The Big 5-0

How does it feel to be 50?

That is a question I never thought I’d have to answer. It’s not that I didn’t think I’d live to be 50; although, given that neither my mother nor my mother’s mother lived to be 45, I’ve always harbored some doubt as to whether I would make it this far.

And yet, here I am. It has taken a few weeks, but I’m getting used to it. And it definitely beats the alternative.

I remember s-e-v-e-r-a-l years ago when my friend’s mother was turning 50. LaVon was adamant about making it a memorable event, just as she had done for her dad when he turned 50 a few months earlier. Only better.

So we planned a mock funeral, complete with flowers and a papier mache casket. Then we rented a limo to drive the family around town with the funeral flag flying on the hood, and invited all of her mom’s relatives, neighbors, and friends (including her boss, whom she had expressly directed us not to get involved in whatever shenanigans we had in mind) to surprise her at the house when they got back. Silly woman. She would have been better off not saying anything at all. The funeral spray from her boss was the biggest of the bunch.

I got to be the funeral director who turned LaVon’s parent’s home into a funeral parlor while they were out. Music. Flowers. Casseroules from all the sympathetic neighbors. The whole nine yards.

LaVon’s cousin Dolly played the angel, who greeted the family at the door, led Yvonne (LaVon’s mom) to the “viewing room,” and informed her that the people gathered there couldn’t hear her anymore because she had “crossed over.”

Yvonne’s own mother—LaVon’s grandmother—gave the eulogy. It was crazy awesome. And Yvonne said she would never forgive us if she lived to be 100—but she said it with a smile on her face, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

That was a l-o-n-g, l-o-n-g, l-o-n-g time ago. So long, in fact, that the Jarhead and I were in college, El Noble was a toddler, and a Princess Primrose had yet to exist.

Then a few years pass and suddenly—BOOM! Along comes May 2016, and within one week I became a 50-year-old mother of the groom with a houseful of relatives, and a wonderful new daughter-in-law.

No mock funerals. No limos. Just a big wonderful, weekend that started with a vintage-themed outdoor wedding on Friday, continued with a picnic and pool party on Saturday, and ended with Alaskan salmon, halibut, and King Crab—flown in by none other than LaVon—on Sunday. It was the best birthday weekend ever. To paraphrase Yvonne: if I live to be 100, I will never forget it.

A few days afterward, I saw a picture of Christie Brinkley on the cover of a magazine where I shop for groceries. The caption read “Christie Brinkley at 62!”

And for a moment, all I could do was blink and look for the word that would complete the headline.

Did it say “dead at 62?” Pregnant at 62? Married at 62? Divorced (again)at 62?

No. Nope. None of the above. It was just a photo of a woman, age 62, and who apparently looks different from what one would expect her to look at the age of 62. That was the headline. Hm.

I won’t bore you with a list of all the thoughts that flew through my head at that moment. Suffice it to say that sexism is alive and well in women’s magazines, because I’ve yet to see a photo of a famous MALE celebrity with a caption that suggests he looks surprisingly good for 62. Again, hm.

But as for 50, it’s pretty great. My mug won’t be gracing the cover of any magazines any time soon, but maybe it will be by the time I’m 62. You never know.

In the meantime, you can see me chatting about books and writing with fellow writers Tom Cannon and Dixie Jarchow on their local cable access show, Author Showcase. To view it, click on the link below.





Birthday Girl

One of the best things about having and raising kids—in addition to having someone on whom to pin all your unrealized hopes and dreams, and having someone to keep you humble by barfing at inopportune times and providing unfiltered commentary on your clothing and hairstyle —is having someone you can embarrass on a daily basis without the threat of legal action. And so, having written candidly about our son when he turned 27 last month, I am now going to shift the spotlight to our daughter, who turns 22 today.

Princess Primrose was born in Minneapolis in 1992 and soon distinguished herself as being completely different from her brother in two key ways. First, whereas El Noble spent the first week of his life in the arms of his parents and other family members after having arrived in this world in perfect health and as the first grandchild on all three sides of the family, the Princess spent the first week of her life in NICU after nearly 36 hours of labor and having drawn her first breaths with the assistance of medical intervention.

Horsey Sam

Second, whereas her brother was social and restless, and needed to be rocked to sleep because he could not stand to be alone and awake at the same time, the Princess was more introverted—for lack of a better term—and not only could be placed in her crib to fall asleep at her leisure but also could fall asleep at the drop of a hat just about anywhere. Perhaps it’s because she spent the first few days of life in a bassinette on Phenobarbital and, therefore, didn’t have the expectation of being held and sung to at bedtime that she wasn’t picky about how or when she slept, but that quality carried over well into childhood and manifested itself in several interesting situations.

Chair SamPotty Sam  Table SamCounter SamCouch SamPumpkin SamMighty SamSqueaker Sam

Although the Princess prefers arts and letters over sports and other physical activities, like El Noble, she has managed to scare me half to death on a number of occasions. In fact, excluding the complications surrounding her birth, the Princess has caused me to fear for her life probably twice as often as her adrenaline junkie brother. For example, shortly after she learned to walk, she devised a game in which she would open the front door and go outside. Eventually—that is, upon realizing that her actions were a source of distress for me and a precursor to discipline for her—she stopped merely ‘going’ outside and started ‘running.’

Even after the Jarhead placed a lock at the top of the door that she could not reach even with the assistance of a chair, the problem was not resolved. Instead, she would wait until we had our guard down—that is, just before we were about to leave the house or just after we returned—and then fling the door open and bolt down the front walk. She rarely got very far thanks to her intense joy at having escaped, which would cause her to giggle uncontrollably, lose forward momentum, and start running in place.

Sweater Sam

At one point she managed to do this just as she, I, and her brother returned from the grocery store. It was early evening—dusk—when everyone and their dog seemed to be driving past our house, which sat on a curve. As she bolted down the walk in the dwindling daylight, I had a choice to make: Chase after her and hope to catch her before she got to the street, or stop chasing and hope she stopped running. As luck would have it I guessed wrong. Although I did stop chasing her, she did not stop running. And as I watched her—convinced she was about to be killed by an oncoming car whose driver would not have seen her thanks not only to the darkness and the curve in the road, but also to the two huge spruce trees that stood at the end of our walk—I could only hope fate would intervene. Happily it did, and just as my calculations had me imagining her in the hospital in a permanent coma, she suddenly hung a left and ran up the sidewalk instead of between the spruces and out onto the roadway.

Tree Sam

It was a miracle I didn’t kill her for that. By the time I got to her—having continued toward her at a comparatively leisurely pace since it was a body I was expecting to catch up to—she was running in place again and facing me with an expression of pure ecstasy—I could hardly speak, much less punish her. And it wasn’t just my relief that prevented me from pounding the life out of her. It was also pride. Because like any parent, I enjoy my children’s victories and, although I didn’t know it then, that escape was the closest I would ever get to seeing her score a goal, get on base, or slide into home.


In addition to nearly killing herself by leaving the house and running into the street, the Princess has almost done so by other means. These include but are not limited to drinking perfume samples from the bottom of my purse, tasting wild mushrooms, and finding and eating unknown candy-like objects from a MacDonald’s bathroom floor. She has also nearly committed suicide by anaphylaxis, after deciding to play in the woods with her friend Nichole and using poison oak to apply pretend make up and to toss a pretend salad. Needless to say, we are well acquainted with 911, poison control, and prednisone.

7th Grade Sam

Back in the day, Roseanne Barr used to say that if her kids were still alive at the end of the day, she had done her job. Since the Princess is still alive after more than 8000 days, it’s safe to say I’ve done mine and then some.

Happy Birthday, Princess. And here’s to 25,000 more.

Birthday Boy

Twenty-seven years ago today, in a place that no longer exists, a bouncing baby boy was born. That place was the naval hospital at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, and the boy was my son, whom readers know as El Noble. The naval hospital has long since been demolished and rebuilt in a different location on board MCAS Cherry Point. El Noble has not been rebuilt, but thanks to his father’s occupation, he has been relocated roughly 15 times.

Weighing in at 10 pounds, 3 ounces, El Noble was the second largest baby born at that facility that month. Surpassed only by the 11 pound, 2 ounce toddler born the day before him, nearly everyone predicted he would become a football player. As is his habit, he went his own way and opted instead to play soccer, baseball, and tennis.

Dylan 01

Given his precociousness, his choice of sports, and his nomadic lifestyle, one might say that El Noble has always been a man on the move. Before he was old enough to ride a bike, my dad and two brothers chipped in and bought him a battery powered Jeep for his birthday in 1989.

Dylan 02

That Jeep was a great source of pleasure to him before it was stolen from our garage a year or so later. It was also a great source of pain to his sister, Princess Primrose, who—although she never saw it in person—to this day feels cheated for having never had a battery powered Jeep of her own.

Later on, El Noble would fill the hole left in his heart by the stolen battery powered Jeep by purchasing a used gas powered Jeep with money he saved working summers for one of the uncles who gave him the first Jeep. His sister, meanwhile, attempted to fill the hole left in her heart by her lack of a battery powered Jeep by purchasing a used convertible with money she saved working at Fleet Farm, but she’s still not over it.

In between his first and second cars, El Noble kept himself very busy. In addition to youth and high school sports, he amused himself by scaring me to half to death. In truth, the terror I felt was almost always a self-inflicted wound, as I was the one who allowed and often encouraged him to spread his wings. It was I, for example, who in April of 1992 agreed to let my friend LaVon teach him to ride a bike by ripping off his training wheels with her bare hands and pushing him repeatedly along the path that surrounds Lake Nokomis.

Don’t ask me why I agreed to this. My only defense is that I was pregnant with the Princess at the time, and wasn’t thinking clearly. Especially when Von laughingly asked, as he neared the boat ramp several yards ahead of us after having mastered the task of remaining upright on two wheels, “Wouldn’t it be funny if he lost control when he hit that boat ramp and rolled headfirst into the lake?” For instead of kicking her in the shins or running—okay, waddling fast—to catch up to and prevent my first born child from plunging into the ice cold waters of Lake Nokomis, I laughed right along with her. That is, until he hit the boat ramp, lost control, and rolled headfirst into the lake. As per her promise, LaVon went in after him. She also gave him her dry jacket and happily absorbed all the vitriol he unleashed upon her for laughing at his misfortune.

It was also a self-inflicted wound when I agreed to let him run one of the confidence courses at Quantico. Like any good and crazy mother, I went along and watched with bated breath as the boy climbed and jumped over wood, metal, and cement obstacles with only sand or asphalt to cushion his fall. His dad was there to catch him this time, thankfully, but in truth, the only one who needed help and encouragement to get through the ordeal was me.

Dylan 03              Dylan 04

Dylan 05               Dylan 06

You might think I would have learned from those experiences what my heart could and could not take. But no.

Which is why, in 1995, I let him go white water rafting on the Arkansas River with LaVon and her husband. (It bears mention here that LaVon tends to figure prominently in many of El Noble’s adventures. I can’t go into all of them now since various statutes of limitations may not have expired, but the next time you see him, feel free to ask what it’s like to outrun the police to avoid a speeding ticket, or how one should handle being questioned by federal marshals at a national landmark.)

At any rate, believing the distraction of a baby and three preschoolers would keep me too busy to worry about El Noble, I stayed back at the campsite with the Jarhead and the Princess, and agreed to keep LaVon’s two daughters and infant son safe and warm while she took my child down a raging river in what was basically a giant flat balloon. He came back to camp alive and in one piece, despite having been bounced out of the raft a time or two. By all accounts, he had the time of his life—which is what it’s all about—or so I keep telling myself.

Dylan 07

There was talk back then about him becoming a Navy SEAL or working as a search and rescue helicopter pilot. That was on top of him getting a driver’s license and a real Jeep—and going to homecomings and proms. That was when I stopped listening and started drinking heavily.

Dylan 08

I’m kidding of course. But it would be a lie to say I wasn’t relieved when he got into the hospitality business and later became a real estate agent. And it’s fitting that he is making a career out of helping people buy and sell homes. He has enough experience at moving to qualify as an expert, and has watched us buy and sell enough properties to know how to handle almost anything that comes his way.

That’s not to say I’ve stopped worrying about him. Especially when words like kayaking, skydiving, and motorcycle come out of his mouth, my heart just wants to stop.

But he’s 27 now. Today, in fact. So it’s probably time to cut the apron strings.

Shame I’ve hidden all the scissors.