Category Archives: write

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,

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

Me:  NINE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS?  FOR SIX DOSES? SIX?

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.

 

Tagged , , ,

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.

 

 

Tagged , , , ,

These three….

IMG_0733cpy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , ,

Strength

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , ,

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

What???

“You CAN’T let him quit!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , ,

On beaches and beach towns……

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

IMG_1776cpyMISSISSIPPI:

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

ALABAMA:

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

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

IMG_1816cpyFLORIDA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xoxoxo

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Prayers…and Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , ,