Friday, July 30, 2010

I have a little confession...

I have a little confession to make. I'm writing a novel.

It's crazy. It's a far fetched dream. It may never see a publisher's desk. I may never hold it in my hands, bound and beautiful. But I'm writing it none the less. It's this story inside of me that has to come out.

I can't even say where it's coming from. Parts of it are coming from me. From the things I've lived. From the things I have seen. But some of it is just flowing from my fingertips onto the keyboard in the most amazing fashion I've ever experienced. I have no idea who to credit the words and the thoughts and the scenes to except my Maker. The Lord himself. He's given me this spark of creativity. He's put in me this story that I don't' believe has ever been told.

Several moths ago, I just kept feeling these words in my heart. Let go. Write it. These words would just pop into my head at all times of the day. Let go. Write it.

Write it. Oh, how I love to write. There's something so refreshing and stabilizing and comforting in the spewing of words. I've always been a writer in my heart. Always. And now I am seeing an idea and a story line and characters building in my head like a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico.

The story I want to tell could touch a lot of women. Young and old. I believe it's a story that's not explored - the guilt and shame of the young woman who is sexually assaulted by someone she trusts. It happens more than you know. More than any of us care to think about. I would venture to say that someone reading this blog right now has been sexually assaulted and violated by someone they trusted. Maybe more than one. Of course, each circumstance is so different. But I know for me, when my violation occurred at the age of 19, I didn't know what to do or say or how to feel. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and felt like I was to blame for what had happened to me. Looking back now, it's easy to see that I was not to blame for a man taking advantage of me. Looking back now, I realize how he groomed me and controlled me and manipulated me. And I realize that in that very moment, the moment of the violation, he was the only person to blame for the ultimate act of disrespect and evil.

But there are so many young women out there that suffer in silence, just as I did for so many years. Believing it was their fault. Feeling that they could have or should have done something different and it would have never happened. I feel it on my heart to share my story through this novel to show not only what that guilt and shame can do - where it can take you - but to show you how you can come back from that pile of ruins.

I read the book of Lamentations from the Old Testament several months ago and was inspired. It's not the most uplifting book in the Bible, I must say. Some would read it and think, "What in the world? How could anyone read this book and find it inspiring???" But I did. And I am running with it. My mind is wide open and my soul is on fire.

I feel a little like a fool for coming out so openly with this - the writing of the novel that may or may never be available on book shelves. But it's my story. And I was told to let go and write it. And that's just what I intend to do...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Entertainer of the Year

I take it as my personal responsibility to entertain the entire neighborhood and any passers-by. And I take the job seriously, mind you.

This morning, I donned my old running shorts (that I used to actually run in but now use to cut the grass in), a ratty all stars tee shirt from 2008 that has a whole in the left armpit, and my Pepto pink Crocs. Oh, and my Auburn hat. And just when you think that the sight described is entertaining enough... well, you just don't know how incredibly entertaining I can be, do you?

The sun was hot, but the beautiful old oak tree in the front yard provided perfect shade on most of the front yard this morning. So much that the experience was almost delightful. Hot, but not too hot. Sweaty, but in the shade. The grass had perked up quite a bit from the two dry weeks we had earlier in the month. Life was good. I thanked God for the oak tree, and I began to think about its history. How it looked sad when we moved in and how after the loss of two trees on our lot, we called in a man I'll refer to as the Tree Whisperer.

The Tree Whisperer was a strange man, in deed. He had a love of trees that might easily cross the line into - well, weird. And he had a price list for services which claimed to save trees that was a wee bit pricey. None the less, we paid for his services which he claimed could help the tree that was clearly in distress because of the way the leaves looked. He deep-root fertilized all the trees on our property as well as the shrubs. I must say, the tree is still alive, but I still can't see any difference in how the leaves look. They just kinda look like leaves to me. But I guess I don't claim to be a Tree Whisperer.

Anywho - paid to have the darn thing fertilized. We deep-root watered it several times (which, according to Tree Whisperer, all trees need this deep watering once a year - whatever). And this past year, Big Daddy Oak was looking a little scary. He had a lot of dead wood in his top, and several tree trimmers left unrequested estimates in our mailbox or on our front door offering their services. We didn't have the money, so we opted for the pray-a-limb-doesn't-strike-a-child-in-the-head method. Between the prayers and the stormy spring we had this year, the tree is looking better than ever. And no small children were harmed in the process.

So, I was cutting the grass and feeling fine this morning. Writing a blog post in my mind about the Big Daddy Oak in the front yard. How it parallels life in so many ways. How God takes care of His creations. And I'm cutting and smiling and waving to all the passers-by.

Oh, look - there's the mail man. I'll give him a special smile and wave so maybe the next time we have a small package come via USPS, he'll bring ALL the mail to the door and not just the little box. It would save a trot to the curb, you know.

My left hand is up, waving a good Southern wave, right hand still on my lawnmower, keeping the pace and making a turn for one of my last swoops up by the street. And then - BOOM! Lawnmower comes to stop, and this weird substance flies out from underneath.............

What in the?????

NEWSPAPER. I ran over the darn newspaper, still rolled and wrapped in plastic. Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.

I had to roll it back down into the yard and turn it on its side to assess the situation. In deed, the newspaper was lodged pretty well underneath the blade.

This could be bad. Really bad. But I knew that no matter what I could always take the blade off to get the newspaper out. But even then, would it crank again, or had I completely ruined the lawn mower for good?

This was truly one of those laugh-out-loud moments for me. One that you just have no other choice than to laugh at yourself. If the lawn mower was truly ruined, I could cry then. But for the time being, I chose to laugh.

Thankfully, I was able to get the paper unwedged without taking the blade off. Even more thankfully, the old Craftsman mower that I have most certainly put through the ringer over the past three years of teaching myself how to cut the grass cranked right back up like nothing had happened. Me and the Craftsman definitely have a good relationship going - I mess up, and he keeps on forgiving. And my relationship with the neighborhood is more like I entertain, and they keep on laughing. Behind my back, I'm sure.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ode to Sunshine

Never a dull moment around here. Never.

Yesterday, before my morning coffee had even nestled into my brain cells, the kids had already dressed and were outside to begin their summer day. Around 9:15, they knocked on the front door. I took a peak out the sidelights to asses what all the fuss was about. David stood holding a little black kitten. Fantastic.

"We found a kitten!! We found a kitten!!!!!" all three children exclaimed (neighbor and best bud Noah was included in the mix with David and Madalyn).

From a distance, I could see the cat had some scabbing around the back of its tiny neck, almost as though at one time it had worn a collar that was too tight and had rubbed the skin underneath completely raw. The kitten was solid black with the occasional white stray hair here or there. It was a good natured little kitty allowing the kids to pick it up and play and whatnot.

Of course the inevitable question finally spilled out of the mouths of babes...... Can we keep it????

We already have a dear old lady cat, Millie. She came from a box of kittens that a co-worker of my dreaded first husband (that part of the story is omitted for the kids for a number of reasons) brought to work with her. He brought her home to me late one night after his shift waiting tables. I had no food for her, and she was so very tiny. When I took her to the vet the following day, I was informed that she was probably only four weeks old and really wasn't completely ready to be away from her Mama. So I became her Mama - I literally dipped my finger in a bowl of milk and put it in her mouth to show her how to drink and did the same with food. And she's been with me since. She will be fourteen in September, and she adores the kids and all the big people of the house as well. At bedtime, she waits in the hall for the kids to brush their teeth so they will give her a little goodnight love. When Scott and I sit on the couch at the end of the day, she comes down and sits behind us and sniffs our hair. And she nibbles my nose... that's always been our thing just between the two of us.

All that being said, I couldn't imagine bringing another cat into the mix. Millie is such an old lady, and I just wouldn't feel right doing that to her. And this cat definitely needed some special attention with all the scabbing around the neck. It wouldn't be a cat you could put outside. And Lord only knows what other problems the little kitty had that you couldn't see. Basically, I couldn't handle bringing that little kitty into my life no matter how much my heart wanted to. No matter how much my kids wanted me to.

We did the toughest thing I think I have ever had to do. I wrapped the kitten in a towel and David held it for the ride to the Shelby County Humane Society. I've never dropped off an animal, so I really didn't know what to expect. They made a copy of my drover's license and asked me to fill out all this paper work. I had to sign a form recognizing my awareness that the animal may have to be euthanized. I came real close to telling them I'd just take the cat back home... but I didn't. I left a twenty dollar donation and a beautiful little black kitty that would definitely make some family very happy if it gets the medical attention it needs.

David wept the whole way home. Madalyn asked, "Can we call and check on Sunshine tomorrow?" Of course, I had to ask if that's what they had named the kitty - Sunshine. They said that they named her Sunshine because it was a sunny day. Bless their hearts.

So, I guess I will call the shelter later today and check on Sunshine. I have thought about the darn cat so much since dropping her off. I hope she can get the attention and help she needs and can be paired with a family that can love her as much as my kids did for the few hours they had with her.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The other half...

Sometimes, it's nice to see how the other half lives. You know - the half of society that actually smells the cork when the waiter pulls it out and likes their wine poured by someone else. The half that wears a suit to dinner and seems a bit overly educated. The half that can actually pronounce the things listed on the menu at the restaurant we visited last night...

Call me uncivilized. Call me simple. Call me uncultured. But, to be honest, I don't get out of the house much. And when I do, it's to go to Target or Publix or to baseball practice. We go to dinner usually once a month... with the kids... and it's usually Mexican because it's cheap and everyone likes it. We haven't had a baby sitter all year for a multitude of reasons. And we certainly can't afford to pay someone and pay for dinner on the same night. So we go without date night. But last night, we finally had the opportunity to go out to eat - just the two of us. And we wanted to make it count being uncertain when we'd actually be able to go out to dinner again.

There's a place near Five Points in Birmingham called Oceans that Scott had been to on a business dinner a while back. The menu is mainly seafood, but the place was really cool and he thought we might enjoy going. Last night was the perfect opportunity, so I checked out the menu to make sure it would suit my non-seafood-eating appetite. We headed North on I-65 for the big city...

We arrived in front of the restaurant and pulled up to the valet area. When I first moved to Birmingham, I thought it quite cultured the whole valet thing. Now I realize it's simply because of the difficulty in finding parking between the busy streets and hills. We walked into the obviously sparse restaurant and approached the greeting station. A waiter greeted us and asked if we had reservations...... that's funny; the website didn't mention that reservations were necessary. We answered that we did not, and he said he would have to check with his Floor Manager. She returned to inform us that the floor was fully committed, but that the bar was available and offered a full service menu. Or perhaps we'd like to try their sister restaurant next door.

Why yes... I think we will try the other. If I'm gonna pay more than $45 for a meal, by goodness, I'm gonna be sittin' at a table.

So we trotted next door feeling, perhaps, slightly dejected. I was blown away with the seriousness of the conversation... how the floor was fully committed. I've never heard someone talk about tables in a restaurant in those terms. I felt like I would have been asked to sign a contract to have a meal or tied up in a straight jacket if I dared to sit down on the committed floor. Anyway - we felt the option would be available. From the website, it appeared to be a slightly more casual place but with similar food.

We were greeted by a young woman who was incredibly rude and grumpy. In fact, once we were seated, I couldn't help but giggle out loud and pronounce her rudeness. But, as I told Scott, I might be a little grumpy too if I stuck out like she did in that place. All the waiters wore black pants and crisp white shirts (to match the napkins, I suppose), and there she stood in a little short, plaid patchwork skirt and a Granny Smith apple colored polo shirt. She might as well have worn a neon sign around her neck.

The waiter poured us water (purified, holy, mountain spring water, I'm sure) from an old-school milk bottle. He gave us the menu, and I looked over it picking up on key words I could comprehend. Rib eye. DING!DING!DING! Never mind what kind of froofy sauce or whatnot it had over it... it sounded fantastic. Then I needed to find the restroom. It was carefully disguised behind a curtain of hanging silver beads. Yes - strands of silver beads hung in the form of a curtain. I had to swim my way through to find two unisex one-seaters with heavy pocket doors that latched into place once tightly shut. The light turned on automatically when the door was in place. Incredibly modern. Incredibly not my style. Incredibly hysterical... I laughed the whole time I was in there and the whole way back to my seat.

The food was fantastic, but the people watching was the best. There was the business dinner between a man and a woman next to us. There was the large ladies only party in the booth in the corner, laughter and wine and martinis flowing over the edge of the table they graced. There were the older attorneys that seated themselves just over my shoulder and to the right. I assume they were attorneys... they just sort of looked the part. The final crew to sit down before we left contained one man we deemed to be the most like us - jeans, polo shirt, no belt. Maybe a little too not-put-together but at least a little more laid back.

Whatever the atmosphere, the food was fantastic, and I really wanted to do desert. But when the waiter brought out the desert menu, everything had something I didn't recognize or some kind of candied fruit. I just wanted something deeply fudgey chocolate without any froofs or what not.

It's nice to visit these places once a year or so, but they aren't places I could see myself fitting in on a regular basis. I don't like the uptight feeling of people who truly enjoy being served. I don't need a linen table cloth or extra forks or spoons. Just give me a little American restaurant with a simple menu and plain old beer. But sometimes it is nice to see how the other half lives all the time...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One of those days...

It's one of those days around the Blair Casa today. One of those where I can't help but look around and wonder, "Who are these ungrateful children, and what time will their parents be picking them up and taking them away from here????"

I'll admit... I have babied and pampered my kids to a certain extent. But I wouldn't call myself an overindulgent mother. I'm more of the mom who will go ahead and do something myself when it really should be the child's responsibility to avoid an argument. In the time I would argue with one of the kids about who should pick up and throw away the Mini-Oreos bag, I could bake an entire batch of Oreos and package them myself for selling. So, I pick things up when I shouldn't, and I put items back in their place instead of insisting that the kids step in and do their part. And on most days, I deal with the fact that things will never be as they once were in my house - in order and clean.

Today, I thought I'd throw a little teaser out there. Money always seems to be a motivator for the kids, so I put a $10 reward out for the child who cleaned up their room the best. Of course, in a house of only two kids, you've got a great shot at being the winner! So they were both thrilled and quickly set out to clean their rooms. I even gave David a little preliminary advice pointing out certain areas of his room that needed extra attention.

Madalyn was the first to finish. I must admit, for a five year old who rarely cleans her room all by herself, she did a good job. I had laid some clothes on her bed that needed to be hung in the closet, and she told me, "I couldn't reach up there, so I hung 'em on my door knobs." Definitely gets an "A" for effort and creativity on that one!

David, on the other hand, is innately lazy. I am perhaps innately a procrastinator and easily distracted from a task at hand. But David, my dear sweet little boy, is the laziest person I've ever been around. To the point that I as a mother am beginning to get a little concerned. David will do just enough to make it look as though he has done something, and then he quits. He does not even realize there is an extra mile, much less does he ever try to walk it. So, when I examined his room, I discoverer some things he needed to complete. Let's go for round two. When he announced he was done again, there will still areas that were awful. I called him over to the specific location I had pointed out that would need extra attention in the very beginning and asked if he honestly looked at it and thought it was clean. He could not lie; he knew it was nowhere near clean.

So, I pushed up my sleeves and worked beside him. The whole while, he was pouting and huffing saying he had already lost. I kept telling him I had not made up my mind who had done the best job yet - that he needed to finish his room before I could make a decision and to not give up. So I helped him with the troubled spot, and told the both of them I'd have to think about it.

I had already made my mind up before the cleaning began - if each of them put forth a genuine effort, they would each get five dollars. But when I announced that they would split the prize, David pouted and demanded I pick one winner. I probably should have picked just one, and it definitely would have been Madalyn for showing the most effort and initiative. Instead, I gave Madalyn $6 and David $4, and explained that Madalyn would get more because she did a better job. You would have thought I had taken the family cat outside and tortured her in front of David. Bottom lip puckered and tears flowed. I just can't win for losing around here. Doesn't help to try to be fair, and it doesn't help to try to teach a lesson either. Frustrating to say the least.

Sometimes, I wonder about the big picture. Am I preparing them correctly? Am I doing the best job I can do? Do they have any sense of responsibility? There are certainly more privileged and spoiled kids out there than mine, so am I really just not getting through to them - specifically David??? It just seems like the more you do for the kids, the more they expect. The more they want. The more they think they need. The more they feel entitled to. And I am afraid that I haven't done the best job at teaching them to accept responsibility for themselves and their things.

Maybe we should sell all our belongings and move to Montana and live off the land. Wouldn't that spawn some incredible blog posts? It's just a thought...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Random Thoughts of Little Value

Here's some random thoughts of little value that have popped in my mind over the last week and a half that don't pertain to the winning of the World Series...

Parents need a vacation twice the length of a family vacation to recuperate, especially when sharing a condo with four extra kids that don't belong to them.

Why would a condo owner buy a washer/dryer combo made in Sweden which requires written instructions for operation to be taped on the outside????? It took three adults about 20 minutes to figure it all out. You could only fit about 5 towels in a time. And then, once it all gets going, it sounds like it's about to take off into space. Never in my life...

Just when you think you have seen it all, you see something you never dreamed you'd see. I witnessed a mom giving her 8 or 9 year old son one of those 5 hour energy shots on Saturday morning at the ball park. We ended up playing that team a few hours later, and he still acted like he was half asleep on the field. So I will just conclude that the risk of giving your child substances that I would think twice about ingesting definitely outweighed the benefit. We also saw an entire team give each player a Red Bull. And then they lost. As I told David, who was completely hung up on the fact that those boys got to drink Red Bull and he cannot, a 5 hour energy shot and Red Bull don't make you a good baseball player. And my 9 year old certainly won't be drinking either.

The Caribe in Orange Beach is the most awesome condo I've ever stayed in. The water slides are fun for kids and adults.

I've gained about eight pounds this baseball season. Late night dinners, ball park nachos and hot dogs, and lots of crunchy carbs have taken their toll on my waistline. Time to hunker down AGAIN.

I've been introduced to steak bombs, and I may never be the same. In case you don't know, steak bombs are bite-size pieces of steak with a dollop of cream cheese on the top and a sliced jalapeno on top of that wrapped in bacon and grilled. And, yes - they are the bomb.

Okay. I think that completes my list of random thoughts. Maybe a full post is in my future. You know, after I get rested up from that vacation...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Most Exciting Game EVER

So last week was the World Series... the grand finale of our second season with our travel team made up of ten fantastic little athletes. As I have said many, many times before, the world would be shocked to see what they do. How they practice. How much drive and intensity they have. How good they want to be. And how much they still enjoy the game - just genuinely enjoy playing baseball.

Last year, after a season of ups and downs, we entered into the World Series in Dalton, Georgia thinking, "There's no way we'll win it all... maybe we'll finish top five." And then we did win. This season, we followed the same pattern - ups and downs, wins and losses. The biggest obstacle the boys faced this season was themselves. The age of eight is this awkward imbalance of childhood and adolescence - this weird space in between being little and in the middle. Old enough to know not to cry when you are thrown out at first base or you pop out to center field or when you miss a ball, but not old enough to have the composure to hold it in all the time. Old enough to understand never give up, but not wise enough to tap into the anger that can motivate one to keep moving forward. That's been the toughest part of this season - one that follows a World Series Championship but still contains the same ups and downs any season of baseball would contain.

I can only speak for myself... I walked into that park last week knowing we most definitely could win it all but most likely wouldn't. 26 teams. Heat. All of our players scattered around different condos and hotels in the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores area. The likelihood of winning the World Series back to back was looking smaller and smaller.

We pulled an easy draw for pool play, and we only allowed 4 runs in the first three games. Our real difficult play didn't begin until our seventh game of the tournament. We headed up with the Gulf Coast Storm, and, to be honest, we were caught a little off guard. This team kinda came in from nowhere, really. I forget what the score was - like 12 - 4, I think - but I do remember the fact that our players looked like they had watched their favorite animal being run over and killed by a diesel truck about half-way during the game. When they were getting ready to hit in the fourth inning, I walked over to the dugout and gave a little pep talk in true Crazy Mama fashion...

"Hey, Bandits... what inning is it??? How many innings do we play????? We haven't given up on you - you've given up on yourselves!!!! We're still in this!!! You can do it!!!!"

Usually, my little words of wisdom and encouragement light a fire under their baseball pants. This time, not so much. The kids' spirits were as low as they could be. There were a lot of tears in the dugout and on the field. They were popping the ball up. It was awful. Possibly the most awful display by my little Bandits. Tempers and moods in the stands were all over the place. At the end of the game, we scattered - the whole team of players, parents, and fans just scattered like shard off a broken glass. Some went to grab a bite to eat. Some went back to their hotel for a breather. Some of us stayed at the park, but those that did (myself included) took breaks of our own and barely spoke to each other. We had a couple of hours of down time, and it was much needed. We had entered the loser's bracket, and we knew we'd have to win three more games to take home the trophy. That would make for six games in one day, and all of us knew the odds were against us.

Whatever we did during the break must have worked. And I guess the loss served our boys well. They came back with fresh vigor and ready to whoop some tail. It certainly helped that the next game we played would be against that team that shut us out in Mississippi. The boys wanted revenge, and they got it. And that sent us into the championship games. Yes, games - as in two games. We would have to beat the Storm, the team who had beat us earlier that day, twice in order to win the tournament. The first game was a breeze. We beat them 12 - 0. But then there was the second game...

We battled back and forth with the storm the whole game. And I think it was in the fifth inning that a couple of errors on the field on our part gave them the lead at 9 - 4. We were able to score one in the bottom of the fifth, held them at 9 in the top of the sixth, and then went to bat for what seemed like the last time for the season. I mean what were the odds that a group of eight and nine year old boys playing their sixth game for the day would have enough gas left in the tank and fire in their soul to rally back and score five runs to tie the game?

The odds may have been stacked against them, but they did it anyway. It was brutal. They fought hard. And they managed to pull the game into extra innings. The Storm answered back with two in the top of the seventh inning, and the Bandits did the same, tying the game again and putting us into the eighth inning. The boys took the field. They were beyond exhausted, but somehow they held the score. Going up to bat, they knew all they needed was one run. Just one. The first three batters hit fine base hits and loaded up the bases. Solid base hit out to left field and the Bandits win the game.

The written word doesn't do it justice. It never could. The emotion was raw. I get chills as I relive it in my mind. I can't say that I've ever been more proud of anyone in my whole life as I was of my son and his team. I saw a fire in David's heart I would have never known was there. He wanted it. He could taste the victory. There was no way those boys were going to let someone else take it from them. The kids had begun to shut down in that final game. There were tears and headaches and body aches and requests to go home and just go to bed. But they lifted each other up and encouraged one another. And we as parents were on the outside of the fence doing the same.

After the game, the parents and anyone else who was there to watch - grandparents, aunts and uncles, older and younger siblings - stormed the field. We went nuts. I mean, winning the World Series two years in a row with this age boys is pretty unbelievable, and the boys actually understood what they had accomplished. David was weeping uncontrollably. The tears and smiles and laughter all melted together.

One of our coaches put it best in what he said after the game, and I'll do my best to paraphrase here: "We talked about being men today. I told you we could just lay down and be babies and get down on ourselves or we could stand up and fight and be men. And what you boys did here today put you one step closer to being men." Boy was he right.

That's just it for me... it's more than the win or the loss. It's the lesson learned. And what each of those boys learned in that final game was clear. Fight. Even when it seems impossible, fight. Dig deep. Give it all you've got. When you think there's nothing left, dig deeper. They learned first hand that it ain't over 'til it's over. And when it was over, those boys were all champions. In more ways than one.