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What Makes the Waffle House So Special, In the South?

If you are not familiar with The Waffle House restaurant, then you must live under a rock! I have been going to Waffle House since I was in diapers. This place is the Holy Grail for many Southerners. You can meet all sorts of interesting and funny people here. You can also see some of the strangest things on the planet!

For those three of you that have never been to a Waffle House, they serve quick food 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You can go in at any time and get anything on the menu, ‘cause it is always the same. I even ate Thanksgiving dinner at a Waffle House when I was a kid. They do not serve turkey, just FYI. BUT, they serve hash browns that come “smothered, covered, chucked, diced, peppered, capped, topped and country.”

I can recall my mom having a particular attachment to the several Waffle Houses near our home. If you have ever visited Georgia, you know that you cannot throw a rock without hitting a Waffle House. It was so popular when I was a kid, that they built two Waffle Houses at the same exit! One for each direction from the interstate.

At the location that my mom seemed to frequent was the hang out for the Sears Department Store appliance repair men. There would be as many as 10 of them, at any given time, eating breakfast at 10:00 am and slowly drinking coffee. Maybe this is why Sear went out of business, as their repair men were always at the Waffle House. It actually became a running joke that if you did not know where the Sears guy was, check the Waffle House on Lawrenceville Highway. True fact.

Waffle House has provided a place for “good food, fast” for every walk of life. The things that make Waffle House so special are too many to count. However, the one rule I have observed is this, you walk into a Waffle House and you are the same as everyone else! There are no class wars, no one is treated any less Southern than another and you always get called sweet names such as sugar, honey, precious and the like. You can be the president or a vagrant, but here is a place you are always treated kindly and with a little dash of Southern love.

This “love” can come to an abrupt halt, if you lose your manners. I was once at a Waffle House when a batch of rowdy, “mouthing off” boys came into the restaurant. They were strutting their stuff and causing a bit of a raucous in the place. The boys got seated and the waitress came over to take their order.

Now, in most restaurants, I would call a waitress a server. However, to true Southern fashion, a Waffle House “waitress” is a badge of honor. Being a “waitress” at Waffle House is not an easy job, by any means. You have to put up with over the road truckers, drunk people at 2:00 am that can’t read the menu because they can’t see it, deal with flirting customers that find themselves overly appealing and some people are lousy tippers!

Anyway, back to the boys. These dingle-berry-butts proceed to start “talkin’ sass” to the waitress. I could not hear what they were saying, but I saw the waitress walk over to the table with a smile and gave a “how ya’ll” in greeting. In less than 15 seconds, the smile faded from her face and the dark clouds of “bad manners” trailed across her brow. This was not going to bode well for the boys. Trust me. As the waitress’s patience began to dwindle, I called out for my check to pay in order to get the hell out. This was not my first rodeo at a Waffle House.

However, I was unable to move from my seat, like I had a magnet on my butt that held me to the formica seat bench. This was going to be a complete train wreck and I was rubber neckin’ on the show down to come. I already knew who would win, but I had to see the “race” to the finish line for myself. In true Southern style, I kept my eyes wide open and my mouth closed shut!

The waitress finally reaches her volcanic breaking point with these bozo’s. She says nothing as she slowly walks away from the table without a word. Uh, oh. She walks to the back, out of sight into the kitchen room, then shortly, she returns to the table. She looks at the “little brat pack” and SCREAMS across the restaurant. “I WILL CUT YOU FROM TIT TO TOE.” Did I mention she was also holding a butcher knife that looked like a machete. She had it raised in the air and was making mock stabbing motions to illustrate her possible course of action.

Pause to the story for comments. I did not run in fear or have any concerns for my own safety. You see, the waitress was only focused on the problem children in her restaurant. She had no intentions of scaring or harming anyone else in the entire restaurant. As we say in the South, she was protecting her turf. She probably would have done the same to protect another customer, if they were threatened. This restaurant is “their house”, you do not mess with them.

Needless to say, once the brats realized who they were messin’ with, they quieted down considerably and rather quickly. I do not remember, but I think they just got up and left. Good plan, Poindexter’s. I assure you; the rest of the patrons were ready to spring into action if these boys decided to take this waitress “on.” However, most of the waitresses I know do not need “back up”, they can take you out a spoon!

Most people that eat in a Southern Waffle House conform to an etiquette. We take care of our own and we will fight to protect each other. If you come in with sass’n on your mind, we will change it for you, or “assist” you in leaving. This means thrown out on your ear, for those of you now familiar with Southern manners.

You can come to the Waffle house in a 3-piece designer suit with an entourage or in your pajamas and slippers. You will be greeted with the same smiling faces and given hot, delicious food. This is where you can “come home” and be with good people.

As the Cracker Queen, Lauretta Hannon always says, “Wear Mink to the Waffle House!” It is a “come as you are” party every day!

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Embarrassing Your Children

Oh, I am so all for it! Not often, but I do contemplate ways to embarrass my kid for my own personal entertainment! Sad but true.

I find that giving your kids a small dose of embarrassment will help them later in life. I did not say “scar” them, but a little “dabble “of not taking yourself “so seriously” works wonders. We have gotten so “politically correct” that we have lost our sense of humor. We have forgotten playful banter.

Now, I am not a fan of practical jokes. I have never understood that term because most of the jokes do not seem practical to me. How is scarring the crap out of someone practical? Or, how is humiliating someone practical? This is not what I mean when I say embarrass.

I am talking about silliness and “joking up.” Joking up means to lift someone up metaphorically in a humorous and playful way.

For example, each day I drive my daughter to her “tree hugger” school in a carpool. As she gets out of the car, I roll down my window as she exists. As she waves goodbye, I holler out to her that I love her in a silly voice. Her response usually sounds like, “mom, roll up your window” or I get a serious eye roll with a hand wave off. Success, in my opinion.

There is so much seriousness in our lives today. We have become “reactionary” in the ways we communicate. We are quick to blame and ever so painfully slow to forgive. No wonder our kids are having all sorts of social problems.

We need to lighten up and not take ourselves and others so seriously. My mama always said, “just because someone says something to you does not need you need to react to them.” Hum?

We need to teach our kids and ourselves that being embarrassed is not a sin! Being able to laugh at yourself increases self-confidence and maturity. So, when someone else says crappy things to you, you don’t have to believe it or take it to heart.

Example. I am pretty OCD about a lot of things. I already know this about myself. However, from time to time, someone I know decides that I need to be reminded, as if I had forgotten for a nanosecond. It usually involves cleaning. Now, when someone has something to say about my cleaning habits, I just look at them and say, “you are right.” How can anyone argue further if you tell them they are right?

I say be a bit silly or gently poke fun with your kids. Help them learn to laugh at themselves a little. Start with the small things and “joke up.”

My daughter is forever coming home with odds and ends of trinkets she finds when we are out. It could be a figurine, piece of broken clay pot or a bottle cap. I can never comprehend where she finds all this stuff! So, each time she finds something, we joke that she has “eagle eyes.” She thinks this is funny and swells with pride. This is what I mean about “joking up.” I know some parents would not agree with me. Oh, well. Most of them are wound so tight that a sense of humor is equal to a felony charge! I cannot help you with this problem.

Teach your kids that getting embarrassed is an integral part of life. It teaches us about ourselves. Once your kids understand this, they can “arm” themselves in real life situations. Then, just maybe, it won’t hurt so much when someone is ugly to them.

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Styrofoam Poisoning

When I was growing up in the South, my parents worked at least two jobs each. This meant that we ate out a lot! Also, my mother always said that she was “allergic” to cooking! My dad was always too tired to cook. Back then, eating out was not as expensive as it is today.

So, off we go to a restaurant for dinner most nights. There were always leftovers, so we would take home a “doggie bag”, as they were called back then. I could never understand why kids’ meals were so much smaller than the adult dinner servings. In my opinion, most restaurants dinner menu plates were too much for one sitting for most adults. Maybe this is why so many Americans are overweight?

So comes the weekends and I got to eat all of the leftovers! Whooo. I would plow through the boxes like a hungry bear. I would inspect each container to identify the tastiest meals to eat first.

Eventually, I went off to college in another town. Every weekend that I came home, I got to sift through all the doggie bags. Score! I could not afford to eat out at school, so I had to eat at the school cafeteria. If any of you have tried the cafeteria food at school, you would understand my utter delight in having free reign over the goods in my parents refrigerator.

If you have not had the opportunity to try a school cafeteria for meals, I can sum it up for you. It sucked. Besides, no upper classmen would be caught dead eating at the cafeteria, as it was way uncool!

So I would come home from school on Friday afternoons and with great anticipation, then I would head straight for the frig. To my joy, there were always at least three or four Styrofoam boxes in the frig. To me, they were like little “gems” of food in a shell that needed to be explored. I would scoop all of the containers from the frig and lay them out across the counters to explore each container in order to locate the best option for my dinner. I felt like I was eating like a queen. Compared to a school cafeteria, I was.

Of course, this would come to an end on Sunday afternoons, when I had to go back to school and eat Ramen noodles.

After college, I came home to live with my parents for a bit until my dad asked me to move out. He said I was driving my mother crazy. He gave me a wad of cash and told me to find an apartment. Nice.

Even after moving out, I would still raid the frig and do my laundry at their house. Baby steps of independence.

One day it occurred to me that I had never seen my mother eat anything from the takeout Styrofoam containers. I mean never. I wanted to ask why she even bothered to bring food home if she was not going to eat it.

I finally did ask her why she did not eat the leftovers. At first, she just laughed. She told me some story about growing up poor and did not like eating leftovers. I told her the food was the same as it was in the restaurant. She laughed again and said, “well, the food gets Styrofoam poison” from the containers. What?

I proceeded to ask her to explain this phenomenon that I had never heard of before. She said the food never tasted the same way it did at the restaurant as it did when you got it home. This is where she came up with “Styrofoam poisoning.” She said every time she would go to the refrigerator; she would see the Styrofoam containers. She said she just could not bring herself to eat the food from the containers.

So if you are like my mom, you are welcome to borrow the phrase when explaining to your children why you do not eat left overs.

As an adult, I have seemingly taken on this curse of Styrofoam poisoning. I will get a take-out container after my meal, then take it home to my frig. Each time I visit the frig, I will take out one of leftovers in a container out of the frig, examine it, then put it back. This will go on for a few days. I will then go to the frig and dump out some of the containers. Why did I even bring it home if I was not going to eat it?

So the next time you decide to get leftovers to go, you may want to think about the food getting “Styrofoam poisoning!”

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What Happened to Respect for Our Teachers in the Classroom?

I grew up in the South, outside of Atlanta. I attended several public elementary schools and a public high school. We were expected to show respect to our teachers. This was a rule and not a suggestion. Progress reports were sent home weekly and included a report about our behavior in classroom.

For those of you old enough to remember, the progress reports reflected one of three letter grades. “S” was satisfactory, “N” was needs improvement and “U” was unsatisfactory. I was not exactly an “S” student. Not a surprise to many.

Translation, “S” meant you were in the good and clear of punishment, “N” meant you were in trouble but not dead and “U” meant serious violations with possibilities of being sent to boarding school. This is my interpretation, of course.

I recall many friends saying if they got a “U” that their parents threatened to send them to military school. To us, this was the equivalent of being sent to prison camp.

When I got in trouble at school, my teachers would send a note home to my folks. Oh, goody goody gum drops for me!

The thing was, the teachers made you carry the note home from school to your parents in a sealed envelope. This was like carrying your own execution papers to the executioner! Sometimes I would try opening the letter first in order to see what it said. Then, I would meticulously re-seal the envelope before I gave it to my parents.

Um, it seems my interpretation of meticulous was a bit off the mark. Every single freakin’ time I would try to re-seal the envelope, I got busted. That was always a fun few minutes with my mom starting at me like Medusa. Her eyes would shine with the bright, white light that turns you to stone and, out of the corner of my eye, I could see the small snakes slithering out of her head to eat me.

So, I hand over the “death warrant” letter from my teacher to my parents. I mentally start my last Will and Testament in my head. It was pretty short, as I was young, but someone would need to care for all my stuffed animals that would be left behind after my demise. I am pretty sure that I held my breath for over a minute, before the “little stars” from lack of oxygen force me to continue breathing.

I ran through my brain trying to think of what I did to get “the letter” sent home. Unfortunately, due to my classroom behavior, the teacher had several choices to choose from to report. I just wanted to figure out which one she picked to tell my folks!

My parents always started the conversation by asking what I did wrong. I found this to be a trick question.

Now, when I had already opened the envelope, I knew how to answer the question. However, when I had not previously opened the envelope, I felt trapped. What if I bring up the wrong incident? Then I am in trouble two fold! Oh, and not answering my mother was NOT an option.

Luckily, I thought most of my infractions were not any lack of respect for my teachers. It was usually me not paying attention and talking too much while the teacher was teaching. Surprised?

My mother did not agree with me. Here we go! As I watched the small snakes swarm around her head, she explained to me that my behavior was a lack of respect to the teacher.

I think to myself, how does this make sense? I said, think, not speak. Never stop a Southern mother when she is lecturing. If you do, the lecture lasts a lot longer and a possible butt whoopin’ will ensue. Just keep quiet, trust me on this.

I came to understand her point and realized that she was indeed correct.

These days, I see far more than talking too much in class that shows disrespect to our teachers. Unfortunately, I see it in parents as much as the students.

When I was in school, if you got in trouble, it was your fault. Now, I see parents blaming the teachers, cause’ “their kid” could not possibly be at fault, “my sweet angel face. What did that mean teacher say to you, my pudding cup.”

Pudding cup, my foot. Your little “he/she devil “is ruining the class atmosphere for everyone. You are lucky the teachers have kept your kid from getting a “smack down” by the other kids.

It is our responsibility as parents to teach our kids respect and appropriate behavior in a classroom, and everywhere else for that matter.

Teachers have all of the responsibility to educate your child in the classroom, but with extremely limited recourse to enforce discipline. This is because parents go off the deep end whenever their precious little Johnny is corrected or called out by a teacher.

Parents, let me ask you to think on a point, in all honesty. When you get a notice that your kid gets “in trouble” at school, what is your first thought? Be honest, do you think it is your kid at fault or the teacher’s fault? Thoughts that make you go, hmmmm.

Regardless of your answer, ponder this. Are your kids respectful of you at home? Do your kids show respect when they go out in public, say to a server or a cashier? Do your kids get to see you show respect to others? Such as, not being on a cell phone when checking out at a store. (This is my big pet peeve.) I know most of us are in an all fire hurry most of the time, but your kids are watching. Lastly, do YOU show respect to your kids?

Most teachers I have had and now know personally are dedicated educators. These teachers take a heartfelt approach to molding your children into happy, successful adults. Many teachers spend their own money to add to the classroom experience. There are those that sacrifice their own “off time” to help your child succeed.

That “tree hugger” school my kid attends is a testament to the power of influence each teacher has in her growth and social development. I am sure you have teachers at your kids’ school that strive for the same thing. Do not waste this resource.

Being respectful requires kids to see it in action. It may require practice. At our house, we use TV shows to watch people interact, then discuss if the interaction was respectful or not. And who said there was nothing good on TV?

Our teachers deserve respect from the kids as well as the parents. They are human beings with feelings of their own. Teachers nurture you kids and, in some cases, love them as their own.

Let’s help our kids and ourselves to return to a time where respect is earned and appreciated. As parents, that may mean we have to work on ourselves first. Then, so be it. Start there. I guarantee, if you reach out to a teacher, she will meet you halfway!

To all of the teachers at my daughter ‘s tree hugger school, I applaud you as educators. One step more, each of you has instilled in my daughter what it means to be a warrior, a friend, a confidant, and the confidence to move into adulthood. For all of this and more, I am eternally grateful.

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“Mommy, Wear Do Babies Come From?”

Awe, snap! My daughter asked me this question recently. I knew this question was coming, but she is only nine years old! I thought I had more time to come up with some answers for this, barring the truth, I mean. It felt like I was having a “pop quiz” that I had failed to study for, like in school.

I have always tried to be as honest as possible with my daughter, so the “stork story” was not an option. Although, tempting at the time. It would be so easy just to fill her mind with a myth and hope for the best. However, I know this could lead to more problems down the road.

I responded to her with the “template” mommy answer of, “we will talk about it later.” I, of course, was stalling for time. Dang it, where do I begin? How do I explain and not gross her out? Sometimes it even grosses me out.

I guess I should have known it was coming, since I have noticed that all of her Barbie dolls and boy dolls were naked on her playroom floor. I walked in on her playing and she has Barbie smooching a Ryan Doll! Eh gads!! It looked like a miniature nudist camp! Naked Barbie’s as far as the eye can see. A Barbie-Palooza, if you will.

I did manage to find some age-appropriate books for her to review. Of course, she got all embarrassed by the books. She was also afraid to read them around her dad, for obvious reasons. Her dad has made it clear that she is not allowed to date until she is 40! Oh, my husband has lots of guns too. (We are “packing” here in the South.)

So, I taught her a trick. I told her to locate a book larger than the “new” book, open the bigger book to the middle, then put the new book in the center and read! Voila! I just prayed her dad would not take notice of my trick.

She and I also talked about the need for her to come to me when her friends had comments about this baby thing. I did not want her to believe some of the mistruths her friends have picked up from others. Kids think that everything they hear is the truth, without question.

A few days later, she told me that one of her friends said that you can get pregnant but kissing a boy on the mouth and getting his saliva in your mouth. Who came up with that one? If that were true, I would have been pregnant 100 times by the time I was 17.

It’s not like I want to encourage her to do these things, but I did not want her to be uneducated about it either. Kids are going to experiment whether you give them knowledge or not. If you think this is not true, then you are mistaken. Knowledge is power.

I want to empower my daughter to make her own choices for what she wants, not by lies being told to her or by pressure from others. Good heavens, I empathize with parents who are going through this too!

We keep going back to the books and talking. She also told me she is learning about “our bodies are changing” stuff at school. I applaud that “tree hugger” school she goes to for starting these conversations. It gets the conversation started at home with a bit of ease. Sorta.

I am not saying to address the “gory details”, but to speak as plainly as possible. I have also learned only to answer the questions she has asked. Do not elaborate, as that can be a slippery slope!? Something like Pandora’s Box. Trust me. I have done this more than once with extremely bad outcomes.

Just know that your kids know when you are lying. Be as honest as you can. They ARE going to do things without your knowledge, so try to keep the communication “open” with them.

Again, my daughter comes home from school with more questions since another kid had told her another mistruth. I do not blame the other kid as she was only repeating what had been said to her. We must stop lying to our children.

My daughter was told that babies come out of your belly button. What? So off we go down the slippery slope of correcting this idea. I simply explained the “anatomy” difference between boys and girls, an overview if you will. This was met with an “oh, gross”, from my kid.

It has been my experience that the books fall very short with helping my daughter understand “baby making” for her age level. The books also do not seem to address hormone changes and feelings that are new to them.

I have tried reading “parent books” that teach you how to talk to your kids about babies. It turns out, my daughter already knows more than the books! Duped again! Can’t a mom get a break?

My daughter did try to breach the subject with her dad once. He took the “parent template” approach, as well. He told her, “go ask your mother.” Thanks, honey, ‘precciate that.

Maybe I should send her to camp with Dr. Ruth? Probably too early for that, though.

I, myself, was an “ooppss” baby. For those of you not familiar with the term, that means that my mother had not planned to have a baby when she had me. Mom said that she was so busy being a “progressive woman” that she was not properly educated on the full process of having a kid. So, here I am. She also told me that boys and girls may talk about having babies, but that as the girl, “you are the one carrying the bullet for nine months.”

As of today, I will continue to stumble along my path to educate my daughter about where babies come from, hoping that I do not scar her for life. I am rarely at a loss for words, but just let that question come up and my brain goes blank!

If you are a parent going through the same situation, I feel your pain. It is never easy to explain things to kids on their level. My plan is to keep trying to share small pieces of “correct” information as we have our little talks. However, I am keeping the “stork story”, as a backup plan.

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Borrowing Things from People from the South

When I was growing up in the South in Georgia, we would borrow just about anything such as tools, dishes, cars, etc. Instead of buying a whole bunch of stuff you would rarely use, we would locate someone in the neighborhood that might have what we needed for a short time. In true Southern fashion, we would readily allow others to borrow what they needed from us.

This does not seem to be the case these days, as evidence by the copious amount of power tools in my garage. We have a two-car garage with an extra room on the back. We can not even get ONE of our cars in the garage due to the massive amounts of “man toys” we currently own! I would give you a hundred bucks if you could identify one tool that my husband DOES NOT own. (This excludes the “trailer park alley” that exists behind my garage with every piece of rusty scrap metal from years of, “I may need that one day.” From my husband)

When you borrowed something from someone from the South, there were certain rules and expectations of the borrower. One, you return the item in a timely manner, say, when you were done with it. Two, and most importantly, you returned the item in better shape than when you borrowed it. For instance, if you borrow someone’s car, you would return it with a full tank of gas. That is called “having manners”. If you borrow a dish or a tool, clean it up before you give it back.

If you broke what you borrowed, either fix it or replace it as best you can. And for the love of heaven, do not lose it! Or, at least, when people would not return our stuff they would “claim” they lost it.

If you think that if you borrow something and keep it for an extended period of time that it “becomes yours”, you are gravely mistaken. Rarely do we Southerners forget that you have something that belongs to us. I can not tell you how many times my husband and I have talked about a neighbor and there is a comment made about what the person has of ours that has not yet been returned. Example, “You know, I saw Bill today and he was telling me about how work is stressing him out.” My husband will reply, “Really, maybe he could take some down time and look for that screwdriver he borrowed from me 6 months ago.” Now, we may not say anything directly to Bill, but every time we talk about him the screwdriver comes up. I can’t say that I am much better, though.

I am not against loaning things to people, but I do have some things that I will not let others borrow. I will not loan out anything that I will get too upset about if I do not get it back.  This way I will not have to talk smack about you if you forget to return what I loaned you.

I also like to be aware of the “frame of reference” of the person I let borrow from me. By this I mean, do you know from previous experience, how timely the person will return what they borrowed from you? Have you heard others tell you about experiences with certain people borrowing from them? Do you know anyone that you think may not bring back what they borrowed from you?

Case and point. I had a male friend, whom we will call Ryan, who wanted to borrow a music CD that I loved. He promised that he would make a copy and give it back to me. So, against my better judgment, I loaned him the CD with clear instructions to return it to me. The CD was from the band The Charms. This was a local band that only played in small bars and sold their CD’s at events. It was not like I could go to Amazon and buy it. (And, this was long before Amazon existed.)

A few weeks later, I see Ryan and ask him about the CD. He states he “forgot” to make a copy and would get it back to me. Remember, he wanted to “borrow” it, it was not a gift. I began to see that I had made a mistake. So, I wait.

Several more weeks go by and no CD. I see Ryan and he always had some sort of excuse for not returning the CD. He seemed to think this was no big deal, but he is a guy after all, no offense. I tried to remind him that he could attend the next concert for the band and buy his own CD. This had no effect on him at all. He just stared at me like I had food on my face. (I might have.)

Eventually, I realized that I was not going to get my CD back. I had to take action.

So, I called my “bestie”. She knew Ryan well. I tell her about the CD and my attempts to recover it from Ryan. Her response, “good luck.” Dang it, that was not what I wanted to hear. I told her that I just wanted to go over to his house and get it back!

Suddenly, my devious mind kicked in and said, “well, why not?” I conned my bestie into coming with me. At the time, I also thought it best to go to Ryan’s house when he was not home. I realize this would be considered “breaking and entering”, but we did not break anything when we entered. That was because I squeezed through a window. It was also not stealing, as I was only coming for MY CD. I am not sure the police would have agreed with me on this one.

I get in the house with my bestie and start trying to locate the CD. I am so nervous and scared that I almost threw up and wet my pants at the same time. I got so nervous that I started to giggle and whisper to my bestie. I can not tell you why I was whispering, as we were the only two people in the house.

I did find the CD and take it with me when we departed the house. We made sure we did not touch anything else as to ease my guilt. Of course, Ryan later discovered it was gone. All he did was laugh about us getting into his house. However, this was the last time I ever let Ryan borrow anything. I bought him a couple of beers to make up for it.

Obviously, this was an extreme case, but you get the point. By the way, this was not my last time using this tactic to get something back. However, this was years ago, and cops did not have Taser guns to catch people breaking in someone’s home back then.

So, if you have things in your home that you have borrowed from someone else, find it and give it back. It was borrowed with the expectation of it’s return. If you can not find it, go buy another one. If you can’t buy another one, find out what you can do to make amends.

Just know, if you loan something to someone from the South, we may have to “visit” your house, while you are not home, in order to retrieve our item. Make sure your windows are locked, too. I am just sayin’.

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Our Kids Are “Dying on the Vine”, Even in the South

I have spoken out about this before, but it seems it needs to be “re-visited.” Our kids’ brains are going to “mush” with all the lack of opportunity for real imagination and creativity time. Most people I know have kids that not only have school activities, but multiple after school activities. When do kids get time to just play? If your kids have no time to get “bored”, then how are they supposed to learn how to create fun? How do they have time to dream up stories or create new things?

I see so many kids trying to “keep up” with demands of their parents and teachers. I watch kids who cannot “entertain” themselves for five minutes without someone else telling them how to do so. How are we to teach our kids to be “leaders, movers and shakers” if they are not given the opportunity to think for themselves.

I know kids need structure in order to thrive. My dad’s solution was to send me outside into the yard to rake leaves. Boring! Yes, it was. However, I remember in those times that when my mind was painfully numb to the monotony of the raking of leaves, my mind would wander into different stories to explain my plight. One was I was enslaved by an evil king that would not let me have food if I did not rake leaves. Another, I was an enchanted princess under a spell that could only find her release from imprisonment if I raked leaves. Do you see my point?

I know people’s lives are very fast paced and stressed, most of the time. But, do you want this for your children?  Ask any kid today about the pressures in their lives and you may be shocked to hear their responses.

I remember being young and at home with my folks on a “slow” weekend. I would slothy drag myself into the living room to see what was going on and tell my parents that I was bored. My parents would say, “boredom is the inability to use your brain and gives you the opportunity to create” or “boredom shows a lack of imagination.” Well, this sounded like “bunk” to me. I would then slink off to my room to contemplate how to entertain myself.

Surprisingly, after a short time, I would be off on adventure with either toys or games that I made up in my room. Sometimes, I would go outside and find friends that would play all sorts of running games or searching for insects. I discovered that a large cardboard box could be a castle, a spaceship, a lemonade stand, a “hideout” or a secret lair for a good or an evil lord. I could also “dig a hole” into the dirt in order to reach China. (That one never worked out.)

Every generation says that the next generation is spoiled. That is because it is true, from their frame of reference. My grandparents told us our parents were spoiled and my parents told me that my generation was spoiled. This will continue until the end of time with humans.

Conversely, I have also heard elder generations state the pressures and social expectations on the younger generations is more severe than when they were young. It presents a “social dichotomy” for parents. (I made this phrase up.)

As parents, we always want what is best for our children. There are all sorts of old books and “parenting” articles published to tell us what we need to be doing as parents to help our children. Most of these books were written when The Beatles were famous. I say, toss those out! Reach back in your own mind, to what made you happy as a kid. Remember your fun times with family, friends and school mates that made a day great. Then, re- create that for your kids! If one idea fails, try another and then another. Give your kids time to “learn to play.” It is a skill that has to be learned. It may take time for the kids to “change their mind set” and learn to create without being directed.

We have reached epidemic proportions of troubles with children, from bullying, poor grades, heavy homework loads and suicide. I do not think that I would survive the pressures kids are under to perform today. It has been scientifically proven that the more kids get outside, and off electronics, allows them to build confidence, perform better in school and are less susceptible to bullies and depression. I guess raking leaves was for more than just lawn care.

Take a moment and really look at your kid(s). Are they happy? Are they getting enough sleep? Do they get outdoors at least once a day? (This does not mean getting out of the car to go into the house.) Teach them how to use a lawn mower and you have “killed two birds with one stone.”

I just recently had a conference at my daughter’s school to review her performance for the previous semester. My daughter got to lead the conference! What an empowering event this was for her. Remember, my daughter goes to this wonderful “tree hugger” school, as I call it, but this works for her! She has no homework that is required to “turn in” to the teachers. However, the teachers give recommendations for reading assignments, typing on the computer and math activities that we can do at our leisure. We use this direction from the teachers to help her learn life skills in her daily life, such as calculating the tip at a restaurant (without the cell phone calculator), reading the entire menu to us before we order, she reads street signs and billboards while driving in the car and she calculates the change after a transaction. This is the stuff the real world is made of. At the same time, she is learning.

Research shows that the United States has the fifth highest rate of childhood obesity on the planet! This puzzles me as I cannot drive down the street without passing at least five work out facilities. There are also all sorts of places that children can be physically active from paint ball games, trampoline parks and rock-climbing walls. There are multiple state and federal parks that have endless walking and hiking trails, many of them are free to use.

I present you with a challenge. Everyone in the house gets off all electronics for a few hours. Show your kids what a good time really is by doing something as a family. Be “present” for your child to allow them to feel like you really hear what they are saying. It may be uncomfortable, at first. Change always is.

After your “fun” is over, look at the faces of your family. Notice some relaxed shoulders and small smiles. Feel the renewed sense of “connectedness” with your kids. It is in this space that your kids know you love them and feel comfortable talking with you about anything.

Don’t believe me? Try this idea at least three times and see what happens!

Happy No Electronics Day!

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How Do You Mend a 15-Year-Old Girl’s Broken Heart?

I was around 13 years old  when I met him. My memory does not serve me well these days. However, my heart seems to remember him vividly. My brain does not recall all of the details, but my heart was forever “stamped” with the idea of him. Awe, how cute.

He was my first real “crush”, as my mom called it. To me, he was my first true love. You remember, that pit in your stomach that felt like you could barely breath around that person. You had sleeping dreams of grandeur. You thought about them all the time, to distraction from your everyday life. You felt like you were suffering until you saw them again. I know! I have been there.

What makes a 15-year-old girl feel so strongly? I am going with hormones and he had a great sense of humor. He was also a few years older than me, which was “hot.” He would do the goofiest things to make me smile. All I had to do was see him and my face would light up the like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center! I was completely transparent in my adoration for him. Sap.

We were able to have some really fun times together. I got to know his family and he got to know mine. My parents even lifted the “you cannot date until you are sixteen” rule and let me go out with him. I had to have a friend come too, so his brother came along. I still remember all the fun I had on that one date.

We were able to see each other often at places teenagers hung out. He would also come to my house and spend time with me there. He would tell me funny stories and teach me the latest dance moves. This went on for a few years. I could barely stand it in between the times I was with him. Ughh.

However, he always seemed to “keep his distance” with me. At the time, I did not notice. I was just thrilled to be around him. What a dork.

One day, he came to see me, and we talked for what seemed like forever. I do not recall what all was said, but I remember thinking that I finally got to hear how he really felt about me, and it was good. I recall him talking about keeping his distance and that it was not for lack of affection for me. Good enough for me! As he left, I felt so much joy. I was almost 16 and hoped my parents would let us date.

Unfortunately, things had to change. I did not know that change would happen in 24 hours.

He had recently graduated from high school and was making his career plans, unbeknownst to me. I was informed the next day that he had left town. What? I finally got him to admit his feelings towards me and now he is gone?

Sparing the horrifically, painful details, it was a rough few months after that. I spent hours a day trying to figure out what happened and why he left. I came up with bubkus. All I knew was that he was gone, and my heart was broken. True to teenager drama, I was inconsolable. I moped around like a kid without a dog.

It took me years to try and understand what happened. I made up solutions in my head that gave me comfort, though I never got to validate them from him. I took solace in knowing that at least I had the time that I did with him, however brief. Sometimes when life seems overwhelming, I recall those times we spent together. It brings me much joy now and I can smile.

As I got older, I realized what a gift he was to me. I was a starry eyed, naive, 15-year-old girl who would have done just about anything for his attention. He never “took advantage” of my affections. For this, I am grateful.

I later realized he must have had a tough time with me forever starting at him with googley eyed, infatuation. It must have been difficult for him to know he was leaving and not be able to tell me.

These days, when I think back on those times he and I spent together, I feel the happiness of those years. I now remember funny stories and ways only he could make me laugh. I remember our only date and the fun I felt being with him.  I took comfort in knowing that at least he had cared for me.

Now when I think of him, I feel that 15-year-old girl smile and feel that her heart is no longer broken. Thank you, Shawn.

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Being Popular is Highly Overrated

Popular is defined by as “liked, admired, or enjoyed by many people or a particular person or group.”

I can say that being popular is highly overrated, because I was NOT popular, ever. Most people refer to “popular” as when they were in high school. I will stick with that for a minute, but then move onto real life.

High school is not real life. It may feel like it at the time, but we all know everything changes when you get out of high school. I did not like high school that much, as it always seemed to be a popularity contest and I always lost. I was not a “jock” or a “homecoming queen.” I kept to my batch of close friends and tried to “fly under the radar”, most of the time. I also had other friends outside of my high school that helped keep me out of the school politics.

I did keep up with the “popular” kids, because that is what teenagers do. Whether you liked the popular kids or not, you could not help yourself, as a teen, but to see what “they” were doing. I would tell my friends that I did not care about being popular, but that was because I was not!

I would watch the cheerleaders at football games with their cute, little outfits and shiny, bright smiles jumping about. I would see the football players strut down the halls of the school like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. I watched the pretty girls as they “held court” at their lockers in between classes. I saw the basketball stars swagger into the lunch room like a rock stars taking stage at a concert. None of this ever happened to me.

When I walked down the school halls, I looked like a TV episode of The Three Stooges. I would trip on my own feet or run into other people or a locker. I was forever dropping my books and late to class. My first year in high school was abysmal. It got a little better the next year, but not by much.

When I entered high school, it was grades 8 through 12, we did not have a middle school. My school was situated on a very large hill side. This meant that the 8th grade boys were constantly being tossed down the hill by the upper classman. This did not seem to happen to the girls, Shoo, at least I was a girl!

I did have one friend that I met in sixth grade and she was exceptionally popular in high school. Her name was Jennifer and yes, she was beautiful and a cheerleader. She was nice to everyone, no matter who you were. I loved that about her.

Jennifer was the one that taught me the “dark side” of being popular. She told me stories about her family and the pressures of being popular. She explained that there were times that she felt like she had to do things that she did not want to do in order to please the other popular teens. Of course, she had a boyfriend who was the star football player. She tired to break up with him several times, but the pressure from her peers always sent her back to him.

I realized that everyone has their own pressures and expectations placed on them by others. I felt bad for Jennifer as she always had to put on a happy face, when she was really sad sometimes.

What makes someone popular anyway? I could never figure that out or I would have done it!

After high school, I went onto college. There were still issues with being popular, but it did not seem to matter as much.

As an adult, popularity is not really an issue anymore. Your world is no longer defined like the way it was in high school. At least, not to well adjusted people. Some folks never get over their high school years and continue to live life that way.

Once I hit the working world, I found that there were still “popular people.” It could be with others at work, neighborhood people or organizations like volunteers at my kid’s school. I could pick out who the “popular parents” very easily, as they seemed to glide through life like a parade on Fifth Avenue. They seem to always be smiling and stop to chat with others along their way. I see some of the women dressed to “the nines”, while I look like someone just sprayed me down with a garden hose before I left the house. Who has the time to look that spectacular on a daily basis? I find that it takes way too much work and let’s face it, I am lazy.

What actually makes a person popular? Is it good looks, wealth or personality? Could it be athletic ability or being the “class clown”? Maybe it was something else.

From personal experience, I can tell you that being popular did not make your life any easier than anyone else’s. In fact, it could make your life even more difficult.  This I learned from Jennifer.

These days, I am old and do not care as much about what people think of me. I do not worry about being popular, as I did in high school. I am too dang busy trying to keep up with life.

As I have aged, I find that I try more to worry about being kind instead of popular. (Still working on the kindness thing.)

If you are worried about being popular, you are wasting your time and energy. Focus on what really matters in life. Being popular is over-rated, too much work and there are no known perks. Just ask my friend Jennifer.

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What Is It About Hospitals That Scares the “Mess” Out of People?

I mean, besides the fact that many people die while they are there. That issue aside, what gives?

In my former life, I was in the medical field for many years. I have visited almost every hospital in the metropolitan area of Atlanta many times. I have walked patient room halls to meet clients, met with all kinds of doctors and nurses and reviewed medical records until my mind went numb. Medical records review is lengthy, heavily boring and requires mental stamina. Half of what medical staff documents, in the medical records, are never read by anyone!

I am also aware that hospitals are usually one “big cootie factory” after another. It is not the hospitals fault, honestly. Think about it, you cram dozens of people who are sick and/or immuno suppressed into one small space. Of course, you are going to have all kinds of crap floating around in the air and living on the walls. Ask any surgeon and he/she can tell you how many “cooties” are living in their nose membranes. Conversely, people who work in hospitals reportedly have the strongest immune systems.

However, what make a person completely freak out when told they have to go into a hospital? I have already checked and the boogey man does not live there. He actually lives under your bed, but that is for another time.

I recall a time when a friend and I went to visit someone in the hospital after a surgery. My friend had warned me that she did not like hospitals, but I did not think much of it at the time.

I drove us both to the hospital and we make our way through the halls of the patient rooms. We are less than halfway through the football field distance to the room and my friend hunches over her knees. I was talking to her at the time and noticed she was not walking next to me anymore. I look back and she is leaned over with her hands on her knees. She is breathing like a track sprinter and was just as red in the face. Ah, she meant she “really” did not like hospitals, after all. Silly me.

I do my best to calm her and try to ensure that she does not pass out, like a new dad seeing his baby being born. She did manage to breath and oxygenate her brain enough to continue walking to the room.

My friend did make it through the extraordinarily short visit, but she kept shifting her weight from one foot to the other and rubbing her arms like she had hives or a bug on her.

So, what gives? Please enlighten me, people. I realize that no one really wants to go to a hospital, but why does it seem like a traumatic event for some?

Most people leave the hospital better than when they arrived. However, I see so many people who are a patient or a visitor visiting a hospital that seem to require a Valium just to walk through hospital doors!

The idea of a hospital is to make you well, not hyperventilate and puke. Although, I have seen a lot of people “lose their lunch” when getting medications. The sight of needles has the same effect on several people that I know, too.

I actually know a few people that will not enter a hospital at all, neither as visitor nor as a patient. This strikes me as odd, as most people are born in a hospital!

One last category is those “addicted” to going to the hospital. There are multiple reasons for these folks to go to the hospital, but few of them are reasonable. Most of them were “mental” in nature.

When I worked at an inpatient hospital, I came to recognize these particular people and noticed their frequency to come in. Who has that kind of free time anyway?

Many times folks just wanted to be seen, heard and validated. So, that’s what we would do for them. The patient always got “checked out” by a doctor in order to make sure nothing was truly medically wrong, then some sort of counselor or social worker would meet with them for assessment.

I soon realized that there are a lot of crazy people in the world! Many of them are roaming hospital halls like a sorority house pledge.

What a lot of people fail to realize is that hospitals run 24/7. Christmas, New Year’s and every other holiday is basically just another day in a hospital. People do not get sick or injured on a schedule. I know this because I have worked many holidays and seen the strangest things.

So, I wondered, why do so many people have such a heinous aversion to hospitals?

I surveyed the friends I have that avoid hospitals. The list included the “smells”, sick people make them nervous and they did not watch to catch any “cooties.” I understood these responses, but still could not figure out why this kept them away.

If you are a person that avoids hospital, stay well! I feel for these people that have an aversion to hospitals, but many times I still do not understand.

What I can tell you from years of personal experience, working in various hospitals, is that most people working at a hospital have your well being close to heart. The people I worked with were willing to sacrifice time with their own families to care for others. I have watched doctors take a seat in a patient’s room to spend time and chat about things other than illness. I have had nurses dance with me at a patient’s bedside to gain a small smile of delight from a patient who could not get out of bed. I have worked with other therapists to assist patient’s in taking their first steps after a debilitating injury and watched as their faces regain hope of living.

I have also sat at a patient’s bedside, talking to the families, as “the life force” was slipping away from their loved one. I have given and received millions of hugs of joy and in sorrow.

So, I realize going to the hospital is not a day at the beach. Just know, if you have to go, there are people there that really do care about you and your health. And if worse case scenario, take a Valium before you go. Just let someone else drive you.