The Magic of Second Chances

Following is an essay I wrote a few years back that was eventually published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. A version of it also placed in a Real Simple magazine essay contest. I’m pleased to share a shortened version of it here for my blog readers.

The Magic of Second Chances

Years of disappointing infertility treatments can leave you feeling raw inside — like an asphalt-skinned knee or that tender place beneath an ugly blister when you peel the outer layer away. It was the kind of open wound that drove me to crazy acts, like directing daggered looks at women shopping for baby wipes and absurdly mean, fortunately silent, comments toward unsuspecting pregnant women at the mall.

What got me through those ugly days, and what served as a bandage over that intense rawness, was this: There remained a tiny degree of hope that the next month could be different — that this time, the moon and the stars and my body would all magically align to give me what I wanted most in the world, a baby.

But unfortunately, celestial magic, and pregnancy, continued to elude me. Procedures weren’t working. Finally, our doctor called one day in the spring to say she recommended no further treatments, no further procedures. Statistically, I had a much better chance of winning the lottery — twice — than giving birth.

That evening, with my husband out of town, I curled up on the couch with our collie at the time, George Bailey. He rested his long, Lassie-nose on my leg. He’d already secretly enjoyed the pint of butter pecan ice cream I’d opened but couldn’t eat. And now he looked concerned about the growing pile of used tissues at our feet.

I rehashed the conversation with the doctor in my head, searching for something, anything, that might offer a hint of optimism. But there was nothing I could hold on to this time. And her last words tumbled through my thoughts again and again. “Honestly, if I were you, I’d consider adoption.”

Adopting a child? It wasn’t that we didn’t think it was a good idea. We thought it was great — for other people. I think in some ways, saying “adoption” out loud would’ve meant some kind of defeat to us — an acknowledgement that perhaps we might not, in the end, conceive. And that wasn’t something we could let ourselves believe.

But now, the world and everything in it was upside down and strange. I was no longer a woman who would someday see the outline of our baby’s spine on an ultrasound image. I was no longer a woman who would learn Lamaze, who would fret over whether or not to hire a mid-wife, who would ask friends for their hand-me-down maternity clothes. Even our home in the Colorado mountains seemed empty and cold, the clouded moon outside more scarred than before.

I looked down at George Bailey, our formerly abused, now reformed, sweet loyal canine companion. I wanted to make sure he hadn’t changed before my eyes, too. I ran my fingers through his soft, thick fur. I had to smile. George Bailey had served as a pillow, sounding board and heating pad in recent months. Now his tawny-tan coat was absorbing my tears.

We had adopted George from a rescue group two years before, his beat-up body complete with two broken legs. We’d brought him home around the holidays; the group had named him after the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Both Jimmy Stewart’s character and our George Bailey had been given a second chance at life.

George Bailey’s dark, almond eyes stared up at me as I stroked his ears. Adoption in his case had been an easy decision. We met him online and immediately wanted to give this bruised soul a happy, comfortable home. For George Bailey, though, becoming a part of our lives had been a leap of faith. Those almond eyes didn’t always reflect love and trust.

In the beginning, he was guarded. He literally did not make a sound for months. Finally, after a great deal of coaxing (not to mention treats) on our part, he decided to give us a chance. I imagine he had to overcome many doubts — and a lot of bad memories — to make that jump.

That’s when I decided maybe it was time for us to learn a little something from George Bailey. Maybe it was time for us to take our own kind of leap. In a new direction. Maybe it was my husband and me who needed a second chance.

I stayed up all night long, George Bailey sleeping at my feet, a crackling fire toasting the cabin and tossing shadows on the walls. I researched international and domestic adoption. I read blogs; I read adoptive child psychology reports. I read about state and federal laws, about laws in countries I had only previously thought of when reading ethnic restaurant menus.

That night of research set us on a journey that transformed our lives. Within a few months, we had settled on domestic adoption, worked on how we would fund the $30,000 bill. Within a few more months, we had completed our paperwork and passed our physicals and background checks. (Luckily, my pregnant-women-hating behavior never got out.)

By August, we were matched with a birthmother and birthfather who chose us to be the parents of their unborn child.

In early fall, we held our son when he was minutes old. We cried with the birthparents, for our shared happiness, for their loss. We told the birthparents we loved them. We meant it.

When we brought home our baby and introduced him to George Bailey, our collie seemed … proud of us.

Magic, it’s safe to say, no longer eludes us. Every day is filled with wild little-boy laughter and Dennis-the-Menace level schemes.

And we owe it all to my sweet and gentle George Bailey, who taught me how to put the hurt and doubt behind me — and leap.
 

George Bailey 1998 - 2009

                     George Bailey
                       1998 – 2009

 


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

A Walk and a Talk in the Mountains

I had the day off from work on Friday, and even though my husband and I were both still feeling sick from a Colorado Super Bug going around, I announced I was heading up to our cabin on the mountain. I needed to be there, to take one of my old walks that I took daily for more than a decade. It’s the same way I feel about Texas about twice a year, too. That driving need to be back in touch with some basic part of who I am.

My husband has been up to the cabin several times since we’ve moved, but I have stayed away. I knew I’d likely tie myself to a pine tree and he’d have to peel my arms away or chop down the tree to get me to leave. And frankly, it played out kind of just like that.

On our walk, we talked about moving back. It’s a tough thing, marriage. And parenting. You just never know for sure what the right move is. You can guess, and you can hope to high heaven you’re making the best choices. And then you can pick up the pieces and put them back together when they turn out to be the wrong ones.

I’m still not sure what we’ll do. I want to do what’s best for our son. His needs come first. But it’s all so murky, that determining what’s best.

Yes, it’s dangerous to live and drive up there on the mountain. The drive to school alone would be trying … about 50 minutes one way. And yet, I have to also believe that living in such a raw, untamed area would feed his soul, too. Right?

And let’s not forget his newfound love, or obsession, with fishing. At our cabin, he could walk out the back door and fish in a beautiful creek within minutes. And there are three private stocked lakes, too. He could be ice-fishing within 5 minutes during the winter. And doesn’t the opportunity to witness bears and moose and mountain lions and stellar jays and golden eagles in your back yard have profound educational value?

I’m not completely crazy, by the way. I know life on the mountain is tougher. The elements (wind, cold, blizzards) demand that you develop survival intelligence, that you respect Mother Nature in all her greatness. That you learn the value of hard work, like chopping wood, that ends up keeping you warm all winter. You learn that life isn’t just one big easy paved suburban street. You learn that sometimes the power can go out for days, but that’s okay because you kick ass at Scrabble and keeping a fire going 24 hours a day.

But are those lessons he really needs to learn in today’s society? Shouldn’t I be trying to create the easiest life for him? So that his biggest worries are doing well in school and making friends with kids, not foxes?

Or maybe we should just forget the mountain for now and instead live abroad for a year or two. Let a foreign country shape the kiddo instead of life at 10,500 ft. Maybe then my unsettled feeling would be replaced by excitement for a new adventure. Of course, there’s that little problem called money to fund such a thing, and let’s face it … we don’t exactly have Eat, Pray, Love kind of reserves going on.

I don’t have all the answers yet. But I’ll leave you with a few photos I took while we were on our walk … showcasing the Colorado Rockies in transition. The gorgeous aspen leaves are all gone, but the lake isn’t completely frozen over. The snow is on the mountain and some of the trails, but water is still trickling through the waterfalls. Paradise to me.

Colorado mountains

mountain trail

pine tree in the mountains

pine trees reflecting in water and ice


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

Memories Like Soup

Tip: Do not search for soup images while you are hungry.

Tip: Do not search for soup images while you are hungry.

Isn’t it interesting the memories that your brain’s cerebrum chooses to hold on tight to well into adulthood?

I mean, sure, there are the obvious high points, like the night of your high school graduation. (I still remember what I wore under my black gown, do you?) There are the low points, like the first time you experienced the loss of a childhood cherished pet. (Oh Champ, I still mourn you. Such a good, good dog.)

But there are also those weird little memories that, in the big scheme of life, tend to seemingly have no meaning. Yet, they emerge when you least expect it and become symbolic somehow.

I had one of those memories pop up this weekend.

My son wasn’t feeling great, and we were snuggling together on the couch, reading, in the early evening, having just eaten supper, most of which he didn’t touch. And then for whatever reason, I began to remember being really sick on a rare cool and rainy fall Sunday in South Texas when I was maybe 9 or 10. I remembered being curled up on the living room couch, coughing, with my Snoopy pillow against my cheek, while my dad watched the Houston Oilers in his recliner and snacked on peanuts.

But mostly, I remembered my mom in the kitchen (not unusual, as she spends most of her waking moments there still to this day), making my favorite creamy potato soup. We’re talking smooth, rich, perfectly homemade potato soup. Soup that’ll smooth the rough edges off your soul with just a cupful. No lie.

I swear, I could smell it simmering. I could hear the spoon against the stainless-steel side of the soup pan as she stirred it. I don’t remember actually eating the soup that Sunday, and I don’t recall any of the conversations that might have gone on around me. But I do vividly remember Mom making that soup … for me.

So, here in Colorado, I handed the Stinkbug over to his dad, who was also watching football on TV, in a recliner. And I quickly drove the 20 miles to the grocery store for ingredients. Then I came home, and at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, I began to make my son’s favorite homemade chicken noodle soup.

I could say that I did it because I want a Mom of the Year award. (Do they give those out? Because that’d be cool.) Or I could say I did it because I knew he’d likely be even sicker tomorrow, and the soup would comfort him. (Prediction verified, darnit.)

But somewhere inside, I know the real reason I made that soup. It’s because some day, I’d love for him to be holding his own sniffling kiddo on a cool fall Sunday (maybe they’ll be watching football)  – and I hope, in that moment, he’ll think of me and smile.

—————————————————————–

PS: Thanks, Mama, for making that soup that day. Just in case I didn’t tell you because I was a snot-nosed, smart-ass preteen. Which is unlikely, right? But just in case.


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

An Honest Discussion About Adoption Between My Son’s Birth Mother and Me

adoption tree

Beautiful adoption illustration by Jimi Bonogofsky. View her work at http://jimidoodle.blogspot.com

My husband (I’ll call him R. in this post to protect his privacy) and I adopted our son (M.) six years ago through an open domestic adoption here in Colorado. For us, it was important for our child to know his birth family, if at all possible. We felt strongly that the more people he knew as family, the more people there would be out there in the world who would love and cherish him like we do. That’s been our guiding philosophy.

Recently, I asked M.’s birth mom, Amanda, if she would mind participating in an honest conversation about the adoption process for my blog. After the years that have passed, I wondered if we could together provide some insight, whether new or old, that might help other birth parents and adoptive parents, especially those just beginning their journey.

Always gracious and giving, Amanda agreed. And what follows is the result.

Kathy: Let’s start at the beginning! You must’ve looked through a ton of family scrapbooks filled with pictures and letters from couples like us wanting so badly to be parents. How did you choose us? Were you looking for something in particular?

Amanda: There were a lot of scrapbooks to go through; it was  great with me being into scrapbooking myself. There wasn’t any one thing I was looking for. B. (B. = birth father) and I just knew. It’s like a mother’s   intuition of some sort.

Kathy: So after we got our “Match Call,” the agency set up our first meeting. I was so nervous my hands were shaking on the way over to meet you and B. for dinner. Were you nervous, too? What was going through your mind before you met us?

Amanda: I was definitely nervous … not knowing what to expect or if you guys would be as nice as you looked and seemed in the scrapbook. One of the hardest things in my position was thinking I was being judged. I know Allison, our bulldog, (LOL) made me feel much better about it.

Kathy: Allison (from Creative Adoptions) was so completely awesome. She was definitely our champion and bulldog through it all, wasn’t she? I was so glad she was there for our first meeting. That’s funny that you were worried you’d be judged when we were worrying about the same thing. R. and I were so afraid that we would do or say something wrong — something that would make you change your minds about choosing us. You really held our little world in your hands that night. How do you remember our first meeting?

Amanda: I remember our first meeting going better than expected. Even though we had completely different lives, we still had a lot in common, like our personalities. You and I were quieter than R. and B. (I’m not saying they talked too much!) I knew after the first few minutes you guys were the ones. It was like God intended on me getting pregnant to have your son.

Kathy: I remember that, too. The guys talked a lot, trying to bond over men stuff. I remember concentrating on my salad a lot. Ha.

But you stayed the course with us. And then about six weeks later … you left a message for us that you were headed to the hospital: “Are you guys ready for your son to be born?” R. teared up. I think I was already in the car with the engine running.

And then, you allowed us to be with you during delivery. That was equal parts brave and kind. Did you have second thoughts about us being there? Could we have done anything differently to make it easier for you? What would you like other adoptive parents to know if they are lucky enough to be so involved at the hospital?

Amanda: I never had second thoughts about you guys being in the room … not at all. And you guys did more to comfort me than my own husband did. All I have to say to future adoptive parents is that if they are in the room, pay attention to signals. If the birth mom seems irritated, which obviously she’s going to be a little, maybe just back off. Respect any of the birth parents’ wishes.

Kathy: I remember getting you flowers and thinking that it was just stupid. Flowers? You just handed me my life in a tiny blanket. Should I have done something more? Or different?

Amanda: I think what most adoptive parents don’t understand is that for me personally, and for a lot of birth parents, you are giving us a great gift, too. You are giving us the gift of knowing our children will be safe and have what we couldn’t give them, whether that’s material things or to have the loving parent they need. So for me the flowers were great, but you and R. taking on the little guy when B. and I couldn’t is the gift. And just the love and compassion you guys have for all of us (especially me and my children) is amazing, and we are very lucky to have you all.

Kathy: Wow. It’s hard for me to think of it that way. We have always felt like the lucky ones. But I do remember Allison saying at the hospital that she could feel the love and respect we all had for each other. And that was so true.

And then came those first few months. We saw you and B. and the girls several times. We saw how you loved this baby so completely. We worried: Would you change your mind? Were we enough? Each time we talked on the phone, I hurt for you. What was it like for you those first few months before the adoption was final? You should know I never knew what the right thing to do was. Should I call you on the day the adoption was final? Should I give you space? I think I didn’t call; I just didn’t know if I should. And I didn’t want to cause you any more pain.

Amanda: The first few months before the adoption was final were emotional. My marriage was pretty much over and things were kind of falling apart right before my eyes. It was hard, but the one thing I was sure of was that M. was going to a good home and had everything I couldn’t give my two girls. On the day we went to court to give up our rights (I’m in tears just thinking about it), I believe I sat in the back seat as Allison and B. and I took that long drive to the courthouse. While I never second-guessed any of it, even the judge got teary-eyed and said how amazing and strong we were for doing what we did. He said that even though it’s a good thing, these were the hardest court cases. But look at us! We made it.

Kathy: What a great judge to have talked to you compassionately as human beings and not paperwork. I think that, so many times, people who aren’t knee-deep in adoption don’t really understand the full range of emotions that are there for both birth and adoptive parents. I’m glad that you felt confident in us.

Now, well, it’s been almost seven years. We still talk and we still see you, but not as much. And B. doesn’t want anymore contact for now. So looking back, has this experience been what you thought it would be? Has it disappointed or surprised you in any way?

Amanda: The experience was better than I expected, and I have to give great thanks to our counselor Allison. Without her, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it; she was amazing. I think all of us did very well. We all know the one sign God gave us was, even though I wasn’t too sure about M. being his name, once Dr. M. came in and introduced herself, that was all the confirmation I needed to know that God had intended on M. being created just for you. I’m sure not all adoptions go as well as ours but I certainly know this is the one decision I made in my life that I am truly proud of and will never have one bit of regret.

Kathy: I know – totally freaky when the name we picked out for the baby turned out to be the last name of the attending doctor. Even spelled the same way. I am getting goosebumps thinking about it all. And I have tears streaming down my face from your words, too. I remember you suggested we name him, “Owen.”  I liked that name, but we wanted to honor R.’s grandfather who had recently passed away, and you were sweet about it. I’ve told M. many times that his name was almost Owen. Maybe he’ll name his own child that one day. And I think you’ve also hit on a very important point. It wasn’t just us that made this adoption go well; the agency we both chose and the staff made a huge difference in their support of all of us.

Now, is there anything you want to say to adoptive parents out there, especially those who are just beginning their journey?

Amanda: What I’d want to say to adoptive parents is that even though it may seem like you’re not enough or doing as much as you feel you should, some of us birth parents feel we’re just as lucky as you guys are. I’m not every birth mom, but I know that I’m not sure where my life would be without you and R. You are still behind me and my family 100 percent. Adoptive parents: All you can really do is listen to the counselors and respect birth parents’ wishes. Hopefully you will be as happy and lucky as everyone involved in our adoption.

Kathy: Thank you, thank you. <wiping tears> Is there anything you want to say to birth mothers like you, who are giving a gift so precious it’s almost unspeakable?

Amanda: Stay strong. You will know the right match when you meet them. Adoptive parents are probably more nervous than you are. But I believe, and I have to say I’m not a religious person, didn’t go to church, but you will know what God intended for you. Deep down you’ll know. Just follow your instinct as well as your heart. It may seem hard, but something will tell you or show you what you need to do to feel ok with whatever decision you make.

Kathy: Well said, as always. You have always been wise beyond your years. Finally, though, is there anything you would like us to know?

Amanda: To the amazing parents my boy was lucky to be blessed with: I am grateful that my son (our son) has such amazing parents and will have opportunities we couldn’t give him. I can only imagine where all of us would be had we not made the choice we did. I am most thankful that you continue to be here for me and let us all be a family like we agreed and wanted to. I would like to also give your families huge thanks for accepting M. and my family into your lives. I love all of you.

Kathy: I think you just summed up the best things about open adoption in just one short paragraph. And we love you, too!

———————————————————————————————–

NOTE to readers: There’s a lot of love in here, and I’m proud of that. But I also don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that open adoption is a breeze, and there aren’t things that both birth and adoptive parents have to work through. Everyone has to understand their boundaries and expectations; I think Amanda would agree we had to muddle through the first couple of years like most open adoption relationships. And we had hoped our son’s birth father would want to continue a relationship, and that hasn’t panned out. We’re still hopeful for the future.

Overall, I believe the main message here is that it can work if you’re willing to try, and it can be a beautiful, wonderful, loving way to raise a child.

Especially this one, who comes by his awesome fishing skills from ALL sides of his family.

fishing

6.5 year-old happy boy, in the zone.

 

 


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

Hemingway. Barbie. Therapy. Mother Teresa. You Know You Want to Read This.

* Special promotional note: I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because proofreading my own work is for sissies. Kidding. Kinda.  

* Special non-promotional note: This article first appeared in the awesome The Write Life magazine earlier this year. Reprinted here with permission. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend this cutting-edge, digital publication.

Now, on to the actual post. I wrote this in response to the question:  Why do you write?

————————————————————————————————————–

This is Ernest Hemingway. (public domain photo)
This is Ernest Hemingway. (public domain photo)

 Ernest Hemingway once said that there’s nothing to writing; all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. E.B. White was quoted as saying that writing is not only hard work, but also fairly bad for your health.

And even though Hemingway was likely drunk when he was quoted and White can’t really be trusted because of the whole talking pig thing, there is some truth to their words.

As a professional writer with 25 years of experience (obviously, I began writing in utero), I agree that writing can be a soul-wrenching thing. After all, writing means staying up until 3 a.m. to finish a chapter you’re working on, even when you have to get up at 6 a.m. for Real Life. It’s revising and revising until your corneas get angry at you. It’s putting your words out into the universe only to have one reader simply comment, “Meh,” in a one-star review on Amazon.

So why would any sane person do it? Why do we writers continue to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard when we could be watching Downtown Abbey or Duck Dynasty instead?

For some of my writer friends, the need to write is like the need to breathe air. Others say they write mostly because they love to tell a good story, and the world needs more good stories.

Me? Well, I think it comes down to three factors.

1)  I write because it’s not socially acceptable for me to play with Barbie dolls anymore. Even though I was a tomboy in every other way possible growing up in a ranching family in South Texas — with the scars to prove it — there was one “girly” thing I loved. And while the feminist in me today reels at the thought, here it is: I loved to play with Barbie. And Skipper and Ken. Only I renamed them Cherry, Hayley and Holden, respectively.

This is Barbie. (photo from Mattel)

This is a headless Barbie.

That’s right. I played with plastic girls with sparkly tube-tops and unrealistic 38-18-34 measurements. But unlike a lot of Barbie fans, I didn’t care what she looked like, or what dresses she wore. I didn’t envy her twist-n-turn hips, blonde hair or blue eyes.

To me, Barbie was a mere tool for my vivid (and probably not quite normal) imagination. I put those dolls in situations no doll in the history of dolls would ever want to be in. They were probably praying every night for Mattel to come and put them out of their misery.

The stories I created were soap-opera-level in intensity. There was illicit activity going on in the broken elevator shaft in the Dream House. It wasn’t unusual for miniature furniture to be thrown in anger from the penthouse. There was a scene involving beautifully crocheted clothes (made by my unsuspecting grandmother) being torn off in passion. (Note to Mom: I watched Showtime when you weren’t looking.)

Now that I’m a grownup — or at least pretend to be one — I still have the same crazy imagination, and stories still pop into my head all the time. Only now, I pour the drama into short stories, novels and other types of writing.

I think Cherry, Hayley and Holden would be pleased.

2)  I write because I can’t afford therapy. Most writers I know aren’t necessarily rolling in the dough. Yet we tend to have varying degrees of tormented inner lives that make us great candidates for therapy. So for me, writing is a great, zero-percent-down alternative.

In all seriousness, writing is how I try to make sense of the world. It’s how I deal with my constant restlessness. It’s how I delve into my past and figure out my place in the here and now. It’s how I deal with the ugliness and goodness out there, and inside.

Through placing characters at tough crossroads, I can consider how I would react in that same circumstance. Through placing characters in situations I have actually been in before, I can work through what I could’ve done differently, and how that would’ve played out. And I can help those characters find strength and courage and humor when life becomes one hot mess.

This is therapy.

This is therapy.

I can even face my fears — and write my way through it all until I see light at the end of tunnel, or at least until I can get it ALL OUT and move on.

Sure, I could spend months in a therapist’s office and come to all the same conclusions. But you’re not allowed to drink copious amounts of vodka at a counseling appointment, are you? Plus, writing doesn’t demand a copay.

3) I write because I want to make a difference. (Cue the We Are the World music now.) Throughout my childhood and in college, I always believed I would one day do something important that would help make the world a better place. Basically, I wanted to be a kick-ass combination of Susan B. Anthony, Mother Teresa and Ann Richards.

This is Mother Teresa.

This is Mother Teresa.

After college, I took up causes. I was knee-deep in political campaigns and volunteering for activist organizations. I was working at animal shelters and marching for better elder care.

And I was frustrated.

I felt like I was scratching on a well-trodden, muddy surface, and any difference I’d made was quickly gone when the next rain hit.

Today, I still do some of those activism things. But I also understand that through the effective use of language and storytelling, I can sometimes reach readers in a pretty darn deep place — a place where thoughts and ideas linger long enough for questions to be raised, and a search for answers to begin.

In fact, when a reader tells me that my work has touched them somehow, and made them think about something a little bit longer than they would have otherwise, that’s when I know that what I’m doing with my life — this whole writing thing — does matter.

After all, books and stories and poems have been known to change lives, you know. And if my work can trigger just one little change in just one person, then, well, it’s worth it.

* The following words are registered trademarks: Amazon, Downtown Abbey, Duck Dynasty, Barbie, Mattel, Showtime, and probably some others I’m failing to mention. Please don’t sue me. Refer to #2 above.


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

You Must Try This Recipe: Shrimp Tacos With Corn-Avocado Salsa

Photo credit: Iain Bagwell, from http://www.cookinglight.com/food/quick-healthy/quick-easy-mexican-recipes-00400000054866/page26.html

Photo credit: Iain Bagwell, from cookinglight.com

This evening, my husband, son and I made the most awesome, fresh-tasting summer meal. And let me say right now that, being a South Texas girl with a Mama who cooks better than most professional chefs, I rarely rave about a taco recipe because who could ever improve on hers?

Well, this one comes close. We adapted from a Cooking Light recipe and made it our own. (The magazine called this “Mexican food,” by the way, and it’s not. It’s more California Meets Texas food.) Regardless, I highly recommend. And the greatest part is that it had plenty of smaller jobs that our son could handle. He was very proud of his lime-sour cream sauce.

Try it while the summer corn is still in season!

Shrimp Tacos With Corn-Avocado Salsa

3 ears of fresh sweet corn, cut off the cob

2 tsp. olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped green onions

1 cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime, divided

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. coarse ground black pepper, divided

Dash of cumin, chili powder and garlic powder

1 large avocado, diced

1 lb. frozen shrimp (tails off) – defrosted

4 oz. sour cream (light)

White corn tortillas

1/2 cup canola oil

——————————————————————–

Mix corn with 1 tsp. of olive oil, spread in a roasting pan. Broil on high about 8 minutes until corn is lightly browned. Let corn cool.

Combine corn, avocado, cilantro, green onions, salt, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper, and juice of half a lime. Mix carefully so it doesn’t turn to mush!

Combine 2 tsp. of lime juice with sour cream to make the lime-sour cream sauce. Mix thoroughly. Kiddo says for about 15 minutes. “That’s how I got it perfect,” he says. Mom says 30 seconds at most. 🙂

Toss shrimp into sauté pan with remaining olive oil and add spices and the remaining juice in the lime. If the shrimp is making a ton of liquid as it cooks, pour off a good deal of the liquid as you cook. Cook the shrimp, stirring/tossing, for about 6 minutes or so – or until done.

Meanwhile, fry the corn tortillas in the canola oil until they are just beginning to get crunchy – you want them soft enough to bend easily still.

Top each warm tortilla with the corn-avocado mixture and a drizzle of the lime-sour cream sauce.

Enjoy with a light ale or ice-cold Dr Pepper, of course.

MMMMMMMMM.

 

 

Texas Women Bloggers


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

Don’t Stop for Cigarettes: Or What Blue Straggler Was Almost Titled

BlueStragglerCover_b06.4 front only W555H850A lot of readers ask me how I came up with the title for my debut novel, Blue Straggler. So here’s a little story for you, including a list of what might’ve been the title of my first Amazon bestseller!

The short story that birthed the idea for Blue Straggler was actually titled Boondocks. The title hit on the main character’s feeling of isolation, along with a hint at the crazy family out in the sticks. But as the story grew into a novel, the title didn’t feel right anymore.

Then, I was in the middle of writing Blue Straggler my first year in Colorado and I was reading an astronomy book. Moving up here had made me want to learn more about these stars I felt like I could touch from the top of a mountain. I came across the term, blue straggler, and its definition:

There are stars in our galaxy that belong to a globular cluster but have an anomalous blue color and high luminosity in comparison with other cluster members. When the globular cluster is plotted, there is a distinct turn-off point on the main sequence. The stars that appear to be disconnected from the cluster’s main sequence are called Blue Stragglers.

I knew right away that was the title I was looking for. The term and its image fit the main character, Bailey, so well. She’s down on her luck. She’s a kind of straggler in life. She’s disconnected from her family. She’s at a distinct turn-off point.

My agent, who signed me based on this novel, suggested I change the title. She said it sounded too sci-fi and wouldn’t resonate with the target audience in women’s fiction.

We brainstormed other ideas, even though I felt strongly that the title shouldn’t be changed. Here are some of the top ones we considered:

  • Don’t Stop for Cigarettes
  • The Draw of a Good Enchilada Is a Powerful Thing
  • It’s Hard to Escape with Texas Plates
  • Nowhere I Want to Be
  • Therapy Is Working Wonders

Luckily, my agent eventually let this be my decision, and I stuck with Blue Straggler. So did my publisher.

What do you think?


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

It Ain’t the Riviera, but It’s Mine

Due to limited funds (I need a KickStarter campaign for my life), our family’s summer vacation this year needed to coincide with buying three plane tickets home to Texas to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

We talked it over with great seriousness. I suggested a cabin on one of the lakes around Austin, or the San Antonio Riverwalk after the big party in my hometown. My husband suggested anywhere there was air-conditioning and tequila. Our son, however, was all about a beach.

We’d taken an awesome trip to Florida when he was not even 2 years old, and he’s seen those pictures time and again. But he can’t remember ever being near the ocean. And the kid wants to be a marine biologist (this moon cycle at least).

So, being the Perfect Mom that I am (ha), we decided to book a place somewhere along the Gulf Coast that was not more than a few hours from my parents’ celebration.

Heading out on the ferry from Galveston.

Heading out on the ferry from Galveston.

An Internet search led me to research Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula. It’s an island accessible only by ferry from Galveston. I’d spent a good deal of time in Galveston back in the day but had never been to the peninsula. Even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have recognized it now: It seems Hurricane Ike pretty much wiped out the island five years ago. And when I say wiped out, I mean, WIPED OUT. (You can see pics here of the catastrophic damage.) But the area was rebuilding, and I liked the idea of supporting that. And because there aren’t many services/amenities there yet, prices were reasonable, and I found a cute little beachfront house for less than we’d pay for a condo in Galveston or Port Aransas. So I booked it.

My husband was not all that excited about this excursion. You see, as an Air Force brat, he grew up with the perfect sand beaches and clear blue waters of Hawaii and Florida. He hadn’t heard great things about the Texas Gulf of Mexico. (I didn’t even tell him that the area was known for shark breeding …no sense adding that to his list of why-we-should-not-gos.)

View from our deck of an ice-cold Dr Pepper. Oh, and the ocean.

View from our deck of an ice-cold Dr Pepper. Oh, and the ocean.

But I convinced him, and we packed up a boogie board, summer sausage (see my post about that here), Throwback Dr Pepper in bottles, and a large amount of limes and tequila and headed to Crystal Beach.

My report? It was really just lovely. The water isn’t Caribbean-blue, for sure, and depending on how much churn was going on, it could look like chocolate milk, but it was warm ocean bath water with perfect-sized waves for family fun.

Pure future marine biologist joy.

Pure future marine biologist joy.

The beach was not white, but it was fairly void of beer cans and jellyfish and pretty great for castle-building. There was, as predicted by others, lots of seaweed, which some people see as an eyesore. But my son found its abundance great for catching ghost shrimp by shaking clumps of it into his fishing net.

The temperature was perfect for June, mosquitoes weren’t biting, and with the Gulf breeze, sitting on the deck at night, listening to good music, was the epitome of relaxation.

Surf was up.

Surf was up.

Unlike Port A and parts of Galveston, the beach was not crowded, and there were no drunken parties and wet t-shirt contests going on around us.

But here’s what I loved about Crystal Beach the most: Over the course of a few days, our son found a family of three sweet little boys to play with, and we parents got to hang out with the parents and grandparents. The family was from East Texas, and they welcomed us into their little part of the beach with open arms. I watched as my son, an only child, played in the waves and fished for minnows and crabs and dug in the sand and flew his kite with his new friends. I watched his smile light up in ways that it simply can’t when he plays with his parents (even though we’re pretty darn fun, if I should say so myself.)

Fun with new friends.

Fun with new friends.

Meanwhile, I laughed and soaked up the humor and kindness and thick Texas accents of our new friends, one of whom reminded me so much of my grandmother, I had to fight back tears a few times.

I listened to the stories they told — stories, I’ve found, that you just can’t get anywhere but Texas — drinking stories, fishing stories, kid-gone-wrong stories, small-town stories, trailer-trash stories, oil-rig stories, down-on-your-luck-four-wheel-drive stories, and stories about how family sticks together no matter what … and how when it comes down to it, home is what keeps you grounded.

Even when a hurricane takes everything but your foundation away.

Happy summer, y'all.

Happy summer, y’all.


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

Free Weekend Promotion! Children’s Picture Book for Kindle Fire

Higgenbloom and the Dancing GrandmasHi all! Now through Monday, my children’s picture ebook (for kids age 3 to 6 and all adults!) is FREE on Amazon – available for download to your Kindle Fire or to your iPad with the Kindle reading app.

Download the free Kindle book right now.

This is likely the only free promotion that’ll happen this year, so take advantage, and help spread the word about the book! (Reviews are always appreciated, too.)

I really hope you enjoy Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas.

Here’s the book description:

Higgenbloom the Honey Bee didn’t fit in with the other bees who lived on Grandma Rosemary’s farm. Instead of working from sunup to sundown like the others, Higgenbloom was known for doing silly somersaults, breaking out in little bee boogies, and pretending he was a jet pilot, zooming from flower to flower and making himself quite dizzy. But sadly, Higgenbloom always played alone. One morning, Higgenbloom wanders off on his own (again), only to find himself in a heap of trouble — trapped inside a moving car and traveling away from the farm and everything he knows! Find out what happens when Higgenbloom goes on an adventure … and encounters some very cool Dancing Grandmas along the way. Packed with abundant silliness, interactive questions for children, and beautiful illustrations, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas is the perfect book for fun grandmothers who know how to “rock and roll,” grandchildren who love being silly, or anyone who has ever wanted to boogie down — no matter what others might think.
Thanks for reading!


 


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here:

The Best Gift My Dad Gave Me

My rough-around-the-edges, Texas-rancher dad spent 25 years or so in a house with four females (and one bathroom for most of that time), and I never once heard him complain.

As he said to me when I recently asked him what the secret was to being married to my mom for 50 years, this is his philosophy: “I try to keep my head down and my mouth shut.”

Did I mention he’s fairly funny, too?

232323232fp538;5_nu=32_7_989_896_WSNRCG=349672_43332_nu0mrj

My dad with child-labor ranch-hand.

He probably learned that mantra in the Army, but hey, it’s not a bad plan. It’s also one that failed to sink in with his middle daughter. But ironically, I think I actually owe a good part of my outspoken nature to my dad.

You see, he may look to the world like a Tony Lama-boots- and Stetson hat-wearing good-old-boy from Waelder, Texas. But my dad is a highly intelligent man who, in partnership with my mom, gave us all an extraordinary gift: He made his daughters wholeheartedly believe that we could be anything we wanted to be, that we could do anything we set our minds to. As long as we worked hard and used our brains (that he helped cultivate, I might add), the world was ours to conquer.

In fact, I didn’t even really believe that sexism existed out there in the world — that girls were sometimes treated differently, as somehow less — until I got to college. You can imagine my anger and downright shock when I encountered blatant discrimination from a professor at Texas A&M. It was only then that I realized being a girl meant I’d need to work even harder to get to where I wanted to go.

But that was okay, too. Because my dad also taught me that no matter what life throws at you, you work through it. No matter how much something hurts, you find your grit and get up again the next morning.

Here’s a prime example of the kind of father my dad was when we were growing up. I decided on a whim one day, at age 17, that I wanted to work at the local radio station as a DJ. I had no experience, of course, or any idea of what the job entailed. But why would that have stopped me?

I didn’t ask my parents about the idea; I just headed down to the station and pitched myself to the owner, who just happened to need someone for the late-night shift — as in signing-off-at-midnight-with-the-national-anthem night shift. Neither of my parents blinked an eye when I told them about my new gig, and I started the following week.

I had my own wheels by then, so I didn’t need a ride to and from the station. And yet, every night, once I’d signed off the air, as I’d lock up the station alone and walk out to my car, I’d see my dad parked a few yards away in his old Chevy, just waiting. Maybe listening to some Waylon Jennings or CW McCall, or reading a Larry McMurty novel by the humming street light. Night dew already on the windshield, crickets chirping all around. I’d smile at him, give him a little wave, and then he’d follow me home.

He never once said I couldn’t do that job because it was dangerous, leaving the station so late, by myself, when everyone in the two-county broadcast area knew exactly where I was and when I’d be heading home. He never suggested I do something a little more ordinary, like a normal junior in high school might do.

He never said a word.

He was just there. Making sure I was okay. Even though it meant he had to stay up late, too.

He was just, always, there.

I knew he had my back, even though he’d raised me to be fearless.

smallerpa and mnacphotfixo

Handsome grandpa, unknown stinkbug grandson

Now, when I think about how I’m raising my own son, I’m using that as my guide. Be fearless, kid. Grab your crazy idea and go for it. But I’m here. I’m always here. Just in case.

My dad may not be a man of many words, unless he’s telling old Army stories, but he certainly knows how to raise little girls to be headstrong, independent women who rarely take no for an answer.

Thank you, Daddy. (Yes, we all still call him that. We were raised in Texas, remember.)

Thank you for being our head-down, mouth-shut, loving hero who inspired us to be who we are today.

I kind of think that, even now, in your seventies, you’re still the glue that holds us all together.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 


If you want to read more of my writing, I send out the occasional newsletter. Sign up here: