picking the kids up early for doctor appointments & they’ll miss math.  I e-mailed the teachers and made them aware so that they could be sure & let the boys know what they’re missing.  One teacher responded that she would love for Brooks to come to her room at noon so she can keep him up to speed on the lesson.  Of course, my introvert.  He was mortified.  He said he wasn’t going.  I let it go, mainly because I was not with him when he got the news that she wanted him to come.  His dad was. His dad who isn’t shy, who teaches classes to rooms full of consultants and law students, who speaks publicly OFTEN and manages an entire region of the US for his company.  If his dad is shy, he suspends it ALOT.  He emails the teacher and tells her Brooks might not show.  The teacher asks the assistant principal to page him to her classroom at lunchtime.  He’s going to be appalled.  It’s a small thing, really, but not to him.  Should we be doing things like this more?  I don’t know.  Maybe the book will help.  I’ve always been a parent who just made their kid do what *I* thought he/she should do, with the exception of sports. (In this house, you only play if you want to play. That’s another entry in itself!)  I truly believe that one of the best qualities anyone can have is the ability to be alone & be content. I like to think that right now we are giving him opportunities to do just that, yet encouraging him to branch out in some social arenas so he won’t be branded a loner or rude or anti-social.  None of those accurately describe him.

What do you have to offer?  Do you have an introvert?

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My Heart….

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone

I never remember a time in my pre-adult life when I saw myself without children.  I loved playing house.  I loved being nurturing to my baby Mary and my Baby That-A-Way.  I had names for my future offspring.  At various stages in my childhood,  I couldn’t wait to birth Marcia (Brady Bunch, anyone?), Samantha and Tabitha (Bewitched?), Kelly and Sabrina (Hello…..Charlie’s Angels!).  In the latter years of elementary school, my best friend, Lana, and I cut a jillion people out of magazines and pasted them in giant sketchbooks, making our imaginary families.  Then we would include blueprints of their home, which we drew ourselves, often drawing inspiration from blueprint magazines that we would walk four blocks to our local grocer’s and buy, along with Lay’s Chips, Pepsi and Spree.  Those were the days.  Families with characteristics, careers and personality traits we assigned. We even cut out cars and matched them to our families.  Little did we know, at that time, we didn’t know jack about parenting & families.  Boy, have we since learned!  (I didn’t come away from those experiences empty-handed though.  I still don’t like to see a house plan where a hallway ends abruptly with a wall…..)

Lana was a year older than I was and started her family much earlier than I did.  I remember her saying, when we were forming our imaginary families, that she just didn’t want kids with red hair.  I thought she was crazy for even thinking that might happen.  She was blond and her boyfriend (who later became her husband) had a thick mane of dark brown hair.  Lana had a maternal drive and instinct like no one I knew.  She ached to have kids someday.  And she did.  Two beautiful carrot-top redheads that she loves with all her heart, hair and all.  God does have a sense of humor.  That should have been our first clue that no book, television show or doctor could even come close to telling you what to expect once you’re a parent.

I took a longer route to having kids and Lana was one of the first people I called when we got the unexpected but thrilling news, in autumn of 1994, that we were having a baby.  Chuck, my husband, and I had talked about getting pregnant and figured that it would take a while and we would be announcing our pregnancy in autumn of 1995.  Needless to say, fertility is my strong suit.  I got pregnant immediately and we set about making plans to welcome our first child into our Colorado home, which we purchased in the spring of 1995.  It was a girl, which thrilled me & we named her Ryder.  Wyatt followed four years later in 1999 and Brooks, our third and final, came along in 2001.  Having been around the block now as parents, I still bang my head against the wall wondering WHY no one warns you how hard it is.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in my ability to handle the difficult times and it certainly would not have deterred me from becoming a parent.  The good outweighs the bad on most days.  A warning would have been nice, simply from the point of knowing that you were not the first parent to find it extremely difficult.  I might have liked to know that going through hell on some days is perfectly and painfully normal.

I had an unusual childhood, especially in the 70′s and 80′s, because I was raised by my dad and that wasn’t nearly as common as it is now.  We were close.  He loved me unconditionally but I think that unconditional love came easy because I never defied him or spoke out in disrespect.  I was shy, not at all rebellious and an only child, which is simply not as difficult as having more than one kid to parent.  You don’t have the competition between children for attention, the multiple activities to cover and in my case, I was just content to be by myself & generally occupied with some book, tv show or art project.  My dad didn’t have to mediate fighting,  dole out multiple allowances, choose which activities to attend, etc.  It was just me & him against the world.  And I had all the respect a child can muster for him.  I still do.  I always thought I’d be a great parent like him and although I go through stages of feeling like a total failure at that, I now realize comparing my parenting to his is not at all fair.  Different situation, different time in history, different personalities in my own children.

I put the quote by Elizabeth Stone at the top of this entry because although I realize what Ms. Stone meant, I think there’s more to our hearts than this quote reveals.  Our children are a part of us, yes.  They have our DNA.  We feel linked to them even when they are across town, or in the case of my oldest, in another state.  But what the quote fails to convey is that our hearts are very much still within our own bodies and subject to intense heartache and pain when our children defy us, disrespect us & lash out. Patience is not one of my strongest personality traits.  My clients say I’m insanely patient when photographing their kids and I honestly don’t know where that comes from except that under those circumstances,  I’m being paid to produce and in many cases I just can’t unless I wait patiently for the children to co-operate.  I wish I had this patience at home and I try so hard but I expect so much from my kids & I react, often negatively, when they fail to produce.

My daughter is sick this week. She lives in Texas so I can’t be there.  One of her traits is to always have an ache or pain so I’ve gotten to the point that quite honestly I tune her out.  I’ve explained to her that it’s kinda like the “boy who cried wolf” parable.  I fear one day it will be something really serious and I’ll blow her off.  Today she texted from the doctor and to spare you the details and respect her privacy, things went downhill fast.  Apparently she has severe bronchitis & I tried very hard to be sympathetic at first.  I do feel bad that she is sick so far from home but there’s honestly little I can do.  I can never do anything right in most cases anyway, so I ended up losing it after she disrespected me by calling me a name.  After dealing with the boys not turning in homework this week and fighting like a couple of wild dogs, I had nothing left in me. Nothing.  I’m spent.  I’m not a perfect parent and I never will be. But lately I’ve gotten tougher.  I’m stronger about imposing sanctions and implementing discipline.   They may hate me now but I have to believe when they’re older they’ll look back and realize we did them a favor.  I love them more than they will understand (until they have their own children) but when I ask them to do something because it’s important to me, I expect that it will happen.  And it will happen with a smile on their faces, even if it’s fake. I certainly do enough for them that they should return that favor.  So, back to that quote.  My heart is still inside me and it’s very vulnerable.  Parenting is not always the bastion of unbridled joy that our culture tends to make it out to be.  It can be ugly, tear-jerking, and brutal at times.  We will survive.  Most parents do.  We’re in this battle together and sometimes it makes all the difference in the world to hear that someone else is deep in the trenches of combat as well.  They will love us & look to us for help and advice someday.  I just hope I’m one of the survivors.

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