Friday, May 22, 2015

For Paula For Robert

The Infinite Moment of Creation

Star collides with star
thrust from the infinite black hole
blasts explodes
swirls twists tumbles
collects grows collects spins


Sun gathers chaos
pulls bits into her orbit
swirls of stardust she sets in circles
heats cools heats cools


Life sparks from within
long lost memories of life
spark within
the stardust
life erupts tumbles forms
evolves grows swims
crawls out of water


Learns to cry
walk sing love.

And the form made from stardust fell
in love with the most beautiful
form and they gave birth to
like the debris that formed and bore
and together they learned
how to smile.

And time ticked throughout the
ticked swirled ticked tumbled
lulled quieted
and they learned
and urgency
and how to love

Until the stardust flickered
whispered goodbye
quieted lulled stilled tick

and the other
infinite black pain
an infinite black hole of pain
sadness emptiness
swirling twisting spiraling bleeding
in her heart
an impossibly



Out of the infinite black hole
a future universe bursts
swirls twists collides collects
spins collects


remembers life in its debris
long lost memories of life
nurtures evolves grows swims

crawls out of the water


Dear Paula,
When I cannot be there with you, when I cannot take a single ounce of your broken heart away from you, when I cannot hug you while you cry or wash your growing piles of laundry or listen to you tell stories or talk through the pain, know that even from far away I am here for you, shedding tears for you, loving you, caring about you.
Your friend forever,

Thursday, May 07, 2015


Driving past my favorite church sign yesterday, I was impressed by the depth of the message (if anything church sign-y can have depth).

"Thank God for others."

I like it! It was like saying God is not selfish or jealous of our human relationships, but that he recognizes our innate need for companionship, and the way we need one another to help, to guide, to encourage, to teach, to inspire. We need others in our lives to lighten the load of life, to make us laugh, to be there when we cry, to support us in hard times, and to celebrate the joys. Thank God for others indeed!

Then I drove past it and in the rear view mirror saw the other side.

Oh. They just lost an M. (And inserted a Spanish exclamation point.) Oh well. Thank God for mothers too. Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Adventure Time - On A Budget

At the beginning of 2015, I declared this year the Year of Adventure. 2014 set me in a rut that I was (am) determined to get out of. Scott and I decided this year we'd do stuff, big and small, making this a year to remember.

It's jarring to think that we are already in the fifth month of 2015. What?! How?! While the big adventures we've discussed have yet to happen (we wanted to go to Washington DC for Spring Break or Texas for Easter, neither of which ended up possible), but we have succeeded in the small.

We'd gotten into a bad habit of whiling away the weekends, vegging out doing nothing but refereeing fights amongst the kids, and generally feeling pretty bored. We've changed that this year. We've gotten motivated. We've started looking for excitement anywhere we can find it - and rightly calling it "adventure", for that's what we're making of it.

One weekend we took the kids to a Scottish Festival. (Free entry)

One weekend we went to Little Rock for the Indian Festival. (Free entry)

We took them to a Superhero Horse Fundraiser. ($20 a family, all profits going to charity)

We went to an Arts and Maker Faire. ($10 each for all of us over 6 yrs, which I didn't realize, but worth every penny the oldest three of us had to pay!)

We went to the Museum of Discovery on Dollar Day. ($5 in all)

This weekend we're going to the Clinton Presidential Library to see the Dinosaurs Around the World exhibit ($20 for the family, it better be good!), and next weekend we're heading up to Fayetteville for the high school graduation party of an old wee pal (not gonna be cheap after petrol, hotel, and food, but it'll be like a mini family vacation, and we'll cut costs wherever we can).

We don't have tons of money, I can tell you that for nothing! But we've changed our priorities slightly. Instead of going out to eat when I can't be bothered to cook, we are trying to save those pennies for entry fees, searching for the free events and discount days. Food at these kind of events, while looking and smelling amazing, are usually ridiculously expensive, so we tend to bring water bottles and snacks, and perhaps a picnic lunch, to save spending $10 on a hamburger. We sometimes splurge on tiny treats, like homemade shortbread at the Scottish festival or handcrafted pottery fridge magnets at the Arts Faire, but mostly we just enjoy looking at all the things on offer and whispering to each other afterwards about how we'd never pay that for that. (Helps curb the "I WANT" urges.)

All of these little mini-adventures have been so much fun for everyone and really great for our family. And really great for improving my outlook. While the big things (like family vacations and some things I can't mention here until they actually happen!) keep not happening for various reasons (can't get dates off work or cars needs total of six new tires), the little things have made 2015 pretty adventurous. And with school holidays coming quickly upon us, I am sure there will be many more adventures to come! And hopefully without too hefty a price tag. (What is it about kids being off school and breaking the budget? All the food they consume while lounging around the house, all the activities we feel obligated to put on for them or send them to.... summer is expensive!)

Sometimes our adventures have been as small as a fire in the back yard...

... But I'm learning now that adventures don't have to be wild, exhilarating, and fantastical (or expensive) - adventures are made out of having an adventurous spirit!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Challenge Accepted! April Books

If I was a little let down by only reading four books in March, I'm feeling really let down by my April accomplishments. Only three.

HOWEVER. One of those books was pretty long and dense, so that has to be factored in.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (A book that made you cry)
I recently wrote about this book's personal effect on me, but for the purposes of this post, I'll just give a quick synopsis. 

Historian Lyman Ward, who suffers from a debilitating skeletal disease, embarks upon a project of writing the life story of his grandparents, Susan Burling Ward and Oliver Ward, gathering the majority of his information from the extensive correspondence between Susan and her life long friend Augusta.  Susan, an Eastern genteel, and Oliver, an aspiring engineer with no college degree, marry after a long and unconvincing "courtship" that existed almost entirely in letters, and she joins him in their first homestead in the West in the late 1800s. As far as Susan sees it, this is a temporary settlement while he gets the experience he needs to return to New York and become an engineer in the East.  He, however, thought she understood that an engineer's life was in the West and always would be.  And thus begins a life of disappointments, successes, stalled work, poverty, hope, love, regret, friendships, loneliness, disaster, and exile.  Amidst the stories of Susan and Oliver's erratic and restless lives, Lyman must also wrestle with the reality of his own life - a failed marriage, a failing body, a meddlesome son, a ridiculous secretary, and a faithful but aging friend/nurse.  He is living alone in the very house his grandparents lived in for the last half of their lives, among the same roses his grandfather cultivated, the same roses whose scents hung in the air as heavy as the memories they carried.

This, in my opinion, is an absolutely fantastic book, one of the best I've ever read.  It is dense and rich, and so very cognizant of the human condition.  Stegner goes right down into the thick of what it is to be married and the cracks and craigs that can develop so very easily.  Even though the majority of the book is based over a century ago, Stegner also manages to draw the reader right into the Victorian era, forgetting our modern philosophies and beliefs about equality and the Women's Lib, and relive life the way it was then with no distaste for their archaic values.  In fact, we become almost nostalgic for it.  

I have read this book three times now, and every single time it has reduced me to tears.  And not just stingy-eye-tears, but full-on sobs, fat plops smearing the ink of the pages, bright red puffy eyes, dripping nose, the works.  I re-read it this time because our book club chose it as our next book. (We all submitted titles and chose one at random. Can you guess who submitted this one?!)  I truly hope the rest of Book Club will love it as much as I do, and I eagerly await our discussion!

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman (A book based on or turned into a TV show)
If you haven't already watched Seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, perhaps consider reading the book first. I wish I had.

The book is a memoir, the true story of Piper Kerman's year in a women's prison. It is heartfelt and compassionate and nothing at all like the TV series.  It is not over dramatic, we do not witness any fights or lesbian sex scenes, and the Piper "character" is not as troubled as they portray her on the show. Also - SPOILER ALERT -Larry is faithful.The book re-humanizes the women behind bars that we so often dehumanize because of their crimes.  It reminds us that punishment without rehabilitation is only cruelty.  It highlights the serious ineptitude of America's prison systems, as well as the disservice it does to society, when it perpetuates the cycle of violence and incarceration.  Until America realizes that pure punishment alone does not solve the problem, we will always have people cycling in and out of prison, unable to cope with life "on the outs".  Prisons must do a better job of rehabilitation if we want to see these people living productive and non-criminal lives. (And it should never have become a profitable "business".)

The TV show is great entertainment, but other than some of the characters and scenarios, it is not the same as the book.  Which is better? It depends on what you call "better".  If you ask me, the Netflix Original Series is more exciting, but the book touches your heart and engages your empathy.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (A banned book)
Again, another book with a movie-based-on-a-book.  I saw the movie first and read the book second. I gotta stop doing that.

I chose this as my "banned book". I chose it over several other more classical and well-known banned books, because I love the movie so much.  I figured I knew why the book would be banned in many high schools across the state - it deals with drugs and sexuality - but I wanted to know just how "bad" those concepts are in the book.

Spoiler - not bad at all. Aside - don't ban books because they deal with actual human dilemmas, particularly teen ones.

Charlie, a lonely high school freshman, whose close friend shot himself the year before, meets two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who take him in and show him genuine friendship, in spite of his quirks (and tendency to cry a lot).   It quietly and honestly tells Charlie's story through letters he writes to a "friend".  (Charlie needs an anonymous and understanding person to talk to. We know nothing about this friend, and this friend actually does not know Charlie.)  He talks about his first time getting high, his first kiss, his first girlfriend, his love of books and desire to become a writer, and true love and friendship.  The book is warm, but has an undercurrent of something unsettling. We get the sense of foreboding but cannot be sure why.

I liked this book, but again, it's a little different from the movie.  Obviously.  Movies must dramatize everything to keep the viewer constantly holding his breath.  The book does not feel the need to do so. It plays everything down, with Charlie telling anecdotes to his "friend" with a mixture of youthful naivety and insight beyond his years.  It made me glad I'm not sixteen anymore. It made me frown and sigh at the thought of anyone ever having to be sixteen.

It should not be a banned book. (Should any book?)  Kids need to be able to read this stuff. Kids, more than anyone, need to know they are not alone in their struggles.  This will be required reading for my little ones when they start to become a lot less little.

To see what else I have read this year:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Plant a Tree For Earth Day

Today, we planted a tree in my mom's front yard.

We wanted to give them a Dogwood, but we couldn't find one, so we went with a Redbud.

We all did our part (except for Scott, who was still at work). But the kids did the majority of the digging.

Some of us even did our tree-planting in style. I'm talking skinny jeans and heels.

We would have loved to have planted a tree in our own yard, but alas, we rent, and we didn't want to worry with all the fuss of getting permission from the landlord to plant a tree.

At least now my mom and stepdad have a little memento of us, for when we eventually move on to "greener pastures".

Saying that, I'd love to make tree-planting our little family's Earth Day tradition. Give back to the earth a little of what we take so much of.

Teach the children a little about sustainability.

And get in touch a little more with nature.

Happy Earth Day!

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Do you have a book that digs so deeply into your heart that it pains you to read, yet you can't stop reading it because it reveals truths to you that even you did not realize - or want to accept - were inside you?

That book is Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose for me.

I have just finished it. It's actually the third time I've read it. The first time was over ten years ago for an online book club while I was engaged to Scott. I did not know what marriage would be like, and I didn't know my soon-to-be husband the way I do now, but even then, every word of the novel was a warning: Don't underestimate him. Don't try to change him. Don't betray his trust. A quiet man is not an unfeeling man; don't confuse the two.

The second time I read it was while pregnant with Baby Jaguar. Once again, I was struck by how similar my husband is to the novel's Oliver. Once again, I heeded (and was thankful) for the warnings: Do not stand in his way for selfish reasons. Do not wish him to be anything other than what he is. Appreciate his strengths, though they are different to yours, and forgive him his weaknesses (for you have your own). Defend him against criticism. Do not hold him at arm's length.

This time I found myself thanking the book wholeheartedly for all those warnings. For this time I saw in myself how like Susan I am. As little as I'd like to admit it, I too am proud, a little snobbish, a little over-concerned with appearances. Every time I have read this book, I have noted how too close the story cuts, how in an alternate universe, this could have been us. Without those warnings, with less magnanimity, with less careful effort, we could have been doomed to the same fate - the same discontent woman, the same stubborn man, with such promise but too many mistakes.

I have wanted to review this novel a hundred times, but I am unable. It is too close, it is too revealing. I recognize in it how lucky we have been - no, not lucky. Careful. Hardworking. Fair. Open and honest. Aware. We have not, we shall not end up the same as Susan and Oliver Ward, living the rest of their lives at the angle of repose, after a downward tumbling life eventually settled near the bottom of the ravine. We shall have our ups and downs. We shall have our adventures. We will not settle for living happily-unhappily ever after.

All I can say in review is a quick synopsis:

Historian Lyman Ward, the grandson of Oliver and Susan Ward, much to ignore the effects of his debilitating skeletal disease, takes to his grandmother's letters to her dearest lifelong friend Augusta to write about her and her husband's life developing the West in the late 1800s. She, an Eastern genteel and he, an aspiring engineer with no college degree, marry after a long and unconvincing "courtship" that existed only in correspondence, and she joins him in their first homestead in the West. In her mind, it is a temporary settlement while he gets the experience he needs to return to New York and became an Eastern engineer. He understands that an engineer's life is in the West and will always be. And thus they begin a life of disappointment, successes, stalled work, poverty, hope, love, regret, friendships, loneliness, disaster, and exile. Amidst the stories of Susan and Oliver's erratic and restless lives, Lyman must also wrestle with the reality of his own life - a failed marriage, a failing body, a meddlesome son, a ridiculous secretary, and a faithful but aging friend/nurse. He is living in the very house his grandparents lived in for the last half of their lives, among the same roses his grandfather cultivated, the same roses whose scents hung in the air as heavy as the memories they carried from a life lived happily-unhappily ever after.

It's a long book. It's a hard book; not word-wise, but emotionally, at least for me. It could have been me. It could have been Scott. I am imperfect, I am not the best wife for a quiet, intelligent, deep man... or am I? Was Susan? Maybe she was, and maybe I am. It is possibly our choices in life that make us perfect or not perfect for someone, not simply our temperaments. All I know is that I have read this book three times, and all three times I have found myself not merely tearing up, but quite literally sobbing throughout and especially at the end, not only over the plot line but the truths it has revealed. It is without question my favorite book. It is heartbreaking. It is real, it is honest.

I could never write a full review of it, for to do that would be to write a full review of the worst versions of my possible self, the versions that could have been me, that in an alternate universe might actually be me. I can never reveal those flaws of which I am too acutely aware my capacity of exposing. I'd rather keep those revelations securely bound between the covers of this remarkable book.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ways In Which Arkansas Wants To KILL You

With a severe weather warning season firmly upon us and after shooing a red wasp out of my car yesterday AND a suspiciously bulbous black spider with a violin on its back (red or white, which one is in under contract with Satan?), I decided it's time to make a list of some of the reasons I need to leave Arkansas.

Because Arkansas wants to KILL you.

1. Black Widows. It's like, it's not enough to just be a spider; it has to be an ugly, deadly one.
2. Brown Recluses. One that will destroy your flesh. Then kill you.
3. Red Wasps. So they may not kill you, but they will build their nests on your front porch and then attack you and sting the crap out of you. If they could talk, they'd have little collective demon voices.
4. Scorpions. So far, haven't seen one. But they are out there, and they are mean little bastards.
5. Ticks. Lyme Disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. And they will leave their heads inside your flesh if you aren't careful. WTF?
6. Rattlesnakes. Deadly AND have that creepy Western movie prelude playing in the background. Cue tumbleweed. Then death.
7. Copperheads. Seriously, these guys THRIVE in my neighborhood. Domesticity doesn't phase them one bit.
8. Baby copperheads. These little buggers are even meaner than their mamas.  Like little Children of the Corn, but snakes.
9. High heat indexes. If all of the above doesn't kill you first, the 110°F in the middle of July and August ought to finish you off.  And if even that can't take you down...
10. Tornadoes. No, seriously. Not being funny. I am terrified.

I'm actually not sure how I survived my first twenty-two years of my life living in this state and now the last almost two. Living in Arkansas is like playing a never-ending game of Russian roulette, and surely my luck is going to run out soon.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

New Ink: Into the Looking Glass

A few weeks ago, my main squeeze and I went on a date, where we ate bison burgers and sweet potato fries dipped in marshmallow sauce, and got ourselves inked.

This was Scott's first tattoo, and it was a big deal. He got this:

(We've been kind of amazed at how few people have been able to figure out what it is.)

Me, this was my fourth tat, so not quite such a big deal.

As a reminder, I have a tattoo trio already of faith, hope, and love, all in Arabic calligraphy. And yes, I know enough Arabic to know that they all say exactly what I think they say. I may not remember much from my year of studying Arabic, but I still know enough. Enough to read something to you but not have a clue what it says.

I considered going a totally new direction for this fourth tattoo, leaving behind the Arabic calligraphy theme. I also considered seamlessly continuing with the Arabic calligraphy theme by getting the word peace in Arabic. But I kept turning around this other idea in my mind... a slightly cheesy, somewhat embarrassing idea, but one that really meant something to me.


It's a beautiful design. (I'm sorry I can't give credit to the person who designed it though, because she seems to have removed it from the web. I'm glad I downloaded it before she took it down. I wonder, does tattooing yourself compromise intellectual property rights?) This is also Arabic calligraphy. The idea of getting illusion tattooed on my skin did seem cheesy and possibly misleading, but at the last minute, it's the one I chose to go with.

I love it. However, the inevitable question has since popped up repeatedly: "What does it mean?"

An old friend once cautioned me never to get a tattoo that didn't mean anything, because you'd spend the rest of your life shrugging when asked that inevitable question. Those three squares on his arm mean nothing.

The word in Arabic, وهم (pronounced "wa-HEM-a") specifically means "illusion" but can be loosely translated in other ways. I've been finding it easier to loosely translate it as "imagination" for the average person on the street, rather than explain what "illusion" means to me.

But I'll explain it here.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a fat girl. There, I said it.

The word "fat" is supposedly banned in our house. It's our family's f-word (and is way worse than the other one). I am so very against body shaming, so supportive of positive body image and loving your body... for everyone else but myself. I still look at myself and see a mess. Even though I'm now at a healthy weight and have a pretty healthy lifestyle (let's not discuss the Easter chocolate though, please), I still have very poor body image. It probably wouldn't matter if I lost yet another 30 lbs, I'd probably still see someone twice my actual size in my reflection.

I have to tell myself consciously, explicitly, daily, that this is an illusion.

What I see in the mirror is illusory. It's something my brain invents to tempt me to do all sorts of stupid things. I have to constantly tell my brain, You're wrong. I'm beautiful. I'm healthy. I love my body.

This tattoo now stares back at me in the mirror too. It tells me the same thing. I am healthy. I exercise regularly. I *generally* eat well. I am beautiful. Anything I believe about myself otherwise is an illusion.

It is الوهم.

But if I pass you on the street, and you ask me what it means, I'll probably just say "imagination". Because that's easier to admit.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Limited Time Only!

For all my faithful readers, I have a little treat for you.

My eBook of poetry, Meatloaf and a Rosary, is now FREE on Smashwords for a limited time only!

To get everyone excited about my upcoming book, I'm offering this free gift to my loyal readers (and anyone else who stumbles across the book too, I guess). It's very different from my new book; I published this while I was still a Christian and many of the poems in this book have been rewritten (and some will feature in my new book as chapter headings in their rewritten form). It's also poetry, which makes it, of course, different from my memoir.

Now I know, I know. Poetry isn't everyone's cup of tea... However, I highly recommend taking advantage of this free offer; you never know, poetry may actually grab you in ways you never expected! Simply click on the link provided above (or the image below) and download to whatever you have - a Kindle, an iPhone or just your PC. Vote with your, erm, download, to show me you're looking forward to my new book!

Remember- this is a limited time offer only. So go now. Go, go, go!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Church Signs To Make Your Skin Crawl

There's a church just down the road from me that needs my help.


They change their signs weekly. I really, really wish I'd been photographing these slogans, but as soon as they are up, they are back down again. From now on, I make the commitment to photograph. Because it's just so sad.

They CANNOT spell.

A few weeks ago, the sign said "FORBIDEN FRUIT CREATES MANY JAMES!" I wanted desperately to remove the extra E and add a D. Then again, maybe it was a political statement. Maybe it was saying, "For Biden, fruit creates many, James!" Or something. I don't know. They've had spacing problems before.

Like a few weeks ago when they posted, "COME IN! GOD IS EXPECTING YOU!" But the spacing was all wrong and all I saw was "Come in! God i sexpecting you!" which of course, led some anonymous riff-raff to go and take away the first E and the I, making it "COM IN! GOD SEXPECTING YOU!" Sigh.

Today, the sign says:

"A FAMILY ALTAR CAN ALTAR FAMIY!" I get what they are doing here, I really do. But altar is different from alter. The first is a noun, the second a verb. If you want to be clever, you've just really got to spell like you're clever.

Also, did they run out of Ls or is that just another oopsie?

The other side is either another error, or just a really weird phrase.

We've all heard "Jesus loves me, this I know." But "Jesus knows me, this I know"? I don't get it. Maybe they are trying to turn a phrase. Or maybe they just got mixed up. Either way...

This church needs someone to review their signs before displaying. I'd do it for them for free. It's just gone well past humorous into cringe-worthy.

My heart actually hurts for their signs.