How do you write when you have nothing to say?

I’ve forgotten how to be a writer. I no longer know how to take a germ of an idea and plant it, water it, give it sun and room to breathe, pull out the weeds and watch it bloom. It’s just a dirt pile full of jagged rocks, stinky wet leaves and random candy wrappers.

While I’m working at my day job, every essay or story idea I have sounds like a best-seller. Until I get home. And have time to write. Then every idea sounds corny. Or stupid. And I can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea in the first place.

To paraphrase The Commodores, I have no direction, no purpose, no one to love and no one to love me for me … wait, that last phrase should be for another post.

I’m searching, and it’s been hard trying to find my way, but I’ve got to keep on searching harder, day by day.

Low Places

The smell of corn dogs and funnel cakes coated the air and Bob Seger’s “Main Street” played on the staticky speakers when Jake spotted me standing in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. He wore a purple button-down and jeans. And that smile. Always that smile.

That memory about a junior college crush led me down a rabbit hole of journal entries and early 1990s music. Back then “big-hat” country played on all of our stereos, and Garth Brooks was its king. Listening to him, 20-year-old me swore the connections I made then would last forever.

Read the rest of my piece on how Garth Brooks shaped my college memories at Kelly J. Baker’s Cold Takes as part of her Albums Series.

Christmas without my girl

Light showEver wondered what it’d be like without your child at Christmas? Well, here’s what it’ll be like for me this year:

I’ve been a single mom now for two of my daughter’s birthdays, one Mother’s Day, a dance recital, one softball season, a year and a half of school, and this month will mark my second Christmas.

However, this holiday won’t be like any other – I won’t be with my daughter. And like Elvis once sang, “it won’t seem like Christmas” without her. Riley will be with her dad, visiting his relatives halfway across the country. While I know she will enjoy her time away, I’m dreading it.

What do I do on Christmas morning when she’s not here to wake me up, shouting that Santa left boot prints on the floor? How will I handle seeing her stocking on the mantel the day after Christmas? Do I want to go to my family’s big Christmas dinner with everyone else’s kids there? Or do I want to go to a movie alone and wallow in my sadness for a couple of hours first?

Keep in touch
Recently, I was clicking through Pinterest, an online bulletin board where you collect ideas for crafts, books, outfits, home decor, and I saw a recipe for a crockpot breakfast casserole with the note “great for Christmas morning.” It sounded yummy, so I repinned it to my board. Then I thought, “Oh, never mind. Riley won’t be here, and that’s too much food for just me.” It’s the little things that sadden me most.
Of course, I’m not the only one going through this – in 2009, 40,000 other Alabama residents saw their marriages end, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And many of us are wondering how to handle the holidays, especially the first one away from  our children.

According to Lee Block, a life coach, author of The Post-Divorce Chronicles blog, and a divorced mom of two, it should be a priority for children to talk to both parents, if possible, on the holiday. “It’s a great way to still feel connected and also help the other parent who is without the kids,” she explains.

Because I knew my daughter would be out of town over the holidays, I decided to upgrade to an iPhone with FaceTime, or video calling. When I message my daughter’s iPod Touch, we can actually see each other when we talk. If I can’t wake up to her smiling face in person, at least I will have the gift of seeing her via modern technology on Christmas morning.

IMG_0432If you don’t have an iPhone, try Skype to video chat – all you need is a computer, Internet connection and webcam. It’s easy to set up and free.

Invite folks over
Another way to banish the holiday blues is to make yourself do something fun, Block says. Fill your home with the sounds of laughter and friendship to ward off the melancholy.

I’m sure with all of the prep and planning and buying and wrapping some of my friends could use a breather right about now. A night of cocktails and cookies, no prep needed, would be a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the holidays – just bring a favorite drink, whether it’s a hot chocolate or a hot toddy. Or how about sharing the wrapping duties while watching a holiday movie, sipping lattes, and making plans for the new year? Hmm, I think I’m on to something!

“Just because you’re alone on the holidays doesn’t mean you have to wait to get an invitation somewhere. Have your own celebration and invite everyone to you,” Block says. “Having a house full of people will keep the loneliness at bay.”

Start new traditions
Of course, because your family has changed, the way you celebrate will change, too, so Block suggests creating new traditions for your kids. “Because you are no longer the same type of family unit, it is important to do things a different way than you did them before.”

Each year, Riley and I open one gift on Christmas Eve, bake cookies for Santa and leave him a letter. We make reindeer food and sprinkle it in the front yard so Rudolph and his pals can spot our house from the sky. And each year we get out the Nativity sets and read Luke 2 aloud.

But this year will have to be different. Since we won’t have Christmas Eve together, maybe my daughter and I can make New Year’s Eve special. We could get dressed up and go out for a fancy dinner then to a movie. And top it off with some hot chocolate, admiring the gigantic tree at our favorite outdoor shopping area. Or we could invite a few friends over to ring in the new year with a Wii Just Dance tournament.

If we make it through December
Nothing will cure the ache that I’ll surely feel when I hear “Blue Christmas” on the radio around December 23 and I’m missing my girl but having a plan to lighten up when the holiday blues creep in makes me feel a bit better. And time apart will make my time with her that much sweeter.

And while I know Riley is excited about her trip to see her dad’s families, today my heart broke for her. As we were driving home from school I was singing along with the Christmas songs on the radio. Normally she sings too, but she had her hands over her ears and wouldn’t even listen.Pretty pretty lights

“Mama, turn off the Christmas music. I don’t want to hear it.”

“Why not? You like it.”

“I don’t want to listen to it.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Because I want to be in Alabama with you on Christmas.”

Oh my heart! I told her that it was OK and that she will have a ton of fun on her trip. I reminded her that we’re going to do Christmas with my whole big family before she goes and with me and my parents when she gets back. She’s satisfied for now. I sure hope our FaceTime works while she is out there because it’s going to be hard without her.

Beer and ball

For me, music and sports go together like milk and fresh-from-the-oven brownies. Whether it’s hearing Alabama’s Rammer Jammer cheer or “Crazy Train” when Atlanta’s Chipper Jones steps up to the plate or “I’m Bad” while working out, music gets me fired up.

So as the Boys of Summer get ready to make a run for October and the Boys of Fall kick off their season, I’ve got singer/musician Chris Blake here to talk about how music makes the sports we love even better.

Chris, whose latest EP Girl is just out, explains why sports and music are so intertwined. “Music does so much to bring the game to a new level–particularly baseball,” he says. “Music accompanies celebration, loss, traditions like the 7th-inning stretch. It adds to the tension, like when the organist plays Charge! during a two-out, bases-loaded situation.

“Music also keeps us entertained in a big way during the breaks between innings–like when the little kid starts playing air guitar to Don’t Stop Believin’ at Dodger Stadium!”

While Chris enjoys a few college football match-ups each year, baseball is his real love. The Southern Cal Trojan says, “The only reason I ever really watched football games back in college was to drink beer.”

However, he figured out that baseball was much more conducive to beer-drinking. “You could lose an entire inning waiting in line for a Coors Light and still come back to your seat and not have missed anything.”

A Chicago White Sox fan, 2005 was a big year for Chris and his family as the team won the World Series. “Along the way (catcher) A.J. Pierzynski brought (Journey’s) Steve Perry along for the ride, and now, even though I had such strong childhood memories attached to ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ’, all I can think of when I hear it now is how amazing it was at that moment when the Sox somehow managed to go all the way.

Want to know more about the 7th sexiest man on Twitter? RSVP for The Music Mamas Twitter Party happening Friday night from 8-9:30 Central, and join us for a chat with Chris and a chance to win an iPod touch and his CD Girl.

Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights

Kim and I headed to Crossroads in the pouring rain to hear Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights. I have been waiting for this day for more than a year now.

We got there early and headed for the bar and a drink. We camped out in a booth near the sound board and waited. It wasn’t long before I spotted bassist Nick Jay and introduced myself. We chatted for a moment then he went to change clothes for the show.

A few minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I see a guy walking up to the bar. Yep, it was Jonathan Tyler. I waved and went to say hi. Bless his heart, he remembered our conversation on Twitter, and he came over and talked to me and Kim.

Soon we were hanging out at the pool tables watching JT, Nick, Jordan Cain (drums), Brandon Pinckard (guitar) and Jimmy (tour manager) rack ’em and break ’em before showtime. The guys were easy to talk to and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say.

Once onstage, joined by fabulous vocalist Mo Brown, the band did not disappoint. Opening with a cut off their upcoming album Pardon Me, slated for release in April, they got the crowd, though sparse, moving. From my post leaning on the stairs, I could see folks bobbing their heads, tapping their toes and doing that little shoulder shake we all do when we hear something we like.

They played two of my favorites Slow Train and Gypsy Woman, and though I’m sure I looked a fool, I couldn’t help but dance while shooting some photos. Good music always makes you move.

Their music? Gritty, honest, soulful, Southern, bluesy rock. But listen yourself. And don’t let Jonathan’s soft-spoken, sweet voice fool you. This man can sing, with power. JTNL are not some little bar band hoping to make some cash. They have played with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock, AC/DC, even drawing a huge crowd, and an unheard of encore, at the Austin City Limits Music Fest.

After the much-too-short set, Kim and I finally met Mo and Brandon, took advantage of photo ops and the merch table, and shared a round of shots with the band. Maker’s Mark. (And I managed to stay upright.) We got the scoop from poet, playwright, author and singer-songwriter Mo, chit-chatted with the dudes and watched a few games of pool before it was time to load out.

All in all, it was one of the best music experiences I’ve ever had. Not only are they great musicians, they are nice, asking about our lives and including us in the conversation. Now that’s how you connect with fans … and keep them.

Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights are going to make it big. Right now, they’re touring the country, and if you get a chance to hear them, take it. I promise you won’t regret it.

Before life got complicated

I remember pretending to be on Charlie’s Angels when I was little, running around the house with my hand held in the shape of a gun searching for bad guys. I don’t remember which character I was, probably Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly because I’m a brunette. My cousin Stephanie was probably Jill since that is her middle name, and maybe our cousin Nichelle was Sabrina because she is a brunette, too. Or maybe I was Sabrina and Nichelle was Kelly … she is prettier than me anyway. 😉

Today, Farrah Fawcett, who played Jill and was loved by millions of girls for a her fabulous feathered hair and by millions of boys because of her sexy swimsuit poster, died from cancer. And she was brave through it all.

A lot of people didn’t take Farrah seriously as an actor until “The Burning Bed,” but she went on to do something more important than be on a movie screen. She shared her struggles with the disease in the hope that someone would be inspired to fight harder, to get tested or to take better care of themselves.

Goodbye, Farrah. You’ll always be part of my childhood.

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The world also lost another pop culture icon today: Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. For me it was the boy and the music.

His songs were part of growing up, too, so his death is bittersweet. Most of us are mourning the loss of a bit of our childhood rather than what he became.

Songs like I Want You Back and Beat It and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ are classics. You can’t deny what he did for music – it’s just terrible how his life changed. I think fame messed him up. I think about his children and wonder how they will cope and who will help them.

I remember when my brother got the Thriller album; we were so pumped. We played that record, and I do mean record, over and over and over. And my brother could bust a move. We all learned to do the moonwalk on my parents’ hardwood floors, in our socks. Then we progressed to wearing shoes. Some of us even tried it on roller skates with varying degrees of success.

And what cheerleading squad in the ’80s didn’t have a routine to Beat It? Even though I wasn’t a cheerleader, I knew the moves and thought I was something with my tape recorder out in the backyard, jamming to MJ.

So even though the grownup Michael Jackson wasn’t someone I liked very much, the boy and his music will always be a little bit special.

Thanks for the music.

My heart

Riley is spending the week with my parents, and I call every day to talk to her. I called this morning and my dad told me something she said that nearly broke his and my heart.

Riley: “Pawpaw, why do have to wear implants? Why can’t I talk?”

After a choked-up pause, Daddy told her, “You can talk as good as anybody else. You sound just fine.”

He said it broke him up to hear her say that and wondered if someone had told her she couldn’t talk right.

It’s possible, but I certainly hope not.

When she gets in a big hurry, we tell her to slow down and use her words, but we never tell her she can’t talk correctly. We just tell her to use her words so everyone can understand her.

I hope that hasn’t prompted her questions. Looks like it’s time for more positive reinforcement.

By the way, she’s sounded awesome on the phone this week, appropriately answering all my questions about Vacation Bible School, doing math with Pawpaw and having fun.

And the best thing, I hear every day? “I love you!”

Kiss the Girl

Riley’s dance showcase as part of the Heidi Knight School of Dance was last night. She did fantastic, and the production is first-class professional. It was incredible the number and talent of the dancers. We were all so proud of her!

Riley and her six Little Mermaid classmates pranced onto the stage in front of about 2,000 at the VBC and did their routine to “Kiss the Girl” like it was no big deal. She knew the dance better than her teacher, who told me as much after the show. She didn’t miss a beat or a step … not bad for a deaf girl! Those cochlear implants really work.

Here are a few pics from the dress rehearsal (complete with curlers) and after the show.