The Brick Wall

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Into every life some rain must fall. And into every writer’s life, writer’s block must rear its ugly head. Now, I know I’m being incredibly generous calling myself a writer, maybe a fledgling typist would be a more apt description, but I’ve literally hit a wall on a project I’m working on. It feels like I’m trying to reach the top of the last obstacle on American Ninja Warrior, or that torturous rope in gym class with a bell at the top. I just want to ring the damn bell, but I can’t even get up the first rung. The crazy thing is I have a million ideas of how to attack this issue in my head, but I’ve yet to make any of them work. So I sit there, for hours on end, watching the blinking cursor as it taunts me.

Those that know me well, know that I’m rarely at a loss for words. In fact, my mom likes to remind be of how I learned to talk. When I was a toddler, my father was off on an assignment and my mom was working in an orange packing plant. Faced with the need for childcare, my grandmother stepped into the role. My Grandma Bea was an amazing woman. Kind, caring, loving, a little on the crazy side, and very, very talkative. It’s understandable why she gets the blame for me. As my mom told me, “I left you with your Grandma with a two-word vocabulary. By the time she was done with you, you wouldn’t shut up!” She was a teacher at one point in her life so she obviously knew what she was doing. And since she taught me to talk, I’m going to pile on the blame and give her the responsibility for my incredibly verbose daughter as well. Seems fair to me.

I guess that’s why this is not an easy problem to wrap my head around. I should be able to do this, quickly and easily. But no. Instead here I sit, the well-versed talker, at a loss for words. Or at least the ability to put them onto virtual paper. This isn’t my first rodeo with the demon that haunts writers, but it’s my longest struggle. This battle is more difficult and protracted because, unlike my blog, I can’t just plug a recipe or a bad poem into the middle of a book on family conflict and make it work. Trust me, I’ve considered doing it…

When conflict plagues your family, there’s no better way to resolve it than to bake a batch of these fantastic Mocha Chip Cookies. As your family digs into the warm, chocolatey goodness, you will feel the conflict melt away. Much like the soft cookies melt in your mouth.

**Author’s note: Not appropriate for the vegan family, because this recipe is chock full of butter. Everything’s better with butter. If you’re a struggling vegan family, maybe you should try adding it to your life to make you all happier.  

Probably not a winner there. Perhaps the bad poetry route holds more promise:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

You hate me,

And I hate you.

Yeah, that’s not a good choice either.

I know that I will eventually figure this out. Until then, I think I may need another cup of coffee, a snuggle with my dog, and a little Hallmark Channel time. Or a nap.

Please Don’t Send Help

I’m not the most sentimental of people. The running joke with my friends and family is that I’m dead inside. Although, that may not be completely true as I’m not totally devoid of emotion. I will cry along with a friend that’s hurting, at funerals and oddly enough when people say nice things to me. (I know, I need more therapy.) But I don’t usually cry at movies, TV shows, etc.

I’m also a voracious reader, but I veer away from anything overly romantic or sentimental. I prefer historical fiction, detective novels, character driven literature and even dabble in the fantasy realm. I veer away from Nicholas Sparks, Jody Picoult and writers that like to pull at your heartstrings because I just can’t get into them. I read to be educated, transported into another time or place, and basically distracted from the realities of life in the 21st century, not cry my eyes out and bask in the happy endings of the characters in romance laden books.

Knowing all of that about me, may make what I’m about to say a little puzzling. You see, I have an addiction, that I’m afraid may take over my life. I’m addicted to the Hallmark Channel.

It all started a few years ago when I watched a couple of their Christmas movies with my daughter. They were sweet and corny and a great way to destress from all the holiday preparations. Sure there’s only about 4 different types of plots, but they’re just harmless fun. The next year a friend posted the schedule for the upcoming holiday Hallmark movies on her Facebook page. I looked it over and picked out a few to watch when they started. That year my daughter was ill over the holiday season so what started out as a few to watch turned into several as I tended to her over her Christmas break.

The next year I went looking for the schedule and ended up watching about half of their new movies for that year with a few of the older ones peppered in for good measure. I only recorded a couple of them that I was going to miss when they aired, but my DVR was full of lots of other things as well. Then came October of 2016. Yes October. There was at least one new entry into the Hallmark holiday movie collection that aired in October. Of course I had to record it to watch when the girl came home for a visit from college. After all, it’s our girl time. In November, they aired a new movie every night during the week of Thanksgiving. And then a new one every Saturday for the duration of the Christmas season. Needless to say, our DVR cup runneth over with Hallmark Christmas movies by the time January 1 rolled around.

Over the next couple of months, during her visits home, the girl and I managed to burn through most of the movies. I’m sure the DVR sighed in relief thinking it was done with Hallmark until fall. Sadly, its relief was to be short lived. You see, about the time the school year ended and my college kid came home for the summer, I discovered that the Hallmark channel makes movies all year long. Stupid, schlocky, mindless, but somehow appealing movies. There’s a new one every Saturday night. So my DVR has a date every Saturday at 8. Whether it wants one or not.

I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but it isn’t. While watching the recorded movies, I began to see ads for a returning series that starred a couple of actors I like. Actors I like on my guilty pleasure network? How could I resist? I couldn’t. So I recorded the pilot movie, then quickly burned through Season 1 on demand in time for the new season premiere.

And that’s how I got to where I am today. Turns out that there’s a Hallmark double feature every weekday afternoon. And on the weekend, the air movies all day long. I started out just stopping on them as I flipped through channels if I needed the noise while I worked on other things, to actively changing the channel if the TV was on at the right time, to turning the TV on specifically to watch, to finally recording them on occasion. And now? Well, I won’t be surprised if my DVR eventually starts recording the channel 24/7. Either that or burns out in protest.

If I were a stronger person I’d say I’m done with the Hallmark Channel and its low budget, simplistic, yet somehow irresistible, stable of movies. But I’m not. And I really don’t have any intention of giving them up anytime soon. Instead I will embrace my addiction and lovingly feed it. Speaking of which, you’ll have to excuse me, some poor little shop girl is about to meet her prince charming…

May We Forever Be Grateful

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It was a quiet morning in the condo on Top Sail Island, NC, the morning of September 11th. My friend, whose parents owned the condo, and I had driven out to the Atlantic coast with my two kids, aged 1 and 3, for a week on the beach.  My husband had just started a new job that kept him at home, but we decided to enjoy some girl time sprinkled in with the demands of my toddlers.

That morning, I started the coffee as quietly as possible, not wanting to wake the sleeping kids. My friend joined me just as it was finished brewing and we turned on the morning news to get the weather report. I’ll never forget what we saw next. It was a shot of the Twin Towers in New York City, with smoke pouring out of one of the towers. The reporter was relaying the information that a plane had run into the tower and started a fire. The police and fire departments were already on the scene and preparing their command center to fight the fire and evacuate the building.

My friend and I were a little shocked to see what had happened. My husband is a pilot, so I called him back home to get his take on the situation. I woke him up with the news that an accident had happened and a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. As he was explaining to me how unlikely an accident like that is due to the flight patterns over NYC, we watched as the second plane hit the adjacent tower. And that’s when we knew – it was no accident. I finished up my phone call so that my friend could call her parents and let them know what was going on.

As we were immersed in making sure our friends and family were alerted to the situation, my sleepy little three-year-old made her way out of her room and into the living room without us hearing her. We realized she was up when she exclaimed, “My daddy! My daddy is on that building! My daddy is on that plane!” I quickly ran to her, turning off the TV on my way to picking her up, and reassured her that daddy was at home, safe. I even called him again so that she could hear his voice. It took a little convincing though as my husband had been in New York City, on the top of the Twin Towers, just a couple of weeks before that fateful day. I was flabbergasted that she remembered he had just been there, but then that child has always been a precocious one.

My son woke up shortly after we got my daughter calmed down. We then turned our attention to getting the kids fed and dressed. Wanting to avoid the news for the kids’ sake, we prepared to hit the beach to play in the sand and with the tiny crabs that liked the wet sand. We had a nice morning, trying our best not to focus on what was going on in New York City.

My friend and I actually met when we were both working in Civil Service, writing and administering promotional exams for the police and fire departments. We were intimately familiar with the standard operating procedures for first responders, including how and where they would set up their Incident Command center. We had even met a couple of officers from the NYPD and wondered aloud if either of them were at the scene.

Just as we were about to gather the kids up and head in for lunch, a couple that we had seen walking the beach talking to people approached us. They had been inside watching the events of the day unfold and then felt compelled to hit the beach and share the news with all of us. In the few hours that we were on the beach a lot had happened. And while the couple were off on a few of the details, they had one, gut-wrenching fact correct. The Twin Towers had fallen. Hearing that news my stomach dropped. My friend and I instantly knew the kind of devastation that had wrecked on the command structure of the NYPD and FDNY. We were certain the towers fell onto the Incident Command center, because we knew the most likely place to set up was at the base of the Towers. The collapse killed not just the frontline police and firefighters that were dispatched to the scene, but the lieutenants, captains, chiefs and commanders that were on scene to manage the response. The loss to the departments was unfathomable because the departments didn’t only lose an incredible number of officers, they also lost the wisdom and experience provided by their senior officers. By some accounts, the departments are still recovering from that loss.

In the days that followed September 11, we did our best to keep the kids away from the news. Even without the constant reporting and reminder of what had happened, we noticed changes around us. For one, the beach became eerily quiet because there was no airline traffic in the sky. We hadn’t realized how many international flights flew over the condo until they were suddenly gone. When we went into town we saw that the military base we had been on a few days prior was inaccessible. Every road in and out of Camp Lejeune was barricaded for security purposes. It all left me with the feeling that life would be different from here on out. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew things would change.

We left North Carolina a few days later and began the trek home to Texas. The massive rescue effort at the site of the Towers had become one of recovery. And the funerals for the fallen were just starting. We passed countless police and fire vehicles headed towards New York. They were from all over the country and were going to help in any way they could. For the most part they served as pallbearers, traffic control, and fill-ins for the police and fire departments as they buried their dead and began to figure out a way forward from their loss. Just as you see in the military, those that carry badges and fire hoses form a brotherhood. Geography matters not. Race matters not. Gender matters not. Sexuality matters not. They all bleed red and answer the call when needed.

So, on this, the 16th anniversary of the day the world stopped turning for a moment, I would like to thank the men and women that respond when we are in distress. Despite the occasional bad seed that gets splashed across our TV and computer screens, the vast majority of our first responders serve with honor, integrity and great courage. They want nothing more than to protect and serve despite knowing that each time they strap on their service weapon, or button up their bunker coat, they may be required to lay down their life. There is no greater love than that.

Thank you for your service. Thank you to your families that support you. Thank you for always answering the call. May those you serve never take you for granted.

What Not to Wear – Yoga Edition

beginner-yogaI’ve recently rediscovered my love of yoga. When my daughter was very young, before my son was even a glint in his fathers’ eye, a friend and I would go to a yoga class at the gym. While I loved going, it became impossible to continue with my husband’s very hectic flight schedule and the lack of funds to pay a babysitter. Reluctantly, I gave up regularly attending a yoga class.

Fast forward to this summer when my now college-aged daughter found a Groupon for our local yoga studio. She wanted to go and asked if I would join her. After a little internal debate, I eventually said yes.

I must admit that I was a little reluctant to go to class the first time. I grew up feeling like the frog that when kissed, instead of becoming a fairy princess, would turn into a fairy dust bunny. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the last couple of decades to become comfortable in my own skin and I’m there. Most of the time.

Part of my trepidation about rejoining the yoga community had to do with the area I live in. We may not be South Beach or Pasadena, but my little slice of Texas is filled with big haired, tight bodied, beautiful women. Lots of the moms I’m surrounded with take great pride in their appearance and aren’t afraid to invest in themselves. I learned this at a Ladies Night Out event in my neighborhood. We were having a lovely evening, enjoying some cocktails and girl talk when the conversation turned to the possibility of a neighbor having an in-home Botox party. I very politely excused myself from the conversation and returned to my normal, wrinkle embracing life.

Prior to my first class at the studio, I was afraid I would be walking into a class full of Barbie dolls in tight yoga pants, sports bras and perfectly pony-tailed hair. I may be more confident now than I was 20 years ago, but I had no desire to feel like Broomhilda while attempting to contort my body into positions that only cats should find themselves in. Upon walking into the studio for the first time I was very pleasantly surprised. None of my, admittedly judgmental and paranoid, fears were realized. Instead of a room full of mean girls, I found a room full of warm, inviting and encouraging people. Not a plastic person in the bunch.

Finding myself comfortable in this studio, I decided to try as many different classes as possible. Everything was going swimmingly as I fell in love with yoga all over again. I looked forward to pulling on my workout gear, grabbing my mat and hitting the studio. I even bought myself a new pair of yoga pants as my old ones were a little big.

One Tuesday evening I decided to wear those new yoga pants to class. I typically wear a tight fitting, or a long flowing tank during my practice, but that night neither of those options were clean. I opted instead for one of my workout tees. It was a little shorter than I like, but it was comfortable so I didn’t give it a second thought. When I got to the studio, I settled my mat on the floor, hiked up my pants and prepared to warm up and get centered.

Yoga classes almost always start in a sitting position as we take a moment to get in touch with our breath and let the stress of the day float away. There I was focusing on my breath when I felt a little breeze on my back. Realizing that my shirt had ridden up a bit, I reached back and pulled it down, then returned to setting my intention for my practice.

My practice was going well until my first downward facing dog. For the uninitiated, that’s a position where you plant your feet on the back of your mat, bend forward and place your hands at the top of your mat forming a wide v shape. Then you focus on dropping your weight into the mat and sticking your butt up in the air. I planted my feet and started to bend over. As I did that, I felt my shirt fall towards my head and my pants start to make their way closer to my hips. I quickly stood up, made the necessary adjustments to my wardrobe and did my best to find a decent down dog pose.

Progressing through the various poses in class, I found myself frequently having to pull my shirt down and my pants back up. Yes, it was a little annoying, but it really wasn’t a big deal. I just readjusted when necessary and then soldiered on. I was managing to hold it all together, well, actually keep it all up, until we entered into the floor portion of the class. Apparently, all of the up and down dog, plank and cobra was, unbeknownst to me, quietly taking its toll on another piece of my clothing.

Preparing for bridge pose, I rolled down onto my mat, bent my knees and rolled my shoulders under my back as if I was reading a book. I walked my feet closer to my sit bones and lifted my pelvis into the air. At that exact moment, my overtaxed, and aged, underwear decided it was time to allow its elastic band to break free. Literally. So here I am, butt in the air, shirt riding up, pants, and now my underwear, riding down. To add insult to injury, I was in the front of the class. If I didn’t manage to find a way to rectify my situation before we got up off the mat, the entire row behind me was about to see the moon indoors, which I’m certain would have been responsible for at least a couple of cases of temporary blindness.

I laid there for a moment trying to wrap my head around my predicament. I came to the realization that I was going to have to continue lying on my mat until class was over and everyone had left. No one would notice I did 20 minutes of relaxation to end my practice instead of the usual five, right? I quickly pushed that notion aside and accepted the fact that I was going to have to reach into the back of my pants to try to return my underwear to its rightful place, hoping that no one would notice. I opened my eyes, quickly scanned the room, and not seeing the whites of anyone’s eyes decided to go for it. I got ‘er done and then made another scan of the room to make sure no one had seen me reaching into my pants like a bored three-year-old. I thought I was in the clear until I got to the very last person in class. I locked eyes with the gentleman at the back of the studio and could tell from his embarrassed smile that he had witnessed my wardrobe malfunction. I quickly turned back to the front of the class and refused to look in his direction again – even when we did a twist that faced his way. I also decided that I needed to figure out which car he drove to yoga so that I could be on the lookout for it to ensure we were never in class together again.

Much to my relief, I made it through the rest of class without another clothing induced incident. As I settled into my final resting pose and began to relax, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. I’ve always said that when given the choice between laughing and crying, I choose to laugh. It’s just more fun. I finally settled down and enjoyed the quiet and peace that find in only two places, in prayer, and on my mat at the end of practice. By the end of class I was relaxed and had nearly put the whole thing behind me.

When class was over, I rolled up my mat and headed for the door. Walking out of the studio, I accidentally locked eyes with the man that witnessed my bridge pose pantsing. I’m certain I turned bright red and I fully expected him to start laughing. Instead he just smiled kindly, nodded and walked out into the parking lot.

It may be wishful thinking, but I like to believe that gentleman has forgotten what he saw. But if not, it’s okay. I still go to yoga, wearing a long shirt to be sure, and I enjoy it even more now than I did two months ago. I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon. And if Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear to ambush me with an offer replace my yoga wardrobe? I’ll gladly give up those yoga pants and that shirt. But they’ll have to go digging through the landfill for those underwear.

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