Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Snow what?

Monday, February 17, 2014
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olympic rings

Looming for art and social studies.

In the past two years of serving on academic committees, I’ve been pelted with the same question:  “Katy Brown, don’t you care about your child’s education?”

With your No. 2 pencil, fill in the bubble “YES”.

The long answer, in essay format, is written below:

I’ve been well known to irritate people for a laissez-faire attitude and leadership style.  Things will be OK.  Everything will work out. Just calm down.  This is a strange personality trait considering how much I worry and fret. But when it comes to my children’s education, I don’t panic. I’m teaching two elementary school-aged daughters to do the same thing:  Don’t wring your hands. Use them.

When we were sitting at home watching seven inches of snow fall in the same amount of hours, a number of learning opportunities popped up.  Olympic coverage was on NBC stations, which we observed with interest.

Where is Sochi?  Let’s look it up.

Why is it snowing on the mountain but not on the ground?  Let’s look it up.

Why do Americans not like Russia? Let’s look it up.

Where will the summer Olympics be held?  Let’s look it up.

Why do winners bite their gold medals? Let’s look it up.

Why does that man have red, swollen eyes?  Let’s look it up.

In one snowboarding competition, we learned that Sochi is really a tropical area of Russia, where snowcapped mountains overlook green palm trees.  Despite those 60-degree temperatures in February, we learned about The Cold War.  Much to my youngest daughter’s excitement, we discovered that the next summer Olympic games will be hosted by Brazil (and Rio 2 will be in theaters on April 11). Finally, as my daughter slurped back two teaspoons of Tamilfu, we learned all about conjunctivitis, Bob Costas and the Center for Disease Control.

We covered social studies, science, math and health all in an hour.

After that, we shoveled snow.

Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?  That’s what scientists say, but let’s look it up.

This is hard work! My arms are tired!  It’s good cardio exercise.  Look it up!

Is this the type of snow that we can use to make a snowman?  (You know the drill….)

And in that hour, we learned about microenvironments.  A snowflake begins to form when water vapor condenses around a speck of dust high in the clouds—more than six miles (ten kilometers) high—and then crystallizes.  (Yes, I had to look that up.  Credit: National Geographic)

When we came inside — for lunch made with bottled water — I told the girls that I didn’t care what they read as long as they had a book in their hands. Fascinated by British culture, my oldest daughter read from “Who was…Queen Elizabeth” and “Who were …The Beatles” books.  Our youngest one read from the Baby Mouse series – “Skater Girl” and “Mad Scientist”.

Then…a surprising twist:  A text message appeared on my phone from Ava’s fifth grade teacher.  “For every day of school missed, students are required to complete activities online for math and reading.”  Achieve 3000 is a website filled with lessons that cover grammar, reading comprehension and writing assessments.  Math links cover estimates and decimals.  And, they had workbooks and textbooks in their backpacks.  They could read ahead, or in the case of our daughter who lost two more days due to illness, she could read again.

It was a full day of indirect study, but the girls stayed busy. It was mandatory. I had multiple deadlines to meet, including a series of press releases that needed to be translated from European styles to American linguistics and publishing formats.  Just because I work from home doesn’t mean I can blow off time.  As a parent, there are no sick days.  As a self-employed worker, there are no snow days.  If I don’t bill clients, I can’t pay my bills.

After a month of missed classes, I admit that I’m tired of the uncertainty, and I’m frustrated that we haven’t been on schedule since the beginning of November. I have my own concerns about year-round school and how 180 days of instruction are worked into the calendar. I do have strong opinions about standardized testing and Common Core curriculum.  But what I don’t worry about is what my daughters are missing during cancelled days due to icy roads and smelly water.

Now, I know that not every child has this type of support at home. There are critical issues to deal with such as adequate supervision, proper nutrition, enrichment learning and preparation for the next grade level. Children should be in school.  But when they aren’t because the central office says they can’t, then we as parents have to accept a little more responsibility.

What makes me so smart? I’ve got all the answers, huh? Hardly. I make more mistakes than you’ll ever know about. But I do know that an academic state of emergency requires individual problem solving. This is the time when parents are tested.







What’s in the pantry: Emergency supplies

Thursday, January 23, 2014
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Sample disaster kit (Newport News, Va.)

Sample disaster kit (Newport News, Va.)

A mixture of below freezing temperatures, snowstorms and 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol forced my family to take stock of our emergency supplies.  Once again, we are not Doomsday Preppers.  I can’t even call myself a Girl Scout.  I quit the troop because I hated the green, bellbottom, polyester pants.

All kidding aside, we’re never “ready” for a surprise attack. I always have kitty litter on hand, but it’s never in the trunk of my car to help with tire traction. I don’t even think I have an ice scraper in the glove box.  Come to think of it, I don’t even have a pair of gloves in the glove box. Where’s my insurance card?

If you’re like us, you’re only organized in thoughts and good intentions. But those times are a’changin’.  What do you need to weather the next named storm or environmental disaster?  Here’s a little list, compiled from various websites and crazy people:


  • Water; one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation (Writer’s note: I’d up this amount to two gallons per person, per day, for a week.)
  • Food; at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered radio with tone alert and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit, including all-purpose medications for adults and children
  • Noisemaker to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps or a GPS system
  • Cell phone with chargers or a solar charger

For extreme conditions, FEMA suggests additional emergency supplies:

  • Prescription medications and related accessories (such as diabetic test strips, etc.)
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet; leashes and pet carriers
  • Cash and change; a credit card
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes
  • Clean, emptied containers
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Writing supplies
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Keep automobiles filled with gasoline, and if you’re on the move, a bin to haul these supplies

Another website suggested a patriarchal blessing and a Bible.  Ok, I’ll take along King James.

Whenever the media reports snow of any kind, people race to the store to hoard bread and milk.  The bread I understand.  But milk? I seem to be collecting gallons of water these days.  I’m also stocked up on waterless cleaners such as Cetaphil, dry shampoo, baby wipes, toilet paper and fire starter logs.  Despite the worries and headaches of living with tainted water, I kept thanking my lucky stars that we had electricity.  After experiencing a tornado and a derecho, living in the dark without heat or air conditioning seems worse.  We have our gas logs inspected for safety, and we make sure our charcoal grill is kept in good condition, should those items be needed to keep us warm or to heat meals. Keeping cool in the summer is more of a mental exercise. The Waltons didn’t have central air and they lived through years of heat waves.  WWJD:  What would John-Boy do?

Hopefully, this list will help you to keep calm so you can carry on.  But, if you’re like me, you’ll freak out and get carried away.








Monday, January 20, 2014
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Mac-n-cheese night.

Mac-n-cheese night.

It’s been a long, exhausting week and my brain is dried up. Yes, this blog is another tainted water post, but it’ll be a tad shorter. I’m in conservation mode.

Even though our area’s water was restored on the seventh day of the crisis, we still used the licorice-smelling liquid with extreme caution.  We flushed our taps, we stuck our noses to the stream and we inhaled…and then coughed.  Perhaps it was the strong smell, or perhaps it was the cold/sinus/allergy crud that filtered through our house at the same time.

So, we’ve been sick and we’ve been sad.  We also said farewell to my late aunt’s Corgi, Winston, which passed away last Sunday morning. We’ve been watching her Beagle mix, Mickey, for signs of grief and there are many to choose from.  She paces through the house searching for her buddy, and then she panics when we leave the room for any reason.  That reason includes washing twenty loads of laundry and making runs to the grocery store for meals that don’t have to be cooked with water.

We also locked up my aunt’s house for the last time. A lovely couple closed on the deal this week, and we couldn’t have asked for better neighbors.  But, instead of leaving a bouquet of flowers on the mantle for them, we stocked their refrigerator with bottles of water.  They’ll need it.  They have a new baby.  They’re changing routines, too.

We’re not brushing our teeth with tap water and we’re not drinking it, not that we ever did, really.  We’ve always been bottle guzzlers, using the taps only for the 2:00 a.m. headache that required a slug of H2O from a Dixie cup to chase down Advil.  But, when it came to laundry and dishes, I had to release my fears.  We were out of essential undergarments, and paper products were filling recycling bags like Santa’s toy sack.

Like most kids, our daughters haven’t been to school in about a month counting Christmas vacation and a couple of dangerous weather days.  I hope there’s a section on the 2014 Westest that covers complex patterns of Rainbow Looming.  They’ll ace it.

As I count my blessings — for the ability to buy supplies and the comfort of working from home — I admit that life has changed.  I don’t gaze at the Kanawha River with wonder anymore.  I used to search for boats or something fun going on at Haddad Riverfront Park.  Now, I look over to see if there’s a sheen of some sort floating on the water.  When we take our daughters to their grandparents’ house for a visit, my nose flips in the air to detect signs of another leak.  They live within waking distance of the Elk River, and a slightly longer walk to the actual site where the chemical spill occurred. I give strict orders not to give them tap water for any reason.  I make them promise they won’t.

Our bathroom caddy used to be filled with various hairstyling products and tools.  Now, it holds eight bottles of water and a sleeve of paper cups.  My kitchen counter is decorated with jugs of distilled, spring and purified blends of water. I didn’t realize how often we boiled pastas, soup broths, marinades for Crockpot meals, and pots and pots of coffee.

I’ve reset the clothes washer on the shortest setting to cut the time our items sit in water.  No more soaking white socks to make them brighter.  No more extra long cycles for towels and sheets.  We’ve become “knock-the-dirt-off-and-go” people.

Our dogs, cats, rabbit and guinea pig (leave me alone — I rescue) aren’t getting tap water, either. For the first few days, “Even my dog wouldn’t drink it” became a reoccurring post on social media sites.  Our cat, Ringo, tried to cover up his water bowl with his paw.  The odor was that foul.

Lastly, my sense of humor has become contaminated.  I try to move through life lightheartedly, but the chemical spill has left a residue that affects how I feel about my city. When asked by a writer at the Daily Mail if this crisis had caused me to consider moving, I had to admit that I wouldn’t shoot down a transfer option as quickly as I would’ve six months ago.  Are we house hunting? No.  We’re here.  We’re settled.  If we’d move, we’d inherit that area’s problems, which might even be worse.  I’ll take chemical valley over tornado valley any day.  But, I don’t trust what goes on around me anymore.  I want someone to give us a clear answer, since the water isn’t.

Yes, it’s safe. Drink it.  Bathe in it.

No, it’s still a threat. Avoid it.

Instead, we’re advised to rely on our best judgment.  Consume and use tap water at your own risk.

We’ll eventually stop talking about the #wvwatercrisis and #wvchemspill.  We won’t forget it, but we’ll stop bringing it up in every conversation. Some morning, we’ll get up, travel to the bathroom vanity, turn on the faucet and apply a strip of toothpaste to a brush saturated with water we once feared.  We’ll swish and spit with suspicion. But hopefully, in time, this too shall pass.

Katy Brown is the author of a children’s book, Sellie & Sam, and a book of essays, Kat Tales: Stories of a house…broken. She lives in Charleston with her husband and two daughters. Write to her at

Next time:  Apps are a Snap. Literally.


The Day I Ate Dog Food

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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dogfoodWhen I was four years old, my brother Sean and his friend Gusty convinced me to eat dog food.

The food didn’t look anything like the plain Purina Dog Chow my family fed our mutt, Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown’s food was hard and brown and looked completely unappealing.

Moses, the yellow lab who belonged to our neighbors, ate something that looked far more interesting, It, like Charlie Brown’s food, came out of a bag. But in addition to dry pellets, there were softer chunks of some kind of strange, reddish substance. In my four-year old opinion, Moses was getting filet mignon while Charlie Brown was getting hamburger.

I must have expressed such thoughts to my brother, who immediately cooked up a scheme to get me to eat dog food. He shared it with Gusty, the human boy who lived with Moses.

I wish I could say they took forever to wear me down. I wish I could say they bribed me. I even wish I could say they threatened me. Those would all make a better story and would make me appear smarter than I apparently was.

I was at Gusty’s house playing with his sister Anni when he asked if we wanted a snack.

Anni said she wasn’t hungry, but I was always up for food.

“We’ve been eating Moses’ food,” Gusty said.

I must have looked skeptical, because my brother quickly added, “It’s actually really good. You should try some.”

That’s all it took. They brought me the dog bowl and told me to take a handful. I did.

That was by far the worst snack I have ever eaten, but I refused to let on. I don’t know why I pretended, but I did. As the boys and Anni stood watching  me, I ate. And as I crunched, I asked the boys if they were going to eat too. They said they were full.

It was only days later, when word leaked out to other children in the neighborhood, that I realized I’d been the butt of a cruel joke. The embarrassment grew  in me like weeds during the summer months. The only way I could get rid of the weeds was to start distrusting people.

I’ve had 43 years to get over the incident and learn to trust when I should and to distrust when appropriate. But looking back, I wonder about those small moments that change children forever and shift the way they view  the world. I wonder if trying to protect our children too much prevents them from learning tough lessons.

I’ll never know.

What I do know is that memories have a strange way of resurfacing in our lives.

Shortly after we were married, my husband and I adopted our first dog. There was no debate over his name; I simply made a decision.

We named the dog Gusty.

It seemed appropriate, and, for the record, our beloved Gusty lived 16 years. During that time, he ate pounds and pounds of dog food.

The Art of Acceptance

Tuesday, December 31, 2013
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As I write this by pecking the keyboard with my left hand, a little booklet titled Acceptance Therapy sits on the table next to me. I bought it after the death of someone I loved, and it is full of reminders about coping with situations that are beyond our control.acceptance

That book has become particularly meaningful over the past couple weeks after I lost the control and independence I’ve always treasured.

I was walking my German Shepherd on a snowy Saturday morning when I fell on ice and shattered my right wrist. (If you are interested in that story, you can read a full description of the incident in my personal blog: The Ice Gods Are Laughing).

After two nights in the hospital and surgery, I was feeling guilty that I hadn’t been able to help my son finish his science fair project or to hear my daughter sing a solo at church. That guilt, combined with my complete lack of independence at the hospital and my need to get back to work, made me more than excited to be released from the hospital and back to my life.

I should have known better.

I didn’t grasp the impact the injury and subsequent hardware in my right arm would have on my life. I wasn’t just being forced to use my left hand for everything (yes, I am right handed), I was being forced to do everything with only one hand. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t open containers. I couldn’t write, or wrap Christmas presents or cook, I couldn’t even put my contacts in my eyes. Worst of all, I, a person who is constantly in motion and thinks sleep is a dirty word, was too tired to do much of anything once I got home from work.

Friends rallied to help. My husband took time off work and did everything he could. And I went to work, came home, slept and felt guilty and frustrated.

Then I received an early Christmas present in the form of a comment on my personal blog from my friend Sarah: Trina – in the sense that God can make something good result out of something bad, perhaps this unexpected “slow down” will in the end be quite the gift to you and your family. Just “be” – and worry less about the “do.”

Sarah was right. I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I could make the best of them. That’s when I dug out Acceptance Therapy and took on a new challenge – one I could tackle with no hands: the art of acceptance.

My accident was two and a half weeks ago, and I’m doing more every day now. I’m dressing myself and putting in my contacts; I’m preparing simple dishes; I’m getting better at typing. I’m even driving (short distances only.) And I’m learning to accept my circumstances.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor and discussed the possibility of more surgery. That would be a  temporary set back to all the progress I’ve been making. At least it will set back almost all the progress I’ve been making. Because the one thing I did really, really well during the appointment was accept what the doctor told me. And that’s a skill that no accident or surgery can ever take away.


Here’s a little list, starting with Kathryn

Monday, December 9, 2013
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I’ll save this request for Valentine’s Day.

Like most people who walk the Earth, I love the movie Christmas Vacation.  I can recite every line between Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid, particularly the scene in Walmart where Cousin Eddie presents Clark Griswold with a list of proposed gifts for the entire family.

Christmas is a time to give rather than to receive.  I agree.  Yes, I agree so much that I’m giving my husband a list.  And don’t worry.  Our daughters will have plenty to open on December 25th.  But Mama has stumbled upon a few toys, too.

1) The Pioneer Woman got her start on a ranch in Oklahoma blogging for the rest of the world, more than two hours away.  Her blog was launched as a way to keep in touch with family members, but it quickly became a favorite site for more than 25,000 visitors a month.  A MONTH.  Daily Mail readers, you’ve got some catching up to do.

As much as I envy The Pioneer Woman’s success (and movie option starring Reese Witherspoon), I honestly love her Food Network show and cookbooks.  I don’t have any of them, so I’m asking our house elf to purchase the set for me.   I have much to learn from the former marketing executive who swapped life in Los Angeles for miles of cattle country.

2) During the three years I’ve blogged for The Mommyhood, I’ve promised myself in writing that I’d shed the 40 pounds I didn’t lose after my second daughter was born (in 2006).  I’ve hiked the hills of our neighborhood, joined a gym, quit a gym, downloaded Couch to 5K apps, cussed out the entire cast of Biggest Loser on DVD, and tried to chemically induce fat loss with juicing diets and high-protein fare that could’ve wiped out the Pioneer Woman’s deep freezer full of beef. So, this year I mean it:  I’m going to work off the extra layers of warmth on a compact elliptical trainer. Sold through the Sharper Image catalog, I can conveniently hide the machine under my bed when I dump this program, too.

3) Last June, our family traveled to Louisville, KY for the One Direction concert.  The next morning, we took our girls to Churchill Downs to see the most famous horse track and museum.  While we were visiting the spotless barns of Kentucky Derby winners, Ava passed out from dehydration.  Too much dancing and not enough fluids tapped out our pop music fan, sparking excitement from the tour guide who was scared to death she’d throw up in Mine That Bird’s stall.  After we got Ava situated on a nearby bench, handlers joked that “she just needed a little branch water!” Her mother, however, needed a little bourbon.  So, I’d like to revisit the Maker’s Mark Distillery and take part in a sampling of the Bluegrass State’s finest spirits.

4) I learned on Good Morning America this past Friday that One Direction would be performing in America’s greatest outdoor arenas this summer.  I ran to the computer to buy tickets, but every location within a 4-hour drive of Charleston had sold out in minutes.  I didn’t have a chance. I also didn’t have enough money.  Single tickets were being sold for as much as $329; lawn tickets — standing room only — for $98 apiece.  Ava saw the British boy band from the last row of the top tier of the KFC YUM! Center, but our little Maryn went “Wee, wee, wee!” all the way home.  Mama could afford only two tickets (and I was foolish to pay what I did for those).  Our youngest would have to settle for Taylor Swift, who dated Harry Styles just long enough to drive her older sister stark raving mad with jealousy.  I’d love to be able to take Maryn this summer, though, if the musical gods will allow it.   But if not, I’d like Mike to take all four of us to a Paul McCartney concert. We saw “The Cute One” in Cincinnati a few years ago for a whopping $39, and the man never took a break in the 3 1/2 hour performance. It’s as close to British royalty as they’re ever going to get.

So four things.  That’s it. Cookbooks, exercise equipment, a bottle of bourbon, and something to look forward to this summer.  But what I truly want more than anything is another year of working from home. No one can get this for me, though.  I need to keep drumming up freelance work and writing new books so I can stay right where I want to be.

As Cousin Eddie says, it’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.






These are a few of my favorite things

Monday, December 2, 2013
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my book

The girls at Taylor Books with my first title, “Kat Tales: Stories of a house…broken” (2012).

Before Thanksgiving break, my family decided that we’d stay put for the holidays.  No unnecessary trips to restaurants, no shopping and no afternoons at the theater.  Instead, we’d stay home, cook for ourselves and watch Netflix.

We introduced the girls to a lot of classics, such as Rear Window and Roman Holiday.  One night, we watched one of my favorites, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  I had to explain most of Truman Capote’s best lines to Ava, who seemed confused that Manhattan socialite, Holly Golightly, was really a country bumpkin named Lula Mae Barnes.  When Ava is older, I’ll explain the “Is she or isn’t she?” question that all the men asked each other.  Was Holly authentic, or was she putting on an act to hide something?

Yet, isn’t everyone a little phony in some way?

When Holly ran up the steps of her New York apartment, I noticed that it seemed to be connected to a building that serves as the home base for another favorite film:  You’ve Got Mail.  Meg Ryan’s character and e-mail persona, “Shopgirl” lives in a beautiful place that looks identical to the one next to Holly’s.  (Perhaps I watched way too much TV this weekend).

Whereas Breakfast at Tiffany’s questions who we are and what we’ve experienced, You’ve Got Mail asks us to question where we’re going. What are we supposed to do with this life of ours, and how are we supposed to make an indentation in the lives of others? What’s our purpose when our feet hit the floor in the morning?  How do we help make the world go ’round?

I love You’ve Got Mail for many reasons, from the banter between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to the fantasy of owning a children’s bookstore.  When my daughters ask me what my dreams are, I have to admit that I don’t have many.  But the one thing I always wanted was to own a store like my grandmother. She ran a ladies’ dress shop that had a coffee shop attached, named for my mother.  “Betty’s” was the place where my mother and aunt grew up, serving customers a hot cup of something and a muffin of some sort, and then wrapping up their pretties to be worn someplace else.  I’ve always wanted a place like that, but for whatever reason, I never pursued the path.  The Mommyhood’s Katy Brown and You’ve Got Mail’s Kathleen Kelly have something else in common.  Both of us, the real and the make believe, still miss our mothers so much it sometimes hurts to breathe.

When I was watching You’ve Got Mail for what had to be the 1,000th time, I also noticed how much The Little Shop Around the Corner resembles our city’s Taylor Books.  With black shelves, patterned flooring and twinkle lights in the children’s section, the store feels like the place that I coulda/shoulda had.  But since my dream store is already taken, I guess I’ll have to settle for the next best thing, and that’s seeing my books in the vintage displays.

new bookIf you missed the recent Daily Mail article written by Andrea Lammon, I published my first children’s book this year.  It’s the story of fraternal twin boys, Sellie and Sam, who suffer from identical problems.  The boys, approximately age 5, are scared of the dark and they often seek the comfort of Mom and Dad’s bed.  Separation anxiety is a central theme in this book, which was written for children with their parents’ problems in mind.  As I’ve said in a few interviews, my goal wasn’t to decide if co-sleeping or the concept of the family bed is a good or a bad idea.  My objective was to uncover the humor in the situation.  Like many ages, stages and phases of childhood (and parenthood), this too shall pass.  If a child wants to feel a little safer or a little closer by crawling under the covers, then by all means, share that pillow.   In time, our babies won’t even be in the same house with us, let alone down the hall.  Let alone on the few inches of mattress next to us.

I’m sure the book will stir some controversies of “giving in” and not practicing enough “tough love” that promotes independence.  And that’s fine.  I expect it.  But, in our house, scooting over to make room for two little girls — every now and then — hasn’t hurt anything or anyone. As the back cover states, we need to pick our battles. And this was one that Mike and I didn’t care to fight.  During the days of Sandy Hook school shooting news, there was no other place we wanted to be.  Sometimes, hanging on to our children a little tighter is more for our reassurance than it is theirs.

Watching old movies has served as a great escape from reality.  All of the silly running around and taking part in seasonal insanity hasn’t been missed.  But if I do start to suffer from a case of cabin fever,  you now know where you can find me.  I’ll be the woman wandering around a certain little shop around the corner pretending, like a bit of a phony, that the place belongs to me.

Do you want to take part in Cyber Monday? Look for “Kat Tales” and “Sellie and Sam” on and Barnes and Noble websites. You can also order through the West Virginia Book Company’s link:






Getting pinned

Monday, November 25, 2013
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believe wreathI used to think Facebook was the greatest time suck, but it’s not.  Pinterest is.  In the evenings, when the girls are looming and knitting and being creative with their precious time, I’m sitting with a computer on my lap collecting other people’s hobbies – 4,820 to be exact.  I’ve never seen so many beautiful ideas all in one place.  From rare black and white images of Jackie Kennedy to Crock Pot cheesecakes, I could spend days — weeks — pinning pretties to my virtual corkboard.  But every time I try to recreate someone else’s inspiration, I’m reminded that I’m no Martha Stewart.

Last season, I borrowed an idea from a “Gardening Bliss” board to invert metal tomato cages to make topiary Christmas trees.  These stunning cones of white lights sparkled with the theme of Handmade Holiday. I followed each step, jabbing my palms with rusted spokes of wire, and bending the triangular tree into a squoval shape trying to jam it into an equally distressed planter.  I wound garland according to the pinned image, and tucked lights into the greenery. That night, a cold front blew tree and pot into the neighbor’s yard.

A few weeks later, I got another hairbrained idea to make Santa hats out of strawberries and canned whipped cream.  These little nibbles of Saint Nick would add touches of charm and whimsy to my Christmas Eve buffet!  That morning, when the girls were at Mike’s office for cocoa and cookies (a slick way of getting employees to show up on December 24th), I carefully capped each berry and stacked it onto a dark chocolate brownie bite.  I was so proud of myself that I decided to make a dozen more.  That evening, when I pulled my delightful culinary creations out of the refrigerator to wow guests from near and far, the strawberry juice had bled into the piped whipped cream, which had deflated after several hours of rest. Mini Kris Kringles had suffered fatal aneurisms.

Then, there was the idea to spank seasonal pomegranates to rain ruby red seeds onto salad greens.  I cut the fruit in half, leaving a pool of juice on my counter, which stained my hands and 35-year old Formica.  With strict obedience, I grasped a wooden spoon and began smacking the halved pomegranate over the bowl, flinging seeds and red dye all over the ceiling and cat.  I could’ve changed the address of our house to 875 South Bundy.

This year, I still haven’t learned my lesson.  I’ve been hit with another wave of want and need thanks to Pinterest, such as setting up a hot chocolate station to wake up to on Christmas morning.  It helps to have red and green mugs, peppermint stick stirrers, and ramekins of fluffy, homemade marshmallows.  It also helps to hire someone to get up at 4:00 a.m. to melt Ghirardelli chocolate over a pot of simmering water.   I’m also intrigued by an idea to shower my trees with icicle lights.  Instead of winding them around each branch, decorators are encouraged to let strands hang down effortlessly….naturally.  Of course, if our zip code is hit with another night of 45mph winds, I’ll have trees full of illuminated snowballs.  I also don’t know where the featured homeowners hid the plugs or extension cords, because their trees looked like God Himself said “let there be light.”  And it was good.

My final bright idea is to try to make one of the wildly popular mesh wreaths for our front door.  Pinterest tutorials state there are three ways to make this circle of holiday joy.  I have no idea how long it will take to conceal the wire form, or to adorn the silvery mesh and ornaments with a hot glue gun.  It can’t possibly take as long as the tomato cage trees, which turned me off from gardening altogether.  The Clumsy Crafter blogs that this is the easiest wreath to make, especially if I can find a coupon to Hobby Lobby. But don’t try to buy supplies on a Sunday.

Now a half-hour into writing this post, I wonder what types of pins have been added to my home feed wall.  There has to be a project that the girls and I can do together.  Some genius preschool teacher will share her ideas for family togetherness, such as Pin the Nose on Rudolph or Pin the Tail on Blitzen. But I really don’t care if this idea falls through.  I already know of a fool-proof way to tie one on.





Tickled pink

Monday, November 11, 2013
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IMG_3904When I was a little girl, my dad would take me “visiting” to drop off homemade bread and strawberry preserves at friends’ houses.  Please take note that I wrote the word preserves instead of jelly.  Any true Southerner knows the difference.

With my mother’s salt rising bread in one hand and a sealed jar of glossy preserves in the other, I would climb the steps of each porch to wait for the “WELL, HELLO!” greeting that could be heard on the other side of Virginia.  But there was always one family that I wanted to visit first (and never leave) because of a special display that I’ve remembered for 35 seasons.

My dad’s secretary always put up an enormous PINK Christmas tree.

The shade was far from bubble gum but not quite pastel.  It was a cotton candy pink, dusted with a white flake that made the twinkle lights shimmer in their front room window.  I’d never seen a pink Christmas tree before, and after a breathtaking view of it from the flattened streets of Kanawha City, I knew that one day — some day — I’d have one just like it.

I waited. I waited. And I waited.  Not one local store sold colored Christmas trees at that time. Since my dream tree was purchased in Switzerland (of course), I was simply out of luck.  I guess I could’ve bought a standard green tree and spray painted the branches, but that would’ve been tacky.  Any true Southerner knows we don’t do tacky.

Then, one late Spring morning, my auntie called to tell us that this particular family was hosting a moving sale and we had to see if the pink tree was available.  My dad jumped in his Ford Fiesta — not considering that a 9-foot tree wouldn’t even fit on the roof — and raced over to Kanawha Avenue to snatch my heart’s desire.

But he was too late.  His now retired secretary announced that it was the first item to go, at 5:30 a.m., when the sale wasn’t supposed to start until 8.

I was crushed.  I cried and sobbed and cried some more.  Any true Southerner knows how to cry and sob and cry some more.

So, I waited a while longer.  For years, I searched for the perfect pink tree. But about five years ago, I noticed on the cover of Martha Stewart Living a pink Christmas tree that was similar, but not exactly like the one I had obsessed over as a child.  The tree was available online through the Treetopia company, and yes, a few were still in stock despite Stewart’s endorsement.  I pulled out my well worn Visa credit card and bought a smaller version, announcing to the Facebook world that FINALLY — after ALL THESE YEARS — my childhood wish was coming true! Friends waited anxiously with me, inquiring daily if the UPS truck had delivered my perfect pinkness.  Eleven days later, the box arrived.

I ripped off the shipping tape and slit the sides with a steak knife.  Inside, wrapped in plastic sheeting, was the ugliest shrub I had ever seen in my life.  It was a hot pink mess with twisted strands of magenta lights. It looked nothing like the cover of a lifestyle magazine. I could have cried.  Then, the Visa bill came in, and I really did cry.  Any true Southerner knows how to improve upon her last sobbing fit.

I lugged the tree to my bedroom, away from the street side windows and neighbors’ gazes (and gossip).  In the midnight darkness, it glowed like a triangular planet.  I hated the tree, and by mid-December, I no longer turned it on.  In fact, it became the world’s pinkest clothes hanger.

When we cleaned out my auntie’s garage, I found the tree shoved in its original box.  It was the first item I carried to the road on trash night.

But I still longed for my pretty in pink heirloom.  A blush pink; a soft baby pink tree…with tiny white lights and a round, fluffy shape. A dainty, ladylike pink tree.  Surely it was out there.

I logged on to Pinterest and typed in “PALE PINK CHRISTMAS TREE”.  More than 100 images appeared, from my raging fuchsia monstrosity to the loveliest, lightest palettes imaginable.

I clicked on a site that specialized in “quirky holiday” and found the specifications. Lit or unlit.  Tall and taller. Pencil thin or big and bushy.  I selected a trim line unlit model and whipped out a newer, less used Visa card.  Within a matter of seconds, I was the confirmed owner of an iced “Cupcake Pink” spruce and matching metal stand.

The UPS driver rang the doorbell about an hour ago.  I waved and thanked him profusely, ripping open the sides and top with 10 (now broken) fingernails.  I held my breath as I pulled the Styrofoam padding away.  Inside was…

…the perfect rosy hue. I pulled it ever-so-gently from the box and inspected each synthetic fiber.  Every branch is flocked to make white lights shine like pink diamonds.   It isn’t quite the dream tree — it’s about two feet shorter – but it’s as close to holiday happiness as I’m going to get.

We’ll wait until December to display Cupcake.  Any true Southerner knows that it’s a sin to celebrate Christmas before Thanksgiving.  But when the time comes, you’ll find me sitting beside the lowest branch with my two little girls, sharing a piece of toast slathered with the deepest pink strawberry preserves.



Seasonal insanity

Monday, October 28, 2013
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I’m doing it again.  I’m sitting on the couch with a laptop computer, clicking away on the keyboard to get my mind off the upcoming holidays.  So, I’m going to write about them…as if that’s getting my mind off Thanksgiving, Christmas and 2014.

I do this every fall. What’s the old saying? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, only to experience the same disappointing result?  Our holidays channel Norman Bates instead of Norman Rockwell.  I can’t remember a peaceful, drama-free holiday since…since….hmmm.

The next sentence is going to come out the wrong way no matter how I phrase it.  In our family, people get sick and/or die during the holiday season.  It’s the time of year that has always brought stress and sadness to those of us still a part of it.  In the hours following Halloween, when moods seem to shift from ghoulish to grateful, I experience a grating of nerves.  What’s going to happen this time?

I know. I know. I can’t think, act or feel this way.  I have to be more positive.  More hopeful. Optimistic.

Believe me, I’m trying.  Magazines, stacked into towers, inspire feelings of anticipation and excitement. Bronzed turkeys and piles of fluffy mashed potatoes.  Christmas trees bursting with strings of cranberries.  Champagne flutes filled with golden bubbles.  Families exchanging handmade gifts.  I want that.

I also want to forget most of 2013. My auntie had been hiding an illness from us, but the act ended on Christmas Eve.  Instead of making a fuss over each other’s presents, we were fussing over calling 911.  Would she get proper care on the night before Christmas? Should I tuck my girls in bed and sneak to the emergency room, hoping to make it home in time for Santa to deliver their wish lists?

In 2000, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer during the week of Thanksgiving and she died during the week of Christmas. Her mother passed away on December 12th. When I left the mausoleum, I drove to the mall to finish shopping.  While I’m no Jackie Kennedy, I remembered that she rushed home to give her young son a proper birthday party after burying the President.  Despite our grief, the show must go on.

And I could go on and on.  A while back, Mike’s brother suffered a massive heart attack and my dad had another stroke right after the first of the year.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d like to see March follow September.  If we didn’t have children, I would completely ignore the festivities, no matter what the reason for the season.

A few nights ago, Mike and I batted around ideas for the girls’ gifts.  They’re getting to an age that’s hard to define with appropriate “toys”.  They seem to have everything despite a modest lifestyle, and they ask for nothing.  We don’t want to buy stuff just to have something for them to unwrap.

“Can’t we go away this year?” I asked.  “Let a trip be everyone’s gift?”

Mike tilted his head from side to side as if to weigh the options.  “Where would we go?” he asked.

“I don’t care,” I admitted.  “Anywhere but here.”

He winced.  “Fighting all that holiday travel…trying to find someone to watch these animals…weather issues…I don’t know.”

Deep down, I wondered if he was secretly worried that we would be inviting more trouble.

“Disney?” I hinted.  “Christmas in Florida?”

He curled his upper lip.  “With everyone else.”

I fell silent.  “What do you want to do then?”

“We can start new traditions,” he offered.  “They girls should have Christmas at home.  They’ll be gone before we know it.  We should be here, together, while we can.”

True.  In time, we’ll be coordinating whose house for this and whose house for that.  Thanksgiving here, Christmas there, one daughter will be home, one daughter will see us on Easter Sunday.

This will the first Thanksgiving in 40 years that I won’t have anyone from my side of the family at the table.  Of course, Mike, Ava and Maryn are my family.  But no one from the life that came before them.  And Mike is right — this is the year that we have to start over.  We need to pack the holidays with so much fun that we’ll drown out the hidden fears.  I’ve never seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from start to finish because I’m always cooking a monster-sized meal to serve by noon.  The truth is that I hate eating that kind of fare at 12:00.  So, guess what?  We’re not.  In the past, something always forced us to speed up these special days. Strangely, though, I’m getting in the spirit of slowing them down. We’ve never gone to a Chinese buffet on Christmas Eve, and we’ve never saved our gifts for Christmas morning. We’ve also never gone to see a blockbuster movie on December 25th.  We’ve never eaten buttered popcorn for Christmas dinner.

But I have to say….it’s starting to sound better and better.