Approaching Normal and Heart Palpitations

For the past fifteen years more or less I have homeschooled my children most years. The few that we didn’t were pretty much disastrous for everyone.

I mean, getting up at half past six in the morning just to have everyone dressed and to the bus stop on time was a joke when no one went to sleep before eleven or twelve. And then my husband was up and at work by four in the morning. I got no sleep at all. And our son, being autistic and gifted (try that combination any day, I dare you), could not function in a classroom setting without completely shutting down emotionally.

So we opted for what seemed like the best plan for our lives.

It worked for us. We could sleep on our own schedule, we could eat lunch when we were hungry, we could take frequent breaks if we needed, we could tailor the coursework for a gifted autistic child who was reading on a college level by 3rd grade.

But, by no means, were we ever normal. People never let us forget it either. Everyone in our small town seemed to have a reason to condemn us, criticize us, tell us we were wrong, tell us we were bad parents, bad neighbors, bad … everything it seemed. Even the years our kids were in public school, we couldn’t do anything right by them. If we asked for more communication with the teacher, we were wanting too much. If we didn’t show up to a teacher conference because we were working, we were neglecting our child’s education. We couldn’t win.

For years I sat at home by myself wishing that someone, anyone, would come be my friend, would come into our home and learn that we weren’t weird or causing society to run amok. If anyone would have just talked to me, …

But eventually, I got over it. I quit worrying about what society, and this tiny little backasswards town, thought. I was doing what I had to do to survive, to get through life, to raise my child and put food on the table the best way I knew how … and if it didn’t meet with their expectations or desires, oh well.

Eventually, we even adopted another child and became foster parents. Do you know how many hoops you have to jump through for either of those things? And people still thought we were warped. Our neighbors thought we were even more subversive than before because we had mixed race children in our home and kids who’d been in mental homes or jail.

They still don’t get it.

And yet, it’s kind of mutual because I don’t get them … at all. They are what society calls “normal” with a big house and their lawn mowed on schedule and their trees all pruned and their kids sent through public school with all their prejudices and pride on display for the world to see. They brag about their Christianity as if it’s a sweater someone gave them for Christmas or a new car they bought. As if a mowed lawn and pride were the distinguishing characteristics of all that is normal and good in this world. But they are horrible people who treat their neighbors with disdain, kill any animal that dares touch their lawn, and cook drugs in their back shed … not to mention being hoarders who house is stuffed to the gunwales with … junk.

I’m not perfect, Lord knows. I lack patience. I can’t stand my neighbors any more than they can stand me. I tend to drive too fast. And, I like to eat good food. I also have some insane anxiety issues.

But I’m no more abnormal than anyone else. I’m just trying to survive on this planet the best way I can … and God knows that isn’t easy.

So why do I feel so abnormal? And why does doing anything that might be considered normal, give me heart palpitations?

I’m in the process of enrolling our daughter in an online highschool that is run through the public schools in our state. It’s a charter school which will help her pursue her goal of attending college. But the whole process of it is making my head swim, my eyes go blurry, and my breath shallow.

It’s all so … normal.


“I Am So Sick of Hearing …” , then Why Are You Listening?

This morning I was greeted by a status post on my Facebook page that started, “I am so sick of hearing …” and then went on to be enraged about an event that took place in Missouri, which didn’t involve them. BUT it’s been hyped in the media over and over and over sparking widespread attention.

Had I responded with a comment, which I didn’t because that wasn’t the place for it, I would have said this:

“I’m sorry you feel so upset by this situation but the truth is you weren’t there to know the truth of what happened. It seems you somehow feel qualified to pass judgement on the situation based solely off media reports that vary what happened depending on the source of the witnesses. Witnesses, I might add, that only decided to film the parts of the story that made the officer look bad. Witness accounts have been proven time and again to be helpful in solving crimes, but they have also been proven completely false just as many times.

People are human. They “see” what they want to see more often than not. Not because they are evil or trying to cause problems. Most of them honestly believe that what they are saying is the “truth”. But humans are fallible creatures. We experience the world based on our own experiences and therefore we color what we see to fit with what we know. It causes communication problems the world over.

The Media, on the other hand, are not human. They are important in relaying events of the world to their readers. But, they are first and foremost trying to sell a story. They make money off of it. They earn their living by hyping the most sensational stories they can find and have been known to even create stories out of nothing. They fill our heads with the information they want us to have, information that is sometimes based on little more than a single testimony. And information that leaves out as much as it shares.

The problem is the world is not that simple. The problems we encounter in our daily lives, the interactions we experience, are not one sided, flat, single dimension points in space that we can put quotes around and then judge as a whole. Everything that happens in this world is multi-faceted. Rather than a point drawn on a number-line in second grade math class, it’s more like a cancerous tumor with tendrils feeding off in all directions.  It’s BIG, in other words. And making sense of it all can take a lifetime or more.

I realize fully that this story involves the killing of an 18 year old boy. As the mother of a 20 year old son, I feel sympathy for his mom. It makes me sad that any 18 year old has lost their life. But as a mother and someone who spent six years as a foster parent for troubled kids, I also know that 18 year old boys do stupid things every single day without thinking about the consequences of their actions. They are not much different in that respect than people who have witnessed a violent act or are grieving the loss of a loved one.

The whole truth of the situation is that no one besides the police officer and the kid really know what happened or why it happened the way it did, so no one else has the right to pass judgement on the choices that were made.

So where does that leave us who listen to the media and become worked into a frenzy by it?

Well, my advice is this:

1) Stop listening. It’s not that hard. Old men have been doing it for generations. Teenagers are great at it. Televisions actually come with an “off” switch. So do computers and phones and tablets and … And there is that thing called a remote control so you can change the channel to one of the other hundreds that are out there NOT discussing the issue.

2) Respond. Feel sad. Allow yourself to grieve. Then change what you can in your own world in response to what you are feeling. If you relate to the mother losing their child, go hug your kids a little more. If you feel outraged because of some media sponsored injustice, realize that life isn’t fair and never will be unless you help make it better in your own little corner of it.

3) Get involved. Locally. Find a youth center to volunteer at. Become a grief counselor. Say a prayer. Lord knows we can all use more of that in our lives.”


A Tiger Never Changes His (or Her) Stripes

The whole world has gone mad, I tell you. Mad. Mad. Mad.

When I was a kid, a millennium or so ago, old people were nice. Weren’t they? They waved at us and smiled and gave us candy or cookies and let us roll on their lawns. They listened to us jabber on about our lives, calm and peaceful. They helped us learn new tasks with patient hands and words.

Old people were nice.

So, what is wrong with my 80 – something year old neighbors that they are just the opposite?

Sure, there’s always been the crotchety old neighbor living in the giant scary house  mansion that threw rocks at the dog and shot a pellet gun at anyone who dared touch his overgrown weeds lawn. We see them in movies. Even old movies like “To Kill a Mockingbird” had the scary old crazy neighbor.

And yet, I never imagined I’d find myself living next door to them.

They’ve always been a little odd. (I’ve known them most of my life.) Mowing the lawn after dark was just their “thing”. And NO ONE was ever allowed to go inside their house, not even for a drink of water. (I now know why … ) But who knew that they would turn out to be some of the most insane obsessive a^^holes in the world?

Could we have predicted it?

I guess. I mean their kids obviously did. That’s why none of them visit. That’s why their youngest child left home never to return. Ever. But we didn’t know them well enough.

A tiger never changes his/her stripes. They can’t. They are ingrained into them, written out by the genetic code, painted on for life.

But I always thought people could. Intuitively, I have always had an overwhelming idea that people are basically good and want to do good and want to care and spread happiness around them. Every last human being a face with a big smile and a caring heart.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been proven wrong, though, just by people in my own family.

You’d think at 48 years of age with two college degrees and years of experience in life I wouldn’t still be so naive as to trust everyone I know … but I do. And then, I get hurt.

Can you get PTSD just from being hurt repeatedly by someone you trust? I’m thinking the answer is yes … because there are some people that I can’t be around, look at a photo of, or even read their name that I don’t want to run screaming from the room and put my head through the nearest concrete wall so I can hurt myself before they hurt me. It’s less painful that way.

My cousin is one such person. She’s my age. A mere six months older and I always wanted her to be my friend. She is beautiful and funny and has the best smile of anyone I’ve ever known. But … when we were kids, the six month age difference meant we couldn’t be friends because she was always “older” and she could “make the rules”. I tried anyway, accepting whatever she would give me of her time or attention. She liked my sister better because she was “older” too. Not a “baby” like me.

As teens she became a cheerleader. I wasn’t so, again, anytime we would visit them, she would leave with her friends and never even speak to me. College was the same with her even leaving me at a grocery store one time because her friend wanted to leave and I wasn’t done checking out yet.

I won’t even enumerate the things that have happened since then. Me always trying to gain an ounce of friendship from her, a kind word, one of those glorious smiles … and her raking me through the coals all over again.

She’s just like my neighbors. Tigers that can’t change their stripes.

After the past couple of weeks between her and my neighbors, I’m beginning to believe there are people that can’t/won’t change their stripes either …

… and it makes me sad.


An Appointment with the Queen

Before you go getting all excited or something, no, I’m not going to see the Queen …

I’ve seen her before. A long time ago. In a country far far away. In another life … it seems … But I digress.

When I was a baby my mother believed in schedules, like a lot of mothers at the time. I was supposed to eat on a schedule, sleep on a schedule, play on a schedule, etc. Once I was in school, the first day of class, every teacher I ever had made us write down our schedule. Twenty minutes for spelling, an hour for reading, fifteen minutes for recess. Even once I was in college, I had professors tacking schedules to the wall allotting us mere half hours for sleep and bathing.

And then there’s the office … 8 to 5. Or, as my schedule in England was, 9:30 to 5:30 with various breaks for lunch and tea and, whatever that thing was we did in the mornings.

And as a mom with kids in school, the schedule is up at 7:00 to make sure the kids are all awake and dressed and have something to eat before loading them all in the car and hauling them to four different schools before 8:30. Only to pick them all back up by 3:45, unpack backpacks, organize snacks, deal with various meltdowns, rescue snacks from the dog, plant one or two in front of the tv while helping others with homework, and somehow managing to make supper and get everyone back in bed to do it all over again the next day. Whew. I’m tired just writing it out.

Schedules work. They keep us sane. They help us make it to appointments on time so we won’t miss tea with the Queen.

But, …

I absolutely positively really really hate schedules.

I’d rather get up when I wake up, eat when I’m actually hungry, write when the inspiration hits me, pet the cat … well according to them ALL THE TIME … when I’m feeling lazy, cook a meal when I’m not rushed, go to bed when I’m tired, …

Too many days I’ve spent rushing around keeping to a schedule to  get everything done and yet, at the end of it, I don’t feel like I’ve had a moment to even be alive. I don’t see that anything’s been accomplished. It’s disheartening to work and work and work day in and day out keeping up with everything and then, in the end, feel completely empty. It’s like working at a job to make money to pay rent and the bills and buy groceries and yet there’s nothing left in the end to DO anything with.

I look at my twenty year old and think, dang, wasn’t he seven yesterday? Where did the time go? What did I do? What has life been about?

For the past seven months I have tried to force myself into a schedule to write. It seemed to be working for the first five months … and yet I felt like I got very little accomplished. I checked things off my to do list, I submitted work for contests, I reviewed and reviewed and reviewed other people’s work hoping for some in return.

And then I got bored … and discouraged … and BUSY with life on the farm … and I quit sticking to my schedule. I quit even trying to stick to my schedule. I quit even trying to write.

Instead I’ve worked my farm and felt guilty every single day that I wasn’t writing.

Thanks schedule. Yet one more thing to beat myself up over. I needed that.

So, I’ve decided to ditch the schedule. I’m going to write when I want. If that’s at three in the morning or eleven at night or one thirty in the afternoon, so be it. I’ll just have to miss my appointment with the Queen … I miss my stories too much.


Why Potholes are Stylish

I travel a LOT.

Although I’ve traveled to many places around the world, (London, Paris, Rome, Dublin, Seattle, New York, Washington DC, etc) most of my traveling doesn’t range to anywhere very glamorous. Nowadays, other than the odd writing conference, I spend most of my hours on the road zipping between home and my aging parents house or my college son’s apartment or escorting my daughter to some function or other across the state.

I love to drive. LOVE to drive. Love love love to drive. Did I mention I love to drive? I really love to drive.

But … I hate the interstates. I can’t stand traffic. I am insanely NOT patient with slow or rude or demon drivers, my theory being: if you’re going to drive slow, get in the slow lane – if you needed to be there yesterday, you should have flown – blinkers were made for a reason – and – trains were a wonderful way of transporting goods across country and didn’t clog up our roadways with unpredictable semi-trucks spraying tire shreds and gravel into the windshields of unsuspecting drivers.

So, I drive the back roads.

Two problems exist with my approach.

1) farm vehicles with top speeds of 15 mph and widths greater than the two paved lanes provided


2) potholes

And yet, as my title indicates, by all manner of extrapolation and rudimentary logic, I believe potholes are stylish. I mean, they have to be, right? They are old, run down, cursed about, etc … They’re ignored, smoothed over, patched and repatched, and eventually left to go to hell. Right?

But isn’t that how things become stylish nowadays?

In our world of Paleo/Primal/Neolithic cuisine, backwoods, homesteading, non-GMO fighting, organic, raw, pot smoking, hipster culture, potholes should be the stars. They are everything we seem to find value in.

We’ve become a culture of “if it’s old and broken, let’s make a tv show about it”. Really, how many junk collectors are getting rich buying junk while a camera crew follows them around doing it? And yet, if someone is a hoarder (which is the same thing really), another tv show gets made about how appalling they’re lifestyle is. Really? It’s the same thing. People buying piles of junk to which they are somehow attached and enamored.

And it’s all fodder for our entertainment.

Then, there’s the lifestyle choice of “homesteading”. Oh wow. It’s so exciting and the “thing” to do to grow a garden, raise chickens, and learn how to fix your own stuff. EXCITING I SAID!!! EXCITING!!

People promoting that lifestyle even put out “memes” saying things like: “The first grocery store wasn’t opened until 1946. Before that people had to grow their own food.” And those wanting to be “hip” jump on the bandwagon and tell them how great they are for promoting this lifestyle and start asking questions about how to dig a garden.

But it’s all a bunch of bull.

Don’t get me wrong. I garden. I have my whole life. If my grandparents hadn’t gardened, they wouldn’t have eaten. Not because they didn’t have a store to buy groceries at. They did. But they never could have afforded to buy everything they needed to survive. They were poor. Dirt poor, as the saying goes. I garden because I enjoy it and I’d rather eat fresh food. As they say “it’s in my genes”.

And I have chickens and ducks and turkeys and goats and rabbits … because I love animals.

But there is nothing glamorous about living this way. It takes a lot of work. As I told my son the other day, if gardening didn’t involve work, it would be called shopping.

Shopping developed for a reason. Because somewhere along the way humans figured out that they can’t survive on their own. They can’t work hard enough to produce everything they need or find everything they need to survive on their own. Civilization wouldn’t exist without shopping.

Our first cities were market places, trade days to exchange cattle for grains or share the best water sources. Shells were made into beads and traded for salt. Furs were exchanged for an iron pot. Trade – markets – shopping.

And probably more importantly, shopping helped us develop as human beings not just because our physical needs were being met, but also because it allowed us to have more time to do other things, like develop religion and art and technology. Our emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs also grew and flourished.

So why do we find so much value in “old” things and “old” ways? Why is the junk man suddenly a rock star? Why is hard labor intensive work that keeps us from doing anything else good?

They’re all a bunch of potholes in the road.

30 years is a Long Time to Wait

I attended my 30 year high school class reunion this past weekend. It was odd.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends. I enjoyed the food, the music, the speech. I enjoyed the conversation. But as a writer my observational skills were in overdrive. I was completely overwhelmed.

Faces of the past loomed before me, morphed by wrinkles, gray hairs flanking their cheeks, bald heads defying our mutually held belief that somehow we were all still eighteen. Names that I should have known were whispered to me by those who remembered. Other names we all just shrugged.

I recognized almost everyone there, although I couldn’t tell you why or where I’d last seen them. Since high school, outside of social media, I have engaged with exactly two people that attended. One of them was my best friend and the other I went to university with. My best friend and I hadn’t seen each other in eighteen years, however. My college mate and I reconnected at a funeral a few years ago.

At our age it’s almost amazing that more of us haven’t reconnected at funerals. We’re getting old. We have grand children … well some of us do. Our children are driving cars and getting married. Our parents are passing away. We’re contemplating retirement.

And, as a classmate said in his speech Saturday night, … we’ve all had the rug pulled out from under us at least once.

Friday night, after our pizza party, I went to the hotel room of my best friend from high school. As teenagers we spent many hours sitting up til 3:00 am contemplating the fate of the world, of our world, of our lives. We did it again Friday night. We had to cover eighteen years in a heart beat it seemed. But we barely scratched the surface. She had been on my heart and my mind so many times over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I searched for her only to receive an email from someone in Germany who didn’t speak English or from someone in Canada who wasn’t the correct nationality in response to my queries.

Honestly, I had given up. It was too hard to keep remembering, to keep searching, to keep aching for a friendship that was ripped from us.

Sure I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me more than once in my life … jobs have gone, friends have left, people have died, finances have been rocky, relationships have been sketchy … but that eighteen years without my friend was the worst.

We all form relationships as children, as teens, that define our conversations, our expectations, our visions, our needs as we mature and grow into adults. Those people we went to school with, those friends, those classmates, no matter what our connections later in life, are the ones who shared the ride, the music, the expectations, the stresses of trying to be someone other than who we were, of trying to find ourselves.

And yet, here we are, thirty years later, and most of us are just now beginning to understand that it’s okay to just be who we are.

Thirty years is a long time to wait to see a reflection of ourselves in another person. But that’s what a reunion is. A mere moment of a reflection that captures who we were, what we dreamed, and filters it all with what we have become.


The Birth and Death of A Day

For some reason I have been fascinated lately by the sunrise and sunset. So much so that my kids have begun to think I am nuts every time I pull the car over to take another picture. They lean back and turn the music up so that the whole car vibrates. Trucks and semis hauling to and from the oil fields whiz past. I ignore the growling in my stomach for breakfast or supper.

And I stand there, snapping picture after picture of the birth and death of another day.

What is it about the sunset and sunrise that garners so much attention from the humans on this planet? We photograph it, write poetry about it, paint it, change our clocks for it, wrap our language around it … as if dark and light meant everything to us.

I suppose it’s engrained in our souls from a time before light bulbs dulled the night sky fading the stars with their electric buzz. When the difference between light and dark, between day and night, meant hunting and planting crops or starving while hunkering down to sleep under a tree.

But even after a century of living with artificial light, we still change our clocks every spring and every fall to cater to the schedule of a demanding sun. Even our most genius, life-altering inventions can’t win against the tilt of the earth and the pull of the moon sloshing oceans upon our shores.

Every day the sun comes up and goes back down reminding us that we are merely human. None of us were born with tights and a cape, the ability to fly or leap tall buildings, the power to capture the moon with a shrink ray.

We were born frail and weak with nothing more than a passion for eating and breathing and learning.

The sun is so much more.

And yet, we are world changing, life altering beings. We own something the sun will never have. We share something with one another every day through language and art and … sometimes even silence … that the sun will never know no matter how many times it rises and falls, no matter how many days it commands.

Because we are compassionate beings with the ability to love or hate, to laugh or cry, to project our thoughts upon those around us in whatever form we choose to take.

The sun can move us to wake and sleep, to moments of awe, to snap another photograph and write another poem, but only we can tear out someone’s heart in a moment with a mere word.