Essie, oh Essie.  Where do I begin while telling you about Essie?  I will start out by saying that I never learned to love Essie like I did Beloved.  Of course, I loved her as I love any human being, but I did not learn to love her in a motherly way.  That was probably because she made me insane.

So, where do I begin?  I guess I’ll begin with the diagnosis.  Essie was bi-polar and schizophrenic, and she had a very low IQ.  Life with her was certainly interesting if nothing else!

For about a month, I basically lived alone with Essie.  By that point, Beloved had been removed from the house, so Essie was the only foster child in the home.  My family was gone more than they were there and that left the schizophrenic and me.  I don’t mean to make fun.  I really don’t.  It’s just that, until you’ve lived with a mentally delayed, bi-polar, schizophrenic, you just haven’t lived.

After about a day alone with Essie, I was already losing it.  She talked non-stop, and most of the time, she did not make much sense.  By the time she went to her room at night, I was so happy for her to go.

You’re going to think I’m terrible, but I have a confession to make.  When daylight savings time started, I changed the clocks a little more than I should have.  Essie said she could not read time, but I did not want to take any chances.  I set the clocks back two hours instead of one.  I figured she was already confused from the time change, so it wouldn’t matter.  By setting the clocks back, I made it where Essie really went to her room for bed at 7:00 when she thought she was going at 8:00.  Call me diabolical, but it was a matter of self preservation.  By sending her to her room, I gave myself an extra hour of peace and quiet.   Handling her from about 3:45 when she got home from school until about 7:00 was all I could do.  Don’t look at me like that.  You have no idea how bad it was.

One morning, Essie came to the table with her hood of her jacket pulled up over her head.  When I asked her to put it down, she refused.  Finally, I talked her into putting it down.  When she did, I saw that her entire head of formerly blond hair was now bright red.  I asked how in the world she had done that, and she said she used a Crayola marker.  And, just a helpful hint, in case you are considering using Essie’s beauty techniques, Crayola marker is really permanent in hair.  It faded to bright pink when she washed it, and it stayed pink for weeks.  It was lovely.

When I went into Essie’s bathroom after she left for school that day, I found red marker all over the room.  She had colored her toothbrush.  That was just one of the nasty things she did to her many toothbrushes while she lived there.  The child went through a toothbrush a week, because I kept discovering her brushes in gross places with gross things on them.  Once, I found it in her toilet that was unflushed.  Enough said.  I’m pretty sure Essie used her toothbrushes for just about everything except brushing her teeth.

Personal hygiene was definitely lacking for this girl.  She did not shower, and when she did, she did not use soap or shampoo.  I talked to the social worker about this, and the social worker started a series of lessons for Essie and a few other girls from the other house who were suffering with the same issues.  Throughout the classes, Essie insisted that she washed her hair daily.  When I said she did not, she got mad at me.  We had reached the point where I had to dispense shampoo in a little paper cup because Essie kept dumping whole bottles down the drain.  So, the social worker asked me to start collecting the cups to see if the shampoo had not been used.  I collected a full cup of shampoo every day for two weeks.  I’m pretty sure the soap did not get used either.

Now, here’s the kicker.  Essie was a hugger.  She wanted to hold on me and hug on me all the time, and she called me, “Mommy.”  My own kids didn’t even call me, “Mommy.”  Just hearing her voice say, “Mommy,” was enough to make me want to set the clocks back even further.

Essie told me that she was hearing voices.  I figured this could not be a good sign, so I had the social worker make an appointment with the state appointed psychiatrist.  We went to see him and went through the whole appointment with no mention of the voices.  Finally, I asked Essie if she was going to talk to the doctor about the real reason we were there, and she said no.  I asked her why not, and she said she didn’t want him to think she was crazy.  Since I thought it wouldn’t be nice to say that the ship had already sailed, I just looked at the doctor.  He asked what was going on, and she said she was hearing voices.  Then, he had a conversation with her that made me wonder if I was the crazy one.  He asked her what the voices sounded like, and she said they sounded like Essie.  He asked her if the voices told her to do good things or bad things, and she said good things.  Then, the doctor looked at me and said, “She’s fine.”  I asked him, “Really?  We’re trusting to schizophrenic to decide whether the voices are good or bad??”  He said we were.  And then I remembered that this was my tax dollars hard at work.  Thank you, doctor.

Essie was confusing at times.  She had an incredible vocabulary and could come across as very mature and smart.  Then, she would run into traffic without looking.  In fact, that happened so many times that I threatened to get her a monkey backpack.  Sadly, she said she wanted one, and she was serious.

When I asked Mr. Everything if he could remember any funny stories about Essie, he said there was absolutely nothing funny about her.  He said she was scary, and he was pretty-much right. 

When we made the decision to leave the children’s home, Essie was moved back to a house where she had already lived.  The mother of that house was so upset about getting Essie back that she would not even speak to me.  I didn’t blame her.  She was probably so happy when she escaped the insanity of Essie, and then she got sucked back in.

Essie lived in our house for the two and a half long months that we were there.  For the last week, she was joined by Margarita.  I’ll tell you about her next. –Al

At the children’s home, we got two for the price of one.  With 30 minutes notice, I gained two 18 year old girls to my household.  The first one was named Beloved.  (Okay, that wasn’t her name, but it meant “Beloved.”) 

Beloved was a living Jekyll and Hyde.  When she was nice, she was really nice, and she lit up the room with just her smile.  When she was not nice, boy, oh boy.  Let’s just say things got ugly quickly. 

Bless her heart.  It was a terrible irony that her parents named her something that meant “Beloved” and then threw her away.  It was horrible to see how her parents and society had messed up this precious soul.  She was a self-mutilator, or so they said.  I never actually saw her do anything more than scratch herself with a broken CD and threaten to do more.  I was glad I did not get a full demonstration of the mutilation.  I don’t *do* blood or bodily fluids.

Beloved was not in school.  She was supposed to be working her GED, but it wasn’t going very well.  Her tutors kept quitting because they couldn’t take the mood swings.  When I got her in my home, the social workers and I decided it would be a good plan for her to volunteer at the home’s thrift shop.  They thought it would help her to get out of herself a little.  I thought it would help her to get out of my house a little.  She volunteered there three days a week.  I was lobbying for five days a week, but I never won the popular vote.

One Friday, I decided that Beloved would go to work.  She had overstayed her welcome, and I desperately needed a break.  I told her to get ready and that we were going to take her to work.  My family was in town for a rare moment, and I was really excited about the idea of being just the four of us for a little while.  Beloved pouted around the house and said she didn’t want to go.  She said that she should not have to work on Friday as it was part of the weekend.  I reminded her that the social worker thought it would be good and that she didn’t have a choice.  I also reminded her that the social worker was at work because Friday was, indeed, a work day.  She said she was special and shouldn’t have to work.  Finally, after dragging her feet for over an hour, she was ready.  We all loaded up in the huge bus that I got to drive.  I was driving, because, as usual, Mr. E was not actually allowed to participate in “our” job.

Beloved refused to buckle her seatbelt.  I told her to put it on, and she said no.  I told her again, politely, but more forcefully, and again she said no.  Then, through gritted teeth I said, “I. Said. Buckle. Up. Now.”  She said, “And. I. Said. No.”  After that, the memory is just a flash.  I was driving but still on the children’s home property when Beloved refused to buckle up.  I slammed on my brakes hard.  It was hard enough that Beloved flew out of the seat and into the floor board.  I threw it in reverse and backed all the way back to the house.  Then, I made the decree of, “Everyone, get out of the car NOW!” and everyone obeyed, including Mr. E.

Beloved and I marched over to the children’s home office to have a word with the social worker.  You see, I had no power to actually DO anything.  My only action was to consult the social workers and let them handle it.  In this case, Beloved won and did not have to go to work that day.  I also won because she spent the day in the office, and I got a break.

Later that evening, Beloved hugged me and said, “Ms. Alison.  I thought you were going to kill me!  Next time you say, ‘Buckle up,’ I’m gonna buckle up!”  Chalk one up for the mother.

One thing I learned about myself through this whole process was that I am one tough cookie.  In case you ever doubted that, just know that it is true.  I thought I would probably shrink away when threatened.  However, I found that my response was just the opposite.  When the large framed, tall Beloved moved toward me in a menacing manner, my response was always to puff up my chest and move at her instead of away.  One time, Mr. Everything actually had to step between us because he was afraid I would hurt her.  That was probably smart on his part.

One night, things had gotten ugly.  Beloved was throwing a hissy fit about something, and I had had enough.  She was threatening to run away, and I told her to go for it.  I also reminded her that if she stepped foot off the property, she was out of the foster care program.  She said she was still leaving, and I said, “Bon voyage.”  She grabbed a few things and headed out the door.  She stood on the porch, because, as was common knowledge, Beloved was terrified of the dark.  I knew she wouldn’t go anywhere, but I had to get her back inside.  Then, I did something that, to this day, I find funny but at the same time, I am not proud of.  I turned off the porch light.  It’s horrible that I did that, because this child was really, really scared of the dark.  But you know what?  It worked, and she came slamming back into the house.  I won’t print the words she said to me, but hey, she came back in.  She never threatened to run away again.

Beloved had her good moments.  She had funny phrases like, “The Po-po is after me.”  We still say that in our house if a cop is nearby.  She also called pickles, “Pinkles,” and she loved her pinkles.  I have some good memories of her and grew to love her as much as I could in a short amount of time.  I wonder where she is and how she is doing.  I can still see her infectious smile in my mind, and I can hear her funny laugh.  She was a joy, at times.

When I got Beloved in my house, I picked her up from the mental hospital.  I had a sneaking suspicion at that point that I was probably not properly trained to handle this job.  Sadly, the way she left my house was that Beloved went back to the mental hospital, and I had to drive her there in my big white bus.  I never saw her again after that night.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you about Essie.  You’ll want to brew a pot of tea and pull up a chair for that one.  Do I have tales to tell…  Beloved was normal compared to the other one.  You’ll see what I mean.  -Al

Moving to High Springs has brought to my mind memories of another move we made, once upon a time.  A few years ago, we thought we had landed the perfect job in Georgia.  We were going to be house-parents at a children’s home.  It was going to be great.  We would have dinners together around our big family table with our own children and with the multitudes of children we would learn to love as our own.  It was a lovely image and definitely a dream.  Little did I know that I would become the Keeper of the Crazies.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I knew we would have struggles.  After all, we were going to be living with the hurt, the broken and the abandoned children of the world.  I knew there would be challenges, and I was prepared for them.  What I was not prepared for was the mis-information we would receive about the job we were expected to do.  In the job interview, I asked the administrator of the home if our children would be safe, because, while I wanted to help other children, I did not want to do so at the expense of my own.  He assured me, with a straight face, that the kids would be safe.  I should have checked to see if his fingers were crossed.  I even went as far as to ask him if we would have felons living in our home.  “Oh, no, no, no,” he said, with laughter.  Little did I know that at that very moment, he was in the process of making a deal with the George Juvenile Justice Department.  We’ll get to that later.

Once we were hired, the home wanted us right away.  My dog, my turtle and I headed to Georgia while Mr. Everything stayed behind to pack up our belongings and take care of the kids.  The fact that he had become the sole care-taker of our kids was definitely foreshadowing of things to come.

I was in training for a week.  I shadowed the other house-parents to see how they lived day to day.  Then, I got to sit in an office while a social worker read to me.  It was the most useless training I have ever experienced.  In their defense, I’m not sure how they could adequately train people to handle what they were about to hand me.

A few days after I got to Georgia, my mother, bless her heart, came up to clean the house that we would be living in.  On the surface, the house looked clean, but as she dove in, it was Nasty with a capital ‘N.’  While my poor mother worked tirelessly, I went to “training” every day.  (Notice the quotes.)  About a week after I started, Mr. E arrived with the U-Haul truck and my kids.  He had unloaded almost all of the truck before I was released from “training.”  I immediately grabbed him and pulled him into a room of our house and closed the door so no one could hear.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Please.  Please.  I beg you.  Put my stuff back on the truck and take me home.”
Mr. E:  “What?”
Me:  “I’m telling you.  We need to get out while we can.”
Mr. E:  “You’re just nervous.  It’s going to be fine.”
Me: “No.  It’s not.  These people are crazy.  Please.  Please put my stuff back on the truck.  We don’t need money to pay bills or buy food.  We’ll be fine.  We can stand to lose some weight.  Please take me home.”
Mr. E: “You know it’s always scary when you start a new job.  It will get better.”
Me: “No.  You’re wrong.”
Mr. E: “Let’s give it a little time.  It will be okay.”
Me: “Okay.  If you say so.”

But, I knew better, even at that point.  For a rare occasion, I was right and Mr. Everything did not know everything.  Two and a half short months later, we loaded up the truck and moved back to Florida.  I considered kissing the ground when we crossed the state line.

For those two and a half months, I lived in Georgia while my family traveled back and forth from Georgia to Florida.  Smartly, we did not close our pottery business, so Mr. Everything and the kids went back to fire pottery and keep things running in Brandon.  Meanwhile, I was trapped with other people’s horrible children, who actually weren’t children.

I had been told that I would have a week after the training was completed to get settled before children were placed in my home.  A day after my training ended, the social worker called me to her office and said she had some news.  Not only was I getting one child, I was getting two, and they were moving in that day.  I had thirty minutes to get prepared.  No problem, I said, as I was eager to start my new life as mother and friend to all.  The children I was given were not actually children.  They were both 18 years old.  The state of Georgia has a plan that allows foster kids, on their 18th birthday, to sign themselves back into the foster care system.  By doing so, they forfeit their rights as an adult until they turn 21, and the state helps them transition from childhood to adulthood.  These two girls had signed themselves back in, and they would be living with me.  Lucky me.

During training, I was talking to one of the house-parents.  She was a single mother who had two girls of her own.  Hers was a home for teenaged mothers and their babies.  She told me about a night when one of the foster kids got sick and had to go to the emergency room.  She said, without batting an eye, that she left her eight year old and her six year old at home, alone, while she took the foster child to the emergency room.  When I acted shocked and asked why a worker had not been sent to the house to stay with her two children, she said the state did not pay for services for her kids.  We’ll just call that “red flag number one.”

I quickly learned that the children’s home actually only wanted my services.  Mr. Everything was never allowed to be alone with the girls (understandably, since these children knew how to work the system by making up lies about things people had done to them).   I was expected to handle all interactions with the children, and Mr. E was supposed to be my silent, trusty side-kick.  I was also expected to put my own children’s needs on the back burner, and I was to always put the foster children first, no matter what.  We had been told that our children would have the same benefits as the foster kids, including gifts at Christmas, baskets at Easter and season passes to a local amusement park.  They got none of the above.  Mr. E and I were given season passes to the amusement park so we could take the foster children.  I guess we could have let our kids sit in the parking lot while we went in with the others.

A month after we got there, the Goose had to have her tonsils and adenoids removed.  We had this done in Florida, because that was where our doctors were.  The children’s home “graciously” let me trade one of my so-called weekends off for a day and a half to go to Florida.  I was there for the evening before her surgery, and I was there for the surgery.  Then, I had to leave my sick child and drive back to Georgia to take care of the adult children living in my house.  I added that to my list of reasons why I deserve “Mother of the Century.”

My weekends were not actually weekends.  I got off at about 5:00 on Friday evening.  Then, I had to be back by 5:00 on Sunday evening.  That meant I got one whole day without having to see those lovely people who were living in my home.  Since I had to see them on Friday and Sunday, those days didn’t count as “off” in my mind.

I want to tell you all about both girls and the third one we had living with us, and I will, soon enough.  For now, let me just say that, I experienced new and interesting things in the two and a half months I was in Georgia.  In that time, I visited the sheriff’s department, a rape crisis center and a mental hospital (twice).  I also watched someone get arrested (which is not nearly as dramatic as it looks on TV), and I went to juvenile court.  I learned enough lessons for a life time and then got out of there as quickly as possible.  My mama didn’t raise no fool.

Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about our first little darling.  She was a real peach. -Al

Today, I attended a funeral.  My best friend’s father-in-law passed away.  I didn’t know him well.  He and I saw each other at family events, but I probably had never spoken more than twenty words to him total.  He wasn’t young, but he wasn’t old either.  He was healthy and happy, and then he was gone.  Although I didn’t know him well, his funeral really shook me up.  I’ve spent most of the afternoon wondering why it shook me so bad, and there are a few things I came up with.

First, his death was unexpected.  He wasn’t sick.  He wasn’t suffering.  He wasn’t expected to die.  He was alive one night and was gone the next morning.  He literally fell asleep and didn’t wake up.  I must say, though, that this is how I want to go.  There was no suffering, no pain and no fear.  What a blessing for him.

However, for his family, it meant no goodbye.  No one knew he wasn’t going to wake up, so they didn’t say goodbye.  They may or may not have hugged him the last time they saw him, and they may or may not have told him that they loved him.  There was no closure, and they will spend quite a while, I would imagine, mourning the fact that they did not have one more hour with him.

Part of the reason his death hit me hard was because it reminded me that we really aren’t promised a tomorrow.  Sure, anyone who goes to church hears that.  The preacher says, “Come now and repent of your sins, because tomorrow may never come.”  Most of us don’t live like we really believe it, though.  I have spent much of today wondering how I would live if I knew that today was all I had.  Have I told my loved ones that I love them?  Do they know how much they mean to me?  Am I right with God?  Am I ready to face Him without another minute to make myself right?  We truly aren’t promised another day or even another minute.  This could be my last breath….. Whew.  It wasn’t, but you get the point.

What if one of my loved ones died today?  Would I be filled with regret that I didn’t tell them how much I loved them?  Would I live the rest of my live wishing I could do things differently.  Watching a family lose someone so suddenly and unexpectedly really has made me think.

The other thing about this man’s funeral that affected me so much was what his kids said about him.  All three of his sons and his older grandson stood up and spoke at the funeral.  I was amazed that they were able to do that, and they all four eloquently stated how much they loved their dad/granddad and how much they would miss him.

I did not hear any of them talk about how much money he had or what gifts he gave them for Christmas.  They didn’t talk about his job; in fact, I don’t even know what he did for a living.  They talked about what kind of parent he was.  They said he taught them, not through words but through example:

- To go to church.  He made them go whether they wanted to or not, and they saw him serving in church.  It was through his actions and not his words that they learned about God.

- A good work ethic.  He did the best job he could, even when his boss wasn’t looking, and his boys learned through his example.  They said he taught them that how they did their jobs was more important than what their jobs were, and he taught them to work hard and be honest.

- To be a good parent.  They said he attended every sports event and music concert of all three boys and the grandsons.  He loved them.  He hugged them.  He called them and told them how important they were.  The sons said they had learned to be good husbands and fathers by watching their dad’s example. 

What better legacy could this man have left?  As I sat there listening to his sons talk, I realized how blessed he was.  I don’t know whether God allows us to hear what is said at our own funeral or not, but if this man could hear, he had to feel fulfilled.  He also had to be proud to see his sons and what they had become because of him.

I hope one day my kids will say the same things about me.  I hope that I am serving as an example to them, and I hope that the day-to-day hustle and bustle is not ruling my life to the point that I am not teaching them what I should.  I hope I live my life in a way that is a positive example for them.

This man achieved all that any of us could hope for, and while it was sad that he was gone so fast, what a blessing for him and for his family that his was a life well lived.  -Al

We are in the middle of a move right now.  If only you could see my house.  It's total chaos!  I feel like I haven't blogged in forever, but now is not the time.  I'm pretty sure if I sat down to write while my family packed, they would vote me right off the island.  I'll be back as soon as possible with great (hopefully) stories from the woods.  Be patient.  I'll be back.  -Al

By the way, isn't that the most awesome (or at least funniest) Halloween costume ever worn by a grown up?  Love it...

Some of you know, and some you don’t, that we are moving to Florida Bible Camp in High Springs, Florida.  To sum it up, I am moving to the middle of the woods, down a 2 mile dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.  Call me crazy. (Just don’t call me average.)  I’m not really the woodsy type, but I am really excited about this move.

The camp has all the things I don’t like:  snakes, ticks, spiders, bugs and creepy crawlies in various and sundry shapes and sizes.  Why am I excited?  I really have no idea why. 

Okay, that’s not really true.  I have a few ideas of why I’m excited.  One reason is for my blog.  Imagine the possibilities!  Hopefully, my living on 200 acres will provide many opportunities for funny things to happen.  Hopefully, too, these funny things will not involve me screaming and running away (although I’m willing to do that for you, my readers, if it brings you entertainment).

I’m also excited because it seems like I always learn something new in the woods.  We have been at the camp for about 30 hours, and there are already some things I’ve learned including:

1. The Goose can rake leaves.  She volunteered to do this.  If I had told her to, it would have turned into an hour-long hissy fit that ended with yelling and threats from me.  However, because she decided to do it on her own, she raked for a good hour without complaint.

2. Mr. E can use a blower and move leaves a whole lot faster than the Goose can rake them.

3. The Goose will quit raking after she has been shown how quickly a blower can work.  It doesn’t matter whether or not her part is done.

4. It is very, very quiet in the woods, until the Goose is nearby.  Then, she just talks and talks and talks.  We’re going to have to work on that whole idea of “quiet time.”  Do you think I could convince my kids that naps are mandatory once we move?  Probably not.

5. Pepe Chihuahua falls out of the back of the mule, the camp’s ATV, easily.

6. Pepe Chihuahua really does not like the mule.

7. There are a lot of spiders in the woods.

8. There are a lot of skinks near our house.  While they are beautifully rainbow colored, I hope they keep their colorful little selves out of my house.  If not, the screaming and running away will begin.

9. The front porch swing has magical powers.  As much as I want to work, I keep getting drawn to the swing.  Sitting there, listening to the birds, is wonderful.

10. Fresh air makes me hungry.

11. I like Nilla wafers.  Okay.  I did not just learn that last part, but the box is looking at me right now.  It’s calling my name, but I shall resist.  I shall resist.  I didn’t resist earlier, but I shall resist.                     -Al

Hi.  My name is Al(ison), and I am a bookaholic.  It has been 9 days since my last book purchase.

This past weekend, we decided to have a yard sale.  We’ve had boxes and boxes (and boxes) of junk in storage for 5 years since we left our house, so, we decided to pull it all out and see what was there.   We ended up with enough for about 3 yard sales, and we haven’t even started to clean out the home where we are presently living.  For a family that has lived on a nickel and a dime for the last decade, we sure do have a bunch of stuff!  I discovered a few things in the process of cleaning out.

1. Sorting through your children’s old toys while sitting in your old house that you loved but had to leave is not a great idea.  The emotions were deep and strong as I pulled out the Goose’s stuffed animals and the Beetle’s GI Joes (or, “Boy Barbies,” as the Goose calls them just to frustrate the Beetle).  I was sobbing by the third box.  The Goose came in to see what I was doing and saw me.  She said, “Are you okay?  What’s the matter?  What happened?”  I said I was fine, but I don’t think I convinced her.  Mr. Everything came back to the room to see why I was sniffling so much.  He didn’t say anything but just went back to what he was doing.  The Beetle happened to walk through, saw me, rolled his eyes and got away from me quickly.  I’m not sure when I became so sentimental.  I’m pretty sure when the doctor gave me my epidural during childbirth, he also injected emotions.

2. The Goose had way too many Barbies.  Last Christmas, she was sad because no one gave her a Barbie.  I reminded her at that time that she had too many as it was.  She said she could never have too many Barbies.  However, as we were cleaning out for the yard sale, she admitted that she may have been wrong. 

3. Things that seem so important at the time really aren’t.  Back when we left our house, our kids could not bear to get rid of anything.  We, not wanting to traumatize them any more than necessary, let them box up whatever they wanted to keep and put it in storage.  Last weekend, as we were pulling things out of boxes, both kids kept saying, “Why in the world did I keep this???”  and, “Why didn’t you throw this away??”  I reminded them that these were the same items that they cried over just a few years ago.  It’s amazing how things change.

4. The Goose had way too many clothes.  I’m pretty sure she could have worn a new outfit every day for a year and not worn everything we pulled out of boxes. 

5. The Beetle may have a tough outer shell, but my little boy is still in there.  While the Goose was ruthlessly throwing her items in the “get rid of” pile, the Beetle was grabbing things and stashing them.  There were stuffed animals, toys and trinkets that he still could not bear to part with.  It is amazing that someone so big can be so tenderhearted.  He still lives up to his nickname that I gave him years ago, “My gentle giant.”

6. I have a problem with books.  I didn’t know that I had a problem until we started opening boxes.  There were at least 8 full boxes of books!  There were some novels that I had read, but mostly, there were kids’ books and curriculum books.  Amazingly, I have 2 cabinets full of books in our home now that I didn’t even count in these numbers.  You’d think, with all those homeschooling books, that I would be the world’s best homeschooler.  You’d be wrong.

7. No one wants to buy old computers.  Okay.  I actually did not learn this, but I was reminded of it.  Mr. E still has those dad-gum computers and monitors.  Every time we move them, I swear it’s the last time I’m moving them.  I moved them out to the drive way for the yard sale, and I moved them back in after the sale.  When I started to fuss at him about the computers, Mr. Everything just stared at my boxes of books.  I guess we’re even.

8. One man's trash really is another man's treasure.  As we looked at the stuff we had, we really figured we’d make $100.  We weren’t doing it for the money as much as to get rid of the stuff.  However, in two days, we made $450 on junk.  Not bad for a few back-breaking days of moving stuff.  (It still wasn’t worth moving those stupid computers.)

We still have enough for another yard sale.  The next time the planets all align correctly and we have a Saturday without baseball, softball or Girl Scouts, we’re going to do it again.  The kids will probably be grown and married before we have another free weekend.  Maybe they’ll be ready to get rid of more stuff by then.  -Al

Dear Neighbors,

Since life in the country seems to be lived mainly outside, I feel as though I have gotten to know you over the last two years of living near you.  It has been fun, but I can’t really say I’ll be sad to say goodbye.

I must admit, I was a little unsure of moving to the country.  On one hand, I was excited not to have to mow my grass or worry about picking up my dog’s poop every time he went outside.  This seemed like a great improvement from subdivision life where neighbors get to vote on what color you’ll paint your house.  On the other hand, I had heard rumors and stereotypes, and I was hoping they weren’t true.

I’m not big on stereotypes.  I feel like it’s not nice to judge other people without getting to know them.  I’ve heard the names….white trash, trailer trash, rednecks, to name a few, and I didn’t want to be called those.  I did not want people to assume that my children did not own shoes or a hair brush just because we lived in a trailer, so I tried not to assume that about you.  You didn’t make it easy.  In fact, I’m pretty sure, through some of you, I have found the origin of those assumptions.

So, dear neighbors, I want to thank you for the entertainment.  I can honestly say life living near you was never boring.  I want to give special recognition to a few of you who will always be dear to my heart.  You are forever engrained in my memory.

To my front neighbors, thank you.  Although you didn’t invite me to your redneck wedding, I was so happy to have a front row seat for the whole thing.  The white paper table cloths were a special added touch to go on the tables beside the trash can with stuff burning in it.  Candlelight is so romantic for a wedding.  It was great that you shoveled the horse manure out of the area before your guests arrived and started parking in the pasture.  You definitely went the extra mile for the blessed event.

Your music choice was interesting.  I’ve never heard those words said at a wedding before, but who am I to judge?  To each his own, I suppose.  I had never heard those songs before either, but I must say I had them memorized by 4:00 AM when you turned off the CD.  It was a nifty rhythm that competed nicely with the salsa tunes coming from the trailer behind us.  Your sound system was much more impressive, though, because I could barely hear their music over yours.  In fact, I think they felt defeated, because around 2:00 AM, they gave up and turned it off.  Light-weights.  They just couldn’t handle partying as long as you could.

To our side neighbors, I know you are so proud that Bubba finally found his pants.  For two years, I’ve heard you yelling at that boy to put on his pants, and today, as he was peeking through the fence at me, he actually was wearing clothes.  Congratulations for that.  Bubba has come a long way.  Now, if he only would put on some shoes.

PictureDearly Departed Bessie
To our back neighbors, I was so sorry about your cow dying.  That was really weird how the buzzards never ate it, even after you left it rotting in the field.  I thought it was really smart that, to move it, you just dragged it with your tractor instead of having to touch it with your hands.  Way to be innovative.

Speaking of innovative, you, our side neighbors, probably take the cake on this one.  Cutting the metal off your trailer to sell it for scrap metal was quite a creative solution when you ran out of drug money.  I don’t think I would have thought of that in a sober condition, let alone while high.  I’m not sure how you managed to make it look as though you used scissors to do the job.  You are quite the exterior decorators.  Kuddos to you.  Perhaps your unsided trailer will start a new trend in the ‘hood.

The across the street motorcycle shop will be missed, as well.  The revving engines day and night just made sure things were never quiet.  If I’m not near you, I might actually be able to hear myself think.  We wouldn’t want that to happen.

To the woman up the drive who decided to leave her "old man" in the middle of the night, you go girl!  I wouldn't put up with him yelling at me like that either.  Seeing you out in the rain in your night gown, pushing your four wheeler up the muddy driveway because it wouldn't start was an inspiration to women everywhere.  

So, neighbors, I must say, you have made life interesting.  Sometimes, I’ve wanted to call the cops on you, and sometimes, I’ve just felt sorry for you.  However, never did I lose interest in watching you.  Your lives are far better than any reality TV show.  

I think I’ve figured out where the stereotypes might have started.  I’m pretty sure it was in the country, right near my home.  Thanks for the laughs, neighbors.  Remember us when we are gone, and I can assure you, I won't forget you.  XXOOXXOO, Al

My kids both amaze me.  They are both unique in their own ways, and I am continually astounded at the people they are becoming.  It’s fun to see how they are shaping up, and while I’m sad to see them grow, I’m excited to see who they will turn into.

I saw a posting on Facebook that said, “That moment when you realize your child has your sense of humor and you aren’t sure whether to be proud or scared…”  (Or something to that effect.)  That is true of my kids.  They definitely have my sense of humor, and they are both like me in more ways than they will want to admit.  Someday, the Goose and the Beetle are sure to utter the words that many have said before them, “Oh no.  I’m becoming just like my mother.”

This past week, it was the Goose who amazed me, and at the same time, reminded me how much she is like me.  She is a Girl Scout, and it is, as you probably know, Girl Scout Cookie Time.  (If you weren’t aware of that, you certainly have not been around the Goose in the last 2 months!)  After discovering last week that her troop still had 650 boxes of cookies to sell, she decided to do what she could to help her troop get rid of them.  She talked me into having a trunk sale.  A trunk sale is when a girl sells cookies from the trunk of her car, because, to have an actual cookie booth, we have to have two registered adults and two girls and we have to have permission from the store where we set up.  For a trunk sale, one girl can sell with just her parent, as long as they are somewhere where selling is allowed.

So, last Saturday, the Goose and I loaded up the ole’ cookies and headed up to a busy corner with an empty lot.  We opened up the back of the Suburban, put out empty boxes so people would know we had cookies and put signs up.  The Goose donned her tan vest and held up a hand-made sign.  Five minutes into it, I was done.  No one was stopping, and I felt very awkward standing on a street corner trying to sell cookies.  The Goose was hesitant, and I really thought we were going to pack it up and leave.  She said it would be more fun if she had someone there.  I reminded her that I was, indeed, someone, but she said I knew what she meant.  I really didn’t.  I insisted that I was someone.  

After ten minutes, the Goose was sitting down, and I asked if she was ready to go.  She told me that we weren’t leaving until the cookies were sold.  I looked at the stack of 60 boxes and told her I was pretty sure we were leaving well before the cookies were sold.  She said, “We’ll see.”  

Then, the Goose did the thing that amazed me.  My child stood up, grabbed her sign and started waving.  On the back side of her “Girl Scout Cookies $3.50 a Box” sign, she had written, “Honk if you (heart) GS cookies!”  She started holding up her sign, smiling and waving.  And, wouldn’t you know it, people starting honking!  They honked and smiled, but they didn’t stop.  An hour into the sale, we had sold nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilcho.  I was more than done.  I had faked a smile and waved with her, but the flap of fat under my arm was tired from all that blowing in the wind.  I told her I thought we should go.  She said she didn’t think so.  I told her I would give it 15 minutes, but if no one stopped by….and before I could finish the statement, a car stopped, and another, and another.  We had four cars come all at once and buy 20 boxes of cookies between them.

After that excitement, the Goose sat down for a minute.  Then, she was back up and waving again.  This time, I finished the statement that I was giving it 15 minutes, and we were leaving if no one stopped.  Wouldn’t you know, people kept stopping.  We kept resetting the 15 minute timer over and over and over, and we ended up being on the street corner for nearly 3 hours.  By the time we left, she had sold all but about 10 boxes and had gotten 77 people to honk at her (We counted to entertain ourselves).  She wouldn’t have left if I hadn’t made her, but I had to go.  (Really.  I had to go.  Three hours without a trip to the bathroom?  Virtually impossible for me.)

Through our trunk sale, I was reminded of two things:

1. My kid is much bolder than I have ever been.  At her age, there was no way I would have stood there and done that.  In fact, at my age, I really didn’t want to be standing there doing that.  I was embarrassed and awkward, and I would have opted out when I was little.  She is not the least bit shy, and she has more self-confidence in her 11 year old body than this 40 year old could ever dream of having.  In that way, she is not like me.  I was always way too worried about what other people thought.  She has more of the, "They can like me or lump me," attitude.

2. My kid is a natural-born salesman.  I really don’t think it was the cookie sale that she cared about.  I think it was the thrill of making money (even if it was not her own), and that, she got directly from me.  She is an entrepreneur through and through.

My parents refer to me as their “Anything for a Buck Kid,” and I guess I am.  I had my first business license when I was 17 years old.  With that first business, I made and delivered gift baskets.  Since then, to earn money, I have baked and delivered birthday and wedding cakes, cooked and delivered meals, sold Pampered Chef, sold felt story books, bought and sold kids’ clothes, bought things and sold them on EBay and started a traveling pottery business that turned into a retail store that supported our family for years.  I have mystery shopped.  I have edited.  I have made mosaic furniture and small pieces.  I have worked at conventions as a hospitality hostess.  I have cleaned toilets, both in a church building and people’s homes.  I briefly made beaded bracelets and sold them.  I vaguely remember a babysitting gig in the late 90’s.  These things are on top of “normal” jobs that I had once upon a time.  There were probably more things to list, but I just can't remember them all.

So, to say that my kids got their drive to sell and make money from me would be an understatement.  They both have the entrepreneur bug.  Bless their hearts.  I hope they will have better luck at making money than I ever have.  Of course, I shouldn’t complain.  My little jobs have carried us financially many times, but I hope their drive to own their own businesses will take them to bigger and better things than I’ve achieved.  If not, they’ll at least have something else to blame on me when they eventually end up in counseling.  -Al


Boba = Happiness


I’m convinced that too much of my happiness depends on food or drinks.  Would that be considered an eating disorder?  Let’s call it “Happiness in Enjoying Food and Eating Richly Syndrome,” or “HEFERS” for short.   See?  I can’t help the fact that I’m fat.  I have HEFERS.

Really, though, it is amazing how happy a simple food or beverage can make me.  A Starbucks coffee may cost me $37.50 (or something like that), but it might just be worth it for the mood enhancement it provides.  A little bit of chocolate can make all the difference in the world, and if you buy me Teavana tea, I’m over the moon.

Today, I had one of my favorites, boba tea.  Just saying the name makes me happy.  Try it with me.  “Boba tea.”  Now, don’t you feel better?

You might be wondering what boba tea is.  It’s a little peace of heaven in a cup.  To be more specific, it is tea with things floating in it.  It actually is sweetened iced tea with milk mixed in and tapioca beads in the bottom of the cup.  That way, as you drink, you get the tapioca beads in your mouth.  It’s like sucking gummy bears through a straw.

Many years ago, my friend’s son would always mix his sweet tea with chocolate milk.  He ordered it this way in restaurants when we went out to eat.  I used to be so disgusted by that, and his parents always told me not to knock it until I tried it.  I never tried it back then, but I have now seen the error of my ways.

If you are thinking cold tea with milk mixed in is gross, you are wrong.  It’s actually really, really good.  It gives the tea a creamy mouth-feel.  I haven’t tried chocolate milk, but my general theory in life is that chocolate always makes things better.  I would bet chocolate milk mixed with sweet tea would be good too.  Maybe I’ll try the chocolate boba tea next time.

If you’ve never tried boba tea and you are having a bad day, you should give it a try.  I sent the Mr. a text earlier that said, “Boba = Happiness.”  He didn’t even question it, because he knew what I meant.  I’m not sure if it’s the caffeine, or if it’s just that I’m doing something nice for myself, but boba tea brings me joy.

If you live near Tampa, you should go to Green Island Frozen Yogurt and Tea Bar at 10047 E Adamo Dr (behind Hooters and McDonald’s).  They can hook you up with some boba.  I will say, if you are there, though, don’t look at the posters.  Their posters always make me angry, because they say yogurt is the “perfect compliment.”  It’s not.  It’s the “perfect complement.”  (These things bother me.  Just ask my kids how to spell “dining.”  They know, because they hear me scream it at the restaurant every time we pass the sign that says “dinning.”) 

When I’m in Green Island, I just don’t make eye contact with the posters, so I won’t get angry.  Or, if I accidentally look at them, I drink my boba, and I feel better.  -Al