Arkansas-Takes More Than a Tornado To Get Us Down

Photo Credit: Randy Ashley, DVM
Photo Credit: Randy Ashley, DVM

I’ve seen it on the news in the United States, and I’ve received messages from friends in the UK, Ireland, and other parts of Europe checking to make sure I’m ok after seeing coverage of the massive tornado to hit Arkansas on April 27.

The tornado was rated a “high-end EF 4,” meaning it was just shy of being an EF 5 (the rarest and most destructive of all tornadoes).  To be classified as EF 4, the wind speed is 206 to 260 miles per hour. With it being a high-end EF 4, I imagine the winds were more in the 250-260 mph ballpark.  It carved a 3/4 mile wide path of destruction 80 miles across the state, from the southwest to the northeast.  The tornado’s path can be seen from satellite images from space. The tornado ended up killing 15 in Arkansas alone, and after seeing first hand the destruction it left in its wake, I’m amazed (and truly thankful) more people weren’t killed.  Tornadoes are just part of life in Arkansas in the Spring.  You hear about them touching down, destroying a few homes, and within a few days you go on with your normal life, the tornado merely a distant memory.  That’s the way it USUALLY works.  Not this time.

This tornado had my down in its direct path. The national Weather Channel was announcing for my town to take cover immediately and that Reed Timmer, storm chaser extraordinaire, was chasing the storm that would later produce the tornado…straight for where we live.  My family got our dogs, a few cushions and pillows, and took shelter in a small hallway with no windows or outside walls.  The safest place we could have been in the house.  Keeping up with the storm’s track via the TV blasting loudly in the living room, the local meteorologists noticed that there was a “radar indicated” tornado.  We hear this all the time, but it almost always turns out to be nothing more than a wall cloud that never drops a tornado.  We still knew it could happen anytime.  A few minutes later they said, “That’s not a radar indicated tornado, this thing is on the ground.” They could tell because the weather radar was picking up what’s called a debris ball.  That’s when the tornado is on the ground and is so big and kicking up so much large debris it can be seen by satellite and radar technology.  Looks like a storm cell with a long hook on it with a circle directly in the hook.  That’s when you know it’s a bad one.

They said it was headed toward my town, take shelter NOW, then then everything outside when deathly still.  That’s a pretty good sign a tornado is imminent.  The lights flickered multiple times, and according to the meteorologists, we had several minutes before the tornado would reach us. Being the curious (and downright stupid) person I sometimes am, I had to get a look. I left the discomfort of the shelter (try cramming 3 people, 4 dogs, and a mass of couch cushions and pillows into a 3 x 7 foot room) to get a look at what was going on outside.  It was still and quiet.  The only thing I noticed was what I thought was lightning. Then I noticed the lightning wasn’t coming from above me, but from the ground…and it was blue.  Then it registered that what I was seeing was transformers blowing and power lines being hit.  That’s when I knew this was really serious.

I ran back inside, got back in the “hidey hole” as we southerners call our designated tornado shelter spots, and waited.  The power went out. We felt it was about to get ugly. My mom was able to pull up a live stream of the local weather team talking about the storm on her iPhone and much to our relief they said the storm had taken taken a turn and was making a more northeasterly track. It appeared my town would just barely dodge the bullet if the tornado continued on its track.  Well, it did just that and once we realized we were in the clear, we emerged from our hiding place and things got real.

Through twitter, I was able to keep up with where the tornado was going and what it was doing.  I was seeing things like “Mayflower hit hard,” “3/4 of a mile wide,” and many places I see and shop on a regular basis were gone.  I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that these buildings where I shop, these restaurants where I eat, these landmarks I see every day and take for granted…simply weren’t there anymore.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. It was unfathomable to me.

Then they said the tornado was headed straight toward the town of Vilonia, which had been badly damaged by a much weaker tornado 3 years–and two days–before.  Mayflower was hit hard. The area it hit there missed my home by about 4 miles.  What it did to Vilonia, however, was worse.  A mass casualty situation was announced and all emergency personnel was called up.  The national guard was called up.  Most of the deaths happened in Vilonia.  The tornado that hit my state April 27 left one of my acquaintances dead and one of my friend’s homes (and her cars and all her belongings) completely destroyed.

My town was as far west as you could go on Interstate 40 for a few days (although at that particular location, I-40 travels North/South for several miles before switching back to East/West).  It’s still backed up for miles with people slowing down to look in disbelief at all the devastation.  I finally made it to Conway, the town north of where the tornado hit, to run some much needed errands yesterday.  I was blown away by what I saw.  Here are some instagram videos I took of what can be seen from Interstate 40 east at Mayflower:

Part 1
Part 2

This doesn’t even begin to do justice to what these hard-hit areas look like.  The thing that struck me most, more than the mangled buildings and cars crushed like soda cans, was something that I couldn’t get on film as it was on the westbound side of the interstate.  A business called Mayflower RV took a direct hit by the storm.  There were RVs and campers, mangled and in huge piles, strewn for hundreds of yards.  I had visited there with my family a few years before looking into purchasing one.  We met a nice man who told us about how his home had narrowly missed being hit by the tornado that hit the town of Vilonia the first time in 2011. We were there shopping a few weeks after that tornado occurred.  He mentioned how worried they were that the business had been hit that time and were so relieved when it hadn’t.  This time, however, they weren’t so lucky.

We had actually just been back there recently looking at campers again, and the very same man helped us look.  I couldn’t believe the place was gone.  As I drove by, I noticed that someone had forged through the mountain of trees, debris, cars, and campers to place an American flag where the sales building had once been.  A symbol to all who passed that they would come come back better than ever, as is the spirit of the people of this country when terrible things like this happen.

The second thing to grab my attention was, right next to Mayflower RV–just to the south–is a vacant, wooded area.  I noticed that there was an approximately 200 yard wide swath of trees that had been snapped in half.  Right in the middle of the trunk.  They weren’t blown completely over, just snapped in half like matchsticks.  And these weren’t saplings. They were 50 and 100 year old trees with trunks 2 and 3 feet in circumference.  All across the area, the trees that weren’t snapped in half or blown completely down were completely bare.  Every leaf stripped from their limbs.  Many had pieces of metal wrapped around them, showing the obvious direction the wind was coming from.  Photos, mail, and other personal items from the towns hit by the tornado were found 80 and 100 miles away.

The thing that impresses me most is the giving, helpful spirit of people since the tornado hit.  People from all over are coming in droves to help clean up the mess, take away all the remains of homes knocked completely off their foundations, cut the trees away that are blocking our roads, and bringing supplies of all kinds to hand out to families who have nothing.  It’s amazing the good that people are capable of if they would just reach inside themselves and let it out.  Neighbors helping neighbors…strangers helping strangers.  It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Here’s a look at the footage from CNN just after the storm hit.  The reporter was not yet aware of the damage still occurring to his east.  He only had preliminary category reports for the tornado based on what had occurred in Mayflower alone.

Help is still needed.  If you live in Arkansas, there are countless donation sites.  Many churches and hotels are accepting non-perishable food items, water, and other personal items.  They are also still desperately in need of people to loan out their chainsaws, tractors, backhoes, and anything else that can help clear out debris on a scale so massive.  If you don’t live in Arkansas, you can still help by donating to the Red Cross.

Visit this website ( American Red Cross ) , select Donate Now on the right side of the page. You can be sure your money will be used to help people in Arkansas, as well as Mississippi and Alabama after they were hit by tornadoes on April 28.



Travelling Fool

I just got home after a trip to northeast Arkansas to visit my family. It was a much-needed getaway after dealing with some health issues. Said health issues are still in progress and are causing me a huge amount of stress and worry. I know worrying won’t change the outcome of the tests, but it doesn’t make me worry any less. Some of them have come back normal so keeping my fingers crossed for the same result for the rest of them.

My family lives just across the Mississippi river from Memphis, Tennessee.  It amazes me how much different that part of Arkansas is from the part where I live.  East Arkansas is called the Mississippi river delta.  It’s flat and mostly nothing but farms and fields of winter wheat, soybeans, and cotton as far as the eye can see.  A few trees here and there.  Where I live, on the other hand, is the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains.  It’s beautiful and covered in lovely forest.  I never lived in the delta, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for it.

All four of my grandparents grew up in that part of Arkansas.  My dad’s family, who I visited this time, grew up in Dyess, Arkansas. It’s really only known for being the boyhood home of Johnny Cash now, but I assure you he wasn’t the only one to grow up there.  I saw his old home, they’re fixing it up and turning it into a museum.  It looks nicer than I bet it did when he lived in it.  If you grew up in Dyess, odds are you were poor as church mice (that’s how my granny describes the level of poverty her family experienced when she was a girl).  Most of the old homes where the families lived are gone now. They lived there after President Roosevelt turned the area into a depression relief project.  Families (my own included) who qualified were given 40 acres of land and a mule to help plow it. They grew cotton and used the money to pay back the government when they could afford it.

My great aunt, granny’s sister, showed me where their farm had been, and where my great grandmother lived after my great grandfather died and she sold the farm and moved into town.  I saw the old high school, where my granny was the only one of her eight brothers and sisters to graduate.  The rest of them quit school by the time they were 16 to get married or start working.  The town is just a small community now, but thanks to it being Johnny Cash’s hometown, the town square is being restored to look like it did in the 30s-60s, when most of the poor farming families lived there.  It was amazing to see where my family was and how far they each came in their lives.  They may have been poor, but all the kids did well and the ones still living live comfortable lives now.

I come from a long line of cotton farmers.  All of my grandparents had 7 or 8 kids in their families and picked cotton all their growing up years.  Makes me thankful for how fortunate I am.  My grandparents, on both sides, are the only ones who left the area.  I’ve had to grow up away from my family, so I love any chance I get to visit my aunts, uncles, and cousins…of which I have MANY.  They are sweet people with thick southern accents.  I notice mine gets thicker when I’m around them.  I wish I could spend more time with them.  When it comes down to it, though, my home is near the mountains. I’m not sure I could be happy living in a place where there isn’t a mountain for over 100 miles.

My great aunt let me stay with her.  We talked for hours and travelled all over northeast Arkansas seeing the old ancestral homes.  She cooks like you would imagine any southern grandmother to cook–everything from scratch and tastes DELICIOUS.  No one makes sweet tea like she does. I think I drank half a gallon while I was there. I experienced true happiness this week, time with my family…and gained 3 pounds thanks to all the southern food and super sweet tea. That’s the good life, y’all.

Getting Old…It’s Not For Wimps!

It’s a phrase my grandmother likes to use…only she uses a slightly less appropriate word for wimps. If she heard me use it she’d laugh in my face and promptly tell me to shut up.  No, typically a woman of 30 would not be considered old, but I’m an exception to that rule. Chronologically I’m not old, but physically I might as well be twice my age. It’s not in anybody’s best interests for me to go into detail about my mile-long list of ailments, it just illustrates the point I eventually plan on making.

I’m spending another week with my best friend to fill in at their family business. Just receptionist work, no major skill required. They just needed someone they could trust to fill in for a week. I’m glad to do it. It dawned on me since being asked to do this that I actually miss working. When I was working full time, I would daydream about being financially independent and not having to work. Now that I physically can’t work a regular full time job, I realize how good I had it.  I miss having a reason to get up in the mornings–regardless of the fact that I didn’t necessarily enjoy doing it.  I miss the daily interaction with my coworkers and patients. You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.

When everything else is falling apart around me–my life, my body, etc.–I crave that daily constant of getting up and going to work. If your job sucks, find a new one…but don’t fantasize about being able to live without working. Trust me it’s not that glamorous.

The Big 3-0

Yes, this is it. My 30th birthday is less than 2 hours away.  For the first time in my life I’m actually dreading turning another year older! I used to think people who hated revealing their age or experienced any kind of anxiety when thinking about their age were crazy!  It’s a number! Who cares?  Well, now that it’s me in that position, I totally understand the angst so many people feel about entering a new decade of life.  I’ve grown so accustomed to writing a 2 in my age…now I have to get used to the fact that my age starts with 3! I’ve been alive for 3 decades!  Kids who were born when I was in elementary school are now graduating from college and getting married! Where did the time go???  Anyway, in honor of my big 3-0, I’ve decided to reminisce about some of my birthday parties from years past…

  • Age: 6.  Location: The Local Burger King.

All the kids from my kindergarten class were invited for a blowout party at a fast food restaurant. It was my favorite at the time. Everyone got a gold crown and a kids meal. After gifts, we went outside to the magical world that is the fast food restaurant playground.  So many restaurants have done away with their playgrounds, that was a big part of my childhood. We played pirates on the big ship-shaped slide that even had a swinging drawbridge. Good times were had by all.

  • Age: 13.  Location: My House.

My 13th birthday was pretty amazing. Lots of good memories. Some, not so good. My friends from school (only the girls) were picked up after school by a limousine.  The bar inside had been replaced with all the sodas you could drink. There was a tiny TV and stars that twinkled on the ceiling. The limousine took us to dinner in style, where we dined on delicious pizza at the local CiCis.  We had the limo for a while longer after dinner, and after a unanimous vote, we decided our next stop would be Petsmart.  If I’m lying I’m dying.  We then went home, had homemade funnel cakes in place of birthday cake, and stayed up all night.  We then took everyone home during some thunderstorms. Once we got home from dropping everyone off, one of the biggest tornado outbreaks in the state’s history wreaked havoc everywhere. I was so tired from the night before I slept through most of it, then the tornado sirens woke me up. Tornados obliterated entire towns that day. Only one of my friends lost their home. They found his mom’s car 3 blocks away WRAPPED around a tree.  My birthday went out with a bang in 1997.

  • Age: 16.  Location: Local Community Center.

The year I turned 16, my dad turned 40.  We were both having a big birthday that year (we share the same birthday). I told my mom it was fine if she focused on him instead of me for our birthday, so I was led to believe we were having a big birthday party for him. I was with my best friend all day getting ready, planning on surprising my dad. My friend suggested we dress crazy in tye dye shirts and long colorful toe socks, etc…the flower power days were trying to make a comeback at that time.  Turns out my friend was only keeping me occupied so I didn’t come to the community center because turns out, the party was for me! I showed up and saw all my friends sitting there in crazy tye dye shirts because the theme was crazy colors and flower power crap. There was a DJ and everything.  That was the biggest surprise I’ve ever been given.

The rest of my birthdays have been relatively uneventful. This one will be as well. No plans for a birthday party tomorrow, just having dinner with family. I thought this would be a big deal celebration-wise, but turns out it’s been such a crazy year so far nobody has time or interest in putting a party together…and I can’t blame them there. I’m not particularly in love with the idea of celebrating the death of my 20s.

Things My Mother Taught Me

Parents: they bring us into the world, then spend the next 18 plus years feeding us, clothing us, and trying their best to keep us from doing stupid things and killing ourselves.  There’s no other way to put it, kids are often pretty stupid…at least until their teen years, then they’re always stupid.  Without someone to guide them, kids would be walking into walls and falling off cliffs every day.  When you’re growing up, your mom and dad are always on duty, watching practically every move you make to ensure your well-being.  It’s a 24-hour job, no breaks, no weekends, no holidays.

Though they remain vigilant the majority of the time, there are always those moments when parents have to take their eyes off their children for a short time.  I mean, even a mom has to go to the bathroom sometimes.  For these rare, unsupervised moments, parents have to develop “temporary babysitters.”  These temporary babysitters are a technique employed by parents to use our own brains to speak for them in their absence. We’ve all encountered a temporary babysitter at some point in our lives.  A form of mind control our mom and dad plant in our head to keep us out of trouble.  Every parent has their own temporary babysitting tactics, and some of them are unique to say the least.

The following are some temporary babysitting gems used by my mother during my childhood:

  • Don’t cross your eyes, they’ll get stuck that way.  A fairly common phrase among parents, this was my mom’s way of making sure my facial expressions remained socially acceptable at all times–even when she wasn’t around.
  • Don’t swallow the seeds or you’ll sprout a watermelon in your stomach.  My mom used this one when I was four, and I still remember it vividly because it frightened me so much. I didn’t need to worry about watermelons that day, my mom had sown her own terrible seed–a seed of pure fear! Her timing of this particular warning was uncanny, because she told me “just look at what happened to your aunt because she swallowed a watermelon seed.”  My aunt was eight months pregnant at the time.  I haven’t eaten watermelon since.
  • Don’t peek under the tree on Christmas Eve night or all your gifts will disappear.  Obviously Santa was magic or he couldn’t deliver all those gifts in one night, so the idea of my gifts magically disappearing as fast as they had appeared seemed plausible to my young mind.  Peeking was strictly prohibited because in my house, Santa never wrapped his gifts.  He just left my gifts by the Christmas tree.  Mom and dad wrapped theirs so I could tell my gifts from them apart.  An awful lot of trouble to go through just to give a fat, bearded stranger the credit.
  • The Boogey Man lives under my bed and he’ll snatch you if you get up during the night.  My mom didn’t use this particular gem.  In fact, she was furious when she found out about it.  My dad’s mother is responsible for this one. When I was very young and would spend the night, she’d let me sleep in bed with her because she had no night lights in her bedrooms and I didn’t want to be by myself.  In order to keep me from getting up and down all night and keeping her awake, she made sure a terrifying, child-snatching monster lived under her bed. That one really must have struck a chord, because to this day I sometimes feel a brief rush of fear whenever I have to get up in the middle of the night or notice my closet door is open.
  • Don’t pick your nose or your brain will fall out.  Unique to say the least, this was how my mom kept my nose-mining at bay. Apparently picking your nose stretches out your nostrils until they’re so big your brain will just fall right out of your head through your nose.  Nothing bogus about that at all!
  • Eat your vegetables or your hair will fall out and you’ll turn purple.  Because apparently skipping my broccoli would result in a terrible case of scurvy. Pass the peas please!
  • Don’t bite your fingernails, you’ll get worms!  This is the phrase I remember most. My mom was constantly warning me about the hazards of biting my nails. Get a load of her explanation: When you play outside, dirt gets under your fingernails. The dirt contains dry worm eggs that, once they hit the moisture in your stomach, will hatch.  When I bit my nails, I swallowed some of the worm egg-infested dirt. What my mom didn’t know was that I wasn’t biting my nails when she’d correct me. I was terrible about biting the cuticle and all the skin around my nails.  I rarely, if ever, bit a fingernail. Her terrifying story about the life cycle of a parasitic worm, however, would cause me to panic every time I accidentally ended up with dirt in my mouth.  Happened a lot on a dry, windy day.  I’d be playing outside, then feel that disgusting gritty feeling in my mouth after a big gust of wind. My heart would drop out of my chest and I’d get tingly from head to toe. A sudden burst of adrenaline at the mere thought of accidentally ingesting a worm egg in all that dirt.

You have to hand it to her.  Even if she didn’t have an ounce of medical knowledge to back up her claims, she would still come up with her own elaborate explanation to ensure I didn’t doubt a word she said. Moms: Using deception as a childcare aid since always.

Nighttime Reflections

I am spending the next 3 days with my best friend and her family, and since she has four children under the age of five and a part time job…she’s tired.  She and her husband have gone to bed, so I’ve retired to my room to get a little computer time in before going to bed myself.  I’m so happy to be here with them. Her four kids, my Godchildren, are so adorable and so much fun. I miss the days when they lived only 20 minutes from me…rather than three hours.

Anyway, now that they are in bed and all four kids are asleep (I hope, for their sake, all four STAY asleep for several hours), the house is uncharacteristically quiet.  I didn’t realize this house could get this quiet!  There is usually someone crying or talking…or the sound of little bare feet slapping the hardwood floors.  In effort to keep the house quiet and avoid somebody waking up, I’ve opted not to watch TV or watch YouTube videos (I forgot my earphones!).  With all this silence, I’ve been sitting here thinking about things.

For some reason, I started thinking about high school.  I probably thought about this due to my imminent birthday (March 6)…which makes me realize it’s been quite a long time since I was in high school!  I’ve been out of high school long enough now that some of my old friends from those days have kids well into elementary school, some are getting divorced, some are recently remarried…we’re grown ups!  When you’re in your early 20s, you consider yourself a “grown up” (and technically you are)…but when you reach my age you begin to realize you were still just a kid then.

I sometimes miss the carefree days of college…being on my own without really being on my own.  I had the luxury of coming and going as I pleased without the burden of financial responsibilities bombarding me from every angle.  It was still easy, and almost “fashionable” to stay up until all hours…sometimes it was even necessary if I had a big test the next day.  I was always coming and going, spending more time with friends than alone or with family…and it was a tragedy if something happened to prevent me from spending time with them.  Back then, my family were important to me, but my friends were my life.  I spent hours talking on the phone (believe it or not, I actually went to college during a time when texting had not quite taken off the way it has now), and when I wasn’t on the phone I was with the people I was on the phone with.

During college and shortly thereafter, every aspect of life seemed so emotionally charged.  It was much easier for me to become passionate about things.  It doesn’t take all that much for people of that age to get into arguments with their friends, enter a phase where you aren’t speaking, etc.  Of course, within the week it was all forgotten and life moved on as if it never happened.  In college you don’t care as much about having nice things (except when it comes to technology), matching furniture, fancy dishes, and things like that.  For people that age lucky enough to live off campus, it is not uncommon to have mismatched furniture in every room, sitting atop the 30-dollar rug you purchased at Walmart all on your own and are so proud of.

It’s strange to think about that time in my life, because it wasn’t really that long ago, yet it seems like it was.  It’s strange to see how much your life changes and your priorities change in such a short span of time.  When you reach my age, you have your own house, or at least your own apartment.  You want your furniture to match. All of a sudden you find dishes and cookware interesting.  You don’t have a Walmart rug in your living room anymore.   Instead of wanting the fastest car, you want a practical car that saves gas mileage and has four doors to seat everyone comfortably and isn’t too hard to climb out of.  If you have children, you actually want and maybe already have a minivan.

You realize how smart your parents actually are.  Instead of being afraid of being caught out with your parents by your friends, you start to want to hang out with them.  They are starting to be more like friends than parents all of a sudden.  You don’t spend half the amount of time with your friends that you once did, because they’re all busy with their lives and so are you.  Instead of going to bars or clubs when you do get to spend time with them, you just go out to eat or to each others’ homes.  I never did lead a “party lifestyle” anyway, but I spent more time in bars then than I do now–which is never.  In fact, I don’t drink at all now.

When you call or text your friends now, you don’t get upset or wonder what you did wrong if they don’t answer you.  In fact, you find yourself feeling surprised if they actually do respond in a timely manner.  It takes an awful lot for you to get into any sort of fight with a friend when you reach the end of your 20s.  You’ve grown up and matured.  Stupid petty things don’t upset you like they once did.  And if you do have a falling-out with a friend, it’s over something pretty bad…something you and that person just do not and will not agree on.  If someone hurts you, a lot of times you stop speaking to each other forever…not just a few days.  Luckily it rarely happens, though…well, unless one or both parties have failed to mature with age which sometimes happens.

You begin to look back at all the friends you once had and you realize just how many people you have lost touch with.  People who you spent practically every waking moment with in school are reduced to a Facebook friend you rarely hear from, with the exception of the random comment or like on your status or photo. It doesn’t happen with all your friends, though.  Some friends you make in high school and college will be your friends for life.  And you realize late in your 20s just how rare that is and how precious they are to you.  You also make new friends at work, people who share your interests and become just as close to you as your college buddies were, even if you don’t spend nearly as much time with them.

While some of this may sound depressing to a younger person, it really isn’t.  It’s just the naturally progression of life that comes with maturity.  One thing you realize at my age is, while you do miss those days from time to time, most people wouldn’t go back if they could.  When you get older and mature, you start to settle down and appreciate different things than you appreciated in school.  I personally loved college, but I wouldn’t go back to those days no matter how much you paid me.  Now those days are just fond memories of a good time, but I’m much more settled down and content with my life and myself than I’ve ever been before…and I like it.

Another thing that happens after school is that you become your teachers’ peers rather than their subordinates.  I’m actually friends with some of my college professors and even a couple of my high school teachers.  Some of the teachers I feared and even disliked in high school, I now look back on with respect.  The ones I liked the least were the ones from whom I learned the most.  Age becomes a far less important factor when you’re in your late 20s.  In high school, it was just much too beneath you to be friends with people more than a couple of years younger, and the people a few years older felt the same about you.  Now, I have friends decades older than I am!  And I don’t think a thing of it.  It’s natural to me.

I guess one of the saddest things to happen when you get older is you start hearing about the deaths of some of your old teachers from high school.  The ones that were older and about to retire when I was in school are now dying.  It makes me sad.

One of my best and favorite teachers from high school passed away not that long ago and I was so hurt by that.  She was one of the teachers most feared by all the students.  I almost took the class in summer school just to avoid taking it with her.  Had I done that, I would have cheated myself in a big way.  I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately.  My senior English teacher taught me almost everything I know about writing.  If it hadn’t been for her, I’d never have made it through college with almost a 4.0.  I’d never have been able to use my writing as a source of income.  You can’t tell from reading this blog, but I can actually write fairly well.  Well enough to be published from time to time.  I don’t take the time to make this blog perfect like I do my professional writing.  I just write as it comes to me.  Proofreading–ha! I just wish I’d have told her how much her class did for me.

One of the best things you can do for a teacher is go back when you’ve grown up and tell them how much their class meant to you or how it was a major part of your success.  I would have told her eventually how much she meant to me and how much I appreciated her, but I never imagined she’d die before I got the chance.  It broke my heart.  It broke a lot of people’s hearts.  She was the best of the best of the teachers at my high school.  It’s still funny to me how one of the most feared teachers at my school (and most hated by students who didn’t care to learn or even try) ended up being my favorite.  After my first week in her class, the fear subsided and I was so glad I hadn’t taken the easy way out of her class.  I miss her.  I miss her so much.

Childhood Memories–A Thing of the Past

So, as hush-hush as I tend to be about it, I have finally realized it doesn’t matter anymore.  What am I so hush-hush about?  My age. I’m honest about it, though vague. I never tell my age, only a general “age area.”  Well, in less than a month I have a very significant birthday.  As much as I hate to admit it, it is the one birthday young adults seem to dread the most.  The big 3-0.  While that isn’t very old by today’s standards, I’m ancient by tumblr’s standards.  I do know some other tumblr-ers who are older than I am, but I think I am definitely in the top 25% when it comes to age! Now that I’m turning 30, I realize there are a lot of things from my childhood that just aren’t around anymore.  Being born in the mid-80s, I was born at the end of an era…and the beginning of another one.  It’s actually been a really great experience watching technology develop as it has.

  1. The cartoons have changed.  When I was a kid, you had Looney Tunes, Fraggle Rock, Animaniacs, Inspector Gadget, the ORIGINAL Nicktoons (Doug, Rugrats, and Ren and Stimpy, followed soon after by Hey Arnold, Ahh! Real Monsters, and Rocko’s Modern Life), and more.  Cartoons were awesome then. They were actually hand-drawn and animated, and while I am a fan of computer animation, you can’t beat old-school animation.  Cartoons always slipped in classical music and classic film references.  You didn’t even realize you were getting an education.
  2. Phones are different. Believe it or not, I actually remember life BEFORE cell phones.  I remember the days when if you needed to get in touch with someone, you hoped they were at home. If they weren’t, you had to wait until they did get home…and hope they called you back.  I even remember the days before cordless phones.  They may have been invented in my early childhood, but they weren’t the standard issue phones.  Until I was 6 or 7, we had one solitary phone in our house.  It sat in a phone alcove in the hallway.  It didn’t have buttons, it was a rotary phone.  Yep, if you wanted to talk on the phone, you had to stand at the phone alcove in the hall for the entire conversation. How archaic!
  3. Life before computers–I remember that too!  My household didn’t have a computer until I was 12 years old.  Hardly any homes had personal computers back then.  Strangely enough, my grandpa was the first of my relatives to own a computer.  He bought it for his business he ran from his home.  Whenever the grandkids would visit, we’d spend more time playing solitaire or minecraft on that computer than we spent visiting.  I thought that computer was the most amazing thing ever.  When we finally got one (a lovely off-white Gateway) I loved it.  We didn’t even have internet at the time!  It wasn’t until I was almost 14 that we finally got internet–dial-up AOL.  I was always closely monitored with my time online, because it tied up the phone line.  My parents refused to get a second, internet-dedicated line, no matter how much I begged.  Whenever anyone called and got a busy signal, they knew I was online talking on Instant Messenger.  My how times have changed.
  4. I grew up in a time when most kids were taught to drive both an automatic and standard transmission.  It was considered important to know how to drive a stick shift because you never knew what kind of car you might end up with or have to drive.  My first car was almost as old as I was…a 1987 black Honda Prelude with a standard transmission.  I loved that car until I was totaled by an idiot trying to race me across an intersection.  Now it’s rare to even find a new car with a standard transmission.
  5. Now people spend time together by sitting around looking at their phones or computers, always on the internet checking twitter, facebook, etc.  Even at the dinner table.  I’m not saying I don’t, it’s just how things are.  I do remember a time, however, when spending time together involved actual conversation.  Sitting around the living room talking.  When there wasn’t anything on TV, people would sit in the living room and talk.  And, at least here in the South, people would go outside and sit on their front porch and visit.  Sometimes people passing by on the street would come up and visit too–if you knew each other.  Parents would sit on the porch and watch their kids play, because back then kids actually played outside.  They didn’t have to be forced to go outside and had to be begged to come back in.  For me, I’d go out before lunch, come back for lunch reluctantly, then return outside and stay until the streetlights came on.  If I wasn’t back right then I’d hear my name being called! It was the very end of that era…that’s how my parents grew up too. I like that I have that in common with them.

So, in conclusion, I’ve been able to experience the best of both worlds being born when I was.  The easy-going, less stressful time of my parents, when things were simple.  Everything wasn’t electronic.  People stayed home most nights and ate a home cooked meal.  Going out to eat was a rare treat.

You didn’t watch as many movies because they were on VHS.  You remember renting videos from an actual video rental store.  The cassettes had “be kind, rewind” stickers on them.  People played board games like Monopoly and Life.  Not Candy Crush, Flappy Bird, and Angry Birds.

I’ve also been able to witness the technology “revolution.”  I’ve seen computers become as common as TVs, almost everyone has one.  I’ve watched as internet connections have become faster and more efficient.  I have seen land-line phones begin to disappear, as most people use their cell phone as their sole means of communication.  It’s all happened in my lifetime, and I know a lot more is bound to change before it’s over.  It’s been an interesting few decades so far.

New Mac Owner Seeks Advice

So, after two years of serious research, wishing, hoping, praying, begging, crying, etc…I finally have sitting on my lap a brand new Macbook Pro with retina display.  I am in heaven!  I’ve seriously been working toward getting one for a little over two years, but I’ve wanted a Mac ever since college when my roommate came home with one.  I had a piece of crap Dell with a 30 pound monitor, you know what I’m talking about.  Giant tower computer.  Then she comes in with this thin, white, streamlined computer with a strange looking keyboard and I was in awe.  It was beautiful!  Luckily we were good friends and she let me play on it. An offer I took her up on quite often!

Well, now that I find myself with my own Mac, I’m having some minor adjustment issues.  I was hoping to reach out to other Mac owners in the blogosphere for some helpful advice!  First of all, while I desperately wanted the 15 inch Macbook Pro, I just couldn’t justify spending the money for it. I ended up spending almost as much as one costs, but that’s because I had a couple of add-ons to purchase.  If I had bought the 15 inch with those add ons, I’d have been pushing $3,000…and I just can’t spend that on a computer, even if I had the money. Nope. Anyway, I was wondering if any of you former PC users who switched to a 13.3 inch Macbook ever got used to the smaller screen?  I’m slowly adjusting to it for web surfing and everything, but when I start working on photo editing and video editing, I’m not sure I’ll ever adjust to this small screen. Please someone else with a 13 inch Mac tell me I will!

Another few how-to things I was wondering about:

  • How do you save images from the internet? I could just right click and save on my PC…now I don’t know how to do it…
  • How do you save videos? Whenever I find a YouTube video of an episode of something I like, I used to save it with Keepvid…I can’t use it on this computer for some reason and was wondering if anyone with a Mac has a way of saving Youtube videos…
  • Also, what is a decent screen recording program?  I sometimes record my screen to make how-to videos for things…but I don’t know a good screen recorder. I spent the money on SnagIt, but it wasn’t what I thought it was, and the video it records won’t open in Photoshop, where I edit some of the videos and make gifs.  Is there a screen recording program that actually works?
  • What’s good video editing software? I am happy with iMovie for now, but I have some bigger plans for the near future and was wondering what some other YouTubers or video editors use on their Macs?  I didn’t spring for the Final Cut Pro because I didn’t know enough about it…any suggestions welcome!

Well that’s about all the begging I can come up with…I hope someone finds time to respond!

Travelogue: Days 3-6 Mountains, Snow, and Rich People

I didn’t update the last few days because I was doing most of my updating via social media. A lot of plans got cancelled and re-arranged thanks to a surprise attack by Mother Nature.

We were going to travel to Asheville, North Carolina on Monday, but the forecast called for a slight chance of snow so it was decided not to risk it and to go Tuesday.  Well, it didn’t do a thing on Monday. We did enjoy some of the town of Gatlinburg, though.

Monday night the forecast called for light snow with little more than a dusting expected Tuesday, so we woke up early and went to eat breakfast before leaving for North Carolina.  During breakfast it began snowing heavily.  We put the trip off again thanks to the snow, and did some other things around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  The snow was starting to pile up so we decided we better get back up the mountain to the cabin. The roads were so bad we almost didn’t make it back. By the time it was all said and done, we had five inches of snow.

That left us pretty much snowed in Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon. Because we lost a whole day, we extended our trip by one day. We ventured down the mountain last night because the roads were better after being plowed and treated.  Unfortunately nothing was open, so we found one place open for dinner and came back to the cabin.  Watched  American Idol and saw a fellow drama student from high school. He received a golden ticket, so good luck Kenneth “Woody” Gaddie!

Since we had the extra day, we traveled to Asheville today.  The drive from Gatlinburg to Asheville is gorgeous. I was disappointed the more scenic routes were all closed due to snow, but the interstate was still absolutely beautiful. In Asheville we didn’t have a huge amount of time, so we sprung for the tour of The Biltmore house.  It was absolutely lovely, like Downton Abbey come to life.  Being a huge fan of Downton and early 20th century history in general, I was in heaven!

After the tour, we headed back to Tennessee, did a little shopping and ate at The Old Mill restaurant in Pigeon Forge.  The food was great, but if you go there, keep this in mind: the prices aren’t terrible but they may seem a bit steep for what you’re ordering, but the price includes unlimited sides, fritters, soup, salad, and a dessert…and the portion size is HUGE! One of us got fried chicken and received THREE full size chicken breasts. I personally ordered the chicken tenders, and was given EIGHT large tenders! I was able to eat two. I have six left to snack on during the 8-hour trip home.

Now we’re settled back into the cabin for our last night.  It’s been a lovely, much-needed vacation I’ll remember forever.  We’re returning to Arkansas first thing in the morning. I’m looking forward to getting back to my own bed and my babies (my two dogs Sophie and Dixie)!! Now that the trip is over, here are my favorites from the week…

  • The Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee. Fantastic food, friendly staff.  The wait was long no matter what time you arrived, but there was plenty of shopping around the property to keep you entertained while you waited because the beepers to alert you when your table was ready worked all over the property.
  • Gatlinburg Falls Resort. This is the resort community where our cabin was located. The prices are more than reasonable and the views are million-dollar. Our cabin looked out over the valley and the other fabulous cabins and had two back decks offering breathtaking views of Mount LeConte and the Great Smoky Mountains.  Visit their website if you are looking for a fabulous place to stay in east Tennessee. The price is right, the beds are comfortable, and everything is clean. They have cabins for every budget and every size group.  Can’t ask for more.
  • The Apple Barn and Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant.  The restaurant offered my favorite meal of the trip. Every meal is served with complimentary apple julep and apple fritters with homemade apple butter. MOTHER OF GOD. Delicious.  The chicken pot pie I ordered was delicious.  The Apple Barn offered their fritter mix, housemade ciders, various jams, jellies, and butters, t-shirts, and more.  There’s also a small cafe in the barn if you don’t have time to stop and eat at the restaurant.  The cafe has apple donuts, those fabulous fritters, and more. If you’re in Sevierville, Tennessee, you have to stop by.
  • Best Italian/Best Italian Parkway. It can be confusing because there are two Italian restaurants with almost the same name…but go to either one–they’re the same! Don’t be put off by the appearance of the restaurant. The Best Italian where we dined was located right off the Parkway in a shopping center. Not much to look at from the road, or to be honest, when you get inside either…but that was the end of the negative. The food was outstanding. The meals come with their famous garlic rolls–knot rolls absolutely covered in Parmesan cheese and sitting in melted garlic butter. I had the spaghetti with sauteed mushrooms and I have had very few restaurant spaghettis that were better. The sauce is hearty, rich, and flavorful. Full of crushed tomatoes and flavor. The mushrooms tasted great and had a hint of white wine flavor. Good, good food.
  • The Pancake Pantry and The Village Shops. The last item on the list are the Pancake Pantry and Village shops together because they’re so close to each other.  The Pancake Pantry offers one of–if not THE–best breakfast in Gatlinburg. I had the blueberry pancakes and they were out of this world.  They have many, many more varieties of pancakes and crepes to choose from, though. If you’re not into pancakes, they have waffles, french toast, and traditional eggs/bacon/sausage breakfasts as well.  The Village was a quaint little colleciton of unique shops including (to name a few) a candy store, a cleverly named pastry shop called The Donut Friar, and a Celtic Heritage shop with gifts from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales (why is a Celtic Heritage shop in Gatlinburg? I don’t know…except maybe because so many southern people–especially people in the Appalachian region–are of Scottish and/or Irish ancestry).  It’s worth a walk-through if you’re looking for a fun shopping experience on the Parkway in Gatlinburg.

Travelogue-Day 2: The Great Smokies

So, today we traveled from Nashville to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to stay in a beautiful mountain cabin for four nights. This is the main part of the trip, and a person could do some serious relaxing here!

The drive from Nashville to Gatlinburg is beautiful! You steadily notice that you’re climbing in altitude the whole way, and you begin seeing the foothills followed by the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Once you get off the interstate in Sevierville, the scenery gets even more beautiful. To get here, you have to drive through Sevierville and then you reach Pigeon Forge, the first major tourist town.

20140126_132237 20140126_133712The mountains where I live look like hills compared to the Smokies. It’s beautiful.

Once you get through Pigeon Forge, all the restaurants, show auditoriums, gift shops, mini golf courses, and go-kart tracks disappear and you start driving up a winding road through the woods as you enter Smoky Mountain National Park. The road has a meandering stream following it the whole way.  After a few miles, the forest opens up to another city strip filled with restaurants and tourist attractions. You’ve reached Gatlinburg.

Once we got to Gatlinburg, we checked into our cabin, settled in, and made our way to the back decks of the cabin.  The view we were met with was breathtaking.  A gorgeous scene of the Smokies, directly facing Mount Le Conte, all 6,593 feet of it.  Here are some photos of the view from the cabin.

20140126_140453 20140126_140820 20140126_140824At night, the lights of the cabins shimmer in valley, and off to the right, the sparkling lights of downtown Gatlinburg shine brightly. I wasn’t able to get an adequate photo of that.

After settling in to our cabin, we went to a park, where we drove up a mountain and saw an old homestead, some snow, and a few deer.

20140126_161534 20140126_16193920140126_161644Finally we stopped at the foot of the mountain to take a few photos of a lovely stream flowing through the woods.

20140126_160137 20140126_160158 20140126_160303 20140126_160700

After seeing the park, we went into town for a bit to get the lay of the land. We had dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (which I do not recommend, by the way–exorbitant prices for mediocre food). After dinner we went to a candy shop where they make taffy, even moonshine flavored! We were going to make the trip to Asheville, North Carolina tomorrow, but now there’s a chance of snow. We’ve decided to stay in Gatlinburg tomorrow. If the snow isn’t too bad, we will visit some of the shops in town and eat out and visit Asheville Tuesday.  I’m looking forward to seeing some snow, as it’s so rare at home, but I hope it doesn’t keep us cooped up the whole time!

Until tomorrow…





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