Hazards of the Job

I’ve been known to go to some pretty great lengths to get photos for my clients. Just last weekend, in fact, I hiked 6 miles, roundtrip, to photograph a mother and her daughter on Arkansas’ most famous rocky outcropping, Hawksbill Crag. (Should you desire that, it will now cost $5,000, a new car & a significant portion of any stocks you own, but I’m glad I did it that ONE time.) Tonight, however, I thought I would have a fairly run-of-the-mill senior portrait session, ending downtown at sunset. I met Mary Margaret and her mom, Meg, in the Heights at the salon where she was getting her hair and make-up done. MM had noticed an area behind the salon, in an alley, that she thought would make a good background for some shots and I agreed. While she was finishing up her hair, I went down the stairs to look around. Rustic door, check. Large cactus against corrugated tin, check. Weathered iron stairs, check. Lots to work with in a small area – a photographer’s dream. Mary Margaret came outside soon and we got to work. I took a few shots to see what I liked best and at one point, said to MM, “Be careful not to back into that cactus!” I really liked the door as a backdrop so I had her pose in front of it and at one point switched from a zoom lens, where you zoom in and out with the actual lens, to a prime lens, which has a fixed focal length and requires you to move your body to get closer to or further from your subject. You know where this is going, right? I had been so conscientious to warn MM about the cactus and then I not only backed into it, but, in an attempt to get the perfect angle on this shot, actually sat my ass right down on it. OUCH. I may have cursed. I don’t even remember. I reached behind me thinking I would pull out one big cactus spine & get on with the session. I reached behind me, pulled out the big cactus spine and realized there were many, many TINY cactus spines that I had not seen when I initially saw the cactus. Now I had a few of them stuck in my hand (easily removed) & SO many of them stuck in my left butt cheek (not so easily removed). I pulled the ones from my hand and continued to shoot, trying to decide if this was something I could deal with later or not. Considering I would be riding SEATED in a car and I had now determined they weren’t just stuck on my jeans, but in my flesh too, I decided I’d probably need to do something immediately. And at that moment, all of my Discovery Channel binge-watching paid off. I remembered that during an episode of “Untold Stories of the ER,” a young girl had fallen backward onto a cactus and the doctor had begun picking the spines out, one-by-one, with a pair of tweezers. It didn’t take him long to realize this was not an efficient way to remove them and he remembered that his wife used hot wax to remove body hair at her salon. She came to the hospital with her wax and he was able to remove all the spines from the poor, terrified child. What luck! I’m at a salon! This is my plan now! Meg ran upstairs and asked Amy, the stylist I am forever indebted to, if my plan would work & she agreed it was worth a try. I finished up the photos and went upstairs, reminding everyone we needed to do this quickly because we were still going downtown and time was of the essence since the light was fading by the minute. KUDOS to Amy for her quick, thorough work and for not laughing uncontrollably when being asked to wax someone’s rear on a moment’s notice. I had removed all of the spines from my jeans but my underwear was, ahem, a lost cause, as they were stuck in the elastic leg trim. This was the first (and hopefully only!) session I have done commando. I’ve always sworn that endlessly watching the Discovery Channel would pay off but I envisioned solving a crime or escaping a kidnapper. I never saw it coming into play removing cactus spines from my ass while photographing a high school senior. When I was about four years-old, I went to an open house with my mom at a florist and I was enamored with the display of cacti just within my reach. My mom noticed this and said, “Noelle, don’t touch that cactus.” She turned her back and heard me cry. She said, “Noelle, did you touch that cactus?” And, of course, I said, “No.” The moral of the story is that karma can literally bite you in the ass 46 years later, so whatever you do, don’t touch the cactus. And don’t lie to your mother.

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My Covid-19 Journey

In February of 2020, I went to see my best friend, Sarah, when she was visiting her mom about two hours from my home in Little Rock. We both lived in Little Rock until about ten years ago, when Sarah’s family moved to New Jersey, so the chance to spend 24 hours with her was not something I was going to pass up. We talk nearly every day & text if we don’t talk. She, her mom and I sat in her mom’s den that Saturday evening and talked about this new virus that was making the news. We discussed how it appeared to be inevitable that it would eventually be a pandemic and how Trump had recently called it a “democratic hoax” and how he surmised that “like a miracle it would just disappear.” All the way home, I couldn’t shake that our world was about to change in the worst & most disruptive of ways. I soon became really concerned for her as she lives in New Jersey, which is uncomfortably close to NYC, where cases were beginning to appear.

I was sitting on our couch one day about a week and a half after that trip, editing photos, when Chuck came in the room and said, “I think this is serious. I think it’s time we all work from home. We need to stock up on some groceries and only go out for the bare necessities.” That day, it was reported that a hospital an hour away had Arkansas’ first Covid-19 case. Not long after, our youngest son’s school district went entirely remote, our oldest son’s college went remote and our daughter began working from her home. I had JUST set up an office in a room we call the playroom even though no one has “played” in there for years. Chuck took over my desk and has been there since March 11th.

President Trump’s remarks got crazier and crazier as he referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus” and he lashed out at reporters asking perfectly logical questions. Chuck & I embarked on the search for masks, at first fashioning makeshift ones from bandannas and scarves, until my husband hit the jackpot in the storage space under our house, finding an unopened package of N95 masks that I had purchased for some long-forgotten painting project. My mother-in-law made us some masks and I began ordering them from various places. Three friends and I formed a group chat and jokingly called ourselves the “Task Force.” It went from sharing funny memes with one another to griping about incompetence in our state government to sharing stories of people we knew who contracted Covid-19, to sharing stories of people we knew who had died to sharing stories of being tested ourselves and in my case ultimately, in late December, getting a positive test. (The “task force” is still going strong almost a year later, though no governing body seems interested in our skills:)

I am fortunate enough to be a photographer, a career that I can do from a distance, and I began a project photographing people in their homes, behind doors and windows. Black & white documentation of a time in our lives we all hoped we would live to remember, yet we kind of wanted to forget. A local news station even covered my project on the news and I was named Arkansan of the Day for the project. Our “shut down” didn’t last long and once people started going about their business like nothing was happening, I abandoned the project. I wanted the photos to be authentic, not staged by people who had worked in an office all day and spent the weekend on a family vacation. Soon spring turned to summer and things seemed pretty survivable in summer. We skipped our usual vacations and the pool was closed. We walked the dog, but otherwise, save for the occasional photo session, stayed home. School was out and things were more relaxed but “Covid fatigue,” as experts refer to it, was starting to set in.

Case numbers in the summer didn’t seem as scary and the numbers still weren’t terrifying, especially for upper-class white folks like myself who enjoyed a level of privilege that quik-shop employees or factory workers did not. We all got rather complacent, though many of us remained diligent in our safety protocols, like masks & no large gatherings. This disease was disproportionately hitting minority populations and those who didn’t have the luxury of staying home like I did. As I read obituaries in the paper and watched news stories, I felt guilty. Once again, class and race gave us advantages over large populations of people. In Arkansas, the Marshallese population was especially hard-hit. I got tested several times, because I would visit my immunocompromised dad in Missouri and wanted reassurance before doing so, or I would have a close call with exposure & think, “Is this headache/sore throat/fatigue actually Covid?” It wasn’t, so I stopped getting tested and assumed that since I was being safe, I felt comfortable assuming that those minor symptoms weren’t Covid. I did stop visiting my dad, because no risk was too small there. I primarily went to Kroger and Target, masked and armed with sanitizer, though I usually used delivery/pick-up services. Sometimes I would walk to our local bookstore or support a small boutique. The desire to support small businesses where owners had become friends occasionally outweighed my need to feel 100% safe. I only went places that took firm safety precautions like limited people in stores, required masks and ample sanitizer. I like being home though and I’m never, ever bored so it wasn’t an inconvenience for me to stay in. I would only leave to walk the dog or relax on our deck. Twice Chuck and I did dine out on outdoor patios but when we left we felt like we shouldn’t have gone. I got angry when friends espoused the “you do you” philosophy, which I found incredibly self-serving and thoughtless. I got angry with friends & family who carried on as though nothing was happening. I got angry when Chuck’s grandmother contracted Covid but the family insisted she didn’t really have it. I got angry when family and friends gathered for games and holidays and birthdays as if there wasn’t a world-wide pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people. And instead of listening to us, people just called me “angry.” There is a time and a place to be angry, and yes, I was most certainly angry. Churches? My heavens, churches should have people’s best interests at heart and gathering was and is, in my eyes, completely unnecessary during a pandemic. My dad’s life depends on people doing the right thing. We have no concept of the flow charts illustrating how our actions affect others around us. It baffles me that some of the people who weren’t cognizant of that consider themselves Christians. I began to see people having long-term complications & I saw friends losing family members after weeks on ventilators, and yet people were still calling this lethal virus the fucking flu because it fit their political narrative. Don’t even get me started on the politicization of wearing a simple mask.

Schools and universities resumed classes and as one might expect, the uptick in cases began to surge. Christmas approached and I did most of my shopping online, at Target pick-up or at the few small boutiques and the bookstore I mentioned earlier. I was concerned my son would bring Covid-19 home from college but after Thanksgiving he didn’t have to return to college until mid-January. My older son moved out in November and I worried he would bring it home to us as well, since he was no longer part of our household unit. Our kids are careful and wear masks but at this point during many December days, we were having days of 3,000 – 4,000 new infections per day. One thing I did start doing was donating platelets. With so many Covid patients in hospitals, there was a constant need and it isn’t something a lot of people do, so I decided to let go of my fear and go with Chuck, who had donated for years. I went in December around my birthday and I was so frustrated because the man hooked up closest to me would NOT keep his mask pulled up. It was down under his chin as he pretended to eat a snack. I would ask the workers to have him pull it up and as soon as they were occupied with others, down it would go. I had mine on but we were little more than six feet apart and studies were showing a safer distance was more like 12 feet. He finished his donation before me and as he walked out the facility door, I noticed he coughed. Probably nothing. Get back to your book and stop being paranoid, Noelle.

Christmas Eve was in two days and this year I weighed not having the kids and my mom open presents here at all against doing a quick exchange on Christmas Eve. As I do every year, I ran myself ragged wrapping gifts, making a wreath, putting up outside lights, decorating the tree, finishing holiday photo orders, sending out Christmas cards, & making sure everything was perfect, all while handwriting hundreds of postcards to support Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia. I was TIRED. The night before Christmas Eve, I went to bed and thought, “I have not been this tired since I was pregnant the first time.” I woke the next morning and had a tickle in my throat. It was about 6:30 a.m. and I decided to go to Baptist Urgent Care at 8:00 a.m. and get a test. By the time I was actually seen, my tickle had gone away and I thought, “Why am I here exposing myself to Covid to find out I don’t have Covid?” The nurse did the rapid test and said it was negative but they did another PCR test to find out for sure if I’m positive. The doctor came in and warned me that she had to call four people that morning to tell them their rapid negatives had been proven wrong by positive PCRs. I went home fairly sure I was negative and in a move I regret, I allowed the kids and my mom to come over as long as masks were worn. Brooks and Chuck went for tests that day as well and both had negative rapids with contingent PCRs. After we all ate, I think mom was the only one to put her mask back on and we soon parted ways, a little annoyed that the ineptitude of our leadership had made for a quick and less-than-relaxed Christmas celebration. That night I went to bed exhausted but it had been a busy day so I thought nothing of it. After all, no one had any real symptoms and collectively we had three negative tests so far. In hindsight, it might not have changed things, but I would have worn my mask in the house and isolated until I got my PCR. In my defense, I honestly couldn’t think of a place I could have been exposed and the blood donation had not yet occurred to me. The morning of the 26th, I actually woke with some energy and the phone rang. When I saw a number with a Baptist prefix, I just knew. Why, I don’t know, but I knew. Positive. “Well, ok, ma’am. The health department will be calling, isolate, take your temp and log it, rest, Tylenol for fever, etc.” I know all of this because I have extensively asked questions of my friends in medicine and I have read every reputable article I could get my hands on since February. I retreated to Wyatt’s old room with books and stitching and my phone and computer. I still had work to do and orders to place and as I said, I am never bored. I was still quite tired and had a headache one day but it was no worse than my usual migraines and my Zomig worked perfectly. I waited anxiously for the symptoms to begin. Fever? Never came. Breathing difficulties? Never came. Chills and body aches? Nope. Loss of taste and smell? Nada. Cough? Only once when my Snickers bar went down the wrong way. Chuck was so good to bring me food & whatever I texted a request for, but tensions are high, as you might guess how stressful this is. I decided that surely that one positive test was a mistake because Brooks and Chuck both had negative PCRs now. I decided to go for another PCR. Negative. This really didn’t make sense but then I remembered: the blood donation guy. I checked the timeline. It fit perfectly, if you considered that my positive test was likely at the END of my exposure. My very mild case would make sense because he was about six feet away & I had on a mask. But HE didn’t have a mask on the majority of the time I was with him and had a cough. Every other person I was in contact with continued to test negative. Thankfully, my dear neighbor, who is an infectious disease physician, told me to be sure Chuck was tested five days or so from my positive and again at ten days if that one is negative. So off he went. Two days later he got his results and yep, POSITIVE. Our son who lives at home continues to test negative. Everyone else (older son, daughter and mom) has tested negative. Chuck’s only symptom was a mild cough, which if you live with him, work with him or live in a 1/2 mile radius, you know is a daily thing and has been for most of his life. (Seriously, I’ve never been around a family who coughs more.) Chuck is now back to himself. Just when I think I am, I have a day of fatigue or a headache (and now they are not feeling like my normal migraines). I can’t tell if my brain fog is worse or just the Gabapentin I take for my back. I have learned several things from this experience. For ease of explanation, I’ll just list them for you.

  • This virus is easily transmissible & perhaps even more than we first thought. You can’t be too careful. I read a few months ago about a woman who wore her mask at home. I thought that was a bit much. I wish I had.
  • If you have even a hunch you might be positive, get tested. This would make a huge difference in stopping the spread if people just didn’t take an “it won’t happen to me” approach. Had I not had that tickle that disappeared, I would have infected my kids and my mom (who is over 70 with diabetes and a 2-time cancer survivor), in addition to Chuck.
  • If someone isn’t wearing a mask around you, do what it takes to get away from them. I asked them to have the man put his mask back on. If faced with that scenario again, I would ask them to unhook me and I would leave.
  • When people tell you this isn’t real or “something is fishy,” or any other conspiracy theory, put your hand up and refuse to listen. This negativity and craziness only serves to spread the virus and endanger lives.
  • Shut the hell up about fake Covid deaths. And Covid causes pneumonia. So if your friend/relative/acquaintance goes in the hospital with pneumonia, gets a positive test and dies, it’s Covid. And it’s not anything to be ashamed of. Perpetuating these conspiracy theories helps no one.
  • When people offer meals and help, if you become sick, SAY YES TO THAT SHIT! It made our lives SO much easier and they truly wanted to help. I’ve never felt so loved.
  • Anxiety is one of the worst parts of testing positive. Will I have severe symptoms? Will I infect someone I love who will have a serious case or even worse, die? Will I suffer some of the after effects like neurological impairment or blood clots or heart attacks? Will I end up on a ventilator or die? Have I infected someone unknowingly? A disease with so many unknowns makes you wonder about a lot of those unknowns and as with most anxieties, these become worse at night.
  • Covid-19 is not the common cold, no matter what asinine info Rush Limbaugh feeds his followers. And the reason information changes is that it’s a new (or ‘novel’) Coronavirus. Physicians are learning new things about it and therefore recommending treatments or disregarding treatments as new info comes to light. Stop trying to make it a conspiracy theory. This happens with new diseases all the time. We treat lung cancer a hell of a lot differently than we did years ago.
  • You spend a lot of time re-evaluating your priorities. Who and what is important in your life? Even if you have a mild case, the what-ifs make you think deeply. What do I want out of life? Am I on a path that leads to making those things happen? Because my story could have been a lot different.
  • People have been ridiculous enough to suggest I got this because masks don’t work. NO. The man I am 99% sure infected me did not have on a mask. For maximum effectiveness, we all need to wear masks. Had I not had one on too, I am convinced that my case would have been much worse. Wear the damn mask. It isn’t unpatriotic but it is selfish not to. And it’s SUCH a small act of love to protect your fellow man.

I wish everyone had our experience, but they don’t. I wish everyone had our access to testing and medical care, but they don’t. I wish people weren’t dying of this disease in exorbitant numbers, but they are. I do know that researchers and medical professionals learn more about this virus daily. Until we are experts on how to diagnose, treat and prevent Covid-19, it’s up to us to do what is in our power to prevent the spread. Wear the mask. Don’t gather. Get the vaccine when it’s your time but understand it isn’t instantly nor 100% effective. Care for those around you that have it, even if it means sending them a card or leaving flowers on their porch to brighten their day. I promise you’ll be making a difference.

Switching Parties, Losing Friends…

(A prior version of this essay was published in Nasty Women Project: Voices from the Resistance edited by Erin Passons in 2017)

I grew up in the 70s and 80s in the small, rural community of Bernie in southern Missouri. The economy was dependent on farmers who worked the surrounding land, growing cotton, rice, corn and soybeans, blue-collar factory workers who toiled daily in the shoe factory, and employees of the locally-owned mill that made ax handles. My dad, Norm, was a professional portrait photographer, well-known in the area for weddings and family portraits, which placed us in the upper class of this tiny enclave of eighteen hundred people. He was also the municipal judge in our town, which added to his image of success and wealth. Children referred to me as “rich,” and it often angered me, because even at a young age, I knew my social and financial status was one of perception and not reality. I had a good life and I was loved abundantly, but we did not have a large home, a fat bank account, or brand-new cars. My parents had split in a contentious divorce the year before I began kindergarten. My dad and I lived in a small bungalow with my eccentric grandmother Dorothy, a nurse at the town physician’s office, who was beloved by the townspeople, and my kind, but stubborn “granny” Lottie, a homemaker and seamstress. Our home lacked central heat and air and had an outdoor “wash house,” which didn’t seem like something a rich kid would have to endure, so I was truly mystified by the label my friends stuck on me. Going to the wash house in 33 degree weather to get something out of the washer to dry by the wood stove didn’t seem like something the DuPonts were doing up in Delaware.  

During elementary school, I became keenly aware that although I was not wealthy, I was fortunate to have more food, clothing and toys than many of my fellow classmates whose parents were unskilled, uneducated and caught in unending cycles of poverty and alcoholism. My dad and grandma spent much of their time quietly offering assistance to members of our community who struggled to find food or warm coats. On any given Thanksgiving or Christmas, we knew that Dorothy would fix plates for the inmates at the city jail, before we got to dig in and eat. I often wondered if some of them didn’t manage an arrest the night before just to get my Granny’s turkey, dressing & cherry pie! One of my favorite memories of my dad is from an especially cold winter, just a few days before Christmas. He called the owner of our local department store and asked him to open one evening because I had come home from school and mentioned that a classmate had no winter coat. Dad bought coats for the whole family, parents included, and we left them on their front porch under the cover of darkness. It was incredible experiencing the warm rush of compassion and kindness that floods your heart when helping someone in need. 

Grandma Dorothy was a yellow dog Democrat who regularly sang the praises of FDR & JFK. Her brother, Harold, had worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, founded by FDR & she seemed to think it had helped shape him as a young man. She was also a passionate supporter of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. We kept our floor furnace set on 68 because “Jimmy Carter wants us to, honey,” and I was the only child at school who sported a pair of blue jeans she had embroidered with the names of the Democratic candidates running for office that year, including Carter and Mondale. I looked forward to election day and the three-block drive down to the local fire station with Dorothy, where I would be allowed to accompany her into the curtained tent to mark her straight-ticket ballot for all the candidates I had unwittingly endorsed with my embroidered attire. 

Around age twelve, I noticed that my dad’s political views were now somewhat different from those of my grandma and that he held Ronald Reagan in high regard. His business had suffered terribly after his divorce, and he credited Reagan-era economic policies with helping to save it from ruin. I began to feel torn politically as I neared my teenage years. Being a Democrat felt like the more compassionate path to follow, but it seemed everyone around me except my grandma leaned Republican. This was the Bible Belt. The majority of people who lived in and around Bernie were white, Christian and still living in close proximity to the towns where they were born. We did have one Jewish family in town but people never mentioned their religious affiliation, save for a few busybodies who whispered “Well, you know they’re Jewish,” and one woman who was sure the father, a local businessman, had chosen the BLUE Christmas decorations that hung from the light poles lining Highway 25, because, you know, Hanukkah! Christmas is red and green, people! Turns out it was actually MY dad who chose the blue decorations because no one could make up their mind and one thing a Swafford can do is make a decision. I was not exposed to anyone from another country except the mean German woman who yelled at my best friend and me for letting our tennis balls we hit back and forth in the street, go into her yard. She would yell, “Keep outta my yard!! Those balls big as watermelons!!” She had wiry, black hair that was always wildly unkempt, dark eyes and she scared the living shit out of me when she would yell at us. That was my only experience with someone who had immigrated to the U.S., until I went to college. Not one person I grew up with was openly gay either, though there were whispers, as always, in small southern towns. The churches in Bernie were all fundamentalist in their teachings and often used God to justify excluding people who didn’t fit their criteria for “perfect Christian.”

My family differed somewhat in this respect but we were not entirely accepting of others. My grandma and dad helped people local to our area, no matter their circumstances, skin color or religious affiliation, yet they were still reluctant to accept outsiders — people my family had never actually met and who were markedly different in beliefs, traditions or values. On vacation, we would bypass motels with dark-skinned desk clerks in search of places that were “American-owned.” Even today, customer service representatives who speak broken English make some of my family members grow angry and uncomfortable. As accepting as my family was, we had our faults too. I used to call myself an isolationist because I did grow up fearing people who came to this country & I questioned their motives. The Iran Hostage Crisis and terror attacks on planes & in cities overseas certainly influenced my impressionable mind to believe these people were “bad.”

I chose to attend Missouri State University upon graduation from high school because I wanted to believe there was more to experience in life & so much more to learn, not only about others, but about myself. Throwing caution and security to the wind and heading off to a much larger city remains one of the best decisions I have ever made. I knew no one, but I had a full scholarship so my dad was sure I could make it work! Though the university was still in the Bible Belt and a rather homogenous area of the Midwest, I met fellow students from other countries and political science professors of many different faiths, including my first atheist. Who knew atheists weren’t evil? They were just people who held different beliefs than I did! Springfield was a town with a large Vietnamese population and an abundance of Chinese and Mexican restaurants. It wasn’t until college that I ate my first (and definitely not my last) taco. I tried Chinese food, cooked by actual Chinese people, something I could never have experienced in Bernie, Missouri in 1988. I lived in the dorm next to a practicing Buddhist. I had friends who were gay. I knew really, really good people who had abortions. Again, they weren’t evil, just hurting and in situations I could not imagine. I would love to say that by the time I graduated I was an all-loving, compassionate, accepting woman who didn’t rush to judgment of others and who opened my ears to all, but I was still so far from being that woman. And I am still a work in progress. We all are.

I eventually married a hometown boy, Chuck, who was raised two blocks from me in Bernie. Our family backgrounds were similar but he was conservative, having been brought up attending a Southern Baptist church. He listened to Rush Limbaugh and I gave being a conservative Republican my best shot. I agreed with some of the more idealistic ideas of the Republican party but as I grew older and eventually became a mother, I started to feel strongly that life didn’t usually present itself in situations that were conducive to these idealistic concepts. Yes, we should all be drug-free, self-reliant, hard-working people who uphold high standards of personal responsibility one hundred percent of the time, but that isn’t reality. Sometimes people need help & as my children grew older, I was motivated to provide some of that help in an effort to be a good example to them. Hell, sometimes I needed help myself! I found myself envisioning a world where everyone wanted to do their part to help those who had less and found themselves in unfortunate circumstances. I knew this, too, was unrealistic, but I wanted to be an example of unconditional acceptance of others, for my children to see. I wasn’t always successful at this and while I was busy trying, I witnessed the Far Right descend into a state of panic that I felt was rooted in a feeling that they were losing control. Rather than admit that some of their ideas and principles might be harsh and unaccepting, the Right seemed to respond to the Left by spouting baseless conspiracy theories, spewing hate and vitriol and invoking God as a fear tactic to scare people into supporting their platforms. The Republican Party of today was no longer the party it once was and I no longer wanted to be associated with it. The hatred for President Obama was absurd, unfounded and racially-motivated. My dad had changed his political affiliation as well and it was time I joined him. And I absolutely refused to listen to Rush Limbaugh now. 

The Presidential election of 2016 was a remarkable turning point for me in my journey to be a better human being. I had secretly voted for Obama in 2012 but wasn’t fully disgusted and empowered to help make real change until the Right chose Donald Trump as their candidate. Nothing I had supported politically in the past made any sense to me. Sometimes the hatred and meanness I saw on television and in my own daily life with my friends and family became almost too much to bear. I had been a Republican in theory but my heart wasn’t in it. I had been a Republican to appeal to people whose opinions no longer mattered to me. And by this time, my husband had come around too. The realization that prejudice and isolationism still prevailed in Bernie struck me hard as I attempted to interact with some of my friends on social media. Facebook became a stressful place to hang out, with fake news and uneducated statements being shared faster than you could read them, often by childhood friends. I became absolutely disgusted by people who supported him and I still am. I have been gaslighted, preached to, prayed for, mocked, lied about and vilified by people in my hometown. And yet, I will continue to speak out.

The town of Bernie has changed tremendously since I left. The shoe factory closed, leaving much of the town jobless for some time. The ax handle factory was sold, and they closed the local mill. The downtown I grew up in became a shell of its former self, with stores closing at a rapid pace. Some people have found jobs in nearby towns, some have moved & others have stayed and exist on the meager existence our social programs provide. Many are disabled. Poverty and drug use are evident as one passes through the once-flourishing community, with homes and buildings falling into ruin. The little home I grew up in was sold and turned into a rental. It quickly fell into such a state of disrepair that it was demolished. I no longer even drive down Mulberry Street because I miss the Mulberry of my childhood. The population has changed a bit, with Latino people moving into the area, often to work at the chicken processing plants. Recently, a Mexican restaurant opened in the old Freeze Queen on the main drag, Highway 25. You can now get a taco in the town where I grew up and travel a few more miles to dine at an Asian buffet. To this day, however, the demographic remains overwhelmingly white and fundamentalist Christian. A neighboring town still has a reputation as being “unwelcoming to Black families.” And most of the same people who eat at the Mexican restaurant, support Trump’s immigration policies. Go figure.

My interactions on social media have shown me that most residents still fear those unlike them and are unwilling to educate themselves about other religions, races and issues facing the country. In my Republican days, I criticized Barack Obama for claiming Midwesterners clung to their guns and religion, but that characterization is astonishingly accurate. One of the hardest things for me to accept during all of the mudslinging and propaganda the election produced was the fact that all that stood between most people and change was a simple admission that they might be wrong. All it takes for change to happen is for someone to hold out their hand to someone in pain and say, “Let me try to see how it feels from your perspective.” These offers of empathy are not happening as they should be. And it’s hard to extend a hand when you’re holding an gun in one and waving a Trump flag with the other.

The compassion I have developed for immigrants who come to our country to contribute and try to make better lives for themselves and their families was inevitable. I grew so weary of my own acquaintances making blanket statements about people that they knew little or nothing about. Then, after the election of 2016, the widespread stories of discrimination and hate began to surface. With each story of a hijab being ripped off or an immigrant being refused service, the anger in me grew. I was inspired to find a way to tell the stories of people who have become marginalized in this country that is supposed to be a melting pot and the “land of opportunity.” I began to notice people around me who were obviously not originally from the United States but in a leap of faith had moved here, and were making a life for themselves and their families. I realized that they were enriching my life too. 

I cherish the relationship that has formed between my children and the Eastern Indian owners of our neighborhood convenience store. The owners have watched my children grow through the years, going in to purchase Cokes, chips and Mentos. We shared in their joy a couple years ago when they brought a beautiful baby girl into the world. When I attended the funeral of a boy my daughter’s age who was murdered, I looked over my shoulder to see the owner of the convenience store, dressed in a suit, head hung in sadness, paying his respects to the kid who frequented his store over the years. These are the people I want in my country. These are people I want to get to know better in order to facilitate change and to help others understand that not everyone who comes to the United States is here to do harm. The vast majority of immigrants want to raise their children in a safe nation, free of suicide bombers and war. They want to contribute to our economy, celebrate our successes and feel like this is their home. I want to create an avenue to broadcast their stories of hope and survival.

No one has ever inspired me to do more to help others than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the “nasty women” of the United States. I feel more empowered as a woman and I am sporting a level of confidence in my convictions that was barely present before. My fellow Hillary supporters have lifted me up like no other. It was my hope in 2017 to seek out immigrants and photograph them doing what they do on a daily basis to make the United States a better place for all of us. I wanted to interview them and tell their stories using photography as my outlet. Unfortunately, I have found that in Trump’s America, these people are unwilling to come forward and tell their stories for fear of repercussions and deportation. I won’t give up though and someday this project will be a reality.

Now it’s four years later and we are about to vote again. We have even more at stake in this election and its imperative that those who care about their fellow man, their families, the Black community, the elderly, immigrants, women and children, GET OUT AND VOTE FOR CHANGE! Who knew when I originally penned this essay that we would literally be fighting for our lives as a consequence of the 2016 election? I thought we might be at war, but I didn’t envision a worldwide pandemic, with 230,000 deaths and counting. Incompetence, arrogance and narcissism must be voted out. I didn’t expect the 2016 election to cost me friendships and strained relationships with family. I was also incredibly unaware how little those losses would affect me. As Maya Angelou so famously said, “When people show you who they are, BELIEVE THEM!” I did not realize I would become even more empowered to support candidates and work like hell to get them elected, even candidates in other states, because it’s all important if we are truly to be the UNITED States. A better future does await us and I would challenge you, if you’re afraid to change parties because of your husband, parents, friends, or a fear of the unknown, to have the courage to take that step! Don’t allow yourself to be bullied. We have had enough of that over the past four years. God loves Democrats too. I had an unexpected interaction on Instagram several weeks ago with a friend who jumped on me for supporting Biden. She is a wealthy woman and wanted to know just how much of my 401K I was willing to sacrifice. In that moment, I realized just how little we had in common because my answer was, “If it would bring back all of the lives lost to Covid, I would give it all up. I would live in a trailer the rest of my life if it would make this go away.” And I meant every word. There is no way normal people watch Donald Trump’s actions and think that is ok. I have said forever that you can’t support him unless you just fear making the change, fear admitting you were wrong or you see yourself in him and feel validated. Don’t fear that change. It requires no spine & no courage, to maintain the status quo. If you need support, I’m here for you, likely writing postcards, or texting voters to overturn a Senate seat, but never too busy to welcome a new “snowflake” to the blue side. My children worked hard to help get Hillary elected and were heartbroken on November 8, 2016 when the results rolled in. I don’t know what to tell them, if four years later, after nearly destroying the United States, people go to the polls and decide they’re willing to give Trump four more years to finish destroying it. I want to show my kids that no matter what, our work must not stop and we can all do a small part to continue to pursue the hopes and dreams we had in our hearts as we walked into watch parties that evening in November of 2016. We can’t stop being stronger together just because the electoral vote didn’t go our way. We have to fight all over again in 2020 & keep on fighting if we lose again. I like to think that somewhere, in an embroidered pair of pants, my grandma is looking down at us, beaming proudly.

Go to the polls on Tuesday. Vote for Biden & Harris. Let your voices be heard.

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60 Social Media-free Hours!

My family has had quite a couple weeks. I had lithotripsy and stent placement to obliterate two remaining stones in my left kidney on August 26th and that same night my daughter fell down the stairs at her apartment and broke her wrist in two places. It happened to be the week she was to pack and move to a new place. Her dad, grandmother, brothers and a few of her brother’s friends accomplished that for her while we were both laid up, healing. With one arm unusable, she stayed with us for a week until she got her cast. About two days after settling in at her new apartment, a man ran a red light and hit her oldest brother as he was driving to work. He thankfully escaped with a bump on the head and a stiff neck. (Thank God for seatbelts and defensive driving!) It’s given me somewhat of a new perspective on life, to say the least. And a deep gratitude for people who have helped, stepped up as witnesses, run errands, answered texts on weekends when they’re off work, etc. We are fortunate to have an army of good people in our lives.

The night of the accident I was scrolling on my phone, one of my usual escapes from all of the domestic chores I should be tackling, and I was stunned to find that a woman I had not seen comment on my facebook profile in YEARS had let her feelings out, telling me my post (a Seth Meyers clip) where I referred to Trump supporters as pathetic, was itself pathetic and I was awful to call people names, etc. Now, I fully expect these type of responses from his supporters but I have so few of them left in my friend list that it took me by surprise. I can take it as well as I dish it out, but something about this one bothered me, in that it was totally unexpected from her. It is what it is and I’ve learned life goes on. We were only acquaintances. I really like her but we have never even shared a meal or any confidences so I didn’t agonize over it, but I did notice how my mental self reacted and how it affected me physically. I thought about how, had I not been on social media, or not posted the clip, I would have had one less stressor that day. At that moment, I decided to do a weekend social media fast that would last from 5 PM Friday evening until 8 AM Monday morning.  No Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter allowed. I was allowed to text, read internet articles, Google and use other apps, but no social media. I kept a few notes and there were some surprises. I actually really enjoyed it & intend to repeat it with extended time frames and tighter limitations.

When 5:00 rolled around last Friday, I took my phone to my room and placed it on the charger. I came back to the living room, picked up the book I was reading and felt SUCH a feeling of relief wash over me. I hadn’t expected such an intense reaction so early in the game, but it was like a weight had been lifted and my ability to focus most definitely was improved without that tiny computer at arm’s reach. Later that evening, when I received a call, which was allowed, I immediately reached for the Instagram button after hanging up. It was a definite reflexive movement, not at all intentional. My fingers just go to those apps like automatic reflexes. Habit or addiction? I’m willing to admit that in the initial hours of my social media fast, it felt much more like an addiction. The sense of relief had gone by the wayside when I was back in the room with that little 4×6 device and I needed to know what was going on in the lives of the few thousand people (yes, you read that right) I follow on Instagram. Proudly, I sat the phone down and returned to reading & cleaning.

I busied myself doing the laundry I had let pile up, read a bit more, took some things to my daughter’s new place and helped her unpack & unfurl a new rug. I went to the bookstore with my son and later we drove over to a malt shop that I love but had never introduced him to. One-on-one time with my kids is my favorite and I made time for it, much more focused and attentive than I am if I’m constantly checking my phone. I was already feeling much more connected to my people and it had only been 24 hours.

There were a few moments when I failed and I would have been shocked had there not been. I kept wanting to check the Razorback score on Twitter & I am not even a big Razorback fan. I had put out a plea on Facebook for people to share some information so that I might locate a witness that I failed to get the name of on the day of my son’s accident. I occasionally looked at my notifications on FB to see if I had received a response in reference to that. Unfortunately I had not. A couple times I reflexively hit Instagram but immediately closed it. Old habits die hard. Addictions are even harder. By Sunday I didn’t think I was missing anything integral to my existence. I had virtually no FOMO. This was working. I started feeling like I had time I didn’t know how to use because I wasn’t sitting and SCROLLING. I even tried to think of what, if anything, I have gotten personally out of scrolling. Here is a partial list:

  • A feeling of inadequacy in my home, work & travel
  • A more critical eye toward others
  • Inspiration as an artist, which is always my excuse for scrolling, but that inspiration is rarely acted upon
  • Inspiration for my home, again, rarely acted upon
  • A messy, cluttered home because I’m not doing the projects I buy supplies for or reading the books I buy. I’m not taking time to clear clutter when normally I’d be on top of that.
  • A feeling that I’m past a point in life where I can make some of these things happen (I’m not, actually. I mean I won’t be having more kids or figure skating but I’m no means too old to accomplish many of these things that inspire me.)
  • Complacency. Having a ton of ideas but not making any of them happen. Being satisfied with less than I should be.

Don’t get me wrong. Social media has its place and it is an amazing business tool. It’s a wonderful way to keep up with friends & family. I have reconnected with friends I would never have found without it. I still love social media. It isn’t good for anything in your life (alcohol, sex, video games, gambling, etc.) to become such a habit or addiction that it keeps you from realizing important goals you’ve set or causes you to be depressed over what you aren’t accomplishing in your home, family and work.

The biggest surprise came on Sunday afternoon when my husband, son and I went to TJ Maxx, ironically, for phone charging cords. We chose the cords and browsed a bit and then headed to the checkout to pay. I noticed my purse was somewhat lighter and saw that my phone wasn’t in the back pocket, where I usually keep it while shopping. I checked my husband’s “Find My Friends” and it showed that my phone was still at home. I had ridden a few miles to the store in the car, shopped for a bit and not even once reached for my phone or noticed that it wasn’t near me. I considered that a huge win.

Charging my phone in another room at night improved my sleep ten-fold. If I happen to wake at night and the phone isn’t right next to me, I just do some deep breathing and generally go right back to sleep.  With the phone by my bed, I scroll. When this Monday morning rolled around I thought I would be diving for the Instagram button and posting like crazy but I’ve barely been on social media today. Progress.

I saw an article this morning that said Madonna has put a rule in place that phones are not allowed at her concerts  & at first I thought, “That’s crazy!” I then remembered attending a Don Henley concert that had the same rule & thought back to how it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever attended because I was focused on his music & not having to look around people trying to video and photograph. I would challenge you to give a social media break a try. Baby steps are fine. Go without social media for a workday. For one night. Or go for a weekend. If you use social media at work, try going without it at home. Next time I may try a week. Or I may make weekends social-media free. There are options for everyone. I know for sure I have a much more productive, less stressful life when I put it aside for a bit.

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50 Things To Do Before I’m 50

I’ve always been a list maker.  When my childhood best friend & I were much younger, we would sit around the table in her family room and fill notebooks with lists.  Make-up we wanted, clothes we wanted, places we wanted to go & I distinctly remember us planning a camping trip that we never went on.  I also remember her wanting “Seven pair of jeans I REALLY like.”  What can I say?  We were under the spell of Seventeen & ‘Teen magazines and there was a lot of Hang Ten brand clothing on those lists!  I still love a good list & in December of this year, I will hit the big 5-0, which honestly doesn’t even seem possible to me.  I thought I would have a more productive year if I had some goals so I sat down one day & made this list, knowing I likely would not accomplish it all. I have kept the printed list in a folder and it’s been so rewarding to check some of them off & keep lists of others (like “read 25 books”). Strikethroughs have been accomplished!

1. Enjoy a beach vacation with my dad. (This one is about to happen.) 

2. Finally get the b & w fine art portrait of my kids that has been so hard to get.

3. Buy a fire pit.

4. Quit refined sugar.

5. Launch my fine art photography business on Etsy.

6. Actually begin my memoir.

7. Paint a large canvas. (I was an art major for awhile in college.  Get back to that.)

8. Read 25 books. (8 down!)

9. Climb Pinnacle Mountain.

10. Visit Albert Pike Recreation Area.

11. Visit Alley Spring & Jacks Fork River with Dad.

12. Visit Nashville & Franklin, TN with Dad.

13. Take a trip with mom to Natchez, MS.

14. Start immigrant/minority photography project.

15. Design a cross-stitch stocking.

16. Try 24 new recipes. (7 down!)

17. Watch all of Better Call Saul.

18. Finish the Jackson’s house portrait.

19. Buy 3 Radko ornaments from Ebay.

20. Buy 5 Old World Christmas ornaments from Ebay.

21. Lose 40 pounds.

22. Declutter the house, room by room.

23. Empty my work storage unit. (I have begun.)

24. Set up my office in the den area.

25. New deck on side of house and in rear. (Probably won’t happen until a few months after.)

26. Buy a new grill.

27. Hang outdoor globe lights in front of house.

28. Buy curtains for the living room.

29. Visit New Orleans again.

30. Design & make a necklace.

31. Paint a piece of pottery at Painted Pig.

32. Get a 3-wheel bicycle (trike?) like my Granny had.

33. Attend yoga regularly.

34. Make glitter letters for Christmas tree.

35. *Keeping this one to myself*

36. *Keeping this one to myself also*

37. Finish Mom’s Christmas wreath I started two years ago.

38. Collect all of the Nancy Drew books I don’t have.

39. Commission a Mike Savage painting.

40. Commission a 3rd small Joel Goldsby painting so I have a trio.

41. Put up my wallpaper.

42. Paint some maps.

43. Take a good portrait of Apollo.

44. Start a book club.

45. Take 100 photos that I can sell on my Etsy site. (22 down!)

46. Do 4 cross-stitch or needlepoint stockings. (One down.)

47. *Keeping this one to myself*

48. *Keeping this one to myself too*

49. Take a trip with Chuck for my 50th.

50. Spend another weekend at the Fredonia Hotel.

I also have a list of 101 Things to Accomplish in 1001 Days, inspired by Mackenzie Horan at Design Darling. Some of them overlap but I’ll try to share it soon. I truly believe in the “write it down, make it happen” approach to goals. I’m not feeling 100% today so I’m going to get off of here & try to check another book off the list.








The High Cost of Living. And Hurting.

The other day I dropped by my pharmacy to pick up my migraine medication (Zomig).  My doctor switched me to a nasal spray near the end of 2017 in order to try to stop the rebound headaches my other medication (Maxalt)* caused.  Zomig worked surprisingly well & I felt like not only did the rebound headaches stop, the migraines themselves became less frequent.  So imagine my surprise when the pharmacy tech calmly said, “Oh, you’re not gonna like this, but your total is $975.42.

Me:  Uh, did you say $175.00 or NINE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS?

Her: $975.42


Her:  Yeah, you must not have met your deductible.  Have you?

I resisted saying, “Of course I haven’t met my damn deductible because it’s January 19th and I haven’t had my appendix removed or a limb replaced in the last two weeks!”  So I just said, “Not having met my deductible isn’t really the point, here.  That they can charge NINE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS for six pills to get rid of headaches is just ridiculous.”

Her: So you don’t want it?

Me:  I’m going to have to pass.  I’ll either have to hurt or DIE when I tell my husband I paid that much money for six pills.

I’m still stunned, weeks later, that medication can cost this much.  YES, I WANT IT, ACTUALLY.  It makes life much more bearable, but do you offer financing?  Have a loan department?  I mean can you hold it until I set up a Go Fund Me?  For $975 I can buy some street drugs & take the dealer out for a steak dinner with money to spare!  For $975, it should give me the ability to teleport and blow rainbows out my ass!

So I left. I called a locally-owned pharmacy & the nice pharmacist said she thought it definitely should not cost that much but can’t tell me what they charge (bullshit alert) because they don’t carry it & would have to order it.  (HELLO, no one can afford it so you never need it!)  But she encouraged me to call my pharmacy back because they probably made a mistake and priced a 6-month supply.  Because $975 for 36 pills is SO MUCH MORE REASONABLE, right?

I call the first pharmacy back. This time I get a different guy who has worked there a long time. He was nice but no, it’s correct at $975. They are not wrong. The expense probably comes from the “mechanism of delivery” (since it’s a nasal spray). WTF?  It’s in a little plastic rocket-shaped thing that probably cost the Chinese 3 cents to manufacture & in one shot the meds are up your nose and gone. I mean it’s basically a tiny water gun so just sell me the liquid, I’ll go get a water gun at the dollar store and shoot it up there myself!  If I am paying $975 for the “mechanism of delivery” then that mechanism needs to be Tom Brady putting it on my pillow at night & shooting it up my nasal cavity himself, shirtless & in Uggs.  Or Oprah in my front yard yelling, “You get 6 Zomig doses! And you get 6 Zomig doses!  Everyone gets 6 Zomig doses!”

Just for shits and grins, let’s name other things we could buy for $975:

*A new iPhone X with a case!

*A new lens for my camera!

*230 pumpkin spice lattes!

*28 bottles of Grey Goose vodka!

*4 new tires! With road hazard protection!

*985 medium Sonic Cokes if you go during Happy Hour!

*88 Large Domino’s pizzas!

*A nice TV!

*A Caribbean cruise!

*39 Hardcover Bestsellers!

*A lot of weed, which, at this point, I might be open to if drugs are this expensive!

In all seriousness, though, this is ridiculous.  I don’t want to hear about how the cost of research and production dictates the cost because it’s a headache medicine.  It’s not a cure for cancer. At it’s highest, I only paid $134 for Maxalt, which compared to $975 seems like a great deal. The average American cannot afford a medicine that is $975 for SIX doses. The conclusion of this tale is that I got the generic version in pill form for $44.  It doesn’t work as well & I’m only able to have 6/month when I could have 9/month with Maxalt. (A very, very good chiropractor/physical therapist – yes, he’s both – has also helped tremendously.)  Since I’ve told this story I have heard tales of MUCH higher prices for other medications. We have to do something about this problem. And someone who shits in a golden toilet in his golden penthouse has no clue what it’s like to need medicine you can’t afford.  It’s time for change. I tried to use humor to illustrate my point but it’s truly not funny.  Especially if you can’t afford to buy meds needed to keep your kid or self or spouse alive.  I’m lucky that there were options & my life didn’t depend on it.  Not everyone is.

*In no way do I mean to diss Maxalt.  It’s a wonderful drug for many including my son, and I wish it didn’t cause the rebound pain in me because it was otherwise perfect.


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An Open Letter To Donald Trump From A Hospice Volunteer

Mr. Trump,

Wow.  Over the past few months I have heard you make racist, misogynistic (that’s “cruel to women”, as your advisers must have told you by now), cruel & inappropriate comments in your speeches, one debate and interviews.  I’ve watched you disrespect immigrants, African-Americans, women, people with special needs & veterans.  Today, however, I saw part of a speech in which you thought it was funny to demean the TERMINALLY ILL.  This soundbite, Mr. Trump, proved to me exactly how callous & unfeeling you really are.  You are so narcissistic & out of touch that I honestly have no clue how millions of Americans could come to the conclusion that you have their best interests & those of our nation as a whole, at heart.

Let me repeat the demographic you felt it was ok to joke about – the TERMINALLY ILL.  Terminally ill people have been given the heartbreaking news that their life is ENDING.  There is no realistic hope left or they have made the courageous decision to forego further treatment because the disease has progressed so far.  Many of those people will be placed in hospice care, some in their homes, some in hospitals and others in nursing homes.

I have a few questions for you, if you will oblige, and you will because you have no platform, in this instance, to interrupt me:

Have you, sir, ever been with someone while waiting for a doctor to come in & tell them if a tumor is benign or malignant?  Have you been with someone and felt the palpable anxiety in the room while you or your loved one waited to hear if their disease has progressed? Because I have.  And it isn’t funny.

Have you ever sat with a dying person so their caregiver could attend their child’s school program, church or an event that the patient might also like to attend but cannot go because they are too weak to even lift their head?  I have. Many times.

Have you ever comforted an Alzheimer’s patient who suddenly realized their caregiver, one of the only constants remaining in their brain, is gone temporarily & you are there instead?  I have. It’s heartbreaking.

Have you ever sat with a terminal patient while their spouse went for an MRI to see if they too have terminal cancer?  I have. The stress on them is unimaginable.

Do you have any idea what it is like to get your nutrition through a tube because you are terminal & can’t eat real food & likely won’t ever again?  I didn’t think so.  I haven’t either, thank God. We are fortunate.

Have you ever had the indignity of having someone help you into your adult diaper because you can no longer make it to your toilet?  Your toilet that isn’t gold, by the way.  I haven’t but I have been that helper and it’s humbling.

Have you ever volunteered for a “volunteer vigil”?  That’s what it’s called when someone’s death is imminent & they have no relatives or friends to hold their hand when they die? None.  No one.  They are going to die alone.  I haven’t had the courage to do that yet but volunteers across America do it every single day & the furthest thing from their mind, as that person takes their final breath, is electing you.

I’m not sure what is more disturbing —- the fact that you actually made the remarks or the fact that there was an audience applauding as you did.  You said, and I quote:

“I don’t care how sick you are…”

“It’s over.”

“You’ve received the worst possible prognosis…”

“Hang around!  Get out & vote!”

Terminally ill people don’t “hang around”.  They attempt to cherish every last moment with their families & friends while trying to stay coherent & fight the pain.  They won’t be thinking of voting, Mr. Trump, and they won’t be thinking of you.  I realize the kind of people you surround yourself with.  They will make excuses for your inexcusable behavior & demean Hillary in response.  They will spout some bullshit about how you’re going to make America great again.  Mr. Trump, the America I live in is great right now.  It’s great because of citizens who are compassionate & care for their fellow citizens, terminal & living & not because of narcissistic bigots like you.

But I can promise you, Mr. Trump, as a relatively healthy person, that in November, I WILL get out and vote.


Noelle Buttry

(Note:  I would have included the video, but does he really need anymore airtime?)

TCU v. Arkansas: Where To Eat & What To Do



Amon G. Carter Stadium, Texas Christian University, Ft. Worth, TX

This weekend TCU and Arkansas meet in Fort Worth for the first time since 1991, when they were Southwest Conference rivals.  Coaches Gary Patterson & Bret Bielema have faced each other before in 2011’s Rose Bowl, which ended with the Frogs victorious over Wisconsin & sealed a perfect season for the Frogs & future NFL QB, Andy Dalton.  I’ll be rooting for the Frogs since my daughter is a senior at TCU, but I’ve lived in Arkansas for 20 years so any victory will be a little bittersweet.  Unfortunately, my family will not be able to attend because the following weekend is Parent’s Weekend & we will be there rooting for the Frogs against Iowa State.  However, I’m sure there are a lot of Razorbacks heading down I-30 to Fort Worth this coming weekend and I thought I would share some of my favorite places to eat, drink and hang out when we’re in Fort Worth, Texas.

I have heard several radio personalities mention Joe T. Garcia’s (2201 N. Commerce St.) as a place to include on your culinary tour of Ft. Worth and they are not wrong.  Joe T’s serves two things:  fajitas & enchiladas.  Don’t let that deter you from eating there.  There are numerous sides, great salsa and the tastiest margaritas.  Order a pitcher – you won’t be sorry.  In addition to the food, the restaurant itself is a visual treat with fountains, gardens and a sprawling outdoor seating area.  On weekend nights, prepare to wait.  In fact, no matter what meal you choose to eat there, I would recommend arriving as early as possible.  Parking is a challenge at times so I highly recommend an Uber to & from.  Joe T’s is located in the Stockyards and if you have time, it’s a really fun area to explore.  Each day at 11:30 & 4:00 real Texas cowboys will drive a herd of Texas Longhorns down the main drag. You can even attend Cowboy Church, if you’re still around on Sunday.


The Stockyards, Ft. Worth, TX

Other places to eat in the Stockyards that I can recommend are Riscky’s BBQ (140 E. Exchange Ave.), Love Shack (burgers by Ft. Worth chef Tim Love – 110 E. Exchange Ave), and Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (a more upscale eatery from Chef Love-2406 N. Main St.).


Woodshed Smokehouse, Ft. Worth, TX

If you’d like to stay closer to the TCU campus, there are several options for good food.  My favorite is Woodshed Smokehouse (3201 Riverfront Dr.), another Tim Love creation.  It’s barbecue like I’ve never had.  Very interesting flavors, great sides and the atmosphere can’t be beat.  It sits on the banks of the Trinity River and has both indoor and outdoor seating.  Parking is a challenge so take advantage of the valet.  Game day will be crazy at the Woodshed but it’s definitely worth it and you can have a cold beer while you wait.


Down the road a bit is Torchy’s Tacos (928 Northton St.).  This chain is taking Texas by storm.  Great food, excellent queso & good service.  You can choose from a LONG list of tacos, including the Democrat & the Republican, but I highly recommend the Fried Avocado.  My daughter would tell you to get the Trailer Park and make it “trashy”.  It’s ALL good though.  The line will be long but amazingly by the time we order, someone has always vacated a table & we sit right down.  They also serve alcohol and there is outdoor seating as well as indoor so if it’s crowded inside, just go out the back door and there are picnic tables outside.

If you’re just feeling like a sandwich, but a darn good one, try East Hampton Sandwich Co. (1605 S University Dr.).  I HIGHLY recommend the Meyer Lemon Chicken Sandwich.  It’s truly my favorite sandwich ever, but many people swear by the Lobster Roll too.  It’s rare for me to leave the Fort without hitting East Hampton.  I’ve even been known to put one in a cooler and bring home when we don’t have time to eat there.

Kincaid’s Hamburgers, Ft. Worth, TX

Feeling like a burger and a shake?  Try the original location of Kincaid’s (4901 Camp Bowie Blvd.) in a charming, older section of Ft. Worth, complete with cobblestone streets.  It’s located in an old grocery store.  The burgers are old-fashioned & the shakes are thick & tasty.

Paris Coffee Shop, Magnolia District, Ft. Worth, TX

Breakfast/brunch options are plentiful in Fort Worth.  In the historic Magnolia District, not too far from TCU, you’ll find a classic diner, Paris Coffee Shop (704 W. Magnolia Ave.).  You won’t find much here reminiscent of Paris but you will find a good breakfast and a lot of locals.  Occasionally, even a few cowboys.  Closer to the University, McKinley’s Bakery (1616 S. University – Suite 301) serves up not only a delicious array of baked goods & pastries but one of my favorite breakfasts in Fort Worth, the “paleo breakfast”, which consists of bacon & eggs, avocado and a bowl of the freshest berries.  If your hotel is downtown near Sundance Square there are two great brunch spots I have dined at, Bird Cafe (155 E. 4th St.), which has both excellent food and great atmosphere, and Taverna (450 Throckmorton St.), which is good for any meal but serves a rich, delicious Vanilla French Toast that I sometimes crave.


Sundance Square, Ft. Worth, TX

If you’re there on Friday evening and want a great steak, as many visitors to Texas do, I can recommend the following restaurants:  Grace (777 Main St.) – upscale modern cuisine & huge wine list.  Bob’s Steak & Chop House (1300 Houston St. – inside the Omni Hotel) – just good steak and potatoes with their signature carrot, too.  Capital Grille (800 Main St. – no connection to Capital Grill in LR) – excellent steaks and seafood in a classic, upscale atmosphere. We had Thanksgiving Dinner here last year & it was REALLY good.  Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse (812 Main St.) – steaks and seafood in an upscale atmosphere, downtown Ft. Worth.  If sushi is your thing, try Blue Sushi Sake Grill (3131 W. 7th).  It’s good food, beautifully presented.  If you’re in the mood, have a fishbowl drink with a friend.  You can also try a “TCU Tower” (sushi), unless you’re an Arkansas fan & don’t want to curse yourself.  This restaurant is right on the edge of the Cultural District and West 7th area, which is also a fun area to explore with three world-class museums: The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth,  The Kimball Museum and  Amon G. Carter Museum of American Art.  If you have extra time on Saturday, you can visit one of these museums and you’re still just down the road from TCU, when game time rolls around.


The Kimball Museum, Ft. Worth, TX

Enjoy your stay in Ft. Worth.  We feel so thankful that we have been able to explore & enjoy both the city and it’s people for the past four years.  You’ll have a great weekend & hopefully if your team loses, at least you’ll have eaten well.  If they win, you’ll have the best of both worlds.




Family & friends will undoubtedly laugh for a few minutes when they see that *I* am writing a piece on patience.  It’s not something I’m known for in my personal life.  In my professional career, as a photographer, I often hear “You are so PATIENT!” when I’m photographing a newborn who doesn’t want to go to sleep or a toddler who needed to go to sleep about two hours prior. That’s entirely different though, because I’m being paid to be patient.  My kids are just supposed to do what I ask, right?  They are now 20, 15 and 13 and if I could do it over I would be so much more patient, but wisdom comes with age and I fear that ship might have sailed.  That, however, is not really the kind of patience that I’ve been thinking about lately.  It’s a far different form & in this respect, I think that Chuck and I are doing just fine.

Have you noticed lately the pressure that people put on kids to get it right and get it right early in life?  The pressure comes from grandparents, teachers, coaches, other parents and yes, sometimes us.  My generation wants to raise children who are socially-conscious, philanthropic, mannerly, gifted, good readers, musicians, scientists, engineers, doctors and good LORD, healthy eaters —  in a nutshell, “successes in the eyes of adults”, but they want visible evidence of this at age 6 or 8 or 12. (I fear one day I’ll be reading about kids taking the ACT in kindergarten “just to see if little Johnny gets any right!”)  Grandparents want all of this because how our kids turn out is generally construed to be a reflection of how they parented us. Besides being utter bullshit, that’s just so irrelevant in the grand scheme of life.  I’d like to present some examples of ways we can just CHILL, lead by example & let our offspring come to conclusions that make them better humans on their own.

A few years ago my daughter was faulted for not sending a thank you note (within a week, no less) after receiving a generous gift.  Never mind, she was present and thanked the giver when she received it and never mind that she was leaving on a 5-day vacation the next morning.  She was “ungrateful.”  This year she went on a trip of a lifetime to Scotland to see one of her best friends and more than once I got comments like, “I hope she knows how fortunate she is” or “I hope she thanked you for that”. I have endured many years of snide comments from grandparents about my children being unappreciative or “not living in the real world” because they didn’t immediately express thanks without prompting.  Please tell me what child lives in the real world.  They’re dressed as Batman and Elsa, for God’s sake.  That’s what childhood is.  I guarantee you I didn’t send out any handwritten thank you notes without my elders lording it over me.  And I can damn sure say my grandma never instituted “manners lessons” as part of sleepovers.  Don’t misunderstand me.  We should teach our children manners and respect and ask them to write thank yous but the most important job that we have as parents is being the example of what to do.  We should thank them for things they do and show appreciation of and respect for them.  They should see US writing thank you notes (not FOR them; our own)! If we do that, treat them with a modicum of respect (& fight the urge to call them ingrates) and we are PATIENT, then it will pay off and as adults, they will be the mannerly, respectful humans we want.

My children never had a party where everyone brought something for charity and we took pictures and facebooked it and reveled in the fact that we were raising perfect, socially-conscious humans.  They had normal birthday parties with cake (sugar & gluten!) and hot dogs (preservative and nitrate-filled, even!) & they received gifts because, guess what?  IT WAS THEIR SPECIAL DAY.  No one died, no animals were injured (well, except for the hot dogs) & so far they don’t have criminal records.  When my kids were small my mom would collect blankets and fruit and take the kids around downtown to pass them out to the homeless during the holidays.  I was dragged along on many occasions & what was intended to be a lesson in giving generally resulted in what felt more like being held hostage by a tv preacher.  Once it was forced upon the kids as a tradition and requirement, it lost its appeal.  She cannot grasp what went wrong, but it simply became forced.  We have done several things throughout the years to show our children it’s important to give.  I always give when homeless people ask, no matter what I might think their circumstances are (because they have less than we do) and we most always adopt a family at Christmas.  These are things that children can see & learn from without feeling like something is being shoved down their throats.  I have strong feelings about littering so my three were always made to pick up after themselves at the ballpark or swimming pool.  I hope they take this lesson into their elder years and I am being patient but there is no need to go out and adopt a damn mile of highway and put their name on a sign to influence them to respect their surroundings & give ourselves glory in the process. 

The impetus for thinking about all of this was my daughter’s resurrected love of reading.  At the elementary school they attended, my kids participated in the accelerated reader program which is not a bad thing in theory but for a period of time all I heard, especially from one of my son’s teachers, was “They must read!  Early and often!  Twenty minutes a night AT LEAST!  If they don’t read now they will never read!  Oh, but they have to read stuff on this list, that’s at their level….” Yeah.  Notsomuch a way to get a boy to read.  (I shouldn’t even GO to the time Wyatt’s teacher asked if he had read any Judy Blume.  Apparently “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” was on his level and I’m sure nothing excites a 3rd grade boy about reading like learning what it’s like to start his period.  SERIOUSLY.)  I digress.  As my kids grew, electronics became more popular and they never really became the voracious readers I had hoped for.  It was delightful to see my daughter enjoying a rekindled interest in reading and acquiring books. What worked was being a reader myself, surrounding her with books and yes, patience.

A similar thing happened with my son and baseball.  In the fall of 2014, he wanted to quit.  I know – I’ve heard it all:  “Quitters never win!  He’ll never go back!  He’ll lose his ability!”  (At 12?  Washed up?) I convinced my husband it was OK to let him quit.  He sat out two seasons.  He rarely mentioned baseball.  But this spring, three days before tryouts for the Babe Ruth league, he announced he would like to try out.  He made the team and he’s so into his fantasy baseball team right now it’s almost funny.  We didn’t pressure him, we didn’t beg him and we were patient.  He just had to come to the conclusion he was wasting talent ON HIS OWN.  And if he hadn’t decided to come back, would the world have stopped turning? 

So my challenge to you is to force less, lead more by example and be patient.  Let’s stop trying to create perfect humans.  Let’s let go of a little control and let them have some idle time if need be.  Let them be treated like a queen or king on their birthday.  And let’s not discourage them by labeling them as lazy, phone-obsessed, ingrates when you aren’t given the praise you think you deserve.  I can tell you that the reward you get from seeing kids decide things on their own is so much greater.

The End of Absence

I recently decided to add a new regular feature to WriteCreateClick by sharing  books that have positively impacted my life or motivated me to change some aspect of how I choose to live it. After all, if it helps me, why not share it with others?   As I type this, I realize I’m more than open to suggestions on books that help one deal with life with a neurotic rescue dog who is fearful of cats, squirrels, birds, rain, delivery men, wind & pumpkins. Yes, pumpkins. Today it happens to be the meter reader.  Life is indeed an adventure with Apollo!  Somedays it’s a bit more than I can handle:-)  I digress…

The first book I would like to highlight is The End of Absence by Michael Harris.

UnknownThis book caught my eye while I was waiting in line to check out at Barnes & Noble.  Having children who love computers, iPhones and iPads, I have developed a somewhat unrelenting concern with how these devices are affecting their world:  the relationship they have with me & their friends, their social skills, their manners, their education, their creativity, etc.  The opening sentences on the book jacket read:

“Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet.  What does this unavoidable fact mean?”

My generation will remember life before.  We know what it was like to experience living without constantly being connected.  Some of us, and most certainly myself, still have that longing to unplug and seek solitude away from texts, e-mails, Facebook, Instagram, and even the ringing of the phone, which although not a new annoyance, is now an annoyance that follows you everywhere – the beach, the car, the beauty salon, the cruise ship, the dinner out – and isn’t just an issue in our home (where we no longer even have a land line).

I have attempted to discuss these issues and how we should deal with it on Facebook and like most attempts at Facebook discussions, I generally get self-righteous advice from people telling me that it’s in my control & not really an issue at all.  “Take their devices!”  “Make them go outside.”  “My son never has too much screen time because *I* limit it.”  But these people are missing the point.  No matter how perfectly they think they are parenting, the influences and pressures and risks our kids face being online and constantly connected are not going away just because you limit their time and {think you} are in control.  You cannot change the fact that they will never know life before these devices came along.

It has been a long time since I have read a book where I felt the need to grab a highlighter and highlight passages that inspire me and contain information that I find brilliant or important enough to want to refer back to often.  This book made me do that.  I will warn you that it’s a somewhat intellectual, scholarly-type text.  But it’s so thought-provoking that I fully intend to re-read it soon. Mr. Harris’ concern with future generations being able to experience lack, absence, & dropping out of the daily electronic grind, if only for a short while, is a key theme in the book.

Here are just a few of the passages I highlighted:

“Despite the universality of this change, which we’re all buffeted by, there is a single, seemingly small change that I’ll be most sorry about. It will sound meaningless, but:  One doesn’t see teenagers staring into space anymore. Gone is the idle mind of the adolescent.”

“This is the problem with losing lack:  It’s nearly impossible to recall its value once it is gone.”

“The smartphone itself is a far, far safer friend than a messy, unpredictable human.”

“If we maintain that cognizance of the difference between an online life and an offline life, we can choose to enjoy both worlds and move between them as we wish.”

In the end, Mr. Harris urges to to look away from our devices more often and experience absence and solitude.  I put down this book feeling very, very grateful that I am part of the generation that has the experience of living both pre and post-internet.  He most certainly wrote a book that needed to be written.  Although you may feel it’s slow in parts due to the fact that it sometimes reads like a college thesis, just persevere and in the end I think you will come away better educated and informed about the world we find ourselves living in.



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