The Summer of the Purse

It is summer.
Summer is my favorite. Though it isn’t all perfect–the air is hot and thick and heavy and crawls down my throat every time I walk out the back door with the dog—it is perfect enough. It is all my children home without the pressures of exams and projects. It is turning off of the alarm clocks and letting the rising light along the river or the hungry snorts of the dog wake me up. It is trips to summer camps and grandparents’ houses and the beach. It is skating every Monday night with friends. It is the anti-May.

This summer has been everything I had dreamed it would be in May when I was pushing around a popcorn machine and occasionally trapping myself under its weight. It has been more than I had dreamed, actually. Because on top of the things I already loved about most summers, in this summer, we have all grown up a little bit.

Andrew got a job. He works at a place that takes much of his money anyway, Smoothie King. It doesn’t pay a lot, but he loves it, and it does pay more than watching Netflix while eating ramen in bed. Brady got his learner’s permit. That experience deserves its own post. He changed shirts twice before heading to the DMV, posed more than once for his picture, and re-did his signature 5 times before finally accepting that he has the worst autograph of any 15-year-old ever. He has yet to drive a car. Lucy, who has been 13 for a decade, will actually turn 13 in less than 2 weeks. She is almost 5’8” and her look of maturity bites us at all the wrong times and never comes in handy when she hopes to work out in a gym. Soon, all things will be right and she will be as 13 in reality as she’s been in every other way. Jenna is still my little nugget, but she can beat me at Wordscapes, and sometimes I ask her to help me when I’m stumped.

But then there’s me. I’m pretty old now. The only growth I seem to experience lately is the kind that comes from too many trips to Kilwin’s when I’m staying in a town that has one. But not this summer. This summer, I’m making some changes myself. There are some significant ones that I don’t particularly want to detail. If I change, people will know. If I don’t, I don’t have to skulk away like the loser I have become. No one will know. What people will know, and what some already do, is that I now carry a purse. Bam. Did that.

For 10 years, I’ve been carrying around my wallet, my keys, my sunglasses, whatever book I’m reading, and my planner like a woman who escaped from a Memory Care facility. For awhile there, I had a diaper bag and I could shove my belongings into that or the nooks and crannies of a stroller. But when the diaper bag went away, so did my organization. And it isn’t pretty.

After dropping my boys at a summer camp in North Carolina, I parked myself at a rented Airbnb with the 2 friends to spend the week tubing, rock sliding, visiting Kilwin’s, and trying to find a cable to link together my wallet, keys, sunglasses, and holocaust literature that I picked up for some light reading. I was thinking through this when I made my announcement.

“I think it’s time for me to buy a purse.”

“Ok,” the Informinator responded. “Whatever.” We had some time to kill on Sunday night and there was only one place still open. TJ Maxx. Once inside, there were plenty of purses, but that didn’t guarantee a successful mission. The first one I gravitated to was a mustard yellow. I held it up to Elaine and parted my lips to speak. She beat me to it.

“That’s a no,” she said firmly. “A hard no.”

I continued to comb the aisles, looking for the right fit. The next selection came to me through my fingers, not my eyes. I was sifting through the bags with one hand as I wandered and my hand rested on the softest leather I’ve ever been in the same room with. It was like the butt of a living horse. It was beautiful. I held this one up to Elaine.

“That’s not a purse, it’s a backpack,” she stated the obvious. “And it’s a big backpack.” She was right. It was the kind of leather backpack you’d put all your electronics in to travel to a business meeting in another state. It was also not a cheap backpack. I turned the price tag over and saw that it was $99. At TJ Maxx. Yikers. I put it back on its hook, but with a darkness in my heart that comes from being told no by a parent or some person that wants to give you raisins on Halloween. I kept coming back to that $99 oversized airport backpack that wasn’t a purse at all. But eventually, I walked away and bought 4 shirts for less than the price of the one backpack.

If I had a purse, I could have put the shirts in it. I walked away without a purse.

Days went by, with the wallet and the keys and the sunglasses and the reading glasses and the book about the son and his dying mother. I was picking up receipts along the way. I had become quite a spectacle. But on Tuesday afternoon, while wandering in the Mast General Store, which might be the best store ever built with bricks and mortar, my gaze landed on a couple of little llamas. One of them was buck-toothed and up to no good. The other one looked like it wanted to run away. They weren’t real llamas. They were fabric. On a purse. I loved it. And I bought it. For $32. I put my wallet in it. And my keys. And my sunglasses. And I bought some reading glasses, just to put them in the purse. Peepers brand, no less. And a self-help book. And some year-old double bubble that was way overpriced.

I didn’t know that a llama purse would change my life, but it has. Not once in the last week have I gotten into my car without the car key. Because the key is in the purse. Not once have I wondered where the phone is. (It’s in the purse.) Today, all the way out in Austin, Texas, in the middle of Lake Travis, not far from the homes of Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock, I had my purse. And by George, even in the middle of a lake, it came in handy. Need a waterproof phone pouch? It’s in the purse. Trash bag? Purse.

So it’s been a great summer so far and I’m calling it the summer of the purse.

I’ve only been let down once and it was today. Today I rifled around in that bag for some sunscreen. There was none.

That little oversight is going to hurt for about a week. But then I’ll peel off my little mistake, put some sunscreen into the llama bag and walk on.

With my purse.

Samson and Bernie

Storm Prep

Rain thrashes against a small, wooden bungalow where the floors slope at strange angles. At unpredictable intervals, the neighborhood hills light up with strobe-like flare and the thunder drops like artillery.

I am well accustomed to thunderstorms. Especially lately. But there is something about navigating one in a new place that intensifies the experience. The terrain that lights up is unfamiliar. The shadows are foreign. The echoes of thunder are bouncing off of trees and houses you’ve never seen before. As I listen to the sounds of the weather outside and the alerts about the weather on my phone, I half expect the storm to come inside. I don’t know this house. How do I know it won’t?

Maybe it is this storm or maybe it’s this morning’s walk in the Oakdale Cemetery, but I got to thinking. And it’s long past time to sleep, but I can’t stop myself from thinking. About storms. And storm prep.

I have been sitting here considering what makes one storm more frightening than the next and what makes a storm scary in the first place. I came up with a few things.

Where you are matters. When I was on a 35 foot sailboat with my friend and her dad, I was on the storm’s turf and in the most volatile spot on earth at that moment in time. I felt a little differently about that approaching storm versus the one I watched hit the rented bungalow tonight.

How you prepare matters. When you build a house in Tornado Alley, you can prepare by building a storm cellar. In hurricane season along any coastline, you can prepare by building a hurricane kit and by sandbagging. When there is no weathering the storm, sometimes all you can do is run. I once sandbagged my house for a hurricane that dropped less rain than I bathed my babies in. I was real mad when I had to dispose of 300 filled sandbags. What I wasn’t was scared. I was prepared for that storm.

The intensity of the storm matters. Some storms are worse than others. Some storms are bigger than I am, or bigger than my house or my hurricane kit.

Your focus matters. Where I’m trying to go as a storm approaches is my focus. If I have an outdoor concert, or a ballgame, or a flight to take, I don’t want to see an ominous forecast. A black cloud becomes the worst kind of news. But if I have nowhere to be, a solid roof over my head, a book, a dog, and a content kid around, I would gladly order a storm from a weather vending machine and turn it all the way up.

As I lie here, I can still hear the rain, though the thunder has faded to a rumble. My low rumble is another guy’s artillery. The storm has moved away.

I am not thinking about physical storms this moment. I’m making connections in my mind; thinking about the things that upend me in my life. Thinking about the things I could have done to change my location or my prep so that those things might have been a drizzle and not a devastating flash flood.

I can’t do anything about the fact that I sandbagged my house for Hurricane Georges, which did not even wink at us, and did nothing to prepare for Irma, which did. And I can’t change that I allowed a free PlayStation into my house when Andrew was 10., or that I was bad at chore assignments and enforcement when my kids were tiny. But I can do today. And the future is still out there. It’s summer and the school year will be sitting in my ill-prepared lap before I am ready to acknowledge it. I will have kids in grades 6,8,10, and 12 this year. There will be storms all along the way and life is going to change dramatically in the next year or two. It will take 5 friends, a husband, and a very, very good guidance counselor to lead me through the Senior Year Labyrinth and a therapist to get me over it when it is past. And then I’ll be on to the next thing. Don’t regret, Missy. Do. Put on your rubber shoes and start walking.

That’s a lot of hooey that came up because I am watching the lightning signal threateningly outside a North Carolina window. It’s like the devil doing morse code with a flashlight. Sinister. As the storm fades and a soft rain continues, I think about this specific storm and how I prepared for it. I have only one regret and it’s a big one:

I left my shoes on the porch to dry out.

Downtown Hendersonville, before the storm

Travel Psychosis

I am staying in a rented house in North Carolina this week, waiting for my boys to finish having the times of their lives at a summer camp just up the mountain. I’m aware that it’s stupid to drive 10 hours for a summer camp when there are plenty of summer camps within an hour of my house. But this one is special. And Florida is more hot and flat and buggy than driving 10 hours was stupid, so we decided to do it.

Getting here wasn’t easy. It involved late night trips to CVS, googling quick fixes for severe constipation while also roadtripping (do not attempt to google this yourself. It only brings up ads for Dulcolax), fixing the constipation (not my own), driving on 3.5 hours of sleep with a car full of smelly boys who discuss their underwear far more than I expected, and then safely dropping them to some people who are willing to parent them in the woods for a week. It was something. Everything that went along with the constipation and its correction truly deserves a blog of its own, but the person in pain those days is a teen boy whom I love and would like to maintain a relationship with. So for now, just picture it and then let it go. I have.

After my friend and I got our respective kids settled at camp, we settled ourselves into the couch of our rented house and sighed with satisfaction. The world was our oyster. What would we do with ourselves for 5 more days? After sitting on our haunches for an hour, we decided to go to dinner. And we carefully selected who would take our money for this first meal without kids.

The first restaurant I came into contact with upon pulling into town Saturday night was Binion’s Roadhouse. I saw the sign, immediately leaped to bunions, pictured my grandmother’s 92 year old feet, and declared we would not be eating at that place.

That all changed after we walked into the posh, trendy, fairly-well-reviewed-on-Yelp Flat Rock Wood Room. Don’t ask me what a wood room is, because I don’t know. I didn’t get to find out. There were a lot of people standing around outside, making me think we might not get seated right away. But there were only two of us. So we did. Get seated. Right away. With menus. And that’s the last good thing that happened to me in the wood room.

Time passed.
So much time.
More than 15 minutes and not a single employee had made eye contact, told us they’d be right over, smiled. Nothing. So, finally–feeling existential and invisible–we walked out. No one saw us leave. We didn’t get to shake the gravel dust of that awful place off our feet in their direction because there was nobody to shake it on.

We didn’t have a plan B. Half the restaurants in Hendersonville are closed on Sundays. That’s a real thing. So our choices were limited. After driving around and searching our phones for a few minutes, you can guess where we ended up.

Binion’s Roadhouse.

Binion’s was the place I’ve looked for all my life, but didn’t know existed. It was homemade squash casserole and buttery yeast rolls and crispy bacon on my Bacon Grilled Cheese sandwich. It was friendly service. It was perfection. It was SO perfect on the heels of the SO terrible Flat Rock, that I came home, picked up my computer, and reviewed Binion’s on Trip Advisor, which our server had said would give her a nice bonus. It is the first review I’ve ever written on a restaurant. I closed the lid of my laptop and the Informinator said, “You’re going to stop there? You’re not going to review Flat Rock?”

She had a point. So I opened my laptop back up and wrote the following.


We were really in the mood to try this place. We were even willing to be patient on a busy Sunday evening. But besides being spoken to and seated by the hostess, who pretty much couldn’t ignore us, not a single other employee looked our direction. We sat at a table with our menus for 15 minutes without a word or even a glance from any passing server. I began to wonder if I was actually there. Maybe no one could see me. We finally walked out because we couldn’t flag anyone down who wanted to feed us or take our money. We then drove across town to Binion’s Roadhouse, where we were served immediately and treated like royalty. Apparently we weren’t invisible after all. Flat Rock, you might be good to some people on some nights, but you stunk like old cheese to us tonight. But thanks for stinking, because we found Binion’s and that was a WIN.

So if you’re ever in Hendersonville, remember that I told you about Binion’s and schedule it into your week. You won’t be disappointed. You know what they say: never judge a restaurant by the bunions on your grandma’s feet.

Not pictured: a delicious diet Coke

The Storm

On a sultry June day in 1984, I made a deal with God. Or at least I thought I did. I tried to. It wasn’t much of a deal, really. I got everything and offered very little in return. That day I asked Him to save my life in exchange for a 13-year-old’s version of devotion. He’d save me and my offering would be me. But I was a wreck, not a prize.

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May is the new Louisiana

I haven’t written much or on any kind of schedule for one reason only. May. People warn you about December. No one warns you about May. If you are under 35 and unaware of May and all its tomfoolery and chaos, consider yourself warned. It won’t help you, but at least you were warned. I got married in May, which was a great idea until I was a mother (Mother’s Day), had a son born May 20 (birthday parties), and kids in school (all stupid end-of-year activities and projects and exams everywhere multiplied exponentially by your number of children).

The kids get on me all the time about Buttercup. Why do you like her so much? Why do you give us such a hard time? Why is she your favorite? Sometimes I wave my hand at them dismissively. Oh, kids. She’s not my favorite. But you know what? It’s May. And maybe in May, they deserve to know the truth. You wanna know why Buttercup is my favorite?  

Because Buttercup’s version of a crisis is finding just the right scent in a square foot of grass that will then become her toilet.

And because Buttercup can’t text.

Buttercup has never texted me in the middle of a busy morning and said, “I’m not allowed to wear my sweater. Can you pick me up early. I need a diff shirt.” That one came in at 9 a.m. May 16 and was regarding the concert attire for Lucy’s orchestra concert. The concert was that afternoon at 5—on the same afternoon that Jenna also had her play. Of course I wasn’t going to take her out of school early to go shopping. So I did what any other non-self-respecting parent would have done. I drove all over town and bought 11 white shirts of varying styles for my daughter to choose from when she got home that afternoon. I’m still navigating the returns. Ironically, she chose a shirt from my closet that I’ve owned for well over a year. But if I had not gone shopping and had instead suggested that pre-owned, middle-aged-mom shirt, she would have gone Exorcist baby on me. Or something like that.

5 hours passed that day, without 5 minutes of down time, when I received another text, this time from Brady. It began with ‘also,’ even though it didn’t seem to go with a previous statement.

“Also can you get a really long sheet of paper”
No punctuation. Nobody cares.

“What is this and when is it due?”
I responded with punctuation.
“Like the next 5 minutes?”

“No tomorrow,” he responded again with no commas. He didn’t get the tone I intended in my initial response. He thought maybe since I assumed it was due in 5 minutes, I’d be relieved it wasn’t due until tomorrow.

The problem was, I still had a child to dress and deliver to a play performance I wouldn’t even get to see, due to May, and a child who was going to be topless at her orchestra performance if we couldn’t settle on a shirt. Both children had to be dropped to their schools within 30 minutes of each other. Now I had an errand to the local art supply store for 10 feet of black paper, with which he would fashion a road to be used in a Romeo and Juliet scene. It was part of his final exam.

I went and got the paper. Because I’m spineless. And then I loaned him $5, which is totally unrelated except for the bad parenting it represented.

The day marched on. It took mom, dad, grandparents, and a friend to coordinate the complications of dropping off and picking up at the same times at two schools. Eventually, we were settled at the event itself. I sat on wooden bleachers, twisted into a position that reminded me of sitting for my senior portraits. And we essentially survived both performances. I even caught the end of the play after the concert, which I would get to see in full the following night.

The next morning, Brady texted me early, before his day officially started.

“Apparently I forgot the road all together but it’s not a big deal.”
Not to you. You didn’t bust your hump buying it yesterday.

My finger hovered over my keyboard. I wondered what my next statement should be, when I saw the three little moving dots indicating that he was texting me again.

“I’m sorry I made you buy it.”

Well, okay. All was forgiven. But I still had 12 days of May to get through. And there was still a popcorn machine to move. And two large functions to set up for and pretend to host. And a lot of school left to do.

In the middle of all the insanity, there were tears, lost homework assignments ignored homework assignments, exams studied for, exams not studied for, grades deserved, and grades undeserved.

But not with Buttercup.
And not from Buttercup.
Life with Buttercup went on as normal. Even in May. She followed me around pleasantly, gazed into my eyes lovingly, and settled warmly into my side whenever and wherever I parked myself.

So if questioned by indignant, offended parties, especially if questioned in the month of May, I will readily admit to loving Buttercup in overage. And I will present a solid and pertinent defense for myself. And my dog. And for our survivalist coping mechanisms.

But as much as love my dog and as much as I appreciate her appreciation, I think there’s one thing I love more than Buttercup.

It’s June.


The play.