National Geographic…in my backyard

10176025_10203397922253090_656002350_nIt was an unusually long day because it started way too early. I woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I tossed and turned for a few hours, bordering on the cusp of sleep a few times but never obtaining it. Amazingly, I made it through the morning on just my usual two cups of coffee. By about 2pm though, I was exhausted. And by the time I left work after 5pm, everyone and everything irritated me.

I got home and after spending a little time with Chris and the kids, I poured a glass of floral tea and sat on the patio to unwind and enjoy the setting sun. My cat Smokey was out, too. He was a stray when he adopted us nearly 10 years ago. We THINK he’s about 13 years old. We THINK he’s at least part Norwegian Forest cat. We KNOW his breath is about the worst on the planet.

11891116_10207362915135434_2657059751799230380_nSmokey is my cat…as in I’m his “person” and he trusts me. I’m the only one he will allow to pick him up. I’m the only one who he seems to allow in his personal space, which means he thinks he can get into my personal space. When he wants pets from me, he touches his nose to my nose. It’s cute the first 15 times. When it’s 2am and he’s doing it, it’s not so cute. He is skittish around everyone, even me. I don’t know what his life was like before he came to my house, starving but so sweet. I know he had a home before mine because he was fixed, potty trained and house broken. But his long fur was all in knots and he weighed 6 pounds. For comparison, he weighs 13 now and he’s still a relatively slim cat.

I remember when Chris first caught me feeding him on our front porch in Texas in 2006. It was about two weeks after I had ZJ. I was very slowly walking to my mail box (because you tend to do that for a few weeks after a C-section) and Smokey met me just as I was leaving the house. I went back inside the house and got something to feed him. I don’t remember what it was. Let’s just say, that wasn’t the first front-porch snack Smokey received from me. When I was well enough to meander to the grocery store, I picked up a bag of cat food just in case the stray, gray cat continued to stop by. I was feeding him some Meow Mix when Chris came home and said, “What are you doing?” His voice reminded me of what I 13438796_10209695695613488_3756336478825034481_n-2sound like when I catch my kids doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I told him I was feeding my cat. He said, “Oh really. And what is your cat’s name?” I said, “Uh, Smokey.” The next day we took him to the vet and got him all his shots. On the way back we stopped by a pet store to get him a bed, a scratching post, litter box, litter, some toys he’d never play with, treats, and catnip (for his glaucoma). That was it. He was mine. And I was his.

Fast forward 10 years. Smokey is brave enough to put his nose to mine at 2am. He has thrown up on every carpet and sofa in my home and he tolerates me shaving his butt so his poop doesn’t get stuck in his fur. We are close. So it’s on this evening when I’m tired and just “done” with being around people, that he sits on the patio with me. We’re doing our own thing though so I’m not paying attention to him. After checking my Instagram 13151975_10209258068473083_1170870418665460615_naccount, I look up and see Smokey in stalk mode. I can’t even see what he’s about to pounce on though so I assume it’s a bug. I get up so I can get video of my cat in stalk mode. For a few years, I was a videographer in the Air Force in Charleston S.C. “Document and transmit” was the mission and so I was going to “document” my cat making a fool of himself. And I was gonna “transmit” it on Facebook. Smokey wasn’t quite the stalker he used to be so I was prepared for a giggle.

I got my camera and walked to the side of the patio to get a better shot. Smokey was not stalking a bug or even a mouse. There, in front of him, was a beautiful white dove. If you’re from my town in Germany, white doves are rare. At least I think they are. I never see them so I’m going to say they’re rare. And here’s Smokey about to pounce on one. Now, there’s a bit of a distance between Smokey and the dove and like I said, he’s not as spry as he used to be so I’m got my phone ready to document what I thought would be pretty hilarious.

I was about three seconds into the recording when the unthinkable happened. Smokey leaped and caught the dove in his mouth. He turned around, the stunned dove in his mouth, and walked back toward me. It is at this point on my video that I curse and turn the video off.

I walked in the house and yelled for Chris. Smokey is trying to bring the dove into my house and I block him. I look at the dove and it’s looking at me. It’s just not right. I go inside and yell for Chris again. Smokey looks for a place on my patio where he can dismember the bird and decides under my bench is a good spot. Chris comes outside and immediately sees what happened. Smokey drops the dove who flaps and flops across the patio and back on the lawn. It’s clearly hurt. Smokey is fairly uninterested during all of this. He doesn’t try to catch the bird, he just watches it from a distance. Chris told me to go back inside and get a towel to wrap around the injured bird. I admit, it takes me a while to do this because really, what towel do I want ruined. I went in the kitchen to grab a dish towel. Nope. Not gonna sacrifice one of those. I go downstairs and grab an old beach towel, run back up the stairs, and out the door with my old Jacksonville Jaguars beach towel that is more than a little threadbare. The bird is out of sight. Chris tells me it flapped down the side of the house and is gone. No way it’ll live for long.

My neighbor is watching all of this by the way. She’s looking at me like I’m an animal killer. Like I allowed this to happen. I guess I did. I didn’t think it would happen quite like that but holy crap, it did. I have no idea how to react, how I should feel. My daughter’s 170528_1822221439627_69591_oparakeet died earlier this year as did my son’s Green Cheek Conure, Seymour. We are a bird loving family. And a cat loving family. What do you do when your cat kills a bird and you like birds? What do you do when your neighbor is looking at you like you’re some kind of monster? And that poor dove, the rare dove with that look in its eye as Smokey held it in his mouth. Maybe it’s a sign I’m going to hell because I let my cat catch a rare, white dove. Oy.

I go back in the house and swap out my tea for a glass of wine. As I stroll back out to my swing on the patio, I walk by Smokey who will get a good scrub down and brushing later, because Mama doesn’t let cooties get in the house. My gray, part stray, long-haired, bad-breathed, nose rubbing, butt shaving, bird catching kitty walked up to me looking for a few scratches behind the ear. I did what any good pet parent would do. I scratched him behind the ear and said, “Good job Smokes. Way to get the bird.”


*All photos and video by the author.


PMA – What is it and why do I need it?

Thinking positive thoughts…

PMA. Positive Mental Attitude. Sounds like a belief one of my hippie friends would subscribe to. My understanding of PMA is that the majority of our thoughts throughout the day are negative. When we allow negative thoughts/feelings to take root in our brain, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative thoughts reap negative outcomes. Or something like that. We want to change our thoughts to positive ones so we’ll have more positive outcomes. (I know I could have researched PMA to get a better idea of what it means to the world, but I’m keeping this at my level…in my brain. What PMA means to me. Judge not my friends.)

I have many negative thoughts. I think it’s more of a worried mother thing. I have negative thoughts about all the many things that could happen to my children in the day. Then I feel bad for having the bad thoughts. And I wonder if I’m sheltering my kids too much. Or not enough. I wonder if I’m not spending enough time with them, if I’m doing enough for them, etc. Endless cycle of negativity and doubt. Ah, parenthood.

The doubts I have as a parent just continue on to other aspects of my life. Am I doing enough at work? Am I doing my best to take care of my team so they can accomplish the mission? They don’t like me sometimes, why is that? Am I okay with that? Am I sheltering them too much or not spending enough time with them? OMG, it’s like another set of kids. But they’re not. I’m not their mother. Not always anyway.

My brain is constantly judging me and making me doubt myself. I hate that! I hate how much energy my negativity and doubt takes. Man, talk about Debbie Downer!

In order to battle the negative thoughts and insecurities, some suggest wearing a rubber

I need a prettier PMA band.

band or a ribbon or something on your wrist and each time the self-doubt and negative thoughts comes up, you put the rubber band on the opposite wrist. Holy shit. I’d be playing with the rubber band all day! But still, it’s worth a try, right? Could I have a more positive, mental attitude? Will I smile more and give less stink eye? Will I seem more approachable and lose my RBF? Could I possibly be sick less often and suffer less from back and neck pain? Will I stop clenching my teeth all the time? Hmm.

I’ll give it a whirl. I’ve known some great people who believed in the power of PMA. I’ll let you know what happens. If you’ve tried this before, did it help? What are some tips to help me find success?

**Dedicated to my friend Aaron who firmly believed PMA would give him more time on this Earth. I’ll always remember and miss you my friend.

Air travel with kids…5 steps for survival.

Here are 5 tips to help you survive an international flight with children…with little to no hurt feelings. Whether you have one child or five (heaven help you if you have five), these tips have been tested (by me) and deemed keepers.

In Frankfurt, Germany waiting to board a flight to Atlanta.

1. Have a plan. That means getting airline seats ahead of time, making sure kids are separated (plan to sit in the middle so you can give the evil eye to both of them). Do not, I repeat DO NOT buy the plane tickets if you can’t select your seats. You will get screwed. You know that row of 11 seats on a lot of international flights? Usually it’s three seats, aisle, five seats, aisle, three seats. If you let the airline assign your seats at the gate, you and your doppelgängers are 95% likely to be in the middle three seats of the middle five. I’m speaking from experience. Just so “NO” to unassigned seating.

2. “The Bag”. You must have a small bag with travel tissues, hand sanitizer, breath

“The Bag”

spray, body lotion, bug bite cream (because someone will have one), tooth brush/paste, eye drops, ear plugs, Chapstick, eye masks, and facial moisturizer (so you don’t look like a gecko upon arrival). The kids know what is in the bag and when they need something, they’ll just ask for “The Bag” and I’ll hand them the whole thing…which I know, could end in disaster. I’m trying to teach my kids to pick up after themselves and not be slobs. If I lose a Chapstick during the trip, so be it. If it’s the cherry Chapstick, then I’m prepared to unleash the evil eye.

3. Snacks. Yeah, the airline will provide them but my son is in a huge growth spurt and is pretty much always hungry. My daughter is all about munching on a crisp apple mid-flight. My son will pretty much eat anything edible, and probably a few things that aren’t. Trail mix is a go-to snack as well as anything not too sweet. No one likes amped up kids on a cramped plane.

4. Electronics. God bless ’em. Our three-person travel party carried (clears throat): three laptops, three tablets plus two Kindle readers, and four cell phones.

ZJ reading her Kindle

Plus all the chargers. Yeah, it’s  excessive, but keeping kids entertained for 10 hours requires electronics. There were also chargers at each of our seats. Score! I adore reading about the parents who swear off electronics for their kids for some crunchy granola reason. Bless their hearts. They’ll learn. I don’t subscribe to their theories that electronics impair social development and learning. I consider my kids to be intelligent, social human beings. I like them a whole lot and even more when they aren’t kicking the seat in front of them or yelling at each other.

5. Economy Comfort + seats. Holy crap. I paid an extra $150 total for three seats in Economy Comfort + during our 2-hour stateside and 10-hour international flights. So.Well.Worth.It.

Love Delta Comfort +.

Besides the ample leg room allowing the kids can stow all those electronics under their seat, it also offers more movie selections. Best part: free liquor. Speaking of…

6. Liquor. Now, I’m not a lush, per se, but having a drink (or three) on a flight when children are involved is like manna from heaven. I made sure I kept hydrated (with water, just to clarify) while I dehydrated with assorted wine or liquor. Nothing says “my life is beautiful” more clearly than Firefly Sweet Tea at 35,000 feet.

Now for the parents of the screaming child three rows back, let me introduce you to Firefly. And you can borrow my iPad.

Zach on the receiving end of stink eye.


The “Do over”

My happy family, July 2016

Chris and I were in marriage bliss. For about 14 years. After that, our marriage got… wonky. We were both in the military, had two young kids. Deploying to Afghanistan changed me greatly. I returned from that stint completely anti-social, claustrophobic, moody, jumpy…just irritated. I hate fireworks. I have to be completely knocked out to get a new MRI of my spine. I’m not sure why I changed so much, but I did.

Afghanistan, 2007

Five months after I returned from Afghanistan, Chris was sent to school for a year and moved to Syracuse, NY. The kids and I stayed in San Antonio. It was hard on me. It was hard on him. It was excruciating for the kids. After his year of school was up, he returned to San Antonio and we were both pretty happy in our jobs until I got promoted and we were promptly moved to Charleston, SC. I did not want to go and Chris didn’t either. It’s not that we were loving life in Texas or anything, it was just the move to Charleston would put us in jobs we didn’t want.

Fast forward, I ended up loving the job at Charleston; Chris didn’t. Then he deployed to

Afghanistan, 2011

Afghanistan and during that deployment, lost both his mom and his grandmother. It was such a terribly hard time for him and I got to see him so little during that time. I hated that. I wanted to be there for him. (About a year or so later, I realized I had never grieved the loss of my mother-in-law because I was trying so hard to help Chris grieve).


Chris returned to Charleston after his deployment was over and like me, he was a different person. The changes in him were not like what I faced. He wasn’t overly anxious or jump when the windshield wipers came on. That was all me. Chris returned, in my point of view of course, as an ass. I don’t think anyone would have noticed besides me. Now, some years later, I know it’s because he felt he had no control on anything. He was returning from a deployment he was not prepared for and where he lost two very important people. He returned to a job he did not want or like and felt he lacked the leadership skills to manage the careers of 45 people. He was in control of nothing, except at home. He would argue and disagree with me about the littlest of things. He was very “my way or the highway” with me. And after running the household for so much time without him, I was not going to allow him to poison my happiness. I liked work. I liked the area. The kids were happy. Honestly, Chris was miserable and it poisoned us all. The couple who never fought, never argued and seldom disagreed about anything became two bickering, intolerant assholes. It didn’t take long for me to tell him that he needed to stop treating me like crap because our marriage was on the line. I guess by the time he realized how seriously I perceived his behavior, it was too late. I had checked out.

Separation and divorce is a difficult time for everyone, but I must say, we did pretty well.

Pre-deployment, 2011

He moved to an apartment within walking distance from the house. The kids saw us both nearly everyday. Looking back now, I can say the separation was good for us. At least good for me. I think he feels the same way. So much of ourselves was lost over the years and the time apart allowed us to try to regain some of our former selves…remembering who we once were before life changed us.


After Charleston, Chris got a job back in Texas and I followed him there. I didn’t know what kind of job I’d get but I truly believed the kids deserved to have both parents in their lives. Everything was fine. I got a job was okay but not fulfilling. The pay wasn’t good. And San Antonio is not one of my top favorite cities. Not even in the top 100. But I was okay. Chris was okay. Then, about 9 months after we moved to Texas, I got a job offer, a really good one. Much better pay, in an area I knew and liked. Dream job, bad timing. Bad because it would force me to move to Germany. Chris and I talked about this job a lot. He knew it was a perfect fit for me and understood the opportunities that would be available for me, and the kids. I don’t think he ever strongly considered keeping the kids in Texas. He knew the area in Germany, knew the culture, the schools were good, travel opportunities were great…he wanted us to go. So I accepted the job and we filed for divorce.

May 2, 2015, my son’s birthday, I left San Antonio and flew to Germany ready to take advantage of those opportunities. The kids stayed with Chris in Texas so they could finish the school year. That was a tough flight. My son was heartbroken that I was leaving on his birthday, both kids were devastated that Chris and I filed for divorce, Chris just seemed…defeated. I was terrified. But I got to Germany, found a house, got emerged in the new job, and before I knew it, it was mid July and Chris was bringing the kids over to their

Trip to Bavaria during the July 2015 visit.

new home. Our divorce was final but it didn’t feel like we were divorced. During his visit, we still cohabited like an old married couple. We didn’t bicker anymore. We respected each other’s space while enjoying our time together. It was at that point in July where I wondered, “What the hell have I done? I think I need a do over.”


After Chris left, the kids and I established a routine. School started and the new normalcy set in. Chris came to visit in October and December. Each visit made it more and more clear: we’d made a mistake and shouldn’t have divorced. By the time he visited in March, we knew we were on the road to reconciliation and used the time together to test the waters of coupledom again. Yep, it was gonna work.

Finally, in July 2016, the kids and I flew to San Antonio where Chris and I were married again. Just a small ceremony at the courthouse, with the two of us and the kids, a judge, and a photographer friend. Small but very special ceremony with just the 4-pack.

Saying “I do”, again.

I have to go back to Germany tomorrow, kids in tow. Chris will move there next month and we will try this family thing out again. I’m so excited! I’m so fortunate to have another chance at this relationship and that our 4-pack will be together again. So the next question is, do we keep July 7th as our anniversary or revert back to December 22nd, when we were first married 18 years ago?


Marriage photos by the talented Chris Griffin of Virza Images. Studio picture by Tumbleston Photography in Charleston.