Pandemic: the second time around

By Courtney Beal

It was Wednesday, September 19, 2018. 

I disembarked, along with Reed, 7, and Ana, 2, from a flight across the ocean to meet my husband in Hong Kong.

He’d been there for a month already – which meant I’d been single parenting in Batesville and had now survived (the most accurate word I can think of) a 16+ hour flight with two young children on my own. We were, for all intents and purposes, moving to Hong Kong where Wesley was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach and research at the University of Hong Kong for the fall 2018 semester. 

I’ll confess that I was less than enthusiastic about this proposition, at first. There might not have been any place you could have chosen that would have felt more foreign to me at that juncture of my life than Hong Kong. I’d only ever left the continent of North America once – to visit London. You can imagine the mental space I was in as I disembarked from what seemed like a never-ending flight.

As I literally drag Reed down the corridor, with Ana and all the carry-on luggage I can manage piled into the stroller, we’re immediately met by a team of masked attendants wearing lab goggles and pointing temperature guns at us. They gestured for me to stop while they scan Ana in the stroller, then Reed, then finally me.

I can’t overstate, as a westerner, how intrusive this felt. I had a brief moment of panic contemplating what would happen if one of our readings came back slightly high. 

We were greeted with this same process two more times before we finally were allowed to exit the secure area of the airport: once before we were allowed into the baggage claim area and again before we entered the immigration and customs area.  It felt like we had emerged from the plane into a completely different realm – one that felt less like reality and more like some dystopian novel.

I remember, on one of our first outings into the city, Reed looking up and asking, “Why are all of these people sick? Are we going to get sick, too?” It took a minute for me to realize he was referring to all the people he saw up and down the sidewalks, on the subway, and in the shops wearing face masks. 

You don’t have to spend long in Hong Kong before you notice the prevalence of face mask wearing. Descending into the subway during rush hour, you’ll encounter throngs of people wearing them. For a westerner, it felt unusual at first, and I’m seeing some of the same reactions here in the United States.

While living in Hong Kong, I became keenly aware of how much I relied on facial expressions for communication – especially since I couldn’t understand the language. I was forced to really look into others’ eyes, even in casual interactions where I might have just relied on the other’s tone of voice or smile.  Maybe this is what feels so uncomfortable – this loss of a casual social “middle ground.” It becomes necessary to either not acknowledge anyone, or truly make eye contact and give your undivided attention.

Pandemics aren’t a new experience for the city of Hong Kong. Asia’s World City – as Hong Kong is often called – was the epicenter for the SARS outbreak of 2003, and you can still feel the aftermath and scars of that outbreak, even today. Temperature scans and mask-wearing are commonplace for residents there. Any time you move across a major boundary line (like taking the ferry to Macau, flying to Japan or “mainland” China, etc…) your temperature is scanned multiple times. 

For many Hong Kongers, face masks have become a part of their fashion, similar to picking out shoes, a hat, or another accessory. We saw regular medical masks, but also all manner of prints and solid colors. Children sport their favorite cartoon or movie characters. Reed was particularly jealous of Marvel character masks. What felt like another world upon our arrival in Hong Kong quickly came to feel routine. The sight of people wearing face masks just became a normal part of the landscape for us.

Beal’s daughter, Ana, in Hong Kong in 2018.

Fast forward to winter/spring 2020…headlines begin showing up in my Facebook feed. 

Headlines like:

 “Coronavirus Cases Rise Above 24,000”

“First Coronavirus Death”

“Coronavirus Strikes a Wounded City”

“Economists Warn Coronavirus Risk Far Worse Than Realized”

“American Airlines Extends Flight Suspensions … Amidst Coronavirus” 

“Containing new coronavirus may not be feasible, experts say, as they warn of possible sustained global spread.”

I’m sure these headlines seem familiar. They started circulating widely in the United States around early March. These specific headlines, however, were showing up in my personal Facebook feed starting at the end of January. The“wounded city” referenced is Hong Kong. 

Having lived in Hong Kong for the last half of 2018 and still having friends and connections there, I’d been watching this virus and the damage and chaos left in its wake for more than a month before it seemed relevant here. 

I’ve watched, via a Facebook group called “Hong Kong Moms,” families that live in much smaller quarters than the average American family (the average size home in Hong Kong is 484 sq ft – let that sink in for a minute…) trying to navigate quarantining and working and schooling at home since the start of February. Add to that school closures experienced due to the large-scale protesting Hong Kong experienced in the fall, and you have kids that have been out of school more than in this year. 

Their struggles are the same: finding enough time in the day, keeping children occupied long enough to conduct a remote meeting, finding new ways of entertaining themselves at home, feeling isolated from family and friends. They may be on the other side of the globe, but their everyday struggles look just like ours these days. 

Other headlines have been coming  through my feed this week:

“Hong Kong Reports No New Covid-19 Cases”

“Hong Kong Reports No New Cases for 2nd Time in a Week”

“Hong Kong Medical Experts Say Social Distancing Measures Could Be Relaxed in Early May As Infection Rates Slow.”

It isn’t an absolute drop off, but new cases for the last two weeks have been in the single digits. What hope that brings, to have even a single day with no new cases reported. 

Hong Kongers use a phrase: “Be water.” You may have seen it used in relation to the pro-democracy protest movement that swept Hong Kong in the summer and fall of 2019 (and is still brewing, under the surface, even now, but that’s another story for another day). It’s not so much a specific strategy as a general philosophy. It’s been particularly necessary to “be water” when handling this global pandemic. With the rapid rate of information changes, it’s been necessary to constantly adapt to new information and policies. Water can carry great force and brute strength. It can be hard as stone, but it can also bend and move around barriers with grace. It is flexible. It adapts. It can wipe out an obstacle in mere seconds or it can wear it down gently over time. Its sound can be both deafening and healing. I’ve found that places of water are often where I find my greatest restoration.

That dystopian world we emerged into back in the fall of 2018 seems to have crept into our own reality here. It’s been interesting watching our culture wrestle with these norms of the “other,” feeling the familiar uneasiness with practices we associate with “that other place.”

I’m curious to see if our own culture will hold onto any of these practices in the scars this pandemic might leave. Will we see mask-wearing become more commonplace? Will temperature scans become a regular part of entering areas with large crowds like airports, arenas, amusement parks, etc…? Will we see the disappearance of handshakes as greetings, replaced by an intentional meeting of the eyes and nod to acknowledge another?

Perhaps, and maybe this feels uncomfortable. Maybe it feels like there would be some sort of loss in this scenario, but I offer a different perspective.

I’ve watched my own community come together and find ways of caring for and connecting with each other – despite the physical distance. I’ve watched local individuals, school districts, groups and businesses step in the gap to support and hold each other up. I’ve watched the relationship between my own two children deepen in unexpected ways. I’ve seen people flow, adapt, and overcome.

There will definitely be scars left when we emerge, but I have hope and faith that we will all figure out the next right steps together. I believe that, together, we can adapt to the new world in which we will emerge.

Whatever the case, we still have time to shape how our story ends. Let’s meet this challenge with strength, but also grace. Let’s focus on taking the next right step together. It’s my hope that when we come out on the other side of this, we will rise up with a greater sense of “we,” rather than “us” and “them.” 

Let’s “be water,” my friends. 


Courtney Beal is the Assistant Programmer for the Morrow Academic Center – Lyon College. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood from the University of Central Arkansas, and moved to Batesville when her husband, Wesley, was hired by Lyon College to teach English. Her family spent a few months in Hong Kong in the fall of 2018 when Wesley was awarded a Fulbright Grant to teach and research at the University of Hong Kong. Originally from Conway, Courtney is currently the Vice-President of the Eagle Mountain Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization and is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Batesville. She loves to travel as well as being a mom to her children.

Pandemic: Living with a Nurse

I was awakened by the sound of the garage door opening this morning as I lay in bed…

This sound meant my husband was home from his night shift as a critical care nurse. 

I laid there sleepily wondering how his night went. I knew he would be in the garage for a few minutes before he opened the door to come into the house.

The garage is where he puts his scrubs in a plastic bag to be washed. Then he removes his shoes and does his best to disinfect them, placing them on a shelf. He leaves his wallet and his keys there, too. Then disinfects his phone before coming in the house and heading straight to the shower.

We have never been germaphobes. I’ve never been that worried before about what microbes he may bring home from the hospital. “Just wash your hands and throw your scrubs in the hamper,” I’d say. No big deal. They’d get washed eventually.

But last night he worked in the COVID unit of his ICU. And all of this began to feel more real. And just… weird. 

As I leaned in for a normal greeting, he backed away. 

I protested: “Christian, it’s gonna be ok. You had on PPE and you’ve showered and you are clean now. I’m not overly worried about it,” I said.

“This is all new and serious,” he said. “Our hospital has done an excellent job preparing in the midst of this crisis, but no protective system is perfect, Meg.” 

There was a part of me that wanted to sigh deeply and say, “You are overreacting. It’s fine, just come sit by me.” But something stopped me. For one, that’s just not a healthy way to respond to someone – dismissing their concerns. But also… I wasn’t there at the hospital.

I was at home in our safe house trying to make children sleep in their own beds so I could watch “The Morning Show” on Apple TV. I am aware of the seriousness going on in the world around me and have my fair share of anxious moments about it. But I am also more consumed with potty training that toddler boy and figuring out how on earth to “homeschool” the girls and keep these kids preoccupied and healthy. Truth be told, the coronavirus can sometimes feel more like this mythical creature rather than a real threat.

He was in the COVID-ICU unit where care is given specifically to presumptive and positive COVID-19 cases. He is learning new systems and protocols… looking into the eyes of fear-filled patients who ask him questions with the desperation that a sick child would ask a parent. But these weren’t children. They were frightened adults who were alone and he was the only direct human interaction they had. No family or visitors allowed.

He used to be a pastor. Looking people who are hurting in the eyes is not foreign to him. But this is different. It’s like a collision of spiritual and physical. And it’s… weird? Real? Raw? I don’t even know what word to use.

He’s also the one, between us, that understands disease and contagion and the science stuff. I trust his perspective. 

This afternoon, as he prepares for another night shift, and I make the kids tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches… thinking existentially about a poem I wrote about songbirds… my Enneagram 4 thoughts are interrupted by this realization:

I don’t get it.

I’m not dumb or unable to educate myself on what is going on in the world of this pandemic. But I don’t fully get it because I am not there staring it in the face. And thankfully, so far, it has not infected anyone that I love.

It is staring me in the face through the eyes of my tired husband, though. 

My longtime friend (and editor) Rachael said, “We are experiencing the same collective threat but our circumstances and personalities are making it so we are all experiencing it differently. I think telling your personal perspective on the situation might help others realize how different this is for everyone.”

As a nation… as a world… we are experiencing this together. It is shocking and dramatic and life-changing. 

This is traumatic. 

This is a collective grief. 

And, as with any grief, there are layers. And it comes in waves. 

And we all find ourselves in different spaces. 

Loss is everywhere, affecting us all in one way or another. 

It is important for us to have perspective, yes. But it is also important to not compare our specific grief to others. And it’s important to listen. Listen to people’s experiences. There is no better time than now to practice empathy and care and love for humanity. 

Comparative suffering is dangerous. Empathy is not finite. When we practice empathy, we create more empathy. The exhausted ER doctor doesn’t benefit more if you reserve your empathy only for her and ignore your feelings or withhold empathy from someone lower on the “suffering scale.” Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy, the healing that results affects all of us. – Brené Brown

So before I become impatient at the idea of my husband being nervous to be close to me and our kids after being around sick people… before I’m tempted to compare who is under more stress, him at work or me at home 24/7 with the kids, I need to look at his eyes, see his grief, and hear him.

It is important to trust the accounts of people who are on the “front lines.” 

My husband does not work in a metropolitan healthcare system. His experience is from a regional healthcare system in the south. He feels they are prepared, as much as possible in the current environment, and he has been very impressed with the leadership of his unit. But all things considered… this is a pandemic. Not a normal day at the office.  

I am not suggesting that we live in a state of panic and fear. That’s not productive. Nor am I suggesting we trust every article shared on Facebook. But I am suggesting that we listen to the people we trust who know and experience things that we do not.

So in a few hours, when he heads back to work, I’m going to listen to him. And I’m going to pray for him. And I’m going to look him directly in the eyes and hope that the care and support our family gives him can be supernaturally transferred, through all that life saving PPE, and be felt by the patients with whom he interacts. And I’m going to trust him when he says this is serious and real.

And I’m gonna remember to give myself grace so I can give others grace, too. Because this is all a lot. 

And I’m gonna stay home. 

God, have mercy.


Megan Baxter is a regular contributor on The Oddfellow. In addition to her writing ventures, she also is part of the women’s ministry team at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville, Ark. She has a degree in Family Psychology from Williams Baptist University, and lives in Batesville with her husband, Christian, and their children.

Hell, Church, and the Sylamore

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Photo taken by Arkansas native Jonas Mark

In kindergarten, I would get off the school bus and walk down Sturrock Rd., the long, paved, country road to get home, and some afternoons I knew by the strong smell of asphalt and motor oil that a light rain shower had come through, and I had missed it. I liked school well enough, but I loved the rain. The ditch in front of my house had that red, chalky dirt that, when a little wet, became a young potter’s dream—molding bowls and cups and sitting them out to dry. But after a downpour, that clay became a hellish red color, and I didn’t trust it. I would submerge my bare feet in the mud, count to three, and immediately pull them out. Each second being a measure of courage. And one wet day, I walked the complete length of the ditch, talking to the Devil. My feet would sink low into the Earth, and I believed it was something or someone pulling me down to the pits of hell, grabbing at my ankles and chanting my name. These are the thoughts of a child who watched horror films with her father while occasionally attending Sunday service at her grandmother’s Baptist church. Hell was real and a layer of it was in the ditch of my front yard.

But hell wasn’t the only landscape. As early as I can remember I talked to God, along with the birds and anything else that would listen. It was all very simple really, I could feel that God loved me, and I knew I loved Him back. I felt very close to Him while knowing very little about Him, and I don’t remember a day I questioned if He was real. That came later. I had already chosen that belief for myself, I think. And without a lot of people telling me or showing me, I just gathered from my conversations with God that He was really kind and good. He was peace, and he showed up early for me in my life. I needed that.

But as I started attending church with my grandmother, my Nanna, it was no longer just me and God. Now other people were involved, other voices. Church for me was like finding a special, secret place to play, and then learning that is was open to the public. Church was like sharing the Sylamore creek. My time in the Sylamore in Arkansas is personal and very hard to share.

it was no longer just me and God. Now other people were involved, other voices.

I slowly hobble through water on visible stones below, avoiding any trench that would be too deep. My body is awake and my mind, alive, aware of deep meaning without deep thinking. I turn my body and my breathing toward the flow of the water, toward the bubbling brook up ahead. Clear, cold water. I can see where to place my foot, and I can see that it’s just me and the minnows that have come to nibble my toes.

After the Hymns and after the organ, I sit down in the pew and hear a car drive up on the creek bank. I hear loud hoots and hollers from a father and a mother corralling five, loud and whiny kids. I hear the sound of a large, middle-school-aged boy trying to squeak and twerk his way into his little sister’s intertube. On impulse, led by a charge, they all stampede the Sylamore waters. My minnows scatter, and the water gets murky; I lose my footing, and me — and my flailing limbs — flop into the breath-taking waters. But I hung around church long enough to see that the ripples eventually settle and the good things are often better shared.

Truthfully, I’ve never been able to sit in a church service and see right to the bottom of this whole metaphor. I’ve now learned to embrace the murky waters that we stir up, and I can speak to the value of inviting people in to my Sylamore church. But as a young child who learned God mostly from the East Texas pines, church was disorienting.

It became confusing because “Jesus was the way to God.” Okay yes, if Jesus is God in human form, I believe in Jesus. And so I learned more about Jesus; and I loved Him, too. He was also kind and good, and so I needed him. Done. But then “I had to first pray a prayer and ask him in my heart” and “I’ll know it’s time when it’s time. But do not tarry. Hell awaits.”

Although I began this process with gumption and fight, over time I began to question myself, and I don’t take myself lightly. Okay, Jesus, you can have my heart. I know you are good. Done. Let’s keep going. But I was met with faces that said “slow down. You might be too young.” All that peace tunneled into an underground pipeline, and I found myself pacing in that hellish red clay.

My spirit stayed connected to God’s spirit, and no one could tell me otherwise. I molded clay bowls from the left-over rain until I decided on my own I was His but just like going to school, I had to do some learning in the church or what they called Sunday school. Some of it I would benefit from and some would be garbage, just like school. But since I only attended church with Nanna, my ride to New Hopewell Baptist was limited to mainly holidays and revival week. So here’s what happened: sitting on my metal-framed day bed with my Holly Hobby sheets, alone in my room, I popped a VHS tape into the VCR, and fell in love with the stories of the Bible. A corny cartoon with two kids, their dog. and a robot named Gizmo were sucked into a “Super Book”, the Bible.

My Nanna saw my interest, or rather obsession, with the stories and bought me the whole series as they were released. I cried when Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, I cheered when David defeated Goliath, and I laughed when Jesus was born in a stable. And when I came to the crucifixion of Jesus, I turned the TV off, and never watched that tape again. For five more years, these VHS tapes were my church. I processed everything I learned with my younger sister and our naked Barbies. And for the bigger questions, like that one VHS tape I turned off, I saved those questions for my Nanna at her kitchen counter.

Today in my 30’s I’m making my way back to that little girl before she went to Vacation Bible School and Youth group and Bible College — she’s just as real and as important as the theology that followed her.

Follow Jonas Mark’s photo journey on his Instagram and at www.jonasmarksphotography.com

Father Stephen Gadberry reflects on Valentine’s Day: When does love ‘stick’?

Father Stephen Gadberry answers: What is love, and when and how does it last for the long haul?

Dinner with Georgeanne: Veggie S’ghetti

This Christmas, Carter and I received a gift we didn’t even know we wanted… an Instant Pot! I’ve seen recipes and heard from friends for years how amazing these are, but I never thought I had a use for one. Man was I wrong… It cuts down on cook time, the house smells so fragrant, and most importantly it cuts down on dishes!!!! To say we’re obsessed is an understatement.

So let me share one of our go-tos: Veggie S’ghetti.

Y’all know by now that I try and cram as many vegetables into my picky-eating children as possible. Everyone in my house loves this recipe, and even my youngest vegetable refuser consistently asks for seconds!
*Note: I usually use chickpea noodles, but with the Instant Pot, the Barilla veggie noodles seem to cook better. 

Ingredients:


1/2 cup frozen chopped onion
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 green pepper, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 12 oz. box Barilla rotini veggie noodles
1 24 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
3 cups water

Method:


1. Put InstantPot on saute mode for 5 minutes. Let veggies saute and soften.


2. Add 10 minutes to the saute mode; push the veggies to one side, and add the ground beef.


3. Brown, and after 10 minutes drain the fat. Cancel saute mode.


4. Add spices and stir into beef/vegetable mixture.


5. Add noodles, then sauce, then cups of water. Make sure noodles are completely covered by sauce/water mixture.

6. Place lid on Instant Pot and put on high pressure for 8 minutes.


7. After the 8 minutes, do a 5-minute natural release, and then finish with a quick release.


8. Stir to mix together and then serve!

*My crew loves this topped with cheese, surprise surprise. But you can also top with fresh basil!

If you also love your Instant Pot, please share your favorite recipes in the comments!

The Group Text

I have these three friends. We couldn’t be more different. For the past three years, we have had a constant group text.

If millennials and whatever we are calling the youth of today are the most connected generation ever… why is there such an uprise in loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide?

We have all heard about the research that tells us social media and communication via our mobile devices is a significant cause of this
loneliness epidemic.

I’m not about to disagree with that data. The negative is there… but is there positive?

A study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction suggested it is how we use technology and social media that
creates feelings of loneliness, not the media in and of itself.

Linda Kaye, PhD, looked at how our phones and social media/group messages affect social functioning in a positive way. (Kaye is a senior psychology lecturer at Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom.)

Her research found, “feeling close to the people in a group chat created sense of belonging.”

I wholeheartedly agree with what this study is suggesting: it is how we use technology that creates a sense of loneliness or a sense of connectedness.

The Group Text

I have these three friends…

We couldn’t be more different. Yet we are all the same. For the past three years, we four have had a constant group text. One that has quite literally been visited almost every day since its origin.

We are all in our early 30’s.
We are all married.
We all have children.
We all love the same coffee shop, The Pinto.
We all listen to the same podcast, Armchair Expert.
Some of us like rap
And some of us hate it…
Some of us love stormy days and dark emotions
And some of us like sunshine and people.
We all believe in Jesus…most of the time.
And when we don’t, it’s ok. We remind each other that truth resurrects itself.

These people make space for me and all my big feelings and emotions.

This past summer I was at a family reunion for my husband’s family. I had been having some social anxiety issues and just kinda wanted to go
home.

Don’t get me wrong, these people are lovely and fun and easy to talk to. It was me… not them.

My husband and I were sitting talking to a relative. Her life sounded cool and exciting and I began to feel self-conscious like I had no interesting antidotes to give her. I am currently a stay at home mom. And sometimes the story I tell myself is that my daily life is boring.

My husband knew I was feeling anxious, so in an effort to help, he mentioned something or other about how I have had this ongoing group text for a few years and how it gives me life.

A group text? How lame. I was embarrassed. Christian… come on…come up with something else to make me sound more interesting… I don’t know how I got myself out of that conversation, but I am sure it was awkward.

As I reflect on that moment, I wish I could go back and tell my anxious self to press on… And expound!

If I have found something in my life that makes me feel connected to other people —- in a place and time where loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide are on the rise —- I should be proud of that experience.

I should tell of friends who walk through darkness with me, who engage me in difficult conversations and ideas.

I should tell of the hope they offer me, and of how we have been able to celebrate with one another and mourn with one another.

I should tell of how we press on and communicate and forgive one another when things get weird.

And of the serendipitous timing of our intermingling.

How It Started

The four people in the group text don’t hang out every day and are rarely all together at the exact same time. The text group started because one of us was moving away to another state. At that time, we all knew each other but we were not all close or necessarily in the same friend group. The friend that was moving was our main connector. We were her people. So she created a group text for herself to stay connected to her people.

How About You?

Do you feel unconnected? Do you feel lonely? Do you feel like all the noise is out to get you?! I so often do.

So I say to myself first and then to you: take responsibility for yourself. Do you hate me now? It’s HARD to stop blaming and start owning. It’s 2020 now. The future is here. And we are faced with the reality that technology/social media is an integral part of even our friendships. We are all learning how to integrate this into our lives.

We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. – Richard Rohr

I will tell you right now that the people who I have seen make complete turn arounds from toxic patterns and behavior to healthy patterns and behavior have been people who started with that simple hard thing: taking responsibility for themselves.

AA step one: “Admit you have a problem.” That is taking ownership. If you go to therapy, any good therapist will help you to start taking the
reigns of yourself. Even scripture says self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

Of all the awkward people in your house or job there is only one whom you can improve very much. – CS Lewis

Do not mis-hear me: If you have been hurt or abused by the hands of another, that IS NOT your fault. I’ve heard it said that trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.

To Summarize

Can our phones be a source of unhealth in our lives? Absolutely. We can become addicted to it in very toxic ways. It is all in how we use it. And
how we use it is solely up to us.

So… I exhort you… go find those safe people. BE that safe person. Start a group text. And let us allow truth to redeem us and this technology
that so easily entangles us.

(Disclaimer: This story focuses on three close friends of mine. But the people in my life who I would categorize as healing friends goes way beyond just these three. I see all of you. And you know who you are, and I love you.)


Megan Baxter is a regular contributor on The Oddfellow. In addition to her writing ventures, she also is part of the women’s ministry team at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville, Ark. She has a degree in Family Psychology from Williams Baptist University, and lives in Batesville with her husband, Christian, and their children.


Dinner with Georgeanne: Ann’s Spinach Dip

You know those best friends you meet in preschool who stay with you through all the awkward middle school years, into college, and then into the whole adult-and-having-kids phase of life?

That’s my friend Becca.

She’s been through it all with me.

And one thing as constant as Becca, is her mom Ann’s spinach dip. This dip has been on her table at every off-campus lunch in high school; it was sometimes the only edible thing in our fridge in college, and it has been a staple at every girls night, wedding/baby shower, or other general get-together for our friend group.

So as you can see, this spinach dip is more than a delicious blend of spinach and cheese, it’s truly soul food, laden with memories…

If you are looking for an appetizer, especially at Christmastime, this red, white, and green dip is perfect for any party or get-together where there are hungry humans!


INGREDIENTS

2 bags or boxes frozen chopped spinach
1 can Ro-tel, undrained
1- 8 oz. block cream cheese (2 blocks if you want a creamier dip)
2 bags shredded pepper jack cheese

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Thaw spinach in microwave according to package directions.
  3. While the spinach is thawing, let the cream cheese, pepper jack cheese, and Ro-tel sit in a mixing bowl or KitchenAid mixer to soften and let the flavors soak together.
  4. This step is the most labor-intensive but the most important: you must drain the spinach. Not just in a colander — you have to squeeze the water out of the spinach. If you don’t, it’ll taste too spinach-y.
  5. Combine the spinach with the other ingredients and mix (or stir) until combined.
  6. Put all ingredients in a 9 x 13-inch pan and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Enjoy with Fritos, Wheat Thins, tortilla chips, on sandwiches, or basically any way you can!

High School Sweethearts & The Driveway That Led Me Home

This evening, like countless evenings before, I drive away from my parents’ house, the house of my youth. The house that built me. 

I drive in and out on this concrete multiple times per week. This is not surprising as I live in the same town where I grew up, and visit my parents’ house maybe more often than they prefer…

Life is funny. Not the comedic kind of funny, but more like the one that aches deep, down in your soul. 

This driveway on Rosa Street always welcomes me. No matter my condition, I am never shut out. 

And it always lets me go when I am ready, never holds me back. 

I was 6 years old when we moved into this house and drove down that slope of a driveway for the first time. 

It is the place where I watched my dad and big brother light fireworks on many ‘a 4th of July;  the place my sisters, friends, and I rode bikes and played family neighborhood softball games in the summer… where I accidentally knocked out Bonnie Tucker’s tooth during my turn at bat. 

This is the driveway I rode down on a skateboard because my big brother dared me to do it, and that gracious concrete drive caught me when I fell off said skateboard. 

(It is becoming increasingly clear that I should not be allowed to swing baseball bats or ride skateboards.)

This is the driveway where we gathered to have family pictures when I was 13.  My older, teenage brother, in the height of his rebellious ways, dyed his hair orange to spite my mom and her desire to have a nice family picture. 

This same driveway welcomed my brother and me home later that night, engulfed by trauma and grief, after our dear friend died tragically at age 15.

I learned to drive here. 

When I was 16, my now husband kissed me for the first time at the bottom of this driveway.

This is where he and I backed out in a convertible wearing a tuxedo and backless white dress as we headed to the Batesville High School Prom circa 2003. 

And this is the driveway that held my nervous heart steady as I headed out to college in my black Grand Am.

I hurried home to this driveway when that high school sweetheart and I broke up in college. And it is where we drove home later that year for Thanksgiving break, hand in hand, reconciled. 

My first panic attack ended in this driveway as an ambulance pulled in behind us because I was sure I was having a heart attack. 

This is the driveway my high school sweetheart and I drove our tackily-decorated car – with cake and condoms – after our wedding, to retrieve a suitcase left at my parents’ house. 

(Cake and condom décor happen when you get married at 21 and college boys decorate the getaway car. So classy.) 

And it was here where two nuns dug through our backseat to help us find our keys so we could drive off to our honeymoon suite. 

(That was fun to write!)

This driveway has welcomed my kids to their Docky and Gigi’s house since 2009. 

And this is the driveway that took me in at 31 when everything else came crashing down around me. 

Tonight is mundane. It is the usual.  I drive out of this driveway with my 3 kids in tow. We lament of their daddy’s work schedule and how we miss him. We pass by the high school and one of the girls says, “That’s where you and daddy met, right?”

They then want me to tell them again of when I first saw that high school sweetheart boy. 

So I tell them about missing the first day of 11th grade, and how I was kinda relieved because I never did like the first day of anything. When 3:00 rolled around, my two dear friends swiftly drove to my house – down this driveway – and came in my front door to tell me of “the new boy who was perfect for me”. He was cute and kind and believed in Jesus and liked to sing. Plus, he wasn’t super tall- and neither was I. “Ya’ll have so much in common,” they said. 

He and I, we had chemistry class together. I hated chemistry…I loved that class. 

We became friends. Then we became sweethearts. 

We were only 16.

And now we are 34, with lives much different than we dreamed and hearts more fractured than we ever imagined. 

When everything blew up around us, we separated. 

My heart was broken. His heart was broken.

I think we thought it could never be made right.  

But there’s something very very special about high school sweethearts: they know each other in a way that can’t be known if you didn’t experience high school and youth together. 

There is a lot of research that discusses the pitfalls of getting married young and statistics of how high school loves are pretty much predestined to fail. Because…you aren’t really who you are when you’re a teenager. 

That’s true. And I don’t disagree with the statistics…

But in some ways, I would argue, that I was the purest form of myself as a teenager. And he got to see and know that part of me. And I him. 

Life will surely and absolutely change you. Some ways that are good, some ways not so good. 

But he and I, we know each other. We grew up together. We have seen and experienced so many versions of ourselves together.  

When the darkness came…. And the proverbial locust ate away a few years… I was still able to look at him with knowing. 

I was faced with the reality of my ability and choice to walk away. I wanted so badly to forget what I knew. But with good counsel and truth I began to see him again, in his purest form. I saw that 16-year-old boy. If I had only known him for a year or so before we got married and had kids, I would have been tempted to believe that I never truly knew him. 

Tonight…as our children simultaneously beam and act grossed out by the story of our young love, (total fakers, they love it!) I realize that those 16-year-old versions of ourselves are what beckoned us home again. He knew me. And I knew him.  So we met at the truth of who we were and who we are and who we hoped to be. 

And tonight I remember when I packed up that little red car… with our girls in the back and our boy in my belly… and slowly but surely started backing out. The driveway that always brought me home… was leading me home. 

Column: Secret is out

Any additional unnecessary layers of difficulty we lay on pregnancy need to go.

By Shannon Haney


Pregnancy just kinda sucks. 

At least it always has for me, and I don’t mind saying it. Some women love it and I wish I was one of them, but for me it’s being brutally sick for the first three months, followed by being highly uncomfortable and tired — both mentally and physically — the following six months. And I don’t look anything like magazine-cover-celebrity pregnancy. I do look like a public service ad for obesity. Or diabetic edema. Or the ‘before’ picture for epi-pens. Or maybe goiter.

That’s why I think any additional unnecessary layers of difficulty we lay on pregnancy need to go. (It’s NOT reasonable to have your body back three weeks after giving birth, there’s no IDEAL amount of weight to gain, you WON’T ruin your baby’s IQ and all future chances of health and happiness if you eat pizza instead of broccoli every now and then, etc.) Everybody calm down.

Enter the big ole secret-keeping rouse of the first trimester… Granted, there’s a lot that can go wrong in the first three months of pregnancy. It’s considered a delicate time, most susceptible to miscarriage. Some of the baby’s most key developments can go wrong at this time. And for those reasons, and probably a lot of others, we observe this peculiar and unspoken custom in our culture where the parents go on guard of their news like they’re the gatemen for Fort Knox. And yes, it’s big news, but we act like we’ve been handed the recipe for Coca Cola instead of a blurry black and white ultrasound photo.

Some of the books and well-meaning advisers reason that if, God forbid, you lose the baby and no one knew in the first place, you’ve successfully kept the whole thing a very private matter and you don’t have to deal with the… the… what, exactly? Questions and scrutiny? I suppose that’s the implication, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that that’s the expected response to a miscarriage.  Sure, in the depths of a loss a person very well may not want to talk about it, and rightfully so. But to not want anyone to even know about the fact that you had a new member of the family, and then… didn’t? That could be the preference for some people, and if it is, absolutely fine. Totally your call. But to me, that kind of isolation would feel like a second tragedy on top of the first. 

It feels like a lot of other things, too. For me it feels like a fear-based approach. And it feels like postponing joy, or tiptoeing towards a blessing with skepticism. And maybe most unsettling, it feels like a decision to walk through any possible loss or pain in secret, without the support of friends and family.

And just like pregnancy itself, it may not feel like that to everyone. Maybe keeping things under wraps is truly the best decision for some families. But I’m not interested in keeping up this whole first trimester silence, or avoiding the early announcement taboo. I’m already too exhausted.

So here it is: I am nine weeks pregnant. 

All of you people who are ‘my people’ are now officially in this with me, for better or worse, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to observe a pregnancy custom I will be keeping: eating questionable/nasty stuff from Taco Bell. My pregnancy, my way.

The first ultrasound photo of Little Peanut III.

Odd

“Actually, it’s more than ambivalence about being different — it’s embracing being different.”

I was always kind of an oddball growing up. It was a rural community, hard and tough. Sports reigned supreme. Petite and blonde was admired.  I was a bleeding heart book nerd with a big ole mop of frizzy curly hair. It was also the 90s which meant waif-y cool girls were all over the T.V. going along with whatever their boyfriends said. I had no boyfriend, ever. And I didn’t go along with whatever, ever. Far too many opinions and dreams, that one, they said…


In my 20s my headspace of feeling out of place continued for the most part. I had a lot more fun as I found my voice and freedom, but still I tended to look to my right and left and find very few kindred spirits. 


Somewhere in your 30s though, you somehow stop caring don’t you? Actually, it’s more than ambivalence about being different — it’s embracing being different. Maybe it’s the fact that you’ve bounced back from more than a few giant failures and realized that you can survive it. Maybe it’s motherhood that not only makes you too tired to care and gives you a daily dose of humility in the form of wiping butts and being on the receiving end of toddler brutal honesty, but also gives you a daily gut check of perspective on what really matters. Maybe it’s that fewer and fewer people give you those double-take wowza eyes anymore, as your face increasingly wrinkles and your waist thickens — and that fact makes you feel a little invisible but also a little free. Maybe it’s that you’ve learned and experienced a *hella* lot, and you rest comfortably confident in your own abilities now. Maybe it’s the realization that actually everyone has at some point suffered from their own unique brand of different.


Maybe it’s all that. Maybe it’s none of that. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s you, too. 


At any rate, I’m still the oddball in a lot (most?) settings, at least in my own mind. But now I take some degree of pride, or at least ease, in that because I have seen enough years to know that those oddball things about me have actually worked to my advantage and surprisingly, made me uniquely suited to many adventures. The Oddfellow, this blog, is the next one. And if ever there was an odd fellow, it’s me. Maybe there are others out there and they’ll find a place here, too. Let the adventure begin.