letters for your weekend // sixth edition.

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It’s been a while since I have shared a “letters for your weekend” post, huh? Here are a few interesting articles to read this weekend while you are hiding from your kids in the bathroom:

In this article, writer Elizabeth Gilbert shares her “secret to success” and it is simple and thought provoking. Read it (here).

One of my fave bloggers, Joanna Goddard, shares her bout with anxiety and a great question to pose to friends dealing with the ins and outs of life: How are you these days?

These posts are rampant right now, due to the flurry of back to schoolness, but really loved this packing healthy school lunches your kids will love post.

I would probably add a few to this list, but here are 9 works of fiction from the past 5 years that no woman should miss.

Even though I started college in 2000, this post is still super relevant for me, and made me do the whole laugh/cry thing: 37 Things You’ll Only Understand if You Went to College in the ’90s.

I’m finishing up Donut Saturday (you can see what my kids are doing while I am eating the remaining donuts in a corner on my Instagram feed) and looking forward to a sunny weekend. What are your plans?

The Worst Place to Live in Tennessee?

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In a small town, from the time you are born until the time you graduate high school, you are peppered with encouragement to “get outta here”. Generations upon generations of families live here, but you? Nope. You are destined to break the cycle, to do better, go further, and aim higher. But what if the grass really is not greener? Recently, an article entitled “The Worst Places to Live in Tennessee” began its run on the internet, crowning LaFollette as the #1 “worst place to live” in the Volunteer State, citing statistical data and number crunching to determine the absolute lowest of the low places to dwell in our state. Not surprisingly, this post spread quickly amongst our residents, mostly out of good humor, but also as an effort to either agree or disagree with the author’s findings.

I will openly admit, I used to be one of those that were counting down the days to move away from my hometown. Attending a small private college only forty-five minutes from my parents’ driveway, I just knew that my college degree would be my golden ticket to the great land of opportunity. Isn’t that what I was spoon fed in the cafeteria my whole life? Isn’t that what graduation speeches and college pamphlets of smiling, politically correct humans are made of? Get as far away from your roots as you can, build new bridges, and burn the old. But, as fate would have it, after graduation, we came home.

What if, for a moment, that we began to encourage others to bloom where we are planted? To take that education home and rebuild what has fallen? To breathe new life into a town that strangers deem to be an area where “the boredom level is at the max”? Yes, numbers show crime levels, median household income, and educational statistics. And maybe on paper we have much to work toward. But people are much more complex that statistics can ever explain, and their reasons for living here outweigh the negative connotations of small town life.

There are a few things that the findings conveniently failed to mention, as no fault to the author. If I were to pen an article about the success of Alaskan fishing in sub-zero temperatures, I would be forced to turn to data as well. But, as a generational resident of the worst place to live in Tennessee, I feel fairly confident that, with additional research, one would uncover the following:

First, you will never meet a stranger in this terrible dungeon of living. It is truly a shame that there are so many smiling people here, willing to open doors simply out of courtesy or hand you your wallet out of sheer honesty when you leave it on the table by mistake at a restaurant. I never worry about having car trouble here, knowing that within minutes help would be on the way, or someone that knows my grandmother on my mom’s side would see me on the side of the road and offer assistance.

We still have people that grow their own gardens, can their own vegetables, farm and till their own land, and herd their own cattle. It is not a quickly passing trend in this deep, dark corner of rural purgatory. It is life, and it sustains those who reside here. Do we have a fast food restaurant and a gas station on every corner? You bet. But so does most every place in America. Yet we still have places where paradise has not been paved. Our own little taste of Eden right here in so-called Boringville. Digital entertainment will forever and ever be at our fingertips, regardless of locale (well, maybe not on that Alaskan fishing boat). Yet, ask anyone who lives and works and worships in the Appalachian Mountains and they will firmly tell you that there is nothing lackluster about small-town Tennessee.

There is a rich, undying culture here that I pray I can somehow pass along to my children. From drinking sweet tea like it is water, traveling on one lane, gravel roads straight up a mountain to place flowers on graves with wooden outhouses still “in use”, and chicken and dumplings recipes that I will never, ever be able to recreate, we certainly know how to navigate what our grandparents taught us and that information is never disposable because the culture refuses to let it go. It is a part of who we are. I love seeing insurance agents and bank tellers and pharmacists on our billboards that share a church pew with us on Sundays and cash our checks on Thursdays, and coach your kids in soccer on Saturday morning. Life is all in how you live it, and this little spot on the map is number one for much different reasons than it has been deemed.

You can tell we are different. Those from a small town are not always like the rest. And that, these days, can be a blessing. We have struggles just like any area in America. Whether it is the worst or the best, it is home. And home is where the heart is.

(Note: This article was originally published in the August 20th, 2015 edition of the LaFollette Press, in my lifestyles column, Letters from the Nest)

Why Mama Should Stay in the Picture.

Why Mama Should Stay in the Picture. // lettersfromthenest.com

I can still remember my first camera from childhood– a thin, hot pink rectangle with Minnie Mouse on the side and a small braided loop for my wrist. It required a flashbulb tower that balanced atop the camera and puff of black smoke would billow angrily from the bulbs after each photo was taken. After the smoke cleared and my thumb was red from winding the film, my parents would drop it off for processing and retrieve the photos a week later, only to find that I had chopped off the heads of everyone in front of the Christmas tree and my thumb blocked most of the gift giving snapshots.

As cameras improved, along with my skill, I continued my craft: snapping shots of everyday life, holidays, or the one time my brother used a vacuum. (It was a requirement as my self assumed role as family historian. See also: the day he got his braces off.) Over the years, I have taken hundreds of thousands of photographs. But as my children grew older, they began to notice that one thing was missing: their mother.

And it was intentional: any time a group photo was desired, I would offer to take it, or politely decline to jump into the smiling masses. If begged into the photo by a well meaning friend, claiming “I’m too tall to get in the front” worked for a while, along with, “my hair is a mess”, “I’ve been up all night with the baby so I look exhausted”, and “I still have a postpartum belly” (which, please note that I plan to use said phrase indefinitely.) Yet, as my long line of excuses continued to grow, sifting through pictures of early marriage and parenthood and seeing only the kids and the various animals we have had over the years made me realize that one day I will not be the one behind the camera. I will no longer be present on earth, my snapshots will be shoved in a once shiny leather bound album that friends and family will drag out to reminisce once and a while, and I will only be a mental memory.

This year, stay in the picture. Those extra ten pounds, mouthful of braces, shiny skin, or tired eyes do not translate like you believe they do in photos. To them, you looked lovely in that pink dress on Easter; the camera does not care what size is on the tag. You were brave and strong to hike that trail despite all of the health issues you have encountered over the past few months. Do not allow a little sweat and the absence of makeup allow you to step out of that visual. Your grandkids love that porch swing, but they adore it with you swinging alongside them. Smile. Be you, and leave a legacy for generations yet to come.

Dr. Seuss said it best: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory”. Make memories, friends. And say cheese. Stay in the picture, and savor life together.

(Note: This article originally appeared in the August 13th edition of the LaFollette Press, in my lifestyles column, Letters from the Nest).

So Many Things.

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If you are a longtime follower of this blog, one of the things you may have noticed lately is the consistency in which I post– as in, the extreme lack thereof. Back in the dark ages of 2008 when I began writing online (anyone remember when my website was called My Walk with Eden? That has been a minute..) I was a five day a week writer. No kidding. I wrote mostly during nap times or really late at night at our small glass kitchen table with four metal chairs, binge eating Oreos at practically midnight to get my words out.

But the more I wrote, the older my children became, and the writing time became sparse. Or I would feel guilty for writing when I should have been playing. Or cleaning up yet another mess. So things became sporadic. Inconsistent. Uninspired.

There were so many things back in those days about being a wife, mom, and unemployed college graduate that I wanted to say. But I just did not have the guts. So things may have seemed charming and picture perfect to the reader. I hope that is not the case. I hope that I was vulnerable enough to be honest with my storytelling. If not then, then now.

There ARE so many things that I need to say, but I just do not have the guts yet. So many things about life, love, the world, religion, faith, education, freedom, our family’s story. But, just as with MacGyver (and yes I just compared my blog to the wildly popular series from the 1980s) always left out an element of his homemade devices, there will always be elements we cannot share. And that is okay. As much as I love telling a story, I refuse to let the open trap of the internet assume that it is my responsibility to be so very candid all the time. Privacy is a lost art these days, it seems.

What I can assure you is this– I really need to write. Regardless if it is well written or not, regardless if the haters online comment nasty thoughts or not, just regardless. Consistency is the key to keeping my mind fresh, and that consistency has been a dry well lately.

We are from a small town, and what I write, at my core, will always stem from those struggles and values. These stories may not appeal to the masses like so many bloggers do, but if I only have our family and friends as readers, then I am completely content.

I am not going to close this out in a cheesy/pedestal/”follow me on instagram!” kind of way. My grandfather did not have a Facebook page for his newspaper column, and his words are still talked about, even 10 years after his death. Self promotion cheapens the deal, and I am very weary at throwing my thoughts at the wall like spaghetti noodles and seeing what sticks with the strangers. These words are for you, East Tennessee. They are for you, Campbell County. They are for all of the small town families and homes and traditions and hearts that still read a weekly newspaper and stop, just to chat, at the post office in the pouring rain. And I want to see what resonates with these people that can only understand.

I am going to be here, in this space, with my letters, until the Good Lord shuts the book. There are so many things left to say.