January 4

DC-Area Museums and Government Locales #dcchristmas

Continuing with our #dcchristmas trip …

The Smithsonian Institution maintains 19 museums and galleries, plus the National Zoo, in the DC area.

Thus, we knew before we even arrived that we’d barely make a dent in that number. The newly-opened Museum of African-American History and Culture was operating on a ticketing system while we were there, so that one was out. Likewise, given that we were walking almost everywhere, we based many of our visits on location relative to the next thing we were planning. Given locations and all there is competing for attention, we were only able to visit 2 Smithsonian museums (only 2 out of 19!) – the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Natural History.

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National Portrait Gallery – This was one of our first stops upon arriving, namely because the Girl had her heart set on seeing the portrait of Alexander Hamilton. But she wasn’t the only one who liked what she saw. We perused the entirety of the America’s Presidents exhibit, and I was astonished to see the one non-President (and non-male) portrait belonging to Dolly Madison. Wonder Boy like mimicking Washington’s famous Lansdowne portrait (which apparently warranted a hefty price tag). Before we left, I found the portrait of Margaret Fuller, of particular import to me as she was the subject of one of my favorite undergraduate research projects.

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National Museum of Natural History – This museum and the one on American History sit side by side. We had intended to visit both, but both had long lines to enter through security. Turns out, we waited in line less than an hour (and less time than we waited at most restaurants). While in line, I kept Wonder Boy’s interest by telling him we’d see stuff like in the Night at the Museum, though the dinosaur exhibit was much smaller than I expected (the Fossil Hall was closed). Nonetheless, we all felt it was worth the wait. We watched an IMAX film on National Parks and did our best to see all the exhibits. Bryan particularly enjoyed the the Insect Zoo, where he found both of the tarantulas he has as pets (if spiders can be pets!).

Before our trip we’d heard good and bad reviews for the International Spy Museum

But it was near where we ate lunch in Chinatown on our first day there, so we decided to give it a try. Unlike the Smithsonian and Government-owned museums, this one charges an admission fee. Upon entering the exhibit, you are told to select a spy identity, the details of which you will need to remember during your visit. We all dutifully selected an identity and then didn’t use it at all until the very end at a computer terminal near the exit of the exhibit. And though the computer did ask for many details, it also asked random questions meant to make you respond like your identity and avoid “suspicion.” Needless to say, none of us passed muster. While I don’t know that I’d say it was truly worth the fees we paid (there were six of us, mind you), we all generally enjoyed what we saw.

Of course, it couldn’t compare to where we went next.

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The National Gallery of Art seemed to have the largest variety of art on hand. Because we knew little legs (and big ones too) would get tired quickly, we made a point of seeing the highlights (e.g., Chalice dating back to 2nd-1st century B.C., The Reading Girl, and a collection of Van Gogh paintings).

Perhaps the least enjoyable visit all week …

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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a massive building near the National Mall. When we first entered, we walked through a special exhibit called “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story.” This portion was pretty emotional, telling horrid story of the Holocaust from the perspective of a child. From there, we received identification cards and took an elevator to the top floor to the start of the Permanent Exhibition. The Permanent Exhibition then proceeded through narrow halls flanked with glassed displays, down even narrower stairways and around crooked corners. All week we kept hearing everywhere we went that it wasn’t the “busy season,” but it seemed that way here. The crowd was almost unbearable and it was nearly impossible to see anything except what happened to be on your side as the crowd herded you through. At one point, Bryan and I pondered whether the “herding” was intentional, as a means for driving point the inhumanity of the time. Unfortunately, the result was that none of us could really appreciate any of the exhibit.

A sidewalk view …

Notice the moving trucks?

… of the White House was all we could manage. Despite Bryan’s best efforts, we were told the White House was closed to tours during our visit. Nonetheless, we all agreed that we couldn’t leave DC without a walk-by.

Another disappointment that turned out okay …

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… was our tour of the United States Capitol. Weeks before our trip, Bryan worked with our Representative’s office to get us a scheduled tour of the Capitol. Our confirmation was for the Monday after Christmas. However, when we arrived at the appointed time, a kind security guard informed us that all Capitol grounds were closed for Christmas Day observed. We were clearly disappointed so he told us to be sure to come back and get in line early on another day, that since it wasn’t the busy time of year a reservation wouldn’t be necessary. Thankfully, he was correct. Later in the week, we waited in the cold and rain to get in for a tour. It was definitely worth it. The grand architecture, of the Rotunda, the National Statuary Hall and entire building, is breathtaking; and we had a tour guide who clearly loves her job. Once the tour was complete, we got passes to enter the galleries of the House of Representatives and the Senate, though cellphones and cameras had to be left with security for those viewings.

From the Capitol, we walked the underground tunnel to another awe-inspiring building.

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The Library of Congress is a place of beauty, though I was disappointed in the lack of books. Turns out, we visited the more tourist-y area and didn’t make it to where all the books are. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was inspiring and I’m a sucker for words on walls. I overcame my sorrow by spending money in the LOC Gift Shop, buying “gifts” for myself.

And though we may not have seen the halls and halls of books that I longed for, we did see The Gutenberg Bible.

The Gutenberg Bible

Its pages carefully preserved and partially displayed under special lighting and glass, the existence and survival of what’s considered the oldest mechanically-published book is monumental to nerds like me.


Up next will be the less-nerdy adventures of DC-Area Dining. Stay tuned!

January 2

DC-Area Monuments, Memorials & Other Historical Sites #dcchristmas

Our trip to DC was filled with awe-inspiring history. Just walking down the streets felt almost sacred in parts. It made me wonder how much people, particularly those who live and/or work in the area daily, become immune to it.

We spent an afternoon at the National Mall and could have easily spent days:

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Lincoln Memorial – At 6’4” in life with a booming voice and commanding nature, Lincoln has been called larger than life by history books. His memorial makes this literal. One can help but feel small in the presence of his grand marble figure, flanked on both sides by his immortal words (“The Gettysburg Address” on one, his Second Inaugural Speech on the other). As you ascend the many stairs to Lincoln’s statue, you’ll see the engraving that marks where Martin Luther King Jr stood for his infamous “I Have a Dream Speech.” From what I know of Lincoln, he wrote all his own speeches (a fact which adds to the regard with which I hold him) and certainly had a way with words. Below him is an indoor museum-like display of more of his memorable quotes along with a special section on the Civil Rights Movement.

The end and the beginning.

Vietnam War Memorial – To the left of the Reflecting Pool as one departs Lincoln’s stead, is the Vietman War Memorial Wall. The panels of the wall, containing more than 58,000 names, meet in the middle of what appears to be a semi-circle. At that meeting point, 1975 marks the bottom of one panel and 1959 marks the top of the next. When I asked an attendant about this, she said, “Yes, this represents the end and the beginning … poetically, a broken circle.” As I walked away, I heard her explaining to another visitor (with a foreign accent) who’d asked what the war was about: “To stop the spread of communism,” the attendant replied. “Did it work?” asked the visitor. “No,” was the simple yet heavy-handed response.

“The Price of Freedom”

World War II Memorial – Between the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument stands a massive circle of architecture. The World War II Memorial boasts grandiose columns marked by the names of states and territories between two even larger structures representing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the center springs a beautiful fountain and some 4,000 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans lost during the war. As you walk through this Memorial, away from Lincoln and toward Washington, bronze scenes on either side tell the story of the war.

Washington Monument – Unfortunately, this site was closed to entry for renovations so we simply admired its stature, and took note of the different colors (marking a change in materials after a 25-year hiatus in the middle of construction) not always visible in pictures.

Of course, there was plenty else we didn’t see at the National Mall. So much to do, so little time!

On Christmas Day, after the kids received Santa surprises and gifts from Pepa, we ubered to the Arlington National Cemetery.

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These hallowed grounds provide a quiet and sad beauty, but beauty nonetheless. We were able to see the infamous changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (my video is almost 8 minutes long!) and pieced together some history for the kids at President John F. Kennedy’s Gravesite and Eternal Flame.

The Highlight of the Trip (for me at least):

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But, truly, the evening of the day after Christmas was like Christmas morning for me. Weeks before our trip we’d decided to purchase tickets for a play at Ford’s Theatre rather than the Kennedy Center, and I’m so very glad we did. We saw a production of A Christmas Carol, from seats in the balcony, across from which was the Presidential box where Lincoln sat enjoying Our American Cousin on the night of April 14, 1865 as John Wilkes Booth crept behind him with a revolver.

The historical significance of this place was not lost on me or the children, plus the show was fantastic in its own right. When the ghost of Jacob Marley first appears in the portrait above the mantel and then manifests in the flesh (through a cloud of smoke, booming sound effects and trickery of lights), Wonder Boy jumped clean from his seat to Bryan’s lap. Prior to the show, the cast walked through the audience and one member commented that the Professor (all decked out in theatre attire) was “looking dapper indeed.” The evening at Ford’s was, by far, my favorite experience of the whole week.

From the theatre exit, you can see the Petersen’s boarding house across the street, now dubbed the House Where Lincoln Died. It holds a strange presence on the otherwise modernized street. The story goes that having been shot in the back of the head, Lincoln’s body was carried across the street to a boarding house; and in that boarding house on the following morn, our 16th president passed.

A Visit to Gettysburg

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For our following morn, we rented a minivan and drove to Gettysburg. It’s an easy hour-and-a-half drive that takes you from DC to Virginia to Maryland to Pennsylvania. We watched a short orientation film, viewed the Cyclorama (a three story circular portrait of Pickett’s Charge, and then proceeded on the self-guided auto tour. The self-guided auto tour took us by 16 stops to emulate the three-day battle of Gettysburg in chronological order. There were many other monuments and stops along the way, not noted on the map we held. Stopping where we chose and otherwise talking history all the way, we enjoyed several hours of stepping back into what has been considered a turning point in the Civil War. We ended our time in Gettysburg by walking the hallowed grounds of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and standing where Lincoln stood to deliver the Gettysburg Address just months after the great battle.

All in all, we had a healthy dose of Honest Abe on this trip. None of us were complaining.

The Professor with the President at Gettysburg.
January 1

Throwing Holiday Traditions Out the Window? #dcchristmas

The holiday season that ends one year and ushers in another is often a time of tradition. I think most people would say they have some sort of Christmas tradition, whether it be a big feast and fellowship with family and friends or something smaller, like marathon watching A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life. Our family had a tradition … until this year … when we through caution to the wind and made some new memories … we’ll see if this one catches on.

The Girl, our first-born, joined us in late November 2000. Bryan and I had friends who often lamented that the Christmas season, as joyous as it may be, included stress of travel and family commitments and a lot of “which grandparents get to see the kids on Christmas?” At the time, we were living in Birmingham, Alabama, not far from Bryan’s parents, while all my family resided in Hot Springs, Arkansas. So, we developed a “family rule” of sorts – well, really Bryan did. (Side note: He’s also the reason we never had to break a child from sleeping in the bed with us. When the Girl was just 2 weeks old, I slept on her floor during a thunderstorm because I was overly worried and Bryan said it was a bad idea to start that habit. I may have been snarky about it then, but by the time we had three kids, none of whom ever had to be retrained to sleep in his or her own bed, I was willing to concede his forethought.)

The Christmas rule was that we would always spend Christmas day at our own house, where the kids would wake in their own beds to see the Santa surprises and anyone who wanted to visit us there was welcome. Other days of the season were for visiting family and friends, but Christmas day was to be celebrated at home. Over the years, as we moved from Alabama to Texas to Tennessee to Arkansas, Pepa (Bryan’s dad) continued to travel to us. So for 15 years this rule continued, and “Christmas at Home with Pepa” became tradition.

Throwback to Christmas 2013: Hard to believe this was only 3 years ago; they all look so little!

Though Bryan was the instigator of this tradition, we all fully embraced it. So much so, that the idea of doing anything differently was often met with discord from the kids or myself. For the past few years, Bryan has been suggesting family sightseeing trips, cruises, or other adventures around this time of year and we always say something like “well, as long as we’re home for Christmas.” Thus, no adventures happen. Well, this time around, he was more convincing I guess. When he suggested spending Christmas in Washington, DC, the usual balking was minimal.

The Girl has been interested in going to our Nation’s Capital for quite some time (I’m sure Hamilton and/or binge-watching Parks and Rec on Netflix had something to do with that) and both boys seemed interested as well. While we were contemplating the plans, we told the kids (particularly Wonder Boy) that a trip at Christmas would mean less presents because the trip itself would be a present for all of us and, to our pleasant surprise, they were all good with that. In October, when we still hadn’t pulled the trigger on the plans, Bryan called me one day from work and said, “We don’t have that much longer before [the Girl] is done with us. Two years and she’ll have graduated and moved out and won’t want to take trips with us anymore.” I suppose that’s what did it for me.  We were booked by that afternoon.

The National Christmas Tree 2016; I honestly thought it’d be bigger.

We held a small Christmas celebration here at home on the 22nd, which we all agreed seemed too early and just plain wrong. Nonetheless, the kids opened gifts from us and Mema (Bryan’s mom). Then, before dawn on the 23rd we left our house to catch a flight to DC and returned home on the 30th. Seven days in DC is both very long (when you walk almost everywhere) and way too short because you can’t possibly see and do everything there is to offer. Monuments and memorials and museums, oh my. I can’t comment on the Metro system because we walked or uber-ed everywhere. The weather was not unbearably cold as long as the wind wasn’t biting and the rain never lasted very long. (Of course, I heard it got below freezing the night after we left, so we may have simply dodged a bullet there.)

When all was said and done, we’d seen and done what we could and were ready to come home with memories for a lifetime. Over the next few days and posts, I’ll share the highs (and lows) of our trip as follows:

  • DC-Area Monuments, Memorials and Historical Sites
  • DC-Area Museums and Government Locales
  • DC-Area Dining
  • DC-Area Extras

So do we have a new tradition? Will this year be #nycchristmas? Well, I’m not sure we’ve settled on an answer just yet. But wherever we celebrate, as long as we’re with each other, it’ll be Christmas at home … with Pepa, of course!

December 8

Exploded Eggs

Have you ever exploded an egg?

I have.

More than once.

Yeah, I didn’t learn from my mistake the first time.

In case you didn’t already know this, if you boil eggs too long – like so long all the water is gone, then they’ll explode. Seriously, the egg gets so hot on the inside that the inside comes out. There’s singeing and crackling and smoke all leading up to the final shebang – loud, stinking combustions of yellow and white showering down around the pan.

When boiling eggs, it’s best not to leave the room.

Perhaps leaving the room doesn’t have the same effect on you that it does on me.

Well, good on you.

You want to know the saddest part? I even told myself (yes, I talk to myself, that’s not the sad part, that’s a sign of genius) “I should set an alarm on my phone to check on the eggs in 10 minutes.”

I said that as I left the kitchen.

By the time I walked across the house to the office (about 30 steps; I literally just counted them) the thought had left me. It clung to the air of the room I’d exited. I imagine the words hung in the air like a cartoon thought bubble. I’m guessing the smoke snuffed it out eventually.

The first time I exploded eggs, the Girl was home sick from school. After a few inexplicable noises and a stench that made her stomach turn more than it already had, she crept into the office and scared the bejesus out of me. I’d been working and singing along to the radio as though no one else was home (I may have forgotten anyone was). When she asked, “Were you cooking something?” I was certain I hadn’t been. We walked back to the kitchen together to investigate. Only then, once I saw the scattered egg pieces on the countertops and cabinet doors, splattered on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, seriously only then, did the lightbulb shine. I had been boiling eggs.

So this time around, laughing at myself (another sure sign of genius), I said “don’t forget the eggs, eh?”

Fast forward I don’t know how long later, I’m in the office working, the radio’s on … this is all very familiar.

I hear a noise coming from the other side of the house. I think, “What was that?” Nacho (the Chihuahua) was asleep on the couch. So I figure he did that gross “hock a loogie” noise he makes sometimes.

And I keep working.

“What is that smell?”

I’m still typing.

Wait, there’s that sound again. “Okay, let me just finish this sentence then I’ll go check—”

“Holy crap! I blew up the eggs again.”

I dashed into the kitchen and the stench slapped me in the face. Anybody in the mood for exploded egg?

July 28

Star Trek Beyond

I guess I’m a Trekkie at heart. I grew up watching the original series on late-night reruns, could recite the intro monologue complete with Shatner-esque pauses, and wanted to be Mr. Spock (pointy ears and all). Truth be told, while I love all things Star Wars now, I’d never even seen its original trilogy until my now-husband and I started dating in the mid-90s (just admitting that makes me think I need to hand in my nerd card). Still I would have said I didn’t favor one franchise over the other, as so many seem to treat them as dichotomies, until I saw Star Trek Beyond, which surprisingly topped the box office this past weekend. That’s not to say that the latest Trek installment is better than Star Wars, but its effect was more visceral for me at least.

Here’s my SPOILER-FREE review:

Star Trek Beyond is a beauty aesthetically – the special effects nearly steal the show – and given the way the camera lingers on shots of constructs – I’m guessing it’s what the director is most proud of. The film has a bit of a slow start and takes a while to set up the plot. But once the action starts it doesn’t stop. That nonstop action, in space no-less, keeps the movie moving even when some portions of the plot don’t quite make sense. What really awoke the Trekkie in me was a pretty intense … er, um, death of sorts (I’m trying not to give too much away) that, to me at least, rivals Han Solo’s demise in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (surely that’s not a spoiler by now).

From imdb.com
From imdb.com

Chris Pine delivers once again as Captain James Tiberius Kirk. If you remember back to when he first took the role Bridge, there was some question whether he was playing Kirk or playing Shatner, who so many saw as the epitome of the Captain. Despite my childhood nostalgia, I was never one to say there can be no other Kirk. And Pine really comes into his own in this film. There’s an exchange between him and Bones (aka Dr. McCoy), where Bones says Kirk joined Star Fleet to live up to his father and now he’s just trying to figure out who he is. That insight parallels Pine’s growth in the role, I think. Pine isn’t playing Shatner playing Kirk here; he is worthy of the Captain’s Chair.

From imdb.com
From imdb.com

I have a harder time being objective (or logical, ironically) about Spock. Zachary Quinto does a fine job I suppose. I guess my human side just has a soft spot for Leonard Nimoy.

From imdb.com
From imdb.com

I spent a large part of the movie either laughing at Bones or thinking Karl Urban was a bit over-the-top. There seemed to be no happy medium.

From imdb.com
From imdb.com

John Cho’s Sulu doesn’t get enough credit, though he does get a good line or two. I had a hard time watching Chekov on stage without thinking of the actor’s untimely demise (RIP Anton Yelchin).

From imdb.com
From imdb.com

Zoe Saldana’s Uhura gets to show off her strong, loyal side, and not just to her odd couple love interest Spock.

From imdb.com
From imdb.com

Of course, my second favorite character (after Spock) was always Scottie. He was always so loveable, so long as you didn’t mess with his baby, the USS Enterprise. I adore funny-man Simon Pegg in the role. He also co-penned the script this time around, which is evident with the number of one-liners (both the humorous and the poignant ones).

Those one-liners, along with the special effects and intense action, make for an enjoyable movie. Plus, there’s a pretty epic battle sequence set to the soundtrack of “Sabotage” cued up by a trademark-confident Kirk’s, “Let’s make some noise.”

So this nerd thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek Beyond. Though I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still prefer a good superhero movie over all the space racket. Lucky for me, neither Marvel nor DC show any signs of slowing down on bringing their comic book characters to life on the big screen.  The next big superhero … well sort of … film is Suicide Squad. No doubt it will have its own “noise” in the form of action and chaos along with a healthy dose of one-liners. Suicide Squad is expected to be pretty epic and is set to open in theaters on August 5.

July 25

Award-Winning! The Liebster Award

Well, I’m not sure I can pronounce the name correctly but thankfully no one can hear me on the Internet. This blog has been nominated for the Liebster Award!

The Liebster Award, created in 2011, is given to bloggers by bloggers in order to welcome and/or promote the nominated blog. Fantasy author Timandra Whitecastle nominated me on her blog. Thanks a ton, Timandra!

To receive the award, the nominated blogger should post a blog update that does the following (see full rules here):

(1) Thanks the person who nominated you – Thanks again, Timandra!

(2) Answer the 11 questions the nominator asked – done! Scroll down past the important stuff. 🙂

(3) Give 11 random facts about yourself (optional) – also done! See below as well.

(4) Nominate 5-11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers AND give them 11 questions to answer. I nominate Kylie Payne, Sarah Simmons, Brian Rhodes, Darlene Campbell, Candy Mickels Mejia, and Kristin O’Keefe. Here are 11 questions for you all to answer:

  1. What book are you reading right now? Are you liking it?
  2. On average, how many books do you read a month? Is it more or less than you’d like?
  3. What is your all-time favorite book?
  4. What is your all-time favorite movie?
  5. Which fictional character (from any medium: book, TV, medium) best represents you (i.e., who would you be if you were a character)?
  6. Have you ever watched a book-based movie that was better than the book it was based on? If so, which one?
  7. Which do you prefer: reality TV or not? (Or no TV at all)?
  8. Other than your blog, do you have a writing project/work-in-progress? If so, what’s it about? What’s your plan for when you’re finished?
  9. Why do you write? And follow-up: why do you blog (is it the same reason or different goal)?
  10. Batman or Superman? (Or Wonder Woman?) (Or some other comic book character you’re crazy about)? (Or are you more of a Marvel vs. DC person)?
  11. What’s your best advice for other bloggers?

And here are my answers to Timandra’s (great!) questions:

  1. What book are you reading right now? I just re-read The Fifth Wave in preparation for the last in the trilogy. I loved it the first time I read it and was really disappointed with the movie; but the book is just as good second time around. I’ve got the third and final installment lined up for my beach trip next week, along with the first of Lauren Kate’s Fallen Series and David J. Kowalski’s The Company of the Dead.
  2. If you could meet a fictional character in real life, who would it be? I have to pick just one?? I’ve got some tied contenders: Superman (sorry, Timandra, I know you’re a Batman gal but my obsession with Superman runs pretty deep – just poke around my blog a little bit and you’ll see that). Harry Potter/Hermione/Ron (I know that’s technically three, but I’d want to just hang around them all).  Sherlock Holmes (though I’ll admit that there’s a strong possibility he’d drive me bonkers). Patch from Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush saga (but really just to ogle him a little while; am I right, MorganMorganMorgan?!).
  3. Which short story have you read recently? “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut.
  4. What extra would you love as an addition to your favorite fantasy book: awesome map(s) or cut scene(s)? Cut scenes, most definitely. Many fantasy books include maps already (or I draw them out in my mind while reading), but I’d like to see a little further inside the minds of the creator by way of cut scenes (of course then I’d just obsess about why said scenes were cut).
  5. If you could travel to the places described in a book you’ve read – where would you choose to go? Middle Earth. I’ve been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando twice; the first time was by myself in early December one year when there was hardly anyone there and it felt very real to me. I’ve also been to London for the Studio Tour and felt immersed in that world. But I’ve yet to experience to experience Middle Earth. Somebody needs to get on that.
  6. Insider tip for someone visiting your area? Don’t attempt to drive and/or park downtown during a biker rally (which seems to happen multiple times a year). Pokemon Go may be having the same effect on walking in that area.
  7. What is the most extreme thing you’ve ever done? I feel like you mean skydiving or some kind of extreme sport but I’m either too sane or too chicken to do stuff like that. So I’m going to go with waking my entire family up at midnight to break down camp in total darkness and drive the hour trip home because I couldn’t handle the loud snoring of a neighboring camper.
  8. Batman or Superman? (Or Wonder Woman?) Superman, always and of course (see number 2 above).
  9. What’s your favourite thing about blogging? Emptying my mind of whatever currently consumes it.
  10. Can you describe your blog in 5 words or less? Random, honest and funny (hopefully).
  11. Best advice for other newbie bloggers? Figure out why you blog and be true to that. Do you blog to be known? To develop a following? To spread a message? Or just to write? I started my blog way back when just to write (see number 9). Every time I’ve tried to shift away from that (to find a niche, get more followers, or whatever), my blog (and my writing) has suffered (either through sucky content or no content at all). Stick to you. There’s only one of you.

Finally, here are 11 random facts about me – I did a “random things about me” list years ago but people change so …

  1. I just finished my first book! I’ve had several WIPs for most of my adult life but finally finished a complete draft of one of them. It’s on the second version now and out to beta readers for comments/suggestions.
  2. I hate talking on the phone.
  3. I like naps (daylight makes me sleepy).
  4. I love teaching college students but often feel funny calling myself a teacher since I could never teach younger students (those people are saints!).
  5. I really liked law school (probably because I’m a nerd and like learning) but hated being a lawyer (probably because of number 1).
  6. I regularly plan to start my PhD (I even took the GRE again earlier this year) but have yet to actually do it.
  7. I’m starting to think I’m neither an introvert nor an extrovert. I can be either depending on my moody. Yes, I’m moody.
  8. I quit my “coke habit” (Coca-Cola, that is), for good a year-and-a-half ago, now drinking diet sodas and unsweet tea in between trying to get my daily water intake (64 ounces a day is easier than I thought but I still don’t like it).
  9. I love to eat but have to “feel like” cooking. The result is that I graze on deli meat without the bread and saltine crackers all day long. My kids are unfortunately developing similar habits.
  10. I have a bearded dragon named Smaug. We also have 3 dogs, a snake, two tarantulas and will be adding a bird soon. I like pets.
  11. I used to be a runner and know sign language. Neither of those things are like riding a bike, hence the “used to.”

I had so much fun putting this post together. Hope you enjoyed it too!

July 1

Adventures with spiders

I’ve been working on what I call the “blog book” a lot lately. It’s the “parenting book” I’m writing, using a lot of stories I’ve blogged about before. So, pretty much out of necessity, there’s been a lot of looking back on old posts and a little uncontrollable nostalgia. Then, this morning, one of those Facebook memories popped up from when we sold our farm house.

Two years ago, we moved from Austin (a little town north of Cabot, Arkansas) to Hot Springs, moving from the country to suburbia. I’d blogged about how the kids reacted to news of our move (Our Next Adventure) and looking back now, the story’s even funnier to me.

Wonder Boy was excited to no longer share a room with his “stinky” older brother. This is funny because Wonder Boy’s room most often has a “sweaty boy” smell to it, while the worst thing in brother’s room is excessive dog hair. And neither room tops the Girl’s, with its constant tornado-ran-through-here status and stench from the Chihuahua’s bad breath (seriously, it’s so strong it can stink up a room).

The Professor was distraught, worried that he takes too long to make friends and would never be happy. I remember the first day in the new house, he hid behind the couch almost in tears, rather than go out and introduce himself to neighborhood boys. Now, he’s got some of the best friends he’s ever had and won’t even joke about ever moving again.

The Girl was never really the farm type to begin with. She’s never liked getting sweaty and regularly complained about all the critters and pests (she has this exaggerated fear of dead spiders … really, it’s the dead ones that bother her, smh).  So I’m pretty sure she was genuinely happy when we said we were moving. That and her being worried about her brother’s lack of enthusiasm, she said, “It’ll be like an adventure, but without the spiders and such.” When I read that quote again this morning, I laughed out loud. Since moving to Hot Springs, dad has acquired two new … pets … tarantulas. He captured the first in our driveway, bought a habitat for it and stuck it on our bookshelf. Then, as if one wasn’t enough, he special ordered the second one (which I might add, is actually pretty cool looking).

So basically we moved out of the country and brought all the critters indoors. Well, she was right: every day is an adventure … with spiders.

June 22

Why Do I Write?

Author’s note: I’m a member of an online community called Becoming Writer. This week’s cafe question asked participants to answer “Why do you write?” I sat down to type up a reply and opened a can of worms. Might as well share it here.

I have a love-hate reaction to this question. Any time someone asks why I write, or even what I’m writing, I feel something between all the air being sucked out and me and a child who’s so excited and has to pee and just can’t take the time and can’t stop talking and …

Either stone-faced panic or rambling.

I’m probably doing it now.

There are so many little reasons why I write, but they may just be symptoms of the bigger cause. When I try to verbalize this to others, I feel at a loss for words … and I’m NEVER at a loss for words. It’s like one of life’s great ironies … ooh, ask Stephanie about her writing and watch her go … speechless.  Ha, ha, ha. Very funny, Universe.

I write because I love words. I love stories. I even love grammar.

I write, as one participant said, to not forget. Much of my blog is dedicated to preserving memories with my children.

I write, as another said, to get out of my head. I spend way too much time here.

I write, as another said, for therapy. Who doesn’t?

I write, as yet another said, because the story’s always changing. That’s what keeps things interesting.

I write because … because … because …

Because I can’t not. When I’m not writing, the words don’t stop. They float around in my head (I envision a wide-open empty space up there … perhaps with a few cobwebs in corners), giggling and dancing around. Maybe they start out as cuter versions of those mucus monsters from that medicine commercial. And then more join. And then more. And then more. What, on a good day after writing, started out as fun gathering of close friends turns into a mosh pit at the worst metal band concert of all time (or what I imagine that would be like since I’ve never actually seen a mosh pit … no comment on the worst metal band concert). Then it’s all crowded and overbearing and every gasp for air only fills my nostrils with the stench of sweat. And then someone turns ups the heat, raising the sweaty word-bodies up like water just about ready to boil over. But just when I think the edge is near to provide some relief, like little droplets that run down the side of the pot, there’s no longer any water … instead the word-bodies are now the hard-boiled eggs whose cook forgot to turn off the heat. Crackle. Singe. Pop. BAM.

Have you ever tried to clean exploded, dried, over-cooked, egg off of a wall? It’s no fun.

That’s what my brain feels like when I don’t empty out the words …

The truth is, I’m never empty of words. Even when I struggle getting the words on paper, which happens a lot, they’re always there, always replenishing. And that’s a good thing. I just have to write to keep the ones that live up there to a manageable mass.

Otherwise, somebody’s going to have to scrub exploded, dried, over-cooked Stephanie brain off of a wall. And, despite being headless, it’d likely be me on clean-up duty. Cue the “ain’t nobody got time for that” meme.

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May 21

Out with the Old, In with the New

May is a time of endings and new beginnings; this truth is never more evident than with high school and college graduations. But even without a current graduate* in the house, we’ve had our own share of endings and beginnings this month.  (Technically, Bryan graduates in July with his Doctorate of Nursing Practice!)  Truth be told, that’s why I haven’t had much time to write as of late.

I was busy reviewing portfolios and compiling final grades for my spring composition class. Once that was done, I started in on preparation for the summer class I’m teaching online starting next Monday. While online teaching has many benefits, in some ways it requires more work: you have to anticipate questions and prepare for everything to be presented to students in writing … no longer able to just save some things for live discussion. This past week, I’ve been knee deep in lesson modules, content folders, assignment links, and discussion forums – on top of drafting syllabi, project assignment sheets and lecture notes/slideshows. Fortunately, I’m a nerd for that kind of stuff.

This month has brought many other transitions as well. We said goodbye to Aunt Bee after more than 8 years, trading her in for a spaceship. Okay, not really. But when I’m sitting in the cockpit (driver’s seat) of my new, bright white Dodge Durango Citadel, I feel like I might take flight. The verdict is still out on a name for my new toy/family vehicle, and I’ll consider all suggestions. For some reason, I keep thinking of Stormtroopers, but they’re bad so that can’t be it. The Girl cried at leaving Aunt Bee behind; her heart hurt for Aunt Bee’s inanimate feelings.

RIP Aunt Bee
RIP Aunt Bee

The almost 9yo said goodbye to his crooked teeth (literally, he said, “goodbye crooked teeth” in the car before going in to the orthodontist) and got what will likely be just the first round of braces to correct teeth and an under-bite. He didn’t cry but was clearly nervous; I had to hold his hand the whole time.

How adorable is he?!
How adorable is he?!

Bryan has decided he’s going bald. Well, let me clarify: he’s been going bald for years. Now he’s just decided to embrace it and maybe help things along a bit. He’s been going every week or so and getting a closer buzz, working his way up to a Mr. Clean look.

Perhaps one of the saddest changes was the night the almost 16yo brought this picture from her room to ours:

Noah's Ark
Noah’s Ark

Pepa purchased this painting for the Girl’s room when she was still growing in my belly. It’s been in every room of hers in every house we’ve ever owned ever since. Now, as she fills her walls with fandom posters, pics of friends and other random teenage girl decorations, she no longer has a place for Noah. I’ll admit, it was my turn to tear up a bit.

Endings can be bittersweet, but change is a part of life. And so are kids growing up. Here’s to the beginnings that follow endings. And a really cool spaceship.

May 3

The Evil Doubt Fairy

Not too long ago, I had a really productive day. That’s meant to sound like an anomaly, because, sadly, they don’t happen for me very much anymore. I’ve talked before about how I used to kick the proverbial butts of to-do lists on a regular basis, but, in the last 5-10 years seem to have lost my get-it-done mojo. So, a week or so ago, when I wrote more than 5000 words IN ONE DAY toward my parenting book project, I was on cloud nine … for a little while.


Then darkness came.

No, really, it was night. I was lying in bed, trying to go to sleep, when I became overwhelmed with doubt. What do I know about parenting? What can I say that hasn’t been said before? Why would anyone listen to me? Who cares what I have to say? Today was a complete waste. My words are useless. I might as well give up.

I’m not exaggerating. If anything, the above doesn’t convey the depths of my despair. And I didn’t write words for days.

A few days later I was sharing my woes with a fellow Tribe Writer, and she said, “Sorry you were visited by the evil doubt fairy.” It seems like such a trivial thing, but knowing she “got me” was really helpful. It reminded me that all writers go through periods of productivity and doubt. I just need to work on increasing the recurrences of my productive periods and, as she continued, “tell the evil doubt fairy to stuff it.”

It’s time to revoke the invitation to the evil doubt fairy. Doubt is no longer welcome to come and hang out with me.

How about you? How do you beat the evil doubt fairy? Share your tips in the comments.

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