The Salt Belt

It’s a unique experience driving through Northern states during the winter. We’re in day five of our eight day trip now, and just safety arrived in Rhode Island this afternoon. The weather is cold, but it’s not snowing. At this moment anyway. We realized, most suddenly today, that we’ve lived in the South for too long to remember that frost clings to trees in the wintertime, in long, thick icicles. That ponds freeze over. That snow storms drop out of nowhere. That people own boots, and several pairs of ski gloves, and say things like, “They’re out salting tonight.” It’s astonishing and slightly absurd how fast it’s all slipped from our Midwest memories.

Jackson asked what that “tepee looking thing” was, while driving east from Buffalo to Syracuse. I explained it was where they kept the salt. He hmpf’d and went on about his business. I thought nothing of it, then a few moments later he said, “Wait, what salt? Table salt?” I guess he thought they liked all their meats brined here. I mean, that’s not wrong, but what I meant was the salt for the roads.

Because in New England and in the Midwest, from Maine to Missouri, Kansas to Connecticut they still salt the roads. They roll out in big trucks, hours, sometimes days before a storm is expected and they lay down a coat of salt. It’s funny how easily I forgot about the way the lines form in the road from the backs of trucks. How K-Mart parking lots turned into makeshift salting HQs. How men smoking cigarettes, with snow plows fastened to their old Chevy trucks, run up and down the road in the dead of the winter and layer this protection on our roads.

Geez, I’m sure there are ramifications. Of course there are. The rusting from the salt. The money for infrastructure. The tax dollars. The equipment, the salt “tepees.” It adds up. And probably, likely, there are safer, more cost-effective, more environmentally-conscious ways. And maybe I’ll investigate more one day. But for now, for tonight, I’ll lie in my hotel bed and remember the men and the trucks. The salting and the K-Mart parking lots. And I’ll miss the Salt Belt a little more.

Stay warm!

M.

Sliver of Hope

If you’re traveling Southeast on the Perimeter in Atlanta, somewhere between Chamblee and Tucker, right before you approach Spaghetti Junction, you can catch a glimpse, just a small sliver, of the giant Christmas tree atop Stone Mountain. You can see if for a second or two, at the convergence of I-85 and I-285. You have to look quickly or you’ll miss it. And if the sun is setting behind you, and it’s been a sunny, mild day in Georgia, and if the wind is somewhat still, and if the taillights and headlights are not on quite yet, then you can see the tree perfectly, sitting proudly atop the mountain.

Tree is a stretch. It’s really just a string of lights from the top of a tower, to the bottom. More like a teepee of lights. But it can be seen from miles away in any direction, and when you catch the first glimpse of it, it makes you warm and toasty, and it feels spectacularly like Christmastime in the city.

The better view is at Stone Mountain itself, but you have to go on a clear night. When we meandered over it had been rainy and overcast for a few days and the tree, from Stone Mountain Freeway, looked like a fireball on top of the giant monadnock. But on a clear night, nearer to sunset, with the right conditions and maybe a mug of hot cocoa, the tree lights up fantastically, reminding all around that it is indeed Christmastime, and that we are indeed in one of the biggest cities in the USA, but that we are together, a close community of love and light. And it makes you want to treat people better. And it makes you want to drive the Perimeter one more time. And it makes you remember how small, but how important you are. It’s just a sliver of hope, just a beacon in a crowded world, but it’s there shining bright for all to see.

Thanks Atlanta, for surprising me yet again, on our first Christmas here. Thanks for looking out for us, for making us feel like home, for reminding us that though we are small, we are mighty through you.

M.

Hot Tub Mouse

Remember that mouse I found in the grill a few weeks back? The one that we were pretty sure was living in the crack between the hot tub and the patio stairs? Sure you do! We named him Mickey, and Jackson would throw bits of popcorn in between the hot tub and the stairs so Mickey could survive. He was sort of like a pet. Anyway, turns out old Mickey wasn’t living in between the hot tub and the stairs, turns out he was living IN the house, and turns out he died in an inhumane trap that the people before us must have set and he’d been dead for about a week before we found him. Turns out Mickey the Mouse was a little mooch and I’m not saying he got what he deserved, but I’m not saying he didn’t either. Cause he did have a chance at freedom…

A week before Thanksgiving I was out grabbing some last minute items when Jerimiah called to tell me a fun story. He had been working in his makeshift office (his office is being renovated so he’s been working from home and since I have the official “office” he had to make one out of the Lego table in the family room. He’s fine, no tears for him. Le sigh.) Anyway, the family room is downstairs, and so is that weird, catch-all room we call “The Cat Room” because it’s small, mainly for storage, and the people before us had a cat and the ADT Alarm has it saved as “The Cat Room,” so we ran with it. The Cat Room has a door that goes out onto the patio, which of course is where the hot tub is, and where we thought Mickey was living.

Ahem, so on this day Jerimiah heard a noise. A funny, little noise. He thought I was upstairs doing something, so he ignored it. Then it happened again, only this time I wasn’t at home. So he went to investigate. That is when he met Mickey, face to face, Mickey’s back legs caught in a trap. Mickey was still alive, so Jerimiah grabbed some gloves, took Mickey out of the trap and set him free! Free, I tell you! In. Our. Backyard. When he told me I was all, “Okay. Umm, do you think he will come right back to where he was, since you know, warm house and all?” And Jerimiah was confident that no, he would not. After all, Mickey was a smart mouse. He was confident, until the smell came a week later.

I was starting to pull out the Christmas decorations, which I keep in The Cat Room because honestly, what else do you put in there? And I smelled something so pungent that I knew it could only be one thing.

“Something has died in The Cat Room,” I told Jerimiah. He scoffed at me and said something like, “Probably not.” So I ignored him, sprayed Lysol everywhere and let him work it out himself. I have to do this sometimes. He’s a proud guy, y’all. Sometimes I just have to say the thing, the truth, then let him rail against it, then let him stew, then allow him time to realize that yes, I am right and then he usually admits defeat and fixes the problem. Only this time it didn’t take too long, because he walked downstairs and was hit by the smell.

Turns out I was partially right. Mickey had died in another inhumane trap set by the people before us, but it wasn’t in The Cat Room, it was in the small crawl space under the stairs where the water heater is. Mickey had died in The Cat Room Adjecent. How long he had been there, I don’t know. That’s a lie. It was about a week. Because I am sure that the day Jerimiah “saved” him, he ran right back into the house as I suspected. But I let Jerimiah have this win. That’s important sometimes.

So there you have it. The story of Mickey the Dead Mouse. That’s what you asked about, yeah?

M.

East Middle School

I’ve been staring at this picture for a long time now. Months, actually. For months this picture has been on my desktop. I found it while I was researching historical buildings in my hometown (don’t ask), and I snatched it up because this building doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone. Bulldozed. It’s just an empty lot there now and whenever I am back in Kansas I pass it, and a million memories come flooding back from that piece of land on the corner of 4th and Chestnut. Some of the memories are not even my own. They belong to my older sisters, friends, people who went to school in this building eons before I ever stepped foot in it.

The building was East Middle School when I was there in the mid-90s, but before that it was East Junior High, and before that it was Leavenworth Senior High, the first public high school in Leavenworth. And the more I look at it this picture, the more it conjures up, and the more sad I become. This was one heck of a school. Sure there was a tornado tunnel in the basement. And sure ceiling tiles routinely fell on us when we were in gym class. And even sure, sure, there were rats, but man, oh man, this school meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to a lot of people, and now it’s just gone.

I’m not sad of course to see the building gone. It was time for upgrades that the city couldn’t afford. So the church next door bought it, and even they couldn’t afford the upgrades, so eventually it was bulldozed. I’m sad in the way you get sad when you attach memories, deep, nostalgic, childhood memories to a place. A building. A room. A town. And then that place leaves. Or maybe you leave. And it feels like a betrayal. Even though I left this school, this community, this town, this state twenty years ago, I still feel betrayed, and also guilt, because betrayal is only one part of this mixed bag.

There was another empty field a block from where this one is now. It was owned by East Middle School and it was a regular part of our day to walk to the field for kickball games, or gym class, or games of baseball after school if you could scrounge up enough kids. But where this school was located, right in the heart of Leavenworth, across from City Hall, a couple of blocks from “Downtown,” across from the unemployment office, and next to the only pay-what-you-can walk in clinic in town, well, it wasn’t exactly what you would call a safe area. In fact, many times on the walk to our field, we would pass people smoking out of balconies, yelling things down to us. Our gym coach would tell us to ignore them. She’d tell all 30 or so of us middle school girls to walk in pairs, to ignore the looks from the old men shuffling by on the way to the senior center. We ignored the men and women, still drunk from the night before, arguing on stoops, about whether or not one of them had come home the night before. We ignored the racist gravity scribbled outside the little Korean grocery store, with the neon signs, inviting, but not overly welcoming. Today I wince as I remember, but back then, back then it was just part of this life. These memories serve me well sometimes. A reminder. These memories didn’t mean too much to me back then, but they are becoming more precious as the years drag on.

Once, the whole seventh grade walked to the gym lot, which is now a Domino’s Pizza, to set off rockets we had made in science class. It was a sticky-hot, midwestern day, but the blue sky and the clean air conjured up a song, so we sang. We walked down the cracked sidewalks, around the fire hydrants, past the Section 8 apartment complex, and through the open field across from the public library and we spontaneoulsy sang, “Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.”

We sang and we laughed. We ran around the field before the teachers calmed us. We yelled at passing cars. We listened for horns blaring. We blasted rockets into the air. We dreamed of what this life would one day be. I don’t think any of us envisioned an empty lot. Or a Domino’s pizza. Just blue skies as far as the eye could see.

M.

Let Us Alone: My Close Call with Florida

We’ve been dealing with a little scare the last few months. Jerimiah was told back in September that they were moving him from the place he has been supporting, Baton Rouge, to a different location. First we were told we would most likely have to actually move again, which meant we would have been in Georgia for less than a year. A couple options were thrown at us, and neither of them were good. In fact, they were sorta crappy. One was New Orleans and one was Tampa, Florida. Yeah. Sure, there are worst places to live than New Orleans, like anywhere in the state of Florida. And if we have to move again we would really rather it be a move OUT of the South. But you know us, we looked at each other, took a big sigh, and braced for impact.

Part of bracing for impact meant that we decided that wherever we ended up, we were not all moving together at once. Because Jackson HAS to finish fifth grade in one school. Quite specifically this school, the coolest, most awesome school we have been in, with the coolest, most awesome teacher he has ever had. Which meant chances were good that Jackson and I would be living alone for several months in our house, and Jerimiah would be living in a roach-infested, cheap apartment in a bad part of either New Orleans or Tampa. Cause two house payments is not a thing we can do. But, here comes the happy ending: We got word last week that we don’t have to move! He is still supporting Tampa rather than Baton Rouge, but they want him to stay in the ATL because he has growth here (and if I may, he scored the highest score on this totally obscure, weirdo test they give people that his boss has ever seen #SmartestGuyEver) and for that we are thankful.

But when I was deep down in the shit last month, thinking we might have to move, and kinda sad about it, I started finding ways to make myself happy. When I thought of New Orleans, I pushed the idea of swampy, pathetic, poor-economic, low test scores, rampant racism, and flooding out of my mind and tried to focus on the good. Which boiled down to three things: Living in a historically-rich area, cheap housing prices, and visitors. Right now we have about two friends and our moms who visit us with regularity. I’m not mad, y’all, just disappointed. I thought since a lot of people consider New Orleans a “cool vacation spot” maybe we would get more traffic.

Florida was a little tougher. Sure there are the beaches (Tampa is on the Gulf side though, so it doesn’t count), and discounted Disney tickets, but it’s still fucking Florida. It’s like saying we were moving to Texas, but at least in Florida there’s diversity. In order to humor myself I started thinking up headlines that I may find myself in one day. You know the whole Florida Man thing. Well these are Florida Woman headlines, more specifically ones that I might be involved with like “Florida Woman Fends off Would-be Attacker with a Wine Bottle and a Matted-up Poodle” or “Florida Woman Loses $20 at the Roulette Table, Attacks Row of Penny Slots Convinced they were Betting Against Her”. You know, stuff like that. So without further ado, I present to you (in a very happy way because I don’t have to move any further South than I am right now):

Florida Woman Headlines, Missy Edition

  • Florida Woman Robs Convenient Store, Stealing Only Over-priced Lunchables
  • Florida Woman Hires Exorcist for Tampa-area Home, Attempting to Rid Ghost of WWF Wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow
  • Florida Woman Exchanges Humorous Texts with 65-year-old Retiree, She Believed was a Dolphin
  • Florida Woman Covers Hers Dog in Bologna, Attempts to Lure Baby Alligators to Backyard
  • Florida Woman Places Order for 157 Pounds of Chicken Wings and One Diet Coke
  • Florida Woman Attaches 10 Baby Alligators to Her Fingertips, Tells Everyone “Got my nails did!” is Escorted from Walmart
  • Florida Woman Claims she Found an “Endangered Owl” in her Backyard, Refuses to Give Live Owl to Authorities
  • Florida Woman Loses Bingo Jackpot, Flips Tables at Senior Center
  • Florida Woman Outside Piggly Wiggly with Llama, is “Unpaid, Unsolicited Endorsement” says Grocery Chain, When Reached for Comment, Florida Woman Mounted Llama and Rode Away
  • Florida Woman Makes Children Uncomfortable at Bus Stop, After Approaching with Phone Demanding they Tell her What “Flakka” is
  • Florida Woman Drunk at PTO Meeting, Demands Repayment for “Check she sent in Last Week”, PTO President says “She doesn’t even go here”

Okay, okay, you know I kid, y’all. I would never harm any animals. Not even a baby alligator. But I thought I might leave you with a bit of knowledge about this state that we despise so much. This is a true story, so true in fact, I am adding the link to the bottom of the page.

In 1845, the State of Florida decided on their flag and motto. The flag passed, but the motto: “Let Us Alone” did not, and because of the way it all went down, it would seem that nothing was actually, lawfully passed. Which is why years later Florida got a different flag. But this was what they originally wanted to be their flag. Sans the motto, but if you ask me, they should have just let them have it. And we should all heed their warnings…

Florida State Flag History from 1845

M.

It’s a Good Life. Enjoy it.

The last couple of weeks that my mom was visiting us in Atlanta, the weather was not cooperating, so we looked for a couple of indoor things to do. We managed a cozy afternoon at the Jimmy Carter Center on one rainy, icky day. Then one glorious afternoon we made our way to a place we have wanted to visit since we moved here in April, The Center for Puppetry Arts! Now I know what you are thinking: Puppets? Cause I’m pretty sure that is what my mom was thinking too, when I was trying to pump her up for the experience. I’m also 99% sure that is what Jackson and Jerimiah were thinking too. Let me start over, I have wanted to visit The Center for Puppetry Arts since we moved here in April and everyone else was sorta, ehh about the whole thing. Until we got inside…

First of all, the Center is celebrating the 50 years of Sesame Street. So right away, we were all in shock to be face to face with some of our biggest idols. Umm, they had Big Bird AND Oscar the Grouch. Umm, they had Miss Piggy AND Kermit. Umm, they have the entire cast of Fraggle Motherfuckin Rock, y’all. All of them, even Sprocket my personal favorite. I mean, honestly, I don’t have a lot of words, so I won’t use many. I’ll use pictures instead.

First it was all about Jim Henson and how he came to be. Fascinating stuff, the way he thought and imagined. Then we got to meet some of the lesser known puppets, then hit the “backstage” area where we got to dabble with making our own show, as seen above. Then, the real shit hit the fan: We found Sesame Street, The Labyrinth, The Muppets, and Fraggle Rock! Hilarity ensued.

Deep breaths, puppet, muppet, and OG Street nerds, the shit is about to hit the fan…

The next few moments were spent with my mom and me trying to explain Fraggle Rock to Jackson and Jerimiah who both looked at us like we were nuts. “Yeah, so they lived in a series of caves and they maintained a complex culture and society, with each individual having rights and responsibilities. They had basic skills with tools and with rudimentary machinery, and the concept of war was known to them (although wars between Fraggles were very rare). Oh and! And, Fraggles live on a diet of vegetables, mainly radishes, and if they touch their heads together before falling asleep they can share dreams…”#Crickets

So first there was Sesame Street, which was Jackson’s actual JAM for the first four or five years of his life (mine and Jerimiah’s too), then there was Fraggle MFing Rock and the Muppets, which my mom and I adored watching when I was a kid, then Jerimiah found his Holy land…

THEN, as if that wasn’t enough, there was a whole other exhibit dedicated to the history of puppets, including puppets from all over the world, and THEN there was a whole other exhibit dedicated to the Dark Crystal! See below.

Okay, whew, let me take a breather before I get to the last pictures. And let me just tell you that if you are ever in the ATL, sure, go to the aquarium, and sure, visit Coke World, or CNN, or Centennial Park. But if you are a true Jim Henson fan, well then, there is only one place you need to go: The Center for Puppetry Arts!

Thanks for coming on this journey with me, y’all, and I’m sorry if you have just now, at this very moment, realized that I am a damn puppet nerd. But that’s just the facts, you know. I’ll leave you with these last few photos to entice you and to inspire you. And remember what Miss Piggy would always say, “I am who I am, why can’t you accept that about me?” #SlayGirl

M.

The Power of Rain

It’s raining today. Big, round droplets. The relentless kind of rain that I never experienced before I lived in the south. Before television meteorologist said things like, “Coastal shift” or “Gulf stream.” It’s raining today and it’s going to keep raining. That oppressive kind of rain. The kind that makes you want to stay in bed all day with a good book, or a good tv show, or a good bedfellow.

I like the rain because it helps me feel like I’m not alone. When it’s raining I know I’m not the only one stuck indoors, unable, unwilling, to go on about my normal life. It eases my fears of missing out on anything. Not much happens in the rain.

I remember having this thought for the first time, in Mrs. Nixon’s third grade classroom. It was a warm, fall day in Kansas. The storms were lined up to put on a show. Black skies, lightening, it was the sort of day in Kansas where one occasionally glances out a window, stays close to the weather radio, sits, stiff necked, on the edge of their seat. There was a war raging, 7,500 miles away across the Atlantic. Operation Desert Storm. My sisters’ husbands were there. I hoped it was raining.

It’s funny what the rain recalls, and sometimes sad. But that’s the sort of power it has over us. And I think I’m finally at peace with that.

I hope you’re staying dry today.

M.

I’m a Georgia Voter

That’s something I never thought I would say. I have often admired the cute, little Georgia peach stickers when friends who live in Georgia voted and shared their picture online. But yesterday I actually got to cast my vote in the state of Georgia for the first time, and it felt kind of good. It felt like I was finally part of my community, like I had the power to make a difference here. There were only two question on my ballot, but I did have to do some research before I went to the polls, which is always important, and I got to take Jackson with me because his school is a polling place, so he was out for the day. It went something like this…

We arrived at the Methodist Church that was assigned to me when I registered to vote in the state back in April. It’s only about a mile from our house but we drove because it’s sorta cold down here, in fact yesterday morning it was a balmy 58 degrees. Whew! When we walked in, Jackson was a big hit with the women working the polls. And it was all women, by the way. Not just all women, but all retired, Black, women which made me very happy. It was 100% the first time I had ever encountered this at a polling place.

They were all very friendly and polite, and I told them all it was my first time voting in the state, so they walked me through the procedure as best they could, without helping me fill out anything (which is not allowed). First I had to fill out a form. This has never really happened to me before. I’m used to just casually strolling up to a table and telling them my name, then the old, cranky, white man finds my name on the registry list, puts a check by it, gives me a sticker, and a ballot and sends me on my way. This is how I have voted previously in Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. But things are, umm, different here in Georgia, and now I finally get Stacey Abrams anger.

There were three tables. At the first table I had to fill out a paper that was basically just giving all my information that they already had, so I really wasn’t sure why, but me being me, and having Jackson there, and knowing these ladies were just doing their job, I didn’t question it. I just wrote my birthday, checked that I was a Democrat, wrote my address, and signed my name. Then I gave her the paper, thinking I was done. I was wrong. She then asked for my ID. I was a little surprised, but gave it to her. Then she checked my ID against what I had just written on the paper. I am not sure what would have happened if my ID had been old, or I had written something different on the form. Then she sent me to the second table.

At the second table they again asked for my ID, where one of the women proceeded to scan it into a computer. It apparently came back okay, because there I was given back my ID, along with a little yellow card that read: State of Georgia Voter Access card. Example below:

The card had a chip in it, and I was told to put the card in the machine. There was only one other woman voting at the time we were there, so if I needed further help, it would not have been a problem. But I kept thinking what the next election would look like. What it’s like when there is a line out the door and every machine is full, and people are having troubles with those machines, and cards, and writing the wrong address down, or maybe having trouble seeing the small writing on the half-sheet that I was given. I kept thinking about my mom, and how she would have a wicked-hard time with all of this, and how it would be confusing and hard to read.

So Jackson and I got to the machine and I stuck my yellow card in the slot, which activated my ballot, but first there were a series of windows that I had to click through telling me how the machine worked, and explaining these awkward, not at all intuitive, ways to fix my ballot, if I accidentally hit the wrong box or something like that. Seriously, y’all. I didn’t know how easy I had it in North Carolina, or Missouri, or Kansas. Jackson and I read the instructions and he was all, “this looks complicated” and let’s be real here, if my 11-year-old who lives and dies by technology, who has known how to work on an iPad since he was three, says “this looks complicated” then that is sort of a red flag, ya dig?

Okay so I hit NEXT, then NEXT again, then my ballot popped up. Only two decisions to make. One was a vote for a City Council Member and because I am fairly new here, and because it was a woman’s name and she was the incumbent, I voted for her. Also, she was the only one running, which always pisses me off a little bit. Jackson pointed to the “Write-in” and looked confused. I explained that you could write in anyone’s name if you didn’t want to vote for the person on the ballot. Then I told him if it had been a man’s name, I would have written in my own name instead. I don’t vote for men, as a rule, unless I have to. (Full Disclosure I did once vote for a man, when there was a Democratic woman on the ticket. It was the 2016 Democratic Primary, in which the names on my ballot were Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and I voted for Bernie.)

Anywho, the next question was the one I had done some research on. Lots of trickery here in Georgia. Lots of trickery in the South, I have learned. Looking at you, North Carolina, and your “Snake.” So I knew whenever an “Ethics Board” question was on the ballot, and I had seen a lot of ads to “Vote YES on Ethics” that I probably wanted to vote “No.” And I was right. Trickery, y’all. Trickery.

So I voted no. Then I hit “Submit” and very quickly my screen changed and my yellow card spat out at me. I assumed that meant I was done. So we collected the card, and walked to the third and final table where they were taking our cards and passing out our coveted peach stickers. Of course Jackson got one too, and they were all very proud of him for accompanying me. One woman walking in said, “Well the voters are getting younger and younger,” and everyone laughed. But I mean, yeah, they are. #OurKidsAreGonnaChangeTheWorld

So that was that. My first experience voting in the state of Georgia. That’s what you asked about, right? I hope I made a difference. I hope I voted with intention. I hope I was educated and, made, to the best of my ability, the right decision. But above all else, I hope that my son saw what I was doing, how I made it a priority, and that he will do that his entire life as well.

So here’s to the next election, y’all! See you at the primary, where, well, you know me, I’ll be casting my vote once again, for Bernie! 🙂

M.

KC to STL

There is a stretch of I-70 that takes you across Missouri, from Kansas City to St Louis, in less than three hours. Well, Siri told me it takes three-and-a-half hours, but you know how I do. I have traveled this stretch of highway more times than I can count, starting with the first time I recall making the trip, when I was invited to a weekend away with my friend Amanda and her parents in middle school. Or maybe it was high school? I don’t exactly remember, but I do recall that we were young enough to be entertained by both the glass elevators at The Embassy Suites and choosing which flavor of Ben and Jerry’s to buy for a night of movies and ice cream in our hotel room. I’m a Phish Food girl, pretty sure Amanda was a Chunky Monkey or maybe a Cherry Garcia.

Speaking of Chunky Monkey, on a spur of the moment weekend getaway with my friend Rachel on this same stretch of highway, we were walking back to our hotel room from visiting the Arch and having dinner, and it was dark, and we noticed a crack of light coming from a window. We were walking and laughing, and I was in front of Rachel on the small sidewalk, so I looked inside the window, as one does, as I passed by. Then for a split second I froze. I wasn’t sure at first what I was looking at, then it hit me. There was a porn playing on the television in the room, and sitting on the edge of the bed was a naked, middle-aged man, and he was masturbating. A couple full seconds later, I sped past the window and motioned to Rachel to look inside. She stopped in her tracks for a moment, a little scared at what she might see. I should add here that Rachel and I we were young, 17 and 18, respectively. This was the absolute first time we had ever seen this before. Rachel crept up and peeked in, and her jaw hit the ground, then we ran to our room laughing. We talked until we fell asleep about how dumb that “old” man was to have accidentally left the curtain open. Oh how dumb we were to think that a middle-aged man would “accidentally” leave a curtain open…

So yeah, I’ve had some fun on this particular stretch of highway between Kansas City and St. Louis. A lot of people have. Because this stretch of interstate connects Kansas City, Columbia, St. Louis, and it’s estimated that almost 20,000 cars drive on it daily. Not across the state, but somewhere on this “radical, socialist” highway. 🙂 This is the easiest and fastest way to transverse the entire state of Missouri, though it isn’t the prettiest. It’s actually really, really boring. Not to mention the fact that you pass MU (University of Missouri) and eww. Be careful there. #TigersSuck They are also kinda rude and a little snotty. Like wannabe New Yorkers, but without the actual street cred.

All I’m saying is, if you wanna see the real beauty of the state of Missouri (and yes, there is beauty in the state of Missouri) just don’t take I-70 from Kansas City to St. Louis. But if you’re forced to, head toward Kansas City, not away from it, as Kansas City is the better of the two places. Unless you haven’t been inside the Arch, well then do that, but just once. Know that it’s awkward, and claustrophobic, and when you get to the top, and if the wind is blowing strong that day, you can feel it. But the views are pretty cool! If you’re into views.

Anyway, this particular stretch of Highway has been around, so it does have some problems. A lot of construction a lot of the time, but it was the first installment of President Eisenhower’s “radical, socialist-propaganda” called the Interstate System. Missouri was actually an early adopter of this system, probably because they knew they’d have to play a major role in any cross country trip. They were already home to historic Route 66 (and the first ones to lay the road) and they knew what an interstate could do to their economy. In fact, the state was awarded a contract for work on US 40 (I-70) on August 2, 1956, and became the first project to be awarded and work initiated after the signing of Eisenhower’s act. So the state of Missouri has a claim on “two firsts,” both the first to build Route 66 and the first to build Interstate 70. Pretty cool, Missouri, pretty cool.

So there she sits. A long, stretch of Highway that crosses Missouri at its least interesting points. It’s rolling hills are pleasant enough, but, and there’s a big but, if you ever find yourself transversing the old “Show Me” state on I-70, take a couple of those detours. Not the forced ones due to construction, rather the “backroads,” of the area. Get lost. Go off the grid. Missouri is bound to surprise you. It’s always surprised me.

M.

I’m a Poet, I Just Know It

See what I did there? Last year, there was a call for poetry from a small press in Kansas City, called Flying Ketchup Press. They wanted poems from people who call Kansas City, or Kansas or Missouri home. They wanted to share the sense of this amazing place with others, while promoting the voices of those who grew up on those streets. I saw it while perusing Submitabble one day, bookmarked it, then moved on. I have always wanted to have a poem published, I thought it would be so cool to be able to say, “Oh yeah, I wrote that poem!” Haha. I’ve secretly always wished I’d been born a poet, and not a foul-mouthed, wanna-be. But here we are.

I couldn’t sleep for at least a week. I tossed and turned at night, thinking about my home. Thinking about Kansas and Missouri. The time I’ve spent there (30 years) and all that it taught me. Being Midwestern comes with many fun little quirks, sure we say “ope” everyday, and sure we have a penchant for apologizing all the time, and drowning all our food in ranch dressing, but why? And how? Who came before us and made us this way? I started to wonder day in and day out about the place I call home. Then one day I was inspired to dig deeper into Kansas history, so I did. I meshed it with a little of my own Kansas history and the poem, “Kansas” was born.

What happened was I got an acceptance letter, with a note from the editor, a true Kansas City girl, who explained that they were happy to include my poem in their anthology, and that my poem was the favorite of all those submitted. I was shocked. Honestly. I was so shocked I didn’t know how to respond, so I just sent a thank you, not really believing it would ever happen. Geez, I have great self-esteem.

Then, well, it happened. The poetry book, titled: Blue City Poets, was officially published on September 10th of this year. Which happened to be my 38th birthday. Which happened to be the day I decided that my 38th year would be the best yet. And so far, so good.

Anyway, I appreciate you all reading my musings, my dumb political rants, and my stories of everyday struggles on everything from mental illness, to parenting, to my dumb-ass dog. And especially for following me along this journey of writing that I struggle with everyday. It’s good to feel like you’re not the only one doing something. Having struggles. Getting rejected. The whole shebang.

So how can you read my poem? Great question! You can purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-City-Poets-Kansas/dp/197015196X/ref=mp_s_a_1_11?keywords=blue+city+poets%3A+kansas+city&qid=1570333582&sr=8-11&fbclid=IwAR3nuvgwRu1QoYXKBOJNbixFyI7Xwq-11h-FrKFjzZ__8MUxtaxoxD0URSo

The paperback is $12.99 and the Kindle version is $4.99. It’s part of Prime too!

So here is a giant virtual hug to all of you who tirelessly support me. By reading my blog, liking my stupid posts, and telling me to keep going, to stay positive, and that I am good at what I do. I hope to one day believe you.

M.

Surprise was a Success!

Just dropping in this morning to let y’all know that the “Mama Surprise” went down without a hitch! In fact, Jackson was so oblivious (remember when I said he was usually oblivious?) that he didn’t even realize Mama was standing behind his Daddy at the airport pick-up. He jumped out of the truck, because I told him to help his Daddy with his bag, and I stayed in the truck waiting for the scene to unfold. It just took way longer than I thought. I watched him looking at Daddy. He was smiling and laughing as Mama came up behind them. Finally she was standing there with them and Daddy had to say, “That’s Mama!” Then it all clicked for him, I could see him working it all out in his head! It was pretty funny to see, and the whole way home he just kept looking over at her in amazement. He said we, “Got him good.” Yay us!

Anyway, here’s a pic of them from Saturday, going through the “Taste of Tucker” book trying to decide which sweets they wanted to try at our town’s little tasting event. They really are two peas on a weird, chaotic, can’t hear each other when they talk, pod.

M.

Surprise!

I love pulling surprises off. It’s so much fun. Unless it’s not a fun surprise, then oops, but that doesn’t happen very often. I like to be part of surprise parties, like my friend Susie’s 40th Birthday Yacht Cruise on Lake Norman, wherein another friend and I were tasked with taking her out for the day. She knew, obviously, she’s one smart cookie, but she didn’t know exactly what, so we played along. I like to surprise my husband with gifts, or real-life llamas, or sex! That second one is the most fun. But the two people I really like to surprise are my mom and my son. They are both great at reacting to surprises. Lots of laughing and giggling, lots of hugging and crying. Though I’m always afraid Jackson will be mad at me and not trust me anymore cause I’ve usually lied a little up until the surprise, and at 75-years-old, I’m always a little concerned my mom will stroke out. So there’s that.

The hush, hush, secret for the last two weeks is that Mama is coming to visit. Jackson has no idea. Mama, pronounced Ma-Ma, is my mom and she lives far away in Kansas. Sometimes we go see her—we have even managed to surprise her once by showing up on her birthday—and sometimes she comes to stay with us for a month or so at at time, and that’s what’s happening today.

I’m not sure how we have done it, but I know that he has no idea. This morning he asked me again, in a groggy sorta way, Can Daddy just take an Uber home, I don’t feel like driving to the airport tonight? This was after last night’s conversation about him wanting to have a play-date on Saturday. I told him we would probably do something fun as a family on Saturday and he got a little pissy, so yeah, he has no idea. But between me slipping one day about buying coffee for “when Mom comes” (he was oblivious), and my mom randomly texting her flight plans to me (with him sitting next to me) I was worried, but I think we have done it! (Side note: My son is Oblivious, with a capital “O” and I’m not sure if this is a boy thing, or if this is just a my son thing, but his obliviousness has actually served me well for all these 11 years and I kinda hope he stays that way, at the same time, I don’t want him to be the kinda guy who forgets his wedding anniversary, so I have concerns. I’m gonna wait it out though, see what happens.)

We arranged it so that my mom’s flight would come in an hour before Jerimiah’s flight. She would get off the plane and just sit down. She doesn’t like flying, partly because you know, we aren’t meant to fly, and partly because she isn’t comfortable walking around airports she doesn’t know. Lately, she’s been getting assistance from airport employees via a wheelchair or golf cart, but it’s still a lot for her, so we got her a non-stop from Kansas City to Atlanta. Now, if you’ve never been to the Atlanta airport, well then, count yourself lucky. It’s a hot-fucking mess. It’s huge. And the only way to leave the terminal, less walking miles and miles in the desert heat and the Montana cold, is to take the Sky Train. Ugh.

So, we told her to get off her plane, find the first seat she can find when she gets into the terminal and park it. Jerimiah arrives an hour later and will come find her and they will do the Sky Train together, because dear Lord Baby Jesus, we don’t want her doing it alone.

Meanwhile, Jackson has his yearly physical at 2:00 in a different part of Atlanta, which gives us just the right amount of time to see his doctor, grab some ice cream, and make it to the airport in time for them to be getting off the train. It really is all very convenient. Have I mentioned that I LOVE city living and could never go back to any other way?

So, you know what I know now. Not sure how he will react. I expect there to be some gasps, and some tears, and some very excited hugs. Then chances are he will forget all about wanting to have a playdate tomorrow cause his most favorite playdate will already be here.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do that sort of cleaning you do before your mom gets to your house.

Have a fabulous day, babes!

M.

ATL Traffic

This might be an unpopular opinion, this might even anger some of you who have ever muttered, “Atlanta traffic is horrible,” but I got some truth coming atcha right now: It’s not the locals who cause the problems, it’s all y’all other people. Follow me please, but not too closely. I’ve been in the Atlanta-Metro area long enough to see some traffic patterns, which I think is the first important point. Before we moved here we had only spent a weekend in Atlanta, and most of the people who groaned when they heard we were moving here, and shook their heads and said, “Oh, the traffic!” have only ever spent maybe, I dunno, a week in the area. Most of them were just driving through. You really have to spend time in Atlanta to “get” the traffic patterns. You have to spend time and exercise patience, because Atlanta doesn’t need you to teach Atlanta how to drive, Atlanta gonna teach you how to drive.

Now before I go any further, I want to clarify something. I’m not saying there isn’t horrible traffic in Atlanta, or that it’s isn’t congested, or dangerous, or even scary at times, it is all of those things. In fact, in the INRIX 2017 Global Traffic Scoreboard Atlanta was ranked No. 8 in the race for world’s worst traffic, stuck in between London and Paris. Now mind you that is for traffic congestion only, but still, it’s not all roses, and I’m not claiming that it is. Atlanta is congested because it is populated, yes, but also because in order to get ANYWHERE in the Southeast United States, you pretty much have to travel through Atlanta. We are the convergence of many interstate highways, including our coveted/despised “Spaghetti Junction” named so because from the air it looks like someone took a bunch of spaghetti and dropped it on the ground. So yeah, we play a major role in getting to anywhere ’round here. We have: Interstates 20, 75, 85 and Georgia 400. I-285 forms a beltway around the city, but don’t even think about calling it a “beltway,” it’s colloquially knows as the “God-damned, piece of shit, Perimeter” and that’s how you know where something is. Is your doctor’s office, for instance, inside or outside the perimeter? If it’s inside, then it’s ITP (ITP! That’s for the Goldbergs fans), if it’s outside it’s OTP (OTP!). And also, if it’s inside, then bless your heart.

We also happen to be a hub for Delta, and a southern hub for Megabus, which provides service to Washington, D.C., New Orleans, New York City, Birmingham, Dallas, Nashville, and Indianapolis, among others. So yeah, people get here, and then they leave, but not before driving around a bit. And therein lies the problem.

I have noticed, from real-world Atlanta driving over the course of the last six months, that people who don’t live in Fulton Country, or Cobb County, or DeKalb County just make things worse. And I have boiled it down to three very distinct reasons. 1. They lack speed and 2. They lack confidence. 3. They are not observant.

The first one is self-explanatory. The 70 mph speed limit is more of a suggestion in Atlanta. In fact, if you are ever going less than 70 miles an hour, you are either on a Megabus, an out-of-towner, or in some type of congestion. That’s it. Otherwise you’re cruising along about 85 and slamming on your breaks when you need to. Case closed. Get new brake pads before you come.

The second one takes a bit more explaining. When I say confidence in driving I mean it in every sense of the word. You have to be confident about where you are going, but also confident that if you happen to get forced into an exit that you didn’t mean to take, you have to confidently take it and find an alternative route. Which is really easy because there are like 17 different ways to get to the same place here. Just keep driving and let your GPS reroute. Simple as that.

I also mean confident in your driving abilities and your decision-making. Look it, if you see that open spot in the lane next to you and you think, hmm, I should maybe, well should I get over, I mean my exit is in two miles and… too late! Someone already took your spot. See what I mean? Make the decision, then do it. Be confident. No need to stick a blinker on, just go fast into that spot, beat that Cadillac Escalade, don’t worry your VW has the power. Unless it doesn’t, then please rent a car that does before you get on the highway.

What happens, more often than not, is that tourists and passer-throughs, cause accidents and delays. They think, for example, that just because they are cruising along at 75 mph at mile marker 53, that they will still be cruising at that speed at mile marker 54, when in reality, no. You never go that fast for that long. There’s always a break check up ahead. Which leads me to No. 3.

Let’s say you’re still thinking about that open spot. No one has taken it yet, and you’re gathering up the courage, but still you’re driving along in the middle lane, minding your own business. You look over one more time and see that it is still open, so you decide to move. You put your blinker on to let the other drivers know you are coming over, then you start to go over, but oh no! You’ve taken too long and someone jumped over a moment before you did. Luckily, you were being observant and saw them. They didn’t indicate, so you had know way of knowing what was coming. See what I mean? What is wrong with these people? You think to yourself, as you try to get back to your original spot, but just then the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you see nothing but break lights ahead so you slam on your breaks, mid lane, which prevents you from both hitting the car in front of you, and being hit by the car behind you which had run up very fast to take your original spot. Good on your for being observant!

See, it doens’t take long to “get” Atlanta traffic, just a bit of trial and error, moving at a much higher rate of speed than you are comfortable with, having a sixth-sense about what other drivers might do, and not wasting time with actually thinking about your next move, just doing it!

Hmm, maybe Atlanta drivers are the problem…? Naaaaah!

Come on down, y’all, we’d love to have you! But maybe fly and we’ll just pick you up at the airport. About the airport… Nah, that’s another post.

M.

Limit Ten

I’ve been thinking a lot about the library of my youth. I’ve been remembering all the time I spent there, on the long, blue sectional couch that wrapped all the way around the front lobby of the library, from the children’s section to the foyer. I’ve been remembering the glass blocks that encircled the Check-Out desk, where I’d tell the librarian that I forgot my card again, or when I had to call my mom for a ride home when I didn’t have a quarter, or when there was a book I needed help getting off the high shelf. I spent a lot of time at the Leavenworth Public Library as a kid. My middle school was a block from the library, so sometimes I’d be able to talk my mom into walking to the library after school and hanging for a few hours. The library was the first place I discovered internet. It was where I did my volunteer time for student council, it was the place I found the New York Times, and the Kansas Room, and the pleasure of curling up with a book—that was way too advanced for me—on one of the pink sofas in the back of the library, where adults read the newspapers, and plants and statues stood watch over the weird, curved windows overlooking 4th Street.

When I was a kid there was a ten book limit when you checked out books from the library. This was always hard for me, both because I am an avid reader, and because I suffer from FOMO. What if the ten books I decided on were not as good as I had hoped? What if my mom won’t bring me back for another week? What if I read them all in one day? I was anxious as a kid. The reference section was a good place for me. It had small shelves, easily accessible, and I never had to worry about which book to check out because you couldn’t take any of them home with you. Same with the periodicals. So I spent most of my time thumbing through those sections, with my stack of ten books waiting for me at checkout.

I’m not sure the architecture of the building, but I can see it clearly, it’s black overhang shielding me just enough from the rain on a wet and cold Saturday morning when my mom would swing her 1972 Dodge Cornett into the lot for me to race up and shove my books into the return. There were always plants planted just outside the door, and just inside was a water fountain that I stopped at a number times for a gulp after I had walked the block from East Middle School.

The original public library in Leavenworth, like many other small towns, was built in 1900 from funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. It was a two-story brick and limestone building, originally named the Carnegie Library, and it was, and still is, designated on the state and national registry of historic places. The library of my youth was built in 1987, and when it was brand new it was one of the most unique buildings in our small town.

Not much had changed in the library the last time I visited, but that was maybe ten years ago. There were still the same old blue chairs on the small desks for studying. The same glass blocks around the offices behind the check-out desk, and the same pink chairs in the back. The same plants. The same statues. The same weird, curved windows. And of course, the same smell. That old, musty library smell. I’ve come to love that smell, and as of late, miss it a little.

The library is actually two stories, but most people didn’t know that because most people didn’t venture upstairs. Upstairs was mainly just administrative offices, but once or twice as a kid I’d meander to the elevator, wait for the beep, then head upstairs. It was always quiet up there, always neat as a pin. Always a little dark. It wouldn’t take long for me to become afraid that someone would catch me and I would race back down the stairs on the north side. It always felt like a close call.

The year I spent volunteering at the library, seventh grade I believe, was spent mostly shelving books, living and dying by Dewey Decimal. I also got to spend a bit of time in the kid’s room, where I would sometimes cut out shapes for children to glue together, or help little ones find the book they were looking for. I usually got suckered into a corner by a kids’ book myself, and would lounge on the giant bean bag chairs with a Sesame Street reader until the cart was full of books to be shelved again. Volunteer of the year right there!

It’s a little funny, but I don’t know why I am telling you all this today. I don’t know why over the last few months I have been drawn to old buildings. The ones I knew growing up. Why the places we spent time in as a child, end up being so important to us as adults. And maybe they aren’t. Maybe I’m weird. Either way, sometimes, when I can’t find a comfy spot to read my borrowed book of essays, or I walk into a fancy, new library around my new town, I can’t help but wish I was back in Leavenworth. On one of those musty, pink couches. A secret bag of Doritos in my book bag, and the current copy of the Kansas City Star on my lap. Trying to figure a ride home. An escape from that town. A way out of that life. Maybe that is exactly what the library is for.

M.

Representation Matters

I had a necessary and slightly concerning conversation with some other parents at Jackson’s school the other day that revolved around a picture that is on a website from the fundraiser that we are doing right now. This is the picture:

It’s cute, right? What sparked the conversation was one of the other mommies telling me she wished we would have made it to Midvale sooner because we have been such a blessing to them and Jackson is such a great kid. I thanked her and agreed. I told her this was the best elementary school we have ever been in, and that we have been in three of them.

The first one, I told them, was also great, on paper. It was not a Title One school, which is very important to some people. Like, very important. Like one of my old friends, upon asking why her daughter went to our kid’s school (at the time) when she lived just as close to another one, rolled her eyes at me and she said (in a voice just above a whisper, even though no one was around,) “That’s a Title One school,” and gave me a knowing smile. I didn’t have the heart, or maybe the nerve, to tell my “sweet” friend that I was raised in a Title One school. That I am a product of poverty. That I got free lunch. Of course, this is the same woman who said she wouldn’t send her dog to the Charter school that was in our town, even though she knows people who work there, kids who go to school there. And I’m guessing I know some of her reasoning. PS… She’s a teacher. #EekFace

Our kids at that time, my son and her daughter, were in kindergarten together in a school that was, in the state of North Carolina, an A-rated school, sometimes an A+. The problem wasn’t so much that it had a 3% free or reduced lunch population (which we were a part of, unbeknownst to my friend I’m sure), it wasn’t even that I could count the number of “diverse kids” as she referred to them, it was that the school itself didn’t reflect real life. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the school. I met some amazing people there. Of course I also met some people who turned out to be some real assholes, but most of them were pretty cool. And I’m still friends with some of them. And I still think they are doing what is best for their kids, given where they live.

Let me quickly address the free lunch thing, since I sorta just snuck that in on you. We were on the free or reduced lunch program in kindergarten because at the time that school started we had just moved to NC, and Jerimiah didn’t have a job yet. We were still living off our savings while he looked for work, so the school district automatically qualified us for the program, and we took advantage of it for a few months, until Jerimiah found a great job, and Jackson started to bring his own lunch to school. But still, it impacted the “numbers” for the school, and still the people who were privy to this probably looked at us differently. Most likely. This may be shocking to some of you who knew us back then, especially because people always assumed that we moved to NC because of work. But no. We moved to NC to find better work. We knew we couldn’t stay in Southern Missouri. We also didn’t know that the town we were moving into was basically more of the same, just with more money. I never told people that because I was ashamed of it. But truth be told, we were kinda bad-ass for doing it. For selling off most of our things, for taking a BIG chance. And we have been reaping the rewards ever since. But, again, that sorta behavior scares people. And you can’t make friends easily with that origin story.

Again the school we were at for kindergarten through half of third grade was great. The real problem was just that 90% of the kids were little white kids with the same socio-economic status. And as some of you might know, some of you who have left your bubble, moved away from the places you were born and raised (unlike my sweet friend mentioned above) this is not reflective of real life. As I told this story to my new friends one of them actually gasped, a white woman, and said that was her worst nightmare for her kid. To go to school with people who looked just like her. I agreed. Explained that it was a driving force for us to move into “the city” and enroll Jackson into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, even with its many problems, it was much more reflective of real life. Then I brought up this picture.

Again, it’s cute. But, after what I just said, can you see the problem? You might hear a lot of people talk about representation nowadays. And if you are white, you may not pay much mind to that talk, well because, you are represented. Everywhere. But this pic concerned me in a lot of ways.

First off, this is the pic that all the kids and parents see when they first log into the site. So if you are a little Black girl (which we have a lot of at our school) then you see a scene that is not reflective of your life. If you are an Asian boy (which we have a lot of at our school) you are not seeing yourself represented very well either. And so on and so forth.

This might be a good time to add that the county that we live in, DeKalb County, Georgia, is the second most affluent county IN THE COUNTRY, with a predominantly Black population. Let me break that down for you. Most of the money, coming in and out of our county, is from affluent Black families. We are minorities here. Jackson is a minority in his school. Both in sex and race. This is our life. Our community. And it is good. Really good.

Back to the picture. Did you notice all the white kids are on one side, while all the “other” kids are on the other side. See that? See the token Black girl? And the Asian boy? See the two kids that could “pass” for Latino? It’s a bit odd. And maybe I’m reading too far into it, one tends to do that when they have been enlightened to white privilege, but I don’t think so. I also don’t think, or want to believe, that the company did this on purpose. I think it was more of an, Oh shit, we need some “diverse” kids in this pic too! And then they hurried up and made sure they had “one of each.” That’s how I think it went down. Either way. Bleh.

I think I’m just noticing things like this more because I am more aware of the world that we live in. The world advertisers create. The world the white-males make for us, and I’m starting to call a spade a spade, if you will. Like my sweet old friend, who still has others fooled, but I’ve seen her true side. Her “Christian” side, and it ain’t pretty. But more about her in another post.

So that’s what’s been kicking around in my noggin today. Representation. The importance of being around people who do not act like or look like or live like you. The importance of cutting through bullshit and getting down to the nuts and bolts of what needs to be said. So here I am, saying it. Like always.

This weekend, try to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. Eat at a new place, try a new store on the “other” side of town. Start a conversation with that one Black man that lives in your town. I dunno. Try something. Be present. Show up for others. You won’t regret it.

M.