Tag Archives: taking risks

They Sell Underwear In Europe

It's a CARRY-ON!

It’s a CARRY-ON!

The Blogher conference is 72 hours away!  I’ve checked the weather in Chicago.  I’ve got 500 business cards with my new logo (and I’ve even practiced the “quick draw” to get them out of the holder…I kid you not).  I’ve borrowed a notebook computer so I can look like the cool kids when it’s time to take notes.  I went to the grocery store and stocked up on things G can cook easily when he’s taking care of the kids for four nights.  I’ve done the laundry.  Twice (darn you, cats).

Now it’s time to pack.  And I don’t feel ready.

Whenever I am nervous about going on some new adventure, I recall another piece of travel advice dispensed by Richard many years ago.  “They sell underwear in Europe, Ashley.”

Scene:  It’s 24 hours before our flight to another country.  I’ve got three lists–purse, carry-on, checked bag–and they’re organized by item type.  I’m crossing through each item and double-checking.  I’ve already got backup copies of my credit cards, passport and insurance cards zipped into the lining of my jacket AND in the inner pocket of my purse.  All toiletries are organized in clear containers and ziploc bags, with double bagging around the more gooey items.  But I’m still nervous about forgetting something.

Richard, on the other hand, walks to the dryer and pulls out a load of clothes, folds them loosely and slings them into a bag.  Zips it up and he’s done.

As I’m dithering about forgetting something, he says, “Let’s go!  As long as we have a credit card, we’re good.  They sell underwear in Europe.”

It reminded me of the line from Absolutely Fabulous, when Eddy and Patsy are trying to leave on holiday and Eddy keeps running around saying, “Money!  Tickets!  Passport!”  And then she runs out to the car but has to return three times to get…you know.  Money.  Tickets.  Passport.

Overthinking things?  Perhaps.

But there was that one time that G and I flew to Brasil with the kids and realized that we had left Vivi’s beloved Pengy in the car.  Try scrounging through the Sao Paolo airport in search of a replacement penguin.  Or the time Richard and I went to Bermuda with a broken camera (Grant had dropped it while taking pictures of his feet) and came back with three rolls of pictures that cut our heads off.  Or the time I needed Imodium RIGHT AWAY in Oxford on a Sunday morning.

What’s your thing that you just can’t travel without?

Changing the Way I See Things

flipped glasses

Totally not me because I never could get my Dorothy Hamill haircut. But those are the sweet, sweet spectacles that I loved.

When I was in third grade, my mom took me over to Dr. Hammett’s office in LaGrange.  He was “the eye doctor” and I loved going there because the front desk had a bowl of Kraft caramels on it and every now and then one of those fudge ones would show up…SCORE.

That’s exactly how I felt when Dr. Hammett told my mom that I would need glasses.  I knew that I was not supposed to want glasses but I really did want them.  I thought they would make me interesting.  And I would be able to read and read and read and read.  So I tried not to smile while I heard the news.  I picked out a pair from the kids’ rack–they were called “Cherry Swirl” and they were AWESOME.

Glasses didn’t stay awesome for long, for all the usual reasons.  Blind at the pool.  Contacts are itchy.  Fingerprints.  Four eyes.  Sweat.  They slide down, get knocked off, scratch too easily.

I loved my Cherry Swirl glasses for about a year then I tolerated glasses for another 33 years.

Then one magical day, my car was paid off and I saw an email about $1000 off laser vision correction and I decided that it was time.  I went to the seminar and found out that it could work for me.  I had the money for it.  I got over my concerns about the slim slim chance of ending up with worse vision.  Last April, I did it.  I signed the papers, paid the bill, swallowed a Valium (#18!) and lay down on a table.  Srrrrrrrt.  One laser made my vision blurry.  Then they walked me two steps to the next table and Srrrrtttt blip blip blip runk runk ruuuunk…and I could see.  Seriously.  I stood up and read the time off the clock across the room.  It was 11:40.  Thirty four years of not being able to see then I could see.  Just like that.

The day after the procedure, I gathered up all my old glasses and prescription sunglasses and stuffed them in the donation box for charity.  It felt so liberating!  I could lie on my side and read a book.  I felt safer around the pool because I could see my kids clearly.  We went to the beach and I saw fish jumping out in the distance.  I could wear regular old sunglasses from Target.  Even working out was better because I could sweat all I liked without my glasses slipping down my nose during push-ups.

But this isn’t an extended testimonial about the powers of laser vision correction.  It’s about changing habits and changing situations in life. With the speed of a laser and a few thousands dollars, I changed my situation.  But this morning, I did what I always do–I turned off the alarm, swung my legs over the side of the bed, then reached for my glasses.  It’s been a year, but my body still follows that habit of 34 years.  It happens when I am sleepy and running on my lizard brain.  Habits are like that–they are grooves that my body has gotten used to.  They once served a purpose, but now I might still be doing them without the need to.  Habits don’t always recognize when a situation has changed.  Think about an alcoholic–the minute they decide to stop drinking, the situation has changed.  The habit of wanting to drink takes longer to retrain.  

The week after the laser eye surgery, I started ripping down the ugly fruit wallpaper in the kitchen that I had resented for eight years.  In a couple of days, we redid the kitchen counters, the appliances, the walls.  FINALLY.  It felt like I had shaken something loose.  The eye surgery had inspired me to change other situations.  Some things really can be fixed just. like. that.  It only requires making the decision to change.

There was a time when running was a habit for me and I want to get back to that.  I simply need to do it.  I could spend eight years or thirty years to think about it and plan for it and worry over it, or I could put on my shoes tomorrow and run.  Well, probably walk and then run down a hill.  I can change the situation quickly, even though the habit will take longer to recover.

Sound familiar?  What's got you scared to change?

Sound familiar? What’s got you scared to change?

Do you have something that’s been nagging at you?  What are you tired of?  What part of it is a habit and what is a situation?  Can the situation be changed?  How can you retrain the habit?

Now I’m going to bed and I bet you a dollar I reach for the phantom glasses in the morning.  And I’ll smile.

“You Keep Going”

It’s turned into “Spencer Week” here on Baddest Mother Ever.  That’s the cool thing about writing my own blog–I never know on Monday where I will have written to by Friday.

One of his friends told the story of a time Spencer brought an actual Tony Award to work.  He went from office to office and had each of his coworkers hold the award…so that they could then hand it back to him and he could practice reaching out for it and cradling it while he said “Thank you!”

Thank you, bright boy, for these words you left with us.  Click on the photo to hear Spencer’s own words about what it’s all about.
Spencer Interview

This next clip is from the memorial service.  It includes the above footage of Spencer’s interview in the documentary followed by an emotional performance by Kathryn Kitt of her brother Tom’s song “I Miss the Mountains.”  The song is from the Tony Award winning musical “Next to Normal.”  It’s sung by a woman who’s living a “normal” life thanks to mental health medications, but she misses the highs and lows of her old life.

But I miss the mountains
I miss the dizzy heights
All the manic magic days
And the dark depressing nights
I miss the mountains
I miss the highs and lows
All the climbing, all the falling
All the while the wild wind blows
Stinging you with snow
And soaking you with rain
I miss the mountains
I miss the pain

As Kathryn sings, a photo montage of Spencer’s life plays in the background.  I must have been sitting by the sound guy because I can hear myself laugh at a couple of points.  A couple of sobs, too.

Spencer Cox – A Celebration of Life – Kathryn Kitt Accompanied by Tom Kitt from LIPTV 5 on Vimeo.

I’m Coming Out

smiling me

Saturday, April 20, 2013
about 4pm on a really good day

Hi, this is me.  

I was trying to edit my “About” page for this blog and I realized that I’ve been hiding.  I can tell all kinds of stories about heartache and empowerment and rebuilding, but I have been afraid to just show ME.  So today I am coming out of the photo booth.  

Most of y’all have known me since I wiped my nose on my sleeve, but some of you are strangers.  Hello to all.  My name is Ashley and I am the Baddest Mother Ever!  

This picture was emailed to me yesterday from a photo booth that I sat in last weekend.  It was Alumnae Weekend at my alma mater (Kathy Bradley, author of “Breathing and Walking Around” taught me that the phrase means “nourishing mother”).  I had a fantastic weekend, filled with stomach-lurching challenges (like leading a formal meeting with 1000 people, fire, and an organist) and breathtaking successes (that meeting, even with a couple of glitches).  I made new friends who graduated before I was born.  I hugged necks of friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years.  I met our oldest graduate, 106 and there for her 85th reunion.  My spirit was nourished.  I challenged myself, rewarded myself, believed in myself. 

And look at how it shows on my face!  Normally, pictures of me make me see wrinkles and gray and extra chins, but this picture…I can’t help but smile at myself.  I LOOK LIKE MYSELF.  

Five Things I Love About This Picture

  1. My whole face is smiling, even behind my ears.  
  2. I am wearing something colorful that says, “Hey, look at me!” instead of something drab that says, “Nothing to see here, move along.”
  3. I went into the photo booth wearing a pair of ridiculously huge, bedazzled sunglasses but I put them on my head so I could see myself.
  4. That necklace is made from my late husband’s wedding ring.  I don’t wear it often because I have a toddler who likes to grab things.  
  5. My gray hair looks kind of like highlights.  

How long has it been since you posted a picture of yourself on Facebook?  Yesterday, I saw Nicki making a muscle she’s worked hard to earn.  Today, Alice was having breakfast with her son.  Lucy had some cute hair going on.  Kimberly’s son is taller than she is.  Felicia is at the paddock.  What are the rest of you doing?  

Your babies are adorable.  Your cats couldn’t be cuter.  And that lunch you had yesterday…yum!  But let’s see more pictures of you!  It’s my challenge to you today.  Post that pic of YOU.  

The Country Bunny

Did you know that DuBose Heyward wrote the story behind "Porgy and Bess" 14 years before he wrote "The Country Bunny?"

Did you know that DuBose Heyward wrote the story behind “Porgy and Bess” 14 years before he wrote “The Country Bunny?”

Did anyone ever read this book to you?  Someone who loved you very much and wanted you to believe you could be anything you want to be?  Mrs. Carol Fowler read this book to me and I have never forgotten it.  One afternoon a week, our class walked down to the library at Flint River Academy and filed in quietly.  On top of the low shelves filled with children’s books, one book would be lying face down and near her chair–the book she had chosen for us.  Oh, the excitement of that first peek!

We sat in a semi-circle on the thin carpet–back then we called it “indian style” instead of “criss cross apple sauce.”  Mrs. Fowler wouldn’t say a word until we were all sitting down and paying attention.  I can still remember the crackle of the plastic covers that she put on the books to protect their beautiful covers.  She was magical–Mrs. Fowler could read upside down and knew exactly when to turn the page without even looking.  Library time was the best hour of the week.

When I was in seventh grade, long after the days of story hour, I got to assist Mrs. Fowler in the library during my free period.  As I straightened the books in the elementary section, I rediscovered “The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes” and read it many times.  When Mrs. Fowler had first held the book up for us to see, I was a little disappointed because the cover doesn’t look like much.  The colors were too old-fashioned, some book my grandmother would pull out of a dusty box in the attic.

young bunnyOh, the story!  A little brown bunny named Cottontail wants to be an Easter Bunny but no one believes in her.  Those jobs go to the swift jack rabbits or the giant white bunnies.  When Cottontail finds herself all grown up with 21 babies to chase after, her dream seems even further out of reach.  But lo and behold, Cottontail’s experience as a mother translates into just the “skill set” that a busy Easter Bunny needs.  She is selected and gets to live her dream, thanks to the help of her children and her own belief in her dream.   Even when the job seems to be too much, she finds the strength to do the impossible…thanks to a pair of magic shoes.

When I was all grown up, I bought a copy of “The Country Bunny” for myself.  One Easter, when my nephew, Grant, was about two and a half, I decided to share it with him.  His dad was busy fixing something around our parents’ house and asked me to keep Grant out of the way.  We snuggled into a comfy chair and I told him about this wonderful book that I had loved for so many years and how excited I was to share it with him.  Papa was snoozing in the other chair.  I opened the book, read the first page in breathless awe.  Grant reached across my lap, closed the book and chirped “The End!” He slid off my lap and went off to find out what all the hammering was about.  My dad STILL laughs about that moment!  So much for that.

tired bunnyThis is my favorite illustration from the book.  Cottontail has one very special egg to deliver to a sick boy who lives atop a mountain.  She is exhausted from her night’s work.  There isn’t much night left–the pink dawn of Easter breaks behind the mountain.  Cottontail doesn’t want to give up.    She makes it…SPOILER ALERT!

I think I love this painting because I’ve felt this way so many times as a mother.  You spend so much effort trying to get everything done, trying to make the magic happen and there doesn’t seem to be enough time.  You’re worn out.  You just need that little boost of magic.  The night wasn’t long enough.

Go get this book and read it to yourself.  Give yourself the same gift that Mrs. Fowler gave me all those years ago.  I still appreciate it.

“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”

882452_10200322608460867_1820283952_oThis is an essay I wrote last summer for my Leukemia/Lymphoma Society website.  It’s been stomach bug weekend at our house…so not much time for writing.  Today, Carlos got stuck under the side table in the living room and started yelling “Tuck!  Tuck!”  I thought he was saying “stuck” but he was trying to get this truck.  He loves that toy, probably because it has old fashioned rusty metal and sharp corners.  Enjoy!  

“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”

That’s the question Richard asked me, one snowy day in the end of February 2005. We were sitting by the window of his room in the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Outside, the low gray sky was filled with huge snowflakes, cartoonish in their size and pure white color. The kind of snow that makes a Georgia girl stare. Richard was writing his last will and testament. His mother was there, relaying changes to the lawyer, and I was trying to stay out of it. But he looked up at me and asked, “Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?” I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t find words.

Of course I had thought about what I wanted to do with the house. We had made lots of plans. I wanted to see the azaleas that we had planted spring back from that severe pruning he had given them in May. I wanted to find a rug that fit the dining room because the one we bought at that auction was two inches too long. I wanted to take out that cherry tree that was crowding the hemlock, even though it bothered my heart to cut down a cherry tree. I wanted to sit on the deck together, covered in sweat and dirt and contentment and look out over what we had made of this house. I wanted to get rid of that fruit wallpaper in the kitchen. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.

I had spent nine months watching leukemia take Richard from me—cell by cell, ounce by ounce. He was leaving. Now it wanted my home, too? Did I want to keep our house and rattle around in the memories? Did I want to sell it and start over somewhere else? Did I want to decide now with him or decide later…alone?

He waited for my answer. I fluttered my hands around and made a choking kind of sound when I tried to say all the words and none of the words. I don’t even remember if I made a sentence. He understood what I meant. I’m not sure I knew what I meant, but he got it.

Richard and I stood on that too-big Persian rug with its Tree of Life motif when we married in the backyard of our home. The azaleas bloomed a few weeks after he died. He had been right—the pruning made them flourish. Months later, my brother cut down the cherry tree while I hid inside the house and the hemlock thrives now that it has more room to grow. I sit on the deck sometimes and remember and it is sweet.

Now the wallpaper has fallen! G and I have spent a couple of weeks working on the kitchen—stripping the walls, patching, spackling, scrubbing. The other day, some magic people arrived in a big truck and swapped out the countertops, put in a sleek cook top and installed a sink that gleams. After they left, that question popped into my head and has been dogging me for days—“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”

I certainly never thought, on that snowy and empty day, that I would do THIS with the house. I hadn’t thought that every bedroom would be filled with sleeping kids. I hadn’t thought that the living room would look like a Fisher Price showroom after an attack by Godzilla. I hadn’t thought about how the downstairs is perfect for a teenager suite. I hadn’t thought about a gingko for the backyard, but G gave me one for my 40th birthday. I hadn’t thought I would have a son born on a silent, snowy morning.

Richard gave me many gifts, but the dearest one is my home. It was our home, then it was my home, now it is my family’s home. His picture is in the living room. Shells he picked up on the beach in Panama when he was a boy line the bathroom window. G found a gizmo when we were working in the kitchen and we figured out that it was a wonton dumpling press and it must have belonged to Richard, who could make a mean pot sticker. Carlos has discovered Richard’s old Tonka fire truck. He flips it upside down and spins the wheels around and around.  Around and around and around.

Here Comes the Sun


Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.   –Maori Proverb

Today is the day that it all takes a turn for the better.  Yesterday was the March equinox, the day that light and dark are equal, but from here until the solstice, every day gets longer and brighter.  Ahhhhhhhh.  Lightness.

We had rain a few days ago and I swear I looked out the window today and the greening switch had been flipped in the backyard.  I can hear it buzzing.  Our front yard is ringing with the daffodils we tucked away in October.  As we were pulling into the garage, Vivi delighted at the sight of the neighbor’s apple tree in full bloom as if she had never seen it before.  Two days ago it was bare and now it is a cloud of hooray.  Soon, the Yoshino cherry trees will bloom.  Their light pink froth makes the soft movement of the air visible again.  I remember that every space around me and inside me is filled with boisterous molecules.  I feel like I can breathe again…even if it ends up in sneezing.

I’ve been humming “Here Comes the Sun” for weeks now.  I love that “the quiet Beatle” wrote that lovely, simple song.  Last week while we were waiting on an over-priced chicken finger lunch, Vivi pointed out the picture of the Beatles from the Abbey Road cover from the mural in a TGIFridays.  She asked what those men were doing and that led to a discussion of who they were and what they were each famous for.  Then she asked if they were still alive and I had to break the news about John and George.  George lived a long and peaceful life but his body stopped working.  What about the one in front?  Well that’s John.  He died when a bad man shot him with a gun.  Why did the man do that?  I don’t know.

I hated to leave it on that note because we had been having such a good talk.  I said, “Hey, do you wish treeremember that tree in Washington DC that we tied wishes to?”  She did.  “John’s wife came up with that idea.”  I scrolled through the pictures on my phone and showed Vivi the wish she had drawn onto a white paper tag then tied to the bare branch of that tree at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.  She had drawn a cat.  That was her wish–a cat.

On my wish, I wrote my favorite quote about gratitude:  “For all that has been, thanks.  For all that will be, yes.”   I think “yes” is my favorite word, and that word brings us back to what John loved about Yoko–her yes.

In a 1971 Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner, John told the story this way:

LENNON: I’m sure I’ve told you this many times. How did I meet Yoko? John Dunbar, who was married to Marianne Faithful, had an art gallery in London called Indica and I’d been going around to galleries a bit on my off days in between records. I got the word that this amazing woman was putting on a show next week and there was going to be something about people in bags, in black bags, and it was going to be a bit of a happening and all that. So I went down to a preview of the show. I got there the night before it opened. I went in – she didn’t know who I was or anything – I was wandering around, there was a couple of artsy type students that had been helping lying around there in the gallery, and I was looking at it and I was astounded. There was a piece which really decided me for-or-against the artist, a ladder which led to a painting which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a blank canvas with a chain with a spy glass hanging on the end of it. This was near the door when you went in. I climbed the ladder, you look through the spyglass and in tiny little letters it says “yes”.

So it was positive. I felt relieved. It’s a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn’t say “no” or “fuck you” or something, it said “yes.”

I peeked at some of the other wishes around ours and the one that will stay with me for many years was from a little boy.  It said, “If David asks Mom to marry him, please let her say yes.”

Vivi and I visited the wish tree in the dead of winter, when the pavement around it was slippery with ice and the wind tossed the white wishes until their strings were tangled and knotted.  Tying a paper wish to a tree is a kind of offering, returning the paper to its source.  Despite the darkness of winter, each simple white wish sprouted from the bare limbs like a bloom.

Wishes are hope.  Wishes allow us to believe in yes.

I think NOW is the time of year for resolutions.  This is the time of newness and growing and coming back to life.  The Zoroastrians are celebrating Nowruz with fire and green grass.  The Christians mark Easter.  The pagans thank Ostara, the Germanic goddess of the dawn for bringing light into the darkness.

Turn your face to the sun today.  Hum a few bars of George’s song.  Say yes.