The Hicks Method for Unpacking Children after Summer Camp

As it is summer camp season, I thought it might be helpful to share my own method for unpacking my children’s gear after they come home.
1. Set bags in the yard. It might annoy the neighbors for a bit, but remember lots of creepy crawlies could have come home from camp, too.
2. Open every compartment and look for precious keepsakes that the children have made at camp. Poking things with sticks to make sure nothing moves is a great method at this step.
3. Leave everything that is wet, sandy, mossy, wiggly, or generally putrid in or near the bag.
4. Once everything that is salvageable and/or a precious keepsake has been rescued from bags, remove children from area.
5. Generously apply lighter fluid to anything left, including bags. You won’t need as much if your child goes to horse camp. Manure burns very well.
6. Put a match to remains of camp. You might even take the extra step of creating your own camp memories with your children by roasting marshmallows over the fire. To roast hot dogs, you might need to add additional fuel to the fire, like that box of ‘artwork’ from the previous school year or all of Mommie’s rejected rough drafts (if you do the latter, I suggest having a bottle of wine handy).
7. Once the fire burns down, soak the entire area with garden hose for fire safety. This is also a good time to check if those bedding plants you set out and forgot are still alive. If so, BONUS! Water those, too!

Just in case the blaze gets ‘out of hand’ according to your neighbors and they call the fire department, you might want to have snacks on hand for the fire fighters. I have found a platter of homemade cookies for the firemen who file the report to be helpful when keeping your insurance rates down.

Well, there you go! Have a fun and safe camp season. (If you burn too much of your yard, let me know. I have the name of a great sod farm.)

The world needs a perfect BLT

Last night I went with my loverly family to the Memphis Barbeque Company to dinner, an unusual treat as taking all of my herd anywhere is like taking the circus to town. In perusing the menu I found their version of a BLT, which I here will refer to as an ultimate BLT. Texas toast forms the bed in which the in-house thick-sliced and smoked-to-perfection bacon nestled with a sheet of lettuce and a comforter of some of the best tomato slices I have encountered this early in the season. It was so huge I could only eat half and have since consumed the rest this heavenly ultimate BLT for breakfast.

So why would I waste a blog post (which you know are few and far between) on something as mundane as a sandwich? Because I feel that we don’t put enough emphasis on enjoying the simple, the commonplace well done. I feel that this could be at the heart of what is wrong with the world today. I don’t want to be the greatest writer the world has ever known, I want to be the best writer I am capable of being and crafting a story that someone else can enjoy. This is one of the best BLT’s I have ever consumed, and I recognize someone else’s care in crafting a great sandwich.

Go forth, dear reader, and look for a job well done, complement the craftsman, and enjoy yourself with a little quiet satisfaction that something is right with the world.

A day of silence and sunlight

Backyard cookouts, a day off from work, a trip to the lake, an extra-long weekend at the beach- this is what pop culture tells me Americans do on Memorial Day. I always remember an eerily silent house, tension that breathed like an additional family member, and an unspoken pain that changed my family forever. Memorial Day was a day of reverence and solemnity that never involved parties or fun or even conversation.
My mother’s only brother was lost in service to our country and she could never emotionally handle Memorial Day. No matter the number of years between us and the day her brother died for his country, her world would be forever colored with grief and longing for him. We weren’t allowed to turn on a TV because of the Memorial Day coverage. Panoramic shot of fields sprouting with stones where the youth of a generation had been planted, patriotic images of flags flying over them sent my poor mother over her own edge. Just as surely as my uncle, my handsome just-turned-21 devil in a convertible, was buried at sea her own youth and innocence had been plunged to the cold and dark depths with him.
Once I had an elementary teacher who spent an exorbitant amount of prep time on a lesson on patriotism and Memorial Day just before we left out of school for summer. I remembered this lesson vividly and waited with my own intense pride for this day to come. When it was finally Memorial Day, I approached my mother with a seriousness that only an eight-year-old can muster and I recited the phrase my teacher had taught me to say:
“A grateful nation thanks you for your sacrifice.”
My mother turned her hollow eyes to me and with her own brand of defeat said:
“I don’t want your gratitude. I want my brother back.”
This was how we tiptoed through a day in May, a day in July, a day in October. This was how we knew to keep quiet when we saw that hollowness eating at her at Christmas, at his birthday in March.
She tried her best to keep her own children and anyone else’s from military service because she just couldn’t survive that kind of loss again. I remember being in high school and saying that a friend wanted to go into the military and she responded with a shocked, “Why?”
It wasn’t that she was unpatriotic or that I was raised to dislike our nation- far from it. We were a very patriotic family that recognized our nation’s place on the world stage, but also a family that equated service with loss- loss of life, loss of youth, loss of innocence, and even loss of self.
My grandfather’s older brother had come home to suffer the rest of his life fighting Germans that only he could see. He struggled to regain the man he had been, and would be released from the hospital to go back to his family, only to find himself fighting a battle that had been over for decades but in all of his nightmares night after night. His personal defeat would come again and again with each hospitalization.
I wondered then how to best observe this day. I didn’t want to subject my children to the crippling grief that had emotionally frozen my family in the moment of my mother’s loss. I also didn’t want to pretend that the same loss hadn’t mattered in my life or wouldn’t matter to theirs. So as I struggle with what to write and how to write about Memorial Day, I would like that the right way is to tell my children to say go play. My kids will. I will. My family is not going to ignore the loss through service, but we will not allow out time together to be limited by it. I don’t think that is what my uncle or any other veteran would want. I think he would want to be remembered, but as a young man who embraced life and lived it for all the richness he could draw out of it. I think that is what he would have wanted for a fitting memorial. We will enjoy our freedoms that have been bought for us with a young man’s life, a young man’s mind, enumerable losses and individual sufferings. They did this for us. My uncle died so that my children and millions of others can go to school and go to church and grow up to be what they want to be and live with the freedoms we have. And all can be celebrated in his memory.

A Letter to my Body

Dear Body,

I realize I have not treated you as the temple you are. Through the years I have forced you through a rather insane existence, surviving car crashes, years of pregnancy, my forgetting to eat when I’m writing, etc.

All in all, you are pretty darn tough. In my YA manuscript The Shifter’s Ball, a 15-year-old Greek nymph has to come to terms with the fact that nymphs just don’t live very long. She experiences her father’s death (he was considered ancient at 38) and finds the love and support she needs to survive in her human friend. He has lost his dad, too, but to a suicide bomber while his dad was serving in Afghanistan. Both fathers appeared young and invincible, but both were proven to be far too fragile to survive what their bodies encountered.
This week on my tv I have watched other young, vibrant people whose bodies were torn apart by someone else’s sick plot. Much like my character Josh’s father who dies in a suicide attack on American soldiers, we have seen unspeakable damage done to healthy people in their prime. (I know I would be so ticked off at going from a marathon runner’s physical condition to recovering in a hospital because of someone’s sick views on the world.) It is hard to lose anyone we love, but it seems so much harder to lose someone that is vital and beautiful one moment and gone the next.
In short, My Body, I want to thank you for still working great, not needing an extensive overhaul, and being reliable. I am grateful for the 41 years I have gotten out of you and wish all those we lose at a younger age could see 41 and beyond. And thank you for being healthy enough to keep my brain going. If I can keep getting stories out of my head, you just keep plugging along. Deal?
Sincerely,
Margaret