Thursday, January 16, 2020

What Do You Say?

As I sat down to write this morning, my cute little 4 year old popped his head into the dining room, "Mom, what does a sheep do when he gets dirty?"

"I have no idea."

"He takes a bath! HA HA HA HAHAHAHA!!!"

He is now on repeat with the joke that he made up. This has been our life lately, and it is absolutely amazing. Between binge watching Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the rad jokes our 4 year old makes up, we have laughed until our guts hurt.

A few years ago my friend Meredith encouraged me to listen to a podcast called Simple by Tsh Oxenreider. At the time I did not know that this one podcast would provide me with such solace and be exactly what I needed to hear in many areas of my life. Over the years I've heard Tsh talk to farmers, priests, writers, friends and travelers. She always kept to the theme of simple.

It was probably 2018 when I decided to do a word for the year instead of a resolution. I used that word for 2 years now, and over time I grew into finding ways to make life exactly that. Maybe simple sounds lazy, but I found it took a lot of practice to learn to say yes and no when I needed to.

Going into 2020 my word is present. I want to be present in each moment. When I'm with a friend, I want to be present in our conversations. I try to block out that time when I can be present; when I'm not being the modern woman juggling too many commitments and deadlines. When I'm with my kids (which is A LOT), I try to truly invest in their today. This week the weather was perfect, so we laid on the trampoline and ate popsicles. Not every day is as relaxing, but I find when I am present in each moment of the day I can find so much more joy in the everydayness of life. When I'm with my husband, I try to put my phone away and really know about his day. And when I'm with myself, I blast my podcasts or Walker Hayes and go to town cleaning house or writing or whatever I need to do. Sometimes that is fun. Sometimes it is housework. Sometimes it is simply necessary.

This is taking practice--with my friends, my kids, my husband, church, Bible study, phone conversations. It is not something I am good at naturally, so the two weeks I've been purposely embracing this word I have found it takes work.

Being present in what I'm doing in this moment means saying no to other moments. Last week life got hectic. We had choir kids from Uganda for a couple nights, baseball camp, mid-week services, our first small group, school and Bible study starting back up. I had to choose what to say yes to every moment of those days. Everything was fun, but everything would have killed me. When the week was over, I realized I enjoyed so much of the week because I was present in what I said yes to. Had I said yes to everything, I don't think I would have enjoyed any of it as much.

So I took this lesson and contemplated this week. When do I say yes and no? I live with anxiety and one thing I've learned about myself is that when I say yes to everything, I am not doing well. I tend to pile on commitments almost as if it will distract me from the anxiety of any moment because I have too many moments to consider.

I also know for me personally I need to write. My husband loves rocks; he is incredible at his job. My mom loves to work outside, and their farm is immaculate. My sister is an amazing educator, and she shines at work. What does that look like for me, a stay at home mom still in her pajamas at 11:00? What can I say yes to for myself so that I care for my children yet function as a complete human? For me it is to write.

Recently I signed a contract to write for a regional magazine. I'm enjoying this! It is quite fun to write a topic that someone assigned to me--a topic I didn't have to create. However, I am still trying to squeeze in my personal writing. I need that part of me that longs to create with words. This fall I began listening to Shawn Smucker and his wife Maile share on their new podcast "The Stories Between Us." Much of what Maile shares resonates with me, and I have found encouragement to sit down and write and not feel guilty. (If my kids were hungry or not clothed, I might feel guilty. But right now I sent them to the playroom and allowed them to learn to play by themselves and I carved out time for me and the words that come out.)

Both through experience and listening to Maile, I have learned I don't have to sign contracts or sell my soul to any publication to be a writer. To create. I can be that independently, and I'm still as much a writer if my six chapters of my novel never become thirty and get inked in black and white on a shelf at Barnes and Noble. That would....oh, EXCITING! But that wouldn't make my writing more real for me.

So today I said no to Bible study. I could tell I needed to be home, and I know the kids need it if I'm feeling it too. I said no to lunch out with the girls and listening to an awesome women's Bible teacher. While it would have been a blast, I would have paid for it all afternoon. And I said yes to my kids and watched them play Mario Kart. I said yes to myself and made a white chocolate mocha (maybe 2) and wrote a blog post. I said yes to a healthy lunch at home with my husband. It is okay to say no. But it is okay to say yes too.

Be Blessed,

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rooted

Since I was a kid, I have always enjoyed genealogy and the family lore my grandmother whispered as if the whole county didn't already know. My grandmother Naomi made gossip an art. She often proudly reminisced that as a teenager she gently opened family letters above a kerosene lamp so that she could read the latest happenings. Then she would seal the envelope back together before being caught and whipped for such a crime.

It has been no surprise to me as I have grown older that I am undoubtedly my grandmother's child in numerous ways. Her love for knowing family legend was passed to me across her kitchen table. Her love for writing it down was passed to me from her soul.

This summer I spent a great deal of time in Arkansas. In one visit I took the chance to attend a writer's conference from a local author and teacher. While I could list numerous lessons I learned in that week, perhaps the most impactful was my narrowing down of what words I wanted needed to write. I've heard it said that you should never embark on the journey of writing a novel unless you feel deep down you cannot go on unless you share that story. I've always had an idea bouncing in the back of my head but was too afraid no one else would care. I shared this with Gwen, our instructor. She gave me the confidence that I would have readers and that I should--I must--put this book into focus.

I came home to Texas and thought.

Then my fingers could not quit wrestling. They had to write this story. I have written two chapters--both of them are Chapter One. It is a book my soul cannot live without telling, yet I fear deeply that I will not tell it adequately.

As I have researched for this novel, I have spent countless hours with my grandma's brother who has provided (a bit unknowingly) a plethora of stories from which I have pulled. I have also had late nights and early mornings sitting here at my dining room table browsing the latest hints on ancestry.com. My dad's phone records would show my influx of calls telling him I found a headstone related to the lore or an infant child we never knew about or a picture of kinfolks we had never laid eyes on before.

Today as I studied our family tree I found that my great-great-grandmother was born in a little community north of town called Jethro. You may know my parents own Jethro Farms and suffice to say I lived the first 18 years of my life right there in Jethro where my great x2 grandmother was born in 1879.

While I have always known we go generations deep in North Franklin County, it is reminders such as these that make me think about the land on which I came of age. It amazes me the trees I rode my horse through were trees where my great-great-grandparents may have met. It fascinates me that the river we played in was a river that for so many generations provided for my family. It fills me with daydreams that the very dirt beneath my feet for the most formative years of my life was the dirt that my great-great-great grandparents cultivated to merely survive. It is the dirt on not just where I was raised, but it is the dirt of home. Roots so deep that try as he may my husband has yet to pull them completely out of Jethro. Land where when I take my last breath and my body longs for rest that I pray it finds its peace back in that very dirt where I can take my place alongside my ancestral legends. And, honestly, I pray too that when that day comes the lore told of me pales in comparison to what I have learned of them.

I thank those of you who read this blog. I do not post regularly, and it has never been my intention to gain a wide audience or payments for writing it. I prefer writing when it's good. When it's something that strikes me. For now my writing is centered on my book, but as you see today sometimes I need a break. Occasionally I need to write in a new format and feel more casual. So thank you for allowing me this outlet to put thoughts on paper and explore ideas. And, if you're curious about this book I'm writing, here is a prelude to give you a taste. It is historical fiction. I will stress fiction. I don't need crazy kinfolks pulling out their old ways on me. But much of it is of course history too. I will let you decide on which side each word falls.


It was all over the news that summer: records from the Great Heat Wave of 1936. Maybe it was a record worth recollecting; maybe it was a slow news day. Either way the news reporter sent to our local nursing home to get recounts on this heat wave 60 years later sent a chilling shock into our home. At first no one could blink for fear they would miss the story unraveling. I stared at my dad who held his breath as his grandfather was the first resident interviewed.


“Sir, do you remember the summer of 1936?”


Stone cold and not looking up from his afternoon dominoes, my great-grandfather gave a hard no.

Taking his cue that the old man either didn’t remember or didn’t care about the summer of 1936, the reporter went to the next table. There he found a few folks who enjoyed a reminiscent chat a little more than my grandma’s folks. At least when it came to 1936.


Grandma was always telling stories of her kinfolks from the old days. But those kinds of things you just tell family. And probably family doesn’t really believe it anyhow. When she marched into our house that evening, that smirk meant both she had told us so and yet could we believe anyone else almost found out. We lived out in the country so we didn’t have neighbors within any sort of earshot, and it was probably for the best since she didn’t even make it to the door before she let in on everything she had told us forty-eleven times about 1936, “And that old man just sat there like he couldn’t even remember yesterday. Oh, he remembered that summer. He remembered. He could lose all his memories and half his toes and he’d still remember 1936.”



Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Turkey Plant

The summer I graduated high school and turned 18, my dad forced me to get a job on the line at the local turkey processing plant. While I had looked for any other job in our small town, none were to be found. So I spent those summer months netting turkeys. Hard hat. Hair net. Smock. Gloves. Rubber Boots. Ear plugs. It was real cute.

My dad had worked at the turkey plant throughout high school and again when he returned from serving 5 years in the United States Air Force. My dad's dad had retired from the turkey plant. He was a manager on the loading dock. Worked his way up one minimum wage hour at a time. 

The job wasn't too difficult by way of thinking and processing. But it was a grind on productivity. If I close my eyes I can still see turkeys getting backed up on the conveyor belt and my partner pushing them through the tunnel to me as fast as my little hands could go. I can still feel the movement of tying a loop of netting and sending the turkey down the line. I can still hear the silence that would fall as portion by portion of the line would escape to their 15 minute morning break. I remember the chants as the cardboard sign would be carried around announcing the end of the first side which meant we would be done for the day in 2 hours. 

I knew my time there was brief. 3 or 4 months tops. Then I was off to college and the whole big world. But it was not lost on me that the people I ate lunch with every day had been having that same lunch in that same spot for 35 years. And they'd keep having that routine long after I was gone. The turkey plant was a summer experience for me. For them, just like for my grandfather, it was life.

It wasn't until my 3rd year of teaching, 7 years after that summer job, that I finally came face to face with the reasoning behind my dad's demands of me to net turkeys for a summer. I sat in a parent conference with a sweet mom who was trying to find the best accommodations for her son. When a time for the next meeting came up, a teacher suggested she just come see us during our planning periods. A lump caught in my throat and my heart stopped. I had worked with this mom at the turkey plant; I knew she could not stop working to drive 30 minutes one way for a meeting in the middle of the day. She was not given that type of luxury working on the line. Quite convenient for us teachers, but for a mom trying to make it. No. That couldn't work. She just stared blankly.

I quietly asked if we could all just meet early one morning. I could not look at the mom, but later she came to my room to thank me. It was not some great insight I had on education techniques or the wisdom I wish I had had. It was the sounds of a turkey processing plant that could not escape my mind. While it had been brief, that summer had changed my life. Until that moment I did not even know how.

Skip forward almost a decade. Yesterday my husband and I went in for our scheduled hearing to protest our most recent tax valuation. We had been working on this protest for weeks. We had driven around and observed the comps. We had researched the tax values of the homes in our neighborhood. And the bottom line was that most of the homes in our neighborhood are *shock* similar to ours. We had a couple facts to argue, and we did, but I calmly asked them to consider the principle. 

We should have a home similar to our neighbors'. But they raised us all 10% in our valuation. If our homes are similar and we are all raised 10% every year, then when does that stop? If I go up 10%, they go up to 10%. It will never end. I assured them nothing in our home had increased in value that much in 1 year (we were also raised the 2 prior years as well). I asserted that I believed they were only valuing supply and demand and not the actual home. The appraiser said I was correct.

I argued that by increasing our home prices by 10% every year is pricing us out of our own home. That this gives no incentive to live in Midland, Texas. Just because all of the new jobs in Texas are in the Permian Basin does not mean I should pay 10% more every year in property taxes. In fact that should perhaps decrease my individual share if more people are here to split the costs.

Everyone agreed. But I was told to go to Austin and protest. Their hands are tied here. They're just following the law.

The 3 men on the panel made a motion, seconded, and passed no change to our 10% increase before we could even speak. 

As I left in tears I asked Cash, "What is the purpose of being here? Why would I live in Midland County? You make extraordinary money, but at the end of the day it is no more than half that pay somewhere else. They raise taxes. Then they raise the value of the homes. Then they put up 500+ million dollar school bonds. Then they pass road bonds. Then they add a new fee for new homes being built. If it isn't the county, it is the city. If it isn't the city, it's the church. If it isn't the church, it's another non-profit. Everyone always needs more. Wants more. I simply cannot give enough. I can't do it anymore. And if I can't do it, how is a single mom on the other side of town supposed to do this?" And I can't shake that thought.

I'm a pretty basic white suburban mom. I stay home and drive a full size SUV in which I take said kids to Mother's Day Out twice a week. We go to church north of the Loop and wave at the neighbors when we get home on Sunday afternoons. 

But what about the people who aren't in our bubble of white suburbia? What about those who can't take half a day off work for a hearing on their ridiculous tax valuation? What about those whose new valuation would truly price them out of their homes? No one is talking for them. No one is saying, "Hey, hold up. These folks and their families matter too."

It took me back to standing next to a metal worktable, hair pulled back, pushing a thousand turkeys a day waiting for that cardboard sign. It took me back to that parent meeting seeing the look of I wish I could for my kid but I just can't be here during 3rd period. It took me back to the days when I felt my voice was nothing but shy and less than.

Yesterday gave me sour grapes. I was reminded of the greed that oozes from every pocket of our government. That if you have then they want more; if you have not they don't even want to hear your voice.

I'm a raging conservative Republican by day. But as the days have gone on, I've realized that I'm just raging by night. Today my blood boiled at such a high rate that for the first time in my naïve little life I disavowed the voices in the Republican party saying that they will cut our taxes. Bull. Our city is 95% Republican and not a single Democrat would ever be elected in our local or state elections. Yet here we are with every single one of them approving tax increases across the board.

For the record I don't believe the Democrats either. They say tax the rich to help the poor. Listen, folks in my neighborhood are being taxed to death. We can't afford more of your taxes. At some point we all run out of money if you tax us enough.

I don't know. I simply don't know what to do. I really love sweet tea, but anymore of this from both sides on every stinkin' issue and I am going to have to find a harbor lake stream xeroscaped lawn to throw it in.