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.


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Dear Moms of Adopted Children

First, a quick note: I wrote this piece after reading an essay written by Lea Grover in the Huffiington Post, titled “Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom.” The post by Lea was wonderful, and it made me think about us moms who found our sweet babies through adoption, and how we face unique challenges. I hope you enjoy it, whether you are the parent of an adopted child or not. Happy early Mother’s Day, everyone.

——————————————————————————————————————

Dear Mom of an Adopted Child,

I met you in adoption education class. I met you at the agency. I met you at my son’s school. I met you online. I met you on purpose. I met you by accident.

It doesn’t matter. The thing is, I knew you right away. I recognize the fierce determination. The grit. The fight. Because everything about what you have was a decision, and nothing about what you have was easy. You are the kind of woman who Makes.Things.Happen. After all, you made this happen, this family you have.

Maybe you prayed for it. Maybe you had to convince a partner it was the right thing. Maybe you did it alone. Maybe people told you to just be happy with what you had before. Maybe someone told you it simply wasn’t in God’s plans for you to have a child, this child whose hair you now brush lightly from his face. Maybe someone warned you about what happened to their cousin’s neighbor’s friend. Maybe you ignored them.

Maybe you planned for it for years. Maybe an opportunity dropped into your lap. Maybe you depleted your life-savings for it. Maybe it was not your first choice. But maybe it was.

Regardless, I know you. And I see how you hold on so tight. Sometimes too tight. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it?

I know about all those books you read back then. The ones everyone reads about sleep patterns and cloth versus disposable, yes, but the extra ones, too. About dealing with attachment disorders, breast milk banks, babies born addicted to alcohol, cocaine, meth. About cognitive delays, language deficiencies. About counseling support services, tax and insurance issues, open adoption pros and cons, legal rights.

I know about the fingerprinting, the background checks, the credit reports, the interviews, the references. I know about the classes, so many classes. I know the frustration of the never-ending paperwork. The hours of going over finances, of having garage sales and bake sales and whatever-it-takes sales to raise money to afford it all.

I know how you never lost sight of what you wanted.

I know about the match call, the soaring of everything inside you to cloud-height, even higher. And then the tucking of that away because, well, these things fall through, you know.

Maybe you told your mother, a few close friends. Maybe you shouted it to the world. Maybe you allowed yourself to decorate a baby’s room, buy a car seat. Maybe you bought a soft blanket, just that one blanket, and held it to your cheek every night.

I know about your home visits. I know about your knuckles, cracked and bleeding, from cleaning every square inch of your home the night before. I know about you burning the coffee cake and trying to fix your mascara before the social worker rang the doorbell.

And I know about the followup visits, when you hadn’t slept in three weeks because the baby had colic. I know how you wanted so badly to show that you had it all together, even though you were back to working more-than-full-time, maybe without maternity leave, without the family and casseroles and welcome-home balloons and plants.

And I’ve seen you in foreign countries, strange lands, staying in dirty hotels, taking weeks away from work, struggling to understand what’s being promised and what’s not. Struggling to offer your love to a little one who is unsettled and afraid. Waiting, wishing, greeting, loving, flying, nesting, coming home.

I’ve seen you down the street at the hospital when a baby was born, trying to figure out where you belong in the scene that’s emerging. I’ve seen your face as you hear a nurse whisper to the birthmother that she doesn’t have to go through with this. I’ve seen you trying so hard to give this birthmother all of your respect and patience and compassion in those moments—while you bite your lip and close your eyes, not knowing if she will change her mind, if this has all been a dream coming to an abrupt end in a sterile environment. Not knowing if this is your time. Not knowing so much.

I’ve seen you look down into a newborn infant’s eyes, wondering if he’s really yours, wondering if you can quiet your mind and good sense long enough to give yourself over completely.

And then, to have the child in your arms, at home, that first night. His little fingers curled around yours. His warm heart beating against yours.

I know that bliss. The perfect, guarded, hopeful bliss.

I also know about you on adoption day. The nerves that morning, the judge, the formality, the relief, the joy. The letting out of a breath maybe you didn’t even know you were holding for months. Months.

I’ve seen you meet your child’s birthparents and grandparents weeks or years down the road. I’ve seen you share your child with strangers who have his nose, his smile … people who love him because he’s one of them. I’ve seen you hold him in the evenings after those visits, when he’s shaken and confused and really just wants a stuffed animal and to rest his head on your shoulder.

I’ve seen you worry when your child brings home a family tree project from school. Or a request to bring in photos of him and his dad, so that the class can compare traits that are passed down, like blue eyes or square chins. I know you worry, because you can protect your child from a lot of things — but you can’t protect him from being different in a world so intent on celebrating sameness.

I’ve seen you at the doctor’s office, filling out medical histories, leaving blanks, question marks, hoping the little blanks don’t turn into big problems later on.

I’ve seen you answer all of the tough questions, the questions that have to do with why, and love, and how much, and where, and who, and how come, mama? How come?

I’ve seen you wonder how you’ll react the first time you hear the dreaded, “You’re not my real mom.” And I’ve seen you smile softly in the face of that question, remaining calm and loving, until you lock yourself in the bathroom and muffle your soft cries with the sound of the shower.

I’ve seen you cringe just a little when someone says your child is lucky to have you. Because you know with all your being it is the other way around.

But most of all, I want you to know that I’ve seen you look into your child’s eyes. And while you will never see a reflection of your own eyes there, you see something that’s just as powerful: A reflection of your complete and unstoppable love for this person who grew in the midst of your tears and laughter, and who, if torn from you, would be like losing yourself.


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Readers’ Top 10 Blog Posts in 2012

I started this blog in early 2012, at the request of my publisher. I’ll admit I was worried about it. I’d written a weekly online column before, but that was different. This was a BLOG, something I’d resisted for years. Would I have time to blog and blog well? Would people (other than my mother) care enough about what’s going on in my head to read it? And what in the hell would I write about?

Well, I haven’t kept up with the blogging schedule I’d hoped for, but I have written a few fun pieces. Below, I’ve featured links to the 10 most popular posts, just in case you missed `em. Even I enjoyed rereading a few.

Oh, and just to recap this AMAZING year in publishing for me (because that’s what you do on New Year’s Eve-Eve) … after becoming an Amazon bestseller in the spring and summer, Blue Straggler (released as an ebook in August 2011 and in paperback in March of this year) remains in the top 30 in sales and customer ratings in comic fiction on Amazon. It hit #2 again right after Christmas and #5 in a different category (humor). Pretty cool. Or rather, a huge dream of mine come true. A Good Kind of Knowing was released in ebook in October and in paperback earlier this month. It made it to the #10 spot in its category (fiction/drama) on Amazon and remains in the top 30 in ratings. It also made the top 100 in customer ratings in literary fiction. Whew. That’s as good for this writer’s soul as crab legs, cheese biscuits and a Bahama Mama from Red Lobster.

I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported me this year and always. Having my work touch just a few people would’ve been satisfying. But this kind of success has been overwhelming. Thank you!

Now on to those posts, and here’s to 2013, y’all!

 #1  Our Dogs Are Going to Get Us Kicked out of the Neighborhood

#2  Saying Goodbye to My Dream, or the One-Year Experiment With Normal Living

#3  And This Is Why I Hate Dental People

#4  Friends Are Worried About My “Girls”

#5  What Happened When I Turned 30 …. and 40

#6  What Being a Texas Woman Means

#7  How Growing Up With Country Music Made Me a Better Writer

#8  21 Facebook Posts You’ll Never, Ever See From Me

#9  Open Letter to High-Fructose Corn Syrup

#10  Your Official Music-to-Read-By Playlist 


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A Texas Christmas (Early) and Other Thoughts

We flew home for a quick holiday visit to South Texas this past weekend. As always, it was great to see my family, wear sandals and shorts in December, and enjoy my mom’s awesome cooking.

Mom made 12 pies at last count, and I think I ate 10 of them. We’re talking pecan, peach, lemon icebox, lemon black-bottom … mmmmm. We had her famous chili and beans for our “Christmas” lunch, along with homemade tamales. She also made all of her traditional cookies, and Dad barbecued my favorite sausage for me. It was all delicious, and I’m pretty sure I gained 10 pounds in three days, as evidenced by my jeans getting tighter and tighter each day. Ask me if I care!

The best quote from my son since we’ve been back was: “It sure is hard to come back here after eating at Grams’ house.” Which did not go over well, as he said it while eating a dinner my husband had cooked.

During the Texas Christmas gathering, we also enjoyed another rousing singing competition we call “Harris Idol.” My favorite moment was when the whole kid gang (minus my nephew who preferred to go deer hunting instead) sang Feliz Navidad as a finale, with all their hearts, even the parts they mumbled. It was priceless.

I don’t care who you are. This is funny.

There was the usual craziness in Texas, too, of course: We played our traditional Christmas Lights Game and some Unnamed People cheated badly. There was a strange Santa Claus toilet seat cover involved, dating back to the 1960s. My parents’ dog hid behind the couch a lot. I encouraged my kid to write “Wash Me” on my sister’s dirty prized Cadillac, which in hindsight might’ve been a mistake. We opened presents one at a time (to make the fun last longer) and there was disagreement as usual over whose turn it was. My son got a youth-size power drill. (And I’m totally on board with it. After all, he asked Santa for wood.) The usual country music CDs and knives and handheld spotlights were given and received. There were a few disagreements here and there, some harsh words may or may not have been spoken at one point. I was enjoying Hazelnut Martinis, so I’m not the best judge.

My son wants his own goats.

My son, by the way, loves Texas even more than I do. He cried for a long time at the airport — so much so that I truly think some people assumed I was abducting him. The only way I could get him to stop was to talk about all the things he’d do once he moved to Texas, which he plans to do as soon as he graduates from high school (as long as I come with him). He says he will attend Texas A&M (good boy), build his own log cabin on my family’s land, dig three water wells so he won’t run out of water, and drill one oil well so he won’t run out of money. He wants 10 dogs, three goats, three milk cows, five beef cows, one rooster, some chickens for eggs, and a pig. Also he will have three horses, and I get to ride one of them. The other two are his. And he plans on having several tractors because they are always breaking down. He’s got it all planned out — has even sketched out how he will design his log cabin. When I was his age, I’m pretty sure all I cared about was my Lite Brite and Raggedy Ann doll.

On a much sadder note, Newtown happened while we were home, too. Like so many people, there were entire moments when I couldn’t breathe when I heard the news. Could. Not. Breathe. But I couldn’t let myself get too vocal about all that I was feeling while I was home — I didn’t want to ruin Christmas with my family, a lot of whom are supporters of the NRA and who believe guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Just typing that old cliché upsets me, actually. To me, that’s like saying (and I’m stealing this from a Twitter feed) chickens don’t lay eggs. People with chickens lay eggs.

But here’s the thing. We as a nation have to do something. Something is terribly wrong in our society. The easy availability of assault weapons — weapons designed and manufactured to kill — is part of the problem. I believe that with every ounce of my being. It’s not the only thing wrong, but it’s a large piece of the puzzle.

So I say this: Please, please, let’s have some rational discussions about assault weapons. Let’s demand a plan of action from our leaders.

Please.

For the sake of every little soul who was killed, for every parent who waited at that firehouse for their baby … who never came, for the children and adults who lived through the massacre and now have to go on with those images and emotions forever embedded in their brains and hearts, for our own children.

And to all those who say it won’t help to ban assault weapons, I say this: Maybe it will. It’s a start. And what if it COULD help? What if it could save one child’s life? It’s worth a try. Slippery slopes, be damned. Can you look a parent in the eye whose child was shot 11 times and say you are worried about losing your right to own a hobby gun?

That’s all I want for Christmas. For us, as a nation, to act on this.

In the meantime, I wish all of you, no matter where you stand on gun control issues, a warm holiday with your families. Tell everyone you love that you think they are pretty great. Make sure that every friend and family member knows that if they are ever feeling so completely hopeless that they want to take their life or others’ lives, that you are there and you will help them. Tell them that killing is never the answer. And to every family who lost someone to a mass shooting this year, I pray for your hearts to heal. And I’m not even the praying kind.

Sending love and peace to all.

 


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Putting Up the Tree — and Missing My Mammaw and Granny Like Crazy

Well, first I’ll get the mountain-snob snarkiness out of the way: It’s just plain weird to me to put up a Christmas tree in Colorado when there is no snow on the ground, no howling wind outside your door, no traipsing through knee-deep drifts to find the perfect tree, no fire burning in the wood stove. You get the picture. That was always our life when we lived at the top of a mountain. And I loved everything about it.

Down here in the foothills, we put up our tree today, and it was 60 degrees and not a flurry in sight. I wore shorts. We got our tree from a commercial seller.  It was too warm for a fire in the fireplace. Blah, blah.

But there are a few things that didn’t change. First, we made kettle corn to munch on while we decorated our tree (Grand Fir, $34.99. Ooops, snark returns.) We played Christmas music (on Pandora instead of CDs – hey, you can’t stop progress). And we pulled out all the same ornaments we use every year.

And that’s when I always start to miss my grandmothers, both of whom have passed away, so bad it’s a downright physical thing.

My grandmothers (Mammaw on my mother’s side, and Granny on my dad’s) could not have been more different, but I have such great memories of time spent with them both at the holidays.

I’m lucky that we lived fairly close to both of my grandmothers, and that both liked us girls to help them decorate for the holidays after Thanksgiving.

With Mammaw, it was fragile glass ornaments and shiny, gold-beaded balls she’d made herself. It was a pristine white angel with real feathers as wings as the topper. Some years, it was a full, lush tree flocked with fake white snow. It was white lights and a silver-trimmed tree skirt, probably bought from a department store. It was Eddie Arnold on the stereo. It was quiet and beautiful.

When my grandfather passed away (Mammaw left us years earlier), my mom shared some of Mammaw’s ornaments with me, and I cherish them. There are a couple of delicate antique ornaments in gold and red and silver, and two of her ornaments she decorated herself with old jewelry and tiny sequins and pins. They are as classy and lovely as she was. And they make me miss her so much. Our conversations. Our games of cards. Her Thanksgiving turkey and dressing. Her walking around with that kitchen towel on her shoulder as she cooked holiday meals. Her long, lean, soft hands that, as she got older and sick, she’d ask me to hold.

And then there are the items I have from Granny that take me back to the holidays at her house. She was a ranch woman, but she also loved to crochet. Those rough, calloused hands were like magic when it came to yarn. I have crocheted icicles and snowflakes she made – their hangers are old bread ties in green and red and blue. I specifically bought big, round, frosted bulbs this year to put on our tree, based solely on the fact that she had some similar on her tree every year. (They were from the 1960s, I swear, and we often worried that they’d get so hot, they’d catch the tree on fire.)

This is what a mesquite tree looks like, for you non-South Texans.

And her tree! Oh, I loved Granny’s approach to her tree. It was usually just a cedar tree we’d cut from the pasture, lopsided and wispy and perfect. She didn’t have a tree stand; we’d just plop the tree trunk in a bucket and fill it with rocks to hold `er steady. Ornaments were mostly handmade by either her or us kids. We always added store-bought tinsel of some kind, and red-and-white candy canes. Lots of multi-colored, twinkling lights were a must, too. She’d hang mistletoe up (real mistletoe, people!). Plus she had some plastic pine garland we’d hang over the entrance to the living room, from the dining room. With fake red berries. There’d be nails up there from the year before to tuck the garland behind, or we’d just use scotch tape.

After we decorated our tree today, we made cookies as a family, and I found my Granny’s old recipe for Cherry Cream Delight, which is basically just Cool Whip, a can of cherry pie filling, cream cheese, and graham crackers. Man, I loved that stuff. And I think I’ll be making it this year.

It’s nice to have my grandmothers’ things around me during the holidays, since I can’t have them here with me anymore. But what I wouldn’t give to, just one more time, hear Granny say, “No need to rush off now,” late on Christmas Eve, or to hear Mammaw shooing us out of her kitchen on Christmas Day.

Miss you both.

What do love most about your grandmothers and the holidays? I’d love to hear about others’ memories, too.


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Music to Read By — Black Friday Special

Yes, I only put Black Friday in the headline to attract people to this site. (Ha!) I’m not above tactics like this.

Seriously, to continue in my quest to provide readers with music to read A Good Kind of Knowing (my latest novel) by, here is a great song to listen to while reading Chapter 16. And it’s a favorite of my son’s, too, so of course I had to feature it here.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!


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Music to Read By – Chapter 3 and Bonnie Raitt

Chapter 3 is one of my favorite chapters in A Good Kind of Knowing. And this little number from Bonnie Raitt and John Prine, “Angel From Montgomery,” fits the mood of that chapter just right.

I suggest closing your eyes and letting this one sink into the soul a little bit.


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Music to Read By – Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

If you’re reading A Good Kind of Knowing, thank you so much. Here’s some good old-fashioned music to read by – fits well with Chapter 2. Full playlist for the whole book coming soon!

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys – Faded Love


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Music to Read By – Nothing Like Merle Haggard on a Friday

I’m continuing to feature songs here that are mentioned in my novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, which is chock full of music and song references.

This one is also found in Chapter 1, and should put anyone who loves love old country in the mood to two-step.

Take it away, Merle.

Merle Haggard – Silver Wings


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Music to Read By – Let Patsy Speak to You

The main character, Sera, in A Good Kind of Knowing, loves Patsy Cline. Of course, I do, too. I love her voice. I loved that she was kick-ass. I loved that she had to fight her way into the boys’ world of Nashville. I love that Loretta Lynn was her best friend. I love that she and Charlie had a turbulent, brilliant kind of love. As you might guess, Sweet Dreams is one of my all-time favorite movies, too.

So, here you go. If you’re reading the novel, this is a good song to go along with Chapter 1.
Patsy Cline – Walkin’ After Midnight


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