Arkansas Is Known As The Natural State; Marriage Is Not

One of the most interesting comments my mother-in-law ever made to me was many years ago, when I had recently married her son and was still in that “starry-eyed phase.” If you’re married, you remember that phase. It was when you thought it was cute, as you patiently waited at the sink for the water to get warm, for him to come up behind you and just turn the faucet off because you were, as he put it, “wasting water.

Yeah, that one. Remember it? So cute… (teeth gritted).

Anyway, one day I heard her say,

“Marriage is not a natural state.”

I remember thinking at the time that she, having had two husbands in her lifetime, might have just had a different or more challenging experience than some married people, but that surely marriage was indeed a most natural state.

It was for me! I mean, look here, I had just married a man who was allergic to chicken (chicken, not chickens. There’s a big difference). So I was willing to give up fried chicken for him, and those of you who know me, well you know—that’s real love right there. Catholic nuns and priests give up marriage for God. I gave up fried chicken for marriage–same exact thing in my head.

Early on, marriage is pretty easy. Luckily, nature gives you blinders to the crappy parts, and you’re both just so in love and excited about your new life together that you can’t image anything ever changing.

Then you start to pay bills with this person, decorate a house with this person, share a closet with this person, and rely on this person to nurse you through the flu.

This person.

This person, who you stood before God and a room full of people your mother made you invite, and promised to love forever, will start to show little shortcomings here and there. They won’t jump out all at once like a jack-in-the-box, but rather they will ooze out like a tube of toothpaste that someone left the lid off of—and I go on record here, that if your toothpaste lid needs to be screwed on with a lug wrench then you are buying the wrong brand of toothpaste. Putting the cap back on with a half turn is enough to do the job.

no matter what he says.

I’ll continue–the shortcomings will show themselves subtly at first. So subtle that you will be able to talk yourself into denying that they are even there. But eventually, like a burr under a saddle, they will wear on you until you explode and kick the trash can around the kitchen, because for the 814th time, someone didn’t put a clean trash bag back in it, and you just dumped a pound of shrimp shells in there.

All of these little annoyances could probably be withstood fairly simply by some calm discussions and some compromising, but no. Unfortunately after years of letting the resentment grow into a healthy fervor, this seems to be just about the time you decide to add a bouncing six pound terrorizing manipulator with the nocturnal biorhythms of a hamster to the mix. Born out of love of course…

Uh-huh. Love. Believe me, there were times at 3 a.m. I would have “loved” to have left her in a dumpster (I love you Rachel).

So now, you’ve got a little selfish, screaming,  “pot-roast” of a person thrown in whose only purpose in the universe is to deny you anything you want at anytime you want it, including showers, sleep, privacy, conversations at restaurants (conversations period), meals at restaurants, (meals period), sex, television, coffee table knick-knacks, working out, pee-ing, naps, time with friends, (friends period)…and for this stage, just to survive, you play a delicate game of sometimes banding together against “Enfant Terrible,” and at other times just wanting to shank each other.

Marriage is not a natural state.”

Right about here you feel that comment down to your core. You could wear a “marriage is not a natural state” t-shirt.

Oh hell, you could get it tattooed on your neck.

Everything that your spouse does you could swear he or she is doing out of spite now. Exhaustion has set in and you are too tired to explain why you dumped the dirty dishes on his side of the bed. So when he drops his naked ass into bed on top of a pile of cold greasy dishes at midnight, he just understands.

And in case you’re unsure… “Don’t leave me at home with a baby and a sink full of dirty dinner dishes and then go out to meet your friends at the bar,” is clearly what that says.

But now the little things are all there, and they’re all fair game. Nothing is overlooked at this stage. And this stage lasts for YEARS.

He will put the pillow cases on the pillows inside out.

He will hang his coat on the antique hall tree that is CLEARLY not really for coats.

He will clip his toenails while you are sleeping six feet away.

He will chew his mashed potatoes loudly.

He will cancel your satellite radio in your car and not tell you, but he will say he did tell you.

He will wrap your birthday present in paper that the stray dog you took in for one afternoon, peed on (the cat will take one whiff and let you know).

He will use your fancy new linen tablecloth as a drop cloth in the garage.

He will order “just prime rib” at a restaurant. No baked potato. No salad. Just. Prime. Rib. (Is he a werewolf? Eat a vegetable.)

He will never, ever, bring home the right item from the grocery store.

He will snore….Oh boy, will he snore….and you’ll be having thoughts of that dumpster again.

This will go on for years and years…this burr in the saddle stage. And you will be doing the same types of annoying things to him—for sure! “Marriage is not a natural state” will never be more apparent as you exercise daily restraint and take lots of deep, cleansing, anti-homicidal breaths.

But then, as the years continue through this unnatural state, and Travelzoo continues to send “runaway” offers to your inbox, and some days you think you’ll surely lose your mind, you start to notice more aspects about that person. Little patterns will start to reveal themselves, but at this time in your marriage you’ll pay attention.

You’ll realize that he brings you coffee every morning without you having to even think about it. Or how he rushed right home when you called him at work to tell him that your grandfather had died. And how he sat up in a hard plastic chair all night in the hospital while you slept comfortably in your Demerol haze with a kidney stone. Or how, after you celebrated too much for your 50th birthday party and pretty much made your bathroom uninhabitable, he took care of you AND the bathroom—and never mentioned it to you. He will turn the car around, without even being asked, because he knows you will worry about that damn turtle crossing the road all the way to Alabama. And those little burrs in the saddle that you’ve always had will eventually start to fade some. They will be more like background music, because you will stop letting them sing the lead.

Maybe it’s age, and you are both mellowing. Maybe it’s because the little freeloading, emotional extortionists have grown up and gone off to college and your brain fog from eating all those Go-Gurts and oatmeal cream pies over the years starts to clear up. Or maybe you’re too tired to care about squeaky toenail clippers anymore. I don’t know, but I do know if you let them, if you wait for them, those old fond, familiar feelings will come back around.

Thirty years later you will just see him getting out of the lake one day and you will notice how handsome he still is after all these years, and you will be consumed with that feeling that only teenagers are supposed to feel. Or you will feel his arm in the middle of the night—clearly overstepping its boundary and on YOUR side of the bed—and instead of shoving it back because he’s snoring again and you’ve had two hours of sleep in a week, you will catch yourself running your hand over it in the dark. You will feel the little smooth hairs and weathered strength in his arm and find a comfort in its existence in “your space.” And one night at 3 a.m. , as you lay there listening to him snore for the third agonizing hour, in that moment, in that most unnatural state of marriage, you will pat that intruding hairy arm and be overwhelmed by how natural marriage feels.

Travel Is Like Love…And Killer Bees.

Nothing gets us more excited than planning a great vacation whether it’s a romantic getaway with our spouse for some alone time, a girls trip, or a family adventure somewhere fun to make memories with the kids. Vacations are awesome! We get to rest, relax, eat some new foods, maybe take in a new experience somewhere, and really escape from life’s responsibilities for a week or so. Vacations can be so perfect for recharging and reflecting and just basking in the joys of life.

Unless you’re vacationing with the Hudgins family.

Over the years we’ve developed a bit of a reputation for our unfortunate vacations. We plan our trips, and being normal working people we don’t go somewhere every time the school calendar says “closed.”  But we do manage to take some sort of vacation once every year or two, and it’s usually been a while since our last one, so we are filled with anticipation. We can’t get in the car fast enough…

First of all, that’s a joke. We actually can’t get in the car fast, period. We are notorious for being so relaxed about this that we’ve had people leave without us, receiving the text, “We’ll just meet you there.” (not to point any fingers here, but thanks Dad).

We also make a habit of stopping at every little attraction, restroom, diner for milkshakes, shack for bbq, turtle in the road, bakery for pie, farm stand for peaches and tomatoes, or Walmart—my daughter actually got in the car with no shoes on once, nor did she pack any, so hours later on discovery of this we had to stop and buy shoes. It’s become a mission over the years to see what we can experience ALONG the way, and some of our most memorable places were found while making the journey, I’ll admit it. But maybe we are so slow and hesitant to actually get where we’re going because we know what’s waiting for us.

Let me run down just some of the highlights:

Coldest weekend on record at Disney World. Stayed specifically at the resort with the dragon water slide into the pool. It had icicles on it.

Gulf oil spill of 2010. Couldn’t get in the water or go on the beach (the least of anyone’s worries compared to the ecological disaster that was for the Gulf, and still can’t hardly joke about it because it just wasn’t funny).

Swarming Africanized bees in Arizona as we hiked up a mountain to see Indian ruins. Take an arm-flapping 3-year-old who is horrified of butterflies, much less bees,  with you for maximum enjoyment. Nothing makes for a more relaxing outing than the prospect of being stung to death by killer bees.

Monsoon rains and gale force winds at the beach for days. So strong that the pelicans flew “in place,” looked into our vacation condo, and mouthed “Go home.” We did. Two days early.

“Shark Week” at the beach.  It was redfish season so fisherman were chumming the waters. Beaches posted. Swimming was not advised. After listening to three teenagers whine all week I started “wine-ing” too and with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, saying “I’m sure if you swim at night, the sharks will be sleeping. Go ahead.”–exhale–I really don’t smoke, but that was a particularly bad trip. I sampled every vice.

A sick person on every single trip. Ear infections, fevers, viruses, rashes, kidney stones, bladder infections, pink eye, vomiting, surf board to the foot. We’ve seen every Urgent Care and emergency room in the entire Southeastern United States, some in the Southwest, and Hawaii as well. The one in Hawaii had chickens in the waiting room–wouldn’t have wanted to miss that charming bit of island culture.

Tornadoes and power outages–notice how I said tornado-es, and power outage-s. As in plural. Because one just wouldn’t have been enough.

A hidden egg sac inside the car, hatches. Suddenly we are accompanied by 300 starving baby praying mantises, each about the size of an eyelash, for the duration of our 1200 mile spring break trip. Kids, especially little girls, love being trapped inside a moving car with 300 free range insects! Think Jurassic Park–same amount of human screaming, but with much teeny-tinier dinosaurs.

Red tide. Undertow. Rip Current. Dangerous marine life—we’ve seen all the flags at the beach. Last I heard they had designed a new beach flag, symbolizing “the Hudgins are here.” It’s kinda like the skull and crossbones pirate flag, only not as cheerful.

Jellyfish breeding season— best Scuba diving trip ever, if you’re into really intense pain.

Baby accidentally gets sunburned. So she can’t go back outside for the rest of the trip meaning–neither can you. Do not start judging. She was under a tent! But still referred to as “the trip where you burned the baby?” by my husband. Let it go honey…

Beautiful helicopter ride (so I was told) over Hawaii straight to “Vomit-ville.”

Every Mardi Gras parade rained on.

Ants in the vacation rental bed.

Used condom in the vacation rental bed–I’m still recovering a little bit, emotionally, from this one.

You get my point? So when I tell you I’m a little concerned about my husband and me going to Italy for five weeks this summer I’m sure you can understand my trepidation.

Most people visiting Italy learn phrases like “how are you?” and “excuse me” and “thank you.” I’ve been working on learning phrases like, “Does this look swollen to you?

Taking our trip intercontinentally with different laws and customs opens up a whole array of new possibilities for misfortune. So I am also working on learning things like “Do I need a lawyer?” and “Stop yelling at me.” Although I’m pretty sure after five weeks of my husband and me traveling together I’ll have plenty of chances to say,”Stop yelling at me,” in English as well.

Just in case it escalates past the “Stop yelling at me” stage, I learned all the Italian words for calling someone something really derogatory too. I practiced and practiced those. I don’t want to sound like a tourist. I want to sound genuine, deliberate and like I really mean it when I’m mad and on that beautiful bridge…or in that ambulance, or emergency shelter, or police station. Honestly, if we get through the trip without an assault charge on either of us, I’ll consider the voyage a success.

And then there’s my husband who has some food allergies. So at first, I was stressed about how to convey that in Italian, but did you know that the Italian word for “Epipen” is… “Epipen?” I figure it’ll just be easier to let him eat whatever he wants and stab him in the thigh after every meal.

We’re going to be like two 4-year-olds who got dropped off in Italy. Can’t talk, can’t read. We’ll probably not even be able to cross the street alone. With our reputation of travel disasters, what could possibly go wrong? Uh…Italy could run out of wine (insert all my newly learned cuss words here).

I joke about it, because I have to. If I can’t find some humor in all our misadventures I’d never leave the house. And my husband takes some abuse, but he’s actually a very good sport and is great at finding the comedic elements in our catastrophes. He’s got a great sense of direction, and he’s patient and dry-witted–like traveling with a snap-on sandal wearing Indiana Jones, Bob Newhart, and Gandhi all rolled up into one, and I’m more like traveling with “Dora The Pissed-Off Explorer.”

For now, “Dora T.P.O.E.” here is really dreading the long flight over and her five stages of air travel:

Denial — Me: “I’m gonna get sick.”  Husband: “No, you’re not.” (this is my husband’s denial, not mine)

Anger— “What’s taking that bar cart so long? Are they waiting for the drinks to just serve themselves?! Did they run OUT of liquor?!”

Bargaining— “Honey, go flirt with the flight attendant and see if you can get me a drink. I’d go flirt with the guy flight attendant, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work.

Depression— “Well. That’s it. I’m never gonna get a drink. They can just crash us into the ocean now.”

And finally…

Acceptance— vodka’s kicked in– “Gosh, honey. I love you,” me, talking to the flight attendant.

While those friends who have traveled with us know this is all true, I’m really trying to focus on just being grateful for the opportunity and excited about all the unknown that is coming my way. I won’t have my pillow, I won’t have air-conditioning at points along the way–which is probably where the assault charge is gonna come into play, because “hot” Missy is as pleasant as an Africanized bee– but it’ll all be ok as long as someone shoves a glass of wine in my hand. I heard you even get served wine in the hospitals over there so if that’s true, I say “Kidney stone, make your move.”

I recently read a quote by the famous travel writer, Pico Iyer, that made me laugh:

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which you are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

That quote is so romantic, but Pico Iyer has never traveled seven days with 300 praying mantises and two screaming little girls in the car with him. Oh, I’ll tell you right now. That trip ends.

Relatively Speaking

For as long as I can remember, my family has had a sort of secret, unique language—ok, more of a vocabulary I’d say. I can’t imagine that I am the only one who could claim this, especially among my southern friends since southerners just automatically affix their own twists to words and sayings or at the very least they change the pronunciation of words. And I say “change” the pronunciation, because saying “they pronounce them wrong”—well, that would just be rude to someone’s grandmother somewhere, and I don’t play that game.

Being part of a family with a deep southern history spanning several generations comes with glorious opportunities to be exposed to a diverse cast of characters, each one of them only strange to your friend who is “visiting from Connecticut,” but never to you or anyone else on the family tree.

You have no trouble understanding them and their special dialect. When they use a word that doesn’t fit, you immediately know what they mean, and merely pause over the mishap while others are still perplexed. I’ve even had to say “he means…” and then launch into a quick round of Password and exchange a confirmation nod with the confused.

For example in my family, the word “salmon” has an “L” in it. It just does. They use the letter “L” in “salmon” with pride like lesbians use the letter “L” in the word “lesbian.”

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a perfectly good letter. It’s there. Why not use it?

When I was a kid we had “Sa-L-mon patties” and we ate canned “Sa-L-mon”–we didn’t call it “Sa-mon” and we didn’t eat smoked “Sa-mon”—as in smoked salmon and bagels. Oh who am I kidding? We didn’t eat bagels either.

We ate biscuits. The only thing I knew that existed for breakfast that had a hole in it was a doughnut. I walked twelve blocks for a bagel in New York City once under the recommendation of a friend and afterwards my exact words to her were, “We walked twelve blocks for this?”

You bagel-lovers please don’t write to me. I promise I won’t care that I offended you, and I’ll probably just write an entire blog entry about biscuits and pussycat gravy next week out of spite—but anyway, back to my point here…

My daddy, for one, comes with a unique ability to ardently and “creatively” pronounce anything that isn’t written on the sports page. In fact, he pronounces his order at our neighborhood Mexican restaurant so effectively he can’t even identify it when the waiter comes to deliver it. The poor waiter, standing at the end of our table with his asbestos glove, holding a dish that has been baked in Satan’s oven, calls out, “Burrito Fundido? Burrito Fundido?”

Finally as his shirt sleeve is igniting from the heat of the 900 degree plate he’s holding the waiter desperately shouts “Burrito Fundido!” My mama asks my daddy, “Don, what did you order?”

And with all seriousness, and with absolutely no sense of urgency to the waiter whose sleeve is now smoking he answers, “I don’t remember.”

The waiter, slides the molten lava burrito in front of my daddy, and then, I’m sure, he heads to the nearest burn center.

One Friday night my daddy looked at the waiter and, with conviction, ordered the “Burrito Sayonara” –yes, as if he was saying “goodbye” to his Japanese burrito.

There had been some idle chit chat going on at the table up until we heard the words escape his mouth, and we all rushed to his rescue like he’d accidentally called the waiter a racial slur.

“He means the ‘Burrito Sonora!’ ”

My daddy looks at us all confused,“That’s what I said, Burrito Sayonara,” as the waiter giggled his way back into the kitchen.

Luckily, the waiter had a great sense of humor, and when he delivered our dinner to us moments later he put my daddy’s in front of him and announced with a grin and the perfect amount of smart ass, “Burrito Sayonara.

To which my daddy turned to all of us and said, “See there! I did say it right.”

My daddy’s talents for foreign language do not just hang out south of the border, he’s quick to give us a giggle when he orders Chinese food as well, because he likes his meal to come with, not a bowl of “wonton” soup, but a piping hot bowl of “wong-tong” soup. My mama and I actually wait for it, and have to stifle our nose snorts when he says it.

For fear that someone thinks I’m picking on my poor daddy, I’ll move on to others just as deserving. My grandmother, for instance would complain that going to the grocery store on a day when they predicted snow in the Atlanta area was nothing but a “fiesta!

Of course she meant “fiasco,” but fiesta sounded like so much fun and also sounded like a margarita might be involved—that we all adopted the term. To this day anything taxing for any of us in my family gets labeled as a “fiesta,” and we laugh because, well, sometimes we wish it was.

My grandmother was also fond of “parm-eee-zian” (parmesan) cheese on her “I-I-Italian spaghetti.” She ate “Vi-eeena” (Vienna) sausages and saltine crackers and liked “Si-men-eeze” (Siamese) cats. In fact, we’ve jokingly used the word, “Si-men-eeze” so often, I have to be careful not to actually mispronounce “Siamese” when I see one.

These little nuances of individualized language are just one of the little joys a person gets to keep after you’ve said goodbye to your parents or grandparents. They stay with you, similar to the ones small children make when first learning to talk. You immortalize them, along with the people who used them, and somehow that memory and that special word or pronunciation gets to remain alive– as that person does– in your heart. And the best part? They are never, ever negative recollections.

My grandfather loved to visit any restaurant that served “cafeteria style,” and his next favorite thing was to tell you about his meal in vivid detail. I really think he enjoyed that part more than the food.

“They had the best trout a la mode you ever tasted!” He’d offer us. And if one of us said, “You mean Trout Almondine?” He’d nod and reply “Yep, trout a la mode,” without hesitation.

He was great at providing us with little idioms over the years, even ones that weren’t funny except for how literal they were–like the time he pointed to the page on a menu and told my mama to order him a “various wine,” because well, that’s how they were listed on the menu. Couldn’t fault him on that one.

One of the best parts of having toddlers in your life is some of the funny things they say. Several of which end up being permanent parts of a family’s vocabulary. My nephew frequently asked for a “cock-in-tail” for himself when my mama would pour herself a glass of wine in the evening, and referenced his full tummy after eating to feeling like he was gonna “romit.” To this day, that term is jokingly used after every big family meal at our house. Imagine my husband’s surprise, years ago, when his co-worker told him that she was flying home to India to get married and showed him a picture of her handsome fiance, saying his name was “Romit.” –sometimes life just has a shameless sense of humor.

My son, Rooster, used to love Cracker Barrel restaurant when he was a tiny boy. Anytime we traveled we’d stop for a meal, and he’d pop his head up from the back seat, see the familiar orange and brown sign, and say with such delight…

“Crackhead Barrel! I love Crackhead Barrel!”

Poor Cracker Barrel restaurant never knew how the mistreatment of their beloved name offered us such laughs just as sure as it offered us delicious chicken and dumplings.

In fact, one of my greatest fears is to end up as one of those seemingly forgotten relatives hanging on the walls of Cracker Barrel. Every time we eat there I think about it, and I find myself looking around at the old black and white photos wondering whose grandparents they are, and how their picture ended up there instead of on the dining room wall of some loving relatives’ home. Did they say “trout a la mode” too? Did they eat “Vi-eeena” sausages and saltine crackers? Did they have funny words or phrases that are still being used fondly by their younger relatives today? Can those relatives still hear their voices and their expressions in their heads? And more disturbing, how did my 3-year-old even know the word crackhead?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that Cracker Barrel doesn’t serve bagels, or “cock-in-tails,” or any “various wines,” and I’m usually so gloriously full after eating the biscuits and gravy or a big bowl of the chicken and dumplings that I wish I could…quite frankly…“romit.”

Good In Bed


I’ve never understood people who like to stay up late at night.

From the moment I get up, my entire day is basically just an exercise in getting me back into bed as soon as possible. My favorite part of the day is that moment when I’m climbing in between my ridiculously high-priced sheets and onto my highrise collection of mattress toppers that add up to a mortgage payment. But it’s not only these, I think I love sleeping so much, because it involves something I’m really good at…lying down.

In fact I love lying down so much that after I get up and get my coffee in the morning I go to the couch and lie down some more. My husband, Paul, generously refers to this as “my transition period.” He’d refer to it as “What the hell are you doing? You JUST got up!” but it would cost him significant luxuries around here–like a house–with a wife in it–so he has learned to find this quirky thing I do rather endearing (and because I told him it was).

To a regular person—and by regular, I mean “employed”– I might look like I don’t have a lot of responsibilities around here. Sure, I write a lot, but I’m well aware that unless you are bringing in a paycheck with your writing people call you “a writer” and give you an eye roll. When I manage to find a paycheck from this gig then I’ll be “a writer” and people will give me a cocktail–that last part I’m not really sure of, but I’m banking on it.

As Betty Draper’s father said to her in an episode of Mad Men once, “You’re like a house cat. You’re important, but you don’t really do anything.” I have a house cat. And she is important, but Betty’s father was right. She doesn’t really do anything—but sleep. Sometimes that analogy forces me to examine my own love of sleep more than I should probably admit.

Now I have gone without sleep before–after all, I did have three babies. Through the toddler years I’m pretty sure the only time my eyes closed was when I sneezed or was putting on eyeshadow. When I heard about other mothers having all those middle of the night maternal feelings as they got up to feed their precious newborns I felt a little guilty. I specifically remember having thoughts like “No wonder they find babies in trash dumpsters,” and saying things to my husband as I plopped a baby on his chest at 4 a.m. like, “Here. Take her. I mean it. I don’t want to see her again until she’s in the 5th grade!” Sleep and I were estranged during those months, and I hated every second of it. I honestly asked my mother one morning after pulling a grueling screaming-baby-all-nighter, “Why would any sane person do this to themselves?” But as all parents do, we survive the sleep deprived “I never knew I could have this much rage” years and eventually find ourselves in the teenage years with an entirely different type of rage.

My mother has a similar fondness for the art of lying down. Let me clarify here, my mother likes to sleep—at night— but she does not approve of “lying down during the day,” as she puts it. In fact that’s a proclamation that she makes proudly and often.

I think she must view napping as lazy or shameful.

Not me.

Years ago my friend, Shelly, and I would meet every afternoon at the bus stop to get our kids, yawning, and proudly wearing the pillow creases indented into our cheeks as badges of honor. We’d greet each other as members of a secret drowsy society, like two friends seeing each other at a liquor store at 9 a.m. (not that that has ever happened). You just agree to keep the secret, never mentioning it. Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t come with a ton of perks, but sneaking a good solid nap in is definitely one of them.

And although my mom never naps, she does have strict rules for her night time slumber. The bedroom must be cold. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Oh I like to sleep in a cold room too…”

No. You don’t know what I mean. People sleeping in my parents’ house might actually die.

We hold debriefings with guests before they go to bed at my parents’ house in which emergency procedures and extra precautions are reviewed and liability waivers are signed. It’s sort of like the kind of cross-check you might get before you climb Mt. Everest.

So not only does my mother’s room have to be cold, but her bedroom must be dark.

Very dark—like the inside of a cow’s stomach dark. The tiny little lighted clock that used to be on the VCR in her bedroom was so bothersome to her that for years my daddy had to cover it with a shirt or a towel at bedtime, because as he put it, “otherwise your mama will go blind.”

I can relate to some of my mother’s sleep demands. I do like it cold and dark in the bedroom, but I also have been deemed a bed snob with respect to anything on the bed as well. I spend an embarrassing amount of money on sheets, mattress toppers, mattress pads, and pillows only to get in bed and right back out again when I feel one piece of grit under the covers—how does that even happen? The struggle with the princess and her elusive pea might have been hard, but try to find one little piece of grit in your bed, and it happens every night at my house.

And clean sheet day? Well it’s right up there with my birthday in terms of joy.

At my last job I worked with a young man whose parents lived in India and on his return from visiting them once he was telling me that every night it took his family about thirty minutes to prepare for bed. They each had to roll out their mat on the floor and then lower each person’s mosquito net which they kept anchored to the ceiling during the day. He went on to finish his story which involved something about being bitten by a rat that was running around them as they slept—I don’t really know the ending, because I passed out somewhere between “the mat” and “the rat.” Forget that scene in Poltergeist with the scary clown in the bedroom—tell me I have to sleep on the floor on a mat with something biting me during the night if you really want to horrify me. Remember? I’m the one who’s still just trying to get that one piece of First World grit out of her bed…

Although I do adore sleeping, and I welcome a good nap when it overcomes me, sadly I sometimes have to trick my body into actually sleeping at night. Sleep can, like some boyfriends of my past, play hard to get. My mind is just too weird…I mean too wired to turn off.

I lie there thinking of something I need to write about—like this blog post about sleeping, or how I need to get my life in order—something that never seems to bother me at 2 o’clock in the afternoon (probably because I’m napping). So several years ago I experimented with an over-the-counter sleep aid. Shortly after I discovered its wonders I mentioned it to my daddy who asked,

“Well what are you gonna do if you get addicted to it?”

“Uh, K-e-e-e-p taking it.” My smart-ass-self answered. I have no shame, and I value sleep that much.

If I forget and run out of my sleep aid, I’ve been known to frantically rummage through the bathroom drawers, old purses and suitcases in my closet at midnight looking for a stray pill like some kind of desperate crack whore. Again, I have no shame when it comes to sleep.

I’ll admit that my love of sleep has a lot to do with the bed I have. Years ago I was having some unexplained shoulder and neck pain that was interfering with my sleep and after having tried everything I could think of I began to blame our old mattress for my discomfort. I complained enough and finally wrestled my husband into a mattress store to purchase a new one.

The mattress store. All those beds...

I almost teared up from delight just thinking of the sleep that was soon to come my way.

I lied down on everything in that store except the sales guy–Firm, plush, extra plush, pillow top. I was so thorough. I would have made Goldilocks proud. I’m pretty sure I didn’t put that much thought into picking out my husband, but quite frankly, I spend more time with the bed than I do with him. I even tried the mattresses that come with a dial to set the bed for a certain firmness by picking a number, but I don’t have a fondness for numbers, and I’m not getting tricked into doing math in bed.

I finally found a bed I loved and shot my husband that “I don’t care how much it costs” look. You know that look. Women use it all the time. But I can honestly say I’ve only seen the “I don’t care how much it costs” look on my husband’s face one time in 30 years of marriage—when we were driving on a long stretch of lonely highway in the middle of the Mojave desert, and the only bathroom we could find anywhere was a “pay toilet.” But I’ll save “Missy and Paul’s amazingly luxurious vacation” for a blog post at another time..

I lied on that bed while Paul paid and scheduled the delivery. I lied there so long I heard the sales guy, “Sir, you can’t leave her here,” and looked up to see my husband coming back in the exit door mumbling, “Oh yeah, her.”

Funny thing is– I didn’t care. At that point the bed and I had fallen in love. I got my new love home and began adorning it with the array of aforementioned goose down mattress toppers, quilted mattress covers, pillows and the sheets worth a king’s ransom. I lie about how much they cost, but you can look them up online—just type in “highwayrobbery.” Afterwards, I had to have a foot stool made so I could actually get up on top of the bed, and if I ever fall out of it I’ll most definitely suffer a spinal cord injury. All the new bed did was encourage my love of sleep even more. It’s my big, soft, cushy, seducing, pillow-topped enabler.

But how can you not love to sleep? You actually spend a great portion of your life in bed, and I ask why do something halfway when you can excel at it? There’s a saying, “when we’re asleep in this world, we’re awake in another.” If that’s the case, then I must be some real kick-ass overachiever somewhere.

Sleep and I are made for each other. We like the same things. We enjoy our time together, and really look forward to seeing each other at the end of the day. The demands we make on each other are simple—we just show up every night, and we don’t let anyone get between us and that bed. It took a long time to finally hone my lying down skills to this feline level of proficiency, but I did it. A professional race car driver shouldn’t have to drive a golf cart, and an important house cat like me shouldn’t have to sleep in a box under the stairs, because well, what can I say? I’m just too good in bed.


Thank you, Queen Anne…

Every time spring rolls around, with its budding daffodils and hyacinths popping out like the guests who arrived too early to the party, I think about the women in my family, their excitement for the season, and their love of gardening.

Growing up, I can’t remember a female in my big southern family who didn’t know the name of every flower, tree, shrub—or even weed—that one could find in any manicured garden anywhere or on the side of a quiet country road. They were botanical know-it-alls. The kind you wanted on your team if playing Trivial Pursuit when you got asked the “Science and Nature” question—yes, we’re one of those families who still play that game. If the question had anything to do with any flower, tree, or wild critter in nature, then the other team could throw up their hands, for your victory lap was as good as made.

My great-grandmother, Idolene, (who we called “I.E.”, because “Idolene” was too hard for my mother to say as a toddler) was at one time the matriarch, the “grande dame of the garden,” in our family. By the time I knew her, she was a widow and lived with her daughter, my great-aunt Emma, in a big brick house on Dresden Drive in the Brookhaven area of Atlanta. My grandparents, Dot and Papa–for you non-southerners, that’s pronounced “Paw-Paw”–lived next door, the two properties separated by a shallow creek..

I loved those yards as a child, and I spent hours of imaginary playtime in them jumping over the shallow trickle of water in the creek bed, swinging from the low lying branches of the magnolia tree that grew on the creek’s edge, or at times, letting one of the many yellow ducklings that Dot gave me for several Easters paddle about in the shallow water. Grandparents, especially mine, did things like buy little kids Easter ducks back then without even a thought.

I.E., five feet tall, adorned with her big hat and gloves and dressed in a smocked apron that was certain to have shriveled tissues in the front pockets, was always hunched over in some corner of her yard. Her prized azaleas made a colorful parade of magenta, pink and white around the perimeter of her front lawn and bordered the entire walkway onto the front porch with their panorama. The first half of April her yard was so magnificent it hurt your eyes to look at it, and at least one third of our family’s slide projector presentations when I was young were narrated, “Oh, there’s I.E.’s yard, look at those azaleas.” But those photos were something I just couldn’t fully appreciate as an eight-year-old.

My mom, I.E., and Me

When the house and its big yard finally got to be too much work for I.E. and Emma, they moved into an apartment on Peachtree Road. Thankfully, I.E. had a tiny backyard there to continue on with her love of flowers. When you stepped out of the back door of the modest apartment, it was as if you stepped into an English garden fantasia. The walkway from her back door to the sidewalk was lined with flowering perennials of every color and size imaginable. I remember trying to get to that sidewalk, having to dodge the butterflies and the bees who flew right in my face, drunk from their floral ambrosia. I hated those bees. They were probably the reason I never fulled valued my great grandmother’s garden like I should have—I was just trying to get past that frightful “buzzing” unscathed.

Her neighbors, like the Bledsoe’s who were famous for dropping off cheese straws and Mrs. Bledsoe’s lemon poundcake at Christmas time, were her biggest groupies. They would walk by I.E’s garden daily and marvel at its display, complimenting her as if they were first time visitors. Her tiny garden behind that apartment continued to be an overgrown floricultural masterpiece until sadly she died of a sudden stroke when I was thirteen. We may not entertain ourselves with family slideshows anymore but, “she sure could grow a garden too,” is still said by my mother every year at the Thanksgiving dinner table– right after “How’s the oyster dressing? I.E. could always make the best oyster dressing.”

My grandmother, Dot, carried on her mother’s great love for things in the dirt. She too had a yard full of beautiful offerings. In her early 50’s, Dot, being somewhat of an eccentric character, had an epiphany one day that being a wife and mother were no longer on her “to-do” list, so after thirty something years of marriage, she suddenly divorced my Papa. Years later, however, Dot did remarry and moved onto four acres of property in Powder Springs, Georgia. Her second husband passed away shortly afterwards, and Dot was left alone to manage all four acres by herself—the mowing, the planting, the tree trimming, the gardening—she did it all.

I spent several weeks in the summer time and many spring breaks with her out at that house in the country. With so much land, there was no limit to what she could grow. Her flowers were breathtaking, and her vegetable garden was spectacular. I remember rows and rows of collards, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I think we must have eaten pickled cucumbers every time we sat down at the kitchen table at her house, and I know I ate drippy tomato sandwiches one summer until my mouth broke out from the acid of those salty, mayonnaise-laden delicacies—still, to this day, it’s the best sandwich on earth in my book.

One June day when Dot and I walked down the road from her house to look at Sweetwater Creek, (because that’s just what we did, “look at it”) I noticed a beautiful, but weedy flower growing wild along the shoulder of the road.

“Queen Anne’s Lace,” Dot was quick to identify.

“That would make a pretty wedding flower,” I said, looking at the white filigreed pedals that were everywhere.

Then Dot announced it like it was a rule, “Well you better get married in June then ’cause that’s when it blooms.”

Ten years later I got married on June 11th carrying the most beautiful bouquet down the aisle adorned with big clusters of Queen Anne’s Lace, remembering that very conversation with my grandmother and providing me with a very special memory. To this day, every time I see Queen Anne’s Lace growing on the side of the road with its frilly white flowers and the purple dot in the middle of the blossom where legend has it Queen Anne of England lost a drop of blood from pricking her finger, I think of that walk with Dot, and I’m thankful.

Dot in Powder Springs
Me, Dot and my mom, Joan

My grandmother passed away a few years ago, but my mother, Joan, adopted the same obsession with flowers, and is currently the reigning Queen Mother of the garden. We have entire phone conversations about what color some bush is, what’s blooming, or if the predicted late frost is going to kill something that we have been anxiously awaiting. This happens almost every year and causes devoted southern gardeners to take to their bed. When my grandmother was still alive, she would begin a phone chain of alarm if the weather report predicted a late frost. First she’d call my mother, then me, then my uncle and so on…and we’d jump into action covering our precious azaleas or hydrangeas with anything we had, even if it meant we had to rip it off a bed.

I will admit I’ve used “the good sheets,” with the hand-stitched lace along the border, to shield something in my yard from a frost, and had not a twinge of guilt over it. To be honest, I probably like my azaleas better than some people who have slept on “the good sheets” in my guest room anyway.

Southern women are serious about their flowers. My mother still tells the story of when my teenage cousin, Stan, was staying with us one summer, and in an effort to get the barbeque grill’s fire going decided to douse it with “a little gasoline” catching pretty much everything in the backyard and on the patio on fire, including my mother’s precious peonies. Poor Stan was thankfully not injured, but he never lived that one down, and my mother kept a little mark on her nephew’s record for the rest of his life. To this day, when she tells the story and gets to the part where she has to mention her scorched peonies she still takes a moment of silence and shakes her head in pain like the event happened yesterday.

Joan was even protective of her plants and flowers that were in the house. At one point in the 70’s, when terrariums were all the rage, my mother had a huge one in our formal living room. It was a monstrous, clear plastic dome full of tiny versions of house plants and african violets. She would take the lid off and fuss over it like it was a newborn that had just come home from the hospital.  It sat on its own base that was a bit unsteady and stood next to the window for sun. I do not remember EVER walking into that room as a child that I didn’t hear my mother’s voice behind me, “Be careful! Don’t you knock over that terrarium!” I always wondered what would happen to the person who knocked over the terrarium…luckily I never found out.  

To this day my mother will come to my house and “inspect” my plants like she’s an agent from the United States Department of Agriculture. I see her walking over to the table in my kitchen, and I tense up because I know I’m about to get chided.

“This orchid is dry as a bone,” she’ll say as she removes her finger from its soil. “And what happened to this poor thing?” 

Some mothers give the white glove test—mine gives the gardening glove test.

When I was first married my husband and I lived in San Diego. It was there that my own interest in gardening began to emerge. The weather was 72 degrees, sunny and breezy about 364 days out of the year, and the soil was nice, light and sandy. They were the perfect conditions for growing anything. If you planted a rose bush, it soon looked like a rose bush in a gardening magazine. If you planted a tomato plant you soon had more tomatoes than you could eat. Not knowing this, I planted four.

When the tomatoes started ripening, our kitchen looked like an episode of I Love Lucy had there ever been one where Lucy grew tomatoes. I had to teach myself canning so I could make salsa out of most of them just to use them all, and this was after eating as many tomato sandwiches as the pH of my mouth could stand.

I thought that successful gardening was so easy!

Then we moved back to Atlanta.

I quickly learned that between the dense clay soil, too much rain, not enough rain, oppressive summer temperatures, humidity, mildew, black spot, root rot, and fungi it was a lot more work to grow anything in the South. Not to even mention the critters such as June bugs, hornworms, and slugs eating everything you planted. And then, as you were trying to pick these off your plants, there were other pests trying to eat you. My attempts to grow anything in my yard the first few years was thwarted by any combination of these obstacles, and I didn’t even mention the four-legged creatures that do their part. Turtles LOVE tomatoes, just in case you’re wondering…

One summer I yielded one tomato. One.

I stood over the sink and in four quick bites ate the most delicious tomato sandwich made from that one small tomato. In the end I calculated between the bedding plants, tomato cages, stakes, soil conditioners, fertilizers, and time and effort that that one sandwich cost me roughly about $300. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m not good at math, but even I could calculate that those were four very expensive bites. Even then, as stubborn as I am, I still tried it another three or four summers before I admitted complete defeat. Now in the summer, I just drive to the farm stand by my house, talk myself through my envy, and bring home a bag of their tomatoes and everyone is happy –well, except for maybe the turtles.

My mom

As far as the rest of my yard, I’m still not giving up. I, like all other dedicated southern gardeners, have to herd the butterflies in my stomach this time of year, so I don’t get overly anxious and start planting too soon. I want to run to the nursery and load up on bedding plants and seeds. And while mentioning it, I’m pretty sure there is an official disorder for what I experience physically and emotionally when I’m at a plant nursery—it’s an odd combination of panic attack and euphoria that can drain my checking account like a gambling addiction.

As soon as March arrives, I want to sit around my mailbox and plant my smiley-faced little pansies and fill the old wash pot of Dot’s in my back yard with cyclamen and ferns. I can’t wait to greet my elephant ear sprouts with joy like an old friend I haven’t seen all winter long. But I.E. always said to never plant anything until after April 15th, and I know doing so only entices nature to have one last cold snap out of spite–and then there I am in the front yard, in my pajamas, covering everything with “the good sheets” again.

I’m grateful I have my inherited love of all things growing. I’m proud that when my grandmother announced, “Ewww-we, look at that forsythia. Id’nt it beautiful?” to no one in particular as we rode in the car that I listened to her and took the time to actually look at the sunny-colored bush with its leggy branches and make a note of it. It’s from such little comments by the women in my family that I learned the names of the trees and flowers that I love today and developed an appreciation of their beauty and the hard work it takes, by someone, to grow them. I have a forsythia bush in my yard now, and although it’s a young plant with years to go before it will impress anyone, every year at this time when its little yellow shoots emerge, I know my grandmother would be proud.

I have two daughters of my own now, and I can only hope that as they get older they will spend less time on their smart phones and spend more time with their hands in the dirt appreciating how fulfilling and satisfying it is. I hope that they feel excited when the cherry trees and the Japanese magnolias start budding and want to hurry up and plant their seedlings, but they remember to wait until April 15th. I hope their orchids in their kitchens are dry one day so I can point it out to them. And one day when they see a wild flower growing on the side of the road they will remember me naming it for them—and to their future Trivial Pursuit partners I say, “you’re welcome.”

“If You Don’t Know, Who Does Know?”


Daddy and me 1964

When I was young that was my daddy’s famous line when I was in trouble and he asked me, “Why did you do that?” or “Who did this?”  I’d look at my feet and cowardly mumble, “I don’t know” to which he’d reply rhetorically “If you don’t know, who does know?” The question was usually yelled, for my daddy was not one from the softer side of Sears, if you know what I mean.

He’d leave the room with a door slam and that stupid question would sit with me, lingering in the dust storm he had blown up. As I’ve been trying to develop my blog the last few months, I just keep hearing my daddy ask me that question in my mind over and over.

Dammit Daddy! I still don’t know!

I will wholeheartedly admit, right out of the gate, that the idea of writing a blog kinda terrifies me.

The platform itself is wide open. There are no guidelines, and there are also too many guidelines. No limitations. No set formats or rules to follow. You can totally make it up to fit whatever you want to achieve or go at it with nothing to achieve.

Crap. I don’t know if I can work like this.

Much like I don’t know where to start when I walk into an overcrowded dress shop—it usually means I’ll walk right back out empty-handed and feeling overwhelmed. I’m the person you can take on an all day trip to the mall who will usually come home with nothing—ok, cinnamon pretzels. I’ll come home with cinnamon pretzels.

Walk me into the most decadent designer bakery in the trendiest place ever, and I’ll probably just walk through and say it “smells good.” Too many choices and I do not make for a productive relationship. Give me a choice between just two cupcakes, two couches, or two men’s colognes…oh hell…just two men…and I can make a decision, but load me up with too many options, and I freeze up (did you just read “buttload” in that sentence too? And by the way, it’s a real unit of measure, I had no idea. Look it up).

So for right now I cannot tell you what type of blog this will be—again, too many choices.  And why must everything fit neatly into a box that someone else has designed? I don’t cook that way.  I don’t love that way.  I don’t think that way.  I sure don’t imagine I can write that way.

An artist hired to design for a company, but then told she can only paint or draw pictures of dogs isn’t going to flourish at that job. And although she loves dogs, and she might stay there for a while to pay some bills out of necessity, her soul will not be nourished, and she will eventually leave. She’s not being allowed to express the joy, the beauty, the sadness or the ridiculous sense of humor life possesses through her artwork.

The creative outlet to this process is just that, taking some simple observation or experience and finding a unique aspect to it that is often hidden to some, but to a writer—and especially to me—it can leap out like a little, eye-rolling smart ass. It’s just a good state of mind I think—looking for the outrageous in some of life’s ordinary. And the more you look for it, the more life delivers it.

And then there’s the gnawing little voice in my head that says “Isn’t it arrogant of me to think that anyone wants to read what I write?”  And I know that is what every writer in the world thinks.  And I also know I just have to get over it.  People will read it or they won’t. They’ll like it or they won’t.  None of that can influence me.

Just like I had to get over the fact that perming my hair in 11th grade was a bad idea, and that no matter how much of a delicacy it’s considered, if you put smoked salmon on something I will not like it, and the fact that I will never look good in little flat sandals—I have duck feet (I had do my DNA, and yes I am indeed 47.6% American wigeon duck). So Dolly Pardon and I agree on this point —heels are the only way to go.

My closest friends think I have a rather salty side—personally, I prefer to think of it more as somewhat…brackish. I’m really not a negative person, but I do find great humor in the darker side of life at times. In fact over the years, that humor is probably the only thing that has kept me from ripping all my hair out with my bare hands and setting fire to it in the sink. See? Not negative.

A speaker at my writing club once told us that the best writers let their stories lead them, not the other way around. So here lies a leap of faith for me (imagine that little, eye-rolling smart ass again). By letting up on the reins, I’ll hope that life will lead me in the direction it wants me to write and provide me with the ability to draw out something entertaining or enlightening lying just out of view… please God…

There are writers who love to write, and there are writers who have to write.

My desire is that through the first, I will eventually become the second.

And if not, to my family and friends– you better watch out because I will have no other option but to write about you. I’m sorry, but if you didn’t want me to write about you, then some of you should have behaved better, including you Daddy.