Monday, July 25, 2011

For Karen...

This is a speech I wrote to celebrate a co-worker's 20th summer at camp.  I don't know many people that can do any job for 20 years, let alone a job that involves 110 degree heat, silly songs, and crying children.  But she has, and we threw her a great surprise party.  It was my honor to try to capture how much she means to our campers as well as our staff...

20 years
7300 days
175,200 hours
10,512,000 minutes

For a woman who, as a math teacher, has dedicated her life to numbers and equations, this is the breakdown of a lifetime achievement.

But you know me, Karen Demore. I don’t work in numbers and equations. And, at heart, neither do you really because the most important moments cannot be measured or weighed. They can be gone in the blink of an eye or stretch across decades. They are beyond price and heavy in value.

Most people can’t, or won’t, dedicate themselves to a job that does not produce immediate results. What would our world be without our immediate results? Yet you have dedicated yourself in not one, but two jobs – teaching and camping -- where the depth of your work and the reach of your heart may never be known. There is always hope, of course, that the long talks and lessons delivered will change the course of a child’s life somewhere down the road, but for the most part those changes are never known. Whether coming through the door of your classroom or the gates of this camp, children come in, stay a while, share successes, and maybe even a few heartbreaks. But inevitably, they leave, and you are never quite sure of the impact you have left upon them. It takes a patient person to do this, but you remind us always in your own words, “I’ll wait.” And wait you have.

20 years
7300 days
175,200 hours
10,512,000 minutes

That’s a lot of waiting, Momma. There’s just no immediacy in those kinds of numbers. In 20 years, you’ve seen the arrival of 4 different U.S. Presidents. You’ve seen buildings crumble and governments fall just as you’ve seen entire cities rebuilt. In the last 20 years, you’ve gone from having never heard of the internet to having your very own blog. You’ve moved from a pay phone out front to a cell phone in your pocket and from delivering camper mail to delivering camper e-mail. Twenty years ago, your love for Camp Carter was born, even before ¾ of this year’s summer staff was born. But like I said, it is never the major events that mean the most. It’s never the major events that change paths.

How many of you have known Karen for 20 years? Stand up, and remain standing. How many of you were campers here who grew up with Momma’s voice ringing through the dining hall or flag? Stand up and remain standing. If Momma has ever tied your rag or presided over your leathers or raggers ceremony, stand up and remain standing. If Momma has ever talked you through a problem or some homesickness or said a prayer for you when asked, stand up and remain standing. If she’s ever given you a high five or a hug or a smile when you thought no one else noticed, stand up and remain standing. If she’s ever told you to “stop smiling”, “quit having fun”, or that you should “stop growing”, stand up and remain standing. If you’ve taken “The Hike That’s Not For Wimps,” stand up and remain standing. If you’ve ever won Momma’s clean cabin award, stand up and remain standing.

10,512,000 minutes
175,200 hours
7300 days
20 years

Look around. These are the lives you have touched. The paths you have helped create. The moments that you share. They are beyond price and heavy in value because the human heart doesn’t calculate such things. So the numbers are nice; they help us to understand the time and commitment you’ve given to all of us, but I have one more math problem for you. Did you know that the human heart beats 42,075,904 times per year? Multiply that by 20.

Wait, don’t worry… the English teacher has done the math already, Ms. Demore.

It’s 841,518,080 beats.

And I can say, with confidence, that with each one, your heart has beat for the Lord, for your family, for your friends and students, and for each and every one of us and this camp.

And for that, you get a standing ovation.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Snobs Beware

I love Stephen King.

There, I said it. Out loud and proud. I read his books all through junior high and high school, not only because I enjoyed the secret thrill of being scared shitless, but also because I loved the way he crafted his words and stories. I spent years in college, as an English minor, denying this fact. Because as an English student, you're supposed to be "scholarly" and into "real literature".


When did "literature" become restricted to things that were boring and depressing and stale?

As a person who dabbles in writing (and I do just dabble), I was intrigued when a friend recommended King's non-fiction book "On Writing". It is simply magnificent, the straightforward honesty and ethic the man uses. It made me want to go back and re-read all of his classic stories. You know, the ones that made me stay up all night, first because the man knows how to keep the pages turning, and second because I was too dang scared to turn off the light.

But when I took a visit to Half-Price Books, I realized that there was simply no time to go back. I had serious catching up to do.

This week, I read a book of short stories so fascinating that I didn't mind beginning my nightly reads until I'd finally made my way to bed well after 1AM. And while I was mildly terrified at his sinister sentences, I was also fascinated at his construction. The man's mind must never stop.

And for those who doubt me, who snicker or roll their eyes at my "literary" choices, I offer Exhibit A, "Shawshank Redemption" which plays on my tv as I write, or "Stand By Me", one of my favorite coming-of-age stories ever. Both were products of that ever-flowing mind.

And a good story, no matter who tells it, makes me deliriously happy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prognosis: Good.

Sometimes there is nothing better than to sit with some of the people you love the most and know you best, have a drink margarita(s), eat good food, and laugh until you can't laugh anymore.

Doctors should prescribe such events. "Take five friends and two cups of tequila, and call me at your next breakdown."

Friday, July 8, 2011

One Tough Cookie. Plus One.

Remember my friend, Heather?  The totally tough cookie who, last summer, took on the back surgery from Hell.  I thought then that I'd never see her be more brave.

Wrong again.

This summer, Heather did what she swore she'd always do.  She became a mom.  In the 16 years I've known her, I'd heard her say countless times, "One day, I'm going to adopt a child".  At first it was, "When I'm 30."  Then it became... "When I'm 32... When I'm 33... When I'm 35."  And so on and so forth.

It's not really that we ever doubted her.  When Heather sets her mind to something, there's no turning back.  Many a misbehaving camper or student can verify this fact.  It was just a matter of when she'd finally set her mind.

Then, after she was healed from her backtastrophe, one night she mentioned, "I'm taking some foster care classes.  I'm ready to be a mom."  Right there, as casually as some people order a latte.  And we all caught one another's eye, gave a little smile, and made the preparations to increase our tribe by one more.  Her mind was set.

First there were visits and respite opportunities for some kids in the foster system.  And she fell a little in love.  There were more visits, and she fell a little more in love.  But these kids weren't going to be her kid.  Then there came a photo.  A little black and white copy of an angelic 4 year old face.  By the time she showed us his picture, it had been folded and unfolded and re-folded so often, I thought it would fall apart in my hands. 

This is how I knew that my dear friend was ready to be a mom.

It's been about six weeks since we hustled through her adoption shower so she could go pick him up that very night.  Six weeks since he ran into her arms, ready to climb into her car and just "Go HOME!".  I've met him 3 times, and each time I am amazed.  Not just at how adorable he is (although he's so very adorable).  Not just at how funny he is (and he is quite funny).  Not just at how energetic he is (and, my Lord, he could power the entire city of Fort Worth with that energy).  Not even that she's doing this on her own (because there's very little in this world that Heather can't handle).  But that my friend... my funny, sarcastic, hard-rock loving, swear like a mother-effin' sailor, bad-ass friend... is, in fact, somebody's mom.

In my heart, I knew that this was how it would go, but in my head, I could just never really picture it.  Heather.  With a car seat.  Listening to Radio Disney.  Installing a potty seat.  Planning menus.  But she is.

So. Effing. Weird. Dude.

We had lunch today, just the two of us.  It was nice, and it was necessary.  Day care is important not just for her son but also for her sanity.  We talked for a long time about the struggles she faces daily.  Not just the regular ol' 4 year old struggles, but those that she inherited from the a-holes who had him before.  Not just the cleaning up of the normal hard-playing bumps and bruises but also the scars and the worries and the fears that he carries inside.  Both those that she knows of and those which no one knows.  Not just the fact that she has a child but also the fact that she woke up one day as a single girl who answers to no one and the next day, another human was living in her house.  A human that gets up early, likes chicken nuggets, and does not have an "off" switch. 

There's simply no class to prepare you for that kind of culture shock.

And my dear, funny, sarcastic friend takes each moment, mostly all on her own, and lives it.  When it's a struggle, she reminds herself that "He is four.  We've known each other six weeks.  This will pass."  And then he smiles at her, that angelic 4 year old smile that made her unfold and re-fold that picture a thousand times, and she finds her breath for the next obstacle.

This is how I knew that my dear friend was already a great mom.  A totally bad ass mom who is changing a life day by day.  And there's no class to teach you that either.

I'm so proud of you, friend.  So un-flipping-believably proud of you.

Not Quite Peace in the Middle East... But It's a Start.

The Champion

The Challenger

These are the two main sparring partners in what I've dubbed "The Feline Integration Act of 2011".  It's been almost 2 months now, and while there is occasional spitting and hissing still, for the most part, this is the stance we've achieved:

Complete and total ignorance of one another.

This is the favored chair of the Alpha Cat.  She is old and crotchety and generally the head of the house.  Nearest the window.  Blinds raised.  This is HER spot.
She does not look crotchety whilst sleeping.  Don't be fooled though.
The Challenger, however, realized a few days ago that this chair is one effing awesome chair.  It's generally warm and sunny, and it provides a comfortable spot to loll about lazily because humans typically avoid it.
The definition of "lolling."  And of "hefty".

So, it's been game on.  And I've allowed the battles because, in the end, there's only one chair.  It's an important chair to several parties.  Both feel they have a right to the chair.  And there's no reasoning with either cat.  Mainly because they're cats but also because they're both stubborn and angry. 

Angry does not equal "time to listen thoughtfully and considerately".  Ever.

This morning, however, a tenuous truce was reached.  With backs turned to one another, in order to avoid direct eye contact, each cat chose a comfortable corner and spent a good two hours napping.  Only inches apart.  Without anyone losing an ear or subjecting me to an hour long mewling and growling spat.

"If I can't see you, you're not there."
 Attention Planet Earth:  if two mean-ass fat felines can figure this out, what the heck is your excuse?

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The shitty thing about the past sometimes is that it's never really in the past.

It lingers.  Like a fart in the air.  Or maybe something more poetic, I suppose, but I can't really think of it right now.

It creeps up on you in the most unsuspecting moments.  Like finding a jungle cat in your laundry room.  You turn the corner, minding your own business, and then boom... there it is, growling at you from the spot where you keep your dryer sheets, demanding that you deal with it.

I've felt that way all day.  All week, I guess, but more so today. 

Sometimes it starts with a picture, or a smell, or a song, or a person.  But in that instant, it all comes back to you, carrying with it all the baggage and things you know you should just leave alone because they can't be changed. 

Today, I saw a picture, and all I wanted to do was be 21 again.  With the friends I had when I was 21.  With the same lack of real responsibility.  I laughed so much harder and more often when I was 21, it feels.  Tonight, I heard a song that made me want to be 17 again.  Seventeen and having a crush on a college boy who just wanted to be a cowboy and drink a lot of beer and raise a little hell and look good in a tight pair of jeans.  This morning, I got a whiff of my make-up, and I was 8 years old, watching my mom put on her make-up.  I never noticed how much my makeup smells like hers.  Maybe that's why I continue to buy it and rarely ever use it.  But there I was, eight and safe without any knowledge of all the harsh truths I would know someday.  Back when I thought she had all the answers and I'd never heard her shed a tear.

Nostalgia, that crafty witch, punched me in the gut, and I've yet to recover today.  It left me with a longing in my heart and questions in my mind.  Where would I be today if any of those paths had changed?  Sometimes, I find myself wishing for all the things that could've been.  Some people wish they'd been more responsible and thoughtful in their youth.  Me?  Sometimes I wish I hadn't spent my youth following the rules, guided by fear.  That I'd have let loose, lived impulsively, gone a little crazy.  Traveled to faraway places.  Fallen in love just to be in love.  Gambled away my rent money on a weekend trip to Vegas.  Done the things I wanted to do instead of all those things I needed to do.  Maybe I wouldn't wake up in the middle of the night, with the itch to get in the car, without a plan, and just go where the road takes me. 

An itch I'll never scratch, of course, because I'm too old to be impulsive and too young for a mid-life crisis.  Or at least, I think I'm too young for a mid-life crisis.  Oh, shit.  Maybe I'm not.  *sigh*

But I'm sure that if I had done those things, lived my life on the wild side, I may not have become the person that I grew up to be.  And for all my bitching, I do appreciate the life I have now.  Maybe I'd be just as full of regret, just of a different flavor. Maybe it's foolish to entertain such thoughts because 8 and 17 and 21 are just dots in the rearview mirror.

Or maybe I should just re-think that many drinks on a Wednesday night.  Maybe even that's too wild  anymore.  I'm not very practiced, after all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I'm Not Good at Small Talk. Ever.

I've said it before. I am just not great at small talk. I have about three topics to exhaust before I just give up. Therefore, if I'm with a stranger for more than 4 minutes, things are bound to get awkward. And this need to avoid the awkwardness is important. It's how I pick most service people... my hairdresser, dentist, eye doctor, mechanic... they all just know to leave me the heck alone.

Today, I am not in the mood. For anything. Especially polite chit-chat.

I spent half my day off on the inner-workings of a half-wit only to be struck down with a serious case of Mother Nature roundhouse kicking me in the ovaries.

Then, to top it off, I stopped off at the local drugstore where the cashier, upon seeing my assortment of ibuprofen, tampons, and king size Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, took the opportunity to attempt to engage me in small talk about fireworks.

The rage. Oh, the rage. It was hard to hold at bay. Her only saving grace was the line of witnesses and my paralyzing fear of the U.S. Department of Corrections.

Really? What is wrong with people?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Photographic Memories...

My dear friend, Courtney, sent me this link the other night.  She said I would fall in love with it, and I, of course, totally did.

She knows me too well, that girl.

Some of them are funny and bring a simple smile.  Others bring on that surprise sob.  You know the one.  The one where you think you're just doing a sharp gasp and then suddenly there's tears and noise but no words.

No?  Just me?  Then how are we friends?

Here's one of my favorites from the site.

Dear Photograph,

Thank you for everything we had.

Anyway. Take a look. It's a relatively new site, but I think it's exquisite. I hope you do too.

Hometown Heartache

There are only a few times where I really miss my childhood. For the most part, it was a painful and awkward and intimidating time of my life.

But the Fourth of July makes me ache.

There's nothing like the Fourth of July in a small town. The smell of a hundred different barbecues wafting through the air. The turtle race. The celebration on the courthouse square, with its face painting and balloon animals and cotton candy creations. The pucker of a sour pickle sno-cone. The crack of a bat at the little league park. The floats made of newspaper and crepe streamers and 7th grade dreams. The squeal of a child as he scrambles for the sticks of Juicy Fruit gum thrown from the parade route. The rodeo, with its tight jeans and giant buckles and Stetson hats and red cups of beer. And the rodeo dance. Oh, the rodeo dance. Where everyone's parents are permitted to live like teenagers for just that night only. The cool of the lake water splashing against your feet as you watch the fireworks overhead.

I miss you hometown. Today, the big city has nothing on you.