Friends: the family you choose.

Most of my original nuclear family is dead. My mother passed away in 1991 at the age of 46 from the complications of drug addiction and starvation. My father passed in 2008 due to pneumonia, heart failure, and diabetes complications. My brother was found dead in a hotel room from an apparent drug overdose in 2009.

I have one brother left. He is a cop in Arlington, married to a lovely lady who is a cop in Mansfield. They have two precious daughters. I am not part of their lives. My brother made it known to me that he really did not want to continue any sort of relationship past my father’s death. We got together to distribute our brother’s ashes in 2009 and have not spoken since.

My extended family is…distant. On my mom’s side, lots of cousins live way far off. It’s hard to get together. There has been lots of divorce, lots of fragmentation. With my mother gone, sometimes people forgot to let us know there were events. Years in youth ministry and renaissance festival have kept us from going to family reunions and connections have been lost. On my dad’s side, everyone is busy with their own kids and grandkids. I am not Christian enough or conservative enough to fit in, the mutual connection of my father is gone. Trav’s family doesn’t gather as a large group, and we feel somewhat alienated there, too (I think it’s the tattoos. And maybe the Obama/Biden sign from 2008 still in our garage). I absolutely think my brother and sister in law and their two kiddos are the cat’s meow, but somehow we just never manage to spend time together (for the record, walking the nature trails this Easter with Mason and Abby was an honest-to-goodness 2012 highlight).

So, who do I think of as family? Who do I think of when I need to laugh or cry, or borrow something?

My friends.

Dorothy is the mother I never had. She is kind and generous. She loves without judgement. She only gives advice when asked (do people realize how valuable that is, to wait to be asked for advice, rather than offering your opinion so freely?) She shares enough of her own struggles that I feel like I am privy to her own inner life.

Ellen is the mentor I adore. She is in her seventies and in chemo but her spirit is indomitable. She is a passionate theatre artist, a fiery liberal patriot, a loving (if unconventional ) mother. She has refused to sit down and accept aging as an excuse to wither.

Serena is the cool aunt. I may never have met a more independent woman who still manages to nurture and love so selflessly.

Sylvia, Sherry, Brandi, and Stacy are the sisters I wish I had. The first feeds my spirit, the second two feed my need to laugh, and the third feeds my need to talk about absolutely anything (but especially kids).

Jeff and Jono are the brothers to replace my lost two.

Dane cannot be explained. But I love him like no other.

Robby, Shannon, and Piper have become the surrogate brother, sister, and niece that I lost. I see their family growing in love and adventure and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.

Rileigh and Mandy and Daniel and Brandon are the children of my heart.

I have looked with envy at friends like Chellie and Dorothy, whose nuclear family bonds are so tight they are a true force to be reckoned with. In those families, if there is a crisis, the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents answer the call. They spend holidays together. They have slumber parties with all of the cousins.

If you have blood family that is close, be thankful. Revel in those memories, for nothing can replace them. If you don’t, create your own family. Love can be found and nurtured in any old place. Last Sunday, I think I may have met some new sisters to add to my list. I cannot wait to spend time with them.

Tell your family, whether biological or heart, that you love them. This is my love letter to my heart family. Mwah!

Family Finances…ouch.


First, I must preface today’s post: I know I do not haul water two miles in African heat. I know no one in my family has cancer. I know I have a roof (on an apparently crooked and unstable house). I know all of those things. But I am still in a pickle.

Family finances have become the very most troubling thing about my life. I guess that’s okay- some people have more dire trouble. What’s a mom to do when her kids’ shoes have holes, the police pick up her son at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning to take him to the police station to pay $500 on traffic tickets ($400 of which came from mom and dad), and she’s fending off medical bill collectors by her sheer wit and creativity?

My daughter’s own roommate has apparently blasted me for not helping Hilary make her rent. I am a bad mother.

Last week, I sold some family silver to raise grocery money. I have a few family heirlooms left but it just breaks my heart to think of parting with them. I am also a bad descendant.

I don’t get invited to friends’ birthday parties, I think because it is known we cannot afford to participate. I could not take a gift to a wedding recently. I am a bad friend.

I applied for summer jobs, but in this economy, no one wants to hire summer seasonal. There is not enough business to need summer help. So I am a bad potential employee.

And then there’s the house. My beloved house. We tried to sell it this summer, planning to use the equity to pay off a majority of our debt. It has been declared structurally unsound and pulled off the market, so there goes that plan.

So what do I do? I am literally at wit’s end here. So here is my plan:

1. Diet. I think I can manage on saltines and apples, as long as I have pinot grigio to dull the hunger pains.

2. Ride my bike everywhere, so that I can save on gas. I may have to leave for work at 3:00 a.m. but I will have some awesome leg muscles.

3. Sell a kidney. I only need one.

Okay, not really.

Trav and I have been married for twenty five years. We have always struggled. Always. Some times have been harder than others. When Hilary was ten months old, we were evicted and had our car repossessed in the same week, the very week I finished my undergrad work and got a job offer from Northside ISD in San Antonio. We dug our way out of that, but our marriage has been a long and constant battle to stay just a nose above drowning. We have both made crucial financial gaffes. He took out a credit card in my name once without telling me, I had elective surgery that I had to finance in part. We deferred our undergrad loans until the additional interest added about fifteen thousand to our balance. I went to grad school (loved it, but the financial burden of that has not been good. Only a five hundred dollar annual raise, no new job offers, but another big lump of debt). And then there’s the kids. Hilary has struggled to get through school, especially this last year, Travis Austin has had medical and legal woes, and Libby is accumulating all the usual expenses of a high school senior: portraits, college visits, wardrobe, prom.

What is a real plan? I do not know. We are under all sorts of contracts and payment plans, so there’s no relief there.

Right now, I just try to be grateful for the moment.

Right this minute, I have a healthy family that loves each other.

Right this minute, I have a house. I have air conditioned shelter.

Right this minute, my tummy is satisfied with the turkey and cheese sandwich I had for lunch.

Right this minute, I have good friends (even if I cannot afford to socialize with them).

Right this minute, my kids are okay.

That may all come crashing down. One more unexpected expense and it will. But I cannot live in fear of what may happen. I can only choose to place one foot in front of the other, sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears. But always, always, with life.

Tickets, please!


I love to travel. Okay, let me rephrase that. If I could, I would love to travel. Right now, I manage a trip to HEB on my yellow bicycle. That’s about as exciting as it gets. But in my fantasy life, the one where I am the Queen of the World (yes, that’s a real title, my daughter Libby thinks she holds it), I regularly board planes, trains, automobiles, and ships (especially ships) to see the world’s best destinations. Here are my top five list of places in the world to visit, based on nothing but sheer fantasy:


1. Middle Earth. Who wouldn’t want to go there, now that Sauron has been defeated? The grass is ridiculously green, lovely music seems to follow one everywhere, and Rivendell has the most beautiful furniture ever beheld by man (because it’s made by elves). Granted, one must watch for huge spiders and scary fire monsters, but if one travels expeditiously, with a wise and beautiful elf 9preferably Legolas) as guide, one can behold many wonders such as walking,talking trees all whilst enjoying a pint (they’re really big!)


2. Bora Bora- do I need to even explain? Look at the picture. The entire culture is built around water leisure. They even build hotel rooms right on the water! There are fish of many colors, sharks, rays, and coconuts. Where there are coconuts, I imagine there is rum. And pretty Polynesian men to bring you the rum. Apparently, when WWII ended, some American military folks lucky enough to be stationed there just didn’t come home. Of course they didn’t. I am pretty sure if I ever get there, I won’t come home either. I will float on the turquoise water and play with dolphins and sing “Bali Hai.”


3. I know I am a grown woman, but I have never been to Disney World. I want to go so badly it almost hurts. I want to ride the tea cups and find Mickey and wear ears on my head. I will stand in line to do Magic Mountain and pay whatever exorbitant fee they charge for a hamburger. I will wave at the parade and marvel at the fireworks and palace light show and listen to jazz on Main Street. I will behold the wonder of Epcot and snorkel in Shark Reef! I was never much of a Disney kid. Raising my kids, I discovered the magic of Walt Disney. I want to take my family there!


4. New Orleans, but not for Mardi Gras. I have no desire to catch cheap plastic beads or be trampled by sweaty drunks. No, what I want is to see vampires and witches! Everyone knows that this is where the vamps live. Louis and Lestat, Bill and Eric and Pam, the Mayfair family- all in the Big Easy. Now, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the Haitian voodoo, maybe it’s the gorgeous architecture. I want to walk the Garden District and smell the magnolia blossoms and eat beignets. I want to find ghosts and visit old Catholic churches and dress like a southern belle to go to the jazz clubs. I don’t want to see a single structure that predates 1920. Most of all, I want to meet the glorious people of New Orleans. I hear they are truly hospitable.


5. Okay, okay. I know that technically, I have been to London. But it almost doesn’t count. I was there to study, and spent 80 % of my waking hours in classes (which were fantastic, but that is not the point). I am an Anglophile. I love England. I love its long history. I love its queen. I do not love its food, but I do think the best hard cider I have ever had was in a little boat bar on the Thames. I got about two hours in the Tower of London, I didn’t get to go inside St. Paul’s or Westminster or Kensington Palace or Herrod’s. Or Baker Street. Worst of all, I didn’t have Travis. So I want another London trip, where we can see every bloody castle and museum, have groundling spots at the Globe, and take a day trip to see Stonehenge. I want to ride the Eye and explore Chelsea. And I want to see if I can maintain my standard British accent all day without getting caught! And most of all, I want to see the queen, even if it’s from her balcony. And she will see me in the crowd and she will realize my love for England and she will adopt me as her ward and make me her heir.

I told you in the beginning I want to be Queen of the World, but really, I’d settle for the United Kingdom!

(Don’t) Put Up Your Dukes!


“We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it” (Dwight Eisenhower)

Sometimes people tell me I am a good mom. I don’t know about that. I guess I have done okay, but I tend to think I got really lucky with my kids and they got really lucky with their dad and I just went along for the ride.

But I know one thing I absolutely laid the law on when my kids were little: fighting. It just simply wasn’t allowed (before you scoff, know that my kids have confessed to a few punches and hits when Mom wasn’t home, but they will also tell you those were exceptions, not rules).

I have heard many times, both in my years as a teacher, youth minister’s wife, and as a just plain person, that sibling fights are just an unavoidable evil, that all siblings punch and pinch and push and tease and torment. I know my brother and I did.

I had two brothers: Lance, who was two and a half years younger than me, and Chad, who was six years younger. I never really fought much with Chad. He was just too much smaller, it didn’t seem fair. Besides, he was sweet. But Lance? We fought like little heathens. Well, I say little. I remember digging my long fingernails into his forearm to draw blood when I was driving the van and he was in the passenger seat. We hit each other, pushed each other, called each other names. I even lost my temper and threw a knife across the room at him once. It embedded itself in the door where his belly had been just seconds before and hung there, vibrating with force and calling me back to my senses. I have told you before, mine was not the most peaceful of homes.

When I started my own family, I absolutely knew I did not want that dynamic. So as Hilary and Travis began to disagree, I just told them there would be no hitting. They could argue with quiet voices but they could not call names. They could not resort to violence. What I discovered was that this training meant I had to be the referee for the disagreements. I could not leave them to sort it out without supervision. Notice I said supervision, not intervention. I still let them find the solutions. Sometimes I coaxed them into the most fair or compassionate resolution, but I didn’t dictate. Kids don’t learn from an adult laying down laws.

Libby was a little tougher. If you know her, you get it. She is vivacious and strong-willed and competitive. Fortunately, her older brother and sister stayed the course.

There has been bickering in this house. Want to test that? Ask Hilary or Libby to tell you who takes the most clothes from her sister’s closet.

But my kids are friends with each other. I love having all three of them in the house because laughter is abundant in those times. They miss each other when they don’t get to see each other for a few days. And that’s way better than how my brothers and I ended up- one dead alone in a hotel room of a drug overdose and the other telling me he does not want any contact with me.

Maybe you pounded on your siblings and you managed to stay friends. Me? I am glad I stood, however imperfectly, for peace. It may be the thing I am most proud of in all my mothering. Teach your kids how to disagree in love. The world could use more of that.

Try the Belief-O-Matic!

Since Sunday is declared faith day on my blog, I was looking for a place to start, a jumping place, if you will, so I typed the word “Christianity” into a Google search. Wow, there is a lot out there on that! I bopped around on different sites and found the “Belief-O-Matic,” a questionnaire claiming to be able to advise me as to which category into which my faith fits.

At the risk of alienating a whole heck of a lot of people, I will divulge that my results proved a 100% match for Neo-Paganism. This kind of surprises me. I have tried reading Wiccan texts, and they make me feel weird. But here’s the rub- the Christian Bible is weird, too.

Have you ever really thought about some of the Biblical stories? Accounts of endless loaves and fishes, water to wine, and walking dead are meant to believed by Christians as literal truth. It baffles me that anyone might still believe that the earth was created in seven literal days. I’ll save my utter disdain for the Apostle Paul the misogynist for some other Sunday.

I believe Jesus was really great. I believe he truly lived and died, and that he had a particularly beautiful relationship with his Maker. The teachings of Jesus are, put simply, precious and dear and true. But the teachings of Buddha which I have managed to read so far also ring true and good. There is beauty and love in the Koran. The Native Americans believed in a Great Spirit, whose presence could be felt in the wind, the sun, and the rain.

A common thread in these teachings? God/ess is present in our own corporeal bodies and in the earth and its wonders.

Apparently, Neo-Pagans hold that Divinity is most powerfully evident in Creation, that we humans are interconnected and meant to assist each other through this life, that each man and woman has an individual path and calling, that a truly blessed life is one that seeks balance and moments of peaceful community with the Divine.

You know what troubles me? I think this is pretty much what Jesus said. Modern Christians have, in my view, lost sight of what Jesus really taught. By being involved so heavily in politics and policy, by feeling the need to sequester themselves in private schools and elaborate sanctuaries, by being more concerned with being right than doing right, modern American Christianity has lost me. And I don’t think I am the only one.

All my life I was taught that “The World” was full of miserable unhappy people who needed the saving gospel of Jesus. When I left the safety of the church and began to know people outside its walls, I discovered that the world is, in fact, full of joyous loving people. People who lift a hand to help their neighbor not motivated by a Christian imperative but by the knowledge that we are all in this together, no matter color or creed.

If I can find a church that digs that, maybe I will return to formal faith. Until then, I plan to have my own running discourse with the Divine. We will commune in the trees, She will let me feel her presence in the breeze, or He will remind me of his power in the thunder.


Beware the poodle!


I hate my hair. I know, I should be grateful I still have it, and I am. Nevertheless, I would like to change it. My Grandmother Puckett had really beautiful hair, red with a white streak (we’re of Scots descent- red hair, blue eyes, striking cheekbones. My cousin Garyn is the one that got all that, drat her.) Grandmother wore her hair long, down her back until she lost it to chemotherapy in her seventies. When I was in college I used to sit on the daybed in my grandmother’s bedroom and watch my Aunt Molly brush Grandmother’s hair and put it up for her. I remember she always looked more vulnerable with her hair down.

But it’s not my grandmother’s red hair I want. It’s my Libby’s.

If you’ve seen Libby’s hair, you know what I am talking about. It’s a thick and heavy mass of golden ringlets, a solid mass of perfect corkscrew curls. I like to look underneath all of it and find the wee curls and wrap them around my finger, pull them out, and let them go. They bounce like springs.

Libby loves her hair, but that was not always the case. When she was little, it took an act of God to get her to sit still for me to brush it, and she would not even consider letting me put it in a pony tail so that it would get less tangled. When she was about five, she wanted it cut into a bob. I refused, so one night on the way to “Hello, Dolly” rehearsal, she gave herself that bob with scissors in the back of the mini van. When we got to rehearsal, I opened the van door to discover piles of curls and a very unrepentant daughter. She got her hair bobbed the following day at a salon.

I have been threatening to cut my hair into a pixie. My girls veto this. What I really want to do, though, is get a perm. I want a salon perm from a pro who can give me Libby’s perfect corkscrews. I can just see it: I wash my hair, mousse it, dry it a touch with a diffuser, add some cute feathers like my friend Mel, and walk my sassy self all over town. I work those curls in the school hallway. I work those curls in my fairy costume. I work those curls in private for Trav.

The last perm I got was in 1990. I splurged for a salon perm, though still in college, but I didn’t leave enough time in the appointment to let it process. Trav and I had an Amway meeting with Dr. Hinds (some of you will get that reference) and no way could I be late. Much to the stylist’s dismay, I had to have him pull out the rods about halfway through. The stylist was nearly in tears and made me promise not to reveal his identity (no lie). I looked awful. The pictures of me from this time are a mess. I have thrown all photos away except for the ones with Hilary.

But I have faith in modern technology. If we can build a space station, if we can carry around digital devices that connect us to each other instantly, if we can have hybrid cars, by the goddess, I can have curls.

I found just the right look on Google images last night. It’s perfect. It’s the haircut that would absolutely change my life. Isn’t it funny how we ladies get that in our heads? The right hair, dress, or shoes will grant immediate contentment. But I find that the buzz from the new ‘do or outfit lasts just one evening. Then I still crave true intimacy and the adoration of someone who could not care less what my hair looks like. That’s when I look at my husband and know that he’s seen me through every imaginable hairstyle, the good, the bad, and the ugly (for the record, he likes it super short). He will lovingly watch as it turns gray. He will love me if I am ever bald. He will love me no matter what.

And that’s the best beauty tip I have, to see myself through his eyes and know that nothing else matters.

Does anyone have the name of a great hair stylist who specializes in perms?

Mawage…is what bwings us togevah…today!


Am I the only one who secretly wishes at each and every wedding I attend that the clergyman would open with that immortal line? If “The Princess Bride” had come out before our wedding, I would have demanded it. But the movie did not come out until September of 1987, the year we married. My god, I have been married longer than Westley and Buttercup.

Sometimes people want to know how Trav and I have managed to stay married all this time. Not only stay married, but stay happily so. I wish I had a clever answer, something pithy worthy of  a fortune cookie or bumper sticker. I think part of it is because we genuinely like each other. When we first met, it was like lightning struck. You could practically see the blue electricity connecting us across my Aunt Molly’s kitchen. We were pretty sure we should get married within a week of knowing each other. I got scared, though (well I was an eighteen year old college freshman after all) so we broke up and I dated a bit while we were “just friends.” Ha! Building a solid friendship was the foundation for all that would come after.

We did do the whole “Divorce is not an option” promise. That worked until divorce finally had to be put on the table as an option in 2001. Then we really had to dig deep to remember that we are better together than we are apart. But boy, did we have to learn how to be better apart first.

My parents split and friends, it was nasty. It was ugly for years. I never wanted that. Trav’s have stayed together, but there were some pretty bitter battles in that house as well. Trav and I were determined to be as idyllic as possible. Sometimes that meant that problems would be ignored in favor of peace, which is its own insidious destructive force (though Trav tells me I threw a dryer at his head while packing to leave in our first year, I do not remember this at all).

We both love our kids and that is some serious glue right there. We make each other laugh, though he is better at it than I am. He has taught me to love sci-fi and be on time. I have taught him to put away his dirty laundry (though turning  the dirty socks right side out before throwing them in the hamper all balled up is, alas, still a hurdle unconquered) and appreciate home architecture styles (he knows my favorite is Craftsman). We both love theatre (he more than me). We have been though dirty diapers, diets, bankruptcy, spelling bees, teacher conferences, lost jobs, bailing kids out of the slammer, and a pretty significant spinal surgery.

Do we get mad at each other? Absolutely. We either talk about it if it’s important or let it go if it’s not.

Would I want to live without him in my life? No. And no, and no and no. I could. But I choose not to. And I intend to make that choice every day as long as I have breath. Marriage to Travis is, for me, “that dweam wifin a dweam.”



I have been privileged to attend the weddings of two women I love dearly this week. Both weddings were in churches, and I found myself bowing my head to pray, reciting the Lord’s prayer, and seriously wondering where in the world I stand (or maybe kneel) when it comes to faith.

My parents’ families are deeply devout. My Christian roots go back about as far as is possible. When I was a child, make-believe play at my grandmother’s house often consisted of aluminum pie tins filled with saltines and cups of grape juice so that we could play church in the back yard, surrounded by the ripe smell of the grapes on her vines (to her credit, I was allowed to preach and pass the communion just like my brothers). I spent years of summers happily climbing the red dusty hills of Camp Pettijohn Springs, and went to a church university.

Travis spent seven years in youth ministry. I have such conflicted feelings about that. We met some beautiful people in those years, but I also patched up an emotionally battered husband more times that can be understood except by anyone who has been married to a minister. We finally left ministry in 1999, and though it was under duress, it really was a blessing.

I have spent the last thirteen years redefining my faith. I still do not have much wisdom, but what I do believe is this:

God is real.

God is not defined only as Father, but equally as Mother.

God is in the wind, the rain, the sun, and the moon.

God is neither American nor Republican.

God can be found in church, but not exclusively.

God has shown me love.

I am honestly not sure what the next step in my faith journey is. I am grateful that God, as I understand Her, is not bound by time. I am also grateful that I no longer live in fear of His wrath (see how I am being gender equal !?!) My aunts Jan and Diana assured me way back in 2004 that God would stick with me as long as it might take for me to reach peace. Thank God for that.

May She bless you in all your walks.

Getting older and trying to stay pretty…dang!

When I was about twelve I saw an Oil Of Olay commercial in which a devastatingly beautiful woman, probably in her thirties said,” I don’t intend to grow old gracefully, I intend to fight it every step of the way.” That, my friends, is my mantra. My mother in law has been trying to tell me I am getting older and need to accept my adult limitations since I became a mother in my twenties. I say phooey to that! So I still wear a two piece swimsuit (not a string bikini, I was never that much of an exhibitionist, even at sixteen), I love rock music (hate rap- always did), and I love the sun. There lies the rub. I love to bake. I love to swim, bike, and float. I love to read outside. My forehead looks like some crazy speckled brown chicken egg with creases across it. That’s why I wear bangs. Sometimes I consider growing out my bangs, then I pull my hair back and take a good look at what the sun has done to my forehead and I know I am doomed to banged hairstyles until I just do not care anymore.

Last fall I had my hair braided at the renaissance festival. The large frizzy haired earth mother asked me if I wanted my bangs braided in or left down. “Down,” I tell her,” I am not ready to show the world my awful speckled wrinkled forehead!” She laughed and told me I would eventually get over it and not care.

I am pretty sure she is wrong.

I know that true beauty comes from the spirit within, and that “pretty is as pretty does.” I try really hard to be kind and positive (really, I cannot imagine any more damaging ager that negativity). However, I also think I would like to be one of those ladies who can rock heels and an age appropriate pencil skirt, whose skin is smooth and moisturized, and whose aura oozes confidence and magnetism.

I’ll let you know when I get there.


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