Monthly Archives: April 2011

I Know I’m in Love When I Buy Whole Milk

thank yous unwritten

Except for when we have a showing, my house is upside down these days.

My kindergartner had to remind me to roll down my window when we pulled up to the drive thru at our new Chick-Fil-A.

I’m late delivering copy I promised weeks ago. Even later writing thank you notes from spring break. (If I saw you during spring break, thank you for your hospitality. A proper note will be forthcoming someday.)

I forgot to pay a few bills. Wore the same outfit three times in one week.

Cut my recreational shopping so severely, it no longer qualifies as recreational. It’s now combat. In. Out. Mission accomplished.

Took snapshots of H&M’s naked mannequin and Cabela’s taxidermied bears.

Bought body wash for my son when my shopping list specifically read shampoo. Twice. We have enough to keep him sparkling through third grade.

And I carried whole milk home from the grocery store. Shopping with my eyes closed that time.

This from the woman who made a crusade of cutting calories and fat from our family diet. Who painstakingly racheted us down from whole to two percent and finally to one percent over the course of several months.

the red milk

What a surprise one morning at breakfast when my son said, “Mom, you bought the red milk.” Whole milk is labeled red at our grocery store.

“No, I didn’t,” I said.

“Yes, it’s red.”

“What? Oh, my. It is the red milk!”

We drank the red milk. Then I paid more attention and bought the purple milk on my next mission.

What can I say? I’m in love.

Something has captured my attention. Occupies my mind. Changes the way I see things. Gets me up in the middle of the night.

hearts in a row

It’s a jealous lover. Expects all my time. Truth be told I would really like to let the world go and just swim in it.

And why not? My husband tells me it’s all right to want to spend my time with this. To want to be alive. To enjoy my work again.

Where will this affair will lead?

Right now it doesn’t matter. I’m reveling in the obsession. Hope you are too.

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT

Diamond Rio, you put it so well in What a Beautiful Mess. Hey, wait a minute. That’s my car…

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Southern Comfort

southern comfort

Back in the fall I befriended another Southerner living in St. Louis. Our sons are in the same class at school.

She’s a talented physician, here finishing her second residency. We were sitting on a blanket in the September humidity at a parents’ luncheon or a soccer game. Making small talk as the conversation was about to turn big.

“You’re from The South too,” she said. “I hear the accent.”

“Yes, I grew up in North Carolina,” I said.

“Tennessee for me,” she said.

“How long you been here?” I said.

“Nine years.” she said. “You?”

“We’ve been in the Midwest going on 14 years,” I said. “Two in Chicago and 12 in St. Louis.”

Then we gave each other the look.

The look is difficult to explain. It’s kind of a rolling of the eyes, a nervous laugh, a heavy resigned sigh. More of an understanding than a look.

“We’ve been here all these years,” I said, “but still find it difficult to feel at home. And St. Louis is not The South.”

Her eyes popped open, wide as teacup saucers. “No, it’s not The South,” she said in a loud whisper. “I keep telling my husband that, and he says it’s all the same, but it’s not.”

“No,” I said, my own eyes wide now and my voice reverently low yet liberated. “It’s not.”

Here was a kindred soul. A Southern sister exiled in the Midwest.

Despite my bellowing I’m a Tarheel born and a Tarheel bred three hundred times to the Carolina fight song, I was not born in The South. I moved there when I was seven and stayed for 20 years.

At first I didn’t like it, especially the accents. Mostly because my new friends razzed me for not having one. Now those accents are so precious I nearly cry when I hear one in passing at the airport.

Without my knowledge, The South grew on me as I grew up in it. I only left for the promise of bustling Midwestern river towns. Work, work, always work.

Now 14 years later, I’m awake again and wondering how did I end up here? When’s the next train home?

Of course there are many, many good things about St. Louis and the Midwest. The Zoo, the Art Museum, the Arch, Forest Park, the Balloon Glow, the Cardinals, the Loop, frozen custard, gooey butter cake, Mai Lee.

Endless rows and rows of corn and soybeans stretching out over miles and miles of flat, flat land. Grayed prairies washed green and yellow and blue with a storm. It could grow on you. It could be home.

Life is complicated now. Can’t just pick up and move. How would my child adjust? What about school and church? What about the house? What about work, work, work?

Ran into my Southern soul sister at the Botanical Garden a few weekends ago. She’s in the last days of her medical training and has secured a job.

It’s in Birmingham.

Look homeward, angel. Look home.

All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. Psalm 38:9 NIV

What better way to end than with a country song complete with whiskey, tobacco and lonely. Savor the tender twang of Patty Loveless in A Thousand Times a Day.

A true Tarheel, Thomas Wolfe was born in Asheville, NC. Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, his first novel, was published in 1929. It is believed to be autobiographical.

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

nothing could be finer

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a sophomore journalism student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, home of stratospherically good basketball and the country’s finest j-school.

My newswriting class was taught by legendary newspaperman Professor James H. Shumaker. He was the inspiration for the comic strip Shoe, created by his former student Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNelly.

I remember one assignment. For me, a lesson in objective writing.

In hindsight also a watershed moment. If I had been paying closer attention, the truth gleaned from that episode might have spared me years of angst.

I would have walked—no, I would have fled to Greenlaw Hall and sought asylum in the English department. Or at least declared a double major.

The assignment was to use a police report to write a news blurb about a fatal car accident. I completed the task quickly with masterful use of the language:

Two died in a tragic and fiery crash as their car careened over a treacherous mountain pass, plummeting the unsuspecting passengers to their grisly deaths. The horrific accident occurred in the dark of night around 11 p.m., Tuesday, on a dangerous stretch of route 10, just north of Waterton. Police are not releasing the names of the unfortunate victims until their bewildered families can be notified.

Proudly I carried my paper, we still used paper back then, to the front of the class and presented it to Professor Shumaker.

He read it and with a blank face said, “This is not objective. Do it again.”

“Not objective?” I said.

“Just tell what happened without the flourishes,” he said. “You don’t need ‘tragic,’ ‘fiery,’ and all that. Just report what happened.”

“But that would be… boring!” I said as I dragged back to my seat, tears welling. “And it was tragic.”

Yes, it was.

I can’t be sure, but I think Shu rolled his eyes in a polite Southern gentlemanly sort of way and said nothing more to me. For the rest of the semester.

I’m not a news reporter, but I believe a more objective story would have gone something like this:

 Two people died in a car accident around 11 p.m., Tuesday. Their car left the road on route 10 north of Waterton, went over the mountain pass and caught fire. Police are notifying relatives before releasing names.

Period. End of story. Just the facts, ma’am.

my refuge

Now class, mine was a simplistic example. Real life is not always so clear.

Next time you’re ingesting the news du jour, where are the facts? Are they dripping with dazzle? Sizzling with sensationalism? Muddied with interpretation? Then that news is not completely objective, is it?

Nothing against flourishes or interpretation. As long as you recognize it for what it is and don’t call it objective.

Call it creative nonfiction or opinion editorial or commentary and analysis or talk radio or personal blogging or something.

Professor Shumaker, God rest your soul. Now I understand why you wanted just the facts in the news. So do I, sir. So do I.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment. Proverbs 4:7 NLT

The most fundamental change is that more of the responsibility for knowing what is true and what is not now rests with each of us as individuals. The notion that a network of social gatekeepers will tell us that things have been established or proven is breaking down. Citizens have more voice, but those who would manipulate the public for political gain or profit—be it corporations or the government—have more direct access to the public as well. (“Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, 2010, p. 7)

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The Continuum

No, really. I saw a big pink bunny.

Little known fact: I hold a master’s in education for agency counseling. Not because of all the time I’ve spent in therapy, but a real degree. Could qualify me to counsel people in a clinical situation. Scary, huh?

I say I hold the degree because I do nothing with it professionally. Never completed the gazillion practicum hours for licensure. Adored my psychology classes. But after a couple years interning I figured I didn’t make a very good counselor and ran back to marketing.

At the end of the day, all I could do was empathize. Even armed with my degree, I never felt qualified to tell people what they should do. I know that’s not exactly the job of good counselors, but I didn’t understand how to help clinically.

They might get better, or not. Some did, some didn’t. Some moved toward wellness quickly. For most it was a long, slow journey. Too long and slow for Little Miss Impatient me.

Hearing the clients tell their stories was the silver lining. Through them I learned we’re on a continuum of mental health, just like we’re on a continuum of physical health. Degrees of wellness may vary during our lives.

They had problems, yes. But when I actually talked to them, including those diagnosed with serious disorders, I found they weren’t so crazy after all. They were a lot like you and me.

The wounded healer model made perfect sense. Not an expert who would sit in judgment and dictate the means for recovery. Instead, someone who could get in the boat of hard knocks with folks because we all sail in it sometimes. Through empathizing, I thought I could help.

Who knows if I did? My foray into counseling stops short. Human solutions do.

We can suggest, support, command, plan, medicate, care, counsel, advise, intervene, intercede. We are responsible to do whatever is in our power to help. In the end, however, we are powerless to change ourselves or anyone else.

Easter lilies

Sound hopeless? Don’t mean to get all religious on you, but I would be irresponsible if I didn’t remind you today is Good Friday.

Christ died on Good Friday. He met the end every human will face. He can empathize. He can go deep.

He didn’t stop short. He got in the boat, living and dying with us, only without sin. Then he did what no one has done or can do except Him. He lived again.

That’s why it’s Good. He opened the way for us to be changed and to follow.

No doubt the struggles and infirmities we face–the sins we commit–are wickedly bad. But this is Good Friday, and Sunday’s coming.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay…” Matthew 28:5-6 NIV

In this video on YouTube, Lead Me to the Cross by Hillsong United is set to scenes from The Passion of the Christ. A moving song and depiction of the historical events that changed everything, it is not for children or the faint of heart. Happy Easter, everyone. He is risen. He is risen indeed.

despised, rejected

An Answer to a Friend

In 2004 when The Passion of the Christ came out, a friend said she didn’t understand the part with the woman in the sand. That part opens the video mentioned above. Read the chilling story for yourself in John 8:1-11.

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Paging Facebook

be social

Attended a fun reception at AdFarm yesterday in their beautiful new St. Louis digs. Only the creative minds of an ad agency could figure out how to make Lucas Park Grille the company kitchen. Divine.

At the party, guru Jay Baer discussed social media with the crowd. I also met the striking Katie Pinke, a fifth generation farm girl who doubles as marketing strategist and blogger extraordinaire. Katie generously offered to help me on an upcoming post I’m writing about farming and food.

“I’ve read your blog,” she said with a smile.

“Oh, really?” I said. “Thank you so much. I haven’t been at this long.”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m a fan on Facebook.”

“Oh,” I said, puzzled for a moment. What was she talking…

“You know?” she said. “On your page.”

Jeff Whetstine, Jay Baer and Carrie Doza

Oh, yes. On my page. That’s right, my blog has a page on Facebook.

Thank you for reminding me, Katie. I went home straight away and updated the everydayepistle.com FB page with all my posts since March 4, 2011, when the page started.

But you already knew that didn’t you, Katie? Seeing as you’re my one and only FB fan. Yikes.

Okay, dear Readers, I  know you’re out there. Here’s your chance to join Katie as a fan on FB. Search everydayepistle.com on FB and like the page.

I announce new posts to personal friends on FB. So if you’re one of those and you don’t want to receive duplicate announcements from the page, no worries.

Just become a fan, then simply block the posts from the everydayepistle.com page. Same way you do your Bon Jovi concert updates. (Come on, admit it. You know they’re touring this year.)

If I don’t know you from Adam and you’re reading my blog anyway, first of all, I’m honored.

Second, you too can get FB announcements of new blog posts by becoming a fan of the everydayepistle.com page. Or you can become a fan to show your support and then block the page posts. See instructions above RE: Bon Jovi.

Thanks for reading, everyone. May this be a comfortable place for you to visit, comment, like, share, and send friends.

Ah, community. That’s what the blogosphere is all about. Right, Katie?

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT

Hilary Winn, me, Angie Skochdopole, Jeff, and Dan Kirkpatrick

Ode to Jon Bon Jovi

O Jon, I will forever love you and your hair.
Looks like we’re both Livin’ on a Prayer.
Though your 80s tresses resemble a parrot,
The memory is sweet and worth the link to share it.

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Momma Bear Speaks

bears talk

Saw a personal friend during spring break who is an FBI agent. On January 12, 2007, he was first on the scene to discover Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby alive in the apartment of their kidnapper in Kirkwood, Missouri.

Those boys came back from the dead. Shawn had been missing for more than four years. Ben for four days.

St. Louis cheered and cried at their rescue. We remembered when they were taken. Now they were coming home. Amazing, tragic, triumphant resurrection.

My response to their kidnapper was immediate: If he were to as much as breathe on my child, I would rip his throat out with my own two hands.

I’m a Christian, and I can assure you that is not a suggested Christian response.

I knew it when I thought it. Didn’t care. I was overcome then and still quite sure now I could succeed in killing any predator of my child.

bears protect

I get angry sometimes. I have raised my voice. Even pounded my tiny fist against the wall. But cold-blooded murder? Vigilante justice? Not my thing.

This was different. A more powerful manifestation of the guttural pang of ferocity I felt the first time I sensed my child was being hurt.

I don’t recall the exact incident, but I can guarantee his life was not in danger. And it was very early on.

Probably a tiff at moms-day-out over a toy. Or a rejection by another one-year-old, if that is even possible. Maybe a thoughtless comment from an adult.

Before that, during my pregnancy when the news reported a child being hurt or going missing, a drumbeat thumped inside my heart as the feet of my child tapped inside my belly.

Protect, protect, protect. What is wrong with us? Grrr…

This usually ended in a heap of hormonal tears and a boycott of the news. Like the first anniversay of the disappearance of Christian Ferguson, who is still missing. I just could not watch the coverage. If I didn’t look, maybe this news would go away.

The day of Shawn and Ben’s redemption, my instinct was full blown.  An overpowering urge to lunge. Claw. Bite. Tear from limb to limb.

I had become Momma Bear.

bears together

Momma Bear is not a tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff like Winnie the Pooh. No, Momma Bear is a living, breathing, killing machine whose primal purpose is to preserve the life of her offspring.

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. Bet you have too.

From good women on Facebook or in grocery store lines. Upstanding women on the playground. Christian women in schools, hosptials, and churches. Young mothers, old ladies, even women who do not have children of their own.

Listen to us growl: It’s one thing to mess with me. But do not hurt the child.

Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. Psalm 10:12 NIV

An estimated 800,000 children are reported missing each year—more than 2,000 children every day. An estimated one in five girls and one in 10 boys will be sexually victimized before age 18. Yet, only one in three will tell anyone. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

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The Trouble with Volunteering

Volunteering is admirable. Close to godliness.

For moms, volunteering earns you a higher level of sainthood. We present a ready-made workforce to power non-profits. What else have we got to do in all our spare time?

chick on the shelf

I’ve heard volunteering is fulfilling. Like having a baby who sleeps through the night before five months, which I’ve also heard is nice.

The trouble with volunteering is you often get slapped with all the grief and politics of an employee, only you don’t get paid for it.

I thought non-profits were intrinsically kind, especially to coveted volunteers. Double helpings of nice for moms logging countless hours for the cause.

Not so. Religious, secular, doesn’t matter. I’ve labored in both types. And both can be as bad as any corporate environment going.

I know, I know. Not all non-profits are like that. Not all my volunteering experiences have been like that. Most have been positive. Even in those that were less than positive, I was surrounded by many generous and kind people.

However, women wiser than I am bear witness.

It’s like this everywhere, they say in hushed voices. Volunteering can be cut throat. And women are the worst.

The trick, one wise woman told me, is to work in helper roles rather than leadership. Helpers would give their right arm for you. They want everyone to be happy. Salt of the earth.

Come to think of it, the most fulfilling, least contentious volunteer experiences for me have been as a helper. My work was valued, but contained.

I didn’t break any unspoken rules. Didn’t threaten anyone’s hidden agenda. Absolutely didn’t present any new ideas, the kiss of death for a volunteer. Simply did my job, helped my people, smiled a lot, and never took work home.

Problem is I have been known to have a good idea or two or twelve.

I can be enthusiastic, energetic, organized, creative. A bit high strung at times, but willing to work hard. And for free.

How sad the causes that captured my heart didn’t want that. They ordered Chocolate Fudge Brownie, but wanted status quo vanilla.

Such tours of duty have forever marred my pristine mommy-volunteer career. Sigh. Ain’t nobody ever gonna ask me to the dance again.

From now on, I am an at-will employee. They can fire me. I can leave. But I will earn something besides imaginary halos for my time and trouble.

You know how this ends.

No sooner do I make that vow than I do get asked again and the desire to contribute meaningfully rears its pious and persistent head.

Maybe that’s the real trouble with volunteering. Like Chocolate Fudge Brownie, online shopping and staying up past a reasonable bedtime, I want to do it even though I know it’s probably not good for me.

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 The Message

The unforgettable Natalie Cole tells it like it is in I Can’t Say No.

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