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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Timothy in a Tailspin: Here’s to Women’s Voices

I am surrounded by strong women. Strong, powerful, intelligent women.

Women who teach me to believe in myself. Women who teach me to trust my soul, my strength, my intuition, my intelligence. They teach me that my voice matters. And so does my mind.

They teach me, daily, the value of women. Our worth.

And I feel so bad for the women in this world who do not have women who tell them their true worth. Instead, they have women surrounding them who tell them yes, they’re strong, but their place is in the shadows. Beneath their husbands. Playing supporting roles. That that is their true strength and value.

Ugh.

Women sabotaging women. Sabotaging their own sex. It makes me crazy.

Just this morning, I was pummeled with social media posts telling me just that. Telling me that my voice doesn’t matter as much as my husband’s voice. Or really, any man’s voice.

I read one today — a letter that’s gone “viral” (it’s a virus, alright) — about how these days are surely the end of days because women are trying to be men. Because they want voices. And careers. And equal partnerships. And respect. And — dammit –authority. They want authority.

Hold up. Wait a minute.

First off, I’m not trying to be a man. I like my female parts just fine, thank you. More than just fine. I love being a woman. I have never, ever wanted to be a man. I don’t want their parts. I just want their rights.

And I want to have a voice that isn’t labeled “harsh” or “shrill” when I demand respect and equality.

Another post told me that every man wants to hear “I Trust You” when it comes to making decisions for their family. That he is the proper head of the household.

Aw, hell no.

I came from that sort of past. And yeah, that’s not happening again. Sorry, Mike. I love you, and I DO trust you. But that doesn’t mean I’m relinquishing my voice. Never. Ever. Never Ever Again.

I’m so tired of the patriarchy — especially the patriarchy that is being spoon-fed to women by women — little kernels of sage advice dropped onto newsfeeds through conservative memes and blogs. Sugarcoated with scripture.

I come from a place where scripture was used to dominate women. A place where the Books of Timothy were celebrated — books where the apostle Paul demands that women dress modestly. Where they’re told to be quiet and submissive. Where they’re denied authority over men. Where they’re blamed for introducing sin into the world. And where they’re told they can only be saved through childbearing.

My gorge rises.

So much so that when I was pregnant with the twins, I dreamed of naming a daughter Timothy. The irony and sacrilege thrilled me. I was finally ready to challenge the bearded patriarchy of my past. And the female fundamentalists of my present.

And then I learned that I was having two boys. And there was no way I was saddling one of them with the name. That would not have been ironical. It would have been pathological.

So instead, I decided to tackle Timothy and it’s patriarchy with my voice, my opinions, my blog. One comment after another. One written word after another.

And with my actions. And with my clothing. One ostentatious action and garment at a time.

And with one vote for female authority at a time.

And as far as women being saved through childbearing, that might very well be true. Because I have raised brave, strong, outspoken women. And they are unafraid to tackle the Timothy-touting multitudes of both sexes in this world.

And I’m raising brave, strong, outspoken men this very moment. And they will likewise be unafraid to tackle the Timothy-touting multitudes.

And there are hundreds of thousands more of us women — raising brave, strong, outspoken children ready to send Timothy into a tailspin.

Because we’re over being told our voices are harsh and that they don’t matter as much as the next guy’s. We’re over it.

Take that, Timothy.

My Aunt Nancy

I remember playing lawn darts with her in my grandparent’s side yard, the sharp steel tips twisting through the steamy summer air, then plunging into Tennessee soil. Afterward, we sat in webbed and woven green lawn chairs, cooling our bare feet in the dew-slicked clover as fireflies flickered beneath the oaks. And I remember Nancy and my mother laughing their throaty laughs deep into the nighttime, retelling family histories.

But that’s not my first memory of Nancy. My first memories involve a sky-high, jet-black beehive, bright crimson pantsuits, and white platform heels. Nancy was a beauty, like she’d stepped straight out of the pages of a Sears catalog — my backwoods version of glamour and fashion. The catalog, not Nancy. She was a beauty, whether backwoods or big city.

But her beauty was nothing compared to her brains. She worked her way up the twisted ladder of government contracting inside the top-secret national labs of East Tennessee.

She was a strong, brilliant woman, my Aunt Nancy, born in a time when women who were strong and brilliant didn’t necessarily advertise the fact. Nancy, though, never hid her light under a bushel.

Everyone who knew her, easily recognized her smarts and savvy. She was a spitfire, unafraid to take on Principal Engineers or multibillion-dollar contracts, all with little more than a high school diploma and heaping supply of gumption at her disposal.

That intelligence and tenacity makes her battle with Lewy Body Dementia that much crueler.

Lewy Body Dementia. Prior to Nancy’s diagnosis, I had never heard of it. Odds are you know little to nothing of it either.

Know this, though: it is brutal. It is the cruelest of the cruel diseases that ravage the brain. It takes the stolen language and lifetimes of Alzheimer’s and adds the bitter twist of Parkinson tremors and muscle cramps.

My Aunt Nancy passed away a week ago this past Sunday. She was my mother’s closest sister and my cousin Melanie’s last remaining parent.

Now I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to witness the ravages of the disease at its end stage. But her daughter was. And her sister — my mother — was, too.

As the Lewy Body’s laid siege on her body, mom described Nancy’s week-long war against imminent death through a series of calls and texts. My aunt struggled valiantly, wanting just a few more days, a few more precious moments with those she loved best in the world. She fought longer and harder than most could have. And if her fight was brutal for me to read and hear about, I cannot imagine the agony of being there to witness it.

Cramps tore through her soft tissue, leaving arms, legs, neck rigid and wracked with pain. Melanie massaged her throat, coaxing her to swallow the morphine she syringed into Nancy’s cheek every fifteen minutes. It did little to nothing. Neither the massage nor the morphine. But Melanie persisted. And she held her in her arms and sang to her.

Daughter cradled mother — a poignant, painful role reversal.

I remember meeting my cousin Melanie as a baby the very first time. I was a lanky preteen and she was a pudgy one-year-old — looking all the world like the the Mattel Tender Love baby doll from my preschool days. Nancy had dressed her like a little doll, too. A strawberry blond baby doll in bloomers and bib.

Now, my aunt was the one in diaper and bib, as her sister and daughter and grandchildren sang her favorite songs — little lullabies from all eras of her life — hoping to bring peace, hoping to bring comfort.

They also recounted beloved histories together — perhaps some of the ones I remember vaguely from that summer long ago in East Tennessee.

They cried, they laughed, they sang, they bonded.

The transition was hard, and the transition was beautiful. It was a painful, beautiful, powerful transition from this realm into the next.

And mom tells me Nancy looked young and beautiful again — back to the time before the Lewy Body Dementia wreaked its havoc. Back to those days of platform shoes and bright patterns. Back to those days of fierce tenacity and bold brilliance.

Back to the Nancy we all knew and loved. Ready for her close up.

Her up close and personal with God.

***

I saw a cardinal at my window this afternoon, sneaking a peek at my family through the glass. For me, it’s a sure sign — Nancy is back in her red pantsuit once again. Only this time, she’s got wings.

My Aunt Nancy

I remember playing lawn darts with her in my grandparent’s side yard, the sharp steel tips twisting through the steamy summer air then plunging into Tennessee soil. Afterward, we sat in webbed and woven green lawn chairs, cooling our bare feet in the dew-slicked clover as fireflies flickered beneath the oaks. And I remember Nancy and my mother laughing their throaty laughs deep into the nighttime, retelling family histories.

But that’s not my first memory of Nancy. My first memories involve a sky-high, jet-black beehive, bright crimson pantsuits, and white platform heels. Nancy was a beauty, like she’d stepped straight out of the pages of a Sears catalog — my backwoods version of glamour and fashion. The catalog, not Nancy. She was a beauty, whether backwoods or big city.

But her beauty was nothing compared to her brains. She worked her way up the twisted ladder of government contracting inside the top-secret national labs of East Tennessee.

She was a strong, brilliant woman, my Aunt Nancy, born in a time when women who were strong and brilliant didn’t necessarily advertise the fact. Nancy, though, never hid her light under a bushel.

Everyone who knew her, easily recognized her smarts and savvy. She was a spitfire, unafraid to take on Principal Engineers or multibillion-dollar contracts, all with little more than a high school diploma and heaping supply of gumption at her disposal.

That intelligence and tenacity makes her battle with Lewy Body Dementia that much crueler.

Lewy Body Dementia. Prior to Nancy’s diagnosis, I had never heard of it. Odds are you know little to nothing of it either.

Know this, though: it is brutal. It is the cruelest of the cruel diseases that ravage the brain. It takes the stolen language and lifetimes of Alzheimer’s and adds the bitter twist of Parkinson tremors and muscle cramps.

My Aunt Nancy passed away a week ago this past Sunday. She was my mother’s closest sister and my cousin Melanie’s last remaining parent.

Now I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to witness the ravages of the disease at its end stage. But her daughter was. And her sister — my mother — was, too.

As the Lewy Body’s laid siege on her body, mom described Nancy’s week-long war against imminent death through a series of calls and texts. My aunt struggled valiantly, wanting just a few more days, a few more precious moments with those she loved best in the world. She fought longer and harder than most could have. And if her fight was brutal for me to read and hear about, I cannot imagine the agony of being there to witness it.

Cramps tore through her soft tissue, leaving arms, legs, neck rigid and wracked with pain. Melanie massaged her throat, coaxing her to swallow the morphine she syringed into Nancy’s cheek every fifteen minutes. It did little to nothing. Neither the massage nor the morphine. But Melanie persisted. And she held her in her arms and sang to her.

Daughter cradled mother — a poignant, painful role reversal.

I remember meeting my cousin Melanie as a baby the very first time. I was a lanky preteen and she was a pudgy one-year-old — looking all the world like the the Mattel Tender Love baby doll from my preschool days. Nancy had her dressed her like a little doll, too. A strawberry blond baby doll in bloomers and bib.

Now, my aunt was the one in diaper and bib, as her sister and daughter and grandchildren sang her favorite songs — little lullabies from all eras of her life — hoping to bring peace, hoping to bring comfort.

They also recounted beloved histories together — perhaps some of the ones I remember vaguely from that summer long ago in East Tennessee.

They cried, they laughed, they sang, they bonded.

The transition was hard, and the transition was beautiful. It was a painful, beautiful, powerful transition from this realm into the next.

And mom tells me Nancy looked young and beautiful again — back to the time before the Lewy’s Body Dementia wreaked its havoc. Back to those days of platform shoes and bright patterns. Back to those days of fierce tenacity and bold brilliance.

Back to the Nancy we all knew and loved. Ready for her close up.

Her up close and personal with God.

***

I saw a cardinal at my window this afternoon, sneaking a peek at my family through the glass. For me, it’s a sure sign — Nancy is back in her red pantsuit once again. Only this time, she’s got wings.

Tom Brady and Her Baby GOATs

I’m sitting on a couch in my basement watching my boys play. One almost-five-year-old son scrambles across the pool table, flinging balls into pockets with his bare hands and making crashing noises. His twin brother croons “Havana na-na-na” into a karaoke mic while pounding a keyboard and perfecting his KidzBop choreography.

Disney’s Ferdinand is playing on the big screen in the background.

I remember the picture book from my childhood, but this is the first time I’ve seen the movie. Ferdinand — a calf seemingly destined for bullfighting. His dad is a fighter. His peers, his friends, even his enemies — all fighters.

But Ferdinand? He doesn’t have a smidgeon of fight in him. Nope, he loves flowers and dancing and all things NOT bullfighting.

I can’t help but think of our twin boys. They were born into football. Their dad played and now coaches football. Their mom loves football. They are the genetic product of a football family. Football pretty much drives our lives.

One son wants to grow up and be a football player. He loves rough and tumble and tackle and touchdown.

And one son wants to grow up and be a one-man boy band. He loves singing and dancing and all things NOT football.

They are exact opposites, my twin boys, despite being sprinkled with the same genetic spices and baked up in the same uterus at the exact same time.

And this ain’t my first rodeo… or bullfight or stage production, or whatever metaphor we’re working with here. I have adult daughters. And they are, likewise, complete opposites.

One grew up to be a surgeon, and one grew up to be a mama. The surgeon, she wanted to be an astronaut at five years old. And the mama, well she wanted to be a mama.

So Lord knows childhood dreams can change at the drop of a hat — or helmet or mic or whatever. Or dreams can remain the same.

Me? I wanted to be a mystery writer as a kid. I wanted to be the next Agatha Christie. I wanted people to die with the scent of almonds on their breath and secrets clutched within their cold fists and storied bloodlines.

Instead, I grew up to be an English teacher and a blogger, the scent of peanut butter on my breath, and while nobody’s died yet, I do clutch a red pen in my cold fist and bleed all over student story lines.

So yes, things could change. Or they could remain the same.

But whichever direction my boys and their dreams go, I will be there to support them. I will be there to believe in them. And to tell them they can be and do whatever they believe they can be and do. Just like I did with my girls.

And I will hang out in their corners encouraging, supporting, and cheering them on. Just like I did — and still do — my girls.

I like to believe I’m a lot like Lupe, the calming goat in Ferdinand:the awkward, rough-around-the-edges, bearded, female life coach of the title character.

I’m definitely in my kids’ corners like Lupe was in Ferdinand’s corner. They’re my kids after all… and technically speaking, kids are baby goats. (Heck, one of my kids even has a beard. At. Five. Years. Old.)

And since Lupe’s my spirit animal… right down to my lack of orthodontia and fondness for bed-bug rhymes at tuck-in (although I don’t have a beard, thank God), I guess that makes me a goat.

But since I’m the age where most mothers have already retired to an empty nest, I guess that makes me not just ANY goat, but THE GOAT.

I am the Tom Brady of motherhood.

I even have my own little personal deflate-gate — lumpy rucksacks that breastfed four babies for a grand total of four years and now appear the worse for wear…


Flourishing in the Chaos of CandelaLand

Rituals and routines. Teachers understand that these two mainstays set expectations for, and an atmosphere of, success in the classroom.

But as everyday folks, we tend to forget the importance of rituals and routines to relationship success, both in parenthood and partnership.

Our family found ourselves resorting to them out of necessity. When dealing with twin boys and adult daughters in separate cities, we kind of had to, to keep us all connected and emotionally healthy.


Our family keeps and celebrates daily, weekly, and yearly rituals and routines. I’ll start with our daily wake up ones…

Mike and I, we get up early — way too early for mere mortals. But we’re twin parents, so that makes us… EXHAUSTED.

Our alarm sounds at 5:20 AM every weekday. Now, Mike throws his exotic, caramel-macchiato, model good looks together in a matter of minutes. Me, it takes me longer to polish my less-than-model-looks. So while I put on my face, Mike packs our lunches.

Sometimes he brings me coffee, strong and black like my eyebrow hairs — which I must pluck every morning lest they obstruct my line-of-vision. But husband-delivered coffee is not quite a regular morning ritual these days because… well, twins.

The boys didn’t sleep for the first 16 months of their lives, and Mike and I lost a lot of brain cells. Bucket-loads of the little gray things. So now it takes us aeons to do the daily grind, which means the coffee grinds often wait till I wander into the kitchen on my own. But sometimes coffee appears at my vanity while I’m tweezing. And it’s the sweetest surprise.

What Mike does do every day, though, is kiss me good morning and good night. Without fail. And tell me he loves me in a thousand different ways, from words, to actions, to emojis, to even sweet little inspirational notes written on my peanut butter sandwich baggie every single day. Without fail.

But back to our morning routines… every day at 6:30, before leaving the house, both of us are responsible for waking one boy.

Mike is on Parker duty, and my big, burly, teddy-bear-of-a-half-Asian-man climbs into bed with our small, burly, teddy-bear-of-a-quarter-Asian-son and gently nudges him toward daylight — which is no easy task. There’s a reason the sign over Parker’s bed says, “Don’t Wake the Bear.”

Me, I get the easier boy. Tate,’s nickname is Bug, and he crawls into my arms and snuggles into my neck like a little cocooned caterpillar. But then, after about two minutes, he unfurls his shine and rises to meet the day. Easy peasy.

While our morning rituals are essential, our nighttime rituals are essentially sacred.

At dinnertime, the boys often FaceTime their big sisters, a tried-and-true way to keep the love and connection alive long distance.

The girls call and ask about preK or gymnastics, or the boys chat up Bentley and Beau and Bray, their nephews and niece. When you’re a postmodern family with miles and generations between your kiddos — and mere months between your sons and grandsons — you make it work through both technology and trips. And since trips are generally reserved for school holidays, FaceTime, it is.

We are also a multigenerational family who believes strongly in the power of books. (What kind of English teacher would I be if we weren’t?) I read with my girls when they were little — first picture books, then chapter books, then young adult novels — and I’m following the same recipe for success with the boys.

Story time is practically the Candela version of communion, where hugs and cuddles are passed around like daily bread. Where word is made flesh to dwell among us through fairy tales and imagination.

Sometimes it’s Ginny Goblin, sometimes Dr. Seuss, sometimes Marlon Bundo. The books vary, but the ritual rarely does. Daddy reads the stories — since sometimes during football season, those last 30 minutes of the boys’ day is the only time he truly shares with them. And mommy disperses the allergy meds like wine and wafers. Our day is cleansed, decongested, and consecrated through story time.

Which brings me to the sweetest, quietest part of any day: tucking the boys in. The bedtime routines are beyond sacred. They replenish us, which is critical during this whole “the-days-are-long-but-the-years-are-short” twin reality of ours. Because the days ARE so long. So exhausting. But bedtimes, they sustain us.

Mike and I share distinctly different goodnight routines with our boys.

Mike gets quality time with the boys in the bathroom — him sitting tub-side while they hold court on the throne. And hold court, they do, chatting him up about friends, fire trucks, phonics reviews… you name it, he hears it.

And me, I get cuddles and kisses and slow-dancing in the nightlight-illuminated darkness to Jewel lullabies from my iPhone, usually “Forever and a Day.” If you don’t know it, YouTube it. It’s poetic perfection.

Beyond our daily routines, we also have weekly ones: Wednesdays are reserved for gymnastics practice, Friday nights are for Chick fil-A (and football in the fall), and Sunday afternoons are for family baking binges.

And then there’s the holiday rituals: Christmas is for hand-picked, personal ornaments and look-alike jammies for all of the kids, New Year’s is for soul food and Seoul food (southern and Korean fusion at its finest), and July 4th is for fireworks in Dallas.

My family loves itself some rituals and routines.

It’s our way of controlling the chaos. Because Lord knows, twin preschoolers at fifty-something definitely lends itself to chaos. And so does teaching 180-plus high school students essay writing. And being married to a football coach in a successful football program. And having adult daughters living time-zones and lifestyles apart.

Rituals and routines — our family found ourselves resorting to them pretty much out of necessity. They brought this mama and her kin some semblance of connectivity and calm. And in a world full of very little connectivity and calm, I needed it. Desperately.

But now, I think we no longer resort to rituals and routine.

I think we flourish with them.


Being Authentic — in Life and in Writing (oh, and excising big, hairy, tooth-filled teratomas)

Was it the bible or the bard who said there’s nothing new under the sun? Either way, it’s gospel truth. Beautifully original is impossible. Especially living in today’s world. The world of social media, where I realize every day that even if I think I’ve gone and done something worthwhile — baked something bodacious and beautiful; written something poetically profound; experienced some sort of mommy enlightenment – I’m knocked back down to my rickety reality with a single swipe of my Instagram. I’m barely hanging on, and I definitely can’t compete.

Take, for example, Joanna Gaines’ perfectly appointed farm house sink, tiny bean sprouts perched prettily all in a row on the ledge behind it. Planted by her daughter. My girls, they planted seedlings once. They mildewed and drowned in their own Dixie cups. The seedlings. Not my daughters. I did manage to keep them alive. So there’s that. And they are currently beautiful and independent and flourishing, even if their little bean sprouts never made it. So, yeah — there’s that.

In another swipe, I spy with my little eye…Matthew Stafford’s lake house, complete with soaring eagle and cute little size zero cheerleader wife. A wife who is two months (nay not so much, not two) months postpartum with twins. Twins. Me, I have twins. And a lake in my backyard — a muddy, shitty one (they’re dredging our septic tank). And I am my coaching husband’s greatest cheerleader…  But as far as being a size zero… try multiplying that times … wait, it doesn’t work that way. Or… YES, yes it does. Do that! And then, lookie there: I AM a size zero cheerleader wife who’s three years (yea, quite so much, quite three) YEARS postpartum with twins. And with a (muddy, shitty) backyard lake. No eagle, though. Although we do have crows nesting in our gas-powered grill. So there’s that.

And then I swipe again, straight into an Anne Lamott essay or a Mary Oliver poem. And holy shit. They are profound and powerful and absolutely perfect. And I am far from that. And so are my words. Some days I think I am profound and powerful and perfect. I think I’ve written something I can feel good about. But then I see Anne Lamott on my newsfeed, her careening pinball prose depicting the messiness of life and the tender mercies we can find within all that mess…

It reminds me, believe it or not, of the teratoma my eldest daughter removed a few weeks back – a tumor full of tissue and organ components, and even teeth and hair. The excision of something profoundly messy and twisted and ugly – and the healing that came after. That’s how Annie Lamott writes. I want to write like that. I want to excise teratomas. I want to tackle the hairy and the messy, the stuff with the teeth and the brains. But I don’t know that I’m skilled enough to do that.

So I scroll some more. And there I see Mary Oliver’s handiwork. And I realize her poems are the exact opposite of Annie Lamott’s prose –they are quiet and they are calculated. They are hushed. But then again, they are exactly the same, too. Because beneath her pen, nature’s truths are untangled, separated — carefully and deftly — into thin slices of ink and placed under a microscope. Where she leaves them for me to analyze, to interpret, to explore. Her teratomas are cut down to size. But they’re still full of the messy stuff. And the hairy stuff with teeth. They bubble and swim beneath the scrutiny.

She has a poem called “Sometimes.” It is beautiful. And still. And liquid. And hairy and wet and tangled. And one of the stanzas gives me hope. Helps cure my cancerous self-doubt.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention

Be astonished

Tell about it.

No, it’s NOT possible to be original. Not in anything. Not in motherhood, not in life, not in writing… not even in teratoma surgery. Those suckers may be weird, but they aren’t that uncommon.

No you can’t be original. But you can be authentic. You can be true to yourself. It’s true, I’m no Fixer Upper goddess, or a size zero NFL wife with twin daughters. Nor am I a progressive and unorthodox, recovering addict writer with self-deprecating humor and dreadlocks. Or a hushed and reverent nature poet with a Pulitzer Prize in my back pocket.

But I am me. I am Heather Candela — décor-loving, size 8 writer and teacher and coach’s wife with twin sons and adult daughters. And I WILL untangle the complexities of life in my writing. I will tackle the beautiful and the shiny and silver, but I will also tackle the hairy, the stuff with teeth and brains. I will excise teratomas. At least the metaphorical ones. I’ll leave the real ones to my daughter.

I will pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it.

authentic

A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.

bookslittlelife

Keeping the Faith and Following the Signs

Remember lucky pencils from elementary school? The ones your teachers would give you so you would ace those standardized tests?

Well, I have a lucky pencil. It’s an old-fashioned #2 pencil. It’s a deep, slate blue #2 pencil. It’s got gold lettering on the side. And a simple, profound message: TELL YOUR STORY.

It arrived n the mail last year when I ordered a children’s story for my boys, a book about building tree houses from Magnolia Market— the world-renowned Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market, the same Magnolia Market to which I had entered (and not won), a writing contest earlier that spring.

I took that pencil as a sign.

A sign that somebody over there in the land of Magnolia milk and honey had remembered me and my writing and decided to send along some manna from Magnolia to encourage and sustain me along my writing journey through the wilderness.

And while odds are that was not the case, and odds are that my inspirational magic pencil was quite simply a gift-with-purchase that every patron receives, I like to think otherwise. I like to think it is special. Because my words — and my story — are special. That’s what I like to think.

Only now,  my magic pencil is gone.

I noticed its absence yesterday morning while applying my eyeliner.

Normally, my magic pencil hangs out in my bathroom in a ceramic container along with my toenail clippers and eyebrow scissors. (I don’t actually WRITE with it. It’s a symbol. A sign. A powerful promise, if you will.) And so it sits prominently in my line of vision (or it did until yesterday), reminding me every day to do what it commands me to do.

And some days, I notice the message has twisted round to where I can’t see it, so I rotate my promise, feeling its hexagonal planes shift beneath my thumb and forefinger, until I can see it again. Because I need to see it daily. I need reminding. Daily.

Especially lately, when my words seem to get lost in the frantic shuffle of my busy teaching and twin-mom world. Lately my words have been getting harder and harder to find, and once found, to put in some semblance of order.

And even when I do manage to round them up — recently in rather ramshackle fashion — I don’t know that they really make much of an impact at all…

So I need my sign, my writing-on-the-writing-utensil sign, shipped from some random, nameless, faceless true believer of both me and my story out in Waco-turned-Canaan, Texas (intentional or otherwise.)

Because me… sometimes I don’t believe. Sometimes I lose my faith.

And now, tragedy has struck. My magic pencil has gone missing. And I’ve looked everywhere. And my husband has looked everywhere. (And he’s much better at finding things than I am. He found me in the eleventh hour after all, and saved me from drought and famine, and I am forever in his debt.)

So my magic pencil has gone missing and I see this as an ominous sign. And I’m a firm believer in signs. But then, you already know that.  So I guess that means…

Okay. Wait.

This is going to be hard to believe, but I swear to you it is the God’s honest truth…

Just as I closed my computer, thinking I was pretty much done with my blog (as well as my entire storytelling career), my youngest son bent down at a spot we had all gone over with a fine-tooth comb and exclaimed…

“Mama, is this your pencil?”

Why, yes. Yes it is.

And since I’m a firm believer in signs… I guess I know what I have to do now. I have to obey.

So I’m sending this story — and many, many more — out into the universe.

Cuddles and Comfort; Sandpaper and Salt

Two friends. Two distinctly different personalities. Both now gone. Gone way, way, way too soon.

The first was full of cuddles and comfort — the human equivalent of gingerbread and coffee. She warmed and invigorated. She sweetened a room. Her cheeks were sprinkled in cinnamon. Her voice was warm molasses. And when she laughed, your moods floated like cream in her wake.

The second was sandpaper and salt — all quick, gritty wit and billy goat gruff. She flashed lightning one minute and sunshine the next. She could be a tough nut to crack, but once you broke through, she loved you for life. And you were a better person for that love.

Both women — larger-than-life itself — now gone from this lifetime.

It’s always such a jarring, jagged feeling, knowing someone has been pulled from the world, leaving snagged roots and empty spaces — in this case, big, buxom empty expanses where bright patterned tunics and laughter once rang.

How can the world simply keep spinning? How do we just adjust to their absence?

And it seems like sacrilege to ask such questions as a mere friend. A friend. When we know others have been so much more enormously — monumentally –impacted by their loss. Children and parents. Spouses and siblings.

My bruises, though they feel deep, are nothing compared to the trauma in those lives. To the violent rifts and vast voids and crushing avalanches of raw emotion they know and feel.

I’ve started to write about my first friend half a dozen times since her death, but I kept stopping. It didn’t feel right.

And how could it?

Because it was all so wrong. So very, very wrong. My friends had families. Children. Grandchildren. Parents. They were loved. They were needed.

And somehow or other, some force or other chose not to take that into account.

And it infuriates me. And devastates me.

But that’s the nature of time, isn’t it? She’s a bitch. Or is Time a HE? Father Time, isn’t it? Of the infuriating, devastating, abusive variety.

Never asking permission. Doing with us as he will. Sketching lines, loosening skins, brittling bones and dry-rotting joints. And stealing friends. And former students. Time is a crook and a thief.

And he steals more and more from us as the years whiz past.

They say death happens in threes. But it seems in the past few months there have been many, many more than that. Friends have lost fathers. Mothers have lost sons. Families have lost matriarchs.

But I guess that’s the nature of the game. And as we get older, death increases exponentially. And none of us escapes the endgame. And eventually, if you’re the last one standing, then… you’re the last one standing.

And that’s hardly a good thing. I definitely don’t want to be the last one standing.

But I do want to stand a whole lot longer. My two friends who recently left this world — they weren’t a whole lot older than me.

I would appreciate it if Father Time would simply sling me more etched lines and loose skin and spare me a lot more life. Because my boys and my girls and my grandkids and my husband… we’ve got more we want to accomplish. We aren’t finished yet. Not by a long shot.

But then, neither were my friends and their families.

Every morning and night, I drive by one of their houses. There’s a light shining on the front porch, as if waiting for her return.

The primroses that pepper the front lawn of her house in the spring are nowhere to be found in this cold winter chill. The trellis, just visible in the backyard sits sparse and bleak in its grief.

But soon, nature will replenish herself. That’s simply her nature. Always resurrecting.

But the inhumanity of humanity is: we don’t. At least not in our original form. But if you’re a believer, there are options out there…

Some people believe in transmigration of souls — from one body to the next. Or others believe in a spirit realm where our loved ones may watch over us as angels. Still others believe in an afterlife where we will all meet up again in mansions and on streets made of gold.

All of these beliefs are the spiritual equivalent of cuddles and comfort amid the sandpaper and salt, the pain and the tears, of this life.

Cuddles and comfort. Sandpaper and Salt. That’s what life — and the afterlife — is made of.



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