March 20, 2023

I didn't want to go to Costa Rica

I didn't want to go to Costa Rica.

Just ask my poor cousin who drove me to the airport. She told me the other night that she was afraid I was not even going to get on the plane. But I've wanted to go to Costa Rica for well over a decade. And after my mom died, I wanted to go…somewhere. Anywhere. I was itching to get away from here, be it permanently or temporarily, so one of my friends and I booked a trip.

But in the weeks and even months leading up to it, I was so anxious about it. Looking back, I think I was just afraid to get outside of my comfort zone in many ways, but I'd invested too much money, and I couldn't let my friend down, so I went.

At some point after that ride to the airport, something changed.

I got up early that Saturday morning, and the first thing I did was bust my lip. It wouldn't stop bleeding. Two hours after I did it, I was standing in line at the airport holding a bloody paper towel to my face and wondering why I thought traveling during spring break would be a good idea. There were college kids everywhere. The security line was a nightmare because most of them had no idea what they were doing. Once I finally made it to my gate, we were informed that a flight attendant didn't show up, and we had to wait for one to come in from Nashville. My plane left two hours after it was supposed to, and the moment it lifted off, I got sick. I haven't gotten motion sickness since I was a kid and have never had it on a plane, but I spent the next few hours trying not to puke all over the mouthy old lady sitting next to me.

By the time I landed in San Jose, I just wanted to go home and maybe take a nap first. But somehow I managed to pull the wrong suitcase off the carousel and had to take it back and find mine, which took forever. And then, as I finally met my friend outside the airport, some guy came and tried to take my suitcase, and I nearly belted him, but she informed me that he was our driver.

Thankfully, my friend had some nausea medication with her, and the driver who I nearly took out had some cold water waiting for us. And thankfully, the two-hour drive to our hotel was rather pretty and distracting from the fact that I felt like death.

The hotel itself was gorgeous, and every single person who worked there was beyond nice. That was one of the first things that struck me about the country in general — the people are so nice. I realize 90% of everyone I dealt with works in the hospitality industry, but they go above and beyond what is expected. Even the immigration and security people at the airport were so kind.

A guy showed us to our room, and it was just breathtaking. We stayed at the Los Suenos Marriott Resort, and we splurged a little for a "swim-up" room, which basically means you step off your little patio, and you have your own little pool there that you share with about 10 other rooms. It was well worth the extra money so you could, for example, come home from a harrowing ATV experience in the jungle and jump in and cool off before heading out to eat.

I'm really not a resort kind of person — my friend who came along won't travel otherwise — but I will say it's one of the nicest places I've ever stayed. (When I go back, I'd like to rent a house and kind of immerse myself in the culture a bit more.) The only problem I really had was with some of the other guests. There was a group of young men (maybe college freshmen?) and their parents, and they were extremely rude, loud, and entitled. I was embarrassed as an American at the way they treated the place.

That night we swam and ordered room service, and I was starting to feel a little better, but I remember texting my cousin who had driven me to the airport and telling her I still didn't want to be there. I told her I was just going to have to count down the days until I came home. And I really felt that way for the next day or two.

On Tuesday, things changed. I've told this story 8,000 times in many formats, so I am going to try to keep it short, but my friend and I each picked an activity that we really wanted to do no matter what. Hers was an ATV jungle tour. I have never been on an ATV. I've never had a desire to. I've watched too many friends get hurt on them. But she agreed to do my thing, so I went along with hers. I couldn't sleep the night before. I couldn't eat breakfast that morning. I was so nervous when I first got on the thing that one of the guides asked me if I knew how to drive a car.

I managed to make it up the mountain, but when those guys told me that I would have to let one of them drive me to the waterfall where we were supposed to swim, I just lost it. I've jokingly compared it to being a little kid when my mom signed me up for gymnastics. I was all for all of the activities except for doing a flip over the uneven bars. I specifically remember a night during which Miss Paige and Miss Ivy stood on either side of me and begged, bargained, and bribed. They offered me stickers, a milkshake, $20, and a trip to my favorite store. They promised they would hold on to me and not let me fall. I refused. I cried. And here I was 30 years later in the same position, only Miss Paige and Miss Ivy were replaced by Juan and Jesse, these hot Costa Rican dudes.

I've reflected on this a lot, and I realize it wasn't so much that I was afraid of the drive down as I was just afraid of giving up that much control among other things that had nothing to do with the actual steep, rocky terrain on which we were about to embark. But those guys were patient and professional and knowledgeable and honest, and when Juan said, "I've made up your mind for you," I ran out of excuses. And believe me, I had a lot of excuses.

So, I rode to the waterfall with Juan, and it wasn't so bad. But he also had to hold my hand halfway down the path to the waterfall because oh yeah, I'm scared of heights and inclines and I was still basically hyperventilating from the whole idea of it all. I regret not enjoying the waterfall more. The other ladies in our group swam and took pictures. I sat on a rock. My friend wasn't feeling well, so she decided to head back up the path early, and I followed. When I got to the top, I just kind of sat down in the middle of the dirt and wondered how in the world my life had come to a point where I was sitting in the dirt in the middle of a jungle in Central America trying to regulate my breathing the way Mel Gibson did with his asthmatic son in the movie Signs.

A few minutes later, Juan came up behind me and asked if I was good. I think I responded by asking if he'd drive me back. He said, "of course. I'll have to." I said, "No, back all the way." He laughed and said, "To the office? We can do that." Thank God. Not only did I not want to drive, but I had zero confidence in my ability to do anything for myself at this point, and plus, I'm not gonna lie, if I have to ride on one of those things, it's a lot more fun riding along with a hot Costa Rican dude than it is going solo.

When we got back to the office, that's when I realized something had changed. I was no longer counting down the minutes until I could go home. I kind of wanted to stick around and see what else this place had to offer. I mean, I'd survived the thing I was dreading the most and actually ended up having a little teeny tiny bit of fun with it. And it really opened my eyes to some things about myself that I needed or wanted to change.

The rest of the day I was kind of on a cloud. I remember Juan joking that he and I had to go back up the mountain to get the vehicle I'd made them leave behind. I remember getting back to our hotel and jumping in the pool. We went to the hotel bar for supper, and I had the best nachos I've had in my life and a couple of gin and tonics that probably kept me on that cloud a little longer. I also remember being super sore the next day.

On Thursday, we got to do my activity of choice, and that was a little less demanding. It was actually one of my favorite parts of the whole trip, though when I excitedly posted my videos and pictures on social media, I was met with lots of disgust. Apparently, most people don't find it exciting to let monkeys climb all over you. Well, I'm not most people. I'm the person who would think I could go pet a lion and it'd be cool.

So, we had to get up early that morning to go hang with the monkeys, but it was pouring, and there was a chance it might get postponed. Unsure, we headed to the resort's breakfast buffet, which was actually always really good. I took a picture of my plate each day, and I went from eating bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns to empanadas, gallo pinto, and fresh fruit really quickly. I tend to be a picky eater, but I wanted to embrace the culture. I just had no idea I'd wind up eating beans and rice for breakfast every day and craving it like crazy when I came home.

The rain eventually stopped, and we sat outside and waited for someone to come pick us up for the monkey thing, and that is when we met Roy. I know I joke about leaving with a crush on Juan, but if I'm honest with myself, I think I really left with a crush on Roy. He was just the nicest person I've ever met, and there was an instant comfort level with him. He's a taxi driver, but our guide had some sort of emergency we were told, so he led the tour for us, and it was just the three of us, and it was just such a fun, pleasant day.

We drove out to this place where monkeys live in the wild, but they're human-friendly, and will come climb on you, especially if you have fruit. Or in my case, they will climb on you and smash bananas into your shirt and play with your hair. I loved every minute of it and have no less than 60 videos of monkeys on my phone now. Roy explained to us that it was birthing season, so the alpha male and the females were a bit territorial, but he walked us up the road and showed us where the moms and babies were hanging out in the trees.

After that, we went to a nearby beach and ate fresh local fruit and talked for a while. I really enjoyed getting to know more about Roy's life, and he talked about how the pandemic had impacted the country. I really could have just listened to him talk all day. He was a cool guy, and I got the feeling he had an interesting past. I really regret not asking him more, but I was also trying not to be too nosy. Next, we went to Tarcoles Bridge to check out the crocodiles who live there — they did not climb on me — and after that, we went to this little restaurant to enjoy an authentic Costa Rican meal. It was so good. My only regret is that I was too full to finish it all after breakfast and the fruit at the beach.

My friend wanted to go into town and pick up some souvenirs for her family, so I suggested we ask Roy if he could take us rather than using the hotel transportation. I just felt really safe and comfortable with him, and I wish we had met him earlier in the week. So, he was more than happy to do that. We jumped in the pool to cool down for a bit, and then he came back and took us into Jaco and showed us where the good places to shop were located. I just can't express enough how much I enjoyed his company. I did not want to say goodbye when he finally took us back to the hotel.

By Saturday, I didn't want to say goodbye to any of it. The girl who started the week hoping to "just get through it" had fallen in love with this beautiful country. And it is beautiful. The people are so kind. I had a friend say, "There are kind people in the United States too," and I know that, but it's a different type of kindness. It's more authentic. The way of life is just so refreshing. It's more laid-back and casual. It felt like time passed a little more slowly. And the weather — it was warm and humid and while I did my fair share of sweating, most of the time I felt like I was being embraced by a warm sunshine hug. Really, that's the best way I can think to describe it. I wanted to be outside all the time, and thankfully, that's almost possible there. Everything there just felt right.

Well, everything except for the lack of Diet Coke, but I can learn to live with that, I suppose.

Maybe it's cliche for an American to go to some foreign country and find themselves or whatever, but I just really felt like I belonged there in a way that I've never felt anywhere else. I get homesick easily, especially when I have to leave my dog. Three or four days into a trip, and I'm beyond ready to come home. This sort of had the opposite effect on me. I went in kicking and screaming, and I did not want to leave when it was over. Since I've been home, I've been questioning everything I thought I knew about myself and what I want out of life. Maybe it's just some kind of weird post-vacation hangover, but it doesn't feel like that.

Right now, I'm just trying to get over the COVID the lady on the plane ride home gave me. She coughed like a smoker and blew her nose the entire time, so I figured it was inevitable. But after that (and after I finish this precalculus class), I'm gonna take some time and slow things down a bit and see if this amounts to anything or if it was just a fluke. Either way, I know that right now, I'd be more than happy to go back to Costa Rica for another visit. There is so much more I want to do and see. As the guy who drove us to the airport said, "You've only seen the tip of the iceberg."

February 17, 2023

When a room is more than a room...

This past Tuesday night — Valentine's Day — marked the first night I've slept in an actual bed since September 7. It was also the first night that I've ever slept on a brand new mattress, at least in my adult life. As far as I can remember, I've always just slept on hand-me-downs from my parents or grandparents. I have to say it's pretty nice.

That first night, I slept like a baby. On the second, my mind was racing. But I wasn't stressed about work or school or anything like that. I was thinking about the room in which I slept.

Up until September, Sadie, my dog, and I slept in one of the bedrooms upstairs, but in September, she tore her ACL, and stairs are now out of the question. We started sleeping in the den — me on the sofa and her in a dog bed — but I knew that wasn't a long-term solution. After much debate, I ended up buying a king-size bed earlier this year with plans to turn the little spare bedroom downstairs into a place where we could sleep.

It's taken me a while to clean that little room up, but I finally got it done over the weekend. Or mostly done. Done enough to roll out a king-size mattress on the floor. And that room may be the smallest, most insignificant room in the house, but now that I'm spending so much time in there, I can't help but think about how much time I've spent in there in the past.

This house has been a part of my life from day one and probably always will be in some capacity. My grandparents built it when my dad was in high school, and I grew up in the house next door. When my grandfather died a few years ago, my parents bought this one and moved in, and I've been living here with them as my mom's health got worse over the years. Now, it's just my dad and me, and one day, it will be mine alone.

As a kid, when I'd spend the night with my grandparents, that's where I slept. My toys were kept in that closet in a yellow laundry basket. I vaguely remember a blue and peach? maybe bedspread, and I remember hearing my grandfather snoring in the room next door and telling my grandmother I'd heard a bear. Thinking about that kind of took me by surprise as I remembered I'd actually slept in there many times before this week.

When my grandfather retired, they turned that room into his office with his big executive desk and all of his Georgia Bulldogs memorabilia. When that happened, maybe around the time I was in middle school, I'd come spend hours in there using his computer for school (or, at least, pretending I had to do schoolwork on it) because I didn't yet have one of my own. As the years passed and we all got older, I'd spend time in there with him, talking sports and politics, asking for advice, looking at pictures, and getting to know him as more than just the guy who fell asleep in his recliner watching the Braves games when I was a kid. When he died, most of his stuff was cleaned out, but his college diploma still hangs on the wall.

When my parents moved in several months later, my mom deemed it her office/craft room. She had a little home business at the time, plus more craft supplies than you could possibly imagine, and I helped her move them all over here from the house next door. The room became her space to get away from it all for several years until her health began to decline further.

Eventually, after being on dialysis for a couple of years, she decided to give home dialysis a try. She'd need a clean room where she could close the door and keep traffic, both human and animal, at bay. That room was really the only option, so I helped her pack up all the craft supplies again and haul them back to my parents' old house. I think it took 11 trips in my Jeep. Or maybe 13? Something like that. And that's not counting what we stored in the basement.

If you know anyone who has ever done home dialysis, you know that it comes with many supplies. Pallets piled with heavy boxes full of bags filled with liquid arrive every other week. After packing up all the craft stuff, my dad and I hauled all of those heavy boxes in and set up the space so she could sleep in there and do her treatments at night. It was exhausting, but she was so excited for the change. She had a nice nurse who came out and taught us how to do it and checked in from time-to-time, and for those two months or so, that room was a clinic.

Looking back, it felt like forever. My mom had broken her pelvis shortly before it happened, so that prevented her from being able to move the way she needed to. The machine was not working correctly, and I didn't actually figure that out until we were near the end of this trial process.

It was also one of the most stressful times of my life. After I'd go to sleep (if I did go to sleep - it got to the point where I'd just sit there in bed, anxious for the call), she'd inevitably call me and tell me it wasn't working. I had to go troubleshoot. This meant sitting up for hours and waiting to see what would happen when I did. I was so tired during the days that I'd fall asleep sitting in a chair. In the meantime, I was in the process of trying to find a house to buy because I was in the process of working towards adopting a baby, which I couldn't do without a home. On top of that, someone at my job had thrown me under the bus to save themselves in a particular situation, and I pretty much didn't work for a few months until it was rectified.

Even though that period was dark, I still remember those nights when my mom and I sat up in that room, waiting to see if the dialysis would work. We watched TV. She enjoyed Impractical Jokers. It's how I came to find the podcast that probably saved me, but that's a story for another day. We listened to music. Lots of Tom Petty, the one thing we could agree on. We sang. We made jokes. As awful as that period was, it really turned into a bonding experience. I'd promised her that as long as she was on dialysis, we'd be a team, and I felt like those nights really reinforced our dedication to that. Every trial she faced was mine too.

When my mom finally gave up on the home dialysis, we spent hours dismantling, donating, and tossing the supplies, and then we lef the room alone. No one really wanted to go in there after that, plus things got kind of crazy. That next year, she'd get severely injured in an accident that required many surgeries, and just as she recovered from that, my dad ended up with sepsis and needed open-heart-surgery. Her issues took up the first half of the year. His took up the second. I think I spent more time in a hospital in 2019 than I did any room in the house.

And suddenly, it was 2020. COVID hit my mom hard. She's a social person. She needs to get out and see people and go to the store and shop and interact. But given her health issues, that didn't seem like such a great idea at the time. Dialysis was her only outing. She needed something to do here to keep her busy . So, she asked me if I'd turn that room back into her craft room. I just wanted to see her happy at that point, so I did.

I spent the better part of a month that summer removing the rest of the dialysis supplies, cleaning the room as best I could, hauling all of her craft supplies back to this house yet again, and organziing them into labeled containers so that she could access them easily. It was definitely a labor of love — I'm telling you, this woman had enough craft supplies to fill that room 10 times. She loved the result, but I'm not sure she even used it until about two months before she died. That summer, she got really into it and started making all sorts of things with plans to take them to the shop to sell for fall and the holidays. It breaks my heart to think she had no idea that she would not live to see that time of year.

She painted and sewed and had a hot-glue gun running daily. The room became her happy place again in those final days, which was nice, because she wasn't very happy about much of anything else that summer.

And on the day she died, my dad and I rushed home to try to clean up a bit so we could get her home. And that's when the room became storage. Everything that was out of place in the rest of the house just got tossed in there in a fit of desperation. Her walker. Her clothes. My gardening supplies that were in the kitchen. The dog's old bed. The vacuum cleaner. A coffee table we no longer used. Amazon boxes. Anything that would be in the way, that would prevent her from getting inside or prevent relatives from visiting got tossed into that room, and that's where it sat until this past month when I started cleaning it up for its next role.

Going through it all, I felt like some sort of archeologist. I'd been taking out bits of the craft stuff here and there to sell at the shop, but I'd barely scratched the surface. There were still medical supplies tucked here and there, and even some of my grandfather's office items were still sitting in drawers, plus that diploma I mentioned is still on the wall. I even found my grandmother's death certificate from 1997 and pictures of my cousins and me when we were all little. It was like with each item I moved, I was peeling back another layer of my life. Another layer of family members long gone and the memories they left behind…

And this is what kept me up a few nights ago. I was thinking about all the time I've spent in that room and all of the purposes it's served over the years. I'm sure it also served several purposes before I was born, and it will serve several more in the future. It's even served hypothetical purposes that never materialized. When my mom started the home dialysis, I always assumed she'd die in that room as morbid as it is to utter out loud. One of my favorite songs is "Cleopatra" by the Lumineers, and there are lyrics:

Now a nurse in white shoes
Leads me back to my guestroom
It's a bed and a bathroom
And a place for the end

I couldn't get those lines out of my head at that time, but of course, it didn't happen that way. And when every house I tried to buy fell through for one reason another, my parents finally offered to give me this house if I fixed their old one up to their liking, so that I could get back to that adoption thing. I always pictured that room as a nursery in that scenario, but COVID hit, my mom got really really sick, and the world had other plans.

Who knows? Maybe prayers will be answered, and it will still become a nursery one day. Maybe my hard work will pay off, and I'll hang my UGA diploma next to my grandfather's. Maybe I'll move away one day and never step foot in there again.

What I do know is that it's a nice, cozy spot to do my homework, watch TV at night, or sleep on a mattress on the floor with my elderly disbaled dog, and that's good enough for right now.

February 10, 2023

Hell Week and a Gypsy

Last week, I saw that a girl in my math class had a real paper planner that she was using to keep up with her classes. First, I wasn't aware that college students still used such things (isn't there an app for that?), and second, I wondered why she needed an entire book to keep up with four classes. I mean, that day alone, I'd doctored a chicken, gone to class, did hours of homework, cooked, wrote two articles for work, and took care of all of my animals' other needs. And I am also taking four classes. I've yet to write down any kind of notes about due dates or anything like that. Oh, to be 20 again, when that's all I had to worry about. But it's nice being a mature adult who has it all together, right?

Well, at least I thought I had it all together.

I woke up the next day, which was Thursday, and realized I had a project due on Friday at noon that required me to have some supplies on hand that I didn't necessarily have and wasn't really sure where to buy. Oops. Thankfully, there's an Amazon warehouse near me, and both the items I needed were apparently in stock there because they were delivered about three hours after I ordered them. And even though I'd planned to chill that night, watch a little Netflix, and take a bubble bath, I ended up spending several hours working on said project to meet the Friday noon deadline. I managed to get an A on it, so there's that.

But then I started looking at my schedule for each class for this week, and, well, the first phrase that came to mind was "hell week." I had a test or quiz in every single class, and in some cases, both. This included my first big proctored, no notes precalculus exam (on which I didn't do too well, ugh). Taking four classes hasn't been that hard in itself, but taking four classes and one of them is an extremely demanding math class is kicking my butt, I'll admit. On top of that, I would be trying out a new role at one of my jobs starting this week. Throw in the fact that I'm leaving the country in a few weeks, and I have so much to do before I go, and well, you're starting to understand why I declared this "hell week."

My mom always used to say that you put energy out into the world when you speak, and maybe I should have thought about that before I came up with such a label, because on top of all that, it seemed like 100 things went wrong. I'll spare you the list, but it's just been one of those weeks when every aspect of life tries to act up at once. Thankfully, it's almost over. And I'm declaring the rest of this year "not hell week." I mean, it's worth a shot, right?

The only bright spot has been my new tiny kitten, Hattie. I've been planning to get a kitten since August. After losing Lily, I felt like my remaining cat, Annie, needed a friend. She'd never been an only cat, and she just seemed really lonely. In December, I decided it was finally time, and I bought some supplies, but I could never bring myself to execute. And then, a couple of weeks ago, the rescue where I got Lily and Annie posted on Facebook that they were having trouble adopting out black kittens, so I decided that Annie and I needed a black kitten. I didn't tell anyone but my dad and one of my cousins that this was happening, and last Tuesday, I spotted one on their website that caught my eye. I contacted them about her, and they told me to come see her on Saturday, so that is what I did.

When I got out on Saturday, I decided to go by Tractor Supply first and then I'd backtrack to meet the kitten at our local PetSmart. And when I arrived, a lady and her two kids were filling out the paperwork to adopt the kitten I had my eye on. I was so upset, and I almost walked out and decided I'd try again after my trip next month, but that's not what happened.

You can roll your eyes at this one, but the night before, I'd been trying to come up with names for a potential kitten. Lily was named for one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," and Annie's full name is Annabel Lee (courtsey of Mr. Poe). So, I was thinking about musical names, and Fleetwood Mac kept popping into my head. Rhiannon? Stevie? Christine? Anyway, as I'm leaving the store, kitten-less, I notice most of the kittens have buddies in their cages, but there is one cage with the tiniest black kitten in it, and she was all alone.

Her name? Gypsy. Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice...

Was this a sign from the heavens? I'll probably never know for sure, but I took it as one. I read the little "intro" on her cage, and it said she'd been found in the woods by a hunter when she was only a few weeks old. Not only was she adorable, not only did she have a Fleetwood Mac name, but she had like a little gothic fairytale background story, and if you know me, you know I'm a sucker for such things. So, I told the volunteer that's who I wanted, and she had me look at a few others to be sure, but I was sold.

And then I got her home. First of all, I ended up naming her Hattie. Gypsy got my attention, but I decided not to keep it. Second of all, I initially thought she was defective. The minute you touched her, she attacked, biting and kicking and scratching — not in a mean way, just in a "I have no siblings or cat mama to teach me how to play, so I don't know any better" way. Over the years, my mom and I have hand-raised a few baby kittens, and I know they can be on the wild side because they never learn how to play properly.

We're working on that, but otherwise, Hattie fits in quite nicely here. For now, she lives in this little tent thing I bought on Wayfair. It's a decent size for a little kitten, and she's got her food, water, a blanket, toys, and litter box in there. Plus, it's right next to Sadie's bed, and she has fallen in love with Sadie, though Sadie merely tolerates her. I thought it would be a great way to introduce her to Annie without incident, and so far, so good. Plus, it'll be helpful for my dad to have while he animal sits for me in a few weeks. Annie sits and watches her, but if she gets too close, she hisses at her. She's not mean to her though. I think she wants to like her, but Annie is not the most social of animals. She'll come around. And I think they'll become great friends. Hattie wants to be friends with everyone.

And even though I'm only six days in and already love that tiny little black kitten, I could have killed her a few nights ago when she somehow got upstairs and jumped from the second floor balcony onto the first floor. I just knew she'd broken all her bones, and I'd be buying my vet a European vacation or something, but she's fine. She was super sleepy the next day — I told my dad we needed concussion protocol — but she's back to her wild and crazy self. And she's only allowed time outside of her little tent when she can be supervised by a human because my nerves can't take another incident like that right now. But, like I said, it's hell week, so I expect nothing less.

January 19, 2023

All in...even with precalculus

Y'all, I might be a little crazy.

For some reason, I decided that I needed to attempt a full load of classes at UGA this spring. Up until now, I've only taken one or two classes at a time, all online, all asynchronous, but I guess I decided that I needed a challenge...because life hasn't been challenging enough over the last few years?

Never mind the fact that I work multiple writing jobs (though I haven't actually worked in a glorious month and as I get back to it this week, I am being choosy about what I take on). Never mind the fact that I have 20+ animals to care for and two houses and a good bit of land that I'm slowly but surely cleaning out and working on updating/repairing/fixing up. Never mind the fact that I've got two booths in a shop to keep stocked, and I've been on this crazy health kick of cooking more and working out daily. Never mind a million other projects I'm working on...

Let's just add four classes to the mix.

School started last Monday — I'm nearing the end of my second week — and I have to be honest, I kind of love it. I just wish there was a little bit more time during the day.

I'm taking a class about the history of landscape, as well as a marine science course. The third one I'm taking is the one that I was the most excited for — it's about the role landscapes play in literature, films, and art. Thankfully, those three courses are pretty laid back so far.

Because my fourth class, precalculus, is not.

Up until now, the classes I've taken during my Great Return to School have been fairly easy for me. This one isn't going to be like that. It's not so much that I'm bad at math. It's just that I hate doing math. But silly me chose a slightly difficult science major at a school known for its rigorous math and science programs, and precalc is a prerequisite for some of the upper level science courses I have to take. And while I knew it would be difficult, I didn't know it would be so demanding. I have to attend three classes a week. No excuses. Homework is due three times a week. I got a bit behind at first because when the professor said "you can skip the first chapter in the book; it's just algebra review," I realized I needed to not skip that first chapter because it's been a little while since I took algebra. Though I did well in it, so there's that.

Anyway, I think I'm slowly but surely getting the hang of it. Last Friday, I spent seven whole hours on it. Tuesday, I spent about four on it, and last night, I spent about three and a half hours working on a homework set that was due at midnight. So, that's progress, right? And it may not have taken that long last night except there was one problem that I just did not know what to do with it. I almost just submitted it incomplete, but I wasn't ready to give up just yet, even though I was exhausted. I'd been going for about 14 hours straight yesterday, and it was 11 p.m., and I just wanted to take a bubble bath and go to bed.

Thankfully, unlike my previous college experiences, we live in a world of Google and YouTube, and after realizing I was not going to find the answer in my head or my textbook or my class notes, I searched the Internet. Eventually, I found this amazing high school teacher who makes YouTube videos about math problems. In one, he did sort of a smaller, easier version of the problem I had, but I was able to take his advice and plug it into my situation.

And after about 45 minutes, I had the right answer. I couldn't believe it. I double-checked my work. I liked the video and gave the dude an appreciative comment. I ran around my living room squealing like a maniac.

What I did not do is look at the clock. I sat back down to fill in my answers and digitally submit the homework. I was so darn proud of myself. But I was met with a message that essentially said "This can't be submitted." What? Oh yeah, it's midnight. The homework deadline is 11:59 p.m. I guess it's sort of like the football player who is penalized for excessive celebrations. I got so cocky that even though I had the right answer, I still missed it and ended up with a B on my homework and an incomplete for that problem. One minute. Go figure. But whatever, I got the right answer.

I hate hate hate when people tell me I have too much on my plate, but realistically, I probably should have stuck to two classes this semester while I took precalculus. It is fast-paced and demanding of my time, energy, and brain cells. But I'm not going to back down now. I'm just gonna have to work a little harder and a little smarter and sleep a little less maybe.

Throughout my previous kindergarten through some college school career, taking the lazy way out was my thing. It worked for me. I didn't have to try too hard to get myself into the colleges I wanted or to pass my classes or to do well on the SAT. Hell, not to brag, but I got into Duke without even trying. They literally came to me. School was boring. I had better things to do.

When I went to my freshman orientation at the University of Georgia many years ago, I absolutely fell in love with the school, the campus, the people, and the city of Athens. I knew I'd found my place. But I know now I just wasn't meant to be there at that time for a variety of reasons. From the day I packed up my Jeep and moved to Atlanta to screw around at Georgia State and study acting, I've felt UGA calling me back as I worked through those other reasons, but the timing was just never right. I guess it is now. At least, it feels that way.

It's just a whole new ballgame. I crave knowledge. I want to read textbooks and write essays and take tests and do projects (well, not group projects — some things never change). I want to do well. I want to make As in my classes. I want to get a degree that I have absolutely no use for. Maybe it's maturity. Maybe everyone should take 20 gap years? I don't know what's changed, but I'm excited to see how long it lasts and where it might take me.

I just have to get through precalculus first.

January 03, 2023

On Football Highs and Lows

My 2023 is off to a pretty decent start. I'm currently on a hiatus from work to focus on some personal writing projects, which means I haven't been stuck to my laptop 12+ hours a day. And it feels great. I'm working out. Cleaning out my mom's stuff again. Working on the old house a little bit. I'm actually sore from boxing, weight-lifting, and clearing some small trees off my property yesterday, and that feels so good. School starts back in about six days. I've been spending time with my animal pals. I'm reading daily. Just booked a fun trip for March.

And literally, during the first seconds of 2023, I experienced what was easily one of the most exciting moments in my life as a football fan. My beloved Georgia Bulldogs played Ohio State in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve, and it was not the smooth sailing we've grown accustomed to this season in Georgia. The game was oh so close, and by the last minute of the fourth quarter, I figured we'd blown it. Ohio State just needed a field goal, and CJ Stroud is damn good. There was no doubt he would get the Buckeyes there, and that would be the end of the ballgame.

I resigned myself to the fact that we just wouldn't make it to the championship game this year. I couldn't even bring myself to watch the last few plays. No sense in rubbing salt in the wound. With my hands over my eyes, the clock struck midnight, and Ohio State's kicker, Noah Ruggles, lined up to make those three game-winning points. Only he didn't.

My dad was sitting across the room, and he began yelling, and my dog danced around, and I was screaming, "What happened? What happened?" with my hands still over my eyes. Of course, we all know now that he missed by a mile, and Georgia got the win. As a fan, it was exciting. I was happy for Stetson Bennett. I was thrilled for the whole team, the coaches, the school, and the state of Georgia. It was the highest of highs for some of us football fans.

And just a couple of days later, the sport would experience one of the lowest of lows. Buffalo vs. Cincinnati. One of the biggest match-ups of the week. Of the year maybe. Two great teams going head-to-head. Two of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL right now. Playoff implications. It was a game that it would be hard not to get excited about if you're a football fan.

I was pretty busy yesterday, and by the time last night's Monday Night Football game started, I decided to spend the rest of the evening chilling on the sofa, watching the game and reading. I was cleaning up a few things I'd been working on during the first quarter when I saw that someone was hurt. I didn't think much of it at first, and I wasn't really watching what was going on in those moments, but I could hear it in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck's voices, and by the second or third commercial break, I realized something was terribly wrong. And then I saw how upset those men on both teams were, and I realized this wasn't your typical sports injury.

By now, you've probably heard that Damar Hamlin, a safety for Buffalo, went into cardiac arrest during the game, and medical staff had to perform CPR for several minutes to bring him back. As I write this, he's in critical condition in a hospital in Cincinnati. I can't speak to the situation beyond that, but I can tell you what I witnessed last night.

Like everyone else, I wanted more info on what was going on than ESPN was able to provide (though I will say, I thought the analysts and announcers handled it all really well), so I went to Twitter. People like to knock social media, but Twitter is and always has been a great tool for news if you know how to do it right. Aside from a statement put out by someone on Hamlin's PR team, there really wasn't much of an update, but what I did see made me feel a little better about people in general.

With the exception of a few assholes, everyone was praying and hoping for the best for this guy. I saw it on Twitter. I saw it on other social media. I saw it in my texts and messages as friends started contacting me to talk about it. I saw it on TV as the coaches consoled their players, the players didn't hold back their emotions, and the reporters and analysts' voices cracked as they attempted to talk about something that no one ever thought we'd see on a football field.

Hamlin, who is just 24, also had a fundraiser set up to raise money for a toy drive he was doing for kids in his hometown. His goal had been $2,500. As I type this, it's at around $5 million.

My point to all of this is that, in an instant, we all went from football fans to humans. It didn't matter what team you liked or didn't like. It didn't matter that this was a critical time for figuring out the playoffs. It didn't matter if you'd never heard of Hamlin or you were his biggest fan. Your fantasy team didn't matter. Stats and records and numbers didn't matter. Nothing else in this world mattered than whether or not that guy would be okay.

I've been a football fan for as long as I can remember. It's not lost on me that these guys choose to play a brutal game for my entertainment. And one of my biggest pet peeves is the negativity that surrounds the sport. Some of the media and non-fans especially like to focus on the bad things that happen. I won't get into that right now, but there is also so much good involved in football, in the football community, and in sports in general. Much of the time, the bad drowns it out. I don't foresee that changing, but I always try to do what I can to focus on the good stuff, and I hope others do too. It doesn't hurt to be a decent person.

Anyway, I've got some more ideas about that, but right now, the most important thing is Hamlin's life, and praying for him to pull through and praying for comfort for his loved ones, teammates, and coaches. I know I couldn't sleep last night after witnessing the incident from my living room, so I can only imagine how they feel.

December 31, 2022

A year that answers

About a week or two ago, I ran across a quote from the book Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston:

"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."

It resonated almost immediately.

When 2022 began, I thought this would be a year that asked questions. After all, my life had just changed dramatically a few months before the year began. But as it draws to an end and I look back over it as most people do in December, I realize that I already had the questions. This year gave me the answers. Or some of them. I'm still learning. We all are if we're lucky.

While I wouldn't necessarily call it a bad year (I've had much worse), I can honestly say that I spent a good portion of 2022 in a dark, dark place. I think that started around last Christmas because when I compare where I was last year around this time to where I am now, I feel like two totally different people. I spent last fall working almost nonstop. I was tired. I was mad. I was intimidated by some new responsibilities. The shock of my mom's death was wearing off and reality setting in. And to be honest, Christmas hasn't been my favorite time of year in a while lately anyway. It reminds me that I don't have the kids I long for, and I miss the Christmases of my own childhood. And this may sound petty, but I didn't hear from many people last Christmas, even some whom I reached out to first, and that was kinda hurtful.

Over the next seven or eight months, things seemed to get worse. July was the climax. The month started with me sitting in some strange veterinarian's office in Atlanta on a Sunday evening, wailing and sobbing as if the world was coming to an end (something I just don't do), and it ended with me trying to decide if I was going to have to take legal action over a huge work issue that was the source of many of my issues from the past year. I remember spending July 4th sitting in my house, mindlessly eating tater tots and wishing the world was coming to an end.

Thankfully, that's when the answers started coming — slowly at first, but they came.

First of all, I realized this couldn't work much longer. I couldn't control all the circumstances, but I was going to have to change my mindset. Shit is going to happen. People who you thought would be there for you aren't going to show up. You'll have to work with terrible human beings if you want to be successful. There will be death and sickness. Pipes will burst. Refrigerators will stop working. You'll have to cancel plans. You just have to find a way to prevent it from defeating you.

And when I had that realization, the answers began coming faster. I had my Scarlett O'Hara "as God as my witness" moment. I was not going to spend another minute in misery. And it's taking some time and there have been setbacks, but I'm getting there.

The other realization I had was that I spent way too much time letting other people make or break my happiness, especially people who don't really value me. Those people don't deserve any power over what I do, and it's time to stop allowing it. After all, there are about 8 billion people in the world, so once you sort it all out, maybe you can go find some more. It might be uncomfortable, but discomfort is necessary for moving forward sometimes.

And what a difference a year makes. I didn't spend Christmas sulking or dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. I didn't feel guilty for taking time off work at the end of the year and saying no when I was asked to reconsider. I didn't feel guilty for spending the majority of a day last week on the sofa reading, watching football, and ordering takeout instead of trying to cook after working my ass off for the last few months. I spent more time with Aaron Rodgers and Baker Mayfield and my dog than anyone else on Christmas Day, and I was fine with that. Instead of wasting time and money on gifts and cards and decorations that no one would think twice about, I made donations to people who I knew could use them. Basically, I created my own happiness, and anything else was just icing on the cake.

And I suspect there will be more of that in 2023 — just embracing life and moving forward. I start school at UGA again in about 10 days, and I've loaded up my schedule with all sorts of classes. Yesterday, I said out loud, "I can't wait for school to start," and the person I was with said, "I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that." But I can't wait. I've got all sorts of other plans. I'm working on some new career goals. And really, I'm not even waiting for 2023 to get started on any of it. I already have. That's how excited I am to finally get back to living my life to the fullest after this transition year that has been bizarre but oh so enlightening.

A year that answers.

But first, I have a football game to watch. Go Dawgs!

P.S. I really am grateful for most of the people in my life, and my hope for you is that you embrace life in 2023 as well.

December 03, 2022

I read Matthew Perry's memoir, and here's why I think you should too.

So, I'm terrible at book reviews, but I knew I'd want to write something about this one. And this may be the first "celebrity memoir" I've ever read. Unless your best work in TV and film was completed before 1990, I just don't really care enough to read your life story. Give me Clark Gable. Give me Robert Duvall. Give me Bill Murray. Matthew Perry is one of few exceptions to that rule, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Also, I don't like the idea of labeling this a "celebrity memoir."

It's much more than that.

It's a human story written by someone who just happens to have experienced celebrity.

You don't have to be a Friends fan to appreciate Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. You don't even have to be a Matthew Perry fan. (But if you are both or either of those things, you'll probably enjoy it.) You don't have to be someone with an addiction to relate to it. There's a lot of other life stuff too. (I mean, I felt the passages about loneliness could have been written by me recently — see: Experiences Over Everything). But if you do struggle with addiction, there's a great deal in this book that you might relate to too. It may even encourage or help you. He is quite knowledgeable on the topic.

There was a lot of press that came out before the book did, and if you just glanced at those headlines, you might think that this would be the print version of Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good."

It's not.

Yes, there are stories about people whose names you see in magazines that might delight you if you're into that kind of thing, but there are also great stories about people who aren't. My personal favorites were about actor David Pressman. As a matter of fact, the first line I read when I initially received the book and was skimming through is "I once made out with David Pressman…" I've been following Pressman on Twitter for years and just think he's the funniest person on the planet, and every time I see him on TV, I scream, sometimes to no one, "Oh my God, there's David Pressman" because I'm a bit of a dork like that.

The book is pretty raw and intense at times. At times, it's Perry's opportunity to tell his side of a story that the media created about him over the last couple of decades. You learn which bits are true and which aren't and which were actually way worse than what you thought you knew. But I don't get the feeling that this was written as some kind of defensive play against the media.

Brave. I read most of this book while sitting through a few bubble baths, and even so, I found myself reaching for my phone and taking notes as I read, and I typed the word "brave" about six or seven times. It had to be tough to write about some of these topics. There were times when I wanted to crawl into the book and give the author a hug. But I don't get the feeling that he wrote this hoping to get everyone to feel bad for him. It's not a pity party at all.

It's just so many things rolled into one, but I guess in a way, it's an introduction to Matthew Perry the person. I suppose that's what a memoir is, but you get to know him on a human level here. You learn that he's not just an actor, not just someone who deals with addiction, and not just that famous funny guy on TV. He's a real person who seems like a loyal and loving friend (lowercase F) and son and brother. He comes across as someone who is clever, thoughtful, and intelligent, but as someone who has fears and anxiety like the rest of us. To me, that was the best part of the book — getting to know this guy who was such a huge part of pop culture while I was growing up.

The content aside, there are some beautifully-written passages peppered throughout the book that made me envious as a professional writer. And there are some that just literally had me giggling out loud right there in my bubble bath. This guy can tell an engaging story and make you laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page, and I hope this is just the beginning. More memoirs, fiction…acrostic poetry? Whatever it is, with any luck, a decade from now, I'll have several books written by Matthew Perry in my library and you will too.

And that's exactly why I read this book. It's why I pre-ordered it over the summer. I've just always gotten that vibe that this guy could write a story that you'd want to read. And I was correct. And that's why Matthew Perry is probably one of the few actors who has found success in my lifetime whose memoir I'm willing to bring into my sacred bubble bath world. (There is no sacred bubble bath world. I just made that up.)

So, about that… Let me start by saying I may be the only person on the planet who didn't become a Perry fan because of Friends necessarily. I really didn't even watch the show when it initially aired. I was in...middle school? at the time, and some girls who weren't so nice to me were obsessed with it, and they thought Chandler was the cute one. So, I decided that A) I was not ever going to watch it and B) Ross was the cute one. And that was that.

But a few years later, sometime in the early 2000s, I was in Los Angeles for professional reasons, and though I was still a teenager at the time, the person I was working for asked me to chaperone this 28-year-old Australian lady to the La Brea Tar Pits. All I remember about that outing was that the Aussie had never seen a squirrel before, she had just broken up with her boyfriend and talked at length about it, and for some weird reason, she wanted to see the spot where Matthew Perry had been in a headline-making car accident.

I was going to have to look the no-squirrels-in-Australia thing up, and I was way too young to offer relationship advice to a woman who was nearly 30, so when we rode along some random road in the Hollywood Hills, I was all, "I don't know where it was exactly, but I think the accident was on this street."

I had no idea what I was talking about. I was only even vaguely aware that it had happened. I just didn't want this cool international lady to think I was dork. (Yes, I know. We've already established that I am.) And now, I feel really bad about that.

Sometime after that, I saw Perry on a talk show. And then in a movie. And then I guess I started watching the last couple of seasons of Friends with my mom when I was around to do so because I remember us watching the finale in her bedroom. And I can't pinpoint the exact moment or even the reason why I started paying attention to him — of course, he's handsome and charming and all the things that come with being a famous TV guy — but it just seemed like there was something interesting about him. Something more than what you saw on TV.

I followed his career for a while as best I could, but there are still several movies and shows I haven't seen. I am still in love with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and watch it like once a year, and there are a few independent movies he's in that I think are some of his best performances. I actually tend to really like his darker or more dramatic work. And, of course, I've now seen all episodes of Friends.

I'm rambling at this point, and if you made it this far, thank you. I didn't even get to all the notes I made on my phone or the passages I marked, but I don't think I need to. It's a good read that covers a multitude of topics — something for everyone. Go out and get it. It would definitely make a great Christmas gift.

And if you didn't read my rambling, to sum it all up: I do think you should read this book. And I think Matthew Perry should write more of them.

Buy Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry here.

Now, I have an SEC Championship to get to. Go Dawgs!

November 24, 2022

How Miss Kardea Brown Saved Thanksgiving

During her last few years, my mom used to come home from dialysis and watch the Food Network most days. On one particular occasion, I remember her telling me that she had recorded a show for me to watch. I don't like to cook like she does, so my interest in cooking shows wasn't very strong, but she insisted I'd just love this show. "The lady is from Charleston! You would love her! You'd love the scenery! And the food she cooks — it's the kind of food we actually eat," my mom insisted.

If you know me, you know that Charleston is like a second home to me. I love the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, and I have always been fascinated with the Gullah Geechee culture, particularly when it comes to food and the origins of their dishes. I've even got a writing project in the works related to it if I can ever get around to finishing it.

So, on that day, I sat and watched Delicious Miss Brown with my mom, and I've been hooked ever since. As a matter of fact, we'd watch the show together almost every weekend after that, and sometimes, we'd even watch reruns when there were no new episodes. That became our thing. We both fell in love with the host Kardea Brown and her food.

Her food.

There are many Food Network shows that cook foods I wouldn't eat. This is not those shows. Kardea Brown cooks like I cook, or, at least, how I wish I could cook. She cooks like my mom cooked. She cooks real Southern food, the stuff I grew up eating, which is not surprising considering she learned to cook from ther own Southern mother and grandmother. I love that she's keeping these traditions alive.

Of course, my mom died last year, but keeping up with Delicious Miss Brown and Kardea Brown's career was a huge source of comfort for me after that. And I was absoltely thrilled when her new cookbook The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family came out last month. When it arrived, I devoured every recipe, every picture, every story. Unfortunately, I was also on a specific diet, so I couldn't really test any of the recipes out just yet. Go figure.

So, fast forward a month to Thanksgiving. Actually, fast forward to a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself because I didn't really have any plans for the holiday, but suddenly, I decided I'd just create my own plans. I decided I'd make a big elaborate meal with turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, mac and cheese — the whole nine. My own version of my childhood family Thanksgiving meals.

While last year was technically my first Thanksgiving without my mom, this year has been a little tougher. I think I was still in shock last year. And as I got closer to today, my menu and my determination dwindled. This seemed like a lot of trouble, and that seemed like it was too time-consuming, and my dad won't eat that and I don't need a whole casserole dish of it, and I'll just save the dessert for Christmas, and my oven is messed up again, and the kitchen is a mess becuase I've been cleaning stuff out, and Sadie had to go to the vet, and I had the flu last week, and then a lucrative yet time-consuming project crossed my desk at work, and well, long story slightly shorter, I decided I would just make a turkey breast, mac and cheese, and dressing, and I was really only doing that because I know my dad wanted a little something Thanksgiving-y.

I need to start by saying my mom made the best dressing most people who tasted it had ever had. It was pretty legendary. Nothing else compares. I even joked while she was on her deathbed about how we'd miss it. Her last Thanksgiving on this earth she was too weak to cook it herself, so we made it together. Boy, I wish I'd written that down. Not that you can write it down exactly. A little of this here and a little of that there and let's add some more of that and who needs a measuring cup? You kind of just have to feel it out. I had most of it floating around in my head. Last year, I tried to replicate it and did an okay job. This year, I was determined to do the same. There was only one problem.

I couldn't remember how to make the kind of cornbread she made to put into the dressing. And once I got to thinking about it, I'd only helped her make mac and cheese once, and I couldn't for the life of me tell you how she did it. None of the recipes I found online seemed comparable.

And that's where Kardea Brown came in and saved my Thanksgiving.

I wanted to start writing book reviews here, and I figured her cookbook was a great one to start with. A few nights ago, I was skimming through it again, taking notes for my review, when I realized she had a cornbread recipe that sounded just like the one my mom made. And not only that, but her mac and cheese sounded a lot like what my mom made too.

As I said before, we fell in love with Miss Brown and her show for a multitude of reasons, but the fact that she cooked like we cooked/ate was the biggest one.

So, I got up this morning, and I put my turkey breast in the slow cooker. And then I went to work making Kardea Brown's cornbread, which I then turned into a version of my mom's dressing. And then I whipped up a batch of her macaroni and cheese. There were a few mishaps because when I cook, there are always mishaps, but dare I say, the meal was pretty darn good, especially considering I had to cook it all in the toaster oven in the same dish because it's the only one that fit. And I didn't have enough pasta for the mac and cheese. And I didn't have the right corn meal for the cornbread. Even my dad said "that macaroni and cheese isn't half bad." That's a high compliment coming from the man who told me some chicken I made a few months ago "smelled like heartburn."

Anyway, I can't wait to dive in and try more of Miss Brown's recipes. I'm especially hoping to give that butter pecan pie cheesekcake with brown butter sauce a try around Christmastime. Or better yet, if someone wants to make it for me, I'll pay you. Really, I will. I've cooked enough today to satisfy that urge for a while. But I managed to pull off a semi-decent Thanksgiving with the help of Kardea Brown.

I felt like she and my mom were both in that kitchen with me today. And while I'll never make a recipe exactly like my mom did, I think these cornbread and mac and cheese recipes will be my new go-tos. And who knows? Maybe one day, I'll be cooking them for my own family.

If you're reading this, Happy Thanksgiving, and go buy Kardea Brown's cookbook! And now, I'm gonna have seconds of this mac and cheese while I'm allowed's that good, y'all!

November 16, 2022

It's Tough Being an Adult

Last Friday was a busy day. I got up early to register for classes at UGA and then I loaded the car up with Christmas decor to take to the shop for our annual holiday extravganza. I spent most of the rest of the day cleaning, organizing, and decorating for that. I also spent most of the day ignoring emails that were remnants from a super stressful work week. Apparently, I also caught the flu, but I wouldn't figure that out just yet.

I was so tired and sore when I got home, and the next day, I was still tired, so I decided to make it a rest day. No work. No projects. Nothing. I fed the animals and spent most of the day finishing a book I'd been reading and watching the Georgia game. On Sunday, I was planning to start working on some cleaning projects, but I was still just too tired. Maybe I just needed to make it a whole rest weekend and start again on Monday? Plus, I was cold. We went from temps in the 80s last week to temps in the 40s this weekend, so that made sense. Maybe I just needed to spend another day on the sofa with a book and a blanket. Make that three blankets. Oh, and let's turn on the central heat that I rarely ever use because it dries out my skin. And let's turn it up about four degrees.

"I think you're sick," my dad finally said to me on Sunday evening, around 6:30.

"Me? Sick? Nah. I'm just exhausted from last week. And cold. Very cold."

I said this through chattering teeth. He finally convinced me to check my temperature. It was like 93 or something. The battery in the thermometer was low. But it didn't matter because I was fine.

Okay, maybe not fine. But I was just dehydrated and needed some protein. The only thing I'd had all day was a doughnut and half a Diet Dr. Pepper, and so, I ordered a burger and drank some water. Then I decided I needed a bath because to be honest, I hadn't showered in a few days, but mostly because sitting in scalding hot water sounded like a perfectly fine idea. And it was. For about an hour. I was feeling much better. Definitely warmer.

I dried off, got dressed, and made my way back to the sofa. And then a wave of something came over me. I decided that I probably shouldn't move anymore. I remember saying to my dad, "There are two really important things I need from you. Bring me two bottles of water and take Sadie out one last time." I remember there being a football game on TV. And after that, all I remember is that a scientist was explaining to me that my skin cells were turning into plastic blocks because there was some kind of slight variation in some kind of genetic matter, and that I needed to explain this to my dead mother and grandmother so they wouldn't worry.

Yes, I was a tad delirious. I guess I passed out because around 3 am, I woke up drenched in sweat. I was turning on fans and pulling off blankets. And then I woke up Monday morning with a sore throat, a headache, a cough, and body aches. Probably just allergies or a little virus or something, right? I got up and did my normal things. Fed the animals. Checked my email. Got started on some work. But after doing all of that, I was exhausted. So exhausted that I just kind of had to lay down ASAP or I might die.

And this is when it finally hit me — maybe I am sick. I found a better thermometer in my mom's medical supply stash and took my temp. It was well over 100 and over the next hour, it just kept going up and up and up. I haven't had a fever that high in a long time, and I really haven't been sick since February 2020 when I most likely had Covid and didn't know it.

Covid. That was my first assumption because that's what we've been trained to think over the last few years. But I really didn't see any point in taking a test because aside from my fever and body aches, the other symptoms were fairly mild, and it wasn't in my chest at all. Plus, my dad is super paranoid about getting sick himself after his ordeal with sepsis and open-heart surgery a few years ago, so why confirm that's what I have and make him even more paranoid? He agreed with my theory at first. About 10 minutes later, he said, "Well, it's up to you." About 10 minutes after that, he called me from out in the yard and said, "I think you need to take a Covid test. Right now."

So, I did, and it was negative, but my cousin who brought me the test told me that the flu was going around, and that my symptoms sounded just like her son who had it a couple of weeks ago. And then I found out that some people I was around last week currently have the flu, and then I found out several local businesses have had to shut down due to flu-related staff shortages, so I decided to go out on a limb and diagnose myself with the flu. I mean, I've had it before. I know how it goes.

Looking back to Sunday night, I was definitely very sick, but I can't figure out why I was in such extreme denial. I do have a few theories:

First, as I said, I haven't been sick in nearly three years. When the pandemic began, I was just getting over an illness that was probably Covid. After that, I was careful. I was taking care of two parents with major medical issues at the time, and I had no idea how it would impact them, so I adjusted my life accordingly...which wasn't a huge deal because I generally already avoid crowds, have my groceries delivered, and prefer to be at home most of the time anyway. Now that my caregiving days are over, I really don't think much about it.

Second, I really haven't been allowed to be sick since my mom's started dialysis back in 2016. I've written about how grueling the schedule was. Throw in all the other health issues both my parents had on top of it, and anytime I got sick, I usually had less than 24 hours to get over it if that. As a matter of fact, the last time I actually had the flu (March 2019 - your doctor's medical record software has nothing on my brain), I had about one night to sleep it off because my mother who was high on pain medication she wasn't supposed to have was trying to bust out of the hospital, so I had to go up there in a mask and pretend I was fine so she wouldn't kill herself. I also broke out in hives that weekend, but this is a fun little story for another day.

Finally, aside from that incident, I've never been sick without my mom around before. Sure, I'm on the wrong side of, um, 20, but even as an adult, who is the first person I call when I'm sick? Who brings me orange juice and homemade soup and tells me work will still be there when I'm better and if it's not we'll figure it out? Who comes up with these wild home remedies that actually work, like forcing me eat an onion sandwich once when I couldn't breathe? Who comes over and makes sure I have clean pajamas and blankets and adjusts the fans and heat to my liking without complaint? Who runs out to the store when I have even the slighest craving? Who tells me to stop looking up symptoms because I am not dying and do not have cancer or multiple major organ failure. I could go on.

And maybe it's a bit of all three.

But good grief, I am sick. And I have to do this on my own now.

(Okay, full disclosure, I'm not doing it on my own. My dad lives with me. He's been taking care of my animals. As I type this, he's cleaning Sadie's bed. DoorDash and Instacart have been bringing me soup and orange juice and such. My cousin was nice enough to bring me a Covid test, and I've had a few other friends and relatives ask if they can do anything.)

But it's just not the same. I guess deep down, we all want someone to take care of us on occasion — even those of us who are usually stubbornly independent and think we can do it all ourselves. I certainly never turned down an opportunity for my mother to baby me or take care of me. And according to a Google search I just did, I'm not alone. No matter how old you are, most people still want their moms when theyre sick. And my dad really is great, but he has that stereotypical "walk it off" dad attitude about everything that ails you. (Unless he gets like a minor cold or something, but we won't talk about that.)

When my mom died, I knew there would be firsts without her — first birthdays, first Christmases, etc. But I never really prepared myself for the firsts like this, the minor every-day stuff like getting the flu. They pop up often, and I am learning to live with that. In some ways, it's even liberating. In the past, I've read interviews with Clint Eastwood and Stevie Nicks, and both said something simiar after their own mothers died, and that's always stuck with me. That's the silver lining of going through such a terrible thing, I guess. For every moment that you feel the most soul-crushing grief, you eventually find a little more freedom within yourself. But even so, there are moments when I'd give anything to have her come through with a tray of soup and crackers and ginger ale. Somehow, walking to door to pick up a bag of chicken noodle soup that some stranger dropped in the garage doesn't have quite the same effect.

I was sort of explaining this to my friend, Chris, last night. Or probably whining about it is more like it... His response? "It's tough being an adult, ain't it?"

Yeah, I guess it is. But thankfully, God made us resilient enough to make it through.


I hadn't intended to write a whole blog post about being sick, though doing that years ago is actually what helped launch my writing career, so who knows... Hmm. Anyway, I'm bored from my sick bed and too dizzy and tired to do anything important, so this is what I've got. Soon, I want to start reviewing a pile of great books I have sitting here next to me and modernizing this website and editing old posts and adding them back, but for now, you'll have to settle for this.

November 04, 2022

Garden Hits and Misses

I've planted many small gardens over the last decade or so, but this is the first year that I've had the majority of 8.5 acres to do exactly what I wanted (and implement some of my newly-learned UGA ag student knowledge), which means I got the opportunity to plant a much bigger variety of vegetables and flowers than I ever have before. Unfortunately, I didnt' get to do quite what I set out to, but I did get to conduct some experiments I've always wanted to try, and I learned some things along the way. Some of them were hits. Some of them were misses. And since my last few posts have been pretty deep or death-related, I figured I'd lighten the mood and write about those hits and misses.

The Hits:

Let's start with the good stuff. These are the items that were quite successful.

1. Fireball Marigolds

I love a deep red flower, and I've never seen a deep red marigold, so when I spotted these Fireball marigold seeds on the Park Seed website, I knew I had to have them. They sprouted quickly with a 100% germination rate after I planted them in May, and it's the first week of November, and they're still blooming just as much as they were two or three months ago, despite the fact that my ducks like to trample them.

I've really never had success with marigolds even though they're supposedly easy to grow, and now, I know why. I've always planted starts from a nursery rather than starting my own seeds. Starting seeds is the way to go. What's cool about these is that they start out red before turning various shades of orange, so as they bloom, you have a variety of shades going at once. Pictures don't even do them justice. Because of the 100% germination rate and my inability to get rid of unwanted seedlings, I actually ended up transplanting some of them, and even those thrived.

2. Macarenia Zinnias

Zinnias are also supposed to be super easy to grow, but I've never really had much luck with them. They were one of my mom's favorite flowers, and I have fond memories of her growing them when I was little, but I hadn't really experienced them as an adult. And I actually have maybe 20 to 30 packets of zinnia seeds that sit untouched. Orange flowers aren't my favorite, but for some reason, I grabbed this pack of Macareina zinnias that I had ordered from Baker Creek last year and scattered them next to my tomatoes. I didn't expect much from them, but they were definitely the superstars of my garden this year. Even my dad who says he "doesn't really pay attention to flowers" has commented on them. The pollinators loved them too.

I'll definitely plant more of these next year. Like the marigolds, I planted them in May, and they're still blooming as much as they were all summer. As a matter of fact, once they got going, they bloomed quickly. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love them. They grew to be much taller than I expected (three to five-foot plants), and they put out quite a variety of colors and shapes.

3. Anaheim Chili Peppers

Anaheim chili peppers are, without a doubt, my favorite peppers. I add them to many things when I cook, but I usually use canned ones. A few years ago, I found a plant at a local nursery and brought it home and learned that fresh ones are much better than canned ones. Since then, I've tried every year to start some seeds myself. And every year, I've failed. Either they didn't come up, or I didn't have the time and attention to give them. This year, I started dozens of seeds, and almost every single one of them sprouted in time. I actually ended up with more plants than I had time to put into the ground, and more peppers than I knew what to do with. It's November, and the plants I did plant are still loaded. Next year, I'd like to experiment with more types of peppers, but I'll definitely plant more of these.

4. Wood's Famous Brimmer Tomatoes

My biggest garden accomplishment this year was that it was the first time I successfully grew tomatoes from seed and saw them all the way through to production. I grew up in a gardening family, but my parents and grandfather always bought nursery starts when it came to tomatoes. We have a long growing season, and I wanted to experiment with some different types that you can't necessarily find here. One I've been toying with for a few years was the Wood's Famous Brimmer Tomatoes from Baker Creek. They're supposed to be the quintessential BLT tomato, and while I don't eat raw tomatoes myself, I still wanted to see just how impressive they were.

So, first, they're a Mid-Atlantic variety, and I didn't really think that through when I planted them. We had some ridiculously hot and humid days in late spring and early summer, and several of my newly-transferred tomato plants kicked the bucket due to the heat. But the ones I transferred before the sweltering heat kicked in thrived, and like everything else on this list, they're still producing in November. My dad has eaten plenty of them, and the rest go to the chickens. He says they're pretty tasty. I will say they are late producers. I didn't start getting red tomatoes until August or so, but if you want a tomato that will carrying you through the fall, this is it. Next year, I'll plant more of avariety, but I'll definitely have a few of these in the mix.

5. Dwarf Velour French Bush Beans

Last but not least are these Dwarf Velour French bush beans that I ordered from Park Seed on a whim. I had plans to plant a lot of green beans this summer. They're one of the few veggies both my dad and I like, and I had several varieties to try. Unfortunately, the chickens proved to be little garden destroyers, and planting something that would need as much space as pole beans was out of the question until I prepared a better spot. But in August, I went ahead and planted some of these bush beans in the garden space I could use, and they sprouted immediately and grew and flourished and were absolutely beautiful with their deep purple pods. I absolutely plan to plant more next year.

The Misses:

So, onto the stuff that didn't do too well. I've already talked about how my zucchini failed, so I won't rehash that, but here are a few others that I'm gonna have to do over next year.

1. Damaun KS Super Sweet Corn

Let me start by saying I've never planted corn before, but I was excited to give it a try. I ended up trying this German corn from Baker Creek called Damaun KS Super Sweet Corn. The corn sprouted quickly. In a few weeks, it was a foot tall and as healthy can be. My dad fancies himself something of an expert at growing corn, and he kept it hilled up and aerated for me. The problem is that when this corn got to be about three feet tall, it went ahead and began tassling. And what ears I did get from it were super small and mostly underdeveloped.

I don't necessarily blame the corn itself for this. First, I didn't prep the area where I planted it really well because, well, chickens. Also, I'm in a Atlanta gardening group on Facebook, and it sounds like many people didn't have much luck with corn this year. We had a summer of extremely hot weather and long stretches of drought followed by long stretches of rain. There was no in between. So, I'm thinking the corn was a bit stressed from the weather extremes, and I just didn't have the time to pay it the attention it needed. I'll try again next year, but there was no big corn harvest in 2022.

2. Cucamelons

Cucamelons. Mouse melons. Mexican gherkins. Whatever you want to call them, these little fruits look like watermelons, supposedly taste like citrusy cucumbers, and they've become quite trendy. My mom and I both wanted to try them last year, and we never got around to that, but I was determined to try them this year if I got nothing else planted.

I really don't know what went wrong with these. They took forever to sprout. They started to grow, and then they just quit. And then a few months later, they started to grow again at random, and then they just quit. I have a theory. These things originate in Central and South America, so I assumed they just liked super hot conditions with full sun, and I planted them in such a space. My research shows that they may actually thrive with a little shade. I fully intend to replant them next year, but I'll probably put them somewhere else and give them a little more TLC than I did this year.

3. Sunflowers

This is pretty generic, but I can't grow sunflowers to save my life. I tried planting several types. I'm pretty sure I replanted my sunflowers eight times throughout the course of the summer. Some of that was due to crafty little chickens digging up the seeds and eating them, but most of it was just due to the fact that they just would not grow. I planted old seeds and new. Different varieties. Nothing worked. Sometime around late July or August, I finally had exactly three of these Arikara sunflowers sprout and bloom. The problem is they're supposed to be 10 feet fall. Mine came up to about my waist. And I'm not 20 feet tall. The blooms were about the size of my palm.

Thankfully, I had more hits than misses, and there was plenty of in between, like my cucumbers, roma tomatoes, dahlias, and banana peppers. And even the misses have been a great education in what not to do. Three things I know I need to do next year are:

1. Focus on my soil. My dad and grandfather abused the soil on this land, and I'm working on bringing it back to life through permaculture.

2. Fence off my garden spaces so the chickens can't get into them until they're established.

3. Prepare more during the winter. I spent last winter shut up in the house with my laptop working. I don't intend to do that this year.