You Are Here

Dear Nine-Year-Old Version of Me,

Yeah, you, the one sleeping on the plastic pool lounger and thinking about how awesome it is to be a Floridian instead of an Arkansan. The furniture will arrive tomorrow, but don’t get comfortable. This place isn’t the final stop in your life. Far from it, in fact. God has a journey in mind, and let me tell you….the itinerary is long.

692_10151705766881789_872895404_nYou’ll move to another nine cities in your lifetime as far as I know—a couple of them more than once—and put your crap in boxes more times than you’ll care to count. There will be places you love, where you dig your toes into the earth and fiercely whisper, “This is where I want put down roots. Please God, let this be it.” But you can’t, because there are still miles to go before you sleep. However, you’ll learn something from each spot where you sojourn, and you’ll carry them all with you in the marrow of your bones.

In Ormond Beach, you’ll botch your social studies fair project because Seminole Indians lived in Chickees rather than Tepees. But don’t worry, Mrs. Randolph will understand and let you fix it. You’ll discover Tolkien and Lewis here, fall in love with literature, and become terrible at math as a result. Why? Because you won’t be able to concentrate on all those silly numbers when Frodo is taken away from Sam or Reepicheep loses his tail.

You’ll discover music’s your passion and plan one of the most successful surprise parties of all time in Port Charlotte. You’ll hate your parents for awhile for making you leave that warm place where you can set your watch by the afternoon rainstorms, but don’t be too hard on them. You’ll always wonder what might have been had you been able to stay put. But it isn’t the one God had in mind. Look back fondly, but keep going. There are greater things ahead.

Your first apartment in Ocala, Florida will be a tiny efficiency, but you’ll love it because it’s yours. The Murphy bed will squeak no matter how much WD40 you put on it, and while you live there, you’ll make a series of spectacularly bad decisions. Don’t beat yourself up about them; you’re still a forgiven child of God. Oh, and try not to lurk in the AOL chat rooms. ‘Tis folly.

birthday1I wish I could tell you what to do about Savannah and the man you’ll meet there. You’ll be crazy about him, crazy enough that you’ll move back to give life with him a try. But the Holy Spirit will tell you to leave, and you’ll be inexorably drawn away like the tide pulled from the shore. You’ll think about it often and ache because you’ll want so desperately to call that port home. But it won’t be the place either. Press the memories like flowers in the pages of a book; preserve their essence and keep travelling.

The man you dreamed about when you lay awake in your pink gingham canopy bed, the one you’re meant for, will be in Valdosta. You’ll marry him, and once you grow into each other, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to get from Point A to Point B without him.

You will experience dazzling moments of joy and become intimately acquainted with fear and uncertainty. You will make friends easily when you arrive in a new place and struggle like hell to keep them because all you know is leaving people behind. At some point, you’ll want to wrap your heart in newspaper and pack it away forever because it’s been dropped, cracked, and nearly broken one too many times.

Little me on that pool float, you don’t know it, but you’ll be adrift in life for a very long time. More than once you’ll wonder why God couldn’t just let you stay put and leave you be. It’ll take you a couple dozen years to put it all together, but He’s got something so much bigger than you think in mind. He’s training you to serve Him. Now, I’m not going to lie to you, God is going to crack you in half to do it, but you’ll survive. And in the end, the dots on your life’s map will be Ebeneezer stones, testaments to His perfect handiwork.

There And Back Again: The Cities I’ve Called Home

This post is the first Blog Month assignment generated by the fine folks over at Compassion International. Our challenge was to write a letter to a younger version of ourselves, but the greater goal is to encourage readers to sponsor a child through Compassion.

Even though I’ve faced many challenges in life, I can say I’ve never wanted for anything. I’ve always had clean water, a full belly, and a warm bed. I have never doubted that I am loved, treasured, and valued. It may have been in different places, but I’ve always had a home. Many kids in this world aren’t so fortunate, but we can change that. Put a pin on their life’s map. Help them make a new start.

If you are interested in doing so, please visit their sponsorship page and take a look at all the kids who are in need. As the sponsor of four children, I can tell you that it is a worthwhile and wonderful way to help other human beings and make a difference in the life of a child.

Edmond, Paromika, Tania, and Brayan
Edmond, Paromika, Tania, and Brayan

Music to My Ears

Last week, my writing group discussed how long we’d been working at the craft, what got us started, and what keeps us going. The stories ranged from silly to serious, but there were a few things we all shared. For example, we all love reading and do so voraciously. We also started penning stories, poems, and essays at a very young age. Each one of fell in love with words, and there were moments and people who helped us discover just how winsome they truly are.

I think the same is true of other creative efforts like dance, art, music, cooking, and design. We each have a certain amount of natural talent in one or more of these areas, and it can always be developed through disciplined practice and the help of experts.

I wish my first grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, had thought about this fact. One week, she gave our class an assignment: draw a character and write a story featuring him/her. I’m sad to say I don’t have the original drawing, so I tried to re-create it using the crude art supplies in my office. Ladies and gents, I give you Miranda…


First off, I apologize for the uber creepy Jack Nicholson Joker lips, but it did the best I could. I remember her story was a simple one. She was ten years old (the age I so desperately wanted to be at the time because it had two numbers in it instead of one). She had curly brown hair and green eyes. She was a singer who loved animals and the color purple. I believe she rescued a fluffy gray and white kitten and gave it to a lonely old lady named Mrs. Kimberly who lived down the street. Yeah, she was pretty boss.

Well, when it came to drawing her, I was a little perplexed. I was the kid who liked to paint a picture with words rather than shapes and colors. But the assignment required both parts, so I–ever the diligent student–set out to complete the second part.

When we’d finished our work, we sat around Mrs. Davis in a circle, and she held our drawings up for everyone to see. She asked us questions about them, especially what we saw and liked. Finally, it was my turn, and she held up my drawing of Miranda. I held by breath, wondering what everyone would say about my magnum opus. But all she said was, “What’s wrong with this picture, class?”

Wrong? What’s wrong?  I asked myself. What could possibly be wrong with it?

My classmates threw in suggestions until Mrs. Davis finally gave up and answered her own question, “It’s wrong because she doesn’t have any ears.” Everyone snickered, and she moved on to the next victim.

I wanted to defend my artistic choice, to scream, “Of course she has ears, you ninny! They’re under her hair!” But I didn’t because I was mortified.

When I saw the assignment the next day, I saw a huge red “B” etched in one corner and the same assessment scribbled in another. For an entire week, the drawing was pinned to the bulletin board at the front of our classroom—mocking me. And I think that was the moment I gave up any and all thoughts of trying my hand at art.

Granted, I never would have been naturally gifted at it. You can tell that I have no eye for proportion or form. Unlike my friend Jeff Gregory, whose doodles are works of brillance, I could never labor over something made of acrylic, pencil, or charcoal and make it beautiful. But I always wonder if Mrs. Davis’ appraisal of my drawing forever altered some part of me that was willing to take a risk with something new, something that I wasn’t necessarily skilled at but could have gotten better with over time. Horses were only things I ever practiced drawing from that point on because, like all girls, I was obsessed with them. I doodled in notebooks, but I showed what I’d drawn to no one. And no matter how much I tried, they never got better than this…


My writing, however, fared far better. Granted, I’m still far from perfect (and famous…and rich…and critically acclaimed), but I enjoy scribbling words on paper as much now as I did at the tender age of seven. More so, in fact. And while I know this mostly due to my own desire, I can’t help but think Mrs. Davis played a role in it as well.

She caught me staring at that scarlet B one day in class. She said nothing at the time, but before I left for home that afternoon, she pulled me aside and admitted, “Your story was very well done, Jamie. I liked Miranda.”

It was the first compliment for my writing I’d received from someone who was not related to me. I suddenly discovered something very interesting on one of my shoes and mumbled, “Thank you” in reply. I was embarrassed, but it wasn’t just because of the praise. All I could think was that I wished she had given it sooner.

Why? Well, that’s the what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story.”

The day my drawing met with criticism and laughter, I did something I’d regretted ever since. I went back to the art corner to sharpen my pencil using the silver hand crank unit we all remember so well. When I went to wedge my good old number two in the slot, I realized I’d also carried a blue crayon back there with me. Camouflaged by a half wall stacks of paper, and jars of tempura paint, I had a “wonderful, awful idea.”

Image from

In a moment of impish inspiration, I decided I would show her the extent of my ire by sharpening it too. Yeah, I went there.

I gummed up the works of that machine with my aqua-tinted rage and felt somewhat justified for having done so. But when we left for music class, I saw her carrying the sharpener to the bathroom and felt triumphant for another 2.7 seconds until I realized she’d spend most of her planning period cleaning up the mess. Then I felt putrid about it. And the compliment she gave me only made it worse.

I learned several valuable lessons from the entire experience, the most important of which is this: Words matter. Kind ones are worth the time it takes to say them. Unkind ones wound. They can change someone’s opinion about an issue or a moment in time or even make a person love or hate herself. They can inspire people to greatness or leave them defeated before they begin. Words are powerful in a way few things will ever be, and they’re ours for the using. So that means we should always use them well.

How about you all? Is there a talent you always wanted to explore but didn’t? A person you’d like to thank for encouraging you to pursue one? What do you think about words, both kind and cruel? Give me your thoughts in the comments section below.


Hooray for another piece of creative non-fiction. This one is slated to be turned in Monday at 6:00, so if you have comments, feedback, or critique, send it in post haste! 🙂



I blame my mother really. Because she was involved in community theater in our hometown, it meant I was, too. While she rehearsed, helped decorate sets or sew costumes, or played the piano during auditions, I was left with other urchins to run wild in our own version of Neverland—the backstage area, concrete orchestra pit, and balcony of Collins Theater. During the months she and the other actors read and blocked scenes for the 1985 debut of The Sound of Music to the theatergoing public of Paragould, Arkansas, I can honestly say I was less than impressed. People forgot lines. Songs were strangled mid-verse when someone missed a mark. Dance steps were more lumbering than lovely. It reminded me of the pick-up games of baseball my brother Jarrod and I would join in at the local field—you know, the kind where only six kids have gloves and the game abruptly ends in the fifth when the only ball sails into Mrs. Wilcox’s impenetrable back yard.

I think the kids’ chorus was invented to give us, the legion of unsupervised tots at each rehearsal, something to do to keep us from tearing the historic building down. Rodgers and Hammerstein created a play requiring not one but seven children to pull it off, and the Greene County Fine Arts Council had more than enough young’uns to fill that quota. So they had to stick us in as scene fillers, mostly when the nuns were involved. However, I just knew there was no way thirty kids would live in an abbey unless it was one of the freakiest nunneries in the world. And nothing in the rehearsals suggested it was that kind of play.

That was how I was pulled onto the stage instead of dancing around it like a dervish, and the experience was altogether different in the rarefied air four feet off the floor. I could smell the gold paint being used to decorate the walls of the grand ballroom and see the rigging that held up a cobweb of lights above us. I loved the sound my heels made on the wooden floor that was slightly spongy beneath my feet and the feel of the burgundy velvet curtain as it brushed past me like a harried commuter on a subway platform.

For ever-longer periods of time, I sat in the front rows waiting for my group’s cue and watched as my mother was transformed from the woman I knew—a middle school secretary who cut the crusts of my pimento cheese sandwiches—into Elsa Schrader, the baroness who, until the frumpy nun shows up with a guitar in hand, has her immaculately painted claws securely in Captain Von Trapp.

She sang duets. She danced. She laughed in a throaty way she never did at home and drank wine from an empty glass. She was coquettish and demanding by turns. And she was radiant.

She brought her costumes home to make final alterations, and while she and Daddy were out at dinner, I snuck up to their room to see them in their finished forms. My favorite was the ruby gown she wore for three scenes, the one with the single shoulder strap that left one tanned arm gloriously bare and the slit in the side that revealed a hint of leg whenever she strutted across the stage. I finally worked up the courage to slide the dress from its hangar and try it on over my clothes. I pinned my hair up in a banana clip and stood on a footstool to get the full effect in the mirror perched over the dresser. Then I closed my eyes and sang the libretto of one of her songs that I’d l memorized weeks before—So every star on every whirling planet and every constellation in the sky revolves around the center of the universe, that lovely thing called I.

I suppose I was hoping to feel a jolt, a spark, some kind of radiating energy pouring from my fingertips the same way she must have when in character. But it wasn’t the same without the lights and sounds and smells, the glorious chaos of stagecraft going on in the wings. It was hard enough to slip into someone else’s skin with a set and supporting characters, but was it was impossible when you could see your pink gingham canopy bed reflected in the mirror, reminding you who you actually were.


The next summer, the council decided to host a week long drama workshop for the throngs of itinerant youth who hadn’t been sent to summer camp or gone on vacation to exotic places like Disney World (for the well-to-do) or Hot Springs (for the station wagon set). For six days, we invaded the ground floor of First Methodist Church down on Main Street, transforming the normally staid and quiet hallways into a cacophonous world filled with moxie and glitter.

One day, we were taught the basics of acting—how to project your voice, to feign emotion (something that I’m ashamed to admit came in handy both on and off stage), and to use your body to speak as well as your mouth. Other days, we learned the art of stage make-up and how an amount of blush and blue eye shadow that was garish up close was necessary if you wanted people in the back row to be able to make you out. We happily slapped foundation on one another with triangular sponges, learned how to make the “mascara face,” and practiced smiling with Vaseline slathered on our teeth.

We were given boxes of used clothing and accessories and asked to create a character based on the first three items we pulled out with our eyes closed. I drew a feather boa, a green skirt with a few glittering beads still attached, and a black pillbox hat complete with veil and became Ms. Cleo Mimosa, a former vaudeville star and unapologetic diva, for the rest of the day. I distinctly remember returning the props to their boxes, but I couldn’t shed Ms. Mimosa and spent the evening thoroughly annoying my family by referring to myself in the third person and making outrageous demands. “Ms. Mimosa doesn’t eat peas,” I told them, flinging my fork onto the pile still on my plate. And before bed, I’d stormed out of the steamy bathroom wrapped in a towel and waving my Wonder Woman pajamas over my head like a flag, screeching “You certainly can’t expect Ms. Mimosa to sleep in these raggedy old things!” When I tried the same routine the next morning, my father gave me “the look”—the one where he slightly cocked his head and arched his left eyebrow—that told me in no uncertain terms that it was best for all involved parties if Ms. Mimosa slept in.

Singing, dancing, blocking—we experienced it all in a four-day blur of creativity and color that led up to try-outs for the Saturday play. I’d memorized a thirty-second monologue that had something to do with picking daises, a snippet that could show my miming prowess as well as my ability to be surprised, delighted, and blissful. My audition must have gone well because I was one of six kids called up for speaking roles in what would become our slapdash performance of a Chinese fairy tale involving  Bashe, a cunning beast, and other assorted talking creatures. There was also Li Tan, the handsome young hero, his loyal dog, Po, and a beautiful princess named Niulang caught in the middle of it all.

Our director had the same problem many of his ilk share—a stunning lack of suitable male thespians. Drama is a source of glee for many a woman and girl, but for anyone with a modicum of testosterone in his system, it is typically something to be despised and passed over in favor of climbing trees and spitting for distance. Of the half dozen of us who could memorize lines and steps, there wasn’t a Y chromosome to be found, so the prince was going to have to be played by a girl.

My first thought was, Forget that! I didn’t go through all this just to get laughed at like some kind of freak!

Of course, I had yet to learn of La Cage aux Folles, Victor Victoria, Twelfth Night, or even Yentl. At that point, the only version I’d read of The Iliad had been stripped of the scene where Achilles’ mother dressed him in drag to keep him out of the Trojan War. In my mind, playing a dog, an angel, or even tree was all well and good because gender didn’t enter into it, but to pretending to swap one’s sex entirely (and on purpose) was unthinkable. A girl like me doing something like that was just begging to be mocked.

In elementary school, I was quite literally head and shoulders above most boys in my class, which was great when I needed to hustle a few bucks playing tetherball, but not so much during the other 164 hours of a week. I had long before decided that due to my leviathan stature, the best thing for me would be to draw attention to myself via anything done in a sitting position. So I became a word nerd, a voracious consumer of texts whose construction paper “book worm” with body segments listing the works she’d read that year went around the classroom, lapping those of the lazier students. Being on stage was the only place I could use to stand up in front of people and not be embarrassed by how I looked. After all, you’re pretending to be someone else.

“I want to be the princess,” I proclaimed, not willing to leave it to chance.

And fish, fish. I got my wish.

Because the camp’s budget was humble and most of the money put into the set, we were going to perform without costumes and only use a few props to help people figure out who we were. The kids playing animals wore cheap plastic masks, the kind that were strapped to your face with a piece of elastic and were beyond impossible to breathe through. Po, the canine sidekick, got some greasepaint whiskers to go with his faux fur ears and tail. Li Tan was given a plastic sword and shield. And I, Niulang, proudly bore a gaudy tiara covered in paste jewels.

It’s no red dress, I thought. But it’ll have to do.

As we rehearsed, two things became apparent. One, there was a great deal of rug burn involved if you were cast in any of the four-legged roles. And two, I was thrilled beyond measure not to be Rona Marsh, the girl who ended up with Li Tan’s role. She spent hours running around pretending to swing that stupid plastic sword in mock battle with Bashe, shouting my character’s name, and grunting. I was embarrassed for her.

There was one thing I wasn’t pleased with, however, and that was my surprisingly small amount of lines. Other than one scene where I told my mother I would be careful in the woods and another where I was stolen by Bashe, I wasn’t in much of the production. I spent a good deal of time on stage of course, cruelly bound to a pillar by the evil creature who planned on making a meal of me after slaughtering my rescuer, but it just wasn’t the same.


The night of the performance, the teachers took us into a chapel off to the side of the church’s multipurpose room where the play was to be performed and had us each lie down in one of the padded pews.

“Close your eyes,” Bob, the director, whispered. “Imagine yourself on the stage tonight. You’ve seen it with your eyes, so now you can picture it in your mind. Think about who you are tonight, who the people in the audience will see.”

I closed my eyes and tried to think about Niulang. A handful of lines and a tiara—not much to go on.

“You aren’t yourself to them; you are a beaver or an old woman. And if you believe you are that other person, they will, too. It’s up to you to take them where you are, to tell them the story,” he finished in a nearly breathless murmur. “Are you ready?”

A chorus of “mmm hmms” and “uh huhs” wafted up from the pews.

“Then let’s get out there and break a leg,” he said, putting on a grotesque latex mask. He’d had to play Bashe himself because everyone else was too small for the costume.

I’d chosen to wear a pastel pink t-shirt and a long white skirt to look feminine. And with the delicate crown firmly stuck to my scalp with the help of a box of bobby pins, I was as ready as I’d ever be. However, once I was done with my lines, done with reassuring my mother and pitifully pleading for my life, and set on the periphery of the stage to watch the drama unfold, I saw how wrong I’d been to pick the part I had.

In a pair of acid wash jeans, cowboy boots, and a black collared shirt, with only plastic weapons and the suspension of disbelief to help her, Rona became her character. I stood and watched as she gained the trust of all the animals of the forest, bravely fought all obstacles in her path, and worked her way in and out of danger. She was all dynamic action. Her curly shoulder-length black hair trailed behind her like smoke, and every gesture she made had purpose. To block. To advance. To point the way to victory. Because she believed she was Li Tan, that’s who the rest of us saw.

Meanwhile, all I could do was stand there and pretend to wriggle. I felt weak and small, not because I was loosely bound to a Styrofoam column with a piece of rope, but because I’d chosen to put myself there. I’d taken the safer role, gone the expected route, and I was missing out on what could have been my first chance to vanish in front of an audience. I suddenly felt naked in my pastel costume, more out of place than ever before. Because I couldn’t see myself as a princess, it was impossible for me to pretend to be.

When Li Tan rescued me and led me back to my mother, I followed with my head down in what everyone assumed was humble thanks but was actually shame and an eagerness to be off that stage entirely.

On the way out, my family, who’d brought me a bouquet of yellow roses, congratulated me and told me what a wonderful job I’d done.

“I really believed you were scared, being stuck up all alone in that tower,” my grandmother said, affectionately patting me on the back.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her drama looks easy when you’re not really acting.

Sweet Game of Youth

From our fascination with the mythical Fountain of Youth to a desire for the latest anti-wrinkle treatment that renders our faces incapable of expressing emotions, it’s not hard to see that we’re a culture obsessed with staying young.

When I was in my teens and twenties, I didn’t give it much thought; I just shoved the topic into the corner of my mind as unceremoniously as I did the clothing I was too lazy to fold up and put away. However, now that my hair is changing color of its own free will and I’m running into more people who think Hall and Oates is a brand of organic grains, I’ve been confronted with the brutal truth that time soldiers on whether I want it to or not. (It also doesn’t help that I’ll be turning 34 in less than two weeks, but I digress.)

But I have found that there is a source of eternal renewal. Like the trees outside my home, it comes to a glorious finish of color and pageantry in autumn, lies dormant like a bear in winter, and returns afresh and anew every spring. I’m not talking about a garden full of flowers or a flock of migratory birds. No, it’s something altogether more beautiful and majestic than than either of those things.

I’m talking about baseball, the most glorious of all sports. The game that leaves me each November only to return as faithfully as a well-chucked boomerang.

I spent a good deal of time wallowing joyfully in Opening Weekend, which was as rejuvenating as a dip in one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits. I’ll be the first to admit I’m blessed because, last year, my team did the improbable (and hacked off a good number of fans and sports writers around the nation) by winning the World Series in grand fashion.

Yes, for an entire year, I get to relive that series that no one, and I mean NO ONE, thought we’d win. Game six alone was like that “Pit of Despair” machine in The Princess Bride; it took two years off my life and left me in a laughing, crying puddle on the floor. But man, was it worth it.

David Freese, hometown hero!
Motte closes the door on the Rangers.

However, that confetti-drenched moment doesn’t matter now because it’s 2012, and everyone is in the running once again. Every team from the billion dollar juggernauts like the Yankees to squads like the Astros that are in a rebuilding year has the exact same chance of grabbing the brass ring like we did in 2011. Do some teams stand a better chance? Sure. But it’s never guaranteed. That’s the beautiful thing about baseball. The season is long enough that any number of X-Factors can change the make-up of a division or even a league. There is no clock. There are no time-outs. Very little is up to official review (and may it stay that way). One lucky catch or hanging breaking ball can have a huge effect on momentum, and the later it happens in the season, the wackier the run to the playoffs gets. Every one of the “Boys of Summer” is reborn in the spring and given the chance to once again prove his mettle and emerge victorious.


I also relish the re-boot each season gives me and my family. We couldn’t go this year because we’re so poor we make church mice look like Rockefellers, but we usually get to travel down to Florida and savor the game in its purest form—Spring Training. Like the players, we observe more than a few rituals during this brief sabbatical. For instance, one Teppanyaki meal must be shared per trip, autographs must be sought, and we must spend at least one hour before the gates open on the back fields watching the players warm up and perform drills.

Once we’re inside the park for the first game, we always climb the stairs simultaneously so we get to see the most beautiful sight in the world—the geometric spectacle of grass that is a baseball field–together. Sometimes, we say a few words, but more often than not we stand there in silence enjoying the sight like it was the first time. On a side note, I actually get to games early so I can watch the field crew groom it. I’m not lying. Watching them dampen the infield and sketch out the dimensions of the batter’s box is better than Zoloft.

Likewise, there are things we eschew in the name of purity. For example, we never show up late or leave early. We never participate in “The Wave.” And we never ever ever get up in the middle of an inning. Decorum demands these things, and we’re sticklers for it. I won’t even wear a pink jersey; it’s my team’s colors or nothing.

Me in the visitor's dugout at Turner Field during this year's open house.

This sport has united three generations of my family. It’s something–like brown eyes and a penchant for peskiness–that we all share. I remember watching Ozzie Smith’s back flips in rapt fascination, falling asleep listening to Jack Buck calling games on the radio, and spending time with my grandfather learning how to keep a scorecard.

It’s as much a part of who I am as the language I speak and the places I’ve lived in my three decades on this planet. To call it “a game” is both true and somehow trivializing in my mind. But, truth be told, that’s what it is…a game. It’s the same one I grew up watching on television, and while many things in my world have changed, very little about it has. Sure, the powers that be try to “keep it interesting” by adding designated hitters or a second wildcard team, but at its root it’s still comprised of nine innings and twenty-seven outs that each team is given to do the most with. There is still the poetry of the double play and the thrill of the suicide squeeze to enjoy. There are still hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks to feast on, foul balls to catch, and stretches to perform to organ music in the middle of the seventh. I swear, it’s like the Elysian Fields the Greeks once imagined.

I love the game for its beauty and grace, the absolutely perfect timing it requires for a hitter to put a tapered piece of wood on a diminutive leather ball and for a fielder to arrest that same ball mid-flight. I love it because of men like Dizzy Dean, Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter—aptly named players who were characters in their own right—and the unique language we’ve all learned to speak where a cement mixer can become a frozen rope or can of corn that leads a team to hang a bagel. I love it because of quirky things like the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Sausage Race, and Chief Noc-A-Homa.

But most of all, I love its timelessness and how it temporarily helps me forget how quickly the years pass. Each season, I can still feel the way I did when I was eight and walked into Busch Stadium for the first time, my mouth agape and a new pennant clenched in my sweaty fist.

Me and my favorite teammate!

Culinary Misnomers

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can say with confident conviction that I love Chinese food. Oh, I know what some of you might be thinking…The stuff that we eat in America isn’t even really Chinese food, you know. I am well aware of this truth, and I’ll tell you that unless it still has a head on it or is still moving when they bring it to me on the plate, I’ll usually eat it. So, yes, I love all kinds of fusion cuisine be it Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese–the list goes on and on.

The one thing I can say I have fallen out of love with, however, are fortune cookies. I used to eagerly await their arrival at the table when I was a kid. The waitress would bring them out at the end of the meal on a tiny tray, and I would follow a specific ritual for selecting, opening, and eating mine. I think some of it might have been generated by urban legend or things I was told one was supposed to do with the tawny, brittle oracle, but most of it was a product of my own overactive imagination.

I would never go for the first cookie I saw; neither was the one closest to me the one I was “meant” to choose. I’d usually spin the tray and grab one at random. So there was some chance to my selection, but I had a hand in it as well instead of simply taking what I was dealt.

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I then carefully unwrapped the cookie, checked it for imperfections such as a crack or (gasp!) a hollow center lacking the necessary strip of paper. Once I was assured that my cookie had arrived parcel post from the Szechuan universe with all its parts intact, I proceeded to open it by attempting to pull the two halves apart at the seam rather than cracking it in half vertically. Often, I couldn’t do it, but when I could, I just knew that the fortune was an accurate one.

Now, any fortune cookie aficionado will tell you just how truly gauche it is to eat your cookie before you read your fortune, to shove it in your gaping maw and masticate it briefly before sending it down to join the rest of the grub in your already painfully full, distended abdomen.

For me, eating the cookie was the proof that I accepted said fortune, that I agreed to abide by its command or advice. If I chose to leave the cookie on the table after reading my message, it meant I was choosing to bite my thumb at the universe instead. It could take its tiny note and shove it as far as I was concerned.

THIS is why you never eat them first! (From

For someone who put so much thought into a nearly tasteless piece of baked dough, you’d think I’d be more forgiving. However, whoever manufactures these things now really needs to step up their quality control standards. (I think it’s likely some place in New Jersey. Nothing good comes from there.)

Back in the day, the fortunes were just that….fortunes. You’d get messages that told you something relatively specific that would likely happen in your future. For instance:

The project on your mind will soon gain momentum.

A new business venture is on the horizon.

Tell them, for it will soon be too late.

You will receive a gift from someone you care about.

People in your surroundings will be more cooperative than usual tomorrow.

Impossible standards will make life difficult.

You can fix it with a little energy and a positive attitude.

There you have it! Each one of these examples, while some are more specific than others, was a bite-sized augur, a prognostication of upcoming events in my pre-teen life. They were exciting and fun, and I loved reading them, collecting them, and even writing stories based on their messages.

Nowadays, however, “fortune cookie” is a bit of a misnomer. I got one at lunch this week, read it, and was flummoxed. I thought it might have been a random gaff, but two cookies later, I had to admit that fortune cookies were no longer fortunate. Look at the three I pulled.

The top one is the first one I pulled. I consider myself a fairly deep thinker and critical reader, but that statement makes no sense to me at all. I firmly believe that is, in fact, impossible to do. I’m calling this one, and all those like it, “conundrum cookies.”

The second one sounds like something my dad would have said to me when I was practicing my French horn for an upcoming audition and had finally slammed headfirst into wall of frustration. Many cookies fall into the category of  “sage advice,” and while it might be good to note their wisdom, they are not in any way, shape, or form considered fortunes. Hence, they are “admonition cookies.”

The third one, I’ll call it the “gumption cookie,” reminded me of those motivational posters that were huge back in the early nineties. You know the ones…

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If the advice in these posters were water, they were just a shade shallower than a half-full kiddie pool. It was something bosses hung in the office hoping to increase positive vibes and employee enthusiasm. However, they mostly made us want to snatch them off the wall set them on fire, Hendrix style. In fact, the demotivational posters that followed them are the ones that have survived in popular culture. What does that say about us?

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So my beloved fortune cookies are now nothing more than crunchy carryalls for pablum. They, like the Happy Meal that actually came in a box and the opportunity to ride a bike without being legally required to wear a helmet are things of a better yesteryear, I suppose.

How about you, dear reader? Anything from your childhood been destroyed lately? Do you want to bemoan the loss of better times with me? How about your recent fortunes—were they as insipid as mine? Tell me about it in the comments!

Precious Memories, How They Linger…Like Fungus

Wayne and I were just discussing awkward childhood moments, those slivers of time where you’d prefer to be the floor of a New York taxi cab rather than yourself.

Sometimes, they are the product of your own stupidity. Trying to pass sensitive boy/girl notes in class, ill-advised spiral perms, and belting out “Electric Youth” into a hairbrush while standing in front of an open window wearing nothing but a bra and shorts all fall into this category.

Other embarrassing moments are also your fault, but they come as a result of your ignorance rather than outright imbecility. For instance, I once vociferously uttered the phrase “F%$# It” in McDonald’s, completely unaware of the verbal malfeasance I was committing. In my defense, I was eight and had come across Robin Williams’ A Night at the Met a week before. He said the word quite a bit during that performance, and I liked the sound of it. I was nothing more than a parrot, an obnoxiously red and horrifyingly boisterous parrot for my poor mother. I just remember the beating…and not getting the McNugget Happy Meal I was promised. There was supposed to be a Thundercats toy in it. Yes, epic fail all around on that one.

Childhood also wouldn’t be complete without embarrassing moments you must endure but never asked for, didn’t bring on yourself, and likely didn’t deserve. You know, those “Ralphie in the Bunny Suit” moments? I have several of these from all levels of my elementary and secondary education. I even have photographic evidence of one of them. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…”Hickety Pickety, My Black Hen,” my kindergarten theatrical debut.

Yes, in our “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes” school play, I had to recite the following lines:

Hickety Pickety, my black hen,
she lays eggs for gentlemen.
Sometimes nine, and sometimes ten,
Hickety Pickety, my black hen!

You can tell by the zombie-like expressions on many of my classmates’ faces that none of us was thrilled to be there in costume sitting criss-cross-applesauce on stage. I, however, had to bear the burden of showing up dressed like an extra from the first episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. A straw hat, overalls, plaid shirt, and what looks to be a pair of Velcro-closure Pumas complete my resplendent costume. I’ll not even mention the Strawberry Shortcake goggles glasses I have on. Those things are traumatic enough for another post of their own.

My teacher, doing a wicked impersonation of Thing from The Addams Family, is likely lowering the microphone so I can deliver my Shakespearean-level verse to the illiterate masses huddled in the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School gymateria/cafetorium.

What makes this moment so gut-wrenchingly embarassing is not the fact that I’m being forced to deliver my lines in front of people or that I am so ridiculously dressed (though both of those factor into this being the worst moment in my life up until this point). See that girl in the yellow dress? She’s going to be the symbol for all that was wrong in my six or seven years of existence. I have no clue who she was supposed to be, but she got to wear a frickin’ adorable yellow dress. My cousin, April, was Betty Blue and wore an even cuter cornflower frock. She’s somewhere to my right…no doubt looking adorable with her curly blonde hair done up in princess ringlets and two patent leather “holiday shoes” on her feet. Already awkward and tall for my age, the only thing I wanted more than to NOT be on that stage was to be lovely on it. Alas and alack, that was not in the cards for me.

I should have expected it. For instance, whenever April and I received dolls as gifts, she got Barbie—ostensibly because she has matching hair. As a brown haired, brown eyed girl, I got Barbie’s friend Kimber, P.J., or Steffie (or some other doll with an equally bubblegum pink name.) Yes, I was forever relegated to the posse (even by my own family) because of my mother’s dominant genes. Being Hickety Pickety didn’t help matters much. However, it does shed some light on why I’ve had a longstanding and inexplicable hatred of eggs….

Okay, so I have to ask. What are the most embarrassing moments from your childhood that you didn’t cause but had to endure with Herculean resolve?

Also, if you could go back and save yourself one of those “Self-Induced” moments of shame, which one would you choose and why?

From Wild Things to Magic Rings

Yep, it’s that time of the week again! Time for another Top Ten Tuesday book list! This time, it’s a trip down memory lane as I will be listing, discussing my favorite ten books from my childhood. This is a fairly extensive list because, well, reading has always been just about my favorite thing in the world to do. Seriously, the second we’d get everything done around the house, the only thing I wanted to do was crawl in someone’s lap and have a book read to me. I just liked the way words sounded when people said them, the way they matched the letters on the page and could exist both for my eyes and my ears. (I was also a whore for adult attention back in the day, but that’s a story for another blog.)

The result of all my begging to be read to whenever possible was that I could read myself at the age of four. My grandmother heard me reading at the table one day and thought I was merely reciting the story to myself from memory until she realized that the Little Golden Book I had in front of me was brand new and had never been read to me before. 🙂 Once I could do so on my own, the addiction only got worse. I was the kid who hoarded lunch money for weeks before the book fair came to school, whose yearly bookworm always ran around the classroom at least twice, and who was often sent back to the reading corner in class just to shut me up.

I’ve tried to list these books chronologically, from the first one I read to the last in my childhood, but the dates are a little fuzzy. Also, by no means is this list all-inclusive. There are dozens I’m not thinking of or have looked over. **All images, unless labeled otherwise, are from Wikipedia.**

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The Tawny Scrawny Lion–The Little Golden Books were one of my favorites when I was little. This one, along with other classics like The King’s Cat, were a source of joy to me because of the rhyming or sing-song text I could hear and the crazy illustrations. This one is about a lion that eats a different animal each day of the week; however, the rabbits are crafty and teach him to eat carrot soup instead of delicious rare hare. 🙂

Are You My Mother?This one has stayed with my family for years. My kid cousin, who is seventeen years my junior, even read and loved this one. In this book, a baby bird hatches while his mother is out looking for food and goes on the hunt for her. He asks a dog, a kitten, and an assortment of other animals and inanimate objects if they are his mother, each of which says, “No!” Thankfully, the “Big Snort” (a power shovel) drops him back into his nest the moment his mother gets back home to the nest—crisis averted.

Go, Dog, Go!This one is about a bunch of dogs who can somehow drive cars, wear clothing, and talk to each other. The end goal of the book is for all the dogs to go to a “Dog Party.” From this book, I learned both prepositions and basic social skills (such as complimenting someone’s hat even if it’s ugly.) My family still uses the “Do you like my hat?….I do not like your hat!” line. The good stuff is always timeless, I guess.

Where the Wild Things Are–I can’t think of anyone I grew up with who didn’t adore this book. Max rebels and is sent to his room for punishment where he imagines sailing away to a land inhabited by monsters that quickly realize he is the wildest of them all and crown him their king. His first royal decree is to, “Let the wild rumpus start!”–a line I have used several times. However, when he smells dinner, Max sails home where he belongs, knowing that a few rules are worth a place where’s he’s loved.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.–This was one of those “tweener books” that everyone should have to read, especially since it’s been banned more than once. Margaret runs the gamut of horrid things that can happen to a child who’s just entered the double-digit age bracket for the first time–questions of faith, moving, new school (in New Jersey no less!), boys, periods, bras. It’s all here. I remember liking this book when I was in fourth or fifth grade because I felt like it was giving me the straight skinny on middle school and what I was in for. It didn’t help as much as I’d planned, but at least I had a road map of sorts.

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–Gracious glorious mercy jellybean gumdrops, did I love this book when I was a kid!!! (I loved the entire series to tell the truth, but this is the most easily recognizable one, so I’ll use it for the sake of clarity on this list.) I used to read C.S. Lewis’ books beneath my desk during math, science, and history. I simply couldn’t bear to stop reading and got in trouble more than once for my unwillingness to do exactly what my teacher told me. But how can you blame me when the choice is between long division and Prince Caspian!? Seriously, long division. Solve your own problems.


The Outsiders–This was one of those books that also found its way onto the naughty, banned books list for some time, which is probably why I picked it up. However, it introduced me to two things that have had a hold on me ever since–literary bad and/or brokenhearted boys from the wrong side of the tracks that I want to fix and Robert Frost. I kid you not, I must have read “Nothing Gold Can Stay” a thousand times as I read that book. (It didn’t hurt that there was a film version with such an extensive cast of cute boys ranging from Ralph Macchio to Patrick Swayze that it should have been illegal!) Greasers forever! ❤

The Hobbit–I think this one might have been one of the few books I literally read the cover off of as a kid. I simply couldn’t get enough of Bilbo and his retinue of dwarfs. The stone trolls, the Mirkwood elves, Smaug, Gandalf–these were my friends late at night when I couldn’t sleep. There was just something so entrancing about it. Bilbo was minding his own business in Bag End when the story starts; it just walks in and carries him along with it. In a way, you feel like Bilbo because you are also brought along for the ride. It’s good to see this one is also being made into a two part movie by Peter Jackson who I trust will do this gem of a book justice on the silver screen.


To Kill a Mockingbird–I’ve read this book dozens of times, taught it at least six times, and I never get tired of it. I seriously want to name my kid Atticus for the courtroom scene alone. (I went around for weeks after reading it using the phrase “unmitigated temerity” because I liked the way it sounded. Naturally, I had to look both words up before doing so.) It’s such a marvelously written book with a timeless story that it’s hard to leave it off any of my “Top # Lists.”The writing is clear and direct; there’s no mistaking what Lee wants to tell readers. However, there are lines that just make me smile each time I read them for their imagery-laden beauty. (The line in the opening paragraphs that always sticks in my mind is “Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”)

The Gunslinger–“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” For me, it’s up there with the great first lines in literary history. I’m putting this one on here because I’ve read it ten or eleven times but also because it marked my entrance into “adult fiction.” I couldn’t believe my mom would let me read a Stephen King book when I was so young, but she did for some reason. I started stealing hers from that moment on. I fell head over heels for Roland Deschain and got to spend most of my adult life reading about his long journey to find the Man in Black and the elusive Dark Tower. (I’d like to say it was my generation’s Harry Potter, but not nearly as many kids dress up like Roland or Cuthbert for Halloween.) I think books one through four came out when I was a kid, book five when I was an undergraduate, and five through seven when I was in graduate school. As an English major, I’ve been taught to disembowel texts, to pick them over like a buffalo carcass on the prairie to glean every possible meaning and interpretation from them, and my growing skill with literary analysis was richly rewarded with these books. They are the thread that holds his entire literary universe together, crossing over at times into It and Salem’s Lot, and King himself (in one of the greatest postmodern literary achievements of all time) not only allows his characters to realize they are in fact characters, but also inserts himself as the author into the work! Perfectly cyclical, rich in design and detail, this has to be one of my favorite series of all time—right up there with Tolkien and Lewis.