The Whole 'Tude Family!

The Whole 'Tude Family!
Trying to stay warm...Snuggling: the answer to the quest for world peace!

Monday, March 31, 2014



It's a place I don't often find myself. I can usually come up with words to fill a space, whether it's a blank page, a random conversation, a hard discussion, or the answer to a question. The gift of gab. Never meeting a stranger. It's a rare occasion when no words span the chasm between what I want to say and what is heard. Sometimes there just aren't words.

For a person who loves words, relies on them to paint pictures, convey thoughts, and drive ideas into reality, that's some sour medicine to swallow. But it doesn't always work out that way. In those moments, when words fail me, life gets very simple.

I love you.
I'm sorry.
I forgive you.
Forgive me.


I look for encouragement in things that communicate volumes to me without a single word--a breath-taking sunset full of pink and orange, the small details in my kids' faces that look like mine, the sound of a violin, laughter, a hug... a REAL one, not those granny kinds...

Those things say what I need to hear.
They don't judge or give advice.
They don't keep score.
They don't say you should've known better.

They only promise love in the right now.

Whatever else happens, when there's nowhere deeper to dig and one foot would step in front of the other if it knew which direction to take, sometimes finding the simplest love in the right now is all I need to hear even if I can't say it.

Maybe I should be speechless more often.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Busy Bee!

Maybe you didn't know this, but the name Melissa actually means honey bee. I know this because it's a rite of passage when little girls get to the age where they hit double digits, they tend to be completely obsessed with their names. I'm pretty sure that nearly all tourist trap souvenir shops have a display filled with bike-sized personalized license plates, sticker sets of puppies and kittens, and useless laminated cards that tell what common names mean. And Melissa means honey bee.

Ironic, right?

I get a whole lot accomplished, and people ask me quite often if I ever sit down. I actually sit still quite a bit. It's in the sitting still that I come up with all the things I think it might be fun to knock out or try to learn. At the very least, it's usually an excuse to take a road trip to someplace interesting or buy a tool. In a few days during Spring Break, I knocked out one serious garage clean out/reorganization, a small painting project, some woodworking projects, and a minor flower bed makeover. I planned my new fence, dreamed a little bit more about what I'd like to create in my back yard, and I thought a little bit about what I want to be when I eventually grow up. I did more than that, but you get the idea.

The not-so-great part of having lots of ideas lies in the execution. I've been called the Queen of Unfinished Projects. (Raising hand. Guilty as charged.) So I've made a concerted effort to change that over the last few years. I still have a ton of unfinished projects--half-knitted scarves, a pile of recipes I want to try, TWO half-stripped old doors in my garage, and an overflowing Pinterest board or two--but I'll get to them.

I had an advisor in college who used to say this:  "Melissa, the people with the most to do get the most done." He was so right.

Honey bees are creatures who are so busy they defy physics. Their tiny wings shouldn't be able to keep their bodies off the ground, much less fly them from one flower to another to another then back to the hive where they do what again? Kick their little bee heels up and watch TV? No, those suckers fly home, check on the Queen, build the hive, and make honey. They are productive because they live and work in a way that never loses sight of their purpose. I don't know if it's in their bee DNA or if that's just one heck of a motivational queen, but those little suckers get their To Do list knocked out!

I wonder if they sleep...

All this rambling on to say I'm taking a page from the swarm handbook. Choose goals that serve the long-term purpose and the species as a whole then just flap as hard as possible to get it done. The other interesting thing I notice about bees is that they always make time to smell the flowers. So here's to being busy, but not so busy that I don't take time to smell the flowers life hands me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I love this time of year! My giant family gets together, holidays provide an excellent excuse for me to spend hours making ridiculous amounts of food no one will ever finish eating, and I find it much easier to see gratitude around me. I drill it in my kids' heads that they have plenty for which they may feel grateful, but this year it's much easier than any other holiday season I can remember. We had Christmas in July.

We found ourselves looking for a new house last fall. The process of getting into and out of that situation could provide enough content for an entire season of bad soap opera, so I won't go there. I just knew I had to find a place I could afford in an area with schools I wanted my kids attending absent of cookie-cutter floor plans and throw in some real trees and neighbor kids. Piece of cake!

I looked at four houses. Then I found the perfect one! And a week later I made an offer on the ugliest, most neglected house I have probably ever seen sitting across the street. My parents thought I'd completely lost my mind, and the kids wanted to move into the "hide out" in the garage immediately. Three people told me I could do it--my realtor, a dear old friend, and my architect.

This isn't a DIY house project blog, although I would love to write that one too. This is about possibility and determination and friendship and showing up when a situation looks hopeless.

I had a plan, a mental picture of the end result, and a sledge hammer. What else could I possibly need? I didn't know it at the time, but I was going to need a few thousand miracles to get it done. And I got every single one.

The kids and I spent evenings pulling up parquet, chipping out tile, and knocking holes in walls. I gave Nate a sledge hammer and told him to go make a hole in the paneling in the den so I could see if there was sheetrock behind it. He looked at me like I'd surely lost my mind because he was pretty sure holes in the walls were on the Things I'm Not Supposed To Do List. So when I told him to go for it, he grabbed a Sharpie and drew a target.

As I started to share my plans with my family and a few friends, the ominous looks became increasingly frequent. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Not exactly, but I knew it would work out.

And it did. I'm sitting in my new living room sans parquet, awful track lighting, a few walls, and nasty paneling this morning thinking about how the walls are full of love, selflessness, and a heaping cup-runneth-over kind of gratitude because I know there's no way I could've pulled this off without the people who pitched in when I needed help and made this place happen.

I will never forget the look on the guy's face at Home Depot when a co-worker and I picked up a bath tub during lunch one day wearing skirts and heels, we moved that sucker off the shelf, to the check out, into her SUV, and through my back door. I couldn't have pulled down all of the walls without a life-saver of a friend who crawled under and over this place to make sure the trusses would hold the roof. I couldn't have painted the 12 coats of paint on every wall and ceiling without my mom, my great aunt, and my brother who are still looking for their t-shirts that say "My sister renovated a house and all I got is this lousy t-shirt." And I still wouldn't know the front of the house had a stone facade if my dad hadn't have come over with two hedge trimmers as soon as I closed on this place. No exaggeration! It looked like color-blind Tarzan had been squatting in this place with a secret evil plan to unleash the mosquitoes he was breeding in the overgrown flower beds in an attempt to take over the world.

And that's not even close to the long list of people who showed up exactly when I needed something or someone to move forward.

Was I nuts? Maybe. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.  See, I had no idea how many people here loved and cared about me enough to give up a weekend or significant amounts of blood to help me out. When I look around this place, I don't see just walls with new crown moulding or gorgeous new wood floors--I see the people in my life who showed up for me and my kids when we desperately needed their help and didn't even realize it.

I've always been one to point out to my kids how much they have to appreciate because the world they are growing up in tells them the opposite. In reality, the worst day of their lives they will still be living like kings compared to most children in the world, and it's important to me that they understand that. They don't, but someday they will. But I can promise you they take very good care of their house because they know how much hard work THEY put into building it.

So I'm beyond grateful this Thanksgiving week--not only for a fun house in an amazing neighborhood with kids we love running all over the place, but also for the knowledge that love, friendship, sacrifice, and a lot of great stories live in these walls. I'm so thankful that I live in a constant reminder that I'm not in this all by myself. And that is plenty!

This year, I'll look around the table and see people who aren't just family and friends, but those pivotal people in my life who hold me up when I can't do it.

Happy Thanksgiving!  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Remembering Kyle

I'm back!

Many blogs to come about just what's been keeping me away, but before I tell that story I'd like to tell a few other stories...

I've been playing with ideas for a few weeks, but none seemed quite right just yet. I woke up to the familiar overload of ideas in the circus that is my head at 4 (note time change-it's usually 3 am when this happens!). This idea demanded an audience, and I can't think of a topic more deserving of my attention.

One of my former students passed away last week, and, even though I have known for years that this was coming, it hit me like nothing I expected. No one should ever have to endure the death of a child, but life doesn't typically ask permission nor does it guarantee that every day is going to come gift wrapped regardless of my opinion. So in my always-looking-for-the-silver-lining-kind-of-way, of course I've been mining my heart and mind to figure out what I can take forward from my experience with this brave young man that would light up Heaven with his smile.

Kyle was born with a syndrome that greatly reduced his life expectancy and promised many medical challenges along the way. I'm sure I don't know more than a fraction of what his family endured caring for him, but what the people who raised that young man instilled in him will forever impress me.

I will never forget the first day I met Kyle. That kid knew how to make an entrance! He rolled in my classroom pushing his Mustang of a walker with enough gear attached to climb Everest, parked it in the middle of the room, made himself comfortable in the front-and-center seat at my table, looked at me, and said, "You are a beautiful lady."

And I'd say that's pretty typical of this little charmer. Now he also had a bit of a stubborn streak, so we had to compromise on a few things. For instance, the Mustang couldn't very well stay parked right there in the middle of God and everybody, so we made it a "Reserved" parking space with duct tape. Every Monday, I could not start class until Kyle told me about his weekend, which usually became somehow connected to our topic for the week. Needless to say, with Kyle as a student, maniacal laughter was guaranteed on a regular basis.

I could tell a million Kyle stories, but those are mine. The one I find looping in my thoughts when I remember him lingers as possibly the most touching thing a student has ever done for me. The second year I taught Kyle, our classes changed quite a bit with new juniors and the loss of a few seniors. The dynamic was of course a bit different, and the kids with whom I'd spent the previous year knew how things just sort of went in my class, and the new guys weren't quite on board yet. One day, we were off and running when one of my new students walked in about 20 minutes late, as was his habit. I asked for his pass to class, and this kid got right in my face yelling. And I won't lie--it was scary! Before I had a chance to say or do anything, Kyle put his little balled up fists on the table next to me, pushed himself to his full 4-foot-something height, stepped between this kid and me with his finger pointing in his face, and said something I will never, ever forget. "Hey! This is a lady, and you don' a LADY.....that way! Got it!"

And everyone froze.

The kid backed down and found his seat without another word. I sat down and went on with my reading group. The other kids followed suit. But Kyle turned around to the kid who in his mind had greatly insulted me and said, "Apologize." And he did too.

When the bell rang that day, I told the tardy kid I needed him to bring me his pass. I asked Kyle to stick around for a minute. His face told me he thought for sure he was in trouble. But I sat down and told him thank you, that I thought he was one of the bravest young men in the whole school, and in the future I could take care of the kids who didn't bring their passes to class. He said, "Yes, ma'am."
Before he drove his Mustang out of its reserved parking space, I also told him he was my hero, and that pretty much made his day.

I sat in the pew at his memorial service last Saturday laughing and crying at so many similar Kyle stories from other people whose lives were not just touched but truly changed by their experience of knowing Kyle. I didn't ask why this sweet young man had to suffer or why anyone has to be born with an illness they will never beat. I was just grateful for Monday Morning Maniacal Laughter Stories, pimped out walkers, and that I got to know and love such an untarnished example of completely selfless bravery.

When I heard that Kyle had passed away last week, the first thought that volunteered in my head was of him running and laughing with his dog that had died years ago across a big green field like a track star. I'm pretty sure that's right on.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Came Early!

This is the best story! I just HAVE to share it!

About 6 weeks ago, I got wind of a situation where everyone involved was at the end of their rope, and that sucker was! This is the story of a kiddo I'll call Frank.

Frank has been dealt a rough hand. He has a pair of 2's. The awesome thing about a pair of 2's is that it can become something else. Check it out!

Frank is absolutely slammed with learning disabilities. He is 15 and can't read. Not only is learning a real challenge for him, he doesn't really play well with others. So even if someone is trying to help him, he is a tough kid to help. Frank was failing almost every subject a year ago when his parents pulled him out of school, just shy of finishing up his first semester of 9th grade. They moved to Vegas, and instead of enrolling Frank in school, they made him work construction.

Fast forward to August...Frank's family moved back to town, reenrolling him in school where he is basically right back where he started more than a year ago. Frank is less than thrilled to be starting all over without any credits, still unable to read, and still not really feeling like his pair of 2's is worth staying in the game. As if that weren't enough, Frank's father was deported, and his mother chose to go with him. Frank was left with his 19 year-old sister. I don't know Frank's sister, but even the most responsible 19 year-old is not any kind of equipped to raise a 15 year old, particularly one with the massive amount of investment this kiddo desperately needs. And Frank knows that too. That's probably why he's turned to some gang-affiliated friends to make sure someone is going to stick with him.

Frank probably doesn't realize it, but life dealt him a wild card or two. Frank has two teachers who got together and asked for help. They ended up with an intensive intervention plan that Frank couldn't escape no matter how hard he tried. He landed himself with 50 minutes of daily reading instruction, and no one really thought it would work, including Frank.

Imagine Frank's surprise 6 weeks later when he found himself holding a full house! Frank's teachers were probably the most shocked! Now he's not reading on grade level, but he's improving at a drastic rate because two people showed up, followed the plan, and expected him do his part to follow it too.

I don't know about you, but this was just about the best Christmas present I can imagine! I'm feeling grateful that I got to be a tiny piece of the solution. This story is far from over, but at least there's some hope glimmering for everyone who was staring at a pair of 2's and a hopeless-looking situation.

So here's to hope! And a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm in a Colorado State of Mind...

I have wanted to live in the mountains since I was 7. My parents used to pull a Griswald every year, load my brother and me into our blue Buick Regal with a coloring book and a piece of masking tape to put down the middle of the back seat, like the Berlin Wall, and my side was East! Approximately 1,537 license plate games later, we would be skiing in Colorado. I vividly remember walking outside in the frosty mornings, watching my breath float away in the crisp, quiet air and knowing this place was special. It was love at first sight, and my soul became that of a mountain girl.  So I got there as fast as I could!

When I met Charge, I vividly remember my answer to his “Do you come here often” question. It was: “Listen, don’t get too excited. I’m moving somewhere with trees, mountains, and four actual seasons as soon as I can figure out how.”  And we were married 7 months later with plans to move somewhere with a real REI and a 100-inch base every year.

We loaded up two cars and a U-haul and drove to Littleton, Colorado. Let the Happily Ever After Begin! I was in my new apartment with a view of the Front Range and brand new hiking boots. What more could a girl want! I was already making plans for three backpacking trips, entire weekends skiing in Summit County, and learning to rock climb on real rocks. Imagine my shock when the little pink line appeared in the wrong window!

I called my girlfriend whose husband is a pediatrician and said, “These things are totally unreliable, right? The instructions are in Korean, so I’m sure there is a mistake!” She said, “Yes! I finally get to see you fat!”  I protested: I have never changed a diaper. I have never held an actual baby. Every diaper I ever put on my dolls fell off immediately, and when they peed water all over the place, I decided it was best not to feed them! I had just moved 1,200 miles away from my mother who instinctively I know is the only person who can make me feel better right now. I am uniquely unqualified for this!

I got off the phone with her, looked at the roomful of boxes and the mountains framed in the window behind them, and I wondered if they made special skis that you can attach to your belly.   

Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE being a mom! I mean, I like the actual mom part of being a mom. My children giggle, or say “You are the best mommy ever,” and the world suddenly seems safe and right and full of hope and endless possibilities. But (come on, you knew it was coming) I have struggled since the moment that little pink line began materializing in that window with my identity and whom I would become when that pointy-headed, tie-dyed bundle of squirmy miracle was finally in my arms. How was this going to change me? Would I get lost forever in this world of Momminess? I decided right then and there; it was official. I didn’t know how, but I was determined to be my brand of mom, not checking my dreams and sense of wonder at the doorway into the portal of parenthood. No minivans or Soccer Mom stickers on my back window; no pre-notification of death outfits that scream “I will never be having sex again in my life after growing this kid!” Nope. I was going to do this my way. Mommyhood, here I come!

Now what?

So whenever one challenges the universe, it never fails to rise to the occasion and challenge right back. Like every challenge, the secret lies in how it’s handled. Naturally, I kind of suck at that when human life is at stake. Needless to say, this mom gig has been a never-a-dull-moment kind of Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you choose to let the screaming child scream, go to page 27 and visualize a bubble bath. If you choose to go pick up the screaming child and try to calm it down, go to page 42 and put earplugs in your can take a shower some other day...

Those days are pretty much in the past. It's a great thing when i can say, "Go get in the car," and by the time I make it to the garage, my kids are strapped in the back seat with their stuff. i've been wondering what to do with us now...I mean, we have two weeks off! "Yea!" but "Hmmmm."

I started googling things to do with boys, and I got some great but really expensive ideas. I immediately went back to what I'd most like to be doing today which is playing in the 6 inches of powder that landed in the Rockies yesterday! I feel a little bit sad that I can't throw my little guy in the 4-wheel drive, head up to the mountains, and learn to snowboard together. Or have a massive snowball fight! It's the sad part of living in the Dallas area--there's just not a lot going on unless your kid is an uber-athlete or you want to spend a small fortune! 

So here's my solution: We are having a date at the Gaylord Texan Ice exhibit, followed by a trip to the Bass Pro Shop, and greasy cheeseburgers WITH bacon! Because there's nothing a good hamburger can't fix!   

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things I'd like to Invent in All of My Spare Time

I'm forever thinking of things I'd like to invent or create. None of them actually exist because I either don't have the time or necessary expertise to produce any of them! Still, they are interesting ideas, and I keep thinking some of them could be the next best-selling item next Christmas! So here's my list, and hopefully the zany little ideas are good for a laugh!

1. Bunk Desks - I share an office with the greatest person! Mindy and I have a great working relationship and laugh all the time, plus we tend to crank out some pretty good stuff. In order to create "good stuff," one needs an unbelievable amount of supplemental stuff. We are just about out of space and starting to spread new stuff out on our floor! Our office is about the size of a dorm room or prison cell...and it's kind of set up the same way. My solution to our space issue is bunk desks! Not sure how the person on the top desk would sit there, but I'm sure a chair on stilts could be arranged!

2. Hairbrush Microphone - In honor of our weekly Dance Party Thursday, which has managed to creep into other days as well, I think my kids and preteen girls the world over would totally go for the real deal. After generations of slumber party veterans have used their hairbrushes to sing their hearts out to everyone from Elvis to Madonna and now every 80s song covered by Glee, a combination hairbrush/microphone would definitely make it into stockings at my house!

3. Taser App - For non-violent purposes only!!! I have walked through New York and taken a wrong turn. This would have come in handy. Come to think of it, I could have also used it on a train in Paris, every single time I took public transportation in Italy, and once in Baltimore when my purse was stolen! As my brother pointed out, it would completely drain the battery, but it might be worth it.

4. Fake Slap App - Because the best thing about those old movies is the SMACK! This way, you don't actually hurt anyone...or reap the consequences of smacking someone. This would work! Open the slap app, whiz that phone through the air in the general direction of the slapee, and SMACK! I think 5th grade boys would be all over that one!

5. High Heel Running Shoes - I love cop and detective shows. I never know how they are able to catch the bad guys running in those stilettos! Then I got to thinking...there are real female detectives and cops who have to chase down bad guys, and there's no, "Wait! Time out while I change my shoes!" So inventing a pair of Jimmy Choo-esque heels that are retrofitted as running shoes would totally solve that problem! Plus, I could run and be taller than an Oompa Loompa!

6. Robo Toilet Cleaners - So this probably won't work, but I sure wish it would! You know those robot vacuum cleaners that run around the house and clean the floors? Well, if they could be water-proofed and miniaturized, I'd love to throw one in the toilet, let it run around and clean the entire thing on a regular basis so I never have to clean another toilet ever again!

7. 365 Reasons to Go To Starbucks - I can't stomach spending $5 on a cup of coffee, unless I am rewarding myself for something. I wonder if I could get Starbucks to contract with me to write a coffee table book or a journal with 365 reasons to get Starbucks! I think they'd go for it! 365 perfectly good reasons to blow five bucks on coffee!

Got any other ideas?

(By the way, retailers, these are now officially copyrighted since they are in written form and you can't steal them unless you fork over some serious cash!) Yeah, I'm sure that'll work....