Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Redirect, Please!

Hello - and welcome to the final post of Mockingbird's Nest.

I sincerely hope you've enjoyed these posts of mine. I know I've enjoyed writing them and reading your comments, both here and on Facebook, where I linked the posts.

The Nest has been around for ten years, which is an eternity in Internet years. I've decided to move to a different platform that would give me more flexibility and I'm not going to re-attach all these posts, choosing instead to keep this content here and start anew.

The Nest won't go away for a while, but nothing new will be added. If you've enjoyed this site, please navigate over to my new site, which takes the best of what I've learned here (both about blogging and about the content!) and follow me there.

Thanks! And I hope you enjoy Splendor InTheSticks!

With love and gratitude,


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Spooky 2003 - 2017

Super Spooky!
In October of 2003, I was walking my dog, a lovely black and tan almost-Gordon setter named "Fearghus," in the scrubby woods across from my little apartment in Boiling Springs when a skinny, unkempt white shepherd-looking thing stepped out of the trees and into my heart. She had a leather strap around her neck as a collar, but no tags. She was friendly, but dreadfully thin - she hadn't just jumped the fence for an adventure that afternoon. Not sure what to do, but being unwilling to leave her to her own devices with a busy road nearby, I rigged up the leash to walk the dogs in tandem and took them both back home.

After a visit to the vet to determine if the white dog was healthy (she was), I learned that she was about 9 months old, that her ancestry was Labrador, shepherd, "and a few romantic evenings a couple of generations back," and that she hadn't been fixed. A generous friend helped with the cost of the spaying and general shots, and I had myself a second dog. (No, I didn't put up signs. She was thin to the point of being bony and I didn't see signs for a missing dog that fit her description. Whoever had owned her hadn't taken good care of her and she wasn't going back to that.) I tried out a number of names that seemed to fit the white-dog-in-October-in-the-woods situation - I remember trying both "Ghost" and "Casper" - but "Spooky" was the one that stuck.

FryDaddy and the Spookster
Fearghus, who always was a runner, eventually was re-homed. (Seriously, that dog needed a hundred thousand acres in Montana.) Then, at least for a few years, it was just the two of us and we had ourselves a number of adventures. For instance, Spooky technically had a police (dog) record for hi-jinks that I'm still pretty sure Fearghus started which involved getting out of the pen at that little apartment and ended up with a wounded pet duck. With Spooky by my side, I bought my first "by myself" house. I presented at my first conference. I wrote my first book. And throughout it all, I stayed sober. In the tradition of sobriety that I follow, there's a focus on surrendering your will and your self to a "Higher Power." Many, but not all, call this Power by the name of "God." I won't go quite so far as to say that Spooky was my Higher Power, but it's worth noting that "god" spelled backward is "dog" and there were at least a few nights when knowing that Spooky had never seen me take a drink was a powerful incentive to last another 24 hours. Hey - what works, works.

Spooky in the Snow!
In her youth, Spooky loved running after balls, although she remained fuzzy on the concept of "fetching" them back to the thrower. Friends entered our lives and a few left. Spooky and I took long rambles, with her often wearing a jaunty backpack to carry her water dish. FryDaddy came onto the scene and quickly figured out that he needed to win over Spooky to have a shot with me, so early on, he brought her treats from a fancy dog bakery in Charleston. Cupboard love eventually gave way to honest affection.  FryDaddy and I married (Spooky kept my name, forever remaining "Spooky Koontz") and we added a kitten to the household. Spooky continued to shy away from anything that looked like a snake when we were out walking, be that a cable, wire, or thin tree branch. FryDaddy went away to Tennessee for graduate school. We continued to present our work at conferences. Spooky popped up in examples in various communication classes I taught. A second book was written, this time by both FryDaddy and me. Spooky never liked dressing up for the holidays, but would put up with it to a point. We added a second cat, this one a street stray with a goofy walk. We had an actual snowstorm, and Spooky got to play in the snow-covered street.  Our first cat passed away. My walks with Spooky grew shorter. A shadow on a routine mammogram led to a year of worry, treatment, and joy. A calico cat adopted us. A third book was written. A garden was planted.

A very patient dog!
(Or "Stranger Things" Spooky!)
This past summer, Spooky began to dramatically slow down. She lost too much weight. She didn't hear very well. We changed her diet to softer food designed for older dogs. She began having trouble getting up after a good night's sleep. Her gums lost their rosy pinkness and became anemic-looking. Then, a few days ago, she stopped eating, even refusing cheese. She barely touched her water dish. She was telling us that it was time. The compassionate vet - the same one Spooky first saw nearly 15 years ago - confirmed the news. There were tests we could order and bloodwork that could be done, but that would really only narrow down which organs were failing. I had to lift her into the car to drive her home.

So together, FryDaddy and I decided what was best for Spooky's comfort and we spent most of yesterday telling Spooky stories and just enjoying our gentle girl. I took her to town for a slow walk on the courthouse grass and I wore a backpack to carry her water dish, hoping I could convince her to drink at least a little bit. She spent most of the evening just lying on her side on the soft carpet of the hallway. People were unfailingly kind and a young girl and her wise mother who have known Spooky for the girl's entire life (they had been our next-door neighbors and now only live two streets away) come over to say good-bye to her. The girl petted Spooky and then read Dog Heaven to her. She helpfully pointed out the illustrations of fluffy cloud beds and an endless supply of ham-sandwich-biscuits to Spooky while I tried to hold it together.

I want to think we gave her a good life. I need to think that, because I can't repay this dog for what she's given me. And even though I know that allowing her to rest is the right thing to do - it's one of the most difficult moral decisions I've made in my life.

Thank you, Spooky. Now go run with the rabbits. And yes, you can chase the ducks as much as you want to.

You're a good girl.


The songsters were right - Love was kinda crazy
with a Spooky little girl like you.

Monday, October 2, 2017

No Such Thing as Too Much

Here it is, the beginning of October. The weather here in North Carolina has broken from the heat wave we've been having and today has been just lovely - crisp enough to justify that "basic white girl" pumpkin spice coffee this morning, and late Sunday afternoon I actually built a fire in the fire pit while I shoved yard furniture around and fussed over the placement of a few pots of chrysanthemums. Started my seasonal purge of summer clothes, too.

All that has been to help clear my head. Ever since the "Tiara Challenge" finished a few weeks ago, I've been thinking how to move forward on the principles I've been trying to put into action. I'm surprised by how difficult I've found that to do, so let me explain a little.

I went back and re-read my posts for 2017 - it's interesting. In a yoga class early this year, we were asked to choose a word to meditate on; something that we wanted to experience in our life. I chose "delight" and I think this entire year has been about finding personal delight in my everyday life.

I'm finally understanding the value of play, both as a learning tool and as a goal unto itself. Resting, recharging, and valuing my own experiences has an inherent worth that my Puritan ancestors would frown upon. Then again, they routinely died of malnutrition and childhood diseases, so what did they know?

On my next birthday, I reach the half-century mark. I am a bit bewildered by that - most days I feel like I'm in my late twenties, although I know I wasn't as self-aware at that time of my life. It's a big birthday and I expect to do something large for it, although I haven't quite figured out what that is going to be. (Bob Ross painting party, maybe? Human "Hungry, Hungry Hippo"?) Stay tuned!

I've also become more and more convinced that the results of my ongoing self-care efforts have helped me become far more comfortable in my skin. It seems to me that society usually wants women to hush up and take up as little space as possible, especially as we move beyond the peak of our traditional "hotness." Some of that is physical - the current American beauty ideal tends to be thin to the point of being unhealthy. (I long for the days of Lillian Russell!) But we also like our women to be sweet, demure, tasteful, and above all - quiet. Basically, we're often given the message that it's really best for us to be ornamental.

I'm not. Don't get me wrong, I can rock a strand of pearls and a twinset. But I also can work leopard print and a protest sign.

I'm often too much. Too loud, too boisterous, too indignant, too demanding.

The kicker is that, after yearsandyears of fighting that, I like me. And I'm beginning to think that there's no such thing as "too much." Passion, zest, exuberance, sparkle - all of these things are in woefully short supply in a world that often is characterized by rat-racing and workaday cares. We dismiss these other qualities as impractical, childish, and frivolous.

I suspect that's rooted in fear. (I know fear, so I can recognize the landscape.) I mean, what if everyone just went around busting out of proscribed, narrow roles? Chaos, I tell you. Chaos.

Or maybe that's what joy looks like. And I choose joy.

I intend to continue in my current vein and I fervently hope you'll join me. I expect to spend the months leading up to my 50th birthday in preparation for my "year of living outrageously." I want to trade practical flannel for bias-cut satin. I want to wear sharp cat-eye eyeliner and bloodred lipstick. I want to casually explain that I can't make that last-minute meeting because I have a date with my husband to try the tasting menu at the McNinch House. Not for our anniversary; just for a Tuesday. In short, I want to take up room.

I've already started a couple of lists:

(to remind myself that I can do outrageous things):
  • I've galloped at breakneck speed on horseback through thick woods
  • I've traveled, gotten lost, and managed to get found
  • I've hand-fed exotic animals (like a hippo and a giraffe)
  • I've stuck my neck out for a cause I believe in
  • I've seen Halley's Comet (then rode home belting out the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" - thanks, Jill!)
  • I've written a novel (two, actually. They're awful, but I've written them)
  • I've made a yummy cake totally from scratch
  • I've done a pinup photo shoot
  • I've seen the Milky Way
  • I've ridden an elephant
  • I've been a tourist in a Communist country
  • I've fallen in love
  • I've admitted that my life was out of control and that I needed help
  • I've seen things that make me believe in Divine guidance
  • I've dyed my hair outrageous colors
  • I've published a book (three, actually)
  • I've jumped out of a perfectly good airplane from 12,000 feet up
  • I've earned by SCUBA certification and dealt with a broken regulator hose. You can scream all the way up as you ascend!

(plans for the next year or so):
  • I want to ride in a hot-air balloon
  • I want to wear an incredible diamond necklace on date night with my husband
  • I want to go skeet shooting
  • I want to test drive an exotic car
  • I want to gamble at a casino (James Bond style, not video poker style)
  • I want to wear a tiara and throw candy to a crowd
  • I want to go to a rodeo
  • I want to learn to juggle
  • I want to take a trapeze or aerial class
  • I want to attend a Seder
In short, I want to experience frequent joie de vivre, or to put it in American terms, I want to rock life. I've gotten at least two extra chances and I have no intention of living quietly and leaving this earth without making a mark upon it.

What are YOUR suggestions?

This amazing lady has also been quoted as saying,
"Never be afraid to stop traffic." 
I want to be her when I grow up!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tiara Post - Finis

Happy French Friday! Here we are - with fifteen total tiara posts detailing the "Summer Tiara Challenge." How'd we do?

In North Carolina, it's drop-dead gorgeous (rather like the Fife Tiara, which is dazzling the post this week). We're enjoying a few days of clear weather with just a hint of coolness in the air. Perfect convertible weather! Pick your music and let your hair just waft in the wind . . .

Now get real. Before people have even dried out from Harvey, leviathan Hurricane Irma is determined to wreak havoc on Florida and even out here people are stripping the grocery shelves bare in case we lose power for a few days. I enjoyed the weather too much and wound up leaving my ragtop open to the elements when a thunderstorm rolled in. And letting your hair - ever your super-cool cobalt and amethyst hair - waft in the wind means it turns into a mass of snarls when you bring the car to a stop.

Never forget. Your outside is one thing, but you flat-out have to tend to your inner self as well! And that is best done with truth. So let's take another look, shall we?

During this challenge, I did well on some things - bullet journaling and trying new foods in particular - but making even mild exercise an everyday thing didn't materialize the way I planned. Water intake is up to where it ought to be (most days), and I've tried water infused with berries and mint and even made sun tea during the eclipse. I'm better at "treating myself like company," too. The "ruthlessly winnow out my closet" part - well, I wasn't quite as ruthless as I'd like to have been. In fact, I have quite a few ruths left.

Sloth with Tiara. Perfection! 
But I do catch myself saying, "It's time to push back from the desk. Get some more water. Hey, why not eat outside in the sunshine today?" And while I have days where I look like an escapee from the pages of PeopleofWalMart, some other days I manage to pull an outfit off with a certain élanThose are usually days when I go simple, instead of fussing so much. Today, for example - dark jeans, a crisp white blouse (worn untucked) and my darling Target-found leopard ankle boots. I'm getting closer to being a true "une femme d'un certain âge," I think. And I'm having a blast making the journey - thank you for taking it with me!

Fall is beginning soon. Make sure you write yourself into your calendar of obligations. Scrunch through leaves. Buy real apple cider. Eat a pear so juicy that you're nearly indecent. Remember to be kind to those around you - a lot of folks are going to be needing serious help this season. You don't have to join the Cajun Navy, but be sure your thoughts and prayers come with casseroles, gas cards, bottled water, diapers, and/or other expressions of "I know you need some help just now. Here."

We don't sparkle because someone else crowned us. We did that ourselves and part of wearing a tiara is knowing that not everyone has our good fortune to live a life that can lend itself so readily to humor and joy. Therefore, we have an obligation to help the world find its own sparkle - and you can't do that with an empty belly or filthy drinking water.

So straighten that tiara and roll up your sleeves! This world needs what we've got - which includes a willingness to work hard, demonstrate kindness, and demand justice.

Go forth, my sisters!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lucky Thirteen!

A little late, so we'll call this one the "Sunday Funday Tiara Posting!!!" (I figure the enthusiasm of the  extra exclamation points buys me some slack on the two-day-late post!)

Our tiara picture this week, by the way, is a lovely example of a modern piece - this opal, emerald, and diamond piece was designed for Joanna Newsom's 2013 wedding to Andy Samberg (of Brooklyn Nine Nine - a hilarious show, if you haven't been watching it).  I love the riot of color in this one.

So - checking in. How's your tiara balancing? For me, this week has been crazybusy - one of my college classes is taught at a local high school, which means that I'm shuffling two class schedules. While I enjoy the students, I hate the different schedules (no college class meets five days a week for nine weeks!) and much of the first week is given over to things that traditional college classes just don't have to deal with. I appreciate the opportunity that is given to the students here - free college, yay! - but . . . well, let's just say my tiara was not always squarely set on my head this week. That means it's even more important to center myself, which explains why last night was spent having an amazing dinner with PopTap (we were supposed to see Wonder Woman again while our husbands were gaming, but we enjoyed the conversation so much that we missed the movie! So we bought tap shoes for her upcoming dance class (from a bull rider - there's always a story, if you just take time to listen) and browsed the pop culture section of a bookstore. (I now have knee socks with cats in a fuzzy shrub - pussy willows, if you will!) Today was intended to be a pajama day, but I'll have to go out at some point, which will require swapping slippers for shoes.

Society is so demanding.

In other news - I had an excellent oncology check-up this week - that's one area where it's really wonderful to be boring! PLUS - we received our author copies of A Dream Given Form, the guide to Babylon 5 that has been in the works for three years. (My bout with Junior Auxiliary Cancer pushed that project back a solid year. Blech.) FryDaddy and I have a book launch scheduled for our hometown next Saturday, Sep. 9 - contact me for details! It'll be a fun time, with refreshments that are tied to the show and a chance to chat with the authors (us!) while having your copy signed!

There's only one more week left on our Tiara Challenge - take a good, clear-eyed look at your habits and let's end strong! Scatter some joy in the lives of others and make some time to celebrate the unique, possibly eccentric, individual that you are! No one else on this planet can sing your song, so belt it out, sister!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tiara the Twelfth

Heavier than some, but still very pretty!
Greetings, We-Who-Sparkle!

Yes, it's not quite a "French Friday" this week - a brush with a stomach bug kept that from being a wise choice - but one of the gifts of learning the "sparkle path" is figuring out that self-care sometimes means missing self-imposed deadlines. (And you really didn't want to read anything I had to say before today! Blech!)

OK - so bugs happen. I hadn't been that puny and miserable for at least a couple of years. It wasn't anything serious, but I've spent the last two days on ginger ale, crackers, and Campbell's Chicken 'n' Stars. (That's my go-to comfort food when I'm sick. It's been that way since I was just a Li'l Sparkle and it's a testament to how long it's been since I've been that curled-up-miserable that I noticed that the company has changed the stars since the last time FryDaddy went out to fetch sickbed supplies for me.) I'm much better today and the sheets are in the laundry on the "boil" setting.

I missed my usual Weight Watchers meeting Thursday night, but went to one this morning. Now, bugs are not the preferred method of weight loss for any sane person, but I'm looking for silver linings here and I can announce that I've cracked double digits and am now down 11.2 pounds from my starting weight three months ago. (That means I've lost the equivalent of a cat or a gallon of paint. Perhaps a painted cat.) That's just under a pound a week (remember there was vacation and the Legion World Series in there, too), which isn't showy, but is certainly respectable. Onward!

In other news, this past Monday night, I helped pull off the "Eclipsing Hate" rally here in town. (My job was mostly securing the location and pushing pastries on people. I quite enjoyed it.) This was a HUGE success, bringing together people of a wide range of ages, political affiliations, religious leanings, and races to affirm a commitment to peace and bridge-building. We were challenged by one speaker (Titus Hopper, who serves as principal to our Early College High School) to not leave the rally until we had gotten the contact information for at least 5 people we didn't know. Over the next three months, we're to get in touch with these folks and sit down for lunch and conversation - not just a text, not just a phone call. What a great idea!

Also this week, I spent a big chunk of time at work "gamifying" my high school public speaking course - I'm excited and deeply nervous about taking this plunge. It's a natural extension of my work to bring relevant popular culture into the classroom, but turning the entire class into a game (students earn "experience points" rather than grades, which they gain through a mixture of "solo missions" and "Guild quests," etc.) is going to require an enormous amount of work. Then again, it's past time to mix that one up. (Hmm - I'm starting to see why my immune system might have let a bug sneak by.)

Seriously - what a cool idea!
Then, when I went by the library, I finally found my first hidden rock! People in my hometown started doing this - people take flat rocks, paint them with bright colors and inspirational messages, then hide them around town. When you find one, you re-hide it. It's a neat idea - and not just for kids.

So, all in all, I'd say it's been a good week. Could have done without the bug part, but without the lows, it's difficult to appreciate the highs. (It's cliched, but it's true. If you are routinely blessed with good health, there's nothing like waking up feeling better after a mild illness to make you aware of and appreciate it. I hate that that is a lesson I apparently needed to re-learn!)

Only two more weeks on this Sparkle Challenge! Let's end strong!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tiara the Eleventh

Happy French Friday, everyone! Do you like the "Eclipse Tiara"? Remember to be safe with your eyes on Monday.

So how are we doing this week? For me, this was a strange, odd, quirky sort of week. It was the week before classes began for the fall semester, which always involves a schedule that is whopperjawed. (If you don't know what "whopperjawed" means, just think of it as another way of saying "cattywampus." If you don't know what "cattywampus" means - check this out and you'll soon be up to speed, bless your heart.)

I expected my scale check-in this week to result in head-hanging shame, but just to prove that there is very little logic to be found in the universe, I lost a fraction of a pound. That's despite the ball park eating, the stress sweet tooth, and the desperation frozen pizza night. I'm redoubling my efforts to get back to full-out tracking (it really does make a difference with me) and to add at least mild exercise each day to burn a little extra. I'm within two pounds of my second goal and I'd really like to reach that next week.

I have also discovered the glory that is a long, tunic-style shirt worn over leggings. While I wouldn't wear my ensemble today for teaching, it was perfect for a day of rummaging around the office. (Side note - I wore heels for my first day of class and those shoes are now in the "give away" pile. They seem to be a pair that I bought because they were on sale instead of being perfect for me - I have q raw place on one of my toes that had me ready to scream by the end of yesterday! Remember - regardless of the price tag, it's not a bargain if it's not perfect for you! This is a lesson I keep having to relearn, I'm afraid.)

In addition to the eclipse Monday, a small group of concerned citizens are holding a rally in uptown Shelby called "Eclipsing Hate" to provide a unified visual counterpoint to the shocking violence that rocked Charlottesville. If you're in town, come on out. It'll be held at the City Pavilion (the location of the farmer's market) from 6 to 8 pm. Please spread the word!

What better place to wear a tiara? And really, what's a rally without glitter?

Just food for thought.

Three more weeks to shine, Sisters!