Holidays, Birthdays and Balloons, Oh My!

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Graduation season is here.  Many, and I mean MANY of my friends have kids graduating high school this year. (Yup, I have old friends. Haha…. just kidding. Kinda!)  Some have already graduated.  Some are getting ready to graduate.  Just walk into any Wal-Mart or Target and you’ll see the “Congrats Grad” displays with cap and gown teddy bears, cards, balloons, and class of ’19 items. It’s like being greeted with a simple, slap-in-the-face reminder that someone you know is probably graduating and you should pick up a card, or twelve. 

After you’ve picked out the perfect graduation card and you finally have a chance to look at your list for what you need in the store, the next display stops you in your tracks. That’s right, Father’s Day is just a few days away. Here’s your chance to pick up a little something for dad. And hey, you’ve got options: cards, balloons, miniature tool sets, car detailing gift baskets, the ever-hilarious novelty bathroom trivia books, and shirts that read “DAD BOD” across the front. 

Just as one display is phasing out another display is being set up: Fourth of July, Back to School, Labor Day, Halloween, Veterans’ Day, Marine Corps Birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas….. you get the picture.  And in between each of those holidays are birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, new babies, showers, etc.  Between Hallmark, Wal-Mart and Target, we have no excuse to forget our loved ones on special occasions.

If it sounds like I am being a Negative Nancy about all these wonderful occasions, I most definitely am not.  I love holidays.  I love cards.  I love receiving flowers (hint hint).  I love joining my friends and family in celebrating special occasions.  What I don’t like, however, are balloons. 

Yes. You read that right. I hate balloons.

Mylar balloons are fine but latex balloons are not.  I really don’t know what happened between my childhood and adult life but at some point, something triggered a very real fear of balloons.

Go ahead and laugh. I wouldn’t blame you if you did. I mean, how does a fear like this just happen? When I was younger, I played many games involving popping balloons and competing in balloon races.  I even liked to suck out the helium and talk in a funny high-pitched voice along with my friends – but then again, what kid doesn’t?   

But here I am, with a fear of balloons. Check it out… it even has a name:  globophobia.  I’ve had it for years.  At least, ever since Landon was born. I remember this one time when he was little, maybe 18 months old, and when we left Applebee’s, the waitress game him a balloon. We were driving home and I could hear his little fingers pulling at the latex and something just came over me. My skin started crawling (even sitting here remembering that moment is giving me the heebie-jeebies). Since that day, when Landon was given a balloon anywhere, as I held the balloon to get him into the car, I would let it go and tell him “ooops, mommy lost your balloon.” I know… I’m a bad mom. And those weren’t my proudest moments. But the fear I had when he was holding a balloon was truly painful. So as he grew older the only balloons allowed were Mylar. And I made sure he always had one at his birthday parties. See, I made up for being a terrible, no-good, balloon-losing mom.

My close friends already know this about me.  So to them, it’s nothing new. We can joke about it. But they also know the seriousness of it. It’s always been hard to explain to new people about my fear because they think I am pulling their leg. It’s usually hard for them to fathom that someone can actually be afraid of balloons.  Sometimes, new people think it’s funny to test my fear and jokingly torture me by bringing balloons around me. 

Just a heads up folks:  This is how a friendship with me ends. 

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT chase me with a balloon. 

One of the sweetest moments this past year was when I was invited to a birthday party for my friend’s daughter.  Before the party, she called me to ask if balloons would be OK if they were away from me.  I didn’t want to be the reason for the lack of party decorations so I told her it would be fine but to just let her family know not to chase me with them (I was being dead serious).  I also made sure she knew I could skip out and not come so that she could surprise her daughter with balloons and that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all.  When I showed up to the party, I walked in, and the room was filled with Mylar balloons.  MYLAR!  These balloons are at least 3 times the price – if not more – than regular latex balloons.  Oh my heart!  My sweet, wonderful and amazing friend wanted to make sure I had a good time at the party.  And I did. 

You know how, during the Fourth of July celebrations, when people give out reminders on Facebook and even the news channel will make mention about being considerate of pets and the sounds of firecrackers??? Well, here is your friendship-with-Anne reminder:  Anne doesn’t like balloons.  (But she will gladly accept coffee, beer and student loan donations!)   

I did it…… Again!

Today, in my cap and gown, wearing honors cords, I received a Bachelor of Science in Management/Marketing. Knowing my friends and family were there to support me and watch me as I received my degree, it was truly one of the most special moments ever. And it wasn’t any less special than when I received my first undergraduate degree 3 years ago.

That’s right – I have two bachelor’s degrees.

My educational journey started the fall after my divorce was final.  I was scared.  REALLY scared.  I was 26 years old.  I lived 6 hours away from my parents.  How was I going to support a 7-year-old with just a high school education? 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I had a great job. Financially, I was doing OK. But what if there were layoffs one day? What if, down the road, they required a college degree in order to keep my job? I always wanted to go back to school (when I was 18, I didn’t take college very seriously and just wasted a lot of my parent’s money) but I didn’t know if, or how, I could. How was I going to afford it? When would I have the time? 4 years seemed like a LONG time to go to school. I mean, I couldn’t make it during my first attempt, so how was I going to make it now? Well, thanks to an amazingly wonderful boss (and friend and mentor) she encouraged me to register for school. I spent an entire workday figuring out what I needed and applying for financial aid. By the next day, I was accepted into Park University for their online curriculum.

After I got my first semester under my belt, I felt a little better about going back to school. I was getting the swing of things. I was actually enjoying it.

I took 2 classes a semester (which is the max you could take). Since each semester was only 8 weeks, there were 5 semesters a year. So naturally, I went to school year-round with only a week or two of a break between semesters. I worked full time and traveled frequently for my job. All the while, I was balancing being a single mom and going to school. It was hard. I had many late nights of writing papers, doing discussion boards and taking exams. I would take my textbooks everywhere to read whenever I could. There were many baseball practices where Landon would be out on the field and I had a nose in a book on the side lines. I had to plan outings around school and when we went on vacation, I had to make sure the hotel had free wifi. When I traveled for work, I looked forward to long layovers. I would sit on the ground with my laptop in a chair and do as much homework as I could. My carryon bag for all those work trips always consisted of my laptop and books.

I remember one day when I was sitting on the couch writing a paper, Landon sat down next to me and said, “I want to go to college like you so I can stay home.” It crushed my heart. I looked at him and said, “Landon, no you don’t. You want to get good grades in school and get accepted to a good college where you can actually enjoy college life and not have to juggle work, school and family like I am. I’m missing out on a lot. And I don’t want that for you.”

When I walked across the stage the first time, Landon was in the audience.  In fact, he had math end-of-grade testing that day and I reached out to his teacher and said he would be at my graduation and was hoping he could have a make-up day.  She said, “Absolutely!  Seeing you graduate is important.” 

I received my first bachelor’s degree at 32 years old in Social Psychology with a concentration in culture, industry and organization. I achieved what I never thought I would. I was finally done!

Or so I thought. 

A little over a year later I registered to go back to school. I missed it. I was so used to having a routine that involved schoolwork that I didn’t know what to do without it. And plus, I loved learning. So, in the fall of 2017 I was back in school full-time. And loving every minute of it. That is, until I ran out of financial aid and had to start paying for classes out of pocket. That hurt! I could have taken out personal student loans, but I didn’t want to add to my debt. Thank goodness I only had to do it for a few semesters for a total of $7,000.

I wouldn’t change anything about how long my education journey took me. I was able to show Landon the importance of an education at any age. And that right there is priceless. I want to go and get my masters (I love school and learning) but unfortunately, I have to pay back the $65,000 in student loan debt I have, and I have a kid going to college in a few years. It would be selfish for me to take away from him. Maybe one day I will be able to go for my masters. But then again, maybe one day I will pay off my student loans. But I’m thinking at this point, I may die before I actually pay that in full. Either way, I will be paying off student loans for the rest of my life. And it is depressing to think about. Seriously, some days I cry because I think to myself: Was it worth it? Is it worth having to live poor just to pay for two degrees? And when I look over to where I proudly display my diplomas I’m reminded that I am the first person in my immediate family to have earned a bachelor’s degree. And I don’t have just one. I now have two. Then I smile and say to myself – “Damn right it was. It is worth every penny.”

This blog is not meant to be boastful. Rather, it’s meant to show you that even though there are plenty of obstacles thrown in your way on this journey of life, you can still overcome, achieve and accomplish what you put our mind to. For the single parents out there, you can do it! For those who don’t have a support system for encouragement, I’ll be your cheerleader! Whatever the reason, whatever the obstacle, I am here for you.

Simply put:  If I can do it, so can you!

Family, Beer and Baseball

Landon pitching during fall ball season

Believe it or not, there was a time when I would see a baseball game on the television and think to myself, “OMG, how boring.” Many years ago, I was even asked to go to a Major League Baseball game and I declined because I didn’t want to sit in the stands and be bored. I mean, come on, there is like ZERO action. Or, so I thought.

Thanks to Landon, I was able to stop that idiotic thinking of baseball being a boring sport and I actually began to not only understand, but love the game.

Landon played baseball for 7 seasons. I watched him grow from T-ball to Babe Ruth. We even traveled all the way up to Aberdeen, Maryland, for the Cal Ripken Baseball Camp one summer. We’ve gone to many Washington Nationals games and we’ve even seen the Aberdeen Ironbirds (Short-Season classification affiliate team for the Baltimore Orioles) and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Class A – Advanced affiliate team for the Chicago Cubs). After a good run, Landon decided he didn’t want to play anymore, and that was OK.

Summer of 2016, our first Morehead City Marlins game.

The summer of 2018 I became a host family for the Morehead City Marlins. Even though Landon wasn’t playing, we still had a summer filled with baseball (and obviously beer). But better yet, we also walked away from that summer experience with a new family. And if you’ve never had a baseball family before, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Anne, Dawson, Landon

Well, here we are, with the start of the 2019 season for the Morehead City Marlins just days away, Landon and I have opened up our house again for the second year. But this year, we are hosting two players. Due to the devastation of Hurricane Florence this past September, Eastern North Carolina is still trying to pick up the pieces. Many host families were unable to help out this year. We knew it would be tight, but we would make it work. So, this week we’re welcoming Ryan and Connor to the family.

So, if you’re in the area this summer, come join us at the Big Rock Stadium for some baseball and beer. And before you know it, you just might become family.

Cheaper Than Therapy

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For me, going to the gym is therapeutic.  It doesn’t matter what kind of day I have; the gym is always there for me to vent and let it all out.  I work out about 5-6 times a week (I would go 7 days a week, but I must force myself, for my body’s sake, to take a rest day).  Some days I need to get out of my head and stop worrying about things. There are also days I am mad, angry, even hulk-like.  Then, there are days when I’m on an emotional roller coaster holding back tears or fighting the urge to scream and yell.  Then again, I also have days when I’m feeling like a certified bad ass *insert Wonder Woman* and feel there isn’t anything stopping me.  It doesn’t matter which kind of day I have, being in the gym is my happy place. 

I put my ear buds in, crank up my workout playlist on my iPhone, and let it all out.

I go at it hard (minus the grunting and clanging of weights – I don’t want Planet Fitness to sound the ‘Lunk’ alarm on me) and forget my troubles.  It works.  Every.  Damn.  Time.  The best part is, I don’t have to be social.  I go to the gym to workout; Not to make friends or socialize.  In fact, when people try and talk to me at the gym, it annoys me.  This is MY time.  I don’t get much of it, so leave me alone – Please and Thank You. 

The gym isn’t my only means of letting out stress.  Sitting in my backyard watching my backyard flock of chickens is my version of meditation.  It is nearly impossible to get mad or upset while watching 18 chickens with 18 different personalities cluck, peck, and scratch their way around.  I could sit there for hours. Sometimes, I sit there imagining what it would be like to be a chicken.  I mean, hell, mine are so darn spoiled. 

I might be better off as a chicken in my next life. (hee hee)

Meditation works for some people.  I have tried it many times: you know, the whole sitting in a quiet place with no distractions, focused on your breathing thing?  It does not work for me.  It doesn’t feel natural and I just can’t seem to relax my mind. Some people are able to meditate with great ease.  I envy them and their ability to recharge in such a peaceful way.  But that’s OK. I found what works for me.  When I sit and watch my backyard flock, I can relax my mind and enjoy my surroundings.  Even, if only for a little while. 

*NOTE:  I am NOT discouraging people from seeking help.  I fully support talking to a counselor or seeking help from a chaplain and/or medical or clinical professional.  In fact, I have talked to a professional on more than one occasion since the age of 17.  However, I fully support the notion: find what works best for YOU!  There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to taking care of you. 

5am on a Saturday

Emerald Isle Beach Saturday Morning Workout

This morning when my alarm went off at 5am I got up immediately without hitting snooze.  Which is impressive considering during the work week I hit snooze for every alarm I set (I set my alarm to go off at five different times if you were wondering).  This morning, on a Saturday of all days – when everyone else was still asleep, I jumped out of bed and made some coffee.  I threw on some clothes, packed a bag and headed out the door by 6:30am.  I was headed to Emerald Isle.

The 30-minute drive was very quiet.  Only a few cars were on the road.  At 7:05am I arrived at my destination.  I jumped out of the truck, changed my shoes and headed towards the beach.  It was time to work out. 

Yes.  You read that right.  I woke up at the ass-crack of dawn on a Saturday morning (earlier than I even wake up for work) and drove the almost 35 minutes to get a good Saturday morning workout in.  By the way, I wasn’t alone.  My crazy friends were also there. 

Daniel and Roxie brought their rower, jump box, kettlebells, and 45lb bar with additional weights.  Daniel set up a circuit for us with the beach as a backdrop.  He even included a beach run in the circuit.  We teamed up two by two:  Me and Daniel, and Roxie and Kim.  Each round was 20 minutes.  We did three rounds for a total of 60 minutes.  We did get some crazy looks from the scarce morning crowd.  But we didn’t care.  Covered in sweat, when we finished our workout we high-fived, took a group picture, loaded all the equipment into Daniel’s truck and then said our goodbyes as each of us headed home.  It was 8:45am.      

Just about everyday on Facebook, friends of mine are posting about how they want to lose weight, workout more or eat healthier.  And many are repeat posters because they aren’t doing anything to follow through with their goals.  If you want to eat healthier or lose weight, you MUST be willing to put in the work and leave the excuses at the door (or in your comfy bed).  But ultimately, you need a support system to hold you accountable.  Your 2,000 friends on Facebook are NOT holding you accountable.  And unfortunately, many of them want to see you fail.     

My personal health and fitness tip to reach your goals: get yourself a tribe like mine.  (Although, this might mean you don’t get to sleep in on Saturday).

Between the four of us, we all have varying degrees of fitness levels.  But that doesn’t stop us from being able to meet up and get a good workout in.  We encourage each other.  We push each other.  We challenge each other.  And we don’t allow each other to make excuses.

Now, please excuse me while I take a much needed Saturday afternoon nap.

Mean People Suck

animal animal world beak bird
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Last week something was said to me and it hurt my feelings. 

I pride myself for being hard and as tough as nails – or at least, I am pretty darn good at letting people think that I am. 

Remember the story about the ugly duckling?  As an adult, I can look back on my childhood and confidently say that I went from the ugly duckling to the beautiful swan (although I would never actually use the word beautiful).  There was nothing special about me.  I was a tomboy, a gymnast for 9 years.  I liked being outside, barefoot, and looking for adventure in the words.  Getting chiggers was an every other week occurrence.  But, boy I loved having that pink calamine lotion dotted all over me.  Although I hated the itch!

As I grew up, I was oddly shaped.  Being a gymnast meant I was flat chested with broad shoulders and thick thighs.  This is not what every pre-teen wants as she embarks on her teenage and high school years.  My hair was curly and frizzy.  I didn’t know how to tame it so it was always slicked back in a pony tail.  I had humongous teeth that protruded from my mouth.  Yup, I was bugs bunny in the flesh.  This was the beginning of brace-face.  I had braces from 1st to 3rd grade,  6th to 8th grade and finally 9th to 11th grade.  Turns out the reason we couldn’t get perfect alignment of my teeth was because of my jaw.  Go figure.  Finally, to add sprinkles to this entire mess, that nose of mine… YIKES!  I won’t even go there. 

So, excuse me when I say that I am so thankful to emerge from my childhood alive.  Here I am, a swan.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy.  It took work and dedication.  I workout 5-6 days a week.  Sometimes 7 days – but I have to remind myself not to overdo it.  I eat healthy – for the most part – and take care of my skin and hair.  I even take daily vitamins.  I might have had some cosmetic surgeries, but I did it for me.  Not for anyone else.  I have learned to love myself.  I not only look better but I feel better than I did when I was in my 20s. 

And mentally, I am in a better place in my life. Or at least I was. 

People are mean. 

I hear from people on almost a weekly basis how “so-and-so said this about you” and “they couldn’t believe you showed up wearing that.”  What, a t-shirt and shorts?  To a baseball game?  Really?  What am I supposed to wear?  A sweatshirt and sweatpants?  Me and someone else can wear the same thing to the gym but then I am told what I am wearing is inappropriate.  Some women think I want their husbands.  I promise – I don’t.  I am friendly and nice to everyone.  To be honest, I’m a friggin’ goofball.  Some women won’t even try and get to know me.  I would be naïve if I said I didn’t know why.  But it makes me sad.  Almost angry even.   

So, there are days when I am just down in the dumps.  Days when I don’t want to deal with people.    Because, people suck.  If I would have known that ugly duckling would have to work so hard just to be considered the outcast swan… I would have warned her ahead of time.  I would have warned her that life doesn’t get easier.  That, as an adult, you will actually find yourself sitting at home, with your 14-year old’s arm around you, while you cry.

So today, on a day I need it the most, like Dory says, Remember, “Just Keep Swimming.”

Just Call Me the Crazy Chicken Lady

A friend of mine has chickens.  Lots and lots of chickens – and a pig too, but I’ll save him for another blog.  Last July she offered to let one of her hens go broody* so that I could have my very own backyard chickens. Of course I said yes!  Out of the five eggs momma hen faithfully dedicated 21 days to sitting on, all but one hatched.  Unfortunately, two of them did not survive.  My backyard farm was going to start off small…. And I was OK with that. 

Landon and his Chicks

I brought two sweet chicks home when they were about 5 – 7 days old.  Landon named them Tina and Louise (from Bob’s Burgers) and they lived in a green tote in his room.  We were in love!

Green Tote Home
Green Tote Home

Two weeks later, Hurricane Florence hit.  After the hurricane, when life started to get back to normal, another friend gave me a coop she had that wasn’t being used.  It only lasted one day at my house before my mom and dad purchased a brand-new coop from Tractor Supply for me.  Tina and Louise were now officially backyard chickens. 

First Coop
First Coop

New Coop
Tractor Supply Coop

Another month went by and my girls were getting bigger.  I introduced two more hens and a rooster to my backyard chicken farm.  After a couple of weeks, they all started to get along just fine.  I was now up to a flock of five.  But, I began to notice….. Tina started to look (and sound) like a Terry or Tim. 

Black Tailed Japanese Bantoms
Black Tailed Japanese Bantoms

There was no doubt about it, Tina was a Rooster.  It was then that Landon and I decided, it being 2018 and all, that Tina could identify however he wanted.  We kept the name Tina.  He knew his name.  It suited him well.

Tina the Rooster
Tina the Rooster

As Tina and Louise kept growing, I knew we needed more space.  The coop didn’t offer enough grazing space for three hens and two roosters.  The only time they got to ‘free-range’ was when I was home and able to keep an eye on the dogs and the chickens together.  See, my dogs are a little rough when they play.  They mean well.  But, I wasn’t ready to see a dead chicken or two. 

The week before Christmas, my dad and I put up a fence to provide the chickens with their own area. It took less than two days and with my dad’s expertise and supervision – he made me do all the manual work.  Now the dogs and chickens could be in the backyard, together in harmony…. well, sorta. 

Time for a Fence
Time for a Fence

As Tina grew into a full-fledged rooster, his testosterone was on full charge 24/7.  He was cock-a-doodle-doo-ing all day and somehow, he found time to have his way with all the hens in the backyard…. roughly 30 times a day.  I am NOT exaggerating.  And it is not pleasant to witness.

I added two more girls to the flock.  I call them both ‘Fatty Patty’ because they are perfectly round and fluffy.  Also, I cannot tell them apart.  Tina took immediate interest in them.  They became his favorite girls.  I now had 7 in the flock.  And this provided some relief for the three hens I had.  They were happy to share Tina.

Fatty Patty - Buff Orpingtons
Fatty Patty – Buff Orpingtons

Tina’s testosterone also brought out his hatred towards the other rooster.  We had an all-out war in my backyard.  I received a phone call from a very upset Landon one day.  “The white rooster is covered in blood!  MOM!  Come home!   Tina is trying to kill him!”  My workout was cut short, I went home, found a blood-soaked rooster in the backyard, carried him indoors and cleaned him up in my kitchen sink.  My heart sank.  I didn’t have the heart to get rid of either one of my roosters.  I loved them.  For the next couple of days…. maybe even a week, I played rooster referee in a robe and my rain boots with a broom in hand.  I would take my coffee outside and wait for the cock fight.  When I would see Tina getting close, I would raise my broom and start yelling.  I even hit him with the broom once or twice. 

Blood Bath - Poor Whitey
Blood Bath – Poor Whitey

Winter came and went, and the roosters learned their place:  Tina was king rooster and Whitey – I ended up naming the other rooster after the blood bath – stayed away from Tina.  There hasn’t been blood shed in a while.  Thank goodness.   

Spring welcomed three new girls to the flock.  I was now up to 10.  Wow… that happened fast.  Then, all it took was one trip to Tractor Supply to get some chicken feed when I heard the “cheep cheeps” from a silver barrel and couldn’t resist.  Five more chicks came home. 

Leghorn Pullets
Leghorn Pullets

Straight Run Bantoms
Straight Run Bantoms

Now I have 15 chickens (the babies are living in a dog kennel in the garage until they are big enough to be with everyone else). And to top it all off, three of my hens went broody.  That’s right, they are sitting on 8 eggs (due to hatch later this week). 

I went from zero to 15 in 7 months.  You know that saying about single women and cats???  Well, I have chickens.  But they have brought so much joy to my life.  I love having my morning coffee with them, listening to them talk to one another in their chicken language and watch them fight over the ears of corn I give them.  I’ve learned more about chickens than I ever thought I would. 

So, feel free to call me the crazy chicken lady.  I’ve accepted it.  I own it.  And I make it look good. 

Moral of the story:  Chickens are like potato chips.  You can’t have just one. 

*broody is a term used for hens who plant themselves on their eggs for 21 days to hatch and raise chicks