April 28, 2018

Reliving the 90s with Little Fires Everywhere + Hootie & the Blowfish tickets

Over the last few months, the book Little Fires Everywhere has been, well, everywhere. I've seen it in places ranging from the grocery store to ads on Facebook, and a few of my good friends were reading it, so I decided to pick it up. 

And that's how it became the second book I've read this year. Yeah, I'm a little behind on that 100-book Good Reads challenge, but when you have to take your mom to the ER four times in less than two months and your car to four mechanics within the same time period, plus you lose your awesome writing job of six years in the midst of all of it, reading kind of gets pushed to the back of the old to-do list. But enough about that. I actually finished this particular novel late one night in my mom's hospital room.  

So, did it live up to the hype? Maybe. I enjoyed it, but I often felt like I was siding with the wrong characters. One of the major conflicts revolves around a baby who is adopted after her birth mother abandons her, and that turns into a custody battle. While reading the second half of the book, I felt like the author, Celeste Ng, wanted you to take a certain side. I felt like she was more sympathetic to one side than the other. After I read it, though, I wasn't so sure. Maybe her goal was to make your feel conflicted. I discussed it with a friend who read it at the same time I did, and I cringed when I admitted to her whose side I took in the custody battle and which main character I couldn't stand. I was shocked when she agreed with me.  

My point, though, is that the book made me think and re-think some of my positions. Adoption, which is near and dear to me, was a central theme. It also took place in a city — Cleveland — that I don't normally read much about, so I learned some things. One of my favorite things about it, though, was that it took place during the 1990s, and there are some music and pop culture references scattered throughout. I wish there had been more, but I'll take it. All in all, I'd recommend giving it a read.  

And if you're into this sort of thing, it looks like Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington will be turning Little Fires Everywhere into a miniseries.  



Speaking of the 90s and my glorious teen years, back then, along with the rest of the country, I was a huge Hootie & the Blowfish fan. While I can't pinpoint the exact moment it happened, I'd guess it was circa middle school when Cracked Rear View became a thing, and it was one of the only gifts I asked my parents to get me for my birthday that year. Well, it's 20+ years later, and I'm still a big fan of the band. Next to maybe Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and REM, I listen to them more than just about anyone. 

The problem is I can't seem to see them live. Ever. 

Every year, they do a concert or two in their hometown and one of my favorite places, Charleston, and every year I'm way too late to get tickets. One problem is that they announce the dates just a week or so before tickets go on sale, and I find out about it a couple of weeks later. This year, however, thanks to many boring days spent unemployed and at the hospital, I saw the initial announcement. This was going to be my year, even if I had to go alone. A leisurely trip to Charleston in August to see one of the greatest bands of my coming of ages years would be a nice reward after the last couple of months from hell, right? 

I wasn't sure if I'd be home at 10 a.m. on the big sale day, so I had other people ready and waiting to buy my tickets for me. But I ended up being home and awake at that, so I was also working on my laptop and my phone at 9:55 a.m. I did everything right.  

I still didn't get tickets.  

I took to Twitter to vent, because it's good for that, and I actually made friends with other people who also didn't get tickets. Despite all the limitations put in place to prevent scalpers from scooping them up, that's exactly what happened. By 10:07, the $50 tickets were on StubHub for $400. I'm all for capitalism and everything, but something about this just seems wrong.  

So, I guess I'm not going to see Hootie & the Blowish yet again this year. I'll definitely try for 2019, though. Hopefully, Ticketmaster and whoever else handles this stuff will get their act together.  If you happen upon this blog and you did manage to snag tickets, though, I'd love to hear from you. 

Especially if you have an extra one or two you'd like to sell for a reasonable price. I'm just saying....  

April 03, 2018

How I learned to stop worrying and love the podcast, thanks to Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano

"What podcasts do you listen to?" 

"You've gotta listen to this podcast." 

"Have you listened to such and such podcast?" 

"Want to listen to my podcast?" 

These are some questions my friends have asked me over the last couple years. My answer to each and every one was "no." I don't want to listen to podcasts. I don't have time to listen to podcasts. When I do want to listen to something, it's gonna be Outkast or Tom Petty. The last thing I need to do is listen to some guy in his mom's basement talk about his political theories or movie reviews. I mean, I gave up radio shows when Barnes, Leslie, and Jimmy disbanded because that nearly broke my heart — and that was, like, back in the early 2000s. I don't do podcasts. I don't want to start podcasts. I'm trying to spend less time hooked up to technology, not more. And I'm sick of hearing everyone's opinion on every topic. 

And then March happened. Suddenly, I'm really into podcasts. 

The last month nearly sucked the life out of me. It was as if, from March 1st on, the universe said, "Yesterday was really bad for you, Sarah, but let's make it much worse." My mom's health was the big issue. The second one was that, after six years, I unexpectedly lost my really awesome writing job that was supposed to lead to some big opportunities this year.  Add tornadoes, injuries, scary car trouble, sick dogs, and a guy trying to kill me in the Publix parking lot to the mix, and there were days I contemplated even getting out of bed. 

Fast forward to the 18th of the month, when I had to take my mom to the emergency room for the second time in as many weeks. This led to an eight-night stay at the old county hospital, and because I know from previous experience that she doesn't like to stay there alone, I also spent eight nights in the hospital. In a wooden chair. That didn't recline. With a wadded up sheet for a pillow. I hate to complain because I know people are going through things that are much worse, but it was hard to keep that perspective at the time. 

Long story short. I didn't get much sleep, but I did get pretty bored. There isn't much to do when it's 3 a.m. and you're stuck in a hospital with nothing but a half-charged iPhone, a TV you can't hear, your snoring mother, a Jamaican nurse with a bad attitude, and some major heartburn from your snack machine Funyuns binge. 

I had to save my sanity. For some reason, I tossed around the idea of listening to a podcast. 

I don't know exactly how I landed on what I landed on. I will say my mom watches this show, Impractical Jokers, and after playing nursemaid for her for three weeks straight, I began to watch it, too. Normally, I hate shows like that. I'd never even heard of the channel it was on, but the guys who host it are legitimately talented, clever, and funny. It was refreshing, and it made us both laugh out loud during some pretty dark times.  

So, a couple of the guys from the show — Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano — do a podcast called "What Say You." I learned this when my mom had me look them up one night to see if they were really "friends from high school," as their TV show implies. As it turns out, they're far more popular than I would have ever guessed. I mean, there are some crazy fans/groupies out there. A few minutes with iTunes looking for something to do eventually got me to "What Say You," so I picked a random older episode and hoped for the best. 

I made a good choice. A perfect choice.  

Aside from a few anecdotes, the podcast has nothing to do with the TV show, but I learned that Quinn and Vulcano are delightful without it. I was looking for something that would allow me to totally escape my situation, as well as something that didn't have political undertones or that wasn't trying to make a huge point about some issue that everyone is pretend-offended about. It's not politically correct. At all. No one's talking down to you or trying to be too over-the-top. And while I think those guys are a little older than I am, they talked about growing up the way I grew up and being exposed to the same things. At the end of the handful of episodes I listened to in the hospital, I felt like I'd just been hanging out, listening to some old friends of mine talk about whatever. 

It was a little bit of calm in the midst of my chaos. I had to stifle my laughter few times, because, as I said, these guys are crazy talented. It kept the hospital from being a lonely place, and you can't ask for more than that from any form of entertainment. 

If you're a podcast virgin, I highly recommend checking it out. It's probably not for everyone, but my humor and hobbies tend to skew away from my demographic. I should also point out that the last episodes were recorded in September 2016 and August 2017, so I don't even think those dudes have time to do it anymore (or they've become too douchey for the little things — hopefully that's not the case). Either way, there are still 70-something there for your listening pleasure. Thankfully, I've only listened to about eight random episodes from 2015, so I have plenty more to go when I need a pick-me-up. 


What's next in my podcast journey, you ask? (Just pretend you did.) Well, Quinn co-hosts another one that's been around for a while called "Tell 'Em Steve-Dave." I haven't had much time to look into that one yet, but it looks like it might be a good fit for me. Plus, I've found him to be a really interesting dude — I think he was even a firefighter for a while. One of my favorite people in the world, Jen Lancaster, is doing a podcast now: "Stories I'd Tell in Bars." My gay cousin is always recommending these true crime shows, and that might be something I can do. But after that, I don't have a game plan, so hit me up with your suggestions. (Please, no politics and no celebrity gossip!) 

------------

P.S. When I initially wrote this post (yes - I rewrote it because the original was a huge pile of rambling crap — I'm still relearning how to write what I want to write instead of what someone needs me to write on such and such deadline in such and such voice), someone pointed out to me that my friend, Roxy, and I started a podcast a few years ago, and that is true. But that was so long ago, and we had to stop, and I kind of forgot about them after the fact.

April 02, 2018

Politics: I learned to stop caring, and I couldn't be happier


If you know me at all, either online or in person, you know that I've always been pretty passionate about politics. Even as a little kid. It's something my grandfather (who agreed with me on most things) and my father (who doesn't agree with me on most things) and I all bonded over. Many of my conversations with both of them always reverted back to current events, elections, and the news stories of the day. I volunteered at voting booths, ran social media campaigns for candidates, and stuck signs in my yards and bumper stickers on my cars. My interest in politics even landed me my some of my first writing jobs. I've interviewed everyone from local politicians and gubernatorial candidates to congressmen and people who've worked in the White House. I kept the TVs in my house on various news stations from the time I got up to the time I went to sleep. I cleared my calendar for debates and conventions. I'd say at least half of the friends I have right now I made through various political ventures over the last decade or so.

And now I'm kind of over it.

Exactly one year ago, I went to great lengths to remove as much political stuff as I could from my life. I unfollowed all news sites on social media. I stopped watching the "news" channels. I stopped reading the newspapers and websites. I even cut back on interactions with people who were nonstop talking about current events and stopped posting about them on social media myself.

Guess what? The world didn't come to an end. The only thing that happened was that I had a little less stress in my life and a little more time to focus on what's real. Because, as it turns out, a lot of this stuff isn't even real. So much of it is manufactured so that people have something to be outraged about. I was tired of being outraged and being around outraged people. Sign into Facebook or turn on a cable news channel, and you'd think everyone hates everyone else. Go spend a day in the world with people who aren't just like you, and you'll realize that for the most part, most people don't actually hate each other and just want to mind their own business. Everyone's not racist, sexist, or homophobic. Everyone's not offended.

Lately, I've spent a lot of time with my parents, and no matter what's going on with them, they have to watch the same network news program at 7 pm every night. My mom gets kind of irritated when I point out how much of it is not really even news at all, or point out how biased it is or whatever. My dad also gets irritated when he says something like, "Did you hear what (random politician) said today?" Nine times out of ten, I didn't and don't want to. 

Admittedly, it's cost me some friendships. Then again, being overtly political did, too. But I've kind of come to the conclusion that I don't want to be friends with people who are going to judge me based on my political views anyway. And I don't want to judge other people based on theirs anymore. I do think social media is to blame for much of it. I managed to go years without knowing how every kid I went to high school with felt about gun control, abortion, or gay marriage. And I'm sure many felt the same way about me.

It doesn't mean I don't have strong opinions about certain issues. It doesn't mean that I will stop voting for the candidates I think are best or doing what I can to stop true injustices. It doesn't even mean that I'm not paying attention. It just means that I'm filtering out the noise. I'm finished listening to everyone shout and argue at each other when it's not going to amount to anything.

I'd rather spend my time hanging out with friends and family. I'd rather spend my time playing with and taking care of my pets. I'd rather travel, see the world, go on adventures, read good books, watch good TV, write stories, swim, hike, plant something, grow something, eat good food, create stuff, explore historical sites, remodel a house, take pictures, enjoy nature, watch sports, listen to music, help people and animals in need, be in a play, go for a drive, or meet interesting people. Not to be cliche, but we're only here for so long, and I'd rather fill whatever time I have left with those things.

December 15, 2017

Jasmine



Since I've been documenting my chicken drama here since March, I thought I'd take a minute to talk about how it all came to an end today. I don't like how it happen, though, but I guess that's not my call.  

If you're new here, the just of it is this: I had a sick chicken in my flock in March. After some TLC, a vet visit, and some medication, she mostly recovered, but my flock wouldn't accept her back. During this time, four random chickens — two roosters and two hens — randomly showed up in my yard. (How does that even happen?) The roosters quickly disappeared, and after trying to find a home for the hens, I decided to keep them. Why? They weren't mean to my sick chicken like my other gals were. They actually kind of loved her. So, after a couple of months of trying to deal with this mess, I built a brand new coop, and I had my old crew in one coop, and the sick chicken and the two newbies in the other. I can't express how stressful things had been up until that point. I'd almost lost all interest in raising these birds, something I'd been really passionate about before.  

Just when I thought the stress was over, it wasn't. Sick chicken, Marigold, died about a week after I finished the coop. She wasn't expected to live long anyway as she had some internal issues with her egg-laying parts. Shortly after Marigold died, one of the two strays, Tulip, got super depressed. She wouldn't eat. She wouldn't walk around much. I believe she mourned herself to death, because a few weeks later, she took her last breaths in the garage. 

That left Jasmine. Oh, Jasmine. She was small, but she made up for her size with plenty of attitude. She hated being alone in the coop and eventually stopped sleeping in it and moved to the garage. She'd greet any cars that drove up. She went broody once, and I briefly considered ordering her some babies so she'd eventually have her own flock, but I don't think I could have handled it if she'd eaten them or something. So, I finally decided to let her join my flock. They didn't get along at first, naturally. She remained pretty low on the pecking order, but eventually they let her pal around with them. Mean Myrtle still pecked her when she tried to eat with them, but she followed them around the yard and slept with them in the bushes. 

She just wouldn't sleep in the coop. Either coop. She slept in the garage for a while, but eventually, she even stopped doing that. I searched the yard over, but I couldn't figure out where she was spending her nights until one evening, I was in the kitchen, and I saw something out of the corner of my eye in the cedar tree that towers over the back patio. "What kind of bird is that?" I said to no one in particular. It took me a few minutes to realize it was Jasmine. She would climb up the patio steps, fly up on the railing, jump into the tree, and walk the flimsy branches until she was in a safe spot. 

What could I do? I let her sleep there until temperatures dropped into the 20s last week, and we experienced an unprecedented snow. My dad helped me get her into the garage where she stayed for about four days. As I said, she's a feisty little thing, and I am personally afraid to mess with her. She's pecked and clawed the hell out of him multiple times, especially when he had to break her from her broody spell. Once the snow melted, Jasmine tried to return to the tree every night, and every night we had to coral her back into the garage. 

Until last night. We had her schedule figured out. She always got into the tree around 5:20, right before my chickens went into the coop for the night. Just before dark. My dad was working out. I was charging my phone. We met on the back patio at the same time we always did, but that damn chicken was already in the tree. I think she tried to outsmart us by going to bed early. At this point, there wasn't much we could do. She wanted to be in that tree. She thought she was safe there. We thought she was safe there. Until she wasn't. 

This morning, my mom and I were working on our antique booth, and my dad called. He'd discovered feathers all over the backyard when he went out to work on cutting up all the trees that fell during last week's snow, and Jasmine was nowhere to be found. When he let my chickens out, they were spooked. They spent the day hiding in the bushes, only coming out when I took them some sunflower seeds. My first thought was a coyote was still out early this morning, waiting when she got down out of the tree. After all, they've been hanging around lately. But that didn't really make sense.  

Long story slightly shorter, my dad thinks something got her in the night. A big limb from the cedar tree she slept in had fallen, creating something of a ladder to the top of the tree. There were little scratch marks up and down it as if something big had climbed it. A raccoon maybe? I can't be sure, but whatever it was must have grabbed her while she slept. I just hope that whatever it was, it killed her quickly. She more than likely would have put up a fight at any other time of day, but chickens can't see what's coming in the dark. 

Believe it or not, my parents were attached to her. I think they took it pretty hard. I'm sad, but I learned a long time ago that when raising animals like this, you can do the best you can, but there is no right way to both keep them 100 percent safe and let them live a free and happy life. I mean, a coyote snatched my little Rose right out from under me back in February. There was literally nothing else I could have done for her, and I've gone to great lengths to protect these girls. You have to detach yourself a little, especially if you believe as I do that animals just don't belong in cages 24/7. 

But I'm glad that Jasmine had a home for the last 9 months of her life, and she didn't have to be a "street chicken," though she still had that instinct. I'm glad she got to pal around with my chickens, even if Myrtle pecked her. I'm glad she had a yard where she was happy to dig and run and explore and nap in the sunshine and the dust-bathe in the bushes. I'm glad she enjoyed treats like biscuits, sunflower seeds, kale, corn, noodles, and yogurt. And if there's a little chicken heaven out there somewhere, I hope she's reunited with Marigold and Tulip, and they are living the high life.   

August 28, 2017

97 percent totality of everything

Took this with my phone during the 2017 solar eclipse.

Back in college, I worked at big brand bookstore for a little over three years. I enjoyed it for the most part, but one of my most memorable moments of employment was the day a Harry Potter book was released. Now, I have no idea which book it was, nor have I ever read more than a page or two of that series. But at the time, I was knee-deep in acting classes and big dreams, and my first major role had presented itself.

I would be playing Fortune Teller at the Midnight Harry Potter Release Party.

The night was a blast. Hundreds of people showed up to play games, enjoy refreshments, buy their books at midnight, and have their fortunes read by sweet little old me. I was terrified up until showtime, and then it was like an out-of-body experience. I went from Sarah the book-selling college student to Fortune Teller at the Midnight Harry Potter Release Party almost instantly, delighting teens and tweens from across Metro Atlanta with my predictions about their upcoming school years, unrequited crushes, and future plans.

Most of those kids freaked out when I told them they'd meet a new boyfriend at school or their band would play a big gig next year. I remember one guy asking me how I knew he was in a band. "I'm psychic," I explained, but the truth was that it was a lucky guess based on the fact that he was wearing a Green Day t-shirt and was trying really hard to look just like Billy Joe Armstrong.

That's how it went. Most people offered you up some kind of clue if you paid attention, and if they didn't, I'd come up with something generic on the fly, such as "Hey, 13-year-old girl who looks kind of geeky — the guy you like is totally going to talk to you at school this year." I mean, I've been a geeky 13-year-old girl. I know what they want.

The point to this story is that I am not psychic. A decent actor, maybe, but I don't believe I have any otherworldly powers. I have had a few dreams in the past that sort of predicted the future, but was that some moment of clairvoyance or merely a string of coincidences? I'll likely never know.

And that's why, Saturday night, when I dreamed an old friend from high school had called me up and asked me if I wanted to buy 200 lottery tickets, I didn't think a thing about it. She claimed that if I bought these 200 tickets, I'd have a big chance of winning the lottery, but I was stuck in a basement and had no access to my wallet, and she needed a credit card number right then and so I couldn't pay her for them. She tried to haggle, to offer them up for less than the original price, but I assured her it wasn't that.

Several numbers were tossed around during that dream. When I woke up the next morning and saw people on Facebook talking about buying their Powerball tickets, I kind of dismissed it. I must have dreamed about it because I inadvertently heard someone talking about it. I can count on one hand the number of times in my life I've purchased a lottery ticket, and while it'd be nice to have my family to the beach house for Christmas, I just kind of believe in hard work and perseverance instead of dumb luck.

But I ain't gonna lie. I wrote down the numbers from my dream. I decided that maybe, just maybe, if I had time, I'd go buy the ticket. Of course, shortly after I decided that, things got a little hectic, and I spent the week dealing with a difficult work project and an equally difficult car issue. By the time I got the car out of the shop and was settled in on Wednesday night, I realized I'd forgotten to buy a ticket but eh, I wasn't going to win anyway.

On Thursday morning, I hopped on Facebook and saw that many friends had posted news about a winning lottery ticket in Massachusetts. While waiting for my dog to come inside, I decided to glance at the winning numbers. To my surprise, I had almost all of them, and the one I didn't have was only one number off from what I did have. Upon doing further research, I realized that I would not have won the $700-million-whatever-it-was, but depending on which number I chose as the Powerball, I could have won either $100 or $50,000. Enough to either buy my groceries for the week or that Lexus SUV I was eyeing earlier. Whatevs.

* * * * *

My near miss with the lottery wasn't the only exciting thing to happen this week. Unless you've spent the last month in a coma, and perhaps even then, you know a total solar eclipse went rolling across the United States on Monday. I was actually supposed to be in Charleston that day - a trip I'd had planned since May - and I was excited about it because the Greatest City in the World just happened to be in the path of totality, while poor little old Atlanta here was only at 97 percent. Long story short, I had to switch my trip dates to September, but I figured 100 and 97 were about the same thing.

Apparently 100 and 97 are about the same thing in everything but total solar eclipses and lottery games. Most people I know were underwhelmed with this celestial event, but you know, we all stood outside wearing our overpriced sweat-drenched paper glasses and staring up at the sky anyway.

I think this guy was a little underwhelmed with the eclipse.

Underwhelming as it was, at least I got to watch it with the cutest people I know.


While it wasn't quite what I expected, it was kind of neat to have something bring some kind of unity to the country right now. For a few hours, no one was talking about Nazis and statues and riots. Instead, they were spending time with the people they love (or work with) and geeking out over this proof that we're all just one small part of the same universe. My cousin came over with her two little boys. We sat outside and watched until it was over and the 6-year-old asked if we could do something else now because he was bored. But just like people can tell you where they were in 1979 and 1984, I'll always look back and remember that I was standing in the front yard where I practically grew up with some of my favorite people during the total solar eclipse of 2017. 

There is supposed to be another eclipse in 2024, and maybe I'll drive to one of the states that is in the path of totality for that one. Maybe next time I dream about Powerball numbers, I'll actually buy a ticket and beat the odds. For now, though, I have to say I'm pretty content with living a 97 percent totality kind of life.

Eclipse shadows on the driveway




July 08, 2017

It's never too hot for a yard sale...

I had every intention of spending yesterday parked in front of my computer, working from sun up to sun down, but about half an hour before my alarm went off, my mom called and told me to get dressed. There was a yard sale to attend.


For years, my mom and I have designated Friday as yard sale day when the weather is appropriate and the locals are out selling their junk. Right now, we mostly look for things to put in our antique booth, but we end up buying a few treasures for ourselves, too. To be quite honest, most of my home decor came from yard, garage, and estate sales. Some of it was new and just never used, some secondhand, but all of it was cheap. And gorgeous. I received decorating compliments from practically everyone who visited. Little did they know an entire room probably cost less than $100.

So, I got up, threw on some clothes, and we headed a few miles east in my little Metro Atlanta town, despite the fact that we'd agreed the night before to take the day off from yard sale-ing so we could both get some things accomplished (we've both been swamped with various things lately). And despite the fact that temperatures have been in the 90s before noon. Throw in the humidity, and it's a wonder anyone's even holding a yard sale. But I digress.

The sale was located at a gorgeous house, and they had the basement, first floor, and backyard shed filled with neat stuff. Between the both of us, we ended up with a carload, including plenty of Christmas decor for the antique shop. My only regret is that we didn't get there earlier, because I know they had more good stuff.  Forget the mall — this is how I like to shop.

If you know me, you know I already own thousands of books, and yes, many of them come from yard sales. Picked these up yesterday so I can work on my carpentry and gardening skills, and I'm a sucker for logic puzzles (oh, hush). I also have a collection of Gone with the Wind books, so if I see one I don't have, I'll grab it, especially for 50 cents.


Yeah, jigsaw puzzles, too. I'm kind of nerdy like that. 


I thought this picture of the girl pulling the wagon of books was adorable. It doesn't really go with anything I own, so it'll probably end up in our shop.


And this is a Christmas tree skirt. I just fell i love with the pattern. I like to do a few different trees during the holidays, so I'm sure I can work this in somehow. If not, I'll just put it in the shop. 


I bought some nice yard tools for myself, along with a few other neat things not pictured. (It may not be too hot for yard sales, but it was too hot to stand outside and take photos of everything.)

Have you discovered any secondhand treasures lately? 

July 01, 2017

When it rains...

When it rains, it pours. That's been the theme around here lately, both literally and figuratively. While Atlanta did enjoy a few days without rain this week, dryness hasn't been the norm. We've seen flooding, downed trees, power outages, and everything else that comes along with day after day after day of wet, stormy weather.

As a matter of fact, the weather could be what started this little turn of bad luck I've run into for the last two weeks.


My mom and I have a booth in an antique shop here in town. It's located in an old K-mart building— it's been there since sometime long before I was born—and the building isn't in the greatest shape. Luckily, the entire shop is moving to a newer nicer building later this summer. As a matter of fact, that move is one of the big items on my 70-item summer to-do list I mentioned a few posts back.

Or it was on my list. I got to cross that one off.

Early last week, I was sitting here minding my own business when the store manager called and said we'd better get up there as quickly as possible if we wanted to save our stuff. When we arrived, the entire back corner of the store was flooded, nearly ankle-deep in some places. The ceiling tiles were caving in one-by-one. There was a waterfall of rain cascading down the wall behind our booth, and it was raining inside in other spots, the flood spreading. Every five minutes or so, another ceiling tile hit the ground hard and water swooshed in behind it. The lady who runs the booth across from ours was also there, and we laughed a little too hysterically when the Mission Impossible theme blared over the loudspeaker.

A few ceiling tiles missing.

Look closely at the doorway, and you'll see a waterfall.

Standing water is always fun.

Naturally, I was wearing a pair of cheap Old Navy flip-flops that slip and slide if I so much as look at anything wet. By the time we left, my pants were soaked almost to the knees, and I'd fallen at least four times. The only thing on our side was the fact that we've sold so much inventory and haven't replaced it because of the move, so there wasn't quite as much to pack. We had four grocery carts full, and I managed to get them all into the car so that we only had to make one trip. I'm not sure where to put it on a resume, but I have some mad packing skills after all the moving I've done in my adult life. 

After that, the rest of the week just kind of went downhill. My mom ended up having to have several unexpected medical appointments and procedures (not a big deal - just had to take care of some business, basically, and prep for some future stuff). Once they called when we were halfway to one hospital to tell us that we actually needed to go to another two counties away. Once they didn't have a time set up, so they called and asked if we could be about 30 minutes away in less than an hour. We were both sound asleep when they called.

Because it wouldn't be my life without some kind of animal mishaps, I ended up with a sick cat and a sick chicken during this period. I had to change the sick cat's vet appointment three times to give you an idea of what my schedule has been like. Fortunately, the doctor thinks it's just allergies and a respiratory infection. Unfortunately, he made giving her a pill and eye drops look ridiculously easy, so I left feeling cocky about my ability to do it just as well. No comment on that. 

She looks calm, but try giving her a pill and eye drops.
Sadly, the sick chicken won't be recovering. She died this morning in my parents' garage. It was Tulip—one of the new girls who showed up out of the blue back in April—and she's been a little off ever since Marigold died. Part of me thinks she mourned herself to death. If she had a disease, I would think the other hen would have it, too, and if it were something else like being egg bound or an impacted crop, I don't think it would have taken her three weeks to die. Yesterday, I went on a little shopping spree for all the foods and medications I could put together to try to make her well again. She did perk up a little, but today when I saw her heaving in the garage, I knew it was the end of the road for her. 20 minutes later, she was gone. I've felt so helpless dealing with her lately that it's almost a relief to know she's not suffering anymore

RIP, Tulip

So, remember that coop I spent two weekends building for my three little misfit chickens? There's only one left, and now I have to figure out how to make sure she's healthy and integrate her with the others. I'm right back where I started but not quite as stressed out about it. 

On top of dealing with a sick chicken this morning, someone tried to break into my car. In broad daylight. Who does that? 

Between sick animals, flooded stores, running a gazillion errands, almost daily medical appointments with my mom, and a few other private things, work has been something I squeeze in when I can, and sleep comes second. Aside from what mother nature forced me to do, my 70-item summer to-do list hasn't been touched, and I have 47 days to make it happen before I go out of town. 

It hasn't been all bad, though. Someone I used to work with contacted me to see if I'd be interested in writing for their new business venture, and I'm really excited about that. I also received word of some interest in some of my personal writing, and while I won't know anything about what's going to happen there for a while, it's a nice reminder to not let these rainy days and weeks stop me from losing focus on my goals. 

June 25, 2017

10 Southern Fiction Books for Summer Reading


When I resurrected my blog this year, I wanted to write about books, authors, reading, and writing — in addition to my life — but I've had a hard time even sitting down to write anything that's not work-related lately. While I'm still working on my 2017 reading challenge, I'm also still way behind, so that's out. 

That said, I was just upstairs doing some cleaning, and I have a bookcase that houses all the books I've read over the last three years. Looking over the titles made me a bit nostalgic for some of my favorites, so I thought I'd take some time to write about a few of them. Not surprisingly, many of them fall into the category of Southern fiction, and most of them are perfect for curling up with on a warm sandy beach or by the pool or on the back porch or...you get the idea. 

So, if you're in the market for some fun (and some dark) Southern fiction to lose yourself in this summer, these are some of the books (and authors/series) I'm digging lately.

1. Tradd Street Series by Karen White

If you know me, you know I'm a sucker for anything about Charleston, and these books put me right smack dab in the middle of the city. As a matter of fact, I read through most of the series last summer when my mom and my dog were both really sick, and I needed an escape. I can visualize every place Melanie, a real estate agent who just happens to see dead people, and her family and friends visit as if I am there myself.

One thing I love most about this series, aside from the setting, is that the supernatural stuff is not silly or over-the-top. Having grown up in an old house filled with strange phenomena myself, my standards for ghostly things are high. I just finished up the last book in the series, and at this point, I feel like the characters are old friends.

I recommend reading these books in order, starting with The House on Tradd Street. I also recommend following the author, Karen White, on social media. She's delightful! As a matter of fact, she has several standalone books, and I haven't read as many of those as I'd like to just yet, but I have a few in my own summer reading pile. 

2. Almost anything by Mary Kay Andrews

Mary Kay Andrews is the quintessential Southern beach read, if you ask me. Her books and characters are fun, and most of them take place along the coasts of Georgia, Florida, or the Carolinas. As a matter of fact, her new releases typically coincide with my annual family beach trips, so I almost always find myself parked at Tom Petty's pool with an MKA hardcover in my hands.

That said, I do love some of them better than others, but I'd also say you can't go wrong with whatever one you choose.  My absolute favorite is Savannah Blues, which also has a couple of sequels. Hissy Fit is another favorite; it takes place in Madison, Georgia. I just realized my other favorite, Fixer Upper, also takes place in Georgia. I'd love to see some of her future novels return to the Peach State, because she does Georgia so well. 

3. The Cypress House by Michael Koryta

This may not be your typical beach read, but I read it at the beach, so it's making the list. Idgie at Dew on the Kudzu recommended it when I told her I needed some Southern Goth in my life, and when she recommends, I listen. The book takes place in Florida, mostly at an old boarding house on a marsh island during a hurricane. The protagonist is kind of a dark guy, and he has some psychic abilities that help set everything in motion. It's not your typical fun, girly beach read, but I couldn't put it down. Sadly, I haven't yet read more of Michael Koryta's books, but I do have them on my to-read list.  

4. The River Witch by Kimberly Brock

This book is not just one of my favorites from the last couple of years; it's one of my favorites things I've ever read. Something about the setting, the characters, the plot — it was all just so hauntingly beautiful and tragic. I don't often re-read books, but I could see myself getting into this one again. It's about a young woman who has gone through some rough stuff, so she retreats to a mostly secluded island off the coast of Georgia. She meets a unique 10-year-old girl who "brings alligators, pumpkins and hoodoo" into her life and the girl's family. I can't say enough good things about this one, and I can't wait to see what else Kimberly Brock has for us in the future. 

5. Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith

I purchased this one on a whim when I saw in a magazine that it won some sort of Florida book award...and that it takes place just outside of St. Augustine, a city where my family has vacationed for years. It sat on my to-read pile for a long time before I decided to finally give it a try. Part of me thought I'd end up getting rid of it after a chapter or two, because I feel like the summary on the back does not do it justice. I couldn't have been more wrong. Like The River Witch, this is one of those books that is probably one of my all-time favorites, not just a favorite from the last few years. It follows the members of a deeply flawed family who has lived and owned a restaurant in a little North Florida town for years. I'll be honest — I don't remember all the details of the plot, but I do remember thinking about the characters long after I put the book down and not wanting it to end.  

6. At the End of the Road by Grant Jerkins

This is definitely not a beach read. I'd file it more into the Southern Gothic category, but I loved every minute of it. Part of that could have to do with the fact that it takes place in my hometown. I don't think I've ever read a book that so much as mentions the city where I grew up, so I could picture exactly where everything took place. As a matter of fact, every time I go through that area, I think of that book now. It tells the story of a 10-year-old boy in the summer of 1976 and a series of off-the-wall events that will change his life. There is some heartbreaking stuff in the plot that some may find difficult to read, but it's one of those you can't put down without knowing how it ends.

7. Bound South by Susan Rebecca White

I picked up Bound South, Susan Rebecca White's first novel, at a garage sale a few years ago, and I couldn't believe how much I loved it. Most of it takes place in Atlanta and its suburbs, so you know that was a big selling point for me. Seriously, set a book in the Atlanta area, and I'm instantly hooked. White's knowledge and detailed descriptions of the city were just as enjoyable to me as the plot. As a matter of fact, I made my dad, who grew up in town, read it, and he also loved it, so don't let the girly cover or the women's fiction label fool you. It's a must if you love books based in Atlanta as much as I do. While that one is my favorite, I suggest following it up with the author's second and third novels, both great reads in their own right.


8. Anything by Joshilyn Jackson

To be honest, I haven't read all of Joshilyn Jackson's work, but she's another author who will always be in my to-read pile as long a she is writing.  My favorite so far is Gods in Alabama, which has a little bit of everything — small Southern towns, big city life, murder, religion, and race — but don't let any of that scare you. I recently read another one of her books which I'll talk about on a future post, so I'm not going to say too much here. Just put her on your list; you won't regret it. 


9. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman


This is one of those books that always popped up in my recommendations on Amazon, and I always saw people reading it when it debuted, but I never bothered to buy it myself until I saw it at a garage sale. Ironically, that seems to be where I find the best books. I fell instantly and madly in love with the main characters, the Savannah setting, and the relationships formed in the story. A little girl's mother dies, and she goes off to live with an older relative in Savannah. It's easy to dismiss it as a Hollywood cliche story, but there's so much more to it than that. If you love a book that makes you laugh at one point and cry your eyes out in the next chapter, this one's for you.

10. The Happy Hour Choir by Sally Kilpatrick

To be honest, I purchased this book because it sounded similar to some of the stuff I've written, and I wanted to see that there were other people out there who wrote and enjoyed the same kinds of stories I do. When my uncle died a couple of summers ago, I also needed something kind of light and fun, so I pulled it out of the to-read pile. It lived up to those expectations and then some. Kilpatrick's books are quirky - not too sweet and not too sassy - and 100 percent Southern. I promise, if that's your thing, you'll devour them.  

June 11, 2017

How not to build a chicken coop and other unofficial start to summer musings

Memorial Day was two weeks ago, which means summer is unofficially here, especially if you live down South where the thermometer says it long before the calendar does. The school year is over, and everyone is loading up the car for the trip to the beach, lake, or other exciting vacation destination, or parking themselves on a float in the pool with an icy cold drink and a bottle of sunscreen. 

Well, almost everyone.

I've been a little busy myself. I love the summer and its lazy days, but after a year or two of crazy family stuff (deaths, moving, health problems, etc.), I feel like projects that should have been long-completed are ready to come out of limbo. I'm working full-time again for the first time since my mom's extended hospital stay last fall, plus working on some writing projects of my own. Throw in a few random weird things, like stray chickens showing up in my yard and my AC giving out, and I just have a lot to tackle in the weeks to come. I've got plans to travel and enjoy life a little more later in the summer and beyond, but I'm hoping to spend June and July and the first week or two of August taking care of my 70-item to-do list (I'm not even kidding with that number). And so, I started on Memorial Day weekend.

First big project of the summer? Testing out my carpentry skills.
The first thing on my huge to-do list was to build a second chicken coop. If you'll recall, someone dumped two stray hens near my house, and I had all kinds of plans to find them a new home until I realized my solitary confinement hen, Marigold, loved them and I could give her a flock of her own. My dad met me at Lowe's one day in his pickup truck, and I spent about $180 on wood, nails, and other materials. I spent all of Memorial Day weekend working on it.

Tulip ready for her new home.
The problem is that I've never actually built anything. My mom and I built the first coop for my original chickens together, but she did most of the work. I just handed her things. We didn't speak to each other for a week after the fact either. She's handy. I'm not. But she was sick with bronchitis, and I was determined to do it all alone anyway, because that's just how stubborn and independent I can be.

I sawed all the wall frames by hand because I haven't the first clue about using an electric saw. In the midst of it all, Jasmine, one of the newbies, became broody and sat on her eggs for nearly a week before I finally pulled her off and dumped her "babies" that were attracting four-foot snakes to the yard into the trash. She hates me now. 

Jasmine giving me dirty looks after I made her give up efforts to become a mom.

Wall frames, sawed by hand.


Before I knew it, I had an actual wall for the coop. It just didn't stand up straight on the base. And if you removed that piece of wood you see propping it up, it fell over. And then it started pouring rain and lightning, and I got frustrated and ill and thought I was going to have to start all over because none of the walls were the same height, and if you look closely you can see that nothing is really measured correctly.

I am no carpenter.

Marigold and Tulip check out my work space.

So, the next weekend — the first weekend in June — I decided I had to get this thing finished. I was tired of hearing my mom complain about her garage smelling like a barnyard since the newbies were sleeping in there, and I'd already devoted one whole weekend to it. I didn't want to drag it out. And quite frankly, I felt like these damn chickens were taking over my life. I wanted everything settled down. Long story short, I caved and let my dad help me put the rest of the walls together. He's a little handier than I am, but my mom has all the skills in this family. Between the two of us, we managed to get everything together but a door. Them we had to catch these chickens that had been running wild for months and put them in there. I'm pretty sure the neighbors got to hear my dad use every curse word ever created.

It kind of looks like a coop.

I went from "I'm a strong independent woman" to "Daddy, can you help me?" in mere hours.

After four days of hammering and sawing, Marigold, Tulip, and Jasmine were in their home. They didn't fight. Marigold was happy to be out of the tiny cage she's been living in since her medical scare, and I'm sure she was happy to be living with other chickens again. You would never think chickens could become lonely but she did. Oh, she was so lonely. It thrilled me to see her with the other two. I literally decided to keep the strays and build this coop all for her, a dumb old chicken that doesn't even lay any eggs.

Marigold and Tulip enjoying some treats in their new digs.
That's why I had some mixed emotions when I found that Marigold's stay in the new coop and here on earth would be a short one. Last night, I went out to take some berries to both sets of chickens for a little snack. When I went to the new coop, Tulip and Jasmine, the strays, came right up, but Marigold didn't appear. I'd been out there earlier, and she'd been fine, but I had a feeling something was up. She was always the first one to the door when I came out.

Her lifeless body was on top of Jasmine's nest, as if she'd been sitting on the eggs, trying to lay one or keeping them warm. There were no signs of foul play (from predators or the new chickens), but the vet had warned me not to be surprised if I found her dead one day out of the blue. I have no idea if laying chickens can activate each other's hormones the way women living in the same house can, but if I had to guess, I think living with the other two maybe got something stirring inside of her, and after her medical issue she just wasn't strong enough to lay another egg. The rest of the flock is perfectly healthy, but I will be keeping an eye on them over the next couple of weeks and taking some extra steps to keep them that way just in case.

RIP, Marigold. June 8, 2015 to June 10, 2017

So, I spent two whole weekends, $200+, and a lot of back aches building a coop that only served its purpose for six days. If it were just the two strays, I probably could have worked them into the old flock pretty easily, but the original four would not accept Marigold. To be honest, that's a little aggravating. And I'm not crazy about having two sets of chickens when it's not necessary, but this issue has taken up almost three months of my time, and I need a break from all this chicken drama, so they'll all stay where they are for now.

The other big project I had taking up the last couple of weeks was turning a swampy green swimming pool into something in which people actually want to swim. Since my grandfather died, that's kind of been my responsibility. So far, I've always hired someone to do it, but this year, my dad and I decided to try it ourselves. It took a month — I just didn't have the time to dedicate to it — but I was finally able to swim earlier this week. It felt amazing to be back in the water. Last summer was such a blur — I think I can count on one hand the number of times I actually got into the pool.

Before

After

This weekend, my cousin and her kids came into town and we spent a large portion of yesterday swimming until the mosquitoes got so bad last night that we had to take cover. Spraying the yard for mosquitoes — another project to add to the list.

Had so much fun with this kiddo!

This one had a little too much fun.

So, now that the pool's under control and the chicken drama is under control, I'm moving on to other projects. Some of them are work and career-related. Some of them are personal. Some of them involve helping my parents finish the move they started two years ago, consolidating all of my belongings in one place, and working on getting back into my own place..finally. Nothing exciting. Just getting caught up with life to make it a little more enjoyable, though I can't promise you I won't spend a few days at the pool with a good book in the meantime. 

What are your plans for the summer? Will you be relaxing or marking off a long overdue to-do list? 




May 16, 2017

On chicken coops, disturbances, green pools, and long to-do lists

Last week, on the day I decided to keep the stray chickens, the animal situation at my house got a little weirder.

Around 2:00 that afternoon, I heard the chickens screeching like the world was coming to an end. I didn't go out there at first. They scream the same way if they see a bee buzzing around that they do when a coyote creeps into the yard and eats one of them.

But a few minutes later they did it again. I always take a nap on Tuesday afternoons, and I'd been asleep for a couple of hours, but I manged to drag myself out to the back porch to see if I could determine what was causing the commotion. That's when I spotted something white and furry creeping around the back of the coop.

Possum? Weasel? Are weasels white? Are there weasels in Georgia?

I put on my shoes and went out to investigate. What I found was not a weasel at all, but my little 8-month-old indoor kitten, Lily. I haven't introduced the kittens, Lily and Annie, here yet, because, well, they're cats. And I'm not a cat person. There's a whole story as to why I adopted them, but that's for another day. All I know is that they don't go outside, yet there was Lily, creeping around the chicken coop like a little white weasel.

Lily is the little jerk on the right.  Annie is the other one.
She wouldn't let me catch her, but I managed to scare her back into the garage, shut the door, and shoo her back inside. She's sneaky like that.  

A little while later, I had the chickens out for some free time, and once again, I hear them screeching. The dogs were on the back porch, and they were barking and growling. I glanced out the kitchen window, and it didn't take long to figure out what's wrong this time. There are two horses and four donkeys randomly wandering around the yard.





My chickens obviously don't know that they are farm animals, and these are farm animals and they should all get along, because they were having little hissy fits all over the patio. I was wearing a long dress, and some of them even tried to get up under it to hide.

Someone told me that the horses and donkeys heard I was keeping the chickens and decided to see if I'd keep them too. I can't say I wouldn't be open to it, but they actually have a home - they just don't like to stay there. As a matter of fact, they'd gotten out last weekend when a popular TV show filming next door to my house, and I'm pretty sure they disrupted that a little bit...at least that's what I gathered from all the braying and laughter I heard.  

One of the horses actually ripped the hinges from my chicken coop door, so I'm going to have to make some repairs. As soon as I build the coop for Marigold and her new pals. Oh yes, Marigold and the new chickens get along fabulously. She lets them into her cage, and they all eat together peacefully. I'm so happy that she's no longer depressed and lonely that it's worth the $200 I spent on supplies and the fact that I'm going to have to build the new coop in 90-degree weather later this week.  

Of course building a new coop is just one of the many things I have to do over the next few weeks. I just sat down the other day and made a to-do list, and by the time I was finished, I was too tired to mark anything off of it. Between work and home and animal projects, I should be pretty busy for a while. Next up, getting the pool cleared so I can jump in after I build the chicken coop in 90-degree weather.  


And so I can kick back on a float and start on my summer reading pile. If I have time. If I ever have time...