September 11, 2021

Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago today, I was working onboard a ship docked in Germany. I spent the day with a friend visiting from the States — we had been out buying bunches of flowers for a colleague’s birthday that afternoon. We arrived back onboard with arms full of roses, innocently oblivious to what was happening an ocean away.

We didn’t have reliable internet onboard at the time, and I’m still not sure how the news traveled to the ship, but I do remember feeling like we were the last people onboard to find out that planes were crashing into buildings in America. As soon as we realized the severity, we dashed to my cabin, calculating time zones to call home.

New York City and Washington DC were each three hours from my family’s house by car. If you were to draw an isosceles triangle between the towers, the Pentagon and where the plane went down in Shanksville, my childhood hometown in Pennsylvania was pretty much smack in the middle. It felt like forever until I finally got through to my mother, who got to work that morning, only to be sent home early. The next day, she went out to purchase her first-ever cell phone — she never wanted to be unreachable again.

The next morning, I awoke in my cocoon of a bunk bed onboard, a map of Europe pinned next to my head, with the sobering realization that the world I lived in had changed forever. Later that day, I put my visiting friend on a train bound for another part of Europe — as we clutched each other goodbye in this larger than life station, whispering for fear of our accents being overheard, we both eerily felt like we were living out some twisted scene from World War II.

Friends that I knew in and around NYC were shaken but safe, while story after story slowly emerged of both heartbreak and heroism.

The ship sailed to Gibraltar weeks later, picking up a satellite system which would eventually provide the crew with 24/7 Internet access. As soon as it was installed, I was at my computer each morning before my daily run to check the news headlines. I didn’t want to be caught off guard again by not knowing the news. (I’m sure 9/11 is the reason I always scan the headlines of a number of news networks on my phone before I even check my email when I wake up in the mornings.)

We later sailed to Sierra Leone, West Africa, and as a writer there, I felt like I was drowning in stories of death and destruction from the moment we arrived. I have however, always had a wonderfully horrific way of detaching myself from a scene in order to get a story. I can interview people who have had their arms chopped off by rebel soldiers, or who are missing half their face from a medical issue, and show zero emotion while asking questions and writing notes. It is both a gift and a curse. It is what made me a good reporter in many ways for years. It has also portrayed me as a somewhat callous and non-compassionate person on the outside.

I do still have feelings on the inside, however, and sometimes they come crashing out clumsily when nobody is watching — hours after an interview, or perhaps after five interviews and only five minutes, when I’m all alone with my notes and I replay the stories I’ve heard, in my head.

Words carry a tremendous amount of weight. I know, because I can I feel the heaviness on my keyboard in the words as I type, depending on the subject matter. Even as a fast writer, I have always carefully considered how — and when and even why — to tell a story. I’m telling you this one because words matter — whether they are spoken, written as a story, or made in a comment on a social media post.

I can look at 1,000 photos of the destruction of what happened on September 11th, but at the end of the day, the words spoken between Todd Beamer on United Flight #93 and the 911 dispatcher are what make me crumble. Hours after the planes crashed, we crowded into a tiny room onboard the ship to listen to the Voice of America. The words spoken over a radio are what made that day very real to a scared 26-year-old on the other side of the world.

Because I was overseas, I didn’t necessarily experience the unwavering patriotism and the united feeling that most Americans felt immediately in the days and weeks following 9/11. What I did experience was the compassion and unity of a crew from 40 plus countries coming together to pray for a nation — and the world — to pray for peace, to pray for comfort, to speak words of life over those who survived. We didn’t have all of the information coming at us at rapid speed like we do today, firing at us from all directions, but what we did have was the knowledge that people had died, and a nation was hurting.

That’s all we needed to know in that moment. We (even people like me) had compassion on people we did not even know. We showed kindness and love to each other, and to complete strangers. We spoke words of encouragement and support.

So much in the world was uncertain and so much more has changed since that day — we can’t imagine life without cell phones and social media, and yet there were no cell phone photos of 9/11 as it happened — no live tweets, no Instagram posts, no Facebook status updates for people to mark themselves as ‘safe’.

Twenty years later, the world continues to remain uncertain.

Twenty years later, people all over the world are still hurting — not only from the scars of 9/11, but from a myriad of other tragedies — people in your own neighborhood, people across the US, people in countries most of us have never heard of with names we can’t pronounce.

Twenty years later, our words still matter — to ourselves, to our friends, to complete strangers. That too, is something to never forget.

November 7, 2018

Typing Stories

I decided not to do National Novel Writing Month this year. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. I have three posters advertising the month-long literary pursuit hanging in my house — one for each year I 'won' NaNoWriMo. For the past three years, I proved (mainly to myself) that I can crank out 50,000 words in 30 days with a loose story in between, and still survive.

This year, though, I didn’t really feel like writing an entire novel in November. Perhaps subliminally, I didn't want to be the writer who only did NaNoWriMo and then never bothered to get a book published.   

I have also just been uncannily grumpy for a long time. I suspected that piling 50,000 words onto my schedule (and not getting paid for it) would add to my overall bad mood.

I’ve always had a cranky side to me, but motherhood has brought it out in full force. 

I blame the lack of sleep and the numerous stressful events in my life, including, but not limited to, my brother's death, moving to a new city (and moving two more times within that city), having a baby, the Sailor’s promotion to Captain and haphazard schedule, a twin miscarriage and the hospitalization of my mom. (Pro tip: when a crisis happens to someone you know, just show up.)

I tried to blame my mood on everyone and everything, but in the end, the Sailor told me I needed to find my purpose. I found myself tearing up at his words, but he was right. He often is.

I have been foundering for a long time, and even though deep down I knew I was sinking, he offered me a life ring. 

A year ago, I purged a ton of Pyrex and started selling stuff I no longer wanted around the house. In doing so, I realized not only how much junk I’ve accumulated over my life, but how many jobs I’ve had and how many identities I’ve carried around with me.

I have been, among many other things, a runner, traveler, writer, thrifter, maker, crafter, daughter, caretaker, teacher, canoe instructor, cook, server, journalist, volunteer, friend, soccer player, photographer, wife.

And then I added mom to that list, and everything else seemed to dissolve away, because, well — kids are intense. Of course I know that children are the greatest gift. But sometimes our identity gets so wrapped up in mommyhood that we forget who we were before this child came into our life. It almost feels like someone stole my identity and left me with a sleep-deprived, angry, grumpy one in its place. 

Motherhood does that to a person.

The Sailor told me to pray about it. And while I have always had a deep faith, over the years I have been somewhat blasé about it. For fear of offending people, I have shied away from even admitting that I am a praying person because of the reputation sometimes cast upon believers these days.

Living in the South will do that to a person.

So I silently prayed for my purpose. I knew the answer before I saw the literal sign. I have a framed picture of a typewriter on my wall, near my desk that reads, ‘Your story matters... Share it with the world.’


Your story matters.

There's a lot of truth in those three words. 

Within every ‘identity’ I’ve carried, I have always been a storyteller. Often the story is mine, although for years I wrote other people’s stories — tales of incredible people in far away places you’d have trouble finding on a traditional map.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped telling stories. Mine. Yours. God’s. I think it started when my mentor died. Not many people championed my writing like he did and when he died, a little of my soul seemed to go with him.

Writing is one of the few things that has stayed consistent in my life when everything else has changed. I have lived in numerous places and countries, taken on various jobs and roles, but I have always had my journals, my stories. And for nearly 20 years, I always had JH to tell me I was on the right track — whether I needed to pursue the story or scrap it.

Then, he was gone. And I felt like nobody reminded me to keep writing — to keep chasing stories. For over a year, I neglected this blog, not really knowing what to share. I wondered if people even read personal blogs anymore. Staying silent is not
exactly a good way to honor the legacy of the man who taught me so much about writing, however. 

Actual writer's block.

Over these past few weeks, I tried to think back on the times when I felt the most alive, when life seemed to have the most meaning. Immediately, I saw myself in far away places. I’ve traveled a lot and it’s natural that I have amazing memories from the many locations I’ve lived. I’ve always assumed that a portion of my crankiness lately is because I live in the States now, and even though we do still travel a lot, I find myself pulling clothes out of a closet more often than a suitcase these days.

(I do prefer suitcases.)

For this walk down memory lane though, the location didn't matter so much as what I was actually doing in each of them.  

I remember a hostel on the hill in Budapest. I had an amazing view of the city from my window, but what I remember even more is how my fingers flew over my keyboard, racing to make a deadline.

I remember staying up late in my shared office in Mercy Ships, somewhere off the coast of West Africa, so I’d have a moment of quiet clarity to finalize a story.

I remember stumbling into a cafe, stunned, scribbling notes in a rain-soaked journal after a moving visit to Auschwitz.

I remember drinking super strong coffee from a tiny ceramic cup, listening to the sounds of rain, while writing in a mission building in Transcarpathia, Ukraine.

I remember wandering to my favorite cafe in the Canary Islands, tucking myself into a corner with
a café con leche, while I wrote in my journal with a fountain pen.

I remember cradling my 3-month-old in a sling in this city where I now live, while I wrote my own eulogy to my former boss through a tear-filled haze.

I remember typing out random scenes in NaNoWriMo while the Peanut slept next to me, hoping he wouldn’t kick the keyboard and delete 10,000 words.

I remember all of these things because I felt alive. 

Oddly, many of the things I experienced and later wrote about were not all rosy and cosy. They were messy, distressing, uncomfortable, annoying. Kind of like my life on certain days. Yet writing about them made me feel alive.

It's been a rough few years. This past year especially has been a doozy, and I have felt less than alive, most days. Lately though, something seems to be changing. Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s the literal sign on my wall. Maybe it’s just me unearthing what was always there. 

I remember now, that I have a story to tell. 

MY story matters.

My STORY matters.

My story MATTERS.

I may not have actually published a book by the age I wanted. But I have lived more in my years than many people ever will and I have the stories to prove it.   

This month, I won't get any bragging rights to 'winning' NaNoWriMo, but I am still writing a story. My story. I hope you'll stick around to read it.

October 31, 2017

Pyrex Purging and Motherhood Musings

I broke a Pyrex dish about a month ago. It was only my second Pyrex casualty ever, but it was one of my favorite patterns and dishes. In that moment, as I stared at the shards of the Butterprint refrigerator dish scattered across my kitchen floor, I decided to sell off most of my collection.

In fact, I've gotten rid of lots of stuff lately.
I have never been a hoarder, but after moving (again) this summer, the thought of packing up everything about did me in. There was absolutely no reason to keep my Girl Scout sash from the early 1980s. (You'd be amazed at what people bid on eBay for stuff like that. Clean out your closets and storage areas!) And so, most of the Pyrex went off to auction, too. 

I'm keeping these though!

I went a little crazy on the Pyrex collecting over the years, mainly because I traveled so much and never really had my own kitchen until later in life. While sorting photos from eons ago, I realized I took a LOT of pictures of my Pyrex.
It reminded me to pick up my camera and to actually take pictures with something other than my phone. It also reminded me that it's been forever since I posted anything on here. I started this blog five years ago — back when I seemed to have more hours in the day to take photos of stationary things like Pyrex, and to make crafty stuff to later blog about. 

These days of mine now are filled to the brim with cooking, cleaning, train track construction and Lego building with the Peanut, puzzles and books, mud painting and coloring, piles of laundry and dishes, and lots of refusals to nap. He is exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. 

While I can still remember my life pre-Peanut (oh sleep... I still miss you...) it's hard to fathom that this blog is older than he is. I feel like so much of my life has changed, not only since I started this blog, but since having the Peanut. I am now introduced as my child's mother. (People never seem to remember the mother's name at child-friendly events.) I just ripped apart the last thing I crocheted because I hated it, leaving me to wonder if I'm ever going to use my stash of yarn again. I serve boxed mac 'n cheese for lunch more times than I care to admit. I live for nap time, on the rare occasion it happens. I find myself constantly repeating things like 'put your pants back on'.

I look back over parts of this blog and some days I'm not sure what ever happened to the old me. Well, actually the younger me. 

I got a glimpse of her earlier in the week though, when I met someone moving overseas. Her son is the same age as mine, and she and her husband will be moving to a country near and dear to me in just a few months. She wanted to know about any helpful tips and tricks for adjusting to an international life. She was of course apprehensive, but also excited. I never asked her age, but I'm guessing it was a lot younger than mine, and I realized with a bit of a shock that I've now become that older person who doles out advice to people half my age. 

I saw part of my former self in her though, and it made me smile. I too was nervous before I moved overseas for the first time, but I also remember the excitement the anticipation of adventure.  

It's something I want to continue to instill in the Peanut, even when I feel old(er) and more tired than I ever have in my life. I hauled him to Scotland this summer because we had travel vouchers to use and because I wanted him to experience this incredible place where I've had countless laughs and adventures for over two decades. I hadn't been back for years, and I missed it fiercely.

Besides the phenomenal amount of rain and mud, the acquisition of a stomach bug, and general fatigue that comes from traveling and camping with a newly minted three-year-old, the trip was pretty amazing. In all of the summers I've spent on the shores of Loch Lomond, this was certainly the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding. I got to show my little guy one of my favorite places on the planet and he reminded me that sometimes you just need to throw a rock into a loch to feel better. 

He still talks about camping and canoeing in Scotland and months later, he's completely enamored with the Thunderbird rockets that his 'Aunty and Uncle' from England sent to him after our trip. (After at least two dozen flights to several countries and continents with a child, I finally decided to write some travel tips here.)

When he wakes up an hour after falling asleep because he's overly tired from not napping earlier, I have to remember that these days are fleeting, even when I too am struggling to keep my eyes open. I have to remember that he already views life as an adventure. It's exciting for him to help make pancakes or waffles, to pour the milk, to help me put away the groceries, to wrap yarn around a tree, or to build a rocket house with sticks and leaves. 

He's not going to care if we mix those pancakes in a vintage Pyrex bowl. He's only going to care that I let him sit on the counter and crack the eggs. And those are the images that I will probably never get on camera, but they'll be imprinted on my heart forever.  

We don't always have to travel far to see what an adventure life can truly be. And we don't always need a photo to show everyone where we've been. There are days when I miss my old life, but I still wouldn't trade it for the world, because I've already seen it. And now I'm seeing it through the eyes of my son.  

I just hope he sleeps long enough for me to actually publish this post. 

PS: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, starts in a mere matter of minutes! EEK! This is my third year participating and hopefully my third win. The story of why I started this insane tradition can be found here.

PPS: The holidays will be here before we all know it. If you're visiting friends or family, or hosting anyone, brush up on how to be a charming hostess and gracious guest here.

May 14, 2017

Another Hallmark Holiday

I'm not opposed to Mother's Day, but I certainly am not a fan of the hype we produce as a society for the day. I believe it's one of those days that kind of just keeps Hallmark cards in business. Let's face it, I'm pretty sure the Peanut did not buy me a thing, and the Sailor left only a few days ago. I'll be lucky to get a meltdown-free day from the former, and a crackly phone call off the coast of Africa from the latter. 

Nevertheless, moms should certainly be celebrated! Read my guest post over at my favorite hammocking site: Color Cloud Hammocks. It's too late to order a hammock for Mother's Day itself, but really, is it ever too late to actually hammock? Get yourself one today. These things are awesome. 

Throwback to a camping trip when I didn't have to share my hammock with the Peanut.

I'm also still blogging over at the Chattanooga City Moms Blog. My latest piece is all about how I'm an older mom, and the difference it makes. (Hint: I'm a lot more tired than I used to be!)

And, since I'm feeling a little nostalgic now as a mom myself, here's one my favorite past posts about Mother's Day.  

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make some paper flowers for my own mom, since I left it a little too late to grab real ones at the store. 

April 21, 2017

Let's Talk About Breastfeeding, Baby

Full confession time: I'm a mommy. I still shower daily. I feed my kid goldfish (the crackers! Not the real fish). And I do lots of other things I swore I'd never do as a mom. I'm eating my words, one goldfish at a time.

AND I breastfeed my toddler.

While I thought breastfeeding would be the most natural thing on the planet (like giving birth see how my 'plan' went sideways here), there was NO WAY I was going to nurse past one year. I didn’t really know anyone who nursed their babes past 12 months... if I did, they were very secretive about it. When I tried to recollect friends who had babies before me, I mostly remembered bottles. 

When I think about it, there are a lot of things I didn't know before I had a baby. And there's a lot I wish I had known about breastfeeding, specifically. So, I decided it's time to be honest and share my story with you, plus a few things I wish I had known beforehand.

1. It might not be as 'natural' as you pictured.

I remember that first awkward nursing session with my son. I had these grand visions of some lovely bonding moment: there would be tears in my eyes from joy, my baby would be suckling like a pro, fairies would dance in the air, sprinkling pixie dust. I jest on the latter, but I did imagine a magical moment.

In reality, there was nothing magical about it. I was wheeled into a room full of other women some of whom seemed to be laboring behind curtains. I had just been sliced open and stitched back together, and this was the first time I was actually allowed to hold my child. 

He was screeching like a banshee a hungry one at that.

The Sailor awkwardly tried to stand clear of the hustle, while a nurse barked at me to hold my breast like a hamburger so my baby could get a mouthful. (At this point, I hadn't eaten anything for over eight hours. I secretly salivated over the imaginary floppy burger I found in my hand.)

The Peanut squealed and writhed and struggled to latch and suddenly my illusion of 'natural breastfeeding' seemed to vanish into thin air

I was a complete hot mess (seriously, blazing hot one minute, freezing the next. Hormones, you also get the blame.) 

The nurses then stressed me out for the next few days, telling me that my baby needed to nurse more than five minutes at a time ('snacking' is fine, by the way). I started to panic when the nurses harped on about his weight loss (a certain amount of weight loss is normal, particularly if mama has had IV fluids beforehand). 

Finally, they made me feel like my baby needed formula. (I was pretty adamant about breastfeeding only, but sometimes you DO need some help. Fed is best. And if I needed to make a decision to supplement or if I wasn't able to breastfeed at all, I'd most likely choose an organic brand like the Honest Company's non-GMO formula.)

2. I wish I had known that breastfeeding a baby wouldn't always take F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

Those first few weeks, I felt like I only got up from the chair to go to the bathroom (and even then, I often had the Peanut with me in one hand). Sure, I caught up on books and television and news of the world, but I wondered how I would ever make it to my initial goal of one year, with a child who could take up to 45 minutes to chow down, only to want a snack soon after.
I wish someone had told me that eventually, babies and breasts get more efficient with the process, and that I wouldn't be pinned to a chair forever.  

A milk drunk Peanut passed out in Singapore.

Eventually, I did figure that out, and as the Peanut and I got into a rhythm, I learned to take it one day at a time. As a stay-at-home mom, I rarely stayed home. I made sure to get out of the house often: shopping, walking, sitting in the park, or meeting a friend for coffee.

I found it easy to simply pack a small cover or scarf, or to ensure I was wearing a nursing tank top under a shirt so that I could discreetly lift the outer shirt up, and the shirt under it down (a trick a friend told me about) and not expose much at all. I’m all for public nursing, but personally, I’m pretty discreet about it. You see far more of my body while I'm at the pool than you will ever see of me nursing my kid. 

When I took the Peanut to South Africa, Singapore and across America, I never worried about carting around enough food. I carried the food right inside my body. Long nursing sessions or not, breastfeeding can be very convenient. 

3. I wish someone had told me that schedules stink and that feeding on demand is totally fine.  

Actually, someone did tell me this early on in my mommy game. One of the night nurses, seeing my exasperation at the Peanut's haphazard feeding schedule (initially, he liked to snack often for only a few minutes at a time) told me to forget the clock and just feed him when he was hungry, even if it was more often than the prescribed 'every three hours'. I remember feeling my whole body relax when she told me that.

I just wish someone had reminded me daily for those first few weeks, when I felt like gouging my eyeballs out with the same pen I used to keep track of the Peanut's eating habits.  
4. Finally, I wish I had known earlier that I wasn't alone in nursing a toddler.

The Peanut will be three years old in just a few short months and yes, he’s still nursing. I don’t make a big deal out of it, and honestly, sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it, depending on who I'm talking to. There still seems to be a stigma attached to it that needs to be eliminated, which is why I wanted to share my story. While breastfeeding advocates shout that breast is best for baby, people often give the side eye when they hear your walking talking toddler still has ‘milkies’. And the Internet trolls! Don't even get me started. 

The reasons for me still nursing him are vast and varied. Believe me, I certainly didn’t expect to go quite this long. Then again, I didn't even expect to have a baby, so there's that.

Our lives are far from conventional and we are often in a state of flux. The Sailor is gone for months and then he returns home for months. In the Peanut’s short life, he’s already lived in a several different places, traveled to three continents and slept in numerous countries, states and beds

But one thing has been consistent throughout: milkies from mommy. Does he drink milk from a cup? Absolutely. Does he eat food like a champ. Um, yes. Ever since he took his first bite of 'real' food, he has technically been in the process of slowly weaning himself.  

So, it may seem like I'm bragging to you about nursing my not-so-little guy when I meet you at the library, but in reality, I just saw your own toddler stick his hand down your shirt, while you quickly looked around to see if anyone noticed. I know the official (and unofficial) baby sign language for 'more milk', and I want you to feel like you're not the only one.

I'm the one who will give you details for La Leche League, because those ladies saved my sanity on more than one occasion, and I overheard you say you're afraid to nurse a toddler. 

And I'm the one telling you all about various Facebook groups you should join, because sometimes, late at night during a nursing session, I too needed to know that whatever I was doing was normal, and Google and other websites were making me feel like a freak instead.

The Peanut doesn't nurse much now, and I know that one of these days it will be the last time, perhaps without any warning. While I'm kind of looking forward to that day (because let's face it, mama could use some new bras...) I also know it will be bittersweet.   

I hope I always remember how much the Peanut sometimes giggles when he asks for 'milkies'. Or when he reaches out and pats me on the chest, then gives me a giant hug. I especially hope I will always remember what a miracle it's been to offer him such nutrition from my own body.   

My little guy has taken me on a journey I never imagined I'd be on, and while it hasn't always gone the way I expected, there have certainly been some of those 'magical' momentseven if it took us a while to get there.