Pretend You’re Camping.



My sister Missy was an optimist – a cheerful, ‘look on the bright side’ kind of gal. She was the kind of person who could turn lemons into the best lemonade ever, and she had a way of looking at life as an adventure to be had, even in bad times. I always admired her for that; when I was down in the dumps for one reason or another, she could always lift me up and encourage me. She was our family’s cheerleader, the person who could make anything fun – or at least bearable.

Missy’s motto was Pretend you’re camping. She reasoned that when you’re camping, you make do. If you forget your pillow, you roll up your jacket and use that instead. If you forget utensils, you can cook with a stick and eat with your fingers. Missy applied this logic to her daily life; if things didn’t go right, there was always Plan B: deal with it, and move on. No need to waste time and energy crying over the ‘could have/would have/should have’ scenarios.

I really like that perspective. Life isn’t always fun, and things don’t always go the way we want them to. I’d venture to say that more often than not, life is throwing curve balls at us; our character shows in how we choose to respond. We can duck, or we can adjust our swing. We can focus on being disappointed, or we can focus on the challenge to improve.

Pretend you’re camping! has become our family’s catchphrase for those times when you just have to suck it up and keep going. No time for whining or pity parties – just figure it out. Everyone has obstacles and baggage to carry. Every day has good and bad. People who accept those truths without feeling sorry for themselves are more successful and happy than those who feel defeated with every setback.

My sister fought a ten-year battle with cancer. She underwent multiple surgeries and treatments and suffered through a lot of illness and pain. If anyone was justified in feeling miserable, she was. But to her, life was good, and even the hard parts could be managed with the right attitude. She continued to live her life one day at a time, raising two fine sons, working with special needs children, and volunteering in her church and community. Even in the midst of her own struggles, she was motivating and encouraging the people around her. She didn’t consider herself brave or heroic or inspirational; she was just doing what needed to be done.

Missy’s legacy lives on in that motto. In those words we hear her cheerful confidence and her ability to meet adversity head on; we understand the implication that the bad stuff is just temporary and things will get better. Those words urge us to accept the adventure of another approach; we will surely find that by changing our viewing angle, those mountains become molehills once again.

Don’t get angry or frustrated or bitter because things didn’t go your way – make the most of what you have, keep a smile on your face, and carry on.

Pretend you’re camping!

Life is good.




I saw that on a sign in a store I was visiting for the first time, a craft store. 

I thought about buying the little sign to put near my bathroom mirror, but decided it was too expensive. Instead, I decided to write about it. 

Growing up with a house full of sisters, I witnessed a lot of primping in the name of beauty.  Even though we were all taught about ‘beauty on the inside’ – every unwanted task ‘built character,’ according to Mother – I think, like most girls, we all strove for outward beauty, too, to some point.  As the youngest, I wanted to emulate my older sisters, but I never liked dresses or pantyhose, and I was no good at the hair and makeup routine.  In spite of my sister Missy’s best efforts, I was still a tomboy at heart and was most comfortable bare-faced, wearing jeans and a ponytail. Missy would fix my hair and do my makeup for special occasions, but if left to my own devices, I would scrub it all off and tie my hair back. 

Besides — Mother didn’t have pierced ears, and she didn’t wear makeup save for a touch of lipstick on special occasions.  Was my mother beautiful?  Oh, yes.  She had lovely skin, thick, wavy hair, and shapely legs.  She had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a warm smile accented with her trademark gap. 

My sisters eschewed elaborate makeup and lengthy hair rituals.  It was just not important to them (or to me).  My sisters who did use makeup and did spend time with curlers and Aqua-Net looked lovely but never overly ‘done.’  Less is more, Mother would say.  And it didn’t matter what else you wore, as long as you were wearing a smile.  My sisters all wore lovely smiles, with clear eyes and kind words.  My sisters are all beautiful, makeup or no.

I think that helped me feel confident in my choices.  I could throw on some blusher and lip gloss when I had to, but I wasn’t about to get up at 5 a.m. and spend the next two hours putting on my face and wielding a curling iron. 

In the awkward years of adolescence, I tried to find myself in the magazines and department stores.  I borrowed my sister’s clothes to try to look more stylish and more like her.  I tried to talk my mom into buying me a pair of Sperry Topsiders, the loafers I saw in Seventeen magazine.  I was convinced that if I had those, I could surely pull off that Phoebe Cates back-to-school look.  No go.  At various times I tried to update my look to the Farrah Fawcett feathered ‘do, the poodle perm and the Dorothy Hamill wedge cut.  Um, no.  None of them worked for me.  I figured I was doomed to be utterly plain and style-free.

In my twenties, with a little more confidence, I dressed up a little more and wore makeup more often, under my sister’s tutelage, of course.  Mostly it was because Missy wouldn’t go out with me unless I did.  It was a fun time, and I always marveled at how she could look so put together, even in a pair of jeans.  It never rubbed off on me, though – she was Missy, and I was not.  I couldn’t borrow someone else’s look.  I had to find my own.

Let’s be clear – I don’t consider myself beautiful.  As far as looks go, I think I’m pretty solidly in the middle between ‘Eek!’ and ‘Wowza!’  I never had much of a figure; I’m built more like a tree trunk than an hourglass.  I’m content to hide my legs and cankles under jeans most of the time.  My butt is flat, which led me to live in nothing but Levi’s 501 jeans for a while.  They fit me better than girls’ jeans ever did.  I don’t have an eye for fashion, so I stick with what I know, which is jeans and sweatshirts.  As Mother would say, “All my taste is in my mouth.”

My best feature is probably my eyes, but they’ve been behind glasses since I was 7.  (Of course, that is what all fat chicks get complimented on, anyway.)  I like my hair, too. It has always been thick and full (less so now as I age), but it does have a mind of its own.  A wave here, a cowlick there, and it was just too stubborn to do what I wanted it to.  So short hair or ponytails have been my go-to styles. 

I have rarely worn makeup.  I rationalized that if you didn’t like my face the way God made it, you didn’t have to look at me.  (I still feel that way.)   I married a man who has never been crazy about makeup on women.  ‘What are they trying to hide?’ he says.  He says makeup is best when you can’t see it.  So if I don’t wear it, he can’t see it – perfect, eh?  And he still thinks I’m beautiful. Confession: I recently replaced the 20-something year old makeup in my bag with a few new, fresh items.  I don’t need much, but a touch of lip tint is nice. 

So – honestly – I love the BeYouTiful sentiment. 

I came to terms with my face a long time ago.  (Still working on the body part.)  I am no beauty queen, but I am me, and I can still be a strong, beautiful me.  I want to smile with confidence, hold my head up, and look the world in the eye.  I want to wear bold colors and stand up straight instead of shrinking back and trying to hide.  I want to stop holding back and hesitating.  I want to speak my mind.  I want to love my life and who I am and where I’m going.

And I want you to do the same.  BeYOUTiful.



 photo credit: GabrielaP93

My Alphabet of Songs: N

Been lazy lately and the stuff in my head doesn’t seem like anything anyone else would want to read.  So I’ve just stared at the keyboard and come up with nothing.

But I do love the music, and I hope you do, too.  Here is my “N” list.  Want to catch up?  See the rest of the alphabet here.

  1. New Attitude by Patti LaBelle – This is one of my feel-good, crank-it-up songs that I like to sing at the top of my lungs!
  2. Nick of Time by Bonnie Raitt – A friend of mine used to sing this in her local band; it always gave me a lump in my throat when she sang this part:
    I see my folks, they’re getting old, I watch their bodies change
    I know they see the same in me, And it makes us both feel strange
    No matter how you tell yourself, It’s what we all go through
    Those eyes are pretty hard to take when they’re staring’ back at you
    Scared you’ll run out of time
  3. No Scrubs by TLC – This is a fun song with attitude, and I think a lot of us ladies have known a few of these guys… Hangin’ out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride, tryin’ to holla at me.
  4. Night Fever by The Bee Gees – I always want to do the Hustle when this one comes on.
  5. Nasty by Janet Jackson – Nasty boys don’t mean a thing.  This song was a favorite when my sister and I went out dancing.  All the girls wanted to look and dance like Janet, with the big shoulder pads, big earrings, and big hair.  Yep, I did it, too.  But I never liked boys in belly shirts. 😉  Notice Paula Abdul as one of Janet’s girlfriends?  
  6. Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues – one of those songs that stands the test of time.  This one is nearly as old as I am (released 1967), but I still love to hear it. And who doesn’t love the poetry at the end:
    Breathe deep the gathering gloom
    Watch lights fade from every room
    Bedsitter people look back and lament
    Another day’s useless energy spent
    Impassioned lovers wrestle as one
    Lonely man cries for love, and has none
    New mother picks up and suckles her son
    Senior citizens wish they were young
    Cold-hearted orb that rules the night
    Removes the colors from our sight
    Red is grey, and yellow, white
    But we decide which is right
    And which is an illusion.
  7. Norwegian Wood by the Beatles – So many of the Beatles’ songs are stories, and this is one.  Typical tongue-in-cheek Lennon lyrics.  Plus, I like the sitar.
  8. No Time by the Guess Who – this was a radio staple when I was growing up in the 70’s.  I always liked it.
  9. No Matter What by Badfinger – Another fun 70’s tune from the radio.  This band had some big hits, but sadly, lost two of their members to suicide.
  10. New Kid in Town by The Eagles – The Eagles are a great group with terrific arrangements and harmony.  They have a lot more in their repertoire than Hotel California.  This reminds me of Tequila Sunrise.
  11. New York’s Not My Home by Jim Croce – I wish we hadn’t lost him so young.  Croce’s music is timeless.
  12. Nowhere Man by the Beatles – Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me?
  13. Nothing From Nothing by Billy Preston – a great, feel-good, top-down, sunny-day song!

My Alphabet of Songs: L

Lookie here — we’re at L now!  This is a longer list because there are an awful lot of L songs on my iPod.  I hope you like them!

1. Little Sister by Elvis Presley – when my sister Missy and I used to go dancing, I always requested this song, and it reminds me of the fun times we had. Little Sister, don’t you do what your Big Sister done.
2. The Lumberjack by Hal Willis – Pa had a 45 of this and we played it a lot when I was a kid.  Well, I’m a-sittin’ on a tree stump, eatin’ Johnny cake/ I heard the whistle blow, I had to take a break/ I’m a-boilin’ up my tea in an old tin can/ For that is the life of a Lumberjack man.
3. The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens – A wimoweh a wimoweh a wimoweh a wimoweh a wimoweh a wimoweh a wimoweh a wimoweh…fun karaoke song!
4. Layla by Derek & the DominoesEric Clapton, the master.  I actually prefer the ‘Unplugged’ version he did in the 90’s to the original, but I do love the piano in the original.
5. Little Deuce Coupe by the Beach Boys – I used to play Endless Summer in the car while taking my sons to daycare when they were small; Number One Son, who was probably 4 or so, sang it, “Little Bit Scoop.”
6. The Lady is a Tramp by Frank Sinatra – Great song.  I think he sang it differently, even with altered lyrics, each time.  Doesn’t matter — it’s that VOICE.
7. Love Shack by the B-52’s – what a fun song to dance to!  When Mr. Stuck and I were dating, we used to go see a hot, local band called Combo Plate, and they did a great version of this song.
8. Living in the Past by Jethro TullDigging the jazzy rock flute!  Once I used to join in/Every boy and girl was my friend/Now there’s revolution, but they don’t know/What they’re fighting.
9. Let’s Stay Together by Al Green – The Reverend Al Green and his silky, seductive voice…what a classic.
10. Landslide by Fleetwood Mac – Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?  Can I handle the seasons of my life?
11. Losing My Religion by REM – Liked this song from the first time I heard it…it might be the mandolin.  It most certainly isn’t Michael Stipes’ dance moves.  He said it was a song about obsession, about unrequited love.
12. Loves Me Like a Rock by Paul Simon – because we Mamas do love our boys like a rock.
13.  Livin’ Thing by ELO – Again, I love the strings at play in this band.  Had to share this video — it has Jeff Lynne without his trademark sunglasses, a blue violin, and all that colorful satin.  Groovin’ in 1977!
14.  Long Distance Runaround by Yes – I saw this live; in fact, it was the setting for one of my most embarrassing moments.  It really is a cool piece of music.  Listen to the drums and keyboards in 5/4 time against the guitars in 4/4.
15. The Logical Song by Supertramp – These guys were terrific in concert.  I like the wry humor of this song.

Check out the rest of the Alphabet!

photo credit Beverly & Pack

Back to School? Better You Than Me.

School clothes, the bane of my existence.

I was thinking about how different this August is from last August.  In June, I celebrated Number Young Son’s graduation from high school; but what he probably didn’t know is that I also celebrated the end of school clothes shopping.  I hate clothes shopping.  I have always hated clothes shopping.  And I will hate clothes shopping as long as I live.

Yes, I said it.

Shopping and I have had a mutually antagonistic relationship from the start.  School clothes shopping was by far the worst.  For one thing, Mother was practical.  She had to be, with seven children on one income.  She tried very hard to be equitable for each child while maintaining her budget.  So there was an allowed amount that would be spent on each of us; we would get shoes, a winter coat, undies and socks, and maybe a new outfit.  Being the youngest, my wardrobe was supplemented with hand-me-downs, too, and Mother also sewed for us.

In grade school, my mother would take me to the local stores for clothes and would choose several things for me to try on.  I hated — no, loathed — trying on clothes.  I was a chubby girl, and it was hard to find clothes that fit me right.  She would come into the changing room with me, and after I dressed, I would have to stand before her, following her direction to turn, bend, squat, and raise my arms.  She would tug on zippers and snaps, check snug waistbands, adjust crooked seam lines, and button my blouses clean up to the top, with running commentary about my posture (“Stand up straight!”), the fit of the clothes (“Now, why would anyone put bust darts in a child’s blouse?”), and their construction (“That wouldn’t see three washings before falling apart!”).  Ugh.  By the end of the day, Mother and I would be angry and frustrated with one another, and I would try to distance myself as far from her as possible, which was hard to do in the car.  I grew up hating clothes shopping, and that has stayed with me all my life.

When I was a teenager, clothes shopping trips were a little better, only because Mother would load us up in the station wagon and drive 45 minutes to the only mall around.  Plus, Mother no longer had to come into the changing room with me.  It was one of the two times we would go there each year — once for school shopping and once for Christmas shopping.  My sister and I would be chatting about all of the new fashions of the fall that we had seen in  magazines and catalogs, and we were eager to make our pilgrimage to the department stores and mall shops.

I would follow my sister’s lead into the junior department, where she would find cute clothes at bargain prices.  Missy was a great shopper — she had style and an eye for quality.  She had extra cash from her babysitting jobs, so she often bought accessories to make her outfits more versatile.  She enjoyed shopping, and her enthusiasm kinda rubbed off on me during those trips.  Instead of getting frustrated with clothing that didn’t fit, like I did, she’d shrug it off and find something else.  We’d hit a few stores that were having big sales, and eventually, we’d be done.  Mother often put our items on layaway, which was more affordable, but that meant we couldn’t even bring our new treasures home yet.  All that work and nothing to show for it — what a letdown.

The only part of school shopping I actually liked, rather than tolerated, was when we would buy school supplies.  Now that was fun — new PeeChees, unchewed #2 pencils, hard pink erasers, and later, binders, compasses, and a TI-30 calculator.  I loved the stiffness of the new folders, the perfect point on the freshly-sharpened pencil, and the clean, white pages of the new spiral notebooks.  I would try to negotiate with Mother for the ‘cooler’ pens — Flair felt-tipped or a nice Bic 4-color retractable — and sometimes she gave in.  When I got my own babysitting money, I spent it on a fountain pen with different-colored ink cartridges, finely perforated notebooks that wouldn’t leave the ragged edge that spirals do, and mechanical pencils with fine lead.  In high school, I had pens of every color and style, stencils, stickers, fancy binders, and a better calculator.  I still made paper-sack book covers, though.  Didn’t everyone?

Now this is the cool stuff.

When my own children became school-aged, I had to step into my mother’s role and take my kids shopping.  I had to endure their frustration with the changing room routine as I found myself doing the same things Mother did: tugging at zippers and snaps, checking snug waistbands, and commenting on the quality of the clothing and my children’s posture.  It never failed that the size they wore at the beginning of summer was too small by fall.  I budgeted a set amount for each child and broke it down to shoes and coats and pants and shirts.  I hit all the sales in all the stores and tried to get it done before we were all tired and cranky from hunger.  Still, for me, the best part of school shopping was done not at the mall, but in the stationery section of the department store.  Binders. Composition books. Protractors. Crayons. Glue. Red pencils. Blue pencils. Index cards. Rulers. I was in heaven. My sons didn’t care at all about a certain type of pen, nor were they concerned about the lead thickness in their mechanical pencils, but I shopped my little heart out.  It sorta made up for the other stuff.  Sorta.

When my sons entered high school, clothes shopping got easier.  I’d follow them around to the stores as they tried on what they liked, and I’d whip out my credit card and sign on the dotted line.  That kind of shopping I can do.  We didn’t have to spend a lot of time browsing and pawing through racks of clothing for just the right color or style; we didn’t have to try on 10 different outfits at each store.  Get them some sneakers, some socks and underwear, some shorts and tee-shirts, and maybe a hoodie, and that was fine.  It was a necessary fall ritual, and although I didn’t hate it with them as much as I did when I was young, it still wasn’t on my list of fun things to do.  Sorry, guys.  I love you, but I hate shopping — that’s just how I am.

College — that’s the new mindset.  It’s a whole different ballgame, but at least they can do their own shopping.  Thank goodness.

photo credit (top) Jessie Pearl

The Big Five-Oh.

Next year, I’ll be 50.  Half a century – you know, Nifty Fifty – ripe fodder for jokes about ‘Old-Timer’s Disease’, gag party gifts like adult diapers and Geritol, and paybacks for all the ribbing I gave my sisters as they reached that golden age.  

Fifty isn’t old.

Fifty isn’t traumatic.

Fifty isn’t the end of the world or the end of my life.  At least, I hope it isn’t.

But fifty is the number of years my sister Missy was given on this earth, and as I approach that birthday, my head and heart are filled with a certain apprehension – what if my life stopped right here?  Am I ready?  Would I fight it, or would I accept it?  Would I be strong enough?  I confess that because my sister Wendy died just a week shy of her 43rd birthday, I could think of nothing else when I reached 42.

When my sisters died, I was an adult, and so were they.  I am sure it is much more difficult for people who lost their brothers or sisters as children – I cannot even imagine, and I cannot speak for them.  Children tend to blame themselves when things like abuse or divorce happen; I suspect that they would also blame themselves if they lost a sister or brother.  I did not have that guilt; as a grown up, I knew it wasn’t my fault.

Still, the sad regret is there – the what ifs…the if onlys… the second-guessing…the replaying of events in my head.  And it’s not just family whose passing makes me compare my lifespan to theirs.  My friend Jon was only 32 when he perished in a house fire.  My dear friend Shirley was 47 when she succumbed to a pulmonary embolism (blood clot).  At each of those ages, I looked in the mirror and asked the questions for which I had no real answer.  I suppose this is a normal part of grieving and moving on.

Life offers no guarantees.  Today I talked with a friend about people who overcome extreme personal adversity, such as the loss of limbs or a grave illness, to live their lives not defined by, but in spite of, those circumstances.  We talked about how attitudes toward death can determine how we live.  We agreed that even for people like us, who do not live under the cloud of a serious disease or catastrophic injury, life holds no promises.  We talked about how life can change – or end – in a moment.  Can we ever really be ready?

So, at 32, with young children, I was grateful, but still checked my smoke detectors.  

At 42, I looked at my own family and was thankful that my sister’s passing would leave no children motherless. 

At 47, I thought about Shirley and how much she had done for others all of her short life. 

And when 50 comes, I will think about Missy and what a terrific grandma she would have been, and I will cherish every moment with my family.

Because sometimes, it feels like borrowed time.

photo credit tawest64

Playing Chicken.

Chicken purse

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Best Medicine
Time to work out your own funny bone! This week, write about whatever topic you’d like, but go for laughs.

My sister Missy and my dad had an especially playful relationship.  They pulled pranks on one another, gave each other trouble, and goofed around constantly.  Missy was as much the instigator as Dad was.  For example, when Dad teased her, she’d admonish him and threaten, with mock seriousness, to ‘get the spoons.’ 

Getting the spoons meant she would pull two large serving spoons out of the drawer and ‘play’ them on Dad’s arm or back (or sometimes his head) like drumsticks.  Dad, in turn, might ‘accidentally’ butter her arm at the dinner table as he buttered his bread.  Sometimes he would go outside when it was getting dark, and, as Missy and I did the dishes, would sneak to the window above the sink, suddenly showing his face and making us shriek. You just never knew what to expect from Missy or from Dad.

I always wished that I could joke with my folks the way she did, but none of us other siblings had her special touch. Dad and Missy had a very close bond, and much of that was their shared sense of silliness.  Missy, especially, was always thinking of stunts she could pull on Dad; while she was the brains of the operation, I usually ended up being dragged along as the brawn.

One afternoon, when she was about 15, and I was about 12, Missy had a grand idea.  She collared me and told me to go find a box: we were going to pull a trick on Dad.  So, like the dutiful little sister (and errand boy) that I was, I found a box and reported back to her.  We went outside to the shed, and she got me a fishing net with about a 4-ft handle.  We proceeded to the chicken coop out back.  We were going to catch us a chicken! 

After running around in the pen for awhile, I was finally able to get the net over one of the agitated hens.  She squawked something fierce, and left me with a few scratches and welts, but once we put her in the box, she settled down.  We folded the flaps over on the top of the box so there was just a little opening at the top.  We peeked inside; the chicken was eyeing us, but she stayed quiet.  Perfect.

We sneaked in the back door, and I carried the box into Mom and Dad’s room.  Missy told me to set it down on Dad’s side of the bed.  Then, with hushed giggles, we ran upstairs to her room, which was directly above our parents’ room, to listen at the vent.  For some reason I can no longer recall, she knew Dad was heading to his bedroom

Soon enough, we heard Dad in the hallway.  We held our breath.  We heard him go into the bedroom, where he saw the box.  He went to open it, and we heard, WHAT THE — ?!??  MELISSAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!  And then laughter.  She had gotten him again.

Missy and I were rolling on the floor, we were laughing so hard. 

Fortunately for us all, Dad hadn’t let the chicken out of the box – he had opened it only far enough to see what was in it and closed it up quickly when the chicken started squawking and flapping her wings.  (I was really glad, because I didn’t want to be cleaning up the mess.)