Virginia and the Airbnb

 Just an excerpt from a short story I've been working on...

Photo by britt gaiser on Unsplash
The sound of demolition woke Virginia up from her coveted sleep. She knew what it was instantly because it was the same noise that had disrupted her sleep the day before that. And the day before that, for that matter.  The culprits were the power couple who recently bought the house next door. The old Moon house was a beautiful relic of a bygone era that had fallen into disrepair since Virginia’s neighbor, Claude had passed on and his wife, her longtime friend, Gertie had been moved to assisted living by their kids. The house had been initially purchased, then foreclosed on and finally auctioned off to prevent the neighborhood from going too much further downhill.  

That’s where the couple currently bulldozing Virginia’s sound sleep came into the picture. 

Yanda and Mitchell bought the Moon House at auction. That’s right. Yanda. Not Manda. Yanda. The couple bought the declining old home, feigning love of the character and raving about its “good bones”, only to begin knocking things down with reckless abandon to create clean lines and to add shiplap, no doubt. Lucy at the bank had told Virginia that Yanda was documenting the carnage on her Instagram page and YouTube channel.  What those were, Virginia was only vaguely aware. She was certainly not going to watch it.  

Why hadn’t they just been honest, they wanted a completely different house. They did not want to preserve the neighborhood. 

The couple had come over shortly after the purchase to introduce themselves. They caught Virginia completely off guard, bearing gifts of seed packets and a necklace with leaves crammed into the pendant. 

It was called a terrarium necklace. Yanda made terrarium necklaces. She did this in the free time she had when she wasn't extracting character out of perfectly lovely homes.

Teeny tiny plants in teeny tiny jars, hung around necks. It appalled her almost as much as when the funeral director asked her if she would like to put some of her beloved husband, Charles’s ashes in a small vial and wear it around her neck. Tiny plants. Dead husband’s ashes. Neither appealed to her as jewelry. 

Yanda and Mitchell had explained they were remodeling the Moon House to serve as a destination vacation for families. They were going to rent it out to visitors and plant gardens so the families could have a real vacation experience in nature and experience self-sustainability. It was called agritourism or something.  Funny, when Virginia was growing up on her family farm, such activities were called, ‘not dying’ and now people pay to experience it apparently.

“Why am I not dead yet?” This was a question Virginia often asked herself when confronted with the ridiculousness of anything new. 

The couple were going to live in a 400 square foot tiny home in the back of the property. The hilarity of them buying a 3000 square foot home only to live in 400 square feet in what could only be described as a shed. “Maybe the shed would fit inside one of Yanda’s terrarium necklaces,” Virginia thought. 

Virginia knew right away that so much about her life was offensive to the young couple. They came over, tried to engage her in didn’t take long for the long, judgemental pauses to happen after almost everything Virginia said.  She wasn’t sure what it was she had first said that made Yanda draw in a dramatic gulp of air, but rather than tempering her thoughts, Virginia made a game out of trying to shock Yanda.  She’d made a jar in her kitchen and would award herself one dollar for every time she shocked the young couple. She was making a small fortune for herself with that jar. 

Mitchell and Yanda were crunchy and she had no interest in recycling or saving the planet or being self-sustaining in any way. They were Vegans. Vegans were not to be trusted. 

Recently Virginia had grabbed a Sharpie and written the word “meat” on the side of her paper bags from the grocery store before slow-walking them into her house, label side facing the Moon house.  Once she got into the house, she awarded herself $5 to the ‘shock Yanda’ jar. 

With the demolition noises making going back to sleep impossible, Virginia reluctantly got out of bed and got dressed. She would make the walk over to their house again today to see why they had to start working so early. This was becoming a daily occurrence? Did they not understand how precious sleep was to an aging woman? 

Virginia took 20 minutes to apply her makeup and fix her hair. She changed out of her house coat and into a smart looking pair of summer pants and button up floral shirt. She grabbed a big floppy hat to keep the sun off of her scalp. She was leaving her room, when the black bag that held her mother’s beloved Swears and Wells fur coat caught her eye. On an evil whim, she unzipped the bag, grabbed the politically incorrect garment made of muskrats and marched defiantly out to speak with her neighbors.

Yanda’ eyes bugged out of her head the moment she caught sight of Virginia making a beeline for their backyard in her fur coat. Maybe it was because it was 87 degrees outside. Or maybe because it was made of real animals. Regardless = creating a reaction was exactly what Virginia was going for. Crazy old lady or heartless old biddy - whatever Yanda thought exactly was fine, it established the fact that they were not going to be friends. 

Capitalizing on Enthusiasm

I am constantly thinking of ways to build skills in my kids. We're always told to find our children's cash and use that as a motivator. For my middle schooler, the cash is often and quite literally, cash (thanks YouTube and TikTok). No shocker there. For most of us cash is the ultimate. There are so many things to buy and a never ending list of wants make it the motivator of all motivators.  

For my son who is on the spectrum, cash takes on different forms. When he was first diagnosed with autism, they ran a test to tell me possible barriers to treatment. This test has a name. I do not remember what it is, but there are essentially around sixteen barriers to therapy. A barrier would be something that hinders therapy. For example, a sensory sensitive child could have environmental barriers such as bright lights or loud noises. Anything that might prevent successful therapy. All autistic children have a social/communication barrier, since that's essentially what autism is. In our case, the main barrier was "weakened motivators."  When I first saw the feedback, I was like "What is a weakened motivator?" It was  wisely described to me using cake as an example, and because of this, I've literally never forgotten what it means...

An example of a weakened motivator is if someone offered you cake, you would (obviously) want the cake, right? RIGHT!? 

But now suppose the person offering you the cake made it conditional. And let's say the condition was you had to run five miles before you could have it.  Would you still want the cake?  

If you said, "no," then you just experienced a weakened motivator. If you said, "yes," then...we can't be friends, but I might eat your cake while you are out for that run. 

So if we put this in terms of autism, and to quote a developmental pediatrician we once met with, "your ability to build skills in your child is contingent on always understanding what deeply motivates him...and those motivations constantly change." 

And like all people who are given the gift of wisdom handed to them on a silver platter, I still managed to only learn this the hard doing it wrong over and over again. I struggled for years as plastic treasure box toys and social incentives all fell short time and time again. Threats of punishment were consistent disasters and late night worrying sessions became the norm. I didn't yet understand how to get into my son's head and capitalize on his enthusiasm

I WILL cut Andy and I some slack by saying that some of this comes with development of your child and their understanding of incentives, but I still managed to have plenty of "how did we get here," moments when things didn't go according to plan. It can drive you mad. 

And just to let you in on what you probably already know, Autism moms be crazy. No seriously, it's fine, we are. We wear our nuttiness like the badge of honor that it is and I'm fine with it. 

But let me tell you why so you understand. 

On the day that our kids were diagnosed, right after dropping the A-word on us, someone said directly or indicated in a round about way, one terrifying piece of information, and that was that  - time was of the essence. Therapy is always beneficial, but when it comes to therapies for kids newly diagnosed with autism, the earlier the better is drilled into us. Here you are - digesting a diagnosis you don't understand, you are wondering how you will afford to help your child and have to do it all fast....and that is when your heart starts to race... and in that moment, just like in Poe's, Tell Tale Heart, the sound of the ticking clock begins...and it slowly drives us into insanity (except it's nothing like that story because that was actually a heart beating...but you get the picture - minus the murder). We bring that stress into our strategy meetings, to the playground, on our vacations and into our IEP meetings. It may look like we are a bunch of hostile, abrasive and emotional crazies, but the root of what we worried. We can all relate to worry. 

So with that in mind, we become out of the box thinking experts on our children in record time. And that, my friends, four hundred paragraphs into this blog post, is why I'm writing this. I have developed a keen sense of how to capitalize on my son's interests to get what I want from him...whether it is behavioral or communicative. It must be interesting to him or he won't bother. 

I must find his enthusiasm and capitalize on it. 

For example, if I can code language with numbers, his absolute love, then language becomes interesting to him and he's more inclined to use it. So I don't ask him to find words for his day, instead, I ask him to give it a ranking. From 1 to 10, from 1 to 1,000, he has no problem identifying what number his day we start here. Then I can ask him why he assigned his day a specific number and he usually wants to then assign descriptive words to his ranking. And voila - he's just told me about his day. But to just simply ask him about his day though...BORING. He has no time for descriptive words alone. And as you can see, that cost me nothing. I didn't have to reward him for his answer...I just made it interesting to him, but challenging at the same time. THIS is one of the many things that makes autism beautiful in my opinion, their fascinating little minds.  

Another thing that works to my advantage is the use of regiments. Sometimes by just creating a process that he can regiment for himself will ensure he follows through with things. In one of his earliest IEP meetings in preschool, he was not meeting his goal of hanging up his bag. So the IEP team and I discussed what happens after he hangs up his bag. Was it motivating enough to make him want to hang his bag up quickly and move on to the next thing.  At the time, once his bag was hung up, he could go socialize with friends. We quickly realized our mistake. Socialization was not necessarily a motivator for a child who struggles with social development - so we created a regiment instead. This time the teacher told him to hang up his bag, then he could go sit on the orange dot with the number 8 (his spot in the room). To me, that sounds like a punishment...why can't I go talk to people? But to him, it was the regiment he needed to his morning routine Right after we setup that sequence, he mastered the goal. 

Social motivators. I have been seeing an awesome social motivator for him in recent days. Humor. He. loves. jokes. He loves to make people laugh and I can see him trying out jokes and asking me to rank how funny it was. He wants to understand what makes a joke funny. What makes other people laugh. He has an amazing set of teachers this year who have picked up on this too and they use it. They let him tell a joke a day. They have brought in joke books to expand his repertoire. He's even made up a few jokes of his own (some still need to be workshopped a bit more), but what a beautiful tool this is to help him tune into his surroundings and read other people's reactions.  

Lastly, I have used incentive-type motivators as well - but these are tricky. The minute you offer a reward for doing something undesirable or unnatural, it better be good. Because if it's not something that they want that bad, you've lost them. (I wanted the chocolate cake until you told me to run five miles for it). 

I now do a much better job of watching and latching onto things he consistently talks about. A few months ago we went to a birthday party where we played laser tag - he loved it! He would not stop talking about coming back and playing again.  BAM - a solid incentive! I was giddy!  I came up with a quick point system and emailed his teachers to get them onboard. Great teachers will LOVE your incentives and ideas. They want your child to be motivated too, but may not understand his "cash" like you do. Also, collaborate on those goals - that's why you've got a team! 

Within a few weeks, we were playing our victory game of laser tag for earning points. Now, it is important to note that I was very specific about what behavior we were incentivizing. In our case, simply having a good day is too broad. We want him to work. Pick a troublesome area of opportunity. For us, it is usually in the processing and handling of frustration. Let your child help you come up with ideas of "do's and dont's".  I have told our son that frustration is fine...we all get frustrated, but let's come up with positive ways to handle it. This narrowing of the focus has been extremely effective as it relates to building awareness and coping skills.  

Look, I am just a parent - I'm not an expert on autism, but I've learned over the years that we make the MOST headway and accomplish the MOST goals by capitalizing on our son's enthusiasm! 

I'm attaching our most recent incentive - Disney Bucks. Wesley and I collaborated on this so he fully understood what was expected and so he could identify the positive and negative responses on his own.  

What things have worked for you? 



Make it a Mystery proudly presents...

A Christmas Movie Murder 

Brixany is trying to become a partner at her big city firm which doesn't seem to do anything other than acquire tiny companies in small towns and close them down at Christmas. With her red carry-on, big city scarf and non-sensible boots, Brixany heads to Christmas Angel Mistletoe Town to spend Christmas. She has one objective while she’s there. 

Shut down the tinsel factory. 

The tinsel factory is headquartered in an old barn, which is dilapidated on the outside yet stunning on the inside, and employees a handful of minimum wagers., and technically only produces one product, yet is somehow single-handedly destroying all the profits for Brixany's nameless big city firm. 

But wait right there...because before you can say romantic lead with no red flags, Brixany walks right into a murder scene. Suddenly she and the other townspeople are suspects in a tinsel factory murder. This was not the happy ending Brixany had been hoping for as she dodged all those phone calls from her workaholic city boyfriend, but can she and the others prove their innocence? 

Will the murderer come forward and learn the true meaning of Christmas before we have to sit through Brixany’s not-at-all traumatic backstory? Will we have to endure one more snowball fight before we find out, who did it?

Find out in this exciting new Zoom Murder Mystery Party Game, A Christmas Movie Mystery!



email me:

8 Characters (at least 2 males, at least 2 females, the rest are changeable)*

Hi everyone! 

I'm excited to offer a ZOOM holiday party!  I am NOW booking A Christmas Movie Murder. You have two options: 

A. HOSTED - I set up the zoom call, I send out the characters and I facilitate the entire game. This option takes up to 2 hours and is offered at a flat rate of $125.  Date availability varies, I can work with you. 

B. SELF-HOSTED - I supply you with all the materials needed to host, play and solve the mystery for your family and friends. $40

C. ADD-ON - For an additional $25, I can customize to incorporate inside jokes, personal details, etc. 

* you can have more than 8 people on the call, that is just how many characters there are, you can have unlimited watchers. 

The Turner Christmas Newsletter

Dear Everyone,

I'm sending out my annual Christmas newsletter in June. We are in week i-don't-even-know-anymore of quarantine. Well, honestly, not all of us are in quarantine. By the looks of things, I think several people apparently finished quarantine early. I just tell my kids that some people are naturally gifted and finish things quicker than others. 

But us? We are still trying to pretend like we don't "need" to go to Target several times a week, all willy nilly (okay, that's just me, I miss willy nilly).  But did Target do anything to help make this easier, NO. They kept their perfectly curated target whimsy and their dollar bins and then just sat there and watched us TRY to not need them. Meanwhile, my Target Red Card  sadly collecting dust while my Cartwheel app uninstalled from my iPhone. I'm surprised there's been no wellness check.  

To quote mostly Joan Jett, "I hate myself for loving you, Target." 

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Anyway, in my copious amounts of free time, I'm     getting our Christmas newsletter out early this year. Also, I've never actually sent a Christmas newsletter out and likely never will. 

Soooo...this is basically just a letter. 

First time letter. In a blog. With Christmas pictures. 

...So it's just like a blog post or whatever. 

Anyone got something to say? Good.'s how we've been doing. Let's begin with my standards. 

I no longer have any. 

*unscrews cap to giant barrel of cheeseballs I promised I would buy over my dead body and begins to stress eat*

I thought I could kick it old school for a bit. I approached quarantine like a fun reality show experiment. I can sit at home. I can teach my kids school. We can be "off the grid" for a time, making our own fun and planting freedom gardens. I'll stock up on dry goods and we'll play board games and watch movies together. I'm the mother, I'm in control of the ambiance of this house - plus I've watched an obscene amount of homesteading YouTube videos. It can't be hard. So I bought a pair of clippers and some hairdresser scissors, a bug-out bag for four and 54 gallons of water. 

Was I ready? I dunno. I was reading a lot of random prepper blogs at the time. 

But, as it turns out, my kids won't actually eat dry goods. *hears your comments regarding starvation and being a short order cook, keeps shaking head no, grabs more cheeseballs*. They won't. You don't get it. They are fine with starvation. They don't want to get to that level of the apocalypse where beans and rice are their only option. 

Also, no one wants me to cut their hair. It doesn't matter how many instructional videos I've watched. They don't believe I can do a "fade" or whatever. They'd rather fling it out of their face forever. I have no reasonable explanation as to why I now own a bug out bag. I was panicky when I didn't have one...and now I'm not. I can handle buyers remorse way better. It's a skill I've been developing for YEARS. 

At least we've made a decent dent in the 54 gallons of water that I'm never going to live down. 

Thank God for Amazon Prime. It's been the Pony Express for middle-aged women. No less than three times a day, a brave Amazon driver faces the dangers of EVERYONE OUT DRIVING BECAUSE WHAT'S A QUARANTINE to drop off something at my door. They are bringing much needed supplies to get us through the long quarantine. Literally, one package at a time. Some of the quarantine necessities include: more phone chargers, colorful paperclips and post its (so pretty), organic plant based protein powder (y'all I don't know), and the man-sized barrel of cheeseballs I am currently spending time with. 

So with supplies at hand, and a complete fluke buy that lead me to be fine in the toilet paper department, the only thing I had to worry about was teaching my kids at home.  Is that all? 

I'm not gonna lie, distance learning started off rough. It got rougher from there, and that's when, through the tears, I decided that book smarts were overrated and just taught my kids how to play Blackjack instead. 


Well, the whole idea behind homesteading is passing down useful family skills to the up and coming generation, right?  Then I stand by the unit titled "Antes and Bankrolls". Maybe my kid doesn't know his Teddy Roosevelt facts, maybe he doesn't know or care about how hurricanes damage ecosystems and economies and just MAYBE the only handwriting practice he's getting is by writing "Deez Nuts" on every piece of paper he finds... but if things get rougher and he has to troll towns scrounging a living a la Kevin Costner in the Postman, he'll at least know how to bluff. 

What's your kid gonna accomplish armed only with the Pythagorean theorem?  

My oldest son has not lost one single beat in his social life. He plays Playstation like it's his job. I finally decided to come clean with the fact that I didn't care. When he isn't playing video games, he's asking what we're eating for the next meal. During this quarantine, he's lost six teeth. I had to google if he was supposed to be losing them since I stopped milestone counting either child in 2014. Now that his voice is deeper, I have no idea if he's talking to his local school friends or like a 55 year old in Cleveland. I don't even care. A bunch of 12 year olds can form teams, coordinate skins, make decisions, have arguments, decide they need better gear, get $10 from their parents in one collective fundraiser, apologize for the fight and beat the game way better than a country full of over qualified experts can agree on whether or not to wear a money is on him. 

Let's see, what else. Oh, I stand firm in the fact that inherent, wild dog instincts are completely bred out of
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
a dog once they are a Doodle of any kind. I mean, lay on your chest when you are having a bad day, yes. Cuddle with you on the couch while you binge New Girl and drink Rose in a can with a bendy straw- yup. But...forage for food or even indicate a bug crawling on the carpet right in front of their nose...negative Ghost Rider. What an utterly useless breed to have in the apocalypse. I should have known. There are no wandering Doodles in The Walking Dead.  

My husband was furloughed from his restaurant for three months. That was three months of staring at each other suspiciously from across the room and assuming we were in trouble for something. He might be in trouble for parading in three roofers on quarantine week 2 to inspect a leak on the ceiling that was so small it COULDN'T BE SEEN WITH THE HUMAN EYE and I might be in bigger trouble for allowing my son to order spray cheese off the internet. Sixteen years of marriage folks, the success of which is somewhat contingent on both of us having something else to do for the majority of most days.

He's back at work now and we feel no further along than we were three months ago. Cheers to us all that we get through whatever this is, and when we do, let's lock it in, seal the portal and sacrifice whatever so it stays away. 

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and what not. 

The Turners

Here is our video spot for Guideposts. My article can be found under Portfolio.

Chicken Salad Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Photo by Jordan Arnold on Unsplash
From an early age, I was taught to eat the food that was put in front of me. No matter what it was. My mother was determined to raise polite girls who showed appreciation as dinner guests. We would roll up to a friend or relative's house only to be gently reminded by my mother that, “Even if you are served dog food, eat it, smile and ask for seconds.”

My mother was not someone I wanted to challenge. So for years, I ate whatever was served without questioning it, my mom, or the person serving one.

Until one day, I met chicken salad.

Chicken salad would become my lifelong nemesis. As far as I was concerned, and with the deviled egg running a distant second, chicken salad was the very worst thing to have to put into my mouth and feign flavor bliss. It was the official food of my very worst nightmares and if I was going to stay in the South, I needed an avoidance plan.

Many of you have likely gasped at me mentioning my distaste for not one, but two traditional southern dishes. I get it. It’s a shock to find out that the people you thought you knew have dark secrets. What’s next, you might be thinking? Sweet tea? Fried chicken? GRITS!!!???

I swear on the Bill Gaither choir that I mostly don’t have any more southern confessions. Mostly.

Why do I have a lifelong dislike of chicken salad? Of course, it must be some offensive ingredient.

Was it the chicken? 
“Her grandma probably didn’t know how to season it. Gotta season the chicken.”
The mayonnaise? 
Shaking head, “Didn’t use Dukes.”
The other random (and always different) ingredients?
“Well, she hasn’t tried my chicken salad yet.” 

The answer is...I don’t know why I don’t like it. It smells funny. Also, there is something about the combination of cold meat, mixed with an ever-changing combination of other things swirled together and doled out with an ICE CREAM SCOOP (desecration) and then sculpted (Jesus take the wheel, they sculpted it). Plus, people that like chicken salad, LOVE chicken salad. I’m sorry, but it’s a cult. I love you, but. you. are. in. a. cult.  (and Molly, you in danger, girl).

And even though my great grandmother Anna Mae is probably turning over in her grave as we speak, I just could never bring myself to fake liking chicken salad. Stick it in a thousand pastry swans, I will never like it. Go away, Sam I Am...I'm not your project.

When I was young, it wasn’t the most difficult thing to get around. Chicken salad was a ladies lunch type of food or it made its appearance on the potluck table among a cast of thousands. The southern food competition was fierce and with the main ingredient being mayonnaise, everyone understood you avoiding it if you even hinted at a war story involving room temperature mayonnaise and your insides.

But as I got older and my friends were all getting married, it became very clear where chicken salad chose to make its mark in our civilized society. Chicken salad craftily played itself to the adult female crowd. All this time, I thought I was dodging these to-add-grapes-or-not-to-add-grapes landmines so that I could hit adulthood and declare my disgust for the food openly. And live authentically for once - unless living authentically was bad manners.

But she was waiting. On the table of every graduation party, every bridesmaid luncheon,
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash
every time someone busted out pastel streamers, chicken salad was there, making her promises about being universally loved by all women. She clung to her self-proclaimed “crowd pleaser” title and became the food anti-mascot of my twenties.

I truly believe I was the skinniest I’ve ever been in my twenties because I spent an impressive portion of the decade side stepping chicken salad.

No disrespect to our fair maiden, Atlanta’s Swan House. She is majestic and regal, but when you are anti-chicken salad, there are only so many lunches where you can sustain yourself on a frozen fruit salad and two cheese straws. I attended every single event, searching for an ally plate to slip my chicken salad timbales fashioned into a swan onto. It was always a covert operation that could only be done with very specific, and forgiving friends. Or even better, if I was sat among a group of strangers, I could build a quick rapport and guiltlessly offload the item with the knowledge I’d never see these people again, and if it was the black sheep aunt from Wisconsin who was chicken salad neutral, even better.

If I found the crowd to be particularly pro-chicken salad, those hostiles who perceived negative chicken salad sentiments as blasphemous, my tactics would have to be taken up a notch.

I’d have to stage my plate.

Moving food around a plate in an attempt to make it look “enjoyed” is a fine art. Southern kids raised in the world of “eat what you are served,” have this skill as fine-tuned as our ability to play in trace amounts of snow every 2-3 years.

First, you have to show that you enjoyed the food. Your plate scene can’t be viewed as someone who “tried” the chicken salad and did not like it. No, it is much more complicated than that. It must look like you very much “enjoyed” the scrumptious ladies luncheon staple (lies), but are such a wispy girl with a dainty appetite that you simply couldn’t finish it all (still more lies).

Such intricate plate staging, while never allowing for a conversation lull, is a fine art. The talent for which is sharpened through motivation by the deeply rooted and, oh by the way, irrational southern fear of sharing with someone that you actually don’t like something. Wait a minute, to their face?

Feigning one’s love for chicken salad while never allowing it to pass your lips is so much harder than avoiding something like deviled eggs...and here are some reasons for this - all rooted in science.

Deviled eggs are a side item. Different rules apply entirely. Most notably, never in the history of a potluck has someone managed to get every offered dish on their Dixie Paper Plate. You can skip it with promises to add it to your “second round” and no one will ever know.

Also, if you skip side items, you are once again seen as a dainty, wispy girl with a bird-like appetite.

An early coven of Southern grandma witches (all named Mildred) decided a long time ago to classify chicken salad as a main dish. Chicken salad is the centerpiece and you can’t have a plate with no centerpiece - even I know that that’s problematic as the side dishes would clearly be lost.

Side dishes are meant to surround the main dish and sort of do jazz hands around it, blessing its faultlessness. With no focal point for the side dishes to do jazz hands, chaos ensues.

The congealed salad would jiggle aimlessly.

The coleslaw already suffering from a crippling inferiority complex would think it needed to rise up to the centerpiece occasion but would ultimately crack under the pressure - coleslaw will never be as great as potato salad, after all, much less match the fame of this southern icon.

The random cheese cubes would wander the perimeter of the floral plate with no purpose

Don’t get me started on the morale of the deviled eggs I’d have to put on my plate to throw off suspicion - after all, they already know I don’t like them.

Even the sweet tea would pucker and lose its flavor. Oh sure, we’d all take polite sips and try to act like it was sweet enough, but we’d secretly be blaming the failure on that one lady from joy club who always waits to add sugar once the tea is cooled.

See. It’s a dilemma. A delicate balance. The balance of the entire ladies luncheon gets thrown off when one person can’t handle the chicken salad. It would be a blessed hot mess.

So why don't I just have the courage to proudly declare my personal distaste when asked instead of this complicated long con I'm playing?  

I wasn't drug up. That would be rude.

So, for now, I’ll continue scooping the offending salad-you-can-sculpt onto my plate and comment on how wonderful it is while I secretly stage my plate accordingly. Side note: don’t look my way while gifts are being opened.

No balance to restore, I won’t rock the boat, but my relationship to chicken salad will remain, for now and forevermore, complicated.



Hometown Blues

I've never really left the area where I grew up. So many people I meet are geographically nowhere near where they started. Sometimes I envy their new adventures. I never intentionally decided to stay, but I guess I just never really left - there was never a reason to go, so I didn't.  I spent one year of college in Tennessee (my first freshman year - there were 2.5 freshman years if you're counting - my parents were). Also, I'm technically raising my family in an adjacent county.

But for the most part, I still navigate the same curves, hills, and streets where I learned to drive.  I didn't leave and yet sometimes, it feels like a completely different place. A few of those curves have been improved. One bridge in particular that used to terrify my mother has now been made safer and easier to navigate and I do miss the adrenaline I would get taking that curve in the dark woods, over the creek at night. Kids these days - they'll never know.

When my parents and grandparents would talk about the changing landscape of their hometowns, it was because land and trees and forests were overtaken by suburban sprawl. Perfectly good green spaces were sacrificed for businesses and tract homes. My own family built our home in a brand new development, sacrificing "family land" for stucco, fancy brick designs and incredibly clever mailboxes that totally lacked functionality, not to mention they would fall over even if you BARELY touched it with the car. It was 1988 and the Atlanta suburbs were beginning to burst. Homes were being designed and built everywhere it seems. Homesteads and farms were sold off to developers for homes left and right...and why not...the Baby Boomers were raising families - times were good.

But the wave of change that crashed over my childhood and teenage years was on land already developed. Now as I drive the same path that I used to take to my best friend Jenny's house in my mom's old Audi 5000, I strain to remember the original houses that existed before they were torn down and small mansions erected in their stead. As the homes are being upgraded, the businesses for which buildings were built are long gone and have since either fallen too far from code or have been five other "concepts" since the 90's. The family-owned video store I used to work at is a restaurant, but it was three other things in between. I vaguely remember the gas station that is now a Zaxby's and an old Blockbuster became a gold exchange before settling on a dental practice. Only, one of the three dry cleaners we owned is still a dry cleaners. One is a sub sandwich chain that I recently went into and bored the teenager behind the counter to tears with my stories of the "good old days."

Even the old skating rink where I spent MANY weekends turning circles to pop music, wearing blue eye shadow, a Forenza shirt with rolled sleeves and Exclamation! perfume in the hopes that some boy would notice me...even that place has had a few iterations, one as a restaurant, before becoming a Goodwill.  To me, it will always be Sparkles.

Most days I don't really think about how much the "old town" has changed. It definitely feels more crowded. Less people that grew up here going about their day with no appreciation for it's past - and why should they care really? Most days I am too busy to look up and be nostalgic. I'm in that time in my life where full days fly by. I follow children, keep a house, a job and crawl into bed a little later than I should each night with nothing significant to show for my day except the fact that we made it. But other days, I notice it. I try to remember what everything looked like. I try to remember being 16 (minus the horrible bangs and angst) and heading out with $20 that would more than cover an entire evening of fun which might include an arcade (you see, kids, an arcade is when your screentime was managed by quarters and whether or not you had a ride).

Today we cleaned out my dad's closet. We took a lot of his things to MUST Ministries, but we took other bags down the street to Goodwill. It was overwhelming to think that almost 30 years ago, a carefree pre-teen zipped around in that very building with big dreams, bigger hair and so many ideas...and today, that woman left a piece of her dad there in that very same place. It was a sad full circle moment that I've been trying to shake all night.  Maybe it was the collision of the happiest times with one of the saddest. I think my dad would have gotten a kick out of it actually - there was a moment when the building was sort of the new Houcks - and my dad loved Houcks.

The old town has changed a lot. That girl has changed a lot. The sadness I feel is because those times were good ones. The heartbreak I have is because my dad was SO amazing. On these days when I feel the weight of grief crashing in on me, I force myself to stop looking back...instead I look down, at the two children I am eternally grateful to be able to raise. It feels like a circle, because life is a circle.

I hope, now that it's my turn to be the parent, that I'm doing a good job. I hope I'm creating a life in a place that they are not hurried to escape. I hope they feel the freedom to leave if they must, and though the landscape will most certainly change, I hope they drive through the streets of their childhood one day smiling about all the good times.  And, one day, if they have to leave my things at a Sparkles - I hope they know that it's okay to let go a little - and that THAT is where I'd want to be anyway.

Just don't forget to bring my blue eye shadow and hair crimper.