My Favorite Characters

Today is Halloween and you will no doubt see lots of cute kids (and some adults) dressed up in great costumes. My girls’ school had a book character costume show and as I was watching the kids walk across the stage in great creative outfits, I thought about my favorite characters. Of course there were some that came to mind from my favorite books; Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Laura Ingles Wilder in “Little House on the Prairie.” Then I realized my very favorite characters are the ones who are in “character” every day.

I immediately thought about Ebbie Do. If anyone from my hometown reads this, they already know who I’m talking about. I have no idea if this is how to spell his name or what his name actually was. People called him Do for short. Ebbie Do wasn’t homeless but he was pretty close to it. He didn’t have many earthly possessions but some saints in our town made sure he was always fed and warm. He was just always around. Sometimes he hitchhiked and my dad would give him a ride. I was never afraid of him. Sometimes he came to our church. Those were my favorite times. Ebbie Do liked to “testeefy.” He could really get going and whoever the worship leader was that day had the uncomfortable task of getting Ebbie Do to sit back down. There are days at my own church that I just want to stand up and “testeefy” but it wouldn’t be the same. Do was also a very popular write in candidate for all of our local elections. I still wish he had actually won something. Ebbie Do died several years ago but I know people are still telling his stories.

Another favorite character in my life was the late author James Still. I didn’t realize until my teens that he was actually quite famous. To me he was like a grandfather/friend/eccentric. He lived next door to my parents for several years and would famously “drop” in with zero warning to see me. I was just a baby and my poor mom said she just learned to always be dressed because he didn’t take hints that he should call first. Mr. Still (I never once thought of calling him James and he never once suggested it) never married or had children so he became part of our family. He had Thanksgiving with us and my dad and mom helped take care of him. They had both been with him right before he passed away at the age of 94. Mr. Still loved to give me a hard time but I gave it right back. One day at the Hindman Settlement School (where he lived for many years) a large group of writers were having dinner and everyone was just in awe of Mr. Still and wanted to sit with him. He was in his 80’s at this point and my dad asked me get his plate and make sure he was comfortable. I did as I was told and when I put his plate down, Mr. Still immediately said in a very stern voice, “I didn’t want white meat turkey, I wanted dark!” I replied as sweet as pie, “Then you can go get it yourself.” Well Lord have mercy, the people at that table about died of shock. How could this young girl talk to a legend like that??? He did the whole thing on purpose and we had a great inside joke going on. I loved that about Mr. Still. I have letters and cards he sent me but my very favorite is the English/Spanish dictionary he gave me the night before I flew to Spain for a summer abroad. I told him the only souvenir I was bringing home was a bullfighter. The inscription reads, “To Cassie…and her bullfighter.”

There are so many more special characters that have been and are in my life. I know you have some too. Think about them today but tell their stories whenever you want.

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You Can Take the Girl Out of The Mountains But…

Aside

I was born in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky in a town called Hindman, population 900. It is very rural. The night my mom went into labor with me there was a terrible blizzard. My parents lived on a hill (shocking) and dad had to call the funeral home for help because they were the only people with 1. A four wheel drive 2. Crazy enough to brave the weather and 3. The ambulance service said, um no. I came into the world with the help of a family medicine physician and a midwife at the June Buchanan clinic. The original plan had been for a hospital birth but that just wasn’t in the cards. It was December 21, 1976 and my dad was right there to see me make my grand entrance. Most hospitals didn’t even allow men in the delivery room.

I was named after the character “Cassie” in Harriette Arnow’s “The Dollmaker.” Arnow was a friend of my mom and dad’s and I love having a name with its own story. They neglected to give me a middle name. I will do a separate post someday on all of my fake middle names I’ve used over the years.

The county where I spent my next 18 years doesn’t have a hospital, a movie theater, or GASP… a Walmart. There was only one stop light in the entire county until I was in college. Now there are two. The nearest airport is over two hours away. I was taught to share the road with coal trucks, never ignore a flash flood warning, and always be on the look out for snakes. 

I’ve seen summers so hot that Troublesome Creek was a mere trickle going past my house and winters so nasty we missed a whole month of school. Power outages were no joke (especially when you had a well like us, no power=no water) and forest fires scared me half to death. I vividly remember seeing the mountains glowing bright with flames that moved like a reverse tide toward the houses below.

I went from my house in tiny Emmalena, KY to a dorm, then an apartment, onto a house in Pennsylvania with my new husband, and finally to our home in Cynthiana. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to feeling so much wind or being able to see a storm approach. I still find it weird that all the snow melts in my yard at one time. I look out my back windows in the winter and wonder if there are still traces of white on the mossy hillside behind my childhood home.

The mountains where I was raised are as much a part of me as my arms and legs. They gave me my rich heritage, a pretty awesome accent, and a place that is home forever. I might not live there anymore but I know that a mere hour away I can hit the Mountain Parkway in my swagger wagon and see those mountains rising up before me. I find comfort in the fact that even though I left, I can always go back and someone will know my name. The mountains that my parents traveled on the day I was born are the same ones that will always welcome me home.

Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies

Aside

It’s that time of year again,election time. Don’t worry, this isn’t a post to try and sway your vote or get you to finally see that Democrats do it better… Sorry, I had to throw in one tiny piece of fun. Personally, I want the first Tuesday in November to hurry up and get here because I’m sick and tired of ALL the ads and campaign nonsense.

As I was trying to watch the debate a few nights ago I thought about how elections and campaigns were run when I was a little girl. This might seem odd since most kids have no interest in politics but I was an odd kid. My dad was always very involved in politics, never as a candidate, but as an avid supporter and “person on the ground” campaigner. And since I was usually my dad’s shadow, I got my first taste of handing out cards and knocking on doors at an early age. I remember being with my Aunt Mary (I’m sure my dad convinced his baby sister to come along on our adventures) and a dog chased us. I also remember our brown Volkswagen van. When dad took a sharp curve one of the bench seats would come loose and throw everyone off. This was obviously a safety hazard but I guess things were a bit more lax in the early 1980’s. Anyway, I survived and I felt like I was really “involved” in something important.

Skip ahead several years and I was working for former Governor Martha Layne Collins. She had been out of office for about fourteen years but I always wanted to blurt out, “The night you won and Grady Stumbo lost his bid for Governor, I cried along with Grady’s daughter because our dreams of a Governor’s Mansion slumber party were dashed.” She would have gotten a kick out of that statement.

My latest foray into the political world was two years ago when my father in law ran a successful campaign and became Mayor of Cynthiana. My sister in law, Emily, and I did quite a bit of work (she did most of it) and I felt extremely proud the night Steve was elected. (Funny side story: Lily has introduced her Pa as “The Mayor” the past two years at her school’s grandparent’s day. Hilarious.)

I miss the way campaigns used to be. Nobody is even cordial these days. I miss being a part of the state and local elections with my dad. I really miss homemade signs. My dad had quite a collection of these signs. They lined the walls of his office with sayings like “Vote York” in thick painted lines on an old board. I have never heard of anyone with the last name York in my neck of the woods but I think it’s kind of neat that part of his story has been preserved.

Maybe someday I’ll go public with my threat to “run for something.” If I do, I won’t win. That’s okay. I think I’ll start saving old pieces of wood and stocking up on spray paint. If you know anyone with a Volkswagen van for sale, call me.

Sorry, But I Can’t Be Your BFF

Raising kids is a hard job. Raising girls is just plain scary. Of course, this is my opinion because I only have girls. I wouldn’t change my situation for the world but there are days when I wonder if I’m doing anything right. Am I teaching them to be respectful young ladies? Will they make good decisions? Do they know how much I love them? I’m sure these are normal questions. I look forward to all of the special times we will share as they get older. I want them to confide in me and trust me. I want us to have fun together, but….

 I don’t want to be their best friend and here are the reasons why:

  1. My job is to keep to help my daughters make the right decision even if it’s really hard.  This means we won’t always agree with each other.
  2. Friends come and go in our lives. If you think about it, most of us have a handful of “true” friends. As long as I’m alive, I will be there for my girls…even when they would prefer I not be.
  3. I will protect them but also make sure they know how to take care of themselves. I will be honest, maybe brutally honest, if that’s what it takes.
  4. There will be rules and boundaries. If these are broken, there will be consequences.
  5. I want my girls to have a certain amount of fear when it comes to any rule breaking. For example, I missed curfew the very first time my parents let me borrow their car. I was so ashamed (and afraid!) that I didn’t even ask what my punishment would be. I simply didn’t ask to drive for the next month.
  6. I want to be respected. They don’t have to agree with me or be just like me. We can even agree to disagree as long as it’s done with respect.
  7. I never want to live vicariously through my girls. My failures or successes are mine alone. They should each have a chance to decide what they do or do not like in terms of activities and hobbies.

And finally, I will always love them in a way only a mother can. Hairstyles, boyfriends, opinions, and everything else under the sun will change but my desire for them to be happy will never waiver. I may not be their best friend but I will be something even better, their biggest fan.

 

Let’s Lower Our Standards

Sometimes life can be really hard. There are bad days, bad months, and even bad years. At any given time, someone you know is suffering. (Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a totally depressing post.) Sometimes the source of their pain is loss, stress, or feelings of inadequacy. I know personally, I put too much pressure on myself. I like it when my house is clean but that pretty much never happens anymore. I really like when I’m organized for my upcoming week. This is happening less and and less. I LOVE when I have my meals planned for the next seven days and the grocery shopping is done and everything is put away. This is becoming harder than passing algebra in college (it took three times but that is a very long, boring story that I won’t burden you with today… but maybe later). So, where am I going with this???

I think it’s time to lower our standards. There, I said it. Let’s go against the grain and do the exact opposite of what society tells us we should do. Let’s strive for mediocrity. Now I’m not saying you should never clean your house and end up on that hoarding show on TLC and I’m certainly not advocating letting your family go hungry. I’m saying, do the best you can and at the end of the day walk away from the “I should have done this” or “Why can’t I get it together like so and so?” 

Don’t sign your kids up for every activity just because “that’s what everyone else does.” We made the mistake of letting our two oldest do too many things this fall. Things started to get ugly. Meals were missed, nerves were frazzled, and tears were shed (and the girls were struggling too..). So we made some changes that didn’t make us very popular with our kids. But guess what? They LIVED!!! When they are older I know our schedules will be much busier but now isn’t that time for us.

Life is hard enough without worrying all the time. If ordering a pizza or having eggs and toast (again) means you get to sit down and talk to spouse or listen to your child tell you an outrageous story, then roll with it. If you forget to send a snack to your child’s class (again… ahem), you’ll get another chance. If you refuse to ever let your daughter leave the house after she turns sixteen…oh wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t want to regret missing the “good” stuff in life because I was too busy doing all of the “right” stuff.

This little movement of mine might not be popular. If that’s the case, mission accomplished 

 

Trippin’… Field Trippin’ That Is

It’s field trip season. Lots of kids are headed out to the pumpkin patch or apple orchard and teachers everywhere are hoping they don’t lose anyone. One of the perks of my job is being able to go on field trips with my kids. We’ve had some interesting times. One year we nearly froze to death. Another time we left the pumpkin patch with a pantless two year old in tow (you don’t want anymore details about that one). Poor Riley had a run of bad luck in terms of school outings. In kindergarten she came home from a play in Lexington with a temperature of 102 and in first grade got hit with a stomach bug about ten minutes into a trip to Evans Orchard. Last year I went with 60 kindergartners to a local pumpkin patch. We had a great time. I have never been so tired and muddy in my life. And I tried to warn the teachers about my lack of direction skills BEFORE we entered the corn maze…

All of these trips pale in comparison to  two that I took as a teenager. The first was to the Cincinnati Zoo. I was around 13 and my mom was a first grade teacher. She and my dad managed to get permission to take 23 wild children to the zoo. Did I mention that this was about FOUR hours from the school? I don’t remember volunteering to be a chaperone but the next thing I knew I was on a van (my dad arranged transportation because we couldn’t afford to hire a bus and you could get away with stuff like that back then) with a crew of children who had barely been our of Knott County. This was big time. I didn’t understand then how much this trip meant because I got to go places all the time. The majority of these kids didn’t know anything about life outside of Eastern Kentucky. It was a huge adventure. Mom put me in charge of some of the “easy” kids. I thought they were all maniacs. I’m pretty sure this was the most effective form of birth control my parents could have ever provided. We survived that day but at times I didn’t think we would. 

The second was my freshman class trip to Cincinnati. Apparently my destiny was to spend time in Cincinnati. My dad once again donated the use of a van (there were a grand total of 20 kids in the freshman class of my small private school) and he drove. If my memory is correct we left around 5 a.m., hit Kings Island, went to a Reds game, and then stayed for Beach Boys concert. Then we all piled back in the van and arrived back in Hindman at some ungodly hour. It was dubbed the “24 Hour Class Trip.” My dad and the faculty member who chaperoned us were obviously out of their minds. At the time it all seemed so perfectly normal to me.

There are many more rules for field trips now. Students must ride a bus, there are tons of forms to sign, and budgets are tighter than ever. I hope that my girls remember their trips and that I was present. I hope Lily will talk about the gigantic pumpkin I hauled home for her last year (and the 20 other pumpkins I had to take to school on my own because I couldn’t say no to any of her friends when they asked for a “really big one!”) and Riley will laugh remembering how we went to Keeneland after one of her trips. I hope Bailey and I get to build many field trip memories when she starts school.

Most of all, I hope that I can remember to have fun with my girls. When I head to the apple orchard next week with Lily’s first grade class I won’t worry about ruining another pair of shoes. I won’t look at my watch. I will close my eyes and pretend I’m on that bus with my mom and dad and 23 excited girls and boys who didn’t even know what a zoo was. I will remember the joy on their faces and be grateful for my field trippin’ days. 

It’s A Girl!!

Did the title freak you out? No, this is NOT an announcement. This post is about the day I heard, “It’s a girl!” for the third time. Today I’m writing about the baby of the family. Bailey arrived on the scene right around the time Stephen and I were getting to the “comfortable” phase of parenting. You know; both kids sleep well, are potty trained, and you can go to a restaurant (you might spend all of your time hauling kids to the bathroom but darn it, you made it out to eat). We weren’t too comfortable though so I appreciate Bailey keeping things in perspective.

I spent a lot of time hearing things like, “Wow! THREE girls.” “You’ll get that boy next time.” My personal favorite…“I feel bad for your husband.” Gee, thanks. The last time I checked he wasn’t growing his third person and by the way, have you all forgotten how these things get out? But I would smile and I was (usually) polite. We were thrilled to have another girl, another HEALTHY child. There are thousands of people who would kill to be in our situation. Riley was almost five and Lily had just turned three. Riley was beyond excited to have a baby sister and Lily adopted an attitude of tolerance.

Bailey was the hardest to get to sleep through the night, the most difficult with solid foods, and the most challenging in terms of potty training. She has allergies, lots and lots of allergies. These include milk, eggs, and everything outside. There’s no eating out unless we plan ahead. Until very recently she needed four allergy shots a week. Now we are down to two. I’m not complaining but I sure did a lot of that when she was first diagnosed with all of these allergies. Then my eyes were opened to kids with serious health issues. I felt like an ungrateful jerk. At times it is frustrating but she is growing and she knows she can’t eat something without our permission. Her sisters are very protective.

All of Bailey’s firsts are our lasts. She is our final contribution to the population. We are outnumbered and totally okay with that. Stephen will remain the only male of this household with a crew of adoring females. I will remain in denial that someday our “baby” won’t be a baby anymore.