Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Most Likely to..." #AKwritingChallenge Day 14

... be annoyingly optimistic."

Yep. I'm one of those people.

Maybe not.

I wasn't always like this. Nope. I struggled a lot in middle school and high school. Life is hard. I often times let it get the best of me. I got depressed a lot. I wrote tons of poetry and short stories, pouring everything out on paper, and I listened to a lot of music. Specifically Duran Duran. Why them? I'm not entirely sure, but they were therapy for me. (Still are to this day.) They weren't the only band I listened to. I was an eighties child and I loved music. There was an infinite amount of it to choose from and I enjoyed it all. 

I was very friendly but introverted, kind but incredibly sensitive. My mom and I got into many battles, but outside of the house, I was very quiet. There were a few people, (all girls) who really disliked me, specifically in high school because they deemed me a 'goody two shoes'. They weren't sure what to think of me, but I wasn't like them and that made them uncomfortable. I wasn't argumentative, and I wasn't interested in drinking or being loud or just participating in all the normal things high schoolers do. 

Don't get me wrong ... I wasn't an outcast. I had a ton of friends. I took part in a great many things. I went to both my junior and senior proms, I had a steady boyfriend for two years and traveled to Europe with twelve other friends the summer between my sophomore and junior years. I went to football games and danced in crazy costumes, (including a huge chicken wire/decoupage cow head) for my drama/French teacher. I was in plays and was on the yearbook staff. I had a job, (I waited tables at a Mexican restaurant) and, although I didn't participate in sports through school, I was a competitive ice skater for about six years. I did 'normal' stuff, but I was quiet about it. I wasn't extraordinary. I never 'left my mark' so to speak, like other kids I graduated with. The impression I left on those I went to school with was, "she was sweet". Nothing more, nothing less. I'm okay with that. That's not a bad thing.

There was something I was really good at in high school, though. I was an excellent listener. I was affectionate, too. If someone needed a hug, they knew they could get one from me. If they needed a smile, I was good for a bunch of those, as well. I struggled. I knew what it was like. I hated to see other people struggle. If I could make someone happy, I would go out of my way to do so.

My life got a lot harder after high school. Those years between eighteen and twenty-one ... they were dark. My eyes well up when I think about what happened back then and my chest gets tight. I won't write about those years here - just know that I look back on them and shake my head, wondering how I lived through that time and walked out the other side still in one piece. I almost didn't.

I've wondered many times if this is why I'm who I am now.

Perhaps I am too optimistic. (Is that a thing? Can someone be too optimistic? Maybe I'm not entirely convinced of this.) It's the one thing people continuously mention about me. When I told my family about this blog topic and asked them each for their opinion about what I should write, they all said the exact same thing. Those around me are used to it. So much so that if I'm having a bad day, they don't know how to react. It's so out of character for me that it throws everything off balance. I've been told that I'm not allowed to be in a bad mood. I know it was said it jest - or at least mostly in jest. Truth is, when I stomp around ranting and raving, (who doesn't once in a while?) or even when I'm quiet and suffering with something on my own, it screws up the natural order of things here in my house. My family doesn't like it.

For most, my optimism is a huge draw, especially during down times when it's most needed - but I'm not for everyone, and I tend to annoy people. The constant smiles and sunshine can be too much for some. I'm not sure I know what (if anything) I can do about this. I'm not sure I want to do anything about this.

It's not humanly possible to always be happy. Like I stated above, I have my off days. Will I tell you when I'm struggling? Maybe, but it's not very likely. I have a lot of acquaintances ... maybe even a lot of friends, but those that I feel closest to, those who I feel a genuine affection for is very limited. I've been hurt so many times and I feel like I have to protect myself. My teenage years were a long, long time ago. I've grown a lot since then. Hell, I've grown even more within the last few years. I like who I am. I like who I've become. I also like to keep my circle small. I'm more secure that way.

I choose to be optimistic because that's what makes me happy.  I choose to look on the bright side of things because that's what pushes me forward. I am a happy person. I am a smiley person. I am an affectionate person. And, yes, I'm a pain in the ass. I'm sorry for that ... but not that sorry. I'm optimistic and happy around everyone, but if I've ever really gotten on your nerves, it's only because I care about you so much.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Chewing Tobacco, Spiral Staircases and Cute Lawyers - (or Some of My Most Embarrassing Moments): #AKwritingChallenge Day 13

I was on my walk this morning thinking about this topic. I was surprised when I couldn't really come up with any embarrassing moments - not because I haven't had any in my life, but because I realized I must be much better at suppressing memories of unpleasant things than I realized. I'm an idiot. I do stupid stuff all the time, but  I just couldn't remember anything that would make for a compelling blog post.

Maybe it was just that I wasn't awake enough. I pretend to be a morning person when, in reality, I'd much rather sleep in. It was seven and I had my tennis shoes tied to my feet - it was a bit chilly and I was forcing myself to walk at a quick pace through my neighborhood. It took a while for the blood to start pumping, and when it did, I started remembering a whole bunch of embarrassing moments.

There was the time back when I was twenty, going through a really bad patch in my life and working a full time job, then a part time job on top of it just to pay for my tiny apartment, gas for my car and the Ramen and macaroni and cheese (without butter) that I pretty much lived on. I was at my part time job - a cashier for the now defunct Cub Foods grocery store - and pushing through my shift on very little sleep. A guy came through my line with chewing tobacco, so I called the manager. That was the drill. I was under twenty-one, so I had to call someone in charge who was at least that age to check the customer's I.D. The guy was in a hurry, and I was playing by the rules - except that I hadn't looked closely enough at the chewing tobacco that wasn't chewing tobacco. Nope. It was shoe polish. Oops. Not a horrible situation, but I was embarrassed and felt pretty dumb, especially since I'd involved a manager and made this guy, who was obviously trying to polish his shoes to get to wherever he was going, even more late than he already was just because my sleep deprived brain hadn't been paying better attention.

There was also the time my soon-to-be in-law's took me to Gunther Toody's for my birthday. Have you been to a Gunther Toody's? It's a fifties themed restaurant with poodle skirts and the whole nine yards. It's actually pretty fun - until you're forced to put on a crazy hat and do the twist in front of all the cheering diner's while the wait staff sings happy birthday to you. I really hate being the center of attention. I'll celebrate someone else, especially if that person is special to me. I'll go out of my way, bend over backwards to do anything I can to spotlight another person - but I like to keep a low profile. I was trying to impress my husband to be's family. They thought it was fun and hilarious ... me? Not so much.

I also recalled the time just a few years ago when my family and I traveled to Paris. It was a day trip. We'd boarded a train before the sun came up, packing everything we might need for the four of us into two back packs. It was late September - that time of the year when it's not really summer still, but not quite fall, and Mother Nature is moody. I'd opted for layers thinking I could shed or add as the weather dictated, but that along with my pack didn't make me the sleekest of travelers. 

We decided to have lunch in a wonderful little cafe across the street from Notre Dame. My daughter and I needed to use the bathroom, which was a tiny little affair atop a skinny little spiral staircase and down a narrow hall. I guess I wasn't thinking very clearly. I was in Paris for crying out loud. I didn't drop my pack off at the table first, and, even though I was somewhat overheated, I didn't shed any layers before Maya and I decided to find the facilities. I went first and halfway up that little spiral staircase, my backpack got wedged in the metal framework. If I'd been able to get my arms free of the straps, I'd have been okay, but I had too many clothes on. Thank God for Maya who pushed the pack from underneath to get the damn thing dislodged. The whole thing made me laugh - I mean, it was a ridiculous situation - but laughing was a bad idea because I had a full bladder. We were on our way to the bathroom, remember? I'm just glad Maya was able to get my pack unstuck and we found our way to the WC before it was too late. If not, I would have been much more than temporarily inconvenienced on the stairs.

I was about three quarters of the way through my walk at this point - sweating and definitely not cold anymore. I was looking up at the blue sky covered in fluffy, marshmallow clouds and even thinking that maybe mornings aren't so bad after all. I'd just allowed myself to get excited about the prospect of my first cup of coffee when perhaps the best embarrassing moment of all popped into my head.  

Back in 1997 Steven and I moved into his grandmother's house down by Washington Park near downtown Denver. She'd gotten to an age where it wasn't really safe for her to be living on her own anymore, so she went to live up in Idaho Springs with my in-laws. We were ambitious, and the two of us pulled up carpet, refinished hardwood floors, pulled up layers and layers of old tile in the bathroom and kitchen and laid down new linoleum. We also repainted the entire house. 

One day, while Steven was at work, I decided to finish up on some of the painting. The houses in the neighborhood were very close together, and the back porch, where we kept all the painting supplies, was closed in, but had windows wrapped all the way around it. To one side of us lived a group of really nice guys who were attending law school at DU (University of Denver). They were in their early twenties; all of them very good looking. Well, I was on the back porch trying to wrangle this contraption we'd bought - it was a paint roller on an extension so that we could cover the walls without using a ladder - and somehow I lost my balance. I fell backward and wound up landing butt first in a bucket, my arms and this long paint roller sticking straight up into the air. It took me a while, and I'm sure I burned a lot of calories while trying to get myself upright and free from the bucket that was stuck to my tail end. I was frustrated once I'd straightened everything out again, but not really surprised. I mentioned before that I'm kind of an idiot. Me falling down or doing something stupid is not really newsworthy. 

Once I'd gathered all my painting equipment again I happened to glance out of the window and realized that Chris, one of my cute lawyer neighbors was watching me from his back deck. He was drinking from a mug and had a bemused look on his face. He gave me a wide grin and a wave, which made me turn four different shades of red. Me falling down is one thing - being caught doing it is a whole different thing. He then wiped the smile from his face, pulled his fingers across his mouth like a zipper and tossed a pretend key into the air, silently telling me that he wouldn't share what he'd seen with anyone else. I'd like to think he kept that promise. If he did tell any of his roomates about my struggle - and dramatic defeat - with gravity, they never let on.

Now my walk is over. I'm sipping from my second cup of coffee and coming up with a whole assortment of different stories I could tell you - but I think I've traveled down this uncomfortable path of memory lane long enough for one day. I kinda liked it better before my brain woke up and I couldn't recall an embarrassing moment. Oh, well. Life happens to us all, right? And some of it is undeniably embarrassing.

Monday, August 29, 2016

If Looks Could Resurrect Instead of Kill, Who Would I Stare At? #AKwritingChallenge Day 12

What an interesting topic for a blog post. This required no thought for me at all. The answer came to me immediately.

My grandmother, Mimi.

I would do just about anything to have Mimi back in my life again.

Wasn't she beautiful? She was that way both inside and out. Beautiful.

Mimi was only forty-seven when I was born. Wow. She was only two years older than I am now when she became a grandmother for the first time. I was kind of a surprise. I showed up at a rather unstable time in Mimi's life. She and my grandfather were about to divorce after twenty plus years of marriage ... and she still had kids of her own at home. That's the funny thing about life - not everything goes according to plan.

I spent a great deal of time with Mimi while growing up. 

Me with my Mimi
I grew up in this house. I played in the backyard outside of those windows. This woman saw me at my best - and at my worst. She was there on my wedding day, and when each one of my children were born. She was my Mimi. She will always be my Mimi ... and I miss her so much that it physically hurts.

In May of 2013, I lost Mimi to Alzheimer's. Her health had been declining for many years before hand, but the last couple of years were pretty rough. I wasn't there. I left in late 2008 when Steven's job took us to North Carolina. Mimi visited us there the following fall when my aunt and my mom brought her to the east coast for a visit. I saw her in early 2010 when the kids and I flew in with Steven who had a week long class he attended in February. At the end of 2011, I got to see her again when the four of us traveled back to Colorado for a ten day stay over Thanksgiving. A month later, Steven's job took us overseas to Germany. The next time I saw Mimi was at her funeral.

North Carolina in October, 2009
Mimi had four daughters. All of them took care of her in her last years of life. I wish I had been there, too, although Mom has told me many times that she's glad I didn't see the huge decline in Mimi. She's happy I still have the memory of Mimi when she wasn't in the throes of dementia and then Alzheimer's. 

I spoke to Mimi on the phone quite often. She knew it was me talking with her. She knew that we were in Germany, but in her head, we weren't in modern day Germany. We were in World War II Germany, and she was afraid for our safety. My son was eleven, but she thought he was still a baby, and, although Maya was almost fifteen, Mimi believed her to be much younger as well. She was always worried about us when we spoke, always telling me to be careful and to come back home where we'd be safe. 

The last time I talked to Mimi was on Mother's Day, just a couple of weeks before she passed away. It was a heartbreaking conversation. She was struggling with her words, and her speech was incredibly disjointed. When Mom got back on the phone, I burst into tears. The day continued to be a bad one for both she and Mimi, and it only declined from there.

If looks could resurrect instead of kill, I'd pull out all the photographs I have of this special woman. They would stretch a good long way, and I would stare at them until Mimi was standing in front of me again ... the Mimi I knew before Alzheimer's descended upon her. I would hug tightly to her, and I would never, ever let go.


In honor of Mimi, (otherwise known as Lola) my family and I take part in the Walk to Stop Alzheimer's Race every year. If you are interested in taking a look at our team's page, please click here: Lola's Lions

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My First Paying Job: #AKwritingChallenge Day 11

My first paying job was babysitting - but Ang Lawrence saw that coming when she set up this challenge - and babysitting isn't allowed. It's too bad, too, because I had a sweet deal going with that job. Once upon a time, about a hundred years ago, I was a competitive ice skater. I babysat my skating coach's insanely cute girls every Thursday while she and her husband when to Bible study. I got to eat macaroni and cheese to my heart's content - and did I mention how cute these girls were? Okay. I got it in. It was against the rules, but I feel better. I guess I'm feeling rebellious today.

I think the first job I had was after my parents and I moved up to Evergreen. I worked part time at a Mexican restaurant downtown. It was called The Evergreen Inn. I worked busing tables, hauling huge pitchers (back then I could carry four of  them in each hand, full of both ice and water) from the kitchen to the dining room, and helping the wait staff which was always woefully understaffed. I wasn't hired as a waitress, but I wound up being one. I took orders for all but alcohol. My boss at the time wasn't a huge stickler for the rules, but one of the waitresses, grateful that I was trying to make her load a little lighter, made sure to keep my under-aged self away from the bar. My hair and every article of clothing I owned smelled like cigarette smoke and salsa, but waiting tables at the Evergreen Inn was a pretty damn good job.

 I couldn't find a photo of the restaurant, but it resided in downtown Evergreen.
During the summer between my sophomore and my junior year in high school I worked an 11 - 2 lunch shift at the restaurant during the week, and then Saturday nights and brunch on Sundays. I rode my bike up and down Upper Bear Creek, which would most likely kill me now, but I was seventeen back then, skating all the time and in good physical shape.

There was a cook there, a girl who shall remain nameless, who scared the hell out of me. I've always been quiet, never one to cause trouble. I'm more of a what can I do for you, keep the peace kind of person - and I probably seem meek to a lot of people, especially to those with much more outgoing personalities. This girl was definitely a take charge kind of person. No one messed with her. She told me what to do and I did it. She'd been there a hell of a lot longer than I had been, and she knew the ropes. For a long time I thought she really disliked me, but after I'd been there for a few weeks, she started making food for me. I particularly liked the Sunday brunch shift - not only because the tips were always great, but because this cook would always have a plate full of tater tot kinda things (only better) covered in cheese sauce for me when the rush finally died down. She was always exceptionally gruff and short tempered around me, but every other employee had to jump through hoops to get the cooks to make food for them. She never made me to that. 

I think waiting tables is a job everyone should have. It's hard work. People are rude. They often look down on those working in food service - a dangerous practice if you ask me. How wise is it to piss off someone who handles your food? I made quite a bit of money for someone my age, and I learned a lot. The Evergreen Inn is still there - at least the building is - but it's changed hands and names a multitude of times. Whenever I go up to visit my parents and I drive through downtown Evergreen, I smile when I see my old stomping grounds. I am happy to have worked there.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My First Experience with Death: #AKwritingChallenge Day 10

The first experience I had with death that I remember, that had a significant impact on me emotionally was when my great grandfather died. His name was Martin Simpson McKeeman, and he was my grandmother's dad. I don't remember knowing his full name as a child. To me he was "Grampa" ... and he meant the world to me.

Me and Grampa celebrating my first birthday.
I spent a great deal of time with my grandmother, Mimi, while I was growing up. She was the youngest of four kids. She lost her mom many, many years earlier, and she was the only one of the McKeeman children living in Colorado with Grampa. When he could no longer live on his own anymore, he moved in and Mimi became his caregiver. 

I was too young to remember any of the details. What I knew was that Grampa was wonderful. He was in his late eighties by the time I was born. I guess I knew he was elderly - I mean, he used a walker, and Mimi had to help him in and out of the bathtub - but that's not what I remember most about him. I remember he used to stand in front of the sink in Mimi's kitchen and wash dishes. He always had a bunch of white boxes filled with Luden's cherry cough drops, and he wore a little beanie on his head that my mom knit for him. He was also the best playmate ever. He never got tired of hanging out with me. If he ever lost his patience with me, I don't recall it. He used to pretend he was a doctor, and I would bring my sick dolls to him. He would pretend to give them a shot and make them all better again. We hung out, me and Grampa.

I also remember that he really liked ice cream. There was a Dolly Madison by Mimi's house - an ice cream fountain kind of shop where you sat on stools at the bar and employees would serve milkshakes and marshmallow cokes. Mimi and I would go in there and she would get ice cream - mostly vanilla and Rocky Road - and they would scoop it up into a cardboard tray and cover it with a sheet of thick plastic. Grampa and I ate lots of ice cream together.

Me and Grampa. I'm wearing my Alice in Wonderland dress here, so I must have been about five years old.
There came a time when caring for Grampa got to be too physically challenging for Mimi. She chose to put him in a nursing home. I knew even as a child that this decision was an extremely difficult one for her to make. She and I visited him at the home all the time.

He hadn't been there very long - maybe a couple of weeks - when he fell and hurt his hip. I don't remember now if he broke it. I was at least ten or eleven then, but I can't remember the exact year he left Mimi's home. I do know that he'd been healthy up until then, and that his health declined once he'd made the move.

One night, Mimi and I went to visit him. We brought him vanilla ice cream and we spent quite a long time with him. We got him ready for bed and tucked him in. He hugged me and said, "I love you, Jennifer" before the two of us left that night. Later, Mimi told me that those were the last words he ever spoke.

My mom was the one who broke the news of Grampa's passing to me the following morning. I slept in a white canopy bed with burgundy bedding, and I remember her sitting down on the mattress next to me. I know now that she was incredibly sad about Grampa's death, but she knew how difficult the news would be for me to hear. She was stoic for me. He was a huge part of my life, but she'd gotten to love him a lot longer than I had. As many memories as I had stored up with him in them, she had at least a thousand more. 

Grampa was ninety-seven years old when he died. He went to sleep that night and never woke up. He was healthy, as far as we all knew. He didn't suffer from cancer or any other illness. His life was long, and his death was peaceful. So are my thoughts when he comes to my mind.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Screensavers: #AKwritingChallenge Day 9

I work primarily on a desktop computer. My screensaver there changes ... usually displaying the cover of my newest book, or a photo of my kids that I particularly love. I take a lot of pictures, and my kids are the cutest ones on the planet - says every mother about their own children - so they oftentimes find themselves on the screen. 

I also change the photos on my screen to different places I've traveled so I can be reminded of how awesome those trips were when I boot up the computer in the morning. Currently, my screensaver is this:

London. God, that was a fun trip. Ignore those damn horses on the wall if you will. The wallpaper in this house is going to be the death of us all. :)

The screensaver on my phone is boring. It's just a weather app. Why I can't just go outside to see if it's hot, cold, wet or dry is beyond me. I guess I like to pretend to know what the weather will do from one day to the next. They aren't so good about predicting weather here in Colorado, but I like how they keep trying.

I also have a tablet. I use it mainly for my Kindle app - that gets a ton of daily use - and solitaire. I'm old school. I can play it without thinking. Sometimes not thinking is good. Sometimes not thinking is absolutely necessary.

That screensaver is of Heidelberg. We traveled a lot while in Germany, but Heidelberg will always be one of my favorite places. We visited this city a lot, and I loved it every time.

I haven't changed my screensavers in a while ... I don't have any plans for the upcoming weekend ... maybe I'll get crazy and switch them all up.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Last Wedding I Attended: #AKwritingChallenge Day 8

The last wedding I attended was ... wow ... a long time ago. I'm not even sure now exactly what year, but we were living in Castle Rock, Colorado at the time, so I'm guessing it was 2003 or 2004. Somewhere around there. 

Maybe someone we know needs to get married sometime soon. That's a long time between weddings.

Check that, my step-brother got married several years back. I wasn't in the country for that one. That's a wedding I'm sorry I missed.

The wedding I did last go to was for a guy Steven (my hubby) worked with. I remember their names, (I won't mention them here) but I didn't really know them. I'd met the groom a few times and he was really nice. Steven liked him and that was good enough for me. 

I don't have very vivid memories of this day. I seem to recall having to drive a bit to get to the ceremony, but if there was anything out of the ordinary that took place, it wasn't so much so that I can remember it. What does stick out, though, is that the bride and groom chose to have their wedding photos taken between the ceremony and the reception. Steven and I sat at a table with another gentleman Steven worked with and his wife for probably two hours before the newly betrothed couple came through the door and the reception could begin.

Hey, planning a wedding isn't the easiest thing in the world. I get it. I've been there, done that, but the wait seemed a bit excessive - especially considering the fact that I was a nursing mom at the time, and the bodice of my dress was growing increasingly tighter as the wait time extended.

We've moved five times since then - once to another state, then to a different country and back to Colorado again - and we've lost touch with this couple. The last thing we heard was they had a little girl. I certainly hope that they're still together ... and that they have some spectacular wedding photos displayed in a prime spot in their home.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Siblings: #AKwritingChallenge Day 7

I'm an only child. My mom was very young - only eighteen - when she had me. I'm pretty sure she always thought she'd have more kids after I was born, but it never quite happened that way. We've talked about it before. If things had been different between her and my dad, I wouldn't have been an only child - but I respect where Mom's head was at here. She and I were best on our own there at the beginning.

I have an awesome step-dad. He's seriously the coolest. His name is Larry, but that's not what I call him. He's been Larrabee from as far back as I can remember. Did you ever watch Get Smart with Don Adams and Barbara Feldon? Well, the agents worked under a man named Larrabee. That's where my dad got his name ... but I don't think I'm the one who gave it to him.

When I was five, I met Larrabee's kids for the first time. He's has two of them, a daughter and a son. Christin is five years older than me and J.R., her brother, is two years my senior. Larry lived in a house that I only vaguely remember down in east Denver. That's where I met the kids who would eventually become my step-siblings. I'll be honest ... I wasn't too sure about the whole situation.

Chris and J.R. were good at being siblings. What I mean is that they'd grown up knowing what it was like to have another kid in the family ... they were good at calling window seats and all the other little things kids do when they have a bit of competition in their every day lives. It had always just been me. I was a quiet, shy, incredibly sensitive kid. I didn't know what all that sibling rivalry was about ... and sharing? My crayons had always been mine. Let's just put it this way ... I sat in the middle of the back seat - always - but the sharing part came easily enough. I think it was J.R. who gave Larry his nickname, Larrabee. He and Chris called my mom Linda Lou, too. Larrabee stuck. Even my kids call him that. I'm not sure about Linda Lou.

I saw Chris and J.R. quite a bit while I was growing up. They lived in Boulder with their mom, but they came to visit on some weekends, and we took a lot of family road trips together. They lived with us one summer, and during the infamous Colorado blizzard of '82, the three of us were housebound together without our parents. The snow came down hard on Christmas Eve, stranding a lot of people, including Larrabee and Linda Lou, who both got stuck at work. I was eleven, which made Chris sixteen and J.R. thirteen. The three of us camped out in the house, opened every single one of our Christmas presents before wrapping them all back up again, and entertained ourselves by riding the couch cushions down the stairs like sleds. By the time it stopped snowing late Christmas Day, three feet of the white stuff had fallen. A few days later, J.R. and I bundled up and trudged down to the local convenience store (it was called Shop 'N Go back then). The snow was waist high and I seem to recall climbing a fence between the house and our destination. That bit is a little fuzzy ... but it just goes to show how far a couple of kids will go for some candy. 

J.R., me and Chris. Guess who's still in the middle?
I also had a step-brother on my dad's side. I met Joe when I was seven and he was three. I thought Joe was the most amazing thing ever. He was sweet and kind and I loved him immediately. I was the oldest - something I wasn't used to being - and Joe and I became very close friends. We were allies. Life with my dad was oftentimes scary. Having another kid to bond with made it a hell of a lot better.

I have a great photo of Joe and I taken at Elitch Gardens ... but it's packed away and inaccessible right now. I haven't spoken to him in twenty-five years. Our lives turned out a lot different ... at least there for a while. Some stuff happened - nothing I care to write about here - and we wound up going our separate ways. I don't know where he is now, or what he's up to. I don't know how his life turned out, but I certainly hope it's good. I still miss him, truth be told - at least the him that I knew as a child and a teenager. He was a bright spot in my life for a good many years. I hope he's doing well. I hope he's happy.

So, I don't have any sisters and brothers related to me by blood. It's true, I am an only child ... but family can be tricky sometimes. I'm not incredibly close with Chris or J.R. I haven't actually seen them since the above photo was taken. That was Christmas, 2008.  All three of us have spouses and kids, careers and busy lives. We all live in three different directions. I did get the opportunity to work for J.R. and his company, Veloscapes, doing a little editing for his spectacular website. We all keep up with each other for birthdays and things.

Are we alike? In some ways, sure. I don't know about Joe, but with Chris and J.R., I can say that we all have kids whom we love and spouses we've built our lives with. We care about a lot of the same things, but we are still very different. I am glad that they have all been a part of my life. I never did get the whole 'window seat' thing down, but I'm an expert now at sharing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Songs That Pump Me Up: #AKwritingChallenge Day 6

The actual topic was "What Song Pumps You Up?", but there are so many of them that I changed it a bit. :)

I asked my daughter this question. I asked her if she had to come up with a song that pumped me up, what would it be? She gave me a look that only a girl of seventeen can deliver. Then she said, "Are you serious?" I laughed because I knew exactly what song came to her mind.

Duran Duran. Yep. They've been my favorite since I was twelve years old. I won't tell you how many years that's been, but let's just say it's been awhile. "Pressure Off" is actually one of the newest ones, released just last year. It's happy. It's fun. It makes me want to jump around and dance and laugh. I made my whole family listen to it several times in the car while we made our way to the hospital for both of my wrist surgeries. It makes everything right in my world.

There are several songs that pump me up, though. "Rumor Has It" by Adele. 

I actually have a funny story about this song. I heard it first when I was living in Germany. It was playing over the speakers in the movie theater on Ramstein AFB. I can't remember what movie we went to see, but I remember hearing this song and loving it immediately. I was on the treadmill not long afterward. This song started playing in my earbuds and I got a little carried away. I'll admit it. I was walk/dancing on the treadmill ... and it didn't turn out well. I did something to my left hip that had me bent over for three weeks. I could barely walk. I was kind of a mess. I still love the song, but my hip feels a bit vulnerable whenever it plays.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Oh, yes ... how I love this band. Swing music. Fun. Upbeat. Happy. So very, very dance worthy. This song is just one of many.

And one more just because I'm having so much fun listening to all this music.

Colbie Caillat, "Brighter Than the Sun".

Okay, now I'm raring to go!

What Was Your First Car?: #AKwritingChallenge Day 5

I didn't get my driver's license until I was seventeen. I was not overly eager to reach this milestone. I'll be honest - I had a boyfriend with both a license and a car. I was good to go.

Besides, I broke my wrist a few days shy of my sixteenth birthday. (Yep, the wrist injury goes back that far.) They put me in a cast that encased my whole lower arm and my thumb. I was in it for six weeks before they took it off, x-rayed my wrist, then put another one back on for an additional month and a half. It's hard to use a stick shift when you don't have the use of your thumb.

Anyway, I did get my license, and I drove my mom's 1984 Nissan Stanza, which wound up being my own car after I graduated from high school.

It looked just like this, only it was red. This, coincidentally, looks just like the car my step-dad used to drive. Yep, my parents owned matching cars. More than once, actually. That might need to wait for another post.

I drove this car pretty much to its death. While I was going to college, I worked part time for a family with two boys, ages six and seven. I hung out with them for several hours every day, and I'd take them with me to run errands. They always thought it was hilarious when we'd go and wash my car. It had so many leaks around the doors and windows that it was their job to hold towels up to keep the inside dry while the water poured in. 

Oh, memories.

I sold my Stanza in early 1995. I was about to be married that March, and it had broken down. Again. I was told that I'd have to put a lot more money in it than it was worth to keep it going, so I decided that I could add to my wedding fund by selling it.

It was a good car. It not only provided me with years of transportation, but also gifts for my wedding party. You can't say that about many vehicles now, can you?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

My Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: #AKwritingChallenge Day 4

I could go with the easy option and say coffee.

But I'm not going to.

I have coffee every day, so it's just kind of part of my routine. I do love coffee, but it's probably not my favorite drink.

I also love iced chai. Oh, yum ... yes, I do love chai, and it's definitely at the top of my favorite list.

Neither one of those drinks came immediately to mind, though, when I read today's topic.

Something cold and fruity did. Something tart but sweet. I wrote about this drink in Alabama Skye

Limeade. I'd love to have one right now as a matter of fact. I used to get them from Dairy Queen, but they don't sell them there anymore. (How was that a good decision???) Now I get them from Sonic.

If it wasn't 8:41 in the morning, I'd go get myself one right now.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Backyard Fairyland: #AKwritingChallenge Day 3

I have some of the most amazing memories of my dad's backyard. When I think about it now, I wonder if it was actually as great as I remember it, or if I'm just recalling it from an imaginative child-like state of mind. I haven't been in his backyard for more than twenty years now. I'm not even sure if his widow still owns the property - but I think I'd rather not see it as it is now. My memories of it are profound and beautiful, and I'd like them to stay that way.

As I sit and write this, I am well aware of the fact that I used that backyard as a sanctuary; a safe place from what went on inside the house. Maybe that makes my memories of that space even more special. I also think that things were different when I was a child. I spent a lot of time outside, regardless of where I was. There was no internet or high tech video games to keep me inside. There was exploring and bike riding, roller skating on uneven pavement and playing. Just playing. I had some incredible adventures in that backyard.

There are so many things I remember about that magical space - and yes, it was magical in so many ways. 

There was a huge apple tree that shot up into the blueness of the sky, its branches stretching out to canopy a large part of the thick, green grass below. The apples the tree bore were never very large. They were hard and round as golf balls, but I remember picking the ones I could reach, or catching them as my dad shook the taller boughs. I'd fill my arms with them and sit in the shade of that tree  trying to chase away the sharp, sour flavor of the bright, green fruit with a salt shaker. Did they taste particularly good? Not really. They made me pucker my mouth and they tightened the back of my jaw, but it didn't matter. I still eagerly anticipated them each and every year.

I don't know just how big in acreage the yard was. I do know that it seemed pretty big to me as a kid. There was a collection of trees, all with thin trunks and long, skinny branches that made up a straight-lined border between my dad's property and the one next to it. His neighbors, the Miller's, were an elderly couple. They were incredibly friendly, and encouraged me to wander through those trees. They had a cement donkey sitting in their front yard. It stood less than two feet high, and was, even then, a pretty small statue, but it didn't stop me from sitting on it, wild adventures playing through my young, blonde head.

I would visit the Millers' backyard when I'd hear them outside. Mrs. Miller, (I always addressed her as "Mrs. Miller", and I can't recall now what her first name was if I ever knew it to begin with) was blind. I remember sitting outside with her and chattering like a little bird. (Some thing's never change.) She would ask me all kinds of questions, and I would eagerly answer them. We would sometimes end up in their kitchen, which was at the back of their house, and she would feed me cookies or cake while we sat at her table.

On the other side of my dad's property was an old, black wire fence. I used to sit on it and bounce. I was never told not to, and I was small back then, so I doubt I did much damage to it. The yard on the other side of that fence was pretty amazing, too. It belonged to a family both my mom and dad had known since they were young. They're last name was Willie. There were paths with white wooden archways built over them, and lots and lots of rose bushes in that yard. I would walk the short distance down Bradburn Boulevard to the black gate in front of her Mrs. Willie's yard. I would wander through her gardens and smell all of the colorful flowers I found there. She was elderly as well, but we were always welcome to visit. I remember being inside her house many times, but it was in her garden I felt most comfortable. 

At the far end of my dad's yard, past the lawn and the towering apple tree, was a grape vine. It was unruly and unkempt, growing along an aging trellis, the leaves huge and twisting every which way. My dad was Greek. I remember going to a Greek festival once with him and my grandmother. We ate dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves at the festival. Granny always talked about making some of her own every time she was out in the yard, but if she did make them, I don't recall it. I do remember picking some of the grapes and eating them. Every edible thing that came out of that yard was sour - the apples, the grapes, and the cherries that grew on the half dozen trees that stood inside the grapevine arch - but I ate them anyway. Probably just because I could.

There was a ditch that ran along Bradburn Boulevard, right in front of my dad's house. During the summer. the city allowed the homeowners to temporarily dam the ditch and use the water to irrigate their lawns. It only happened once or twice a summer, but I remember those days fondly. My dad would nearly flood the back yard and I would put my swimming suit on and use the wide expanse of wet, soggy grass as a humongous Slip 'n Slide. The water was always icy cold, and I had mud and bits of grass stuck to my arms and legs, but it was so much fun. 

I also remember playing in the sheets that my mom, and then later, my step-mom, hung on the laundry lines that ran down part of the length of that yard. I would play with the clothes pins that were dropped in the grass, and play hide and seek with the cats that called my dad's place home. When I got tall enough, I would jump and grab the thick, metal T at the top of the pole, and I would swing from the bar. 

I have often said that one day I would write a book about this yard. As I wrote this post, I realize that I already have - or at least this yard inspired one quite a bit like it. It is the yard I wrote about in The Color of Thunder, although that one was in a much different state, and in a much different climate. The way the Linsey children in that book felt about their yard is much the same way I felt about my father's.  

This backyard was like a fairyland; a wonderful memory, and a place I am so grateful I was able to call my own for a great number of years.