Baby, mine

madiYour parents and your children.  Those are the people who will always believe in you and your ability to do it, whatever it may be.  Your parents and your children.  The difference, though, is that your parents know that you can do it.  Because they showed you how.  And it’s the right thing.  And they didn’t raise you not to do it.  But your children?  They know you will do it.  Because you’re mom.  And you have to.  And not doing it isn’t even an option.

For 21 years, this fiery bundle of creativity and love has built me into the woman I am, and I am so very proud of the woman she is.  Happy Birthday, Angel Princess.

I’m a ring tailed dreamer


If I learned anything from last week’s trip to Tennessee, it’s that when I’m home I  need to get out more.  Every person I passed on the street in both Nashville and Memphis could rattle off a dozen things I needed to see while I was in town.  I can’t do the same for Raleigh.   There are places and things that thrill me, but those have zero tourist value.

My friend, Jen is visiting for the week. She arrived Thursday night and we giggled until two a.m.  I let her sleep in on Friday morning while I consulted TripAdvisor for things to do in Raleigh-Durham.  Since it’s winter, fully 4/5th of their suggestions were off the table. Who knew we were so outdoorsy? One possibility leaped out at me, furry arms wide open.  There was no time to properly vet the idea before it was clinging to my neck and poking leaves in my mouth.

I quietly knocked on Jen’s door and invited myself into her room.  I bounced on the corner of her bed and said, “Hey, do you want to paint with lemurs?”

A typical response for someone waking up to this question might be,  huh?  But Jen’s not typical and that’s why I love her.   She said,  “Hell, yeah!”

And I really don’t want to tell anybody how to live their life, but maybe those ought to be the first words we all utter every morning that we are lucky enough to wake up.

We spent the few remaining minutes of the morning getting dressed and looking deeper into the offerings of the Duke Lemur Center. We met in the upstairs hallway, disappointed. Jen had envisioned some sort of human-lemur collaboration, producing a joint piece of art. I’d imagined I’d get to hold a lemur by the tail, dip him in paint, and smear him on my canvas. Either one of us could have been right, but no. For $95 each, Duke will let visitors pick what color paint a couple of Lemurs step in before running across a sheet. And you get to keep the sheet. It’s just this woman’s opinion, but that activity neither rises to the price tag, nor the legal definition of painting with lemurs.

By the next afternoon I’d taken my children to visit with their father for the holiday weekend and dropped my husband at the airport for a week of skiing and Sundance Film Festival-ing. We met up with some friends for books, drinks, and dinner. To the outside world, I looked fine. But on the inside, I was still really bummed about that whole lemur thing.  Then my brain turned on.

If ideas came in color, the one I had next would have been hot pink and orange.  I invited our friends over for Sunday night. We would go to Walmart and buy stuffed lemurs!  I have plenty of stretched and primed canvases, and paint, at home.

Looking back, I have no idea why I was so certain Walmart would have lemurs. Nor can I explain why, when Jen was just making a helpful suggestion, I replied with such “judgey indignation” that, Ptshh. Dollar General doesn’t have Lemurs!

By the time I’d driven to the Toys R Us side of town, I was starting to feel like my brain had thrown a party that I wasn’t invited to. There was sangria and lemur painting up in there. But out here, in the cold, harsh, real world, there were no lemurs and I’m pretty sure that is some kind of racist bullshit. After striking out at a craft store, I remembered World Market.

Jen stayed in the parking lot to call her family back in Dallas, so I entered World Market alone.  By nature, I am not a shopper.  I don’t have the focus to comb through aisles of things so I walked right up to Tracy, the nearest sales person.  She appeared to be about 30 and of at least average intelligence, so I begged for her help.  “Do you have anything in here that is a lemur, or has a lemur in it, or on it?  I just need a lemur and it doesn’t really matter in what form.”  My point is, I clearly said lemur several times. And obviously, I was already showing signs of willingness to settle.

Jackpot!  She nodded and walked me to a shelf filled with all sorts of animal-shaped ornaments.  Or toys.  I couldn’t really tell what use these things were, except that they were about to satisfy my acute fixation on lemurs.  Then she pointed to the only two llamas on the shelf.


I didn’t want to come off as judgey and indignant again so I picked up the llamas, one white, one brown, and carried them to the register.  The line was moving slowly, so I had time to name them.  This is where Jen found me, with both llamas standing in my outstretched palm, like they were freely roaming the countryside of Peru.

“Serena, what are you doing?”  Who sounded judgey and indignant now?

“Shhhhh.”  I didn’t want Tracy to hear this.

“But those aren’t lem-”

“Shhhhh!” I hushed her, louder, and kind-of jerked my head towards Tracy, who was now helping another customer.

“They’re not lem-”

I interrupted her again, with a staccato whisper and more head jerking.  “I.  Know.  They’re.  Not.  Lemurs.  But she thinks they are.”

Jen’s face showed nothing but confusion.  “But why are you buying them?”

I didn’t actually have an answer for her, so I moved my palm to the nearest shelf and set Jake and Elwood free, along with any hope of painting with lemurs.  I hesitated at the door, trying to convince myself that painting with llamas would totally be as fun as painting with lemurs, but my one-track brain would have none of that.  Besides, everybody knows Llamas are for raffling off, not for painting. I returned home, defeated.

We still had our party Sunday night, but it changed from a lemur painting party into a yoga pants party.  There was moonshine sangria; there is always sangria.  The next morning I nursed sore cheeks from laughing so hard the past few days and it was not lost on me that, yet again, things didn’t turn out the way I (hastily) planned; they turned out better.

My frantic search wasn’t a new one.  I’ve always been hunting lemurs in one form or another.  I have these ideas, sometimes silly, sometimes even sillier.  And you know what?  I have an awful lot of fun trying to catch them.  

Hell, yeah!



Tennescenes; addendum



Have you ever heard somebody who isn’t Johnny Cash try to sing Johnny Cash?  You know how no matter how good they might be, it just sounds wrong?  Well, that was my meatloaf experience today.  I like mine better.  Because mine was my mom’s.  And however your mom made meatloaf growing up is how it’s supposed to be.  Other people can make your mom’s meatloaf; the recipe isn’t a secret.  They can use other recipes, too, but that’s where they go wrong.

But the company did not disappoint.  Very much like my real family dinners, I was the first one to the table at Monell’s.  I was soon joined by Tommy from San Francisco, and Tyrese who is a Memphibian.  They are classmates at a small evangelical Christian college in Los Angeles.  Tyrese has been showing Tommy the Big East over this winter break.  I’m really very, very bad at these things, but I suspect they have a secret that would get them expelled from their super conservative school.

Shortly after we got acquainted, we met AlGordemort.  I don’t recall his name, but he had Gore’s face and Voldemort’s pasty skin and bald head.  He wore a navy blazer and a red bowtie with small yellow daisies.  He obviously got his fashion sense from the Dork Lord.  His son, a freshman at a local university, was a younger, blonde haired version of his father.  He had one of those cute names; Tanner, or Cody, or Fluffy, something like that.  I can’t remember.



I’m a big fan of the twenty dollar bill, so I spent my last day in Tennessee touring the home of Andrew Jackson, The Hermitage.  These were my five takeaways:

The tour guide told me most of his chairs were covered in horse hair.  It’s a whole new level of equestrian who lets his horses on the furniture.

Andrew Jackson was a ginger, a feature that was erased from history by every artist who ever painted him.

For a man who was pro-slavery and credited with the removal of a whole indigenous people, he sure didn’t have any compunction about letting those folks fight in his wars for him.

Andrew and Rachel Jackson were married for 54 years and by all accounts, deeply in love with and devoted to one another.  Because of all of his soldiering and politicking, Rachel figured they only spent one quarter of all of their years actually together.  The correlation between these two facts is solely mine.

Electronic interpreter devices that museums let you use for the self-guided portion of tours are not impervious to toilet water.  Woops.



This really was a ridiculous amount of luggage for one human being to use, imagemuch less schlep for a week.

I’m sure I haven’t learned my lesson.




It’s almost lunch time and the lobby is full of frenzied parents.  My cell phone rings. It is Madison, calling me back.  Ten minutes ago she huffed and hung up on me because I didn’t have time to talk about her pancakes, which I can’t see or taste from eighty miles away.  She desperately needs my validation, except I tell her that she doesn’t, and that she should enjoy her pancakes if they are enjoyable, or make another batch if they are not.  That’s how pancakes work, even for me.  I answer her call not with, “Hello,” but, “I’ll call you back during lunch.”

The secretary has a phone to each ear; one she is on hold with, the other she is asking questions of while relaying information to the frightened parents in front of her.  Their children never made it to school.  She tells me my children never made it to school.

Where is the bus driver?  Drivers.  Multiple.  Four buses never picked up the children.

But Jack and Cate didn’t come back home.  They didn’t call.  Nobody’s kids did.

I hurriedly retrieve my purse, coat, books, and white pashmina from the detention classroom where I’ve been volunteering.  Those kids are fuck ups.  How did they manage to get to school?

I am nearly running down the hallway with my arms full and heavy when Jack’s ringtone plays from my cell phone.  I drop all of my belongings to answer it.  My mother is on the line, telling me that she has stopped by the school to have lunch with us.  Then I am not on the phone with her, I’m in front of her, explaining that she can eat at my house.  We have to go.  I don’t know where my children are.

The day is grey and the air is charged with a looming storm.  I am frustrated with her for showing up on this day.  I am frustrated that she isn’t moving fast enough.  I’m frustrated that she doesn’t know where she is going in the parking lot because she doesn’t recognize my rental car.  I’m frustrated that I have to help her buckle her seatbelt.

I’m finally ready to back out of my parking spot when I see it – a giant tornado off in the distance ahead.  But then I realize it is flanked by skinnier tornados; seven in all, in a row.  My mother hasn’t seen them, so I nudge her and point.  Just a tad bit closer to us, another row of seven columns of smoke and dirt grow out of the ground into the sky.  That’s when I know they are not tornados.  They are missiles.

Every few seconds, another row of missiles goes up, each marching closer to us, growling and grumbling louder and louder.  My mother asks if we are being bombed.  The bombs are being launched from here, our ground, I tell her.  Are we bombing us?

I try to calculate if the next row will miss us or erupt from directly underneath my car, but we don’t have to wait long to find out.  We feel the next explosion twenty feet behind us.  Our ears are ringing and the air is too smoky and dusty to see beyond the windshield.  And I don’t know where my children are.

Panic grabs for my chest, but I awake just out of its reach as it brushes me with its burning, icy fingers.  My chest is frozen, but it is not squeezed.  It’s been so long since my last nightmare, maybe weeks.  I lie awake dissecting what I know wasn’t real.  My bad dream is my insomnia’s chew toy and it wrestles with the detail of my mother.  Why was she there?

It is 2:38am.  Flashing blue lights dance on the wall I don’t recognize in front of me and a loud truck rumbles down Broadway.  It is my first night in Nashville.



MonellsSusan Ann, with her curly brown hair piled on top of her head, told me that Nashville is known for their meatloaf so while I’m here, I have to eat at Monell’s.  It was almost one and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast, so that’s where I went next.

Monell’s is family style country cooking.  I worried a little bit about dining alone in a family style restaurant, but I needn’t have.  I was seated at the end of a very long table and left to occupy myself with big bowls of coleslaw and cucumber salad.  Then my waitress brought a basket of biscuits and cornbread; then she brought me some family.

To my left, she seated a husband and wife.  They met and married while stationed in Germany twenty three years ago.  To my right, she seated two paralegals; best friends who work at different law firms.  One of them recognized the couple to my left.  When she was a senior in high school she worked at a drycleaner they owned.

Further down the table to my left, the waitress seated a retired couple from Australia.  When asked where in Australia they were from, they only said, “the south.”  Across from them, a young couple was taking grandpa, or great grandpa, or the crypt keeper out for lunch.  He sat opposite me at the other end of the table, but I could not see him over the lemonade pitcher.  The young man with him also recognized the couple to my left.  The young man’s brother was a firefighter with him a few years ago.

I had to ask, “Is Nashville a small town?”

They all agreed heartily that it is.

Fried chicken, baked chicken, pork chops, green beans, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and fresh preserves were all passed around the table.  Eventually I realized there was no meatloaf.  It was Wednesday.  They told me meatloaf day was Monday.

We ate, we talked, we laughed, and some of us even caught up on old times and how the kids have grown.  Nobody asked to borrow money or brought up politics.  There were no loud drunks or stoned hipsters.  Nobody judged me for having three husbands, or acted like I might as well have had eight.  I didn’t bite my tongue bloody or worse, let it fly.

It’s going to be pretty hard to top that family dinner.  I wonder who they were.


There is a Fort Pillow.  I want so badly to believe there was a civil warfort pillow battle fought from behind overturned sofas, with war weary soldiers taking refuge in bunkers built from the couch cushions and blankets.  I want to believe it so much that I refuse to read this plaque.  I can infer from the picture that furniture doesn’t provide the best cover in a musket fight, and since I never plan to be in one, this information isn’t really relevant to me.



Merle is a child of God with only two bad habits and perfectly straight teeth – the ones that are accounted for, anyway.  Two bad habits.  He smokes cigarettes and he drinks beer, but he’s not going to ask me to buy him any beer, he says.

I am fine as fuck; Merle said so.  Repeatedly.  I think he misread my lack of response and apologized for his language.  He didn’t want to offend me so he amended his compliment, “Girl you is fine as a sandcastle.”

It’s stupid, but it’s novel and I cannot help but laugh.  He misreads this and tells me again and again, I am fine as a sandcastle and can I please buy him a pack of cigarettes?  He just came back from Chicago and they’re $15 a pack there.  walk dont walkI’m in luck because they’re only $5 here.

I tell him he should either stay away from Chicago, or quit smoking.  I want to tell him to learn some manners and get a job.  I decide to jaywalk instead.



I entered Arkansas on the old I-55 bridge, which afforded me no opportunity to see the mighty Mississippi overflowing his old banks.  I was going to West Memphis to look for Lucinda Williams’ Joy!

What I found instead was a rusted town that smelled like giving up and sewage.  If there was joy anywhere near that town it would stick out like a sore thumb.

I looked for her joy a few years back when I was in Slidell; all I found was alligators.  They look happy when you toss them marshmallows, and happy is close to joy.  I think she should focus her search there.



It was nineteen-seventy-something on the eighty-something inch TVSweatyElvis3 screen in front of us.  There is no characteristic hip swivel or lip snarl; Elvis is sweating profusely, disproportionate even to the jumping and thrashing he’s doing on stage.  Here, in two thousand sixteen, a woman in her seventies is draped over the hand rail, chin in hand, weeping at the sight before her.

“That,” she pauses, “was the Elvis I loved.”  Her voice is scratchy.  Maybe she spent the morning wailing somewhere, or the last half century smoking Marlboros.  I can’t say.

After an appropriate number of silent beats, her slightly younger companion says to her very sincerely, “I’m so sorry.”

The mourner’s reply is not automatic.  Finally, she says, “It’s alright.”



It’s very early and I roll over to hold Mike, but it’s not Mike.  It’s just the decorative bolster I pushed to the side last night.  Disappointed, I fall back to sleep.

I awake at 6 a.m. to a Celebrity Death Beeper notice.  It’s been blowing up since the holidays; a couple a week.  But I’m weary.  There have been no thrilling and earth shattering celebrity deaths in a long time;  Since Robin Williams, I bet.

It is David Bowie.  It is early and I am devoid of coffee.  I think about the rash of copycats we will soon experience as more baby boomers die of cancer.  And then I worry that we might stop even trying to cure cancer anymore because what’s the point?  It already got David Bowie.

I dress and hunt for coffee.  For reasons I can’t explain, A Case of You is stuck in my head the rest of the morning; Diana Krall’s rendition, not Joni’s.  I miss my husband.   My plane doesn’t leave until 9:30 tonight and guess what?  It’s meatloaf day at Monell’s.


I’m a Luggage Pig


The best thing about solo travel?  I can over pack to my heart’s content.  I get a carry on and a purse, plus two free checked bags and dammit, I’m going to use them.
Clothes and shoes for seven whole days because who wants to do laundry?  Detergent in case I decide to do laundry.  A curling iron in case I need to curl my hair; a straightener in case that was a mistake.   While I’m at it, where’s my blow dryer? Maybe I’ll use that. I don’t know what amenities my AirBnB will include, but I’m not packing an iron and I applaud my own restraint on that one.
Two different wool coats, because I’m more fashion conscious when I travel.  My Birkenstocks because no I am not.

The one downside to solo travel?  I have to schlep all of that myself.