I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now… I guess ever since we decided to bake up a couple of twins from scratch using borrowed eggs and my forty-seven- year-old oven. My daughter once called us the “Real Modern Family” – and you know, she’s right. I’m a Southern woman married to a half-Korean, half-Italian/Slovenian Yankee man twelve years my junior; I have two beautiful twenty-something daughters, an arthritic dappled dachshund and a morbidly obese cat. And now, after much thought and consideration — and then funding and injections, vaginal suppositories, and appointments — I have started motherhood all over again. This will be the story of us: our real modern family. Or maybe, more appropriately, our postmodern family. Postmodern, as in “radical reappraisal.” And our story is, indeed, a radical reappraisal of how to make and nurture a family.
Many things have changed since that summer almost three years ago when we began our in-vitro journey… I will do my best to record current happenings, as well as flashbacks to those glory days of post-modern fertilization, pregnancy pillows, and preeclampsia. I’m hoping our story will be an inspiration to those battling the frustrations of infertility, to those navigating the beautiful and rugged territory of twindom, and to those who decide to either start a family or do it all over again at a rather ripe age.
Even as I try to type this, I question why I’m doing it. I have nothing special to say. I’m nothing special. I nearly stop before I’ve begun, but then I think… I’m nothing special, true… but I do have something different to offer. I can’t imagine there are too many forty-nine year olds out there lactating. Not too many women out there with twenty-three years difference between their last baby girl and their most recent baby boys, not too many women who, as my father says, “ran the engine and the caboose when it comes to supplying grandchildren.” Not too many women out there who just suffered through a sixteen-month stint of extreme sleep deprivation. If nothing else, I can be a freak show for people to point at and ridicule. Still, I hope I can inspire a few to give postmodern family planning a go.
Tomorrow marks one full week since moving day – a day that arrived with hurricane force. Literally, in a manner of speaking.
Nine Cartersville Purple Hurricane football players helped get us here. They blessed us with their hearts and their strength. My daughter and son-in-law were here to help too. Without them all, we couldn’t have gotten it done. Words can’t express my love and appreciation.
Since then, we’ve unpacked boxes, set up the kitchen, arranged furniture, assembled beds, unpacked more boxes, unrolled rugs, learned to cook with a toaster ovens (backorder backstory), hung artwork, unpacked more boxes… well, you get the picture. And we’re not done yet.
But one room is finished: the library. It needed to be. For my sanity and soul’s sake.
A room without books is like a body without a soul
Thus spoke Cicero… and he and I, we’re in philosophical agreement.
And this room — it has soul. Lots of it. My daughter and I exhumed an entire library of souls, including Darcy, Dalloway, Celie & Shug, and granted them a new resting place. We even shelved a few who sold theirs — Dorian Gray, Young Goodman Brown, Nathan Price, the Vampire Lestat. And there’ll soon be a new girl named Addie LaRue!
I will feed on these souls like the Vampire Lestat. I will stoke the rich, yellow flame that rests in the seat of my own soul with the content of the greatest of creators. Austen, Walker, Kingsolver, Woolf, and so many, many more. Because, as my famous mentor said:
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
So just this morning, I carved out a couple of minutes to settle in for a seance with the GOAT herself. No, really — Woolf was nicknamed Goat as a child by her family back before GOAT meant what GOAT means today (Nailed it!), and she famously said:
A woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction.
Well, I now have the room.
A beautiful room where the beauty of the world with its two exquisite edges — laughter and anguish — may ripple and ripen beneath my fingers. A room where my soul sings to me in concert with the souls singing all around me.
Virginia Woolf and I are also in philosophical agreement. A woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction.
Last night, the Cartersville High School Class of 2021 graduated. And in true pandemic fashion, the year of never-ending challenges refused to let up.
Storms came. The sky raged and splintered. The clouds shuddered and roared. Sheets of rain raced across the stadium, pummeling the stage where the seniors were at that very moment supposed to be receiving their diplomas.
About forty people (school administrators, teachers, and techies) huddled beneath a tiny tent just right of center stage (to protect the sound equipment inside, not themselves).
The stands were empty, families and friends recently vacated to parked car interiors, teachers hunkered down in the field house. It would prove a stuffy, stormy, two-hour delay.
The seniors, robed and tasseled and anxious to get the show on the road, were huddled inside the school gym, appropriately named The Storm Center.
The graduates knew the rain was coming. School officials knew the rain was coming. They’d all been watching their weather apps the entire week. Watching as the chance of thunderstorms kept climbing, finally topping out at 100% .
But the seniors had taken a vote. They didn’t care if it was midnight, come hell or high water (and oh, how that high water came), graduation would be Friday. Too many had too many plans Saturday: family leaving, family vacations, graduation parties, Life.
But first, came the ceremony… and 2021 was’t done making mischief just yet.
The families and seniors had just taken their seats when class representative Alli Archer welcomed the crowd. As she commented on her class’s perseverance, the lights in the stadium flickered and failed.
But this was just one more hurdle the seniors sailed past. They cheered their defiance. Friends and family took up their cause and thousands of phones lit up the stands in solidarity.
The effervescent energy of this class is contagious and God took note.
Class secretary Robert Novak concluded his prayer with a hallowed Amen when God restored all the lights. Chill bumps and cheers erupted in the stadium.
2021 would not, could not, win.
Despite the hardships and hurdles flung their way, this senior class — this beautiful, resilient 2021 class — didn’t just weather the storm, they owned it. And how could they not? They are Cartersville Purple Hurricanes. It’s in their genes.
So much has happened in the last five days. The flooring was laid. The countertops installed. The light fixtures hung.
Y’all… the harmony, the rhythm, the texture of it all.
It’s like a symphony. It’s like some poetic promise was poured through my dreams into a reality beyond beautiful. The perfect notes curled into the perfect chords to create the perfect composition.
So much depth. So much light. So much energy.
I can’t even.
So just look…
So now come all the finishing touches. The rest of the paint, too. (No, that Great Room in the distance of the first picture is not staying yellow.)
And the kitchen backsplash is being laid. And the shower fixtures are being installed. The tub is in place, but not anchored in. The same with the console sink in the powder bath. And the mirrors will be hung and the appliances slid into place.
Well, except for the ovens. The double ovens, scheduled for pickup and install yesterday, are now not coming in until July.
Cue the scratching hiss of a needle on spinning vinyl… The one major hitch in our harmony.
No ovens for at least six weeks.
Thankfully, I’ll have a cooktop on the island. We’ll be doing lots of saucepan suppers. But hey, who bakes in the heat of the summertime in the south anyways?
And as long as I have them in time for a gazillion batches of cookies for the football players come fall, I can take this in stride.
Still, the fact that we move in next Friday — one week from today — with the help of a slew of football players who will be richly rewarded this fall when those double ovens finally do come in — is music to my ears.
This past week, the remodel was rolling right along. The cabinets were installed. The kitchen and office, painted. The tile set, the grout, smeared. But then… snags.
The office was painted the wrong color. The sink and cabinets didn’t line up. The couple buying our current house slid another financial contingency our way (an easy hurdle, but scary when it arrived).
All in a single day.
And now the painters have slowed their progress. Too many jobs for them, too little time.
Mike and I walked through last night. To think, in two weeks, we should be settling in. But then, there’s so much still to be done.
I’m doing my best to stay patient. All the things are scheduled – if the schedule sticks. We’re kind of at the mercy of subcontractors.
The ceilings are being painted this weekend. The flooring will be laid on Tuesday of this week. Lighting goes in on Monday. Countertops arrive on Thursday. Plumbing and fixtures hit Friday. Appliance install is at the end of the week, too, along with our new mantel. The rest of the painting, the following week.
It’s happening. But some weeks it feels like wading through sorghum.
And speaking of slow as molasses, I’ve got to make it through two more weeks of the hardest school year ever. The year that laid claim to my father and aunt will finally be over in another two weeks. The sadness won’t end, but hopefully a shift will occur. A pivot. A pointing toward positive.
In two weeks, a new chapter can begin. Two weeks.
My favorite, oh-so-British, unit of time. Such a mysterious, promising span. It’s appropriate that I first encountered it inside the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The term is an abbreviation of fourteen nights. And when I began penning this blog, that’s how many there were until our June 4, move-in-day: fourteen nights.
A promise that after all the nights, comes the day…
Thank you, God. I’m so tired of the nights. And so much mystery and promise typically does come with the two-week time slots of a fortnight.
Two week notices
Vacation and travel schedules.
The cycles of the moon, from new to full.
From the ping of ovulation to a pair of pale pink lines.
New life springs eternal in so many ways. Here’s to the mystery and promise of a fortnight.
There’s a giddy little feeling in my belly every time I walk in the door of our remodel. Butterflies flitting; bees buzzing. It’s a bit like falling in love.
Our project has hit the really sexy stage — and at dizzying speeds.
Wet paint. Hung cabinets. Hard granite. Stripped floors. Silken sheens. Phew! It leaves me breathless.
And the kitchen, in particular, makes me swoon.
Two days ago, it stood empty, a mottled mix of drywall mud and tired blue paint, Today, it’s dazzling, simple, clean, and bright. Like salt licks and sugar cubes.
It leaves me drooling..
And then there’s the dark, deep, urbane bronze island. Y’all. I can’t. It’s too gorgeous. Too perfect. Holy hotness! (And the floors and countertops aren’t even in yet!)
Then there’s our master bath. The shower lip and tub platform are erected. The niches recessed and waiting. Waiting for the grout to get laid. The fixtures to be put in, turned on.
And have I mentioned the newly-installed custom bookcase in the study? The floor-to-ceiling bookcase? Inside what will soon be a dark, moody, north-facing study painted the same deep, urbane bronze as our handsome island in the kitchen?
I have to confess I’ve never done this sort of thing before, and I’m finding it an endorphin rush like no other. (Well, almost.)
So, y’all — remodeling. I finally get what all the fuss is about.
Walking into the remodel this week, it feels rather bleak. It’s been cloudy or raining, which doesn’t help any. The progress seems stalled. Everything smells sort organic, like sawdust and drywall mud. There are wires dangling and pipes poking out.
It’s all the underbelly stuff, raw and exposed, and just waiting for life to take root.
It kind of reminds me of another raw, exposed point in our lives when Mike and I were deep in the underbelly of the IVF process and, likewise, waiting for life to take root.
It was also that germinal stage, where the boys had been conceived (under the guidance and care of contracted experts). My uterus had been scraped and prepped and chemically insulated, and I was lying there in the stirrups, plumbing exposed, tubing and wires hanging out, waiting for the transfer. Waiting for the professionals to come swooping in to fill my interior with life. The life we’d planned and prayed for.
And that’s where I feel like we’re at with our house — in that germinal stage where all the ideas have been conceived, the prep work completed, the progress multiplying — although almost invisible to the untrained eye.
But the professionals tell me the progress is substantial.
And tomorrow — tomorrow! — the connective web of visible changes begins. Tomorrow, one after another, the replicating pattern of tile will take hold in the bathrooms, doubling and tripling and breaking ground for a whole host of physical changes developing over the next few weeks.
The basic structures are in place, but in the next week, the kitchen cabinets — like upper and lower chambers of the heart of our home — will be installed. The painting and flooring will happen soon, too, adding pigment and personality to our sweet girl. And then, finally, the fixtures, sprouting like appendages from ceilings and sinks.
We’re about two-to-three weeks out now — so close! (but it all still feels so far!) — until we can finally introduce our girl to the world.
We’ve got three more weeks with kids and then one more for post-planning, and I’m ready. This year nearly convinced me I didn’t want to ever teach again.
It’s just been so hard. To keep going. To make connections. To smile.
Nobody could see them anyway, hidden behind our masks. And for me, Miss Far-from-Dynamic-or-Charismatic-or-Entertaining… smiles are how I form connections with my kids. How I build relationships with them. One reassuring, genuine smile at a time. (But after the loss of two of the most important people in my life, the few smiles I had weren’t always even genuine.)
Some folks have a presence that commands, an energy that radiates off their entire being like they swallowed the sun and breathe its fire through their pores.
That’s not me.
I’m quiet and unassuming, and I easily blend into the background. But I am warm and I am safe. I’m steady and exacting. And so is my classroom. And smiles are how I convince students to take risks inside its walls, under my warm, watchful eye… and smile.
I’m a firm believer in rigor. I challenge. I set a high bar and watch my students struggle to meet it, with smiles of encouragement and with applause and constructive criticism, and the warm assurance that they are in a safe place.
But not this year.
This year, the rigor was softened — the only soft spot in the entire year.
It had to be. This year, the rigor couldn’t come from the classroom because the rigor was coming at them hard from life. For them. And for me. These are some of the toughest tests we’ve ever endured.
So the smiles were lost. From them. From me.
And we all feel lost. We all feel like we lost.
And we did. We have.
We lost loved ones. I lost my dad. I lost my aunt.
We lost our edge and gained a few edges we’re not proud of — edges formed from resentment and anger. And we nearly lost our motivation. (Some of us, sadly, did.) And our lights were nearly snuffed out.
Remember that old Sunday School song about hiding your light under a bushel? Well, with our smiles hidden under a bushel, the Satan in the form of Covid almost stole our light.
Me, I’ve tried faking it till I make it. Since my smiles are invisible, I’ve tried slipping them inside my voice. Packing my vocal chords as tight with tinkling, prismatic light as I possibly can and then practically singing each student’s name as they come down the hall. But the muffler slung ear to ear on my face acts as a soft pedal, tamping down my smile and energy. They meet me with their own, soft, tamped down greetings behind their own, soft, tamped down smiles.
And the connections have been slow. Or not at all. With almost all of them. Except, thankfully, for my study hall kids. My study hall kids make for an ideal case study on the importance and value of smiles.
Those kids, they get to see me smile. And I get to see them smile. And for an hour each day during lunch, they eat in my room, and I eat in my room, and none of us wear masks. It’s a small group of eighteen. And they’re all spaced out – each to their own five foot desk.
So no masks, and lots of smiles. And the relationships I have with them are flourishing.
But with my six other classes? Well.
We are not well and good. We are far from it. And we are all so thankful this year is drawing to a close.
No, this year has not been my best. And it sounds silly to say because I know no teacher thinks this year was their best. Nobody at all thinks this year was their best.
But I guess sometimes saying it helps. Sometimes saying it helps us move on. And I need to move on. I’m ready.
I’m ready to put this school year to bed and wake up and unleash my smile.
We closed on the last bit of property in my father’s estate today. In April, my husband, boys, and I took a little ride through the land of the pines from Cartersville, Georgia to North Caroline, from there to Virginia, then east from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City Tennessee.
Along the way, we visited several gaps, including Big Stone Gap, Cumberland Gap, and our primary destination, Fancy Gap.
Virginia is chock full of ’em.
Since I knew what a “thigh gap” was, I found myself wondering if the mountainous ones were sort of the same.
Turns out, a geographical gap is the lowest point between two mountains, providing relatively easy passage for settlers; the other, the anorexia-driven absence of topography on the sexualized female body (and therefore, easier passage).
The two are synonymous. And both are societal low points, as far as I’m concerned.
The land is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. But not only is Daniel Boone territory chockfull of gaps, it’s also chockfull of rebel flags.
Fancy Gap is nestled between Mitchell Knob and Harris Mountain, an hour’s drive north of Winston-Salem. Back in pioneer times, a trip down and back to the tobacco giant would’ve taken five treacherous days.
So treacherous, in fact, that legend has it a team of mules — one named Peter — was positioned along the pass to pull wagons out of danger. The area came to be known as Peter Pull, and between Dad’s love of mules, the fact that a gap was involved, and the double entendre of his patronym, is it any wonder my long-suffering bachelor father bought property here? (My father’s name — Randy Peters — was oh-so apropos.)
Fancy Gap’s a town whose population is nearly as tiny as its dimensions. In 2010, there were 237 citizens (down from 260 in 2000.) and there are nearly as many stars and bars on porches and posts as there are people.
Which brings me to another piece of this place’s past I uncovered while there — a stream called Yankee Branch. The story behind it is far darker than the humorous Peter Pull. This creek got its name after two rebel brothers slaughtered an encampment of union occupation soldiers on its banks. One brother purportedly wore a Yankee uniform jacket to church every Sunday for the remainder of his years, bullet holes proudly displayed on his back.
Is it any wonder Mike, who is both of mixed parentage and a Damn Yankee, has muscles still aching from the tension, weeks later? Is it any wonder my heart is still aching from this hate-filled heritage held tight a century-and-a-half later?
I even hate using that word. Heritage. It’s how people around here defend that damned flag. I don’t want to celebrate the customs and culture of treason and hate — one that enslaved and dehumanized an entire population. One that continued to refuse rights and deny opportunities to that population for decades after the war, and one that persists in flaunting the hate and privilege that flag promotes from pickup trucks and front porches to this day. Old times there are not forgotten.
But they should be. Or at least not idolized.
Southern Pride is not my kind of pride. Nor was it my father’s, thank God. Still, it’s a complicated inheritance — the property we were there to deal with in the first place, and then the equal parts love and revulsion I feel from being southern born and bred.
I love the flora and fauna here. The accents and cooking. The smiles and sunshine. I do not love the fixation with confederate army relics and the past.
And here, I’ll take my stand.
That past was not some noble, God-fearing kingdom. It was a festering swamp of slavery and manslaughter. It stunk then and it stinks even worse now, after percolating in its own poisonous putrid presumptive self love.
Kind of like my Dad’s trailer…
It’s why we went there in the first place remember? And we found it, sinking into itself at the ankle end of a dogleg gravel road within a mass of fallen leaves, broken windows, coroded beer cans, and moldy siding– the remnants of past seasons, now nothing but decay and detritus. Inside, more shattered glass and cankerous ceiling tiles stewing in a slurry of insulation, rat droppings, and rain.
The closets were open and empty, as were the cabinets in the kitchen. A spongy rug in the den oozed the faint hint of skunk – whether animal or meth aftermath, who knows? One chair, a folding vinyl one, stood upright and pulled up to a greasy, head-shaped inprint on a pillow atop a murphy desk.
The place had been ransacked who knows how many times by who knows how many people. Even the toilet was upended, a sneer of cold command on its toppled visage.
It’s glory days long gone, nothing of value remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, the lonely, lore-filled mountains stretch far, far away.
The inheritance left behind will need to be hauled off and something new built in its place. It’s hardly worth the scrap metal left behind, tarnished and tainted as it is. And honestly, that’s as it should be.
School is winding down and our house remodel is picking up.
The demolition is nearly done. Floors are bare, surfaces are stripped, and a couple more walls have come tumbling down. Our vision is gaining new light and our faith is coming to fruition!
We walked in the other day while the kitchen wall was breathing its last. It gave me goosebumps to see it fall, like scales, from my eyes.
The space stretches out before us like a prairie, vast and ample. It’s both exhilarating and daunting to think we’re sowing the seeds of our future here.
But it’s not all fertile soil and wide open spaces.
Because there’s the matter of the cramped little cubby of a bathroom off Mike’s and my bedroom that we’re trying to cultivate into a little patch of paradise.
Picture a craggy cranny of jutting angles and narrow crevices.
By blasting the doorway and wall between the separate vanity room and the sort of larger shower-toilet-second sink room, we opened her up.
Still, she isn’t quite where we need her to be. So we’ve annexed a former game closet off the Great Room and are twisting it into new life as a water closet.
We’re sliding the toilet into the newly recessed area that backs up to the great room and coaxing space enough to accommodate something along the lines of a wet room, with a stand-alone soaking tub for me and an open shower for Mike.
So we’re maiming closets for a tub — a tub some folks would find it silly for us to even try carving out space for. I saw a question posed yesterday on social media about whether or not anybody truly needs one in a primary bath anyways.
And I say YES.
Yes I do.
It’s how I unwind.
Every. Single. Night.
People love showers. I get it. (Well, I really don’t.) Still, I don’t care if I’m the sole surviving tub soaker on the planet, I need my natural habitat. And Mike needs me to have it. Like I said, it’s how I unwind. And he really doesn’t need to try to live with me all tied up in my feelings. That would be way too harsh a climate.
That’s where we stand after this past week. Several walls don’t… and paint is coming for those that remain. Our little patch of paradise is coming right along.