Share Your Stories With Your Kids This Holiday Season

Share your stories with your kids this holiday season…in book form.

I was talking with a friend recently who, like me, has lost both her parents. Yes, she is a full-fledged adult like me, but she remarked that, looking back, she feels like she knew nothing about the years before she was born. She knows very little about her parents’ childhoods. She doesn’t know any stories from their teen years or college years. To her, they were just parents. She asked if mine were the same, and when I told her I knew lots of stories from both my parents’ younger years, she looked sad. I think she feels a little cheated, because her parents never shared stories with her…or worse, she never listened.

I always loved stories of my parents’ lives…stories about Daddy, as a little boy, wishing he had lots of nickels, because an ice cream on a stick cost a nickel. Or how his friends said they wanted to be cowboys when they grew up, but he knew he didn’t want to be a cowboy, because he saw his daddy’s work as a “cowboy” on the farm. Mother told stories of walking to school with her cousin, Phyllis, and stories of days spent in New Orleans at Charity Hospital in nursing school. In fact, now that I think about it, I need to write down some of their stories for my own daughter.

And that’s why I occasionally share stories about my childhood here. It becomes a permanent record. I hope to live a long life, but I hope my daughter will live on long after I do, and I want her to have some of my stories. Like my story about peeing in my shoes during my kindergarten “operetta.” Or the time, when I was eight years old, that I was sleeping over at Cathy Farris’s house and walked in my sleep to her brother’s room…and got in bed with him! That’s a story. Or stories of all my college friends and shenanigans. I still have lots to write…and I will share it all here to make into a book for her later.

There are times I tell her stories about my life and think she’s not listening…or I even tell the same story multiple times and get the eye roll. But she’s listening. She had to write a paper recently for her English class, and she told me she wrote a story from my childhood. She hears me.

I’m sure she gets tired of my stories, because I have lots of them, but that’s one reason I write this blog. Sure, I love sharing ideas about products and experiences, but I’m also sharing and saving my personal stories for my daughter. She will never say she didn’t know anything about my life before I became a mom. So I plan to write more about my childhood and college years over the next few months.

One day, I hope to print it all out and give it to her in the form of a book…Shutterfly.com offers photo books with and without lots of text. In fact, just yesterday, my daughter said she had never seen very many pictures from my childhood and college, so I’m planning to gather some photos over the next few days and make a book on Shutterfly.com for her as one of her gifts this Christmas. You can make one at Shutterfly: ://www.shutterfly.com/photo-books/

And maybe next Christmas, when she’s 18, I will give her the book of my stories. I think it would make a great gift for anyone to give their child or grandchild…telling your stories in your own words. My daughter, when she has children, will have photo books of herself to show her kids, because I have made them for her over the years. In fact, that makes me think I should write down some of her childhood stories and make a book of those too…whew! I’m going to be busy!

My Holiday Memories

My holiday memories.

At 53, I have lots of holiday memories…some better than others. Why write about my holiday memories now? Well, it’s almost Thanksgiving…my least favorite holiday, but I’ll get into that another day…and right after Thanksgiving, we start barreling toward Christmas, my favorite holiday.

I’m just feeling nostalgic, I guess. With this whole COVID pandemic, don’t we all just wish we could celebrate the holidays without getting government warnings and guidelines about how many of us can gather in one place? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a political statement…simply an observation. I’ve laughed a million times at a video made by Mark Mathis, a meteorologist with KUSI-TV in San Diego. He pokes fun at California Governor Gavin Newsom by pretending he is “King Newsom.” You can see it on TMZ here. I think it’s hilarious, but then, I think almost everything Mark Mathis does is hilarious.

But back to the nostalgia…the good old days when the holidays were fun and worry-free, and we could gather with lots of people, even stadiums full of them! Remember when we could go to football games with 100,000 people we didn’t even know??? This year, I’m just hoping there will actually be a live game played in a fan-free stadium somewhere, so we can watch it on TV. What else is there to do after all the festivities on Christmas Day?

Truthfully, I don’t remember watching football on TV on Christmas Day when I was a little girl…definitely on Thanksgiving, but not on Christmas. And I remember a lot about Christmas and all the great TV specials leading up to it…Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn…and later, A Christmas Story…so many greats.

I remember helping decorate our Christmas tree. For years, we could only have our artificial tree, because my younger brother was allergic. I can still remember standing in our living room in Brewton, Alabama, putting the tree up in the big picture window for all the world to see as they drove past on North Forest Hill Drive. We would assemble the tree’s “trunk” first, which was really just a few pieces of wood fitted together. Then we took the color-coded “branches” that looked like they were made from wire coat hangers and place them in the appropriate color-coded holes in the “trunk.” We would add lights, garland, ornaments, that silver tinsel stuff, and finally, the plastic angel on top. I thought that angel was absolutely beautiful, but in reality, a five or six-year-old’s idea of “beauty” is different than an adult’s idea of beauty. The angel really looked like a cheap knock-off Barbie doll with some lights around her. I’d say it was likely a pain in the butt to get her on top of the tree, but since our tree was only six feet tall, and Daddy was 6’3″, well, it was likely no big deal. Honestly, I thought that angel was so beautiful that I would stand in front of that tree just admiring her. Did I mention this was the old days when those fat Christmas lights got really hot and had a certain smell? Anyone who was alive in the 70s probably remembers that smell. It wasn’t bad. It just smelled hot. And the ball ornaments back then were made of glass, so if you dropped one, it shattered. I know, because it happened lots of times. But no matter what…as soon as we finished decorating the tree, we would walk outside and view it through the window…just to see what it looked like to passing cars or neighbors. In reality, that six-foot artificial tree with the knock-off Barbie on top probably looked pitiful from the road, but we thought it was the prettiest tree on the block!

Our family would decorate outside too, but our house wasn’t the one everyone wanted to drive past. Sure, there was lawn decor, but it wasn’t anything special. One year, we did all blue lights on the shrubs in front of the house. Maybe blue lights were on sale that year? Many years, we had white lights on the shrubs. And most years, we had our Noel candles out front, next to the front porch steps. Actually, at our house in Brewton, there was no porch step, so we just put them on the little entrance to the porch. But those Noel candles were my favorites. I don’t know why I loved them so. In fact, I have them stored away at my house now. I used them one year, but I’m a little afraid of the electrical components in them. Maybe I’ll get them out this year and only use them when we can keep an eye on them.

On Christmas Eve every year, after dinner, we would pile into the car and go drive around town to look at Christmas lights. We would drive through neighborhood after neighborhood, admiring the decor. And the whole time, I could hardly appreciate all the lights, because I was too busy watching the skies to make sure Santa wasn’t passing over my house. What if he came while we weren’t home? Would he know he needed to leave us gifts? Would he know kids lived there? In Brewton and later, in our house in Spanish Fort, we didn’t even have a chimney! I always worried about Santa finding his way into the living room with the six-foot artificial tree with the knock-off Barbie on top! After we got home from our drive, we would hop into bed and have lots of difficulty going to sleep. I would remind my parents at least twenty times to leave the front door unlocked for Santa.

I have lots of Christmas morning memories. I’ve written before about how my brother would get a toy train for Christmas every year, and we would play with it so much that the little engine box would overheat and die on Christmas Day. It might have been because we always played with it on high speed. Or maybe it was because Daddy was playing with it so much. We weren’t a sweet little quiet family. We liked to have fun! Go big or go home! And so those trains always burned up on the first day. But we always knew there would be another one the next year.

While I love my childhood Christmas memories, even better are the memories from our daughter’s childhood Christmas mornings. She’s 17 now, so some of the excitement is gone, but back in the early days…it was on! Her first Christmas, she was only 10 weeks old. We took pictures of her by the tree. Her second Christmas, in 2005, she was just 14 months old, but she was fun. She got a dollhouse, a play kitchen, a doll and stroller, and some red cowboy boots, but her favorite gift was from our neighbor. She gave her some toy cupcakes, and our daughter played with those things for hours! She carried them around everywhere…so cute! She also received The Muppet Movie, and on Christmas Day, we settled in to watch it with her. It was the first time she ever actually fell asleep watching something on TV…I guess all the excitement wore her out. I’m sure the nap didn’t last long; she has never been one to enjoy her sleep.

We have made lots of fun Christmas memories with her over the years. We even have some not-so-good memories, like the year she came down with the flu while we were ice skating with friends on Christmas Eve. We were up all night with her, because she was vomiting, and since I couldn’t leave her side, I had no idea how Santa would drop off her gifts. Fortunately, that year, I had been super-organized, and I had all her Santa gifts in a big black garbage bag upstairs in the guest room. All my husband had to do was go up and bring it down, and as soon as our daughter fell asleep for 30 minutes at 6am, I hurriedly put the gifts out in the living room for her to find later. She awoke an hour and a half later at 7:30am, and we stumbled in to watch her open gifts, but after just three gifts, she was too sick to continue and had to go back to bed. Poor baby. After three days of the flu, she and I checked into a local hotel, where we stayed for three more nights and ordered room service till she felt better.

And in 2017, we didn’t even spend Christmas Day together. My mother had fallen at her home in Alabama the night before, so I got up early Christmas morning and drove to be with her in the hospital. She passed away on the 30th of that year…a sad holiday season, indeed.

Here we are in 2020, the year of COVID. It’s going to be a different kind of holiday season, but we will make the best of it. I’ve put up our little aluminum tree and color wheel upstairs on the indoor landing, and right after Thanksgiving, we’ll put out some exterior decor and our real Christmas tree. So things will be different this year, but we’ll all be grateful for each other as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

My Falsies

My falsies.

I know what you’re thinking, but reprogram your mind, please. I’m not talking about falsies you put in your bra. I’m talking about false eyelashes.

I made it to age 53 without ever having used false eyelashes. I was a teenager in the 1980s, and I don’t remember ever seeing anyone with false lashes back then. I remember seeing people with them in the 1970s…along with wigs and hairpieces…but as far as I know, no one I went to high school or college with wore them. Our lashes just weren’t so important to us then, I guess.

Truth be told, at 53, I still don’t care too much about my lashes, but I see so many people who do that I got curious about them. What put me over the edge was my addiction to Love Island on CBS over the last few weeks. It was a reality show I just knew I would hate, but I watched one episode, and I was immediately hooked. It’s a “reality” show about people who are brought together in a competition to be voted favorite couple by America by the end of the series. This season, they all lived in a rooftop suite with pools and more in Las Vegas. Cameras are on the participants 24/7, and when the ladies on the show get ready every day, we see their makeup routines. Every single one of them used false eyelashes.

I’ve often thought about what a difference false eyelashes make for people on TV. And as an adult, I’ve even had friends who have individual false eyelashes added by lash professionals. I don’t have the patience for that, and I don’t like people I don’t know all up in my face. Add in the very important fact that I’m allergic to the glue, and those just are not an option for me.

Lately, I think more attention is on our eyes, because we’re all wearing our masks during the COVID pandemic. I read that lipstick sales are down, and that’s because we don’t really need lipstick if we’re wearing a mask; our lips don’t show. But you know what does show? Our eyes!

So recently, I ordered some magnetic lashes from Amazon.com, just to see how they work…and if there’s any possibility I will like them. Here’s how they work: users apply a magnetic liquid eyeliner just like they would any other liquid eyeliner. Let it dry. Once the liner is dry, the strip of lashes will adhere to it, because it has small magnets in the lash strip.

I’m 53. My eyelashes are not as plentiful as they used to be…thanks, menopause. Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed I’ve had difficulty making my lashes lustrous using mascara. Maybe these falsies will help? So today, after I got a shower and got dressed for the day, I decided to go through my makeup routine and use the falsies. The eyeliner was easy to apply…just like my other liquid eyeliners. I put a little translucent power on my face and eyes before applying the eyeliner, because over the years, I’ve found the liner seems to go on better and last longer if I do that…so I tried it with the magnetic liner. After applying it, I tried to keep my eyes closed for a minute or two, allowing the liner to dry. Once it had time to dry, I started applying the lashes. They come in several different thicknesses/lengths, so for this purpose, I picked the least thick/long. I just wanted to see how they worked. To apply, I started at the outer edge of my eye, and applied one end of the strip…I was surprised at how easily it adhered to the magnetic liner! From there, it was easy to apply the rest of the strip.

Once the lashes were on, I stood there, looking in the mirror and blinking. I needed to make sure they were on correctly before I paraded around in public wearing them. After a minute or two of blinking, I felt pretty sure they were secure, so I walked into the living room, where my husband was. He looked up when I walked into the room but said nothing about the lashes. After going to the kitchen to get something to drink, I went back to the living room and sat down in a chair facing him. He looked up and talked for a minute or two…not commenting on the lashes at all. However, in a minute, he said, “You look happy today.” What?!?! Did the lashes make me look happier? I simply said, “Thanks.”

Later, our teenage daughter came in. This would be the real test. She notices things like false eyelashes. She came in and hugged me, sitting down to chat for a few minutes. Eventually, she said, “Your makeup looks really good today.” But she didn’t notice the lashes were fake! That was a big surprise, because I felt sure she would ask, “Why are you wearing false lashes?” She didn’t. I had made it past the teenager with the false lashes! When I told her I had on false lashes, she actually said she liked them!

The real test came later when I needed to remove them. Removing the strips was not difficult, but I was more concerned about removing the waterproof liner. I shouldn’t have worried. I was able to remove it with my normal makeup remover and about the same amount of effort that I would use with a waterproof mascara.

So now, the question is…will I continue to use them? Well, I certainly won’t use them every day, but if I have fun lunch plans, dinner plans, or an event to attend, I will definitely use them! I think they will make my eyes look better in pictures too.

I ordered HSBCC brand from Amazon.com, because they were inexpensive, and they had really good reviews. You can order the same ones here. But be forewarned that I have no idea where they are manufactured. Based on the wording on the package, I’m guessing it’s not the US. They are distributed by an LA company, but I found it funny that the package says “nutual looking,” which, I’m just guessing, means “natural looking.” (See photo below.) I still like them. But there are lots of brands out there. I think it’s worth a try!

Embracing My Inner Ouiser

Embracing my inner Ouiser.

I saw Steel Magnolias soon after it premiered in 1989, and once I could digest some of the questionable southern accents (Tom Skerritt and Darryl Hannah, I’m looking at you), I loved the movie. As a southerner, I saw characters I could totally identify with. Growing up in Alabama, I knew people like those characters. I knew folks like M’Lynn, Truvy, Clairee, Drum, Shelby, Annelle, and yes, I knew people like Ouiser.

On Facebook, I often see these silly quizzes titled Which Steel Magnolia Are You? Yes, I take the bait and jump right into the questions with gusto. Going into them, I’ve often thought of myself as the very practical M’Lynn. Sometimes, I might be a cross between Claire and Truvy. But after all these months of COVID? I’m becoming Ouiser. And honestly, I’m embracing my inner Ouiser.

Normally, I consider myself a “glass half full” person. I try to see the positive side of things, and I look for silver linings. I’ve never considered myself a “glass half empty” girl. But now, since I’m embracing my inner Ouiser, I might have to become a “throw the glass against the wall” kind of person. Damn glass…who cares if it’s half full or half empty? This is so out of character for me, but I just need to wallow in it right now.

If you’ve seen the film, you know Ouiser is the grouchy, sarcastic member of the friend group. She is “eccentric.” And honestly, she brings a lot of flavor to the movie. Shirley MacLaine, even as a non-southerner, brought life to a character all good southerners have known at some point in life…the grumpy neighbor lady…the bitter teacher…the friend’s mom who locked them out of the house during the day all summer…the old lady with the constant scowl on her face…the old woman who screams at neighborhood kids for being too noisy. We know them.

I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, but I have it on my list of things to watch again in the next month or so. I’ll squeeze it in somewhere between old episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, Family Affair, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Partridge Family. Oh, and don’t forget That Girl. You can see Steel Magnolias on Amazon Prime for a small fee here. Yes, I’m digging deep to find some joy…anything that takes me back to a happier time, because life in the days of COVID? Well, a lot of the joy has been sucked out of daily life. I’m just telling it like it is…just like Ouiser would.

So to channel my inner Ouiser, I looked up some of her best quotes from the movie, and here they are…for your reading pleasure:

I’m not crazy; I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!

I’m pleasant, damn it! I saw Drum Eatenton this morning at the Piggly Wiggly, and I smiled at the son of a bitch ‘fore I could help myself.

Ugh. Leave me alone.

Don’t try to get on my good side. I no longer have one.

The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God.

He is a boil on the butt of humanity.

A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I’m not as sweet as I used to be.

This is it. I’ve found it. I’m in Hell.

Honestly, Ouiser doesn’t have a lot of the best quotes in the movie (that award goes to Truvy), but her character is a doozy. She says some of the things we would all like to say sometimes, but our manners keep us from saying them. She gives that meaningful scowl…the one that says “eat s**t and die.” It’s not likely I will start walking around telling people to “leave me alone,” but right now, I want to. I want to stand up and scream at the world to just stop! Just stop! Stop trying to make it look like COVID isn’t ruining a lot of our fun! Stop trying to make it look like everything is “normal.” It’s not. And yes, before you come at me telling me “we live in the best country in the world,” I will tell you that yes, I know that. I know I am fortunate to have a loving family and a roof over my head. But damn it, I’m sick and freaking tired of COVID. I know people who have died. I know people who have been terribly ill. And by golly, it’s OK for me to have a bad attitude for a while…just because.

I know my friends and family expect more from me, but frankly, I just want to kick COVID’s ass for messing up the good thing we had going on.

But after all this, I’m sure I will pull myself together. I will not be shouting “bah, humbug” at people or telling them to “leave me alone.” I’m sure that in a few days, I will embrace my inner M’Lynn or Clairee, once again, and move on. But unless you want to encounter Ouiser, you might want to tread lightly till the weekend.

In the meantime, if you want to join the Ouiser Fan Club, call me.

Remember Leif Garrett?

Remember Leif Garrett?

Yes, this is on my mind today…Leif Garrett. He was a teen idol when I was a preteen in the 1970s. He had been on a couple of TV shows…Three for the RoadFamily (with Kristy McNichol), and a guest spot on Wonder Woman. He had a singing career with a hit in I Was Made for Dancing. He was in the Walking Tall movies. He was on American Bandstand. And he even had his very own TV special on CBS. All that happened before he was 18.

I don’t even know why I started thinking about Leif Garrett yesterday. Sometimes, I start looking for movies I liked as a child or teenager, and yesterday, I thought of a coming-of-age film from the 80s called Little Darlings, starring Kristy McNichol and Tatum O’Neal. Somehow, that made me think of Leif Garrett.

Oh, he was such a dreamboat at the time! With his flowing blonde locks and surfer-boy looks, lots of teenage girls had his posters all over their bedrooms. Back then, we had Teen Beat and Tiger Beat magazines (remember those?) to keep us up-to-date on our teen idols, and in the late 70s, Leif Garrett was at the top of the list. But as we all know, most teen idols don’t last. Most are a flash in the pan…including Garrett. But there was something different about him. He had charisma that the others didn’t have. Well, David Cassidy had it, but I can’t think of anyone else from my time who had the same X Factor as Cassidy and Garrett. Somehow, David Cassidy managed to reinvent himself as an adult in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Broadway, but the only place we’ve seen Garrett was Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew…sadly.

I’ve seen clips and read articles about him over the last 24 hours, and his story is tragic. He started acting in commercials as a child before moving into TV and movies. At some point, a management team decided to make him a singing star. With his charisma, Garrett was a walking dollar sign. He felt like he had no say in his own career and told Rosie O’Donnell on her show that he didn’t see a lot of the money from his fame.

But the real turning point in his life was a tragic car accident when he was 17. He was driving his Porsche, and a friend was riding with him. They had an accident, and the friend was left paralyzed from the waist down. Alcohol and drugs were involved. All terrible. It’s also something that could happen to lots of teens…a cautionary tale.

It’s tragic. The friend’s paralysis is tragic. The guilt and downward spiral afterward of Garrett are tragic too. Had he not been in show business, would this have happened? It’s an ugly business. Tragic. He became an addict…cocaine, heroin…sad. Was it the guilt of the accident that sent him over the edge? He made some bad choices, but this was a kid who had too much freedom and too much power too early. Who could handle that at 17? Fame and money make a strange life for a teen. Even good people can get caught up in the trappings of fame. Drugs plus guilt…perfect storm.

I am not diagnosing Garrett. I am not a psychologist. I just wonder what could have been. I look at that innocent face of the 1970s, and I want him to have a mother or someone else to keep him grounded. Had he been more closely supervised, and had he not chosen to drive under the influence that night, would his life have spiraled out of control? It’s sad to look at the photos of that sunkissed, young, hopeful teen and know what a terrible turn his life took. I don’t think he was a horrible individual. He was a teenager without boundaries. He’s likely not a horrible individual now, but wow, he has had a tough life. If he had stayed clean, would he be living a “normal” life now? We will never know. Some teen idols go on to have seemingly healthy lives, but the vast majority seem to have more issues than the “average” kid.

So that brings me to Garrett’s book, released at the end of 2019. Of course, I didn’t know about it then, and I didn’t hear about it earlier this year. With COVID in our midst, there hasn’t been a lot of press about the memoirs of former teen idols. But when I learned about it yesterday, I ordered it from Amazon, and I’ve read a couple of chapters, and it’s pretty darn good so far. It’s called Idol Truth: A Memoir. Yes, I will be the first to admit that I tend to be sympathetic. I’m a bleeding heart. I tend to want the best for people, and I’m sure I will still want the best for Garrett when I finish this book. If you’re interested, you can order from Amazon here. It will be available on the Audible app on August 11…I’ve already preordered it.

In the meantime, I’ll give my teenage daughter some extra hugs and be grateful that she’s a normal teenage girl living a normal life in North Carolina…not a teen idol. And I’ll tell her the story of Leif Garrett as a cautionary tale. I’ll tell her how quickly his life spiraled out of control, and hopefully, we will both learn some valuable lessons from Garrett’s experience.

Please Drop In

Please drop in.

Maybe I should phrase that differently. Maybe I should say “please drop out.” What I mean is that we would love to have friends and family visit anytime, but only in the backyard. With the COVID pandemic, things have changed, and I don’t just let lots of folks in my house. But outside? All bets are off. If you’re in the area…or bored…or just looking for some company…come on over!

When I was growing up in different places in Alabama, folks used to drop in all the time. This was well before the era of the cellphone. Back in the 70s and 80s, if we were driving down the road and decided to drop in on some friends, we couldn’t just pick up a cell phone and call. I guess we could have gone to a payphone, but often that would have taken us out of our way. Drop-ins were common. Wanna stop in and see your friend? Turn into the driveway, and walk right up and ring the doorbell!

I remember, when I was a little girl living in Brewton, Alabama, my mother had a good friend named Martha. We lived on the outskirts of town, but Martha lived right in the middle of town…on the main drag…in a big, beautiful, historic home. We visited often, because she had kids our age. One day, when I was probably five or six, I had a baby tooth that was ready to fall out. It was even starting to hurt…it needed to come out. We were driving down Belleville Avenue, the road where Martha’s house was, and Mother said, “Let’s stop and let Martha pull it. She’s really good at pulling teeth.” And without calling ahead, we drove into the driveway, right up to the porte-corchere on the side of the house, like we owned the place. Mama knocked on the door, and Martha let us into her kitchen, which I thought was beautiful, because it had yellow gingham wallpaper. Martha stood me on a chair in her kitchen and pulled that tooth right out. I can still see in my mind exactly where I was standing.

Another time, Mother was going to drop in on Martha, but when she approached the driveway in her car, she didn’t see Martha’s car in the driveway. Instead of stopping, she kept driving. Later, when they were talking on the phone, Mother told her, “I was going to drop in to your house today, but when I got there, your car wasn’t there.” Martha replied, “Well, did you come to see me or my damn car?!? I was home! You should have stopped.” Mother laughed. In fact, that was a story Mother told for years afterward.

When we lived in Spanish Fort, Alabama, all the neighborhood kids dropped in all the time, and Mother’s friends would often show up on the doorstep. They would sit in the kitchen and drink coffee. And sometimes they talked for hours…solving all the world’s problems, I’m sure. Or maybe just talking about soap operas.

I vividly remember neighborhood moms standing around talking in the driveway. Back then, everybody didn’t have a garage with a garage door opener. We didn’t drive right into our garages when we got home from somewhere. We got out in the driveway, and if our neighbors were outside, everybody stood around and talked for a while. I think our garages/garage door openers put an end to that for a lot of people. Fortunately, in my neighborhood, we’ll see our neighbors out walking and pull our car over to chat. But that doesn’t happen everywhere.

When we were teenagers in the 80s, it was like we had a revolving door…neighborhood kids and teenagers in and out all the time.

Drop-ins used to be part of life. But no more. Now, everybody calls ahead, so we don’t have any pleasant surprises when friends show up unexpectedly.

I’m ready to change that. I’m telling my friends, “Drop in!”  Ring the doorbell when you get here, and if we’re home, I’ll motion for you to walk around the side of the house to the backyard, where we can sit by the pool and have a cocktail. If you want to bring lunch, that’s OK too! Chances are, I’ll be here, since I’ve become accustomed to spending more time at home with this pandemic happening. Of course, it’s hit or miss on whether I’ll still be in my pajamas, but if you don’t mind, I don’t mind! Maybe I’ll even share some cucumbers or tomatoes from my garden!

 

Big Blue Marble Penpals

Big Blue Marble penpals.

Who remembers Big Blue Marble, the TV show that came on Saturday mornings back in the 1970s (and apparently, on into the 1980s, according to Wikipedia)? Those of us who watched it know the title was a reference to our home planet. In each episode, it featured stories about real-life kids…one segment about an American child and a segment about a child living in another country. The show also encouraged viewers to send letters in to start penpal relationships with kids around the world. I loved it the show, but I never mailed in a letter. But maybe I should have! Because of this pandemic, I’ve discovered that having penpals is fun!

Weeks ago, in an effort to brighten the moods of my friends who are stuck at home, I started sending out letters and some postcards I had collected on different vacations. We are planning to travel with some friends this summer (yes, still planning to go…fingers crossed), so I sent them postcards featuring the places we will visit…because I’ve visited the places before. And lucky for me, when I was there, I picked up some picture postcards, and till now, I’ve never felt the need to use them. But thank you, COVID-19, for encouraging me to dig through all my stuff to find those postcards and send them to friends who live far away.

But here was something cool that I saw on Instagram: one hotel where we have stayed before posted something saying, “Send us your name/address in a direct message, and a member of our staff will mail you a letter from the hotel!” Because I thought it was a fun idea, I submitted my teenage daughter’s name and address…knowing she would love to get some snail mail from one of her favorite places on the planet.

And I was right! When the picture postcard arrived with a sweet note written by the director of guest services, she was thrilled! Without my having to tell you, I’m sure you know what I did. First, I encouraged my daughter to write back…and she did. And instead of just mailing her letter back, I stuck a letter of my own into the envelope, thanking the director of guest services for sending her a postcard.

Since I started mailing postcards and letters, I have had the most fun opening my mail to find some of my friends in faraway places have written back! Some thanked me via facebook or email, and that was thrilling too, because they all said it brightened their days. It’s funny how a simple gesture can make a difference. Seriously, it doesn’t take long to write a quick note, especially on a postcard, and mail it.

If only Big Blue Marble were still on, kids could all get some new penpals all over the world. If I had actually participated as a kid, it would have been a great way to learn about different cultures. I suppose it’s a little old-fashioned now, but I still think it would be fun. Sure, some people use social media to meet “new friends” in other countries, but I don’t trust that. I’ve seen a few too many episodes of 90 Day Fiance, so I see how people get “catfished.” I even saw an episode of Dr. Phil on which a woman had sent thousands of dollars to her “true love” in some foreign country, and then, every time she was supposed to meet him, he missed a flight or had some other lame excuse. He was catfishing her. So no, social media is not the same as the good old Big Blue Marble days, and receiving an email isn’t as much fun as receiving a handwritten letter or postcard.

So I’ll just keep on sending letters and postcards to friends and family in faraway places. If you’d like to receive a postcard, send a private message with your name and address!

In fact, I’m walking down to the mailbox to send off a few more postcards now.

 

It’s Official…I’m Not Tech Savvy

It’s official. I’m not tech savvy.

I went to college at a time when it was OK to not be tech savvy. I knew how to type. I knew how to use a Mac for journalism, since that was my major. I didn’t take a programming class, because I took Spanish…I loved learning a new language. I didn’t learn how to make a spreadsheet or how to use Microsoft Word. I don’t even know if all that existed then. I knew how to do what I knew how to do, and that was fine. It was the 1980s.

Right out of college, I took a job as a flight attendant. All I needed to know how to do on the computer was sign in for trips and sign out when I was done. Easy peasy! I didn’t need to know more! I later worked in the travel industry, planning trips and meetings, but there was a certain computer system we used for that. I knew what I knew, and it worked for me. I was a pen and ink girl for a lot of things, because I found that I remembered things when I wrote them down. I still take constant notes when I’m in a meeting or on the phone, because that’s how my memory works…write it down, and I’ll remember it. My memory rarely fails me. Four hundred people attending a meeting? I have immediate recall if I write the names down before typing them into the computer. When they arrived and told me their names, I knew if they were registered or not…immediate recall. If someone couldn’t find someone’s name in registration, they would come to me, and when I heard the name, I would know if they had actually registered or not…immediate recall.

And then, technology moved a lot faster than I did. I can use a computer. I can launch a simple website using WordPress. I have always been able to do most of the things I needed to do, or I knew who to ask.  I have a dear friend who is a librarian, and she has taught me a lot. Sometimes, when I knew it would take time for her to teach me how to do things, I simply asked her to do them for me, and being the awesome friend she is, she did them. But I should do better.

One thing I learned during this pandemic is that I need to get up to speed on technology.

With the pandemic, everything has become “virtual.” That means I had to learn how to join Zoom meetings and Google Meet. Seriously, I had never done that before, but now I get it! I haven’t set one up yet, but I’m going to figure that out too. I might even try that today, just so I know how when I need it.

This year, I became a member of the board of a club at our daughter’s school that produces and presents a big awards show at the end of the year, and I signed on to chair that event. Fortunately, the people who have chaired it for the past six years were still on board, and I would treat this year as an apprenticeship, because I learned that I have a lot to learn…about the event, the process, and about technology.

I like to think I “learned on the job” this year. I can usually open an app and figure it out. I’m not completely inept. And I’ve worked with the Word app before, but this year, I was given a Word template to use for the awards show, and it threw me for a loop! It was something that was to be top secret, and only my eyes could see the finished product, so I had to figure it out. Word is a pretty simple app, right? Well, I sat down to work with the template, which I had been warned was a little tricky, but I thought, “I’ve got this!” No, I didn’t. Every time I would try to replace script within the template, it became skewed, or it wouldn’t do anything at all! I would click where I wanted to type…nothing.

After struggling with the template, I called my librarian friend to ask her what I’m doing wrong. After telling her what was happening, she said, “I think you have a different version of Word on your laptop, and maybe you need the latest one.” I couldn’t get my computer to download the latest version of Word, because well, my laptop is on my husband’s ID, and I don’t know the password. He was out of town, so I called him…he doesn’t know it either. I think it’s time for me to get my own laptop. That was the first thing I learned.

I struggled. I stressed. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I refused to admit defeat. I refused to admit to the other committee members that I didn’t have a clue. I had a few days to figure it out at that point, so I put it aside and went to bed.

At about 1:30am, I woke up and had a thought, “Maybe I can download the latest version on my phone and make it work?” I downloaded the latest version of Word to my phone, and lo and behold…within two minutes, I had everything on the template changed. I slept peacefully after that. I had found a solution to my problem, and I even felt a little…dare I say… savvy!

In reality, I know I’m not savvy. When other people send me documents to peruse or edit, it still scares me. I’m terrified I will mess it up beyond repair. I tend to think of the old Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman, Steve Sax, in the 1983 season. I remember hearing someone say about him, because he was the error king, “He has messed up second base so badly, nobody will  ever be able to play it!”  (In all fairness, I should tell you Sax eventually overcame his case of the “yips” and had a full career in Major League Baseball…and he was easy on the eyes. You can see an old picture of him on TMZ here.)  I suppose I need to take my own advice that I often give our daughter. She enjoys sports, and I always tell her that if she believes she can do something…if she can visualize herself doing something in a game…she can do it. Sometimes, confidence will pull us through. My brother goes into things knowing he can do them. He’s not cocky. He’s just confident. I need to approach technology with the same confidence.

So if I’ve learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that I have a lot to learn. I have set a goal to learn as much as I can over the summer about different useful apps…so I won’t be afraid of them anymore. I’m going to learn how to create slides and videos and fancy, complicated spreadsheets. Sure, I might have to ask my teenage daughter to tutor me along the way, but that’s OK.

I also know I owe my librarian friend dinner and a cocktail for all the whining she has listened to!

Bring on the technology!

A Bluebird Takes Flight

A bluebird of happiness takes flight.

I just received word that a dear family friend passed away. When I say “dear family friend,” I mean someone who had basically been a member of my family since my parents first married in 1961. My mother met her when they were both working at a Sunland Center in Florida. Sounds luxurious, right? Well, Sunland was  actually a facility that specialized in offering services for the physically and mentally disabled…mostly children. My mother was a nurse there, and Cynthia, the family friend, worked in the recreation department. Cynthia was just 18 when they met, and while she admired Mother, I think Mother kind of took her under her wing. Mother was four years older, a registered nurse, and married. They became lifelong friends.

With encouragement from my mother, Cynthia later went to nursing school and then continued her education to become a nurse anesthetist…against the odds, since she was dyslexic. But she worked hard, and she was successful.

My parents moved to Alabama soon after I was born, and I remember Cynthia visiting regularly throughout my life. In fact, I thought she was my aunt till I was eight or nine. I have pictures of her visiting when I was a baby.  I know she was with us at a hotel in Panama City Beach in March 1970, when my toddler brother pulled a coffee pot off the table, burning himself. Mother and Daddy rushed him to the hospital, and Cynthia stayed with me. We watched people shooting fireworks off the balconies of the hotel…out over the beach. That’s likely one of my earliest memories, since I was not quite three years old. I’m sure it registered in my longterm memory because my brother’s burn was emotional for me.

Later, Cynthia had a little Triumph convertible. I thought she was the coolest, and I loved riding in that little car with her. She would visit us once or twice a year, and she was fun and energetic. She loved telling stories, and she loved to laugh. She had an infectious sense of humor with a twinkle in her eye, and she was always supportive of our little family. With no kids of her own, she treated us as if we were hers. Interestingly, somehow I remember that she was visiting us in Spanish Fort when I turned ten in 1977. She gave me a cool hooded shirt and shorts, and some Faberge Tigress cologne…what I thought was a grown-up gift! I loved it…the bottle was beautiful, with a fuzzy top that looked like a tiger skin. Funny what we remember.

And when Daddy was dying with pancreatic cancer, Cynthia was right there with us…helping us help him. I vividly remember her bathing mother’s dog and entertaining my daughter and my cousin’s daughter. The girls were two and three years old at the time, and Cynthia knew how to entertain them.

You might remember that I wrote about Cynthia once before, a couple of years ago when I wrote about the Bluebird of Happiness I found in my mother’s home after she died. I didn’t know where she got them, but I knew Cynthia often brought little gifts when she visited Mother, and I was right…when I called Cynthia, she said she had given them to her. I promptly packaged them up and sent them to Cynthia, and she later told me she kept them on a little table next to a picture of Mother. You can see the Bluebird of Happiness piece here. 

Last year, when I took my daughter and one of her friends on a road trip along the Gulf Coast, we visited Cynthia in Tallahassee. She took us to dinner at Shula’s atop the Hotel Duval, and we enjoyed the view of the Tallahassee skyline from the balcony. I had planned to see her again at Labor Day this year, when we visit Tallahassee again for a Florida State University football game.

While I’m brokenhearted…again…after a big loss, I know that if she were here with me right now, we would be laughing about something. She could make anything funny…with just a look.  In fact, last year, when we went to dinner, she kept my daughter in stitches with her crazy sense of humor. She told my daughter stories from my youth, and we laughed and laughed.

She loved my family as if we were her own, and the feeling was mutual, so this loss is a big one. It took the wind out of my sails. While I know loss is going to happen, this one was a shock. She was 76, but she was a young 76, if that makes any sense. She was a tough chick, and she is missed already.

Hug your loved ones, and if you can’t hug them because of this pandemic, talk with them as much as you can.

I Never Wanted to Homeschool

I never wanted to homeschool.

Seriously…never. It never, ever crossed my mind in a serious way. There were times I thought, “If we homeschool, we can go on vacation all the time! We can educate our daughter on the road!” And I know that works for some folks. But for me? Nope, nope, nope. I love my daughter, but we don’t need to be together 24/7.

Yet here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and homeschooling is the only way. I’m not officially homeschooling, because she is still signing in to her school website and having remote video “class” and conferences with teachers. Thank God. We just returned from “spring break,” during which our trip was actually canceled, but we had a break nonetheless. And now school is starting back.

Lucky for us, our daughter is 16 and a sophomore in high school. She is old enough to figure it out herself. In fact, I have been receiving emails from her teachers about remote learning, and every time I see one, I think, “Really? Don’t y’all tell us to be ‘hands off’ when they get to high school?” Why do they suddenly want us to be hands on?!? I know the students are home, but my daughter needs to drive this bus herself. I never know what her homework is, just like my mother never knew what my homework was in the 80s. That is entirely her responsibility.

When my daughter was in third grade, another mom approached me at school one day and asked, “Is your daughter ready for the Bunnicula test?” I must have looked at her like she had three heads, because I responded, “What the heck is a Bunnicula?” Apparently, it was a book they had read, and they were having a test on it that day. For a brief moment, I wondered how the other mom knew they were having a test! I had no idea, because even when she was in third grade, I didn’t help with homework. I didn’t help her get or stay organized. I didn’t help her with her homework at all. It was all up to her. That was her job…just like it is now. I know…I know…some of you will say that was a little too hands off. Trust me, I am a very present parent in every other way, but I have always believed she needed to learn how to do her schoolwork the same way I did…without any help from parents. I remember when she was in sixth grade, I sat down with her and taught her my secret method for studying for tests, and she has thanked me a million times since. I’ll offer guidance. But helping with daily homework? I’ve never done it.

She knows she can come to me for guidance when she needs it. I will always provide support and guidance. As recently as this morning, I reminded her that she needs to stay in close touch with her teachers. She needs to email or conference with them pretty regularly, even if she doesn’t feel like she needs help. She needs to keep the lines of communication open. That’s my advice for the day. That’s how I help her with her education.

Many times I’ve told her about a calculus class I had in college. I had a low A going into the final, but I had been meeting with the teacher two or three times a week to keep that A. And then I bombed the final…I don’t mean I made a C.  I bombed it. Back then, to see our exam grades before we left school at the end of the semester, we had to go see where they were posted outside the teacher/professor’s office door. After I saw my terrible grade, I entered his office, he said, “Oh, Kelly, you did not do well on the final.” I said, “I saw that!” I then asked him what grade I would get for the semester (the final was supposed to have a lot of weight). Instead of answering me, he asked, “What grade do you think you deserve?” I would have said a C. But seeing an opening, I returned the question, “What do you think I deserve?” He looked at me, very kindly, and said, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” He was from another country…I don’t remember where…so he spoke in broken English, but he had the sweetest way of expressing his wisdom, and he was a very compassionate man. I thanked him profusely, and I was on my way. I have remembered his kindness for all these years…and when someone in our family works hard and meets a goal or accomplishment, I say, “You do good in long journey.”

That’s my long way of saying I worked hard to try to get a good grade in that class, and my teacher recognized that. That’s what I am encouraging my daughter to do right now. She has heard that story a million times, and as a teenager, she might not fully hear it, but one day, something will happen, and she will know I’m right.

So, while I’m sure her teachers and school are simply making sure I’m informed with those emails they’re sending me, I’m not getting into the fray. If she were younger, I might have to jump in with both feet, but in 10th grade? Nah. She can do this, and she’ll appreciate it a lot more if she does it on her own.

Homeschooling? It’s still not for me. That’s one thing I know for sure. I’ll be team mom. I was a homeroom mom many times when she was in elementary school. I volunteer all over the place. But I’m not planning to take the reins on this homeschooling.

She’s got this. She will “do good in long journey.”