I once was lost…and mostly I still am

 

Yes, this is spaghetti.

But, since we moved to Houston, it’s not only what my brain resembles when I try to figure out the interstates and toll roads, it’s a pictorial representation of the damn interstates and toll roads themselves.

Here’s what I needed to know as a New Orleans lifer to drive in NOLA: was where I was headed  on the lake side or the river side of the interstate, that going downtown really meant going up, and going uptown was down. And then we sometimes crossed bodies of water like the Crescent City Connection over the Mississippi River or the Causeway Bridge over Lake Pontchartain that connects the North and South shores. Learning the difference between a lake and a river should have happened in first grade, so even in Louisiana, distinguishing the two was rarely a problem.

However…We moved to Houston and suddenly I have to become a compass expert. I will own that I am directionally disabled. And, please, do not tell me things like, “Take the left by the blue house on the right, then when you see the gas station on the left, move into your right lane…” I lost you after, “Take the left.”

Last year, US News ranked Houston #4 in the top ten Worst Traffic Cities in America with an average of 74 hours spent in traffic. Honestly, if I could spend all 74 hours at once and know that for the remaining 362 days, I’d be traffic-free, I’d sign on for that.

Okay, I know you look at the map and think, “Good grief, it seems simple enough.” Of course it does. That’s part of the madness. Because, for reasons known only to itself, the Houston District DOT has done little to clear the confusion that arises from having two names for the same freeways.

So, I-610 can be North, South, East or West Loops, which requires knowing the direction you’re coming from and headed to or else you will find yourself making an endless loop around the city.  And the KatyFreeway? Oh, that’s I-10 West because I-10 East is also called the East Freeway.(Another blog, I’ll delve into this “outside the loop” vs. “inside the loop” caste system.)

Then there’s 1-45, which–praise God–is either only north or south. However, if north, then it’s North Freeway. You’d think I-45 south would be South Freeway, right? Wrong. It’s AKA Gulf Freeway.

Highway 290, at times the shortest distance between two points, is always a no-go for me because imagine trying to squeeze Play-Doh through a strainer with a few rocks thrown in for fun. Just not going to happen in any way that’s conducive to your sanity or your time frame. It’s also called the Northwest Freeway (along with a string of names far too unacceptable for this blog), and just for giggles, the exit ramp has been switched due to construction.

Beltway 8 and the Sam Houston Tollway are actually one and the same. As for 1-69 (which is the “old” 1-59), it can also be the Eastex Freeway or Southwest Freeway. I’ve also heard rumors of a Westpark Tollway that will circumvent traffic. Of course it does because no-one knows where the hell it is. I almost forgot; TX99 is now, in places, the Grand Parkway.

My children have been infinitely patient with me, especially when I call for directions and have absolutely no idea where I am. I just know enough to know I’m lost.

I’ve learned to ignore my Nav system which has some love affair with 290 and always directs me there. I’ve downloaded the Waze app though it sometimes directs me to the oddest places. Plus, she and my Nav System voice compete with one another.

Truly, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of my navigation systems have grown so tired of me, that I’ll hear, “Hey, you behind the wheel. How many times do I have to tell you to take the next left and make a legal u-turn because in the direction you’re headed, you’ll end up in New York, you idiot.”

But it’s all good because moving six and a half hours closer to my children is worth every wrong turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you taken for granite?

This is not a self-portrait, though sometimes I think it could be except for the straight hair.

Since I’ve been gone from blog-land (which is a rather amusing  and only slightly self-serving opening considering my new novel is Since You’ve Been Gone), I’ve felt like this confused creature I saw one morning from my NOLA balcony. So many wires…so many possibilities…so many risks.

This past year, the hubby and I landed in a community outside of Houston to live closer to the children (they’re all over the age of 30; they should be called adult-tren). In the past eight months, I’ve seen our children more than we had in the past five years. I’m grateful that we have this opportunity, and I (almost) never take it for granted.

I can’t write the words “take for granted” without thinking about students who’d write that they took something “for granite.” I’d write, “as opposed to marble?” in the margin of their papers, and then they’d tell me, “that doesn’t make sense.” And I would say, “Exactly!” assuming they connected the dots.

Wrong.

And because I’m obsessed with analogies, and I learn best by making those sorts of connections, it occurred to me lately that there are so many life things I’ve taken “for granite.” Situations, where sometimes I assumed people were rigid and inflexible, uncompromising. And,often, they were. I’ve been surprised by times when I depended on someone or something to be solid and unquestionably supportive and discovered that even the strongest can crack under too much pressure.

I’ve come to realize that being taken for granite can be comforting in a way that taken for granted can’t be. If it’s because the wrinkles and the imperfections of aging have rendered the outside of me as having character, and the emotional storms I’ve weathered have made me strong in ways I never thought possible…then granite I am.

 

 

News to Celebrate AND a Giveaway

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When my children were excited about an upcoming event, they used to say they were “on nins and peedles.”

Today, finally, I can banish the “nins and peedles” I’ve been experiencing for months now, and introduce you to Since You’ve Been Gone, my debut novel with Amazon’s Waterfall Press.

Olivia and Wyatt have occupied space in my writer brain for years, so I’m delighted Waterfall gave me to the opportunity to share them with readers.

With that, here’s an intro to their story:

One moment, Olivia Kavanaugh is preparing to walk down the aisle and embrace her own happily ever after. The next, she learns that her fiancé, Wyatt Hammond, has been in a fatal car accident. Through the chaos and the grief, a startling discovery comes to light: Wyatt’s car wasn’t heading toward the church…toward Olivia anther happily ever after. He was fifty miles away…with a delicately wrapped baby gift in the backseat.

Her faith shaken, Olivia pores over the clues left behind, desperate to know where Wyatt was going that day and why. As she begins uncovering secrets, she also navigates a tense relationship with her judgmental mother and tries to ignore the attentions of a former boyfriend who’s moved back home. But when she starts receiving letters written by Wyatt before his death, she must confront a disturbing question: Can we ever know anyone fully, even someone we love?

When an unexpected path forward—though nothing like the life she once envisioned—offers the promise of a new beginning, will she be strong enough to let go of the past and move toward it?

I am and continue to be grateful for your support. You’ve encouraged me for years and, without you, this novel wouldn’t have been possible.

If you’ve made it this far (applause!), please see the details for the $25 AMAZON GIFT CARD below:

To be eligible to win:

-Purchase the Kindle, paperback, audio or MP3 version of Since You’ve Been Gone

-Send a copy of your order/receipt (copy and paste or photo upload) to christa.allan@gmail.com

-Post a comment on this blog letting me know you entered AND your email address so I can notify you if you’re the winner

-THIS GIVEAWAY ENDS AT MIDNIGHT ON WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2016.

-THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2016

Please, share this post with your friends!

The Upside of Down’s Syndrome

It’s now almost thirty-three years since my daughter Sarah was born…I wrote this post when she was 25. I’m sharing it today for Down Syndrome Awareness Day.

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Sarah

Over twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that Sarah or I would have the opportunity to write this chapter in my daughter’s life.

Because of technology, I have a way to share her story. But it’s only because of the grace and generosity of our loving Father that Sarah has a place to live this story out.

When my twins, Sarah and Shannon, were born in 1983, the doctors told us that Sarah had Down’s Syndrome. They reassured us we wouldn’t have to take her home if we felt we couldn’t; there were “places” for babies like Sarah. Her place, her father and I had no doubt, was in our arms, in our hearts, and in our family. (see this post).

Early on in Sarah’s life, I learned to live one day at a time because to think otherwise sometimes emotionally paralyzed me. Imagine an abacus, where every bead is a different emotion. That’s life with Sarah. We’d slide from frustration to elation to despair to confusion to anger to acceptance, all the while realizing that the stakes were higher at each level.

A two-year-old with Down’s who hugs you? Cute. A thirty-two-year-old? Not so much. At least not to the public. Generally, women that age are not indiscriminately hugging strangers. We expected Sarah’s social skills to be what we expected from her brothers and sisters. Sometimes that was a challenge–for her siblings.

She spent four of her first sixteen months in hospitals. Two ambulance rides (one over 50 miles), a Life Flight, and one with me waving a white handkerchief out the window as I doubled the speed limit to reach a hospital 40 miles away. Before the age of two and before a vaccine existed, she had haemophilus influenza Type-B three times. She had GE-reflux, so doctors performed a fundoplication, which essentially involves wrapping the top of her stomach around her esophagus.

Then, because she had problems swallowing, the doctors inserted a temporary feeding tube. The second day home from the hospital, the tube caught between her toes during a diaper change, and she yanked it right out of her tummy. Another wild ride to the hospital. Thankfully, six months later, the tube was removed.

One memorable afternoon in high school, instead of riding home with me and her siblings (I taught there, the kids were students) Sarah decided to take the school bus home. She didn’t bother telling any of us. For a frantic two hours, we had absolutely no idea where she was. This, in the days before everyone in the known universe had a cell phone.

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One memorable night in high school, Sarah’s father walked her out on the field during the Homecoming football game. In a campaign I’m sure was spear-headed by Shannon, Sarah was elected one of the two sophomore girls in our school of over 1,500 students voted to be on the Homecoming Court.

Sarah thrived in high school; she loved every moment of it. Sadly, Federal Law states that students like Sarah cannot stay past the age of 21 (22 if their birthday falls during the school year). We were in the process of attempting to place her in a local program when Katrina hit.

I’ve written posts before about the “thin threads” that God uses to connect us. Follow this one: Because of Katrina, my husband had to look for work. One of the places he looked was in Mississippi. The doctors with whom he interviewed mentioned a place called Mustard Seed. Of course, I googled it, and-even online-it seemed impressive. Ken ended up not taking the job in MS, so there wasn’t any reason to pursue Mustard Seed’s day program for Sarah. We moved to Lake Charles, which had an amazing program for Sarah.Two years later, we moved back. Nothing for Sarah in the parish we were moving back to. Nothing. (Long story as to why. Impairs my typing ability and blood pressure to even write about it.)

We contacted Mustard Seed. Ken, Sarah, and I visited. From the first step into the office, we knew that this truly was a Christian community devoted to the Seedsters. At the time, I couldn’t fathom Sarah not living at home, and I struggled with the decision. Another thread. There wasn’t an opening for Sarah to be a resident. Living almost three hours away made her being a day client impossible.

For an entire school year, she traveled to work with Ken. One hour to the clinic, one hour back. 600 miles a week.

In May, we find out there’s an opening. We take Sarah for a week, for a trial run. On the ride to pick her up, her sister Erin and I fretted about the next step. Will Sarah want to live there? What if she doesn’t? The “what if?” monster again.

We arrive, and while showing her sister Erin around, Sarah turns to her and says, “I’m going to live here. You and Shannon and John got to go to college. Now it’s my turn.”

The second day home from Mustard Seed, Sarah looked glum. I truly didn’t want to ask why for fear she’d tell me she didn’t want to return. Overcoming my ninny-factor, I asked Sarah why she was sad. She told me, “I don’t want to talk about it. It’s about Mustard Seed.”  And there it was; the very response I feared. And, because I knew I must, I asked, “What about Mustard Seed?” and tried to breathe as I waited.

She looked at me. “When do I get to go back?”

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To witness the joy that radiates from Sarah as she experiences this independence is a gift. She is blossoming in this environment, and I’m awed by the courage and trust she embraced that allowed us to give her that trial week. Our Father has such spectacular plans in store for us that what we imagine is microscopic in comparison.

In my dreams, twenty-five years ago, dreams I almost dared not even express, she would have friends, work that she enjoyed, and the ability to make some decisions on her own in a safe and protected environment.

I prayed that she would be able to live life to its fullest. She is. And, in doing so, she’s teaching me how to do the same.

 

The Days of Whines and Supposes

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 On the three-year anniversary of my retirement  after twenty-five years of teaching English

DIRECTIONS ON HANDOUT:

  1. Write an essay consisting of five paragraphs.
  1. Staple this handout to the back of your paper before submitting it.
  1. Your essay is due at the end of class.

QUESTIONS TO TEACHER (ME) FROM STUDENTS:

  1. Does it really have to be five paragraphs? What if I write only four?
  1. Where do I staple this handout?
  1. Do you really want this stapled to my essay?
  1. Am I supposed to staple this to the back of my essay?
  1. I’m out of staples.
  1. What if I don’t finish? Can I take this home?

WHAT STUDENTS REALLY WANT TO SAY:

  1. If we barrage you with enough questions, we think you’ll eventually back off. We would rather listen to an hour of Frank Sinatra than write even fifty words on a sheet of paper.
  1. We know you told us at the beginning of the school year to purchase our own mini-stapler, but we either didn’t purchase one, purchased one and lost it, purchased one and broke it, and/or it ran out of staples five months ago when the kid behind me took it and emptied the staples, one by one, into my hair. I’ve passed any number of places where I could purchase more staples and/or a stapler, but I really didn’t have time to stop because Starbucks was about to open or close, and I needed to be there. Anyway, we don’t understand why you won’t allow us to use your stapler when we know you’re hiding at least two of them in your desk.
  1. Is the earth going to stop spinning if I staple the handout to the front instead of the back? Sometimes you seem just a tad bit OCD. We think, perhaps, we might be able to help you overcome that if we don’t always follow directions.
  1. We know we could finish before the end of class, but we have homework for Free Enterprise/Civics/Biology/Spanish/French/Geometry that’s due next hour. And, BobbieSue didn’t have time in my other class to finish telling me what happened at Prom because she got all caught up in the fashion disaster that Martha wore and then the bell rang.

WHAT THE TEACHER REALLY WANTS TO SA Y (and sometimes MAY ):

  1. Directions are entirely at your discretion. Feel free NOT to follow them; however, feel equally free to stand ready for the consequences.
  1. Students in 11th grade honors  should be able to burp five paragraphs in fifty minutes. That’s ten minutes per paragraph. If you think that’s not a long time, think about being poked in the eye with a hot stick for ten minutes.
  1. If you write only four paragraphs, that’s one less paragraph I need to read. See #1.
  1. Yes, I want the handout stapled to the BACK because I don’t want to read 100+ essays and have to flip the handout out of the way every time. You will need the handout when I return the essay to remind you of the directions. See #1.
  1. I told you in August that if you were old enough to sit behind the wheel of a moving vehicle traveling at 50+ miles per hour, you were certainly old enough and responsible enough to purchase, be trusted with, and use a stapler no longer than 2-3 inches.

For the record, I have THREE staplers. I purchased them with MY money. Years ago, I allowed students to use my stapler. Over that period of time, staplers were “lost,” broken, or abused. When it was time to submit papers, the room sounded as if it had been invaded by wildebeests galloping through the Kalahari when 25-30 students would simultaneously flock to my desk. It was uncivilized. And it wasted valuable class time. And it made ME responsible for YOUR paper. And so the entitlement program of free stapling ended.

  1. My directions may seem, possibly could be, OCD-ish. Wait until you fill out your first tax return. Ask the IRS if you can switch around the information. Let me know how that works for you.
  1. The lesson isn’t limited to the writing. It’s a lesson on being responsible, practicing wise time management, and following directions.
  1. Clearly, socialization is an integral part of the high school experience, one which I certainly would not want you to experience the pain of deprivation. So, to accommodate that need, we have scheduled special times for your bonding with friends. We call it before and after school, passing time between classes, and lunch.

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Life Savors

Books and writing have saved my life.

Not literally, of course, like being protected by a bulletproof vest of hardbacks and Anna Karenina-sized paperbacks. But they’ve been, figuratively, life preservers when I’m drowning in a sea of chaos, frustration, anger, grief or all of the above. What they’ve provided for me is a haven; a place to retreat when all the other doors are slamming.
Writing isn’t always an art I can fully share. It’s not like a painting propped on an easel or a tune coaxed from the strings of a violin. But to be able to pull a thought through my brain like so many scarves out of a magician’s sleeve and watch my hand glide across the barren whiteness of paper and create something from nothing is amazing.

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Certainly, not all I write is amazing. Often it’s a mess of emotional brain urp. But the process fascinates me. In the same way that I’m still fascinated waves travel through the air, find their way to my car, and convert themselves into music that comes back out of my speakers as waves again. I mean, how WOW is that? Invisible stuff. Floating through people and places and things and producing stuff.

So, too, writing is that act of creation.

What do books and/or writing mean to you?