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My Valentines

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We have an absurd amount of nicknames for each other.

We draw names of restaurants out of a hat to decide where to eat.

We hold entire conversations using only movie quotes.

We make up a lot of songs. And change the words to existing ones to make each other laugh.

We are as comfortable together as we are retreating to our separate spaces.

We love dogs. And King Crab legs. And the beach.

We tackle important topics in our ‘family meetings’ such as who is the toughest.

We always hug and kiss goodbye. There is always an “I love you.”

With you two is my most favorite place to be.

You are my joy, my pain, my friends, my loves.

My Valentines.

lu and rick close

Funny Business

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I just finished reading Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please!” and then, because Amy mentions my other favorite comedienne, Tina Fey, so often in the book, I re-read Fey’s “Bossypants.” I highly recommend both. Fey’s is laugh out loud funny while Poehler’s, while funny too, is endearingly introspective. Both also include hilariously embarrassing childhood photos. I admire these women immensely. Talented, smart, funny, working mothers. What I have long aspired to be. Quick flashback to 1991 and the writer’s room of “Live at Eight”, a sketch comedy show I was involved in while a senior at Washington State University. Although a communications major with plans to enter broadcasting, I enjoyed this foray into scripted and improvisational comedy every Friday night before a live audience. And while relegated often to the “ditzy girlfriend” or “clueless sorority girl” or my personal favorite “crazy wife who eventually gets a pie in the face”, I found I could make the most of my role, no matter the size, and frankly, I was good at it. As graduation approached in the spring of ’91, the writers and performers started tossing around ideas of leaving the wheat fields of Eastern Washington and heading to Chicago to be part of the emerging improv scene. I remember the feeling so vividly of feeling like I could do anything I wanted. That I couldn’t possibly fail. But as the caps and gowns were ordered and my relationship with my boyfriend (now husband) intensified, and the faculty of the Murrow School of Communication awarded me it’s “Talent of the Year” award for my work in news broadcasting, the road to “Second City” seemed less important. Had I traveled that road though, I very well could have been improvising alongside Tina and Amy in Chicago or eventually on a set in New York City live on Saturday nights (as my high school best friend predicted I would), or writing a book about it all. And including hilariously embarrassing childhood photos.

me eating Nillas

I do not for a second regret the road I did take. I trust it’s had just as many failures and successes and laughs. And honestly, there are days when this business feels like one long punchline anyway. (ba-dum-bum) Those improv days actually made me a better news anchor and live reporter, being able to think on my feet, not feeling nervous or intimidated by the unknown, and it’s always fun when a new co-worker discovers I’m not an ice queen but a clown at heart.

acting crazyPossible titles for my book I’m certain I’ll never write:

‘You’re Prettier in Person’

‘Blonde Ambitchin’ ‘

‘Makeshift Memorial: How 2 simple words pushed me over the edge’

‘I Seen You on TV’

‘This is Quite a Life You’ve Carved Out for Yourself’

Story of the year

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A year can’t come to an end in this country or in this business without the proverbial look back. ‘Celebrities we’ve lost’, ‘Top news stories’, ‘Biggest health advancements.’ For me, 2014’s biggest story happened just a few weeks into the new year and it was one I inadvertently became a part of.

traffic

It was 11 a.m. on Tuesday, January 28th when the first flakes of snow starting falling at our home north of the city of Atlanta. Although I don’t normally leave for the station until 1:30, I knew those flakes meant continuous weather coverage and I quickly got on the road for the 30 mile trip into midtown and my job. That would be the last quick thing I would do. As I pulled my husband’s car out onto the main road (his is better in snow) I unknowingly joined about 5 million other people who had the exact same idea at the exact same time and became part of what would become the worst traffic jam in history. I moved only inches in my normal half hour commute time. And only inches more as the clock ticked toward my shift starting and then my newscasts starting and then the sun setting. Snow and the temperatures fell. I went from sheer panic over being late to work on a big news day to frustration that I hadn’t brought any water to relief I hadn’t brought any water because I had to pee so bad I was contemplating doing so in my lunch bag. As I crept by cars in ditches or spinning their wheels or out of gas, I phoned in live reports. I debated more than once getting off the highway but would later be glad I didn’t when I saw scene after scene of the most impossible gridlock on surface streets. The traffic on the highway was at least moving. Hubby’s car with a full tank of gas, combined with the most basic of knowledge gained living in Washington State on how to drive on snow and slush, and nerves and a bladder of steel got me to my destination, 8 hours after I left home. 30 miles in 8 hours. I shuffled into the station on stiff legs, visited the ladies room (hallelujah) and spent the next 24 hours on the air. During a quick break in the wee hours of the morning, we were treated to the uniquely southern combo of chicken and waffles to eat. Had I known as I was stuffing my face that it was the poultry convention that had taken up all of the thousands of hotel rooms in the city thus leaving us to sleep on the floor in the newsroom, I might have passed on the chicken part. As January 30th dawned and the snow melted and people began retrieving their abandoned cars, local politicians started blaming each other and even us at one point for causing what has become known as ICE JAM. If you want to place blame, point the figure not at mother nature but human nature. All of us on the road on the 28th had a singular purpose, to get somewhere safely before the snow and ice hit. To get to our job or home from it. To get our children from school. To be anywhere but sitting in our cars, praying the gas, heater, and batteries (car and phone) hold out as we watch the sun dip below the horizon. Trust me on that. Another winter storm would follow on February 12th. I was at work, with an empty bladder, when this one began. And the chicken contingent had moved on, freeing up a few hotel rooms where we could spend a precious few hours sleeping and slathering on more makeup before talking again for 12 hours.

luggage

Look, most of my family and friends live in a cold climate where snow and to a lesser extent ice, can be a daily occurrence in the winter. They’ve likely enjoyed a few laughs at the idiots in Atlanta who couldn’t get from here because of a dusting of snow. Enough time has passed where I can laugh along with them but that in no way diminishes the fact that in a year that saw Ebola in the U.S., protests over police brutality, and the NFL tackling domestic violence, Georgia’s ICE JAM was THE news story of 2014 for this adopted southerner.

gridlock

Miss Roxy

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For as long as I’ve known my husband, he has wanted a Rottweiler. I remember him mentioning ‘rotties’ when we were dating in college and again when we talked about getting our first dog, a golden retriever named Holly. I have owned many dogs in my life, usually two at a time, and find I am partial to goldens, but never this particular breed. Until now. Yes, just a month after saying goodbye to our golden Henry, my husband found a Rottweiler breeder, did his research, and brought home a new puppy. While we are all for adopting animals from the humane society, we felt with a breed that can be aggressive (although all animals can be) and one that will be 100 pounds or more, it was important we know the health and genetics of its parents and that we train it from the beginning. After perusing lists of German dog names, we settled on Roxy. Truth be told hubby had started calling her that before she even came home so it seemed only right. She is all puppy right now. Boundless energy, razor sharp teeth, insatiable appetite, endless curiosity, and a supreme snuggler. Our cocker spaniel Sadie is warming to her but will most certainly lose the alpha female role here shortly. I know I’m probably supposed to be the alpha female but I’m too much of a softie. Hubs is doing the majority of the puppy ‘work.’ That was our deal. Losing Henry was financially and emotionally draining and I wasn’t fully up to this but I love the man and we love dogs so… here we are. In just two weeks since she joined our family, she’s gained 4 pounds,

Roxy4

2 neighborhood doggy friends,

Rox with friends

about 100 toys (I have a problem),

Rox with toys

and a sister whom she will outgrow in probably two more weeks.

dogs at door

I already can’t imagine our lives without her. Dammit, hubby was right.

Rox in crate

Sober Secondary Education

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ksuIt seems the image we have of college these days has become less of the student carrying books through a leafy campus and more a booze and drug fueled party where everyone is hooking up. The college years are ripe for overindulgence. In everything. And for those already fighting an addiction to alcohol or drugs, the atmosphere can be devastating. A few college campuses (and the number is growing) are working to get ahead of the substance abuse problem and rather than kick students out for their transgressions, help them stay sober and graduate. Kennesaw State University in Metro-Atlanta is one such college. The first in the southeast, in fact, to create a Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery (CYAAR) and it’s offshoot, the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC). Started in 2007, the groundbreaking idea educates students about addiction, guides them through the recovery process, and provides academic support. Once a student is sober for six months, they enter the CRC to maintain their sobriety while surrounded by people who are going through the same thing. I recently interviewed two KSU students about their journey through substance abuse, their failed collegiate experiences, and their involvement with this program. Danny, a senior, is the treasurer of the CRC (many of the students work in the center’s offices before and between classes), and shared with me how he dropped out of several universities before coming to KSU specifically for this program. His friend and fellow student and CRC member, Lindsday, uses her experience with alcohol to educate incoming freshman about the dangers of addiction. She told me those classes, the outreach part of the CRC, is her favorite part, her passion, really, and that she is working toward a degree in the recovery field. Lindsday says the schedule she maintains with the CRC, it’s outreach program, her classes, and homework, is exactly what she needs to stay sober and focused on graduating. She, too had failed at staying in school before. Listening to their stories, I wondered whether with the amount they had on their plates combined with the need to avoid imbibing made for a dull college “experience.” They assured me that they weren’t missing out on anything. Lindsday told me about tailgating parties, movies, concerts, dinners out, all with friends who are members of the CRC. In Danny’s words:

“There’s not a whole lot of other students who are in recovery so, a lot of what you hear in conversations, a lot of what other students do in their spare time is different than what I do in my spare time and it’s good to have a community where I can relate to people.”

I love that KSU is doing something to help its students (and attract new ones) by not ignoring the all too real problem of young adult addiction. That it doesn’t wish to just dismiss the issue and force those students off campus but offer them the same chance at a higher education and degree while supporting their recovery and sobriety. This should be on every college campus in our country.

My story on the program, including my interviews with Lindsay and Danny, and the Director of the Center, Teresa Wren Johnston, airs Wednesday, October 29th at 11pm and again the 30th at 4pm. I will include a link here after it airs.

Henry

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I wasn’t ready to get you. We had recently lost our golden retriever Holly who we’d gotten as a young married couple. Holly was our first glimpse at “parenthood” – could we keep another living thing alive together? Holly was there as we had a baby and moved cross country, twice. Her illness was sudden, the decision to let her go made over the phone as Rick was traveling. I was terrified of being present for the euthanasia so I stayed away. I had let that decision haunt me. The thought of Holly dying surrounding by strangers, albeit caring ones, would bring on a surge of guilt that was almost suffocating. I vowed I would never do that again. That no matter how difficult it might be to make the decision to end an animal’s life and no matter how upsetting it might be, I owed it to this animal to be there. I am reminded of a line from a movie that tackles a much weightier decision, the one of ending a human being’s life. In “Steel Magnolia’s” Sally Field’s character tells her friends after witnessing her daughter’s death as she is removed from life support “I was there when that beautiful creature drifted into my life and I was when she drifted out and it was the most precious moment of my life.” I feel as if the moment of death is an intensely personal one, a passing onto whatever you believe may exist beyond us. It alternately fascinates me and scares the hell out of me. Losing Holly was still raw when we wandered into a pet store not far from our house after dinner one weekend night. In one of the larger cages was a litter of golden retriever puppies. My eyes welled with tears as I looked at my husband and daughter who were eager to fill the void in our lives. Henry was the runt of that litter, skinny with an impossibly small neck.

henrypuppyI picked him up, he snuggled into my chest, and yes, we began the journey again. He would become such an important part of our healing that we added a second dog to our brood a year later. He wasn’t tough. He wasn’t athletic. He had arthritis and skin issues and didn’t retrieve all that much. But he was just about the sweetest thing on four legs. Everyone loved Henry. Neighbors, friends, delivery men, the guys who wash our windows, our families, strangers, other dogs, CATS! He was gentle and loyal and patient beyond words. He followed me from room to room, he welcomed me home late at night, he sat at my feet while I read outside, he kept watch at the front door just in case I didn’t remember it was trash or lawn day. Mostly I remember him walking what seemed like 100 miles on those arthritic legs in the cold Ellijay River, catching tennis ball after tennis ball, following Lucy as she navigated around the rocks or swimming after me as I tubed down the shallow rapids, chasing his sister Sadie along the bank, chewing on sticks, eating marshmallows from our s’mores. He loved the river. So yesterday when it came time to say goodbye to Henry after a sudden illness and organ failure, I stayed with him the whole time, stroking his fur, holding his paw, telling him stories. And long after his wonderful heart stopped beating and his aching body stilled and the doctor left the room, I continued to talk to him about the river and that cool water and all those brightly colored tennis balls and how he was so loved.

HenryriverIt was a most precious moment.

License to drive

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GasGasGas. You got it, go. Yes now. Signal. More gas. BrakeBrakeBrake. Good, honey, good. Brake sooner. Nice and easy. These are the ramblings of a woman teaching her teenager how to drive. Since getting her learner’s permit a week and a half ago she has driven us to lunch, dinners, the grocery store, the car wash, the mall, a friend’s house, her school. Her chores and homework are done quickly so there’s time to “go for a drive.” We haven’t gotten on the highway yet but she did maneuver through the small lane at the ATM. We’ve only ventured out once after dark but she did pull into the garage. Yes, I was terrified she would hit the gas and we would wind up in the kitchen. Kitchen is still standing. There was only about a millimeter in which to walk in front of the car though. She changes my seat settings to impossibly close to the steering wheel. The music must be off. I can’t grip my legs too tightly or stomp my right foot into the floorboard as I slam on imaginary brakes. I can’t talk too much but if I’m too quiet she thinks I’m stressed and then she gets stressed and then that stresses me out. She remembers the all important seat belt but after parking goes to get out while the car is still in gear. She wants to use both feet. She puts those hands not at 10 and 2 but 9 and 3. Which I guess is better than mine which firmly rest at 6:30 most nights. I’m certain she can recall more rules of the road than me and her father combined but as we all know, the real test is when you hit the road and test them rules. I’ve waxed poetic on here about this child. Not a smarter, more conscientious teen has ever taken the wheel of a car before now. And you can’t tell her a thing. She’s got this. Oh, and she doesn’t want to drive mine or her dad’s car when it’s time for her own, thank you. She wants a white Volkswagen Jetta, model year 2015, please. My Mercedes is too old and Dad’s BMW is okay, I guess. Although seeing the parking lot at Alpharetta High she might be onto something. Her eyes roll as we start to say “Do you know what I had to drive at your age?” This rite of passage resonates strongly with me. I remember vividly learning to drive in a small Texas town, sneaking my mom’s car out to meet my boyfriend (mom, let’s not rehash this – I’m still sorry), driving cross country with a pregnant mother as we moved to Washington, looking over to see her sleeping and hoping to God I didn’t kill us, getting my license with my picture in my absolute favorite Ocean Pacific jacket, picking up my friends for school, taking the other members of the cheer squad to a game. All in a Toyota SR-5 with stripes on the sides. That feeling of pure freedom when you don’t have to ask your folks to take you somewhere. Knowing at least the state you lived in considered you an adult. She gets better every day, more confident. She won’t need my stream of consciousness driving lessons much longer. I do hope my voice stays in her head though, “Don’t speed, Don’t panic, Don’t over correct, and Don’t worry, honey, nice and easy, you’ve got this.”

Lucy license

I’m even tightening up my driving skills. Now, let’s not get crazy, the hands will not rest at 10 and 2 tonight. Maybe 9:45.