Mary Lou Retton, Commodore 64, and a Pack of Lucky Strikes


I grew up in a house that was too small for secrets.  There were no secluded hiding spots or private spaces.  Time alone was so rare that it almost felt uncomfortable.  And even when you thought you were having a private conversation, someone was always within earshot.  Usually, that person was your little brother.

There wasn’t much the four of us didn’t know about each other.

So I was surprised when, on a crisp November day while my boys and I were visiting my parents, my dad revealed a treasure box that had been covertly concealed in a closet.  Even in our teeny tiny house, he’d kept a secret – a stash of yellowed newspapers and vintage magazines that he had squirreled away over the years for their historical or personal significance, including several Sports Illustrated magazines from my childhood.


My memories of the spring and summer of 1984 are limited.  I had just turned eight years old.  My second grade teacher had been creative and unconventional, and she would remain one of my favorites forever.  (She played the guitar, produced a play every season, and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  Standardized tests weren’t holding us hostage yet.)  I owned a Michael Jackson t-shirt that I vaguely remember wearing often.  Probably too often.  I honestly don’t remember much more that that.

But I DO remember watching Mary Lou Retton win gold in the summer Olympics, right here in America.  I remember seeing her on the Wheaties boxes at the store.  (She was the first woman on the front of the box, by the way.)  She was smiley and spunky, and she grew up just a couple of hours away from me, which in Appalachia means that you might as well be neighbors.  We claimed her, and she would become one of the most beloved athletes of all time.

So when my dad pulled out his treasures, I went straight for the Sports Illustrated dated August 13, 1984 to read the articles about Mary Lou.  But I didn’t even read them.  I still haven’t read them, actually.  (I’m so sorry, Mary Lou.  I will.  I promise!)  When I opened the cover and saw the first advertisement, I quickly became engrossed in what this relic from the past reveals about the American experience just a few decades ago.  Is this really what life was like when I was a child?  Whoa.  Apparently, growing up requires so much concentration that we don’t even notice the changes of life swirling around us.

It does surprise me how much some areas of our lives have been transformed.  And it’s equally amazing how much some things that need to change really haven’t changed so much at all.  See for yourself!  Check out this walk down Memory Lane courtesy of Sports Illustrated magazine, August 1984.


The Marlboro Man was to 1984 what The Most Interesting Man in the World is to 2018.  He was cool.  He persuaded us to believe that indulging in unhealthy habits isn’t immature or irresponsible; it’s manly.  (We are all still recovering from the devastation this myth creates in our society…)  In the 80s, kids loved their candy cigarettes, and there were women who could not resist a man who smelled like a campfire and sounded like he was coughing up a lung.  But the Marlboro man wasn’t lonely in Sports Illustrated.  There were almost as many cigarette ads as articles.


There was this one, which makes a pool party look like a lot more fun than smoking, but whatever.  I guess the ladies only came when they heard there would be cigarettes?


And there was this guy.  He had no idea how to ride a motorcycle until he smoked a Kool.  I bet he didn’t have hair like that B.K. (Before Kool), either.  I might even consider smoking a Kool to grow thick hair and have deep thoughts like that . . .


And there were these.  Hey, at least they are low tar.  A lot of tar sounds gross, but a little tar, well, that’s perfect.

You guys, there were SO MANY tobacco ads in this Sports Illustrated.

Interestingly, according to this article on dated May 24, 2016, “roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked” about fifty years ago, down to around 15% today.  Which suggests that maybe, just maybe, sometimes government regulations imposed on profitable industries that care more about money than actual Americans can be the catalyst for significant and positive shifts in our society.

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the statistics.


Remember when Kmart was king of the department stores and Walmart was just invading the Midwest?  Really, did anyone who banked on the success of Velcro shoes get ahead?


Yes, there was a time when everybody wanted a Commodore 64.  Who thought technology would expand beyond THIS?  Just look at those graphics!


What?!?  AT&T made personal computers?  Based on the ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service I experienced with them recently, I’m not surprised they’ve experienced some failures.


Even with the advancing technology, in the 1980s computers still seemed unnecessary to most of us.  As if every family would need its own computer!  Please!  That would be as crazy as having phones that weren’t attached to the wall!  Or computers that would fit in our pockets!  Just the idea was hilarious.  Electronic typewriters were the perfect middle ground for most of middle America.  We liked change.  But not THAT much change.


Rolls of film?  My kids would have no idea what this even means . . .


Friends, here’s a true story: I almost surrendered while trying to open a package of Tide pods yesterday to wash our clothes.  I’m not even joking.  The childproofing was so advanced and creative that it took me several minutes to figure it out.  In 2018, we live in our own personal prisons to keep our children safe.  But in 1984, I was eight years old, and I was sitting in the front seat, probably on my knees, without a safety belt.  Really, I might as well have been driving.  According to this ad, only 15% of Americans were buckling up in 1984, so I was in good company – and my parents were perfectly wonderful – and totally normal to allow this.  I remember people protesting when seatbelt laws were first introduced, but those regulations have saved a whole lot of lives.


A few things I found in this SI issue did disturb me.  I’m not sure this ad campaign would fly today.  I’m pretty sure that secretaries have other things to type at work . . .


And I’m confident that the photographers at the Olympics could have shared a more appropriate photo of the Romanian women’s gymnastics team than this.  REALLY?


And I’d love to tell you that thirty years since this letter to the editor, at least one woman has qualified to officiate a regular season game for major league baseball, but as far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened.  It’s been THIRTY YEARS!


And this guy wrote an editorial about how, in his opinion, Americans weren’t the most hospitable hosts of the Olympics because, well, maybe our culture is generally kind of selfish and maybe we think that America should always be the center of attention.  Maybe we weren’t as welcoming and open minded toward people from other countries in 1984 as we thought we were.

Whew.  Thank goodness those attitudes have changed, right?  (*sigh*)

So everything wasn’t perfect in 1984.  There were problems, some that we’ve almost extinguished and some that we have not.

But we did have Velcro shoes.

And Mary Lou Retton.

And that alone makes up for a lot.



Ten Lessons I Learned When Life Tried to Drown Me – Part 2


Don’t worry!  If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.  If you already read that post, thanks for coming back!  I know the anticipation was killing you, especially since I am a day late . . . Here are five more lessons I learned when life tried to drown me in 2017.


6. You can’t change people.

We’re approaching the end of January, and gym attendance has already dropped dramatically since January 1.  In fact, according to, 67% of people who have gym memberships don’t even use them.  If you are still plugging away at your new year’s resolutions, kudos to you!  Statistically, you were probably more likely to have been hit by lightning or killed by a hippo, but you persevered!

Resolutions are tough because it’s hard for us to change what we are accustomed to believing or doing.  Change is not impossible, for sure, but it’s difficult, even when we really WANT a change to take place. Here’s the point: If it is incredibly challenging just to change yourself, then how would you possibly be able to change another person who sees no reason for an adjustment in the first place?

Let me say this (to myself) one more time.  YOU. CAN’T. CHANGE. PEOPLE.  You can love them.  You can encourage them.  You can share your wisdom and experiences.  You can listen.  You can care about them from the very bottom of your heart.  But you can only change yourself.  You can play a supporting role for other people when they decide to change themselves.  And that could be . . . well . . . never.  Changing them is not your responsibility.  Thank goodness.  Because you can’t do it.


7. Grief is like a cloud.

Grief is like the clouds in the sky.  At first, the clouds are thick and heavy, and very little light slips through.  The days are foggy and dark, and time feels long and slow and kind of blurry.  Fortunately, as the weeks pass by, the clouds break up and the sunbeams win.  Brightness, clarity, and sunshine become normal again.  The clouds become lighter and fluffier, and they blow by gently, and sometimes you don’t even notice them at all.  Some days there is not a single cloud, just a bright blue sky, and those sunny days are more magnificent than they ever were before.

But clouds always return.  They always blow in and out of the sky.  They are smaller and farther between, but they are never really gone.

Sometimes you can feel a storm cloud rolling in before you see it, like older people say they feel the rain in their bones.  Other times, a single dark cloud surprises you.  It shows up out of nowhere in the middle of a clear blue sky.  You are having a picnic or swimming in the pool, playing with your kids or laughing with friends, and you unexpectedly find yourself running for cover.

But the sunny days, after a while, far outnumber those sprinkled with clouds.

There is no timeline for grief, no good way to measure or explain it.  Be patient with friends who have experienced a loss. It’s okay for you to ask them how they are doing, even after time has passed.  You aren’t going to remind them of something that they have forgotten.  Most likely, there is still at least one cloud in their sky, and they might appreciate that you recognize that.


8. Your value does not depend on your success or your failure.

After several disappointing team losses recently, my son was feeling defeated as an athlete.  I could see it.  He didn’t need a lecture on how to improve his skills or a play-by-play account of the team’s mistakes. He already knew that stuff, and I’m not his coach.   What he needed from mom was encouragement.

We talked about the season and his goals and his improvements.  We talked about some camps and some training he might like.  But his disappointment was heavy, despite his usual resilience.  I wasn’t really sure what else to say.  And then these words spilled out of my mouth, “I know disappointment is hard, but do you know what would make this experience really tragic?”

He raised his eyebrows and looked up from his phone.

“If your value as a person were actually tied to your wins and your losses.”

I don’t really know where that came from, but my first thought was, DANGTHAT was some good parenting!  Yes, I nailed it!  Then my throat tightened just a little bit because the message was also convicting.  Because sometimes I forget that my own value as a human being isn’t tied to what I do for a living or what I have in the bank or who likes me or how many mistakes I’ve made or what I mark off my to-do list each day.

The fact that I am losing my job does not diminish my personal value. Yes, teaching is very important to me, and, yes, I love helping teenagers, and, yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished over the past fourteen years, but my job does not determine my value.

The fact that I am going through a divorce does not diminish my personal value. Yes, it dramatically changes what I imagined for the future, and, yes, it has been a painful experience, and, yes, family is incredibly important to me, but my relationships do not determine my value.

The fact that some people don’t enjoy my writing does not diminish my personal value.  Yes, rejection stings, and, yes, I wish everyone liked me, but what other people think does not determine my value.

Your value, the true measure of who you are, is separate from your parenting, your marriage, your friendships, your job, your hobbies, your paycheck, and your successes. Every one of those things can be stripped away from you, yet you would still BE.

You.  Would.  Still.  Be. 

And if that leaves you wondering where your value actually comes from, maybe it’s time to slow down and reflect on who you truly are and where you put your faith and what that really means.


9. The opinions of other people matter.  Sometimes.

When I hear my high school students say things like, “I don’t really care what people think,” or “Other people’s opinions don’t matter to me,” or “Nobody is going to tell me what to do,” that can usually be translated into “I am making some very poor life choices right now.” The reality is that I rarely hear those words strung together by students who are experiencing success at school and in life at that moment.

But I specifically remember one girl in my English class who wrote that whenever she makes a decision, she asks herself what her Aunt Diane would do.  Her Aunt Diane’s opinion matters.  She trusts it.  Every person needs an Aunt Diane.

There are people in our lives who play an important role in encouraging us to make the best decisions and in holding us accountable when they see danger lurking around us. Their opinions matter to us, even after they are gone.  (My grandmothers’ voices still play a powerful role in my life.)  But there are a whole lot of other opinions that don’t matter, voices that serve only to distract and discourage us, with no true concern for our well being at all.  There are people who don’t even know us and people who have not earned our trust that complain, criticize, and try to convince us to give up on the good things we are doing.  It’s so important to discern the opinions that matter from the opinions that don’t.


10. Bravery is not what people think it is.

The bravest people I know do not fit the image of bravery that American culture has created. We like to associate bravery with physical strength and tough words and a lust for adventure,  but brave people are often quiet and humble.  They often suffer and sacrifice in ways that other people don’t even notice.  And bravery doesn’t always sound like we expect.  Saying “I am not perfect” is braver than saying “I don’t make mistakes.”  Saying “I was hurt by what you did” is braver than saying “That didn’t matter to me.”  Saying “I made a mistake” is braver than saying “I don’t see a problem.”  Saying “I can relate to how you feel because this happened to me” is braver than saying “Call if you need me.”  Saying “Actually, life is hard right now” is braver than saying “Everything is fine.”  Bravery can be big and loud, but it can also be quiet and unassuming.  Be sure to notice and appreciate (and maybe even try to experience) both kinds.


Thanks so much for reading this post, sharing the blog with friends, and weathering the storms of life together!  (We all need a village, right?  Don’t tell me you forgot #1 already!)  Here’s to hoping, but not expecting, to win the lottery in 2018!

*Pictures created using Bitmoji.

Join the conversation!  Which of these ten lessons resonated with you the most?  Comment below or on the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page!

Ten Lessons I Learned When Life Tried to Drown Me – Part 1


Without a doubt, 2016 tried to kill me.  On December 31, my match was lit and ready to set that calendar on fire.  I vaguely discussed some of the challenges of that year in this post last January, expecting (OOPS! – see #5 below) that 2017 would be the BEST. YEAR. EVER.  I thought everything would fall into place last year.  I thought things would change and the world would start to make sense again.  Plus, I totally deserved to win the lottery or something after keeping my head above water during the year that nearly drowned me.  And life usually gives us exactly what we deserve, right?  (Bwahahahaha!  I may have just laughed so hard that Diet Coke came out my nose . . . )


In reality, what life often gives us feels a little more like this . . .

Hippo Me

Truth be told, the past year was better in a whole lot of ways, and I wrote about a few of the highlights on the blog throughout 2017.  But I’m still in the midst of a difficult divorce, and I just learned that the school where I’m working must close, so this post  would be a big fat lie if I did not say this: I didn’t win the lottery in 2017.  And my joy, as refreshing as it was to rediscover it, was often still entangled in a web of uncertainty, disappointment, and hurt.  It turns out that flipping a page on a calendar (or burning the whole thing to ashes . . . ) doesn’t really fix everything, at least not instantly.  But one thing is for sure: I’m supposed to learn something from these experiences.  The years that tried to kill me have taught me that there is beauty in the tremendous growth and wisdom we gain when wrestling with unexpected challenges.  Here are a few more lessons I’ve learned from my WWE match with life.  (By the way, I think I may be winning . . .)


1. Stop apologizing already and use your village.

Humans were designed to live in communities, both physical communities and social ones.  Individually, we are unable to compensate for our own weaknesses, but together the gaps created by one person can be filled by another until there are no gaps left in the community at all.  That’s a beautiful thought, right?  And you aren’t weak because you have a need.  You’re just human.

But human nature also makes us act a bit like toddlers, little kids who want to do everything independently, even when they aren’t really capable.  They want to pour the gallon of milk that they can hardly lift off the table.  They want to tie their shoes before anyone has taught them how.  They want to swing the bat their way and dunk the ball in the hoop despite being only two feet tall.  For the grownups, it’s maddening.

We cringe at that behavior, but think about the crazy things we do just to prove that we can do them.  We consider it an accomplishment to handle everything on our own.  We drive ourselves to the emergency room when we are practically dying.  We try to manage impossible schedules without asking another parent who is going to the exact same place to give our kid a ride.  We agree to things that we don’t want to do so that we won’t look incapable of juggling one hundred and fifty seven responsibilities at once.  Seriously, it’s ridiculous.

If you are lucky enough to have handled everything on your own until now, you win a . . . well, nothing actually . . . but, really, that’s pretty amazing.  Still, I will advise from experience that you should start building your village today because everyone gets caught in a storm with no umbrella eventually.  (Or wakes up seriously sick with a kidney stone in the middle of the night . . . We all have our own issues . . .)


2. Don’t just sit there and expect people to build a village around you.

I once read a string of comments on the Today Parenting Blog in which some moms lamented that neighbors aren’t thoughtful anymore and that people with a caring village are just lucky and that no one ever helps them when they need it.  Now, maybe these ladies live in towns where everyone looks a bit like the Grinch and no one shares a casserole anymore, but I find that a little hard to believe.

I find that a lot hard to believe, actually.

Remember the famous line from Field of Dreams?  The voice that Ray hears over and over as he envisions his own baseball diamond says, “If you build it, he will come . . .”   So he builds it, and people come.  Even ghosts come, for goodness sake.  Most of us aren’t interested in attracting dead baseball players, but the advice is solid: The magic is secondary.  First, you have to do the hard work.

If you don’t have a village, start by envisioning the community you want to create.  What kind of friend are you wishing to have in your life?  Then – and this is the secret that the ladies I mentioned above may have missed – YOU HAVE TO BE THAT FRIEND.  You have to make the first move.  You have to start the conversations.  You have to help the mom who looks frazzled.  You have to notice the stressed out woman and buy her a coffee.  You have to invite the neighbors over for dessert.  You have to show up when it is totally inconvenient.  You have to send a card to someone who needs a lift.  YOU have to lay the foundation for the village that you want to live in.

If you build a baseball diamond, baseball players will find it.  (Maybe not ghost ones, but ghosts are creepy anyway.)  And if you build a village that starts with you being the kind of friend that you want to have, then you will attract the kinds of friends you are looking for, too.


3. You can survive more than you think you can.

You know all those people who have overcome huge challenges only to move forward and contribute to the world in positive ways?  You read about them or see them on television, and their optimism and fighting spirit seem superhuman.  Their stories are uplifting and really do motivate us to be better and stronger and more hopeful than we were before.

But at the end of the day, they’re people, not superheroes, people like you who are just trying to make something good out of an otherwise crappy situation.  Hopefully, you would do the same thing, too, if you were faced with a similar adversity.  And although your resilience would inspire others in really wonderful ways, you probably wouldn’t feel all that inspirational – because moving forward after a crisis really just feels like, well, survival.  You have the strength to survive hard things, too.  You are no different from those people.  You have the power to thrive and to inspire others and to make something good come from your own despair.


4. It’s important to stay busy.  But not too busy.

Balance may be impossible to achieve, but it’s certainly something to aim for.  This is especially true when you are faced with hard times.  Unfortunately, many people who encounter scary hurdles resort to extremes – either staying so busy that they never face their problems and emotions, or isolating themselves so much that they are more apt to sink into a very dark place.

As Winston Churchill famously said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”  The danger of standing still, of course, is that you will never come out on the other side.  Spending time with friends and family, contributing within the community, and finding your bigger purpose can help you to feel contentment and joy.  But quiet time for reflecting, reading, journaling, connecting with your faith, and talking privately with close friends is also really, really important in order to move forward.  It’s okay to give yourself time to process and time to be alone, just not too much.  I’m still seeking this balance.  So should you.


5. Your expectations will shape your outlook.

One of the greatest barriers to finding happiness after a loss is accepting that your life no longer looks like the photo-shopped image of the future that you had already plastered in the album in your head.  It can be very, very difficult to let go of the expectations you had for today and for the future so that you can appreciate the beauty of what you actually have – which is still probably pretty awesome in a lot of ways.  And the longer we hang onto expectations that are no longer realistic, the more time bitterness and anger have to make themselves really cozy in our hearts.

During a run this week, I tripped on an uneven sidewalk and skinned myself up.  It was totally embarrassing, and, DANG, a skinned knee hurts more than I remember!  (So sorry, kids, for telling you to suck it up . . . )  While I was bandaging a few scrapes, I inadvertently knocked my phone in the water.  So my kids came home to a limping mom with a bag of ice in one hand and an iphone in a bag of rice in the other.  “You had a really bad day,” they said.  And I probably should have felt like I’d had a horrible day, but I didn’t.  (Disclaimer: I definitely can’t say that I always handle situations like this so calmly!  I nearly threw my computer out the window just a few minutes ago when the wifi stopped connecting. . .)  Here’s the thing.  When you stop expecting life to be perfect, some of the situations that might have seemed tragic in the past lose their power.  And sometimes overcoming some of the bigger problems in life brings a healthier perspective to the smaller issues and helps you to focus on the positive.

It’s important to have hopes and dreams, to work hard to achieve those, and to maintain high standards for your life, but make sure that your expectations aren’t setting you up to be an unhappy person.  Accept that life isn’t perfect.  That you can’t always have what you want. That people will make mistakes.  That things will happen that aren’t fair.  That you can’t predict the future.  All of that sounds pretty bleak, right?  It really isn’t.  Life is full of wonderful things, as well.  But these truths are, well, REAL, and we often prefer to live in the pretend rather than in the reality, which creates unnecessary disappointment.  Expect problems to happen, because that is just life, but also recognize that the overall quality of your life isn’t determined by a single problem, even if that problem is a big one.


You can read Part 2 of this post here!

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*Pictures created using Bitmoji.


Friday Favorites: What We Loved This Christmas

image1You did it!  You survived the holiday madness once again!  I truly hope that your Christmas was everything that you wanted or needed it to be.  If this year was wonderful for you, I am so happy for you.  I celebrate your happiness with you!  If this year was one for the history books, please trust that next Christmas may look completely different, that it may be much better even if your life has changed, even if you can’t begin to imagine what “better” might look like yet.  Keep on keeping on, and soon you will be an encouragement to someone else who is right where you are now, and what an incredible gift you will be!

Speaking of gifts, every year I tell my kids that Santa will be cutting back at our house, and every year Santa fails to follow through with this plan.  This year was no exception.  When I pointed out to my children that baby Jesus himself received only three gifts, my quick-witted oldest son responded, “Yes, Mom, but one of those was GOLD!!!”  (Seriously, though, my kids aren’t the problem.  The problem is ME!)

I think we can all agree that Christmas has become far too entangled in American commercialism and materialism, but, even so, it’s fair to say that the gifts that we give one another, at Christmas or at any time, do matter.  Yes, we spend too much money and, yes, we spoil our kids with too many presents, but the perfect gift, even if it is very inexpensive, is a powerful way to say I know you and I love you.  And these words are coming from someone whose LEAST appreciated love language is gift giving.

When you give a particularly meaningful gift, it’s not about the gift at all.  It’s about the thought, the time, the generosity of spirit.

There is no way that I could highlight every gift my kids and I got or bought this Christmas, but please know that we thought carefully about each gift that we purchased and truly enjoyed each present we received!  My hope is that by sharing some new ideas with you, maybe this will give you some gifting inspiration for the coming year.  Or for Christmas next year.

Seriously.  It’s only 361 days away!


Yes, one of my favorite gifts in 2017 was a thermometer . . . Oh, wow.  I’m feeling super old in this moment . . .  I actually received this gift at a favorite things gift exchange hosted by my friend Jennifer, and then I loved it so much that I bought one for my brother and his wife, so I both got it and bought it!  To sum it up, you load the Kinsa app onto your smart phone and then the thermometer pictured above plugs right into your phone.  Here’s what I love: Each person in the family can have a profile on Kinsa where you can record their temperature readings as well as their symptoms.  This way, when the doctor asks questions like, “How long has your child been having these symptoms?” you don’t have to bumble around, looking confused and wondering if you just failed parenting because you can’t remember.  You can buy this on Amazon for around $14.


This might be my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE gift that I bought this year!  What do you buy for a three-year-old who doesn’t need any toys because he already has all of the ones you bought his older brother for Christmas for the past nine years?  You make him a customized memory game on Shutterfly!  You choose which pictures to load, and you can create a theme if you want.  In our case, I used photos from our family vacation to Florida last summer.  We had fun playing the game AND enjoying the memories at the same time.  Note: The cards are bigger than the other memory games you may have at home.  I also ordered two sets to expand the game.  Shutterfly offers LOTS of discounts and promos, so watch for those before ordering. 


If your name is Renee and you are my sister-in-law, you need to stop reading right now because your kids have not received this gift yet!  This is another fun, unique gift that I am so excited to share with my niece and my nephew.  You can find these mermaid tail blankets by visiting Blankie Tails, and they come in a variety of sizes and colors.  (Photo from the Blankie Tails website)  They also have different styles, such as a shark and a rocket ship, to appeal to different kids.  I ordered directly from Blankie Tails because they carry toddler sizes. (Seriously, a toddler mermaid.  It’s too much.)  However, you can also find some of their styles on Amazon, and I REALLY love that you can buy them and add the child’s name (if you don’t need toddler sizes – BOO!) at the Personal Creations website.


Alex and Ani bracelets are trendy and fun, but there are three reasons why I like them more than any other bracelets I own.  First, they are extremely light weight and thin, which means that I can forget that I am wearing them, even when I am working.  Second, they are adjustable, which is very helpful for those of us who have tiny wrists and those of us who don’t.  Finally, each bracelet has a special meaning, so you can gift a loved one in a meaningful way.  My parents gave me this bracelet to add to a few others I already have, and it is lovely!  You can buy these at some jewelry stores, department stores, and boutiques or at Alex and Ani online.  Here is a pro shopper tip: If you live near a Nordstrom Rack, they often carry some of these bracelets at nearly half the usual cost, making them a much more affordable gift!


My parents don’t really need or want any more things around the house.  There isn’t room for a lot of extras in their small home, and they have everything arranged just the way they like it.  This year, my brother and I bought them these kits to trace their ancestry.  The results will be fascinating for our entire family!  We bought these on Amazon when they were on sale, so look for discounts.  This is a great idea for people who don’t really want any more things, and I expect the results to spark many interesting conversations!


My boys became somewhat obsessed with the game of croquet last summer, so much so that my brother and sister-in-law bought them this desktop croquet set, kind of as a joke.  It turns out that this little set with each ball about the size of a dime provided hours of holiday fun.  Who would have thought?  You will need a tablecloth to create some friction, but this game is a win!  You can buy it at World Market.


You know how some people are naturally really good at finding JUST the right gifts?  Yeah.  Those people are my brother and my sister-in-law.  They bought me this print from RunawayPrints on Etsy and then framed it from IKEA.  This gift is so personal and so encouraging!  It doesn’t get better than that!  I love it.


And . . . they also got me this super soft t-shirt from one of my favorite Etsy shops, Birch Bear Co., which you may remember me blogging about here.  I bought my sister-in-law a Christmas gift from this shop, as well.  There are so many cute options, and the business owner is incredibly kind.  I highly recommend Birch Bear!


This year, the boys and I spent a little more time visiting with extended family, which was so nice.  We had more time to sit and talk, and we were able to make a couple of extra stops.  When I visited my aunt and uncle, not only was the company enjoyable, but they also let me raid the pantry!  Oh, my goodness, you guys . . . that is homemade apple pie filling.  HOMEMADE APPLE PIE FILLING!!!  And it was lovingly prepared by two people who are very special to me.  Best.  Gifts.  Ever.  Give the gift of your own skills and talents!

All of these are risk-free, no-fail gifts!  We love ornaments at our house because each one represents a special interest, event, or person, so an ornament that has some personal significance is the perfect gift any time of the year.  Don’t forget to look for them when you are on vacation, or consider making them yourself, as my friends Kelli and Jamison did for me!  Retro gifts are becoming more and more appealing to me and friends in my age group (you know, around 29), maybe because they transport us to a time when our greatest worries were how far the telephone cord would stretch and when a favorite song would play on the radio so that we could add it to a mix tape.  Anything that looks like the 80s, if you lived in the 80s, is fun.  Board games are favorites at our house because, really, they are the gift of time with one another; my awesome kiddos bought me Trivial Pursuit this year . . . maybe just a little harder than they thought!  And, of course, CHOCOLATE never fails to please, especially if you know your mom L-O-V-E-S dark chocolate with raspberry filling but thinks it costs too much . . . YUM.


This last one is a gift that I bought for a dog-loving friend, and I also bought one for myself.  (Yes, that happens . . . )  My mother-in-law had given me a similar dish towel several years ago, and the statement makes me happy.  This is a very inexpensive gift that I found at Home Goods, which is a great place to find steals and deals that can still be meaningful gifts, any time of the year!

I hope that this post gives you some great gifting ideas for the coming year!  Thank you to everyone who so generously gave to my family this Christmas; we appreciated everything, especially all of the love!  Goodbye 2017!

~Mary Ann









Christmas Song Parodies: The Mom Versions


Oh, the holidays, that special time of year when we all cozy up by the fire in our matching pajamas, with our steaming mugs of homemade hot chocolate and the sugar cookies we ornately iced with that smooth royal icing.  And the cookies are decorated with those tiny silver ball things that are always on the sugar cookies in magazines and must be edible.  I guess.

Yeah, right.

While our kids often associate Christmas with the joy of twinkling lights and brightly wrapped packages, for parents the most wonderful time of the year can be a little bit stressful and a whole lot exhausting.  Even though the Christmas season is my favorite time of the year with my family, I will admit that all of the tasks and expectations can become a bit overwhelming.  Yes, I treasure every tradition of the season, including listening to the carols that I play on a continuous loop starting the day after Thanksgiving, but I do wonder what the lyrics might sound like if they reflected how we moms REALLY feel – at least some of the time – during the craziness of the holiday rush.  I kind of like these versions, just for fun . . .  What do you think?

To the tune of “Jingle Bells”

Jingle bells, jingle bells
Sarah just threw up
We can’t fly to grandma’s house
Those tickets cost so much . . . Hey!

Jingle bells, jingle bells
This is just my luck
Who will be the next to puke?
This laundry – (*gagging*) – YUCK!


To the tune of “Deck the Halls”

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Why is all this my job anyway?
You thought I’d do this by myself?
Good luck. I quit. Go find an elf.


To the tune of “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth”

All I want for Christmas is to get some sleep
Some time for me
Yes, an hour that’s free
Please, if I could only get a good night’s sleep
Then I could wish you, “Merry Christmas”


To the tune of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Everywhere you go
Take a look in the five-and-ten; lines that will never end
With moms whose patience ran out long ago
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Crowds in every store
So the prettiest sights to see are deliveries that will be
At your own front door


To the tune of “Let It Snow”

Oh, the lists just keep on growing,
And I’m shopping without knowing
What to buy so tears don’t flow
Let it go, let it go, let it go.

There are cards I won’t be sending
And I know I’m overspending
I’ve hit my holiday all-time low
Let it go, let it go, let it go.

When I buy cookies off the shelf
Oh, it feels like a holiday fail
I keep forgetting to move the elf
And don’t ask me to step on a scale

Oh, the gifts, they still need wrapping
And my kids are home and scrapping
But Christmas means more, I know
Let it go, let it go, let it go.


To the tune of “Up on the Housetop”

Up on the housetop, the bulbs won’t glow
Why they won’t we just don’t know
Hours and hours of hanging lights
All for a house that’s dark at night

Dad, he had just one desire
Light the night up like a fire
No more Christmas in the dark
Dreaming he would outshine Clark

Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go?
Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go?
Up on the ladder, slick as ice
To impress the neighbors at any price


To the tune of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Even if you put together toys all night

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
Pretend you don’t mind what your crazy relatives say

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Uncle Joe’s fourth wife isn’t dear to us
But she gathers near to us once more

Through the years we all will be together
If no one gets mad
Even then, we’ll come to please our mom and dad
So have yourself a merry little Christmas . . .
Have yourself a merry little Christmas . . .
Really – have yourself a merry little Christmas now.


Happy holidays, friends!  Don’t forget the reason for this very special season, and thanks, as always, for supporting my blog!

~Mary Ann


A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

Dear Boys,

This morning started just like any other morning.  The three of us rushed around the house, grabbing breakfast and packing lunches and filling backpacks for school.  We were listening to the news, prepared to hear the latest White House tweet, when Savannah Guthrie’s quivering voice shared something unexpected – that her friend and co-host on the Today Show, Matt Lauer, had been fired.  You asked me why I stopped what I was doing.  You noticed that my voice was shaky, too.

Now that you are both a little older, I choose not to shield you from the news.  Sometimes the news reports are ugly and painful.  Sometimes they introduce you to issues I would rather you didn’t know.  But the news is also the truth of the world that you live in.  I want you to see it and feel it and wrestle with it while you are still living here.  I want you to face reality even when reality is hard.  I want you to ask me all kinds of questions because it’s my job to get you ready to face the challenges of life.

So you are both aware that powerful men have been falling like dominos recently, one after another.  We have watched their belief that power and money could make them invincible crumble.  And our illusion that we can tell whom we should trust has collapsed, as well.

I thought I could trust Matt Lauer, guys.  I really did.

Before you left for school today, we had a conversation about how, even though each new story makes me feel disgusted and sad, we are witnessing a pivotal moment in American culture, a moment in which powerful people – businessmen, politicians, and celebrities – are finally being held accountable for clearly unacceptable behavior.  I told you that this means, maybe, hopefully, that you won’t have to worry about your wife being hit on at work someday or your daughters being expected to excuse demeaning treatment to progress in their careers or even keep their jobs.  I told you that this change could signal the beginning of a more equal balance of power in high-level positions and that all people will have to start thinking more before they make decisions – because there may actually be accountability for behaviors that were conveniently overlooked before.  Ultimately, this is a good and historical moment.

And then I sent you off to school.

But after you headed to the bus stop, I reflected on our conversation and felt uneasy.  It wasn’t because I said anything that I don’t believe to be true, and it wasn’t because I don’t see this as a truly significant moment for women.  I felt uneasy because I had suggested to you that this watershed is a victory for women alone, that you, my sons, will benefit only indirectly through the women you love.

But that isn’t true.

Sure, this moment matters because there will always be women who play significant roles in your lives – women like me and your grandmothers, your aunts and your cousins, possibly someday your wives and daughters and nieces.  All of these women, every single one of them, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect inside their workplaces and everywhere else.  I want you to care about women.  I want you to be empathetic, compassionate men.  I want you to notice and positively impact how other people are treated.

But as a mom of boys, I know that changing our culture in positive ways will directly impact your futures, too.  The society that we have created for you, the unclear expectations that we have set for young men – this stuff scares a mom, guys.  Because it is probably safe to assume that some of the men who have crashed in the headlines for tormenting subordinates with inappropriate advances or making lewd comments to or about female co-workers were raised by loving mothers who taught them to be respectful gentlemen, too.

So what the heck happened?

I don’t know how to answer that question.

What I do know, my boys, is that you will receive many confusing messages from the snake oil salesman that is our culture.  He will tempt you with simple remedies for your insecurities and peddle empty vials labeled “happiness” and “satisfaction” that will never provide the relief that you seek.  He will talk out of both sides of his mouth, confusing you with mixed up ideas about what it means to be a man.  He will tell you to be a gentleman always but then feed you a steady stream of music and graphic images that depict women as disposable objects rather than smart, respectable humans.  He will tell you that nothing is more admirable than being a devoted father and husband but then reward you for showing off your machismo, for drinking too much, for laughing at inappropriate jokes, for choosing work over home.  He will tell you that honesty is a virtue but then persuade you that what other people don’t know won’t hurt you.  He will warn you that you could be fired for behaving unethically but then convince you that behaving unethically is just what you need to do to move higher and at a faster pace.  He will feed your ego with power, convincing you that you are above the rules, and then laugh when that power is ultimately stripped away.

In recent weeks we have seen that the Boys’ Club still exists, that it clearly remains part of the business world in America.  It is exclusive.  It comes with perks and promotions, a sense of importance and often generous financial rewards for the guys who get in.  The men in The Club seem confident and invincible.  Really, it must be a whole lot of fun.

Until it isn’t.

So our culture needs to change for the girls in your class at school, certainly, but also for you.  It is easy for you to say at 11 and 13 that you will do the right thing when faced with your own difficult choices in the future.  But I know that IT’S NOT EASY to choose not to laugh at the boss’s inappropriate remarks when you know what he expects and a promotion hangs in the balance.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to tell your coworkers that rating the looks of the women at the office after a meeting isn’t acceptable, knowing that you may lose friends.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to remember that really big mistakes start with really small decisions – decisions to do things or say things or accept things or overlook things that become the bricks that pave a path toward your own disaster.

As a teacher, I have seen one truth about people proven over and over again: our human nature is to raise ourselves or lower ourselves to the expectations of those around us.  I have seen students at a high risk of dropping out or going to jail achieve incredible personal and academic success because of the challenging expectations, consistent support, and high level of accountability provided by other people.  And I have seen students who had every reason to be successful fail miserably in school or in life because of the low expectations, weak support, and lack of accountability offered by the people they pulled closest to them.  I want you, my sons, to help set a high bar for the people around you.  But I want our culture to start setting a higher bar for YOU.  Because even though I believe that you are personally responsible for making the choices that you know are right in your life, it will be a heck of a lot easier to do the right thing when the climate in your workplace and your circle of friends demand it.

As a woman, I believe that this is a critical and exciting moment for women and girls in America.  As a mom of boys, I recognize that the changes that should and hopefully will come from the recent revelations will help you, the sons I love so very much, to live a better life, as well.  The news has been dark and troubling, but there are so many lessons you can learn from the mistakes of other people, boys.  Just this week, we’ve discussed that the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.  That peer pressure to behave a certain way or to be quiet will still exist when you grow up.  That power is intoxicating and can make really smart people behave in really stupid ways.  That “what happens in Vegas” or Sochi or wherever doesn’t actually stay there forever.  That it is important to have friends whom you can trust, friends who are brutally honest, friends who knew you before you accomplished anything at all.  That people make mistakes and that mistakes can be forgiven but that you can never move past mistakes that you don’t own.  That if you have created a reputation of behaving inappropriately and someone does falsely accuse you, you are going to have a very, very hard time defending your name.  And that it is always wise to imagine your decisions as newspaper headlines first – because the reality is that they could be.

Most importantly, we have been reminded that how we treat one another matters.  Please treat other people kindly, boys.  All of the people around you, the men and the women.

You will be rewarded for it, even if it means that you can’t be in The Club.

Love you always,


Let the Leaves Go

leaves 3

When my brother and I were kids and the trees in southeastern Ohio were garbed in their finest autumnal attire, my parents sometimes suggested that we take a drive through the country.

Why? my brother and I would ask.

To look at the leaves, our parents would say.  The fall trees are beautiful, it will be fun, I know you will love it, my mother would try to convince us.

It was a tough sell.  My brother and I didn’t buy into the joy of “just driving” with a goal of going nowhere.  Driving was a means to an end for us kids, and our parents’ “relaxation” sounded more like our “boredom-with-no-way-to-escape.”  In our minds, fall leaves were good for one thing and one thing only: creating big, soft, colorful, crunchy piles to jump in.

And we did create piles, huge piles made from maple leaves the size of our hands that floated down from the majestic old tree in our own front yard, and even bigger piles of the golden ones that our grandpa collected in the rusty wagon that he pulled behind his tractor and then dumped in one towering heap.  We were just kids, and leaves didn’t look like work yet.  It seemed like gathering them and raking them into a jump pile even made our old grandpa smile.

As we grew older and wiser and the realities of life chipped away at our childish perceptions of the world, we realized the truth about autumn.  Sure, they are gorgeous, those leaves soaked in vibrant reds and fiery oranges and yellows as pure as the sun, but their beauty foretells their impending demise.  Fall gradually seemed less like fun and more like loss, the depressing turn in the circle of life that no one likes to discuss.  So what is a leaf pile, really, but a whole bunch of death raked into one spot?  And we lose more than just leaves in the autumn.  We lose daylight.  We lose heat.  We lose the flashy greens and pinks of the warmer seasons in exchange for winter whites and dreary browns and gloomy grays.  Maybe the pumpkins and the festivals and the cider are a way of distracting our attention from the truth.

When youthfulness has passed, autumn kills the joys of summer and marches us toward the cold brutality of winter.  Fall is the darker side of nature.  Fall feels a bit like grief.

This year, fall is like a stranger passing through, one with little time for conversation and no interest in making himself at home.  An icy chill is already biting at our fingers and toes, and wintery winds have battered the trees, stripping the branches bare while foliage tumbles to the ground like fallen soldiers.  Winter is winning and fall didn’t even put up a fight.

But somehow my perception of fall is different yet again.  Maybe our views of nature’s seasons, just like our opinions on so many things in life, evolve with age and our own changing seasons.  No, autumn isn’t just about leaf piles anymore, but maybe it’s not just the harbinger of the long, hard winter ahead either.

Maybe fall is actually a season of promise, a season less about loss and more about preparing our hearts to appreciate the renewal of spring.  Maybe fall is nature’s way of cleaning house, a season specifically and wonderfully designed to clear the dead leaves that steal what nourishes our souls to make space for what is new.

It hurts, watching the leaves fall from our trees, knowing that the season to come will likely be cold and dark and brutal.  But the leaves fall so that the tree can live, and it becomes stronger by accepting rather than fighting the change.  The tree must actually let go in order to survive, even if the exposure and vulnerability are uncomfortable.  And while those sharp, angular branches seem barren to our eyes, the buds that will burst open and bring joy in the spring have already been forming inside of them. The autumn leaves don’t just forewarn us of winter’s icy chill.  They herald the hope and the promise and the newness of spring.  While we see the suffering, the merciless beating that the tree will endure through the winter, we are completely unaware of the incredible changes that are happening just below the surface, preparing the tree for an exciting new period of growth.

As you rake the final leaves of autumn, remember that those fallen soldiers, stained in crimson and littering the ground, aren’t lost in vain.  They have bravely paved the way for the new leaves behind them, buds that are already formed and patiently waiting, preparing for their moment of grandeur in the spring.

And most of all remember that you are not the leaf tumbling uncontrollably through life, swept away by the winds, defeated and bracing for the next breeze to shake you.  You are the tree, with thick, deep roots that twist and turn beneath the soil under your feet, a tree lovingly designed to survive life’s winters by shedding the hurts that no longer serve you to prepare for what is next and what is new and what is good.  The autumn days in your life are not your ending.  They are your beginning.  There are new buds growing inside you, and you cannot predict the beauty that lies just beyond what you can presently see.

Hang onto hope.

But don’t hang onto the leaves.

leaves 2

***** Hey, friends!  It’s been a while.  I know.  I’m sorry.  I’ve missed you.  I’ve been doing a little more writing on Facebook lately, but I will share more about that in a later post.  If you aren’t following Still Chasing Fireflies there, consider liking and following the page so you don’t miss a thing.  Happy fall to all of you, and happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!     

~Mary Ann