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It’s Been A Long Time…

Best Dog EVER

Being a better blogger has not been happening for me.  I’m not giving up though.  I was reading through my favorite blogs the other day & it occurred to me that many of my favorites may not necessarily post a lot every time they post but they do post often.  I have so many topics I want to write about, yet I seem to take the easy way out and choose none of them.  Hopefully that will change.  Bear with me.

I’ve been working on some changes in my life.   Simmer down, girlfriends.  Chuck’s not on the market.  I’m not having breast augmentation.  I’m not entering the job market.  I haven’t stopped collecting swimwear. I’m just trying to do some things better.  Be a more attentive mom (CHALLENGE – being attentive is not something I do well in any capacity), be a better, more aggressive business owner, cook more often, take charge of some home projects & truly evaluate the things in my house to decide what is important to me & what can go off to Goodwill.  I’m also trying to be a better dog owner & that’s where this story is going.

We have had Apollo since Thanksgiving of 2010 & in that two year span I have thought many times about taking him to the dog park.  Simple enough, right?  A park for dogs + Apollo = “Good Time For All”, right?  Perhaps, but for two things.  Apollo has a tendency to eat people who annoy him, much like me & Apollo thinks every other animal in the world would like their butt licked by him.  You know, kinda like that ONE frat boy in college that was at every party you ever attended?  Also, Apollo is the kid at Disney World whose mother left his ADD drug in the hotel room.  Oh, what fun!  Socializing usually results in him running in circles with a “you can’t catch me” look on his face while I run in circles behind him, until one of us turns to butter.  (Not really because then I’d eat him. On bread.)  This scenario happened most recently, this summer, in the street in front of my house.  People in our neighborhood like to ride around on golf carts, though the nearest golf course is over a mile away & my hunch is most of the people who own them have never played that “0ld money” course.  Whatever the reason, they come down our street quite often & a couple weeks ago an innocent dad, his two kids and their dog happened down Waverly Dr. on their cart.  We happened to have let Apollo out to pee & it happened to be early morning so I was in my long (that’s a stretch) sleepshirt.  And only my long sleepshirt.  I had no intention of doing anything other than sticking my head out the door & yelling, “Come get a treat!” to Apollo.  Apollo saw the dog & he went straight for the cart.  I yelled for him to come back.  He’s harmless but some kids have dog fears and although that gets on my nerves after a certain age, I’d rather my dog not terrorize the neighborhood children.  That’s what we have a mailman for.  Apollo was determined to give this dog a salutatory butt-licking, the kids were screaming & the dad STOPPED THE GOLF CART. (Duh!  Keep going. My money is on the dog wearing out first, Sherlock.)  By this time, I have yelled for the kids to get a treat (the entire tub of sliced turkey, to be exact)  because yes, yes, I know, self-righteous dog whisperers of the world, the best way to change bad dog behavior is to reward it.  I say in some situations, whatever works.  That’s why sometimes Brooks goes to bed, cheeks STUFFED with bacon.  We should probably work on socializing our boys too, come to think of it.  Anyway,  my children are completely useless when it comes to anything like this so, of course, they fail me.  I end up running around the golf cart in circles after my dog, sometimes doubling back in an attempt to fool him & cut him off.  (Not successful.) The other dog barks, the kids shriek and the dad, most likely took a clandestine video that will go viral on YouTube.  At least it was summer and my legs were tan, since, remember, I have on NO PANTS.  Eventually Apollo got a treat of some sort, the dad had a brainstorm and headed on down the street & we headed inside.  Me, exhausted, and Apollo, feeling smugly like a kid at the mall who threw a fit and got the toy he cried for.  Sooooo, suffice it to say, we don’t get out much.  HOWEVER, I’ve been feeling like he needs more space to run so why not try the dog park?  Let me tell you, when you say “Who wants to go help me take Apollo to the dog park?” in your best Mr. Rogers happy voice, the answer is nothing more than crickets chirping.  You will be on your own.

Riding in the car is NOT Apollo’s favorite activity.  Luckily, we live three blocks from his veterinarian so he really hasn’t had to travel far since his initial trip to Arkansas from Missouri, on the day we rescued him.  The dog park is about 4 miles away.  I know this because I jogged down there once.  I jogged down there and called Chuck to come pick me up but I DID jog down there.  Not TOO far in a car, right?  The amazing thing was as soon as I said the words “dog park” and got the leash, he went straight to the car and waited for me to open the door.  He had no clue what a “dog park” is so it amazes me that he knew we’d be driving there and not walking.  This dog was the valedictorian of his rescue class, I’m sure.  Usually when I get the leash to go for a walk he waits patiently by the street.  This time I opened the door and he jumped up in Chuck’s passenger seat and sat proudly.  Wasn’t shaking at all.  Didn’t seem nervous.  Off to a great start.  That is, until we get about 1/2 way there and fear strikes his heart like a swimmer who has spotted a shark fin.  Suddenly he is ON ME, like one of those stuffed witches pe0ple wrap around their trees on Halloween.  I’m still driving; he’s still clinging.  All the time we’ve been in the car, I’ve been trying to calm him with the music of Gary Allan & he’s clearly not a country fan.  I get so distracted trying to avoid cyclists and joggers with a dog wrapped around my neck that I MISS THE FREAKING TURN-IN. I mean, why not prolong wearing a dog around your neck?  We seriously looked like Wile E. Coyote when he would slam into a pole in pursuit of Road Runner.  Except I am the pole in this scenario.  When we finally got there, he leaped out of the car and stopped in his tracks.  There were about seven dogs frolicking, licking & enjoying themselves and he was checking them out as we went.  Not one bark.  So far, so good.  He doesn’t even approach one of them.  He doesn’t bark at any of the owners.  He does pee on the chain link fence.  And that’s where he stays.

My crazy, hyper Apollo was the shy wallflower of the dance.  He got asked to dance many times.  Maggie wanted to play.  Bo wanted to play.  Apollo returned a few butt sniffs but he was not amused in the least.  He walked in circles, sniffing the scents of dogs long gone from the park.  He was completely enamored with the sounds of kids playing soccer over on the nearby field and even the goldendoodle who greeted every single dog with a complimentary hump could get nowhere.  Finally a dog with some strange, mystic name came over and he was, for lack of a better word, pissed that Apollo wouldn’t play.  He got mad, he barked, he growled, he attempted to jump all over Apollo.  Finally his mystic owner came over and told me her name (also very “new age”), kinda looked at Apollo like he might be the uptight, anti-new age devil dog, but proceeded to start a conversation while leaving her phone on speaker hold with elevator music blaring.  I didn’t point out that it was interfering with my chi or shui or whatever gets fooled with…. MY INNER DOG PARK PEACE.  We chatted a bit & I told her it was Apollo’s first visit to the park.  She seemed sort of relieved like when someone yells a curse word & then people find out they suffer from Tourette’s.  I mean Apollo had an excuse for his odd behavior, so that’s better, right?  She then went back to her bench to read her yoga manual (not even making this shit up),  Apollo sniffed some more and then went over by some odd little tanks.  I asked mystic lady what they were and she said, I kid you not, “Oh!  Have YOU never been here either?”  WTF?  No, I don’t normally hang out at the dog park sniffing butts.  Why would I have been here if I told you it’s my dog’s first time?  I almost laughed out loud.  She explained that they were for splashing and drinking water, most often used in summer weather.  I thanked her, said it was nice to meet her and went to retrieve my dog.  Overall she seemed like a nice woman but if you know me, I’m much more at home talking the latest fashion than where the center of my spirit is.

As I walk over & tell Apollo our adventure is over, an adorable puppy meanders over and I stop to pet it.  ADORABLE dog.  English Mastiff that is 11 weeks old.  So cute!  I ask the owner his name and she said, “Hagrid.”  I said, “Oh, cute.  I love the name Ingrid.”  She said, “HAgrid.”  I said, “Oh, that’s an unusual name. Cute.”  She suddenly looked stunned like she had just found out she was pregnant with twins and said, “It’s from HARRY POTTER!”  It clearly came out as, “It’s from Harry Potter, you uneducated, non-cultured IDIOT! Where have you been the last 10 or so years?”  THAT’s what it sounded like.  And then, as if I haven’t driven a dagger through her heart & erased any and all faith she had in me as an earthly being, I said, “Oh, sorry.  I’ve never read ANY of the Harry Potter books. Or seen the movies.”  And I bid her adieu, got my dog and left. I hope she’s ok.  I’m hoping the thud I heard as I exited the park wasn’t her head hitting the concrete path in disbelief.

Two things I learned at the dog park:

1)  It’s quite possible Apollo does not like it.

2)  It’s even more possible that I do not fit in. 🙂

But maybe we will give it another shot when it’s summer again.  I certainly don’t want to endure that in the cold.

Hazelnut Heaven!

One of my summer goals is to share more recipes via WriteCreateClick, hence the “Create” aspect.  I also hope to share some photo tips and maybe even do a summer “photo a day” feature, hence the “Click”.  Bear with me & please chastise me if I fail.  I find that motivational.

I love to cook because the act of taking a list of ingredients & successfully turn it into something yummy & perhaps even visually appealing is almost like a high to me.  And much cheaper & safer than drugs.  I think, originally, the anti-drug slogan was to be “JUST SAY NO! DON AN APRON!”  Maybe not.  Summer brings out the chef in me more than any other season.  I think this is because I don’t have interruptions in my day like carpool, baseball practice, games, etc.  The Buttrys love to chill & not be tied to a schedule.  It also stays lighter longer so it seems like Chuck gets home early even when he really doesn’t and we can either cook out or cook in the kitchen.  We really enjoy cooking together, but last night, he had had an especially good work day & been promoted so I thought I would surprise him with a home-cooked meal.  He loves pork chops so that’s where I started. I had recently purchased some La Tourangelle Hazelnut Oil & that was the jumping off point into new territory.  I ate hazelnuts by the pound as a child & had been thinking it would be nice to reintroduce them into our cooking & snacking habits. The La Tourangelle website has some great recipes for all of their products & you can search the recipes by product for ease.

Chuck loves salad, so I started with this.

It’s super-simple.  I started with an Organic Baby Spring Mix from Kroger.  Then I chopped up fresh strawberries, eating a few along the way.  Then I made this dressing, which is really just heavenly:

Whole Grain Mustard & Roasted Hazelnut Vinaigrette

2 Tbsp whole grain mustard

1/2 small shallot, minced

1 Tbsp sherry cooking wine

1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

6 (yes, six) Tbsp Roasted Hazelnut Oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

(I was lucky enough to find my Hazelnut Oil at TJMaxx. Also available at Fresh Market)

Mix the mustard, minced shallot & vinegars well.  Whisk in the oil and adjust the seasoning.

You could add some finely chopped fresh hazelnuts to the salad if you like a little crunch.

Yield:  4 servings

For our entree, we had this:

Hazelnut Crusted Pork Chops 
1 cup hazelnuts, finely chopped (I put in a ziploc, covered with dishtowel & whacked them repeatedly with a meat tenderizer…)
2 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp thyme, chopped
Zest of one orange
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp Roasted Hazelnut Oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
4 pork loin chops (2 if they’re large)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  (I put corn on cob in to boil at this time, for our side.)
Mix all the ingredients together (besides the pork chops) in a bowl and pour out onto a dinner plate.  Press the pork chops into the crust making sure they are coated. (I coated both sides.)  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit with a meat thermometer.  (I did this and after 30 minutes, it read exactly 140 degrees).  Super EASY!
Yield:  2-4 servings depending on size of pork chops.
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Who? What? When?

I need to blog more.  I know this.  Some days it’s just easier to think the thoughts in my head & not get them down on paper. Some days, I think of something to post & an hour later, couldn’t tell you what it was.   A year & a half ago I started taking two medications for depression.  An unexplained, out of nowhere depression.  (You can read about it here if you haven’t followed me long.)  At first I took one & then when it seemed to be lacking something, added the other.  And together, those two medications have done wonders for me.  I don’t feel I can be without them & be a good wife, mom & friend.  However, about 9 months ago, I really started to feel like I was constantly in a mental fog, forgetting to do stuff, not remembering that I had already done other stuff, repeating the same stories to Chuck & my friends, losing my train of thought ALL the time,  reading a book and then realizing I couldn’t tell you what was in the first chapter if I was tested on it – you get the idea.  So, of course, being Noelle, I went to WebMD and diagnosed myself with early Alzheimer’s, dementia or a possible degenerative brain disease that would end my life in less than a year.  Because that’s who I am & what I do…. Now, normally I would go to my doctor, explain to him that I was likely dying, watch him smile his sweet smile and let him talk me down from the cliff.  But this time, I decided to just deny it for a while. Surely if I played some memory games or worked crossword puzzles or memorized all the Oscar-winning movies, you know, stimulated my brain, I could convince myself that it was just something that came after hitting the big 4-0.

A few days later I photographed a senior & the mother told me how the child had been suffering from depression but had not been able to stay on her first medication because she couldn’t focus in school, couldn’t remember things, had virtually no short-term memory necessary for success on tests & assignments, etc.  It was a tough call but ultimately they decided she just couldn’t take it.  It was the same medicine I take.  (And I’m choosing not to name it because different meds, especially anti-depressants, affect people differently & I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying a specific medication if their doctor thinks it might help get them off the floor of the shower and back into life again.)   I went home and read everything I could on the medication & its side effects & came to the conclusion that this had to be what was happening to me.  Right now, I’ve decided to just live with it and I think the benefits outweigh the fog, but I have to admit it’s getting really frustrating.  A few weeks ago I was at lunch with friends & they brought up the movie, “There’s Something About Mary”.  I knew I had seen that movie but I couldn’t for the life of me think what it was about or who was in it, or even where I saw it or who I was with.  That is just not me.  Thankfully my friends couldn’t think of Cameron Diaz right away either so I didn’t look like a total freak.  It’s hard for me because I used to be the queen of pop culture & Trivial Pursuit & now I’d almost be embarrassed to play.  I’m hoping eventually the memory issues leave & if they get worse, obviously I’ll do something different.  I haven’t left the kids anywhere yet or forgotten their names but I did have to make a conscious effort to remember their birth weights the other day.   That was previously burned on my brain.  Thank God I’m not Michelle Duggar or I’d be screwed.  Three kids aren’t that hard to keep up with in the grand scheme of things.  My phone and it’s notes & reminder features are now my best friends.  Just be patient with me if I seem a little scattered.  But the best news is that a year and a half later, I feel happy, content and ready to have a fun, relaxed summer with my family.  And I even have those new teeth to show off when I smile 🙂

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Travelin’ Man

(This post was actually written a week ago.  What can I say?  I’m slow to hit the “post” button!)

I have no right to complain.  Really, I know.  In the grand scheme of things, Chuck doesn’t travel too much.  In the fall, it seems like he’s gone for nights on end & of course, that’s a busy time for me with work, a busy time for the kids to bring home viruses, bacteria & blood-borne pathogens & it happens to be one of my LEAST favorite times of the year.  Sometimes in the fall,  I complain A LOT.  But in the spring, it’s like travel is almost welcome.  It’s a chance for Chuck to get away from the office environment & the chaos of home, even if he IS technically still at work.  It’s nice outside. Sometimes he goes to really cool places.  I get a break too, from little things like his snorting, hacking and incessant refusal to let me watch quality tv programming like “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” or “Ice & Coco” or “Flavor of Love”.  (He acts all intellectual, like those are MINDLESS!)  So….going it alone is kinda fun.  Until day 3.  One thing I know for sure is that whoever came up with the idea for Prohibition did not have a spouse who was gone more than 2 days.   On day 3 everything changes, as it did today.  Right.On.Cue.

I stayed up until 2:00 a.m.  (I know.  I’ll own this.  But it was so QUIET. And my book is good.)

I had unsettling dreams about unsettling people that I can’t stand.  (Sorry, God.  I’m working on it.  In my spare time.  QUIT LETTING THEM HAUNT ME.)

The kids wouldn’t get up.

They were cranky.

The dog wouldn’t come in.

He was cranky.

The hamster died before Chuck even LANDED in Chicago on Monday, so animals weren’t faring very well at 6704.

The damn dishwasher broke, which I finally accepted after attempting to wash the dishes in it SIX times in 2 days to no avail.

Ryder was parked behind me & we were already running a tad late.  She was not up.  Her keys were underneath her.

I had shitty “Words With Friends” letters.  (I know. That could be why we were late, but I can’t do EVERYTHING for them, people. I, too, have priorities.)

Brooks had given me a list of things he needed for a project due Friday & this was the first I was hearing about it.

Brooks wants to PAINT glass marbles for this project, which he bet me $100 he could do.  And he will win.  The little $%!# always wins!

So, you get the point.  I had planned to stay home all day and clean the kitchen & clear some excess crap out for Goodwill but now I have to drive carpool, come home to shower & then I have errands to run.  At least the house will be calmer, right?  Perhaps briefly.  Honestly, it seems like I get out of the shower, put in a load of laundry, edit a few photos and the back door opens at 2:45 & in walks Brooks.  I’m not there to witness his arrival, though, because I have to leave a few minutes before he gets here to head out to Wyatt’s school and be in the first round of cars in the carpool line.  We drop off our carpool charges, come home, grab something fast to eat and head for the ballpark where Brooks has a 7:30 game.  Thankfully, a few innings into the game, Chuck’s plane lands & he makes a beeline for the ballpark.  I hope it’s because he missed me & is dying to help out.  I know, however,  it’s because Brooks is pitching and he wants to try to see some of that before he is taken out.  Either way, he is here & I feel like I can go on.  Or at least hang on until May 11th when I hop in the car, head for Dallas and do the same thing to him.  Lucky for him, I’ll be home on Day 3!

Where We Were 17 Years Ago Today….

"Jesus Wept" sculpture erected by St. Joseph's Catholic ChurchSeventeen years ago today, Chuck & I we’re living on a quiet cul-de-sac in Ft. Collins, CO.  When I say quiet, I mean, no one really spoke to you & it was very, very boring.  Colorado is an odd place to live, in that, if you “ain’t from around there”, you’re viewed with a bit of reprehension.  You’re an outsider who came in to develop & spoil the natural beauty the natives claim as their own.  God help you if you’re from California.  That’s the first thing we we’re always asked – “Did you come here from California?”  It used to irritate me until we moved & the couple that bought our house was from California.  They were just buying our house to “live in while building a more substantial home“, the woman uttered and walked around looking at it like it was her first experience moving into a home formerly inhabited by lepers.  Now I have a better understanding of how native Coloradoans felt.  In recent years, they have basically been taken over by people seeking a nice place to live with a cheaper cost of living.  But of course, what did that do?  Drive up their cost of living.  That became another peeve of mine when we lived there.  In 1993, I did not enjoy paying $4.50/gal for milk.  I know what you’re thinking!  The trails, the Rocky Mountains, skiing, whitewater rafting, DUDE ranches, for God’s sake!  You walked away from that??  Yes, yes we did.  All exorbitantly expensive hobbies to pursue.  Colorado had it’s good points & our first child, Ryder, was born there.  We were blessed with a terrific doctor and Chuck lived close to work, always a priority for him.  I had a well-paying & enjoyable job in Loveland, CO at a publishing company.  The excitement of expecting our first child was such a great time for us. Regardless of feeling unwelcome, we were happy & content.   And then we weren’t.

My mother had driven out for a visit & brought a friend to accompany her on the long drive from Enid, OK.  The day before they arrived I had been hospitalized with kidney stones.  The intense pain from them was causing contractions & I had to be on IV meds to control the pain, as well as the possibility of pre-term labor. I was in and out of the hospital for 10 days.  I would think I passed the stones & get home and realize I hadn’t & I would have to go back.  One of these realizations came to me in a bay at Sonic, sharing a meal with mom & Susan, her friend.  Holy hell, get me back to the hospital, #1 burger be damned. This put a huge wrench in our plans to shop for baby things and decorate the nursery.  I barely felt like getting up to go to the bathroom.  I felt terrible that mom had driven all the way to Colorado to share a happy time with me before I became a mom and she a grandmother.  She stayed the full time she had intended, spending time with me, both in the hospital & at home (& briefly at Sonic!) and then got up on her final morning in Ft. Collins,  said bye to Chuck & left me to wake from my Mepergan sedation.

About 9:15 I got up to lie on the couch & watch tv.  Special news reports were all over the cable and network channels & they kept showing a shell of a bombed structure that I initially assumed must be in Beirut, Lebanon or another country in the middle east, where fighting & destruction were a given nearly every day.  Then I heard the reporter say Oklahoma City. Surely not.  Must have been a terrible gas leak, I thought.  What destruction & oh, God, I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant and must endure the notion that a childcare center was hit? Firemen carrying out blood-covered toddlers?  My hormones went haywire.  The pictures were absolutely unreal to me.  This doesn’t happen in our country.  And I will be the first to admit, I thought, what militant “religious” group from overseas is responsible for this horror?  I was also struck by the fact that my mother is from Oklahoma as is a large part of my family on my dad’s side too.  See, my dad met my mom at church when he was visiting my uncle in Enid, Oklahoma, my mother’s hometown.  I have cousins galore in Oklahoma.  We’re they safe?  Especially my favorite cousin, Randy, who spent a lot of time in the city at that time?  I called my mom, who was headed back to Enid.  She had heard it on the radio but didn’t want to wake me if I was still sleeping.  Even worse, her friend, Susan, who had accompanied her on the trip had a sister who worked in the very federal building that was targeted & destroyed.  Phone lines were insanely clogged so she was unable to reach anyone to find out if her sister was at work yet that morning. (Thankfully, she was to be in late that day because of a meeting she had down the street & escaped injury or death.)  Luckily, all of my relatives escaped unscathed, though I think it was my cousin Randy who was nearby at a meeting when it happened & felt the blast.

In short, the entire thing was sickening.  An attack on our home soil that was perpetrated by one of our own.  We all get riled up and irritated at our government, or bosses, our spouses, our school administrations, etc.  but at some level, at the very core of our being, we are supposed to be raised to do what is right & not what is insane.  The notion that Mr. McVeigh knew of the day care center & referred to it as collateral damage sickens me more. It sickens me that the inevitable conspiracy theories were perpetuated & continue today.  I hate that the Oklahoma City Bombing has become the stepchild to September 11, 2001.  I’m sure a ton of people don’t even know that today is the anniversary of this horrific event.

My family moved to Little Rock, AR in January following the attack.  My mom followed in 2000.  Mom & I returned to OKC a few years ago to attend a wedding and before we headed back to Arkansas we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  If you find yourself in Oklahoma City for ANY reason, please take time to stop by. And please take your children.  Even if you don’t have time to take in the museum (which we didn’t), stand in the midst of those 168 chairs & gaze into the reflecting pool, stare in awe at the gates of time, &  the survivor tree. What touched my mother & me most, however, was the statue of Jesus weeping.  It isn’t officially part of the memorial.  It was erected by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which was one of the first brick & mortar churches in Oklahoma City.  The church sits adjacent to the memorial & was nearly destroyed in the blast.  But it’s presence is the perfect compliment to a beautiful monument dedicated to lives needlessly lost.

Remember the families of those people tonight when you’re sitting down with yours.

The Passage of Time

Lana & Noelle in the late 70's

Me (in dress) with best friend Lana in the 70's

As I mentioned in my last entry, Chuck convinced me, or rather bribed me, to go back to our hometown of Bernie for Easter.  It’s not a bad town.  It falls somewhere between Possum Grape, AR & Santa Barbara, CA, on the coolness scale, leaning heavily toward Possum Grape.  (No offense to the Possum Grapians – your town may be FABULOUS.)  The weekend ended up having it’s moments.  We attended Easter breakfast with my dad & his wife, Debbie & my childhood Sunday School crush served me milk.  Twice.  It’s the closest we’ll ever come to having a date.  I’ll take it.  He hasn’t aged one bit.  Chuck took it all in stride, though I’m sure I was a bit googly-eyed. Dad also had my long johns from Faye’s waiting as I had requested – EIGHTEEN,  just as I had asked.

My family visits us in Little Rock on a regular basis & we lost my grandma in 2009, so I had only one reason for going home.  I had known for some time I needed to pay a visit to my friends, Doris & Leroy, who were the closest thing I could have had, during the 70’s and 80’s,  to a second set of parents. They had four children, a boy & 3 girls, spread very far apart in age.  Lana, their baby, was my childhood best friend.  Our houses backed up to each other with an alley separating them.  Countless arguments ensued over who owned the alley.  We finally drew up a treaty and agreed to split it in the middle.  To this day, I’m not sure who really owned it. Or why it was so important for us to know. Doris spent many, many hours of our adolescence carting us to Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, the mall and movies.  She was a beautiful woman & still is.  She treated me like her own.  Their house was my house.  Leroy, Lana’s dad, is a very private & I’ve always felt, very misunderstood man.  He’s hardworking (still going at age 84 – “too young to retire”, he told me last weekend),  generous & kind.  He’s also one of the quietest,  gentlest men I’ve ever known.  He’s always had an air of mystery about him & I think he cherishes that somewhat.  He was one of the first examples I had of learning to go on living life as I wanted, regardless of what people’s opinions of me might be.

Lana has always been my best friend.  Our great grandmothers were quilting buddies and my Granny would put me in the back of her three-wheel bicycle, with a couple pillows to make the wire basket a bit more comfortable & ride me over to Lana’s Grandma Lora’s home, which just happened to be next door to hers.  Often Lana would be there & we quickly became friends.  We like to say “we met at two and three”, though in reality, we might have been a tad older.  We spent time at both houses throughout the years but Lana’s house was a bit more interesting.  You see, Leroy’s line of work was coin-operated machines.  He put video games, jukeboxes and, back then, cigarette and candy machines in stores, restaurants and bars.  At Lana’s house you could rock out to the jukebox, play Ms. Pac-Man in their family room, watch satellite tv AND by the time we were in 5th grade, swim in the pool.  He also had a storage building for extra video games and jukeboxes & we had a key and a token.  That meant we could play Frogger, Centipede, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man to our heart’s content.  Leroy was notorious for buying things that he got a great deal on, like 50 pairs of roller skates or an old green Cacillac Coupe deVille.  If someone needed money & had something to offer he could remotely use, or not, he’d buy it.  And when I say that Cadillac he came home with was green, it was chartreuse green with cream leather interior.  You couldn’t miss it.  He parked it in the yard beside their home & soon Lana and I were taking the keys and backing up and pulling forward, using the brake, blasting the radio, basically acquainting ourselves with the ins and outs of driving, with very little supervision whatsoever.  I will give all of our parents kudos for having faith in us.  Eventually we would drive it through Lana’s backyard, turn down the alley and make a sharp left into the side yard at my Granny’s house.  This prevented us from getting on the city streets & having to make an appearance in my dad’s courtroom for driving underage with no license whatsoever.  To get back to Lana’s home, we would back the Caddy all the way down my grandma’s sideyard and then pull back into the alley.  Eventually there were prominent ruts in the grass where we came and went. To this day, I am one hell of a car “backer-upper”.

Leroy would come home at the end of the work day in his S & W Sales truck, Tommy-lift rattling as he pulled into the driveway & get out with a big bag or two or three of quarters, taken out of the machines on that day’s rounds.  He made carrying them look effortless but let me tell you, if you stubbed your toe on them, you knew exactly how heavy they were. His attire was always the same & if I remember right, he wore a perfect 50’s-style Mad Men hat. Or a baseball-style cap.  If we were driving through the backyard when he arrived, he might grin, shake his head and go on inside to watch boxing & eat the supper Doris had made.  If Lana & I were “laying out” by the pool, increasing our chances of melanoma with SPF2 oil and blasting Casey Kasem’s Countdown, he might come peek over the fence, ask if we were having fun or “how was the pool?” and then go inside.  He was a man of few words, but you always knew he loved you and was proud of you.  In fact, you still do.  I haven’t meant many men in my life who communicate emotions intensely with only their eyes, but Leroy is one of them.

Lana and I spent much of our lives around age 10, in their family room around a big octagonal table writing plays, planning our future businesses (some things are just too embarrassing to share – sorry) & drawing sketch book upon sketch book of house plans, going as far as to describe the families that would live in these houses.  And I remember still, nothing made Lana more irritated than one of us designing a house with a hallway that ended in a wall.  I would have bet my life at that age that we’d be architects today. We always had a steady supply of Pepsi, yellow Lay’s with mustard for dip, and Kit Kat bars.  One day we went out for a while, came back and my Kit Kat was gone. We looked over in the big chair and Leroy sat enjoying a Kit Kat and a boxing match.  The man loved boxing.  And until recently the Kit Kat incident was still fresh in his memory & always fair game for a joke or laugh.  But that’s where this story gets heartbreaking.

The man I know and love & viewed as such a constant in my life that I took for granted he would always be there, is slipping away.  Emotionally, at least.  He will talk to you as if he knows you and he has the act down pretty good.  But once you step away or leave, he will ask Doris or Lana who you were.  And he’ll ask how he knows you.  During my visit, he did a great job of acting like he knew me.  And then he went to the restroom & Doris said, “He probably doesn’t know who you are.”  When he returned, she said, “Leroy, this is Noelle.  Lana’s friend that practically grew up with us.  Dorothy’s granddaughter.  You know, Norman’s daughter.”  A lump had already begun to form in my throat but he said, “I KNEW I knew who that was!  I’ve always loved Norman.  Of course it’s Noelle.”  That was enough to almost convince me that he hasn’t forgotten me completely.  For at least an instant, his eyes said that he knew.  Doris brought up the green Cadillac & I even confessed that we scraped a pole with it once, got white paint on it, drove it to my house & wiped the paint off with gasoline.  Sorry, Lana.  I’m finally free of that guilt!  Before I left,  I went over to him & gave him a huge hug for fear that it would be my last chance.  Thinking back on his 84 years of life as Chuck & I drove back to Little Rock, I realized one of the things I most admire in him is his undying faith that his kids will be ok.  He has four wonderful kids who have blessed him with grandchildren and great-grandchildren & although the road was bumpy at times, he seemed to have faith that everything would be fine & he will eventually leave this world leaving an awesome legacy behind.  I think all of us could use a little of Leroy’s faith in family & mankind.  I know I intend to try to find some somewhere.  It’s a small way of paying him back for that green Cadillac.

Happy Easter!

In a couple of hours, we’ll be headed to our hometown of Bernie, MO with the kids to celebrate Easter.  It’s also known as “Noelle has stayed in Little Rock for Easter as many years in a row as she can without pissing relatives off”, but saying “celebrating Easter!”  just sounds more jovial and is much shorter to type.  Anyway, there are a couple people I haven’t seen in a while that I want to see & it’s a change of pace.  Sometimes that’s good.  Also, my dad bought me long johns from my favorite bakery.  That’s the clincher.

Ryder is celebrating Easter with her friends this weekend, which in all honesty, will likely have nothing to do with the resurrection of Christ, Our Lord & Savior and more with sushi, burning gasoline & staying up til’ all hours.  Hopefully it won’t consist of anything that I, her dad or Christ, Our Lord & Savior won’t want to know about.  So, when she doesn’t appear in our Easter photos, you know why.  We adore her.  We just respect her independence.

I’ve been wanting to share some photos I took, of what I believe is perhaps the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever stepped inside in my life.  Although ostentatious churches of today really annoy me, cathedrals of old just slay me with their beauty, attention to detail, art and lasting construction.  Somehow, it’s just different.  When I went to New Orleans with my dad, Norm & his wife, Debbie this January, we walked much of the French Quarter on foot and we stepped inside The Cathedral of St. Louis  on Jackson Square, which is open to the public.  Even to ME!  I know, right???

My knowledge of Catholicism is somewhat limited.  I have many great friends who are Catholic, including a college roommate and a high school friend who converted to Catholicism when they married.  I know, unlike Presbyterians, there is no “transfer by letter”.  It’s a serious commitment & major process to become one.  (Perhaps other churches should learn from this.) I know you can attend mass on Saturday if you’re busy Sunday. I know they have confessional booths.  I know a child’s First Communion can be very lucrative for a professional photographer such as myself.  I know that Catholics will wear photographers OUT photographing a wedding, but they will reward us with a great reception.  And I know they have a rich history & gorgeous cathedrals.

This has to be one of the prettiest in the United States.  The organist was playing as we entered which only added to the experience and since I really have no words for how beautiful it is & I’m not sure I could ever convey how it felt, I’ll show you in pictures that I made via slideshow.

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Construction began in 1789 and the Cathedral was completed in 1850.  However, there has been a cathedral on the site since 1718 & the parish was established in 1720. (That’s another thing I know!  They have parishes!)

The last photo in the slideshow is looking out at the statue of Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square from St. Louis Cathedral.  This is one of few Catholic cathedrals in the US that actually faces a city square.  You can read more about the history here in addition to the St. Louis Cathedral website.  And if ever find yourself in New Orleans, you must step inside.  And leave a contribution in the donation box. 😉

Childhood dream – check!

When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was watch pageants. Miss USA, Miss America, Miss Teen USA.  It didn’t matter which one was on – I was glued to the tube, keeping my own scorecard & attempting to pick the winner. I still remember that in 1984 Shawn Weatherly from South Carolina was crowned Miss USA & went on to win Miss Universe.  She was my PICK, from the first walk across stage.  In 1981, my mom’s friend, Susan Powell, was crowned Miss America.  I knew in the 80’s, when Vanessa Williams had to step down, that she would be back and succeed.  She was beautiful & well-spoken.  If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you probably are aware that I still love to watch them.  And rate the contestants.  I should clearly be outside sweeping off my own doorstep, I know.  As a child,  I loved to see the evening gowns and the crowns and the scepters & the PERFECT TEETH.  However,  I never really, thank God,  had a desire to compete in pageants.  Putting it all out there really isn’t me.  And I’ve never seen anyone sweep the talent competition by taking a great photo, tying a cherry stem in a knot with their tongue, or standing on their head for two full minutes, three of my most formidable talent options, should I have entered.  Nope, I just wanted the crown & teeth.  The pretty, sparkling crown & the pretty, sparkling TEETH.  Both of which can be purchased without the catty backstage antics & fake breasts.

My teeth were very discolored from a young age, due to my mom taking an antibiotic during her pregnancy, having no idea that discoloring the teeth of her child was a possible side effect.  It got worse as I aged & eventually it became the source of a terrible amount of insecurity about my appearance.  Oh, I still smiled & laughed because both of those things come pretty naturally to me AND I’m honestly too ditzy to consciously remember not to smile.   I hated photos of myself, at least until Photoshop came along 😉 , and in the last couple years, I was really letting it affect my self-image & my “imagined criticism” of what I thought others were thinking.  My kids, when they were still innocent & not intentionally rude, would ask why my teeth were yellow or tell me I needed to remember to brush & even though they were young and innocent, it was pretty crushing.  (I know, I know……most people say they never noticed.)  Through the years I was always going to “get them fixed” but as I’m sure you know, AETNA does not care how how pretty I am & cosmetic dentistry is expensive.  Something always seemed to push this priority to the backburner.  It’s no lie that we take much better care of our cars and our houses than we do ourselves.  After going through a deep, dark time in my life & coming out of it better than I was before it hit, I felt I deserved it.  It was really the only thing that still brought me down when I looked in the mirror each day. And everything fell into place, just in time for people to think I’m having a mid-life crisis.  Yea!

I had discussed my options with my family dentist but he kept putting me off, telling me my gums were not healthy enough. Last summer, he finally said he would love to do it for me soon and I should look at the teeth of one of the girls who worked for him.   She was their “spokesmodel” for what they could do.  So I looked, and the first thing I thought was, “Uh, that is not what I want my teeth to look like.”  I can’t even pinpoint what I didn’t like about them but I knew then that I would probably go somewhere else.  I struggled with this because I’m a very, very loyal person.  But this is my face/mouth/appearance we’re talking about.  And a lot of money.  The advice of a friend led me to Hatley Family Dentistry.  I loved the Hatleys, John & Nayla,  because their girls and my kids went to preschool together, so we had a strong link from our past already.  I went in for a consult, booked the appointments to get veneers & left with a feeling of confidence and anticipation that I really can’t even describe.  This past Monday, I went in for the appointment where they shape my teeth and adhere my temporary veneer mouthpiece, taken from molds of my own teeth.  I was in the dental chair from 8:15-1:30.  And it was so cool.  I was drilled, filed, injected numerous times, buffed, polished and even had an incidental cavity filled.  I couldn’t feel my face, not even my nose & it was awesome.  The staff was wonderful.  You could feel their excitement at getting to do something fun instead of routine.  Dr. Nayla was soooo concerned with my comfort and so attentive to detail.  She asked if I had any anxiety & I told her the only thing I was scared of was that my nose, which had no sensation, was going to run & I wouldn’t know it.  She told me that if that was my biggest fear, I was doing great.  I even TURNED DOWN VALIUM, people. When they finished, they handed me a mirror.  I was initially apprehensive to look at them but I did & I really couldn’t believe that was my mouth.  It was amazing.  At home, in my own bathroom, I will admit I shed tears at finally having the perfect white teeth that I’d always wanted.  The funny thing is, these are only temporary.  I get the permanent, individual veneers a week from Monday.  And I’m not posting any pics until then.  But then I will.   The only thing I’m missing now is that crown.

Looking Back…

I’m still slowly going through some of the boxes from my grandma Dorothy’s house & I love to find these scrapbooks that offer glimpses into the person I was at other stages in my life.  This little record of me was from 6th grade, which I found even more interesting since I have a son at that age (Wyatt) right now.  As usual, I’m shocked at some of the things I wrote in this book, not because there is anything scandalous or odd (ok, I was a little odd),  but because I’m floored that some of the things that I enjoy right now or that bug me right now were present from a young age.  I guess that’s to be expected but many of those things have stayed with me at 42.

Information About Me (1981-1982) 

FULL NAME:  Noelle Dawn Swafford

AGE: 12         GRADE:  6        TEACHER: Juanita Thurston (who I ran into last year & had a great visit with!)

BEST FRIEND:  Melanie Robertson

OTHERS (sorry guys, if, in any event, Melanie hadn’t fulfilled her duties as “best”, you were right there):

Lana Williams, Lana Logan, Tcheanina Winchester, Tammy Kennedy

HOBBIES – Collecting rainbows, reading, running and skating (I failed to put how badly I sucked)

FAVORITE SONGS – Endless Love (Oh, Lionel!) and Physical (don’t judge)

FAVORITE EXPRESSIONS – Fart! Really?  Crap! I really doubt it!  Shut your trap!  Cram it!  and the ever-popular and oft-quoted, “Stick it up your rump!”

BOYFRIENDS (the plural was mine):  Bryan Bates, Kyle Turner, Doug Stinson, Tom Selleck (just a couple dates, I believe?) & Scott Berry – I must note that in the same scrapbook I found a note stating that Scott Berry was #1.

PET PEEVES:  Snobs (funny, because I’m sure many thought I was one), certain 5th graders (Yeah!) and repetition (It really blew me away that repetition bugged me back them because it’s probably the thing I can tolerate least currently.)

FAVORITE TV SHOWS:  Love, Sidney * Gimme A Break! * Magnum P.I. (after all, we were dating) * Search For Tomorrow (oh, Liza!  I loved you & your beautiful voice!  And your love affair with Travis!) * Different Strokes

Also funny, from this scrapbook, is that I have a list of imaginary phone #’s for people, EXCEPT “Eric Z’s” phone number appeared to be real.  Hmmmm….My prized possession from this year was my Izod sweater (snob!) that my mom got me. AND, bitch that I apparently was, during spelling bee practice, I kept a list of the words the rest of my team missed.  Or perhaps I was just so good I didn’t miss any.  LOL.

Probably pre-6th grade but as close as I could find