My Meggan: $5 Family Fun

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Me & Meggan: forty years of friendship

This is my oldest friend Meggan. She’s amazing for a lot of reasons. Primarily, because she’s put up with me for forty years. No kidding. Our moms’ pregnancies overlapped. They were pals. We were birthed into being life-long friends.

If you notice at the top of the photos, were playing outside in a bucket of water. We used to do things like that all the time. We would make “potions” out of berries from the bushes, leaves, dirt and water. We would use old canning jars to store them on her grandmother’s porch. I can only imagine what it must have smelled like when that poor woman found those jars after I left every time.

But that’s what Meggan does. She makes something imaginative and fun out of whatever is handy or lying around. She tells great stories and laughs big laughs. She made parts of my childhood magical and full of wonder. Now she’s doing the same for her son.

I don’t want to think about my life if she hadn’t been a part of it. It would be far less creative, I know that.

And now she’s helping other families create their own magic. She’s continuing to make something grand out of very little.

Her book $5 Family Fun was recently published. It’s ideas for you and your family to have a grand time together for very little cash.

I hope you’ll check it out. It’s got some really good crafts and fun in there.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m super proud to be her friend.

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What the future holds: mystery solved

It’s June. That optimistic time of year when graduates and young couples joyfully pronounce they “can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

That’s sweet. No really, it’s a very sweet declaration. And we all act like it’s some kind of big mystery what’s coming next. But it’s not. Let me help you out.

The following is based on the experience of me and my friends. Results are extremely typical.

1508986_10203798831113744_8468055209191212605_nHigh School Grads, here’s your future:

  • 20 pounds
  • $350 for a textbook that you cannot resell
  • lots of ramen noodles
  • learning to sleep at super odd hours

KJT gradCollege Grads, here’s your future:

  • low wages
  • bad break room coffee
  • irresponsible roommates
  • questionable living quarters
  • an encyclopedic knowledge of every happy hour and discount food night at every high-end bar in town

935280_10201103005519789_287001776_nMarried Couples, here’s your future:

  • What do you want for supper?
  • What do we have?
  • I don’t know. You went to the grocery store.
  • I don’t know. I bought food. We have food. I’ll eat anything you cook.
  • I cook whatever you want. Just don’t make me make another decision today.
  • Oh hey, did you fill out those forms for the kid to do the thing?
  • Yes. And you’re changing the subject. Supper? What do you want?
  • Wanna just order takeout. Whatever. And you’re doing pickup and drop off tomorrow because I have that thing after work.
  • Fine. Don’t forget to take out the trash. It’s recycle week.

This is 40

Peyton Manning of the Broncos, who will turn 40 in March, is the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history.

Well that sentence was like a sucker punch to the gut. Low blow, Super Bowl 50. Low blow.

I am OLDER than Peyton Manning. I know this because I turned 40 in November. And I had a fabulous party. And while I was crying over being older than a two-time Super Bowl winner, I realized that I never posted any photos of the really fabulous shindig I threw.

I have some amazing friends. And they came and celebrated my bourbon and bacon themed party. It really was wonderful. But the truly best part… and I mean this seriously… I asked people to bring Kroger gift cards for IMMERSE, a transition program for kids aging out of foster care, rather than gifts for me. They donated $500 to IMMERSE!

So this is 40. I don’t have a Super Bowl ring. I have these amazing people in my life. I win.

All amazing photo credit goes to the fabulous Lizzy Yates.

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Peace on Earth for the poor kids too

945200_10202687266205316_366320636_nIt’s the time of year when lots of people will be picking up kids from Angel Trees. You know the drill, the stats of some less fortunate child under the age of 12 are printed on an angel or star or snowflake of some kind. Families with disposable income pick a kid and buy Christmas gifts for him or her. They are returned to the nonprofit and then distributed from “Santa” to kids who otherwise would not have gifts under the tree. These programs across the country can be really great.

I like the concept of giving this way so much that for the past three years I’ve volunteered some time to help out. I’m not an expert on the system, or even a seasoned veteran. So my thoughts here are based on a moderate level of understanding.

Here’s what I know: it is a pride-swallowing exercise to sign up for any of these programs. You have to show up at a certain time at a particular place, stand in line with all kinds of paperwork, get moved from station to station where you are asked intrusive, private questions by strangers who may or may not speak your language, show proof of income and expenses, and then sign a statement that you didn’t lie about it all.

It requires a level of organization on the part of the parents that rivals military operations. Depending on the nonprofit, some parents have to take classes or sit through seminars during the year. They have to jump through innumerable hoops. Nobody just shows up and gets handed free stuff. I want to repeat that because of all of the misinformation and flat out lies that float around this time of year: Nobody just shows up and gets handed free stuff.

If you do all those things properly and you have the paperwork to prove it, then your kid might get something on the list you’ve carefully put together for they need and want. Or not. You really have no idea.

When I got married and had a baby, I registered at some stores. I knew what I already had. I knew what I needed. I knew what I wanted. But a significant number of people looked at that list and decided that they knew better than I did what I needed and wanted. So they bought whatever they wanted me to have. This was annoying, but easily remedied.

Because I’m a middle class white lady, I went back to the stores and exchanged the things I didn’t want or need for what I did with very few problems. No one accused me of stealing. No one threatened to call the police. No one thought I was running a scam. No one refused to work with me (except for that one incident in Target which we just don’t speak about because it’s possible in a sleep deprived state I made a total ass of myself in public.)

So here’s the thing, these parents know, for instance, that their kids already have shoes coming from a grandmother or they know that they have coats from last year that still fit. What they really need is pants for school. Or maybe they’re set on clothes, they got that part covered, but any toys, games or extras are going to have to come from someplace else. There’s no money in the budget for that. So they write that on the card. They write down what their family needs and wants.

Far too often, I hear people say that they saw what was listed and didn’t think it was appropriate, so they bought what they thought they should have. Please don’t do that.

First, that’s rude. No matter what the socioeconomic state of the person you’re buying for, it’s incredibly arrogant to substitute your judgement for theirs.

Second, there is a middle party arbiter here. Even if you don’t trust the parents’ judgement, someone talked them through this process. Someone knows why they put things on the form the way they did. It really does make sense, even if you don’t see it. You don’t have to see the whole puzzle to fill in your piece.

Third, the experience these people have when trying to exchange gifts that are duplicates is rarely the same as mine. They are poor. They are often minorities. Some have broken English. They don’t have a receipt. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to exchange an extra pair of tennis shoes for a Barbie. Often, they are treated like they did something wrong. And they’re just doing the same thing as you and me: trying to take care of their kids.

Finally, it does not make a child entitled, greedy or grabby to ask for the same toys my kid is asking for. The same commercials that enticed my child entice them. Sure, the volunteers try to steer them away from electronics, but why wouldn’t they want them? It’s not wrong to want to play with the cool games. And it’s not unfair for them to ask. Someone asked them what they wanted for Christmas and they answered. That doesn’t make them bad. That makes them human.

I have never been so scared about money that I had to pick between rent and groceries. I have never been so broke at Christmas that I had to ask anyone else for help. I have never walked in these parents shoes. But I’ve sat with them long enough to know that they are trying very hard in a system that doesn’t always work.

So this Christmas, if you chose to take an “angel” from the tree, don’t just give the gift of socks and underpants (although I’m pretty sure that every parent on the planet would appreciate that), give the gift of dignity. Give them respect. It will come wrapped as a list of things that might not make sense to you. It will be disguised as a football game for an Xbox. It may be uncomfortable, but I urge you to trust your fellow man.

Even if your very worst suspicions about what the parents will do with whatever you give come true, that’s not on you. That’s on them. Let’s just do our part. Let’s fill in our piece of the puzzle.

Let’s give with open hearts and hands and without reservations or worries. Let’s pray together that the Barbies and toy cars and Legos bring joy to children in homes where there’s not nearly enough of that. Let’s hope for moms and dads to have one morning where they can exhale and just look at their children’s delighted faces and know a few moments of peace.

Let’s actually give a little Peace on Earth!

Is it RBF or ATF? #TheStruggleIsReal

A million years ago when I was a television reporter, from time to time we got calls from viewers who said I had “scary eyes.” We also got calls from viewers who said the FBI was trying to read their thoughts. One woman claimed that God came into her body, and she’d had three babies. (Explaining that I refused to refer to her boyfriend as “God” did not go over well.) One woman was particularly concerned about calling the 10pm newscast “Nightside.” She thought it had some kind of demonic connotation.

But since these eye calls had my name associated with them, they were brought to my attention with the admonition, “so you should probably do something about that.”

Sure. I’ll do something about that. Since I had no actual clue what to do about my scary eyes, I’ve just gone on frightening people since.

Many years later, I diagnosed myself with Resting Bitch Face or RBF. This is a serious condition. Memes have been made about this, people. Celebrities, First Ladies, Queens (real and imaginary) and Presidential candidates have been diagnosed over the Internet. So you know it’s an epidemic.

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

Real Queen

Real Queen

Imaginary Princess

Imaginary Princess

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Carly Fiorina Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Carly Fiorina
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But now. I’m wondering if in my rush to explain why I am constantly asked if something is wrong, I might have made a bad call. People aren’t afraid of me because I have RBF. People are afraid because I have Aggressive Talking Face or ATF.

Just look at these photos.

I found this old gem from when I used to work for a Fortune 100 Company. I remember this event. I remember I was having a good time. This was a very enjoyable chat. I look high pissed.

I found this old gem from when I used to work for a Fortune 100 Company. I remember this event. I remember I was having a good time. This was a very enjoyable chat. I look high pissed.

Bill and I were having a fantastic chat about mutual friend who has been ill. It was kind and empathetic. I had such warm feelings in my heart. I appear to be chewing him out.

Bill and I were having a nice visit about mutual friend who has been ill. It was kind and empathetic. I had such warm feelings in my heart.
I appear to be berating him.

I was speaking to a group of women at the Junior League of Little Rock. Believe it or not, people were laughing at my jokes. But I look like I'm verbally assaulting them.

I was speaking to a group of women at the Junior League of Little Rock. Believe it or not, people were laughing at my jokes. But I look like I’m verbally assaulting them.

Maybe it’s RBF. Maybe it’s ATF. Could it be a co-morbidity? Surely there’s a celebrity that can throw a fundraiser for research to shed some light on this terrible condition. Or is it a syndrome? How can you tell the two apart?

This is enough for a person to take to her bed with worry. It would be like a quarantine. It might be the only way for the rest of you to be safe from my scary eyes and aggressive face.

Until I get a special ribbon color and month to wear it, when we speak, you’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m not mad at you. I’m usually in a perfectly fine mood. I just might not look like it.

The struggle is real.

The judges have spoken. The State Fair results are…

…I am a woman ahead of her time, or at least that’s how I’m comforting myself.

I totally lost. I mean, I didn’t even place.

Old family lore suggest my Great-Grandmother Ward won so many first prize ribbons at the Cleburne County Fair that they finally gave her a lifetime achievement award so she would stop entering and let someone else have chance. Obviously, I did not get this gene.

Arkansas State Fair 2015

Arkansas State Fair 2015

Let’s begin at the beginning. A few months ago, my very funny friend Jerusalem, said, “You know what would be hysterical? If you entered some of your needlepoint in the State Fair.” I don’t think she really thought I would do it.

But I agreed. It would totally be hysterical. I’ve never done anything like that before. So why not give it a try? I mean, I have some Great-Grandmother Ward in me somewhere, right? RIGHT?!?!?!

I entered two categories: cross stitch and embroidery.

After you enter online, they send you this whole packet of information about when you can drop off and pick up your entries. These ladies are organized and do not play around. They have a system. And you do not mess with the system.

There’s also a quirky little air of mystery about the whole thing. There are judges, but you cannot know who they are. I’m sure this is to keep people from trying to bribe them or influence the outcome. I also suspect if I were around the fair scene I would know exactly who these people are. No secrets are kept that well.

Somehow the notion of a secret judging panel made me oddly competitive about the whole thing. I imagined they are old women with many blue ribbons displayed about their homes. In my mind, they wear reader eye glasses and purse their lips a lot.

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Cross Stitch entry: I find the Star Wars Mos Eisley reference hysterical. I’m guessing the little old ladies judging either didn’t get it or don’t find me nearly as amusing as I find myself.

In case you don’t get the reference:

It’s possible they just don’t think my stitch work was as good as others who entered. I’ll let you judge for yourself.

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The first place shitzu I can live with. That’s some pretty intricate detail. I don’t understand how the pumpkins beat me. I’m not gonna lie. That stung a little.

Nevertheless, the judges decisions are final and binding. I will not be taking home the cash prize of $7 that winning would have brought. Seriously, bragging rights matter a lot because $7 won’t even pay for your parking at the fair. It’s not even worth trying to bribe judges. But I have come to believe that pumpkins there totally slipped someone a five dollar bill.

My embroidery on the other hand never even made it into the display case. I got no notice of official disqualification, but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. I can’t say I’m surprised. I toned it down a bit from previous works. But I understand.

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Embroidery entry: disqualified

The whole thing was a lark. And actually a pretty fun one. I hated to lose, but I really liked doing something I’d never done before.

Now I can say that I have competed in the Arkansas State Fair. I only know two other people who can say that. We’re an elite bunch.

Of course, I’ve already started scouting out patterns for next year. I’ll get started as soon as the holidays are over. I have gifts to finish in the immediate future. But I think I want to give it one more go to see if I can impress these old biddies with my skill and humor.

Disqualified or not, I have to believe there was some laughter when the judges saw my handiwork this time around. I mean, come on. How often do women named Ethel or Ruby see stuff like that at the State Fair? So if they laughed, I still win.

So why haven’t you finished a book: an existential crisis

This week, my psychiatrist asked me if I was working on a book. I told him I’d started and discarded no less than seven books. He asked me why I’d done that. I said it because they were bullshit and no one would want to read them.

He asked this question the same way you ask a person why they decided to go to a particular place for vacation. Like it’s a knowable thing. Like it’s a questions that doesn’t demand an existential answer. Like it wouldn’t send me into a total and complete tailspin. Like it’s a normal thing to say to someone.

He suggested there might be a bigger issue at play than just not finishing books and that perhaps I should think about that. Perhaps my frustration in some other parts of my life was a result of the unfinished work on my writing. So I said I would think about it, and politely went about my business.

About 36 hours later, I had a complete come apart and cried a lot and drank a bunch of vodka. It’s possible there was a more sane way to handle that. But maybe not.

The truth is I don’t know why I haven’t finished. I can give you a lot of totally legit market analysis about why what I write isn’t that different from what other people do (and they do it much better), so there’s really no space for my stuff. I can tell you that I haven’t done anything in real life interesting enough to write about.

I can explain any number time considerations and personal issues. I don’t feel qualified to be a life coach or spiritual advisor or any of the other things we expect writers to be, particularly female writers. I haven’t overcome much other than my own disastrous personality. I’m late a lot.

But none of those is the real answer. I just… haven’t finished.

So I’m going to do the thing that I hate to do almost more than anything in the world. I’m going to join something. I know. It sounds awful to me too. But I have to do something to force myself to actually finish something. Because buckets of vodka aren’t much of a solution.

nanowrimo_logowithwordsBeginning November 1, I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I don’t know if it will technically be a novel. But I’m going to follow their stupid rules and make myself finish a damn book. Even if it’s bullshit. Even if I never let anyone read it. Even if it never goes anywhere or does anything. I’m going to finish a book before this year is over.

I’m also telling you about it here because now I have to do it. I can’t chicken out and pretend I didn’t say it or flake on this project. It’s 30 days, for crying out loud. I can do this work for 30 days. Even if it’s bad work, it will still be complete work.

I don’t think this will necessarily make me sane. But it might make me less neurotic. And that might be nice.

Cheers!