Sunday, August 21, 2016

High School (for Me, not Curt)

Tonight is the eve of the week Curt begins high school.

His first day of the 9th grade isn't until Wednesday, but every milestone urges me to remember the day his neurologist advised us to look into a group home, back when Curt was barely 2 1/2.

I like to look back and laugh. Or at least cheer.

But actually, this post isn't about Curt, although thinking about Curt going to high school certainly was the catalyst.

This post is about two people I encountered in high school who shaped the course of my life.

Every high school student should have some of those, one of those; I was lucky enough to have two. I had two in college, too, but that's a post for a different day.

Mr. Caskie and Ms. Adams-Caskie weren't married when I first met them. In fact, their (perceived) secret romance was quite titillating to a high school student, when perhaps, in fact, it was only secret to us students, AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN, and there was nothing actually as salacious or exciting as I imagined it in my 16-year-old brain. But that's really neither here nor there, what matters is that Mr. Caskie and Ms. Adams were my heroes.

My junior year at Midlothian High School dawned and I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt I wanted to take Creative Writing as my elective. I'd taken Drama my freshman year (a total failure in my mind as I never quite fit in with the drama crowd, valuing my Outback Red layered henleys with coordinating layered socks over heavy black eyeliner and jeans held together with safety pins). I had to skip an elective my sophomore year, bucking for that advanced credit diploma, so I was chomping at the bit to sink my teeth into creative writing.

I knew from Day 1 that's where I was meant to be, talent or no talent.

Mr. Caskie, whether he saw talent or not, nurtured the enthusiasm I brought to the table. I asked to be editor of the Literary Magazine that year and somehow, I got the job. I remember pouring through short stories, poems, drawings and essays, penned on sheets of well-worn paper, spread out on the floor of my bedroom. I spent countless hours selecting which pieces would grace that year's magazine, maybe a little power hungry for a high school junior. I can still feel the weight of the selection of the paper for the cover, probably a 90 pound weight with a linen texture, in a lovely taupe shade that leaned toward pink. I know I have a copy somewhere; I should probably dig it up. Honestly, ,I can't remember much about what I actually wrote that year. Probably some angst-filled poems (by definition, all teenage poetry is angst-filled) and some short stories, heavy-handed on the forced symbolism. I do remember that Mr. Caskie was encouraging without being cloying; there were no medals for trying, he wanted you to produce something of quality.

My senior year, I moved on to Journalism, with Ms. Adams-Caskie. If memory serves me correctly, Mr. Caskie married Ms. Adams the summer between my junior and senior years. It was a match made in heaven, or, at least, the hallways of Midlothian High School. Mr. Caskie sported a mop of unruly hair, spectacles that were always slipping down his nose and bore himself with the air of the absentminded professor. Ms. Adams was a hippy! She wore broomstick skirts and her hair, also an unruly mop of raven curls, were as untamed as her infectious, booming laugh and her easy smile. She had a been a reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. As we say these days, she was legit.

So I entered her classroom ready to take on the world. I ended up editor of the paper that year, too. I'm beginning to think no one else wanted those jobs. Ms. Adams-Caskie (it was hyphenated, because she was such a feminist; she was sooooo cool.) was our Don Quixote, tilting at windmills for the beleaguered student journalist.  She allowed me to write a cover series on abortion, even though a fellow paper staffer disdainfully informed me that "so many" friends of our had already had abortions and it was such a nonfactor (I refuse to believe it, to this day). Once a month, we mimeographed that student newspaper (OK, not really, I drove it to a printer in downtown Richmond, accompanied by a floppy disk in case the printer needed backup from our hard copies) and I couldn't have been more proud of anything in my meager 17 years on earth. Ms. Adams-Caskie taught me to look for the truth, to be fair, to be balanced, and to never let The Man dictate the news. Ok, so she didn't call it "The Man" but I could just tell that I'd totally be best friends with her and Lois Lane if we were all older. (And real, but whatever).

Long story short, Mr. Caskie and Ms. Adams-Caskie solidified a love of writing, a love of reporting and lifelong passion for storytelling in my fledging soul. Neither of them ever looked at me and said, "You can't do it" (like that English teacher in high school...but that's yet another post), instead, they showed me I could.

And I did.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Magical Monday

I wish there were adequate words to share how magical Make-A-Wish really is.

While perhaps the adjectives are lacking, the stories are not.

Make-A-Wish grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. "Life-threatening" can include those that are malignant, progressive, or degenerative.

Cristel got her wish: I wish for a playset.

Aiden got his wish: I wish to go to the beach:

Bailey got her wish: I wish to go to Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

All children who qualify get their wishes.

99 percent of wish parents report the Wish Experience gave their children increased feelings of happiness.

89 percent of health care professionals surveyed say they believe that the Wish Experience can influence Wish Kids' physical health.

97 percent of Wish Families observe increases in their Wish Kids' emotional health.

74 percent of Wish Parents observed that the Wish marked a turning point in their children's response to treatment (in a positive way!).

Let that speak for itself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Photo credit/Silvia McClain, VIP of Southeast Texas

It's been well over a year since I've written and that's neither here nor there. I had no plans for reviving this blog, but this post has been percolating in my thoughts for several weeks now.  It had to be written, if only for me. In fact, entirely for me, although words fail to express how important Kelly Ryan Murphy is to me.

Today is the first anniversary of Kelly's death.

In the journalism business, we're taught never to use euphemisms for death. He didn't "pass on," "go to the next life," "meet his maker" or "get his eternal reward." He died, plain and simple, but the pain of that is anything but.

I met Kelly in 2006 (?), at a meeting for the new magazine I was editing in Beaumont, Texas. Rumor had it that a big-shot designer was joining our team, a designer who had serious street cred from his stint at D Magazine in Dallas, among other publications.

With a tremendous roar, a motorcycle pulled up outside and a slight, wiry figure clad entirely in black leather dismounted the bike.  When he pulled the helmet off, the first thing I noticed was the spiky, blond Mohawk.

Kelly came in to the lunch meeting, his personality not as forceful as his persona. In fact, he was quiet. So quiet I spent most of my time trying to figure out what he was thinking. Did he think we were just a bunch of redneck yahoos? That he was coming to play with the field team after dominating the big leagues? That's what I was afraid of, but Kelly NEVER, EVER made anyone feel like that.

Kelly made everyone feel special, like the most important person in the room.

When I went to Kelly's memorial service last year, I was pretty sure I was THE MOST SPECIAL PERSON he'd ever worked with. Ever. Turns out, Kelly had a gift for making everyone feel that way, judging by the huge turnout of current and former colleagues, and the tributes they paid to him.

Kelly was, and is, not only my professional muse and the love of my professional life, but a good friend as well.

He had more creativity in the tips of his Mohawk than most people can even imagine possessing. He could see an image and transform it into something more brilliant, more defined, more meaningful. He could take a point-and-shoot camera into a department store for a product shot and create a photograph straight out of a gallery. (And did...frequently). He breathed life into the ordinary, making it extraordinary.

Kelly wore a costume to work every Halloween. He had themed T-shirts for all the other holidays, including Earth Day ("I love boys who recycle.") He transformed his dingy cinderblock office space into something out of a design magazine and did the same thing with his house. He spent the days after Hurricane Rita cleaning up the yards of his elderly neighbors.

He had a wicked giggle and a twinkle in his eye at all times. He loved his partner, Jim, and his cat, Tango. He talked about his family... a lot.  He had a naughty Elf on the Shelf  named Larry, who went on all adventures with Kelly and Jim. He craved alone time and would have been labeled an introvert, but sparkled whenever he was around people he was comfortable with.

Watching him work was a wonder. He loved fonts and color and design and was's better than great? at his job, his passion.

When I met Kelly, he was just starting his journey into bodybuilding, encouraged and trained by , Jim. But he had a rebellious side. Jim keeps to a fastidious, clean diet and Kelly would like to have "meetings" at McDonald's so he could sneak a quarter pounder with cheese (and probably blame it on me and my kids!).

With every issue of the magazine we produced, Kelly would hang the page proofs on his office wall so we could get a sense of the overall flow and design of the book. They were in militant rows, even spacing in between and never, ever out of order or askew. I liked to knock them sideways when he wasn't looking, just to see him get flustered when his pristine grid was a little helter skelter. At his memorial service, Jim told me his colleagues at Mary Kay, where he was working when he died, would do the same thing.

I took my biggest professional risk with Kelly. I think we both almost got fired. I was called before the Big Boss first, Kelly waiting in the outer office to back me up, which he did without hesitation. Cheetah dress. That's all I have to say about that. I bought a pair of cheetah print flats (I don't do animal print) after that, in honor of what was simultaneously a horrifying and horrifically funny event.

I moved away before Kelly left Beaumont and I cried at the thought of telling him that I was breaking up our team. I can't pretend we were in constant contact after that, but the interactions we did have were quality. He has always, and will always, hold a special place in my heart. That feels so trite to even write. A big part of me feels like I don't deserve to mourn Kelly the way I have. We didn't chat on the phone every week, we didn't meet up for lunches. But we did have our moments, lots of them, that didn't feel like they needed day-to-day upkeep.

I ugly-cried all the way through Kelly's memorial service. I sat with a group of bikers Kelly had ridden with in the Dallas area. One of them kept handing me tissues because I forgot to bring my own.

In journalism, we're taught not to use euphemisms for death, or anything related to death, but Kelly truly left the world a better place.

Kelly Ryan Murphy, 1972-2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Biscuits and Gravy Casserole

I haven't blogged in forever. And I'm OK with that. I write all day for a living and I often write when I come home at night, too. So I'm really not bothered by neglecting my blog for a long time. A really long time. 

However, tonight I made something for dinner that was well received on Facebook, so instead of private messaging everyone who asked for the recipe, I figured I'd just blog it.

It all started because I try to include the boys in meal planning. But this usually results in requests for tacos 17 nights a week. While I really like tacos and tried to introduce Curt and Luke to the wonders of fish tacos in fresh flour tortillas with a cabbage slaw, or spicy pulled pork tacos in a soft corn tortilla, they weren't buying it. They want ground beef, with orange seasoning, in a crunchy corn shell that stands up by itself. At least I finally convinced them that homemade taco seasoning was better than that orange stuff in the packet.

But I digress. Hey, I'm tired.  So we're planning meals for this week and they ask for breakfast for dinner. I wholeheartedly endorse this plan as I could eat breakfast for every meal forever. Curt wanted biscuits and gravy. Luke wanted scrambled eggs and bacon. I *could have made it all, I suppose (I feel like the breakfast short-order cook often enough on weekends), but like I said, I'm tired when I get home from work.

AND I'd just seen a recipe on Pinterest I wanted to try.

Biscuits and Gravy Casserole sounded equal parts intriguing and abhorrent. I'm not a fan of white gravy, even though Curt loves it. However, this recipe incorporated pretty much everything the boys had asked for. So we tried it.

It's first recommendation was that it smelled so good baking. That's a huge recommendation as cooking is such a sensual experience. Not 9 1/2 Weeks sensual...well...I take that back, EXACTLY 9 1/2 Weeks sensual (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, Google it and I almost promise you the first scene you'll find on YouTube is the scene I'm referencing). My point, is, cooking, eating and food should engage ALL the senses, all the time. Whether in a family friendly manner or not.

I digressed again. 

So it smelled great cooking. It bubbled up beautifully and had a lustrous golden sheen to the top when I took it out of the oven.

I'm lucky it lasted long enough to take a few quick pictures with my phone; the boys devoured it.

It's not healthy. It contains processed foods. If you're one of those do-as-I-say-not-how-I-really-eat people, take a hike right now. What I tried to emphasize tonight to the boys was to take a smaller portion of the casserole and a HUGE portion of salad. They ate both their casserole AND their ginormous salads, then asked for more casserole. I gave in.

Biscuits and Gravy Casserole

1 can buttermilk biscuits (16.3 oz package) 
16 oz bulk sausage, any kind 
1-½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated 
large eggs 
½ cups milk 
Salt and pepper, to taste 
1 package (2.75 oz) peppered sausage gravy mix 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Take a 9×13 pan and spray it with non-stick spray.
Then take the biscuits and cut them into 1″ pieces and line bottom of pan with them.
Brown sausage in a skillet over medium heat. When it’s done drain the grease and scatter sausage over biscuits.
Sprinkle with cheese.
In a medium sized bowl whisk eggs and milk with a pinch of salt and pepper and pour it over the pan.
Make gravy mix per package directions and pour over the top.
Bake in the oven for about 30-45 minutes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I am so tired it's not even funny.

I'm not even tired for any good reason (bar the extreme vitamin deficiencies I'm working hard to correct). It was a normal work day (not even a death threat!!!), an organized Cattle Baron's meeting, soccer practice, dinner (which I'd prepped last night and thrown in the slow cooker this morning), and the usual evening routine of checking homework, signing agendas, etc...

The boys rallied. They'd completed their homework, folded their laundry and brought in the trash can and mail by the time I got home. Awesomeness.

But I still lamented the lack of time and energy in the few minutes between arriving home and leaving for soccer practice.

"I wish there were a few more hours in today," I said.

"Don't worry, Mom," Luke replied, "it'll all get done. As long as we have each other, it will all work out."

Luke wins.

I've got nothing. Except a better perspective on what I need to be doing after 5:30 p.m. 'Cause really, what else makes life worth living?

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Thing About Hurricanes

I couldn't sleep last night, so I was scrolling through old photo albums on Facebook. I came across "Hurricane Ike, September 2008" and realized it's been just over five years since that storm cut its fierce swath from Africa, over Cuba and made a direct hit on the Texas Gulf Coast, where I was living at the time.

Hurricanes are wicked and unpredictable. The only thing you can count on, for sure, is that when they strike, what you fear most will come to fruition.

No matter how well you get ready for the storm, by battening down the proverbial hatches, boarding up your windows, stockpiling water and  non-perishable foods, powering up your generator and finding what you think is a safe spot to ride out the storm,  nothing ever prepares you for the complete and utter devastation and destruction that awaits when the winds have dulled from a roar to a whisper and you peer out into the first light.

Like death and taxes, the only thing guaranteed is that your world will be turned upside down.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The "Dog" Ate My Homework

The other night, I threw my son's homework away.

Can you imagine him going to school with that excuse? "I'm sorry, Mrs. H., my mom threw my homework away."

Yeah. Right.

But it's true. I did.

We were going through the seven folders in his accordion file for each of his seven classes and separating the papers that I needed to sign, or the ones that needed to be returned to school, from the ones that had already been graded and returned. Paper tends to accumulate quickly in his accordion file.

In my quest to keep him organized, I fell quite short myself. I picked up the wrong stack of papers from the table and tossed them into the kitchen trash can, a fact we did not discover until after the remains of the tomato-based soup we had for dinner were scraped out of bowls on top of the aforementioned homework.

In years past, this would have caused a meltdown of epic proportions. But in his newfound middle school maturity, he simply got a dish towel, wiped chunks of tomato and cannelloni beans off of the college-ruled notebook paper, and recopied his work onto pristine paper.

We've worked so hard this year to get him organized. Each folder in the accordion file is color coded to correspond to a class. He carries his agenda with homework assignments written out for each class period. His school supplies are in a box in his backpack and workbooks and school papers are filed into the accordion folder with their folders under individual subjects. At home, there's a designated space to do homework. There's a place to keep backpacks, school uniforms, school shoes and lunch supplies. Today he gets assigned his locker at school so he doesn't have to carry as much around with him.

Now perhaps I need a better filing system. Trashcan notwithstanding.