9 things I’d like to tell high school graduates

Since no one has invited me to speak at their high school graduation (yes, Ohio and Wisconsin, I’m looking at you – there’s still time!), I figured I would take it upon myself to let high school graduates know what I think.

You're almost on your way!
You’re almost on your way!

Personally, I’m pretty sure this is the safest way to do things, since sometimes, not even _I_ know what will come out of my mouth.

When I graduated from high school, more than 30 years ago, I felt I knew it all. Graduation comes with a feeling of excitement that parallels the feeling of being out on your own, almost – at least for many of you – and being away from the prying eyes of mom, dad, the nosy neighbor who always snitches on you and any younger siblings or cousins you may have.

You, as you sit there in that chair, are not imagining doing dishes, or getting up at unGodly hours of the morning to make your way to class/work/daycare. You are imagining a life where no one will tell you no.

I know this, because I was in your shoes once.

And that unbridled enthusiasm is a good thing. Really it is. It is what has propelled you through your high school years, and will propel you through your salad years. And for many of you, your Ramen noodle years.

But there are a few things you should know as you go out into the big blue world.

1) High school never ends. Remember how you used to talk to your friends during lunch? And you’d say “Oh. My. God… (please say this with me in your best surfer girl voice) I canNOT believe she is going out with HIM! What WAS she thinking?” and “Dude, he totes gets away with everything! It’s like the crap washes right off of him and lands on someone else.” Uhm, yeah… that never ends. Grown ups still do that, and we call it office politics and gossip. It never ever ends.

No one wants to visit you and your dirty bathroom.
No one wants to visit you and your dirty bathroom.

2) Learn how to clean a bathroom. This will become really, really important when you live alone and date. Same goes for learning how to master at least three really great recipes. I suggest Shrimp Scampi, Beef Tournedos and Chicken Marsala. Trust me on this.

3) Stop taking selfies. Seriously. We’ve all seen enough of you. Maybe you could, I don’t know, take pictures of the rest of the world. There’s some pretty cool stuff out there that may be a little more interesting than you, as hard as that is to believe, and you might want to remember it.

4) Read. I don’t care whether it’s books, newspapers, magazines, textbooks or auto manuals, just read. It is, by far the most important thing you have learned to do, and will continue to be the most important thing you will do in the future.

5) Learn to be by yourself. Because you will be. And it’s good to figure out how to not have someone else entertain you. It will come in handy during the rough times. Trust me on this as well.

big bang6) No one lives like they do in TV and the movies. No one gets 2-bedroom rent controlled apartments with great views on a physicist’s salary. People have jobs that they go to for upwards of 8 hours a day, five days a week, with paychecks that do not afford them the luxury of a daily cup of coffee at Starbucks unless they either go without dinner, or rack up debt equal to that of Bolivia’s. You are not going to leave college and land a $100,000 a year job managing a tech company. You will likely make $25,000 a year and struggle until you either a) get promoted; b) get married or c) die. And it’s okay. Because millions of people do it every year and are happy. Really. Happy. And if you’re not happy in your job, find a new one. If you enjoy what you do, you will reap more than just monetary benefits. Nothing sucks more than dreading to go to work. Nothing. But if you love what you do, you’ll never feel like you’ve worked at all.

7) No one owes you anything… not a job, not an education, not a happily ever after. You have to work for those things. Generations of your family have come before you to make it possible for you to have so much. Don’t blow it. You have just enjoyed an 18-year vacation. Go out and earn that.

No one gets a trophy for 9th place.
No one gets a trophy for 9th place.

8) There’s no trophy for ninth place. In fact, there’s no trophy for second place. As a member of the trophy generation, we know that you all have been given trophies for just showing up. Real life doesn’t work like that. Honestly, there’s no prize for anything other than first place. Strive always, for winning. And if you don’t win, try again. And again. And again. In fact, never stop trying to be the best even if no one ever rewards you for it. There is a prize for that too. It’s called pride.

9) Have fun. This is your place and time. These next few years will be some of the best of your life. One day, you will look back on these past four years, that have meant so much to you now, and you will think “What did I ever think was so fun about that?” At least, I hope you will. I hope that with every age and every stage of your life, the next one just becomes better than the last. High school, growing up, becoming an adult – it’s hard. But it gets better.

Life really is like an oyster bed… you pick one and eventually it opens up. It may be nothing more than an oyster – in which case, with a little hot sauce and lemon juice, you’ve got a helluva snack. But sometimes, it’ll have a pearl. You’ve got to keep trying until you find those pearls. Find a long string of them. To you, they will mean the world, because you worked for them, and you earned them. The easy ones – the one’s that open up quickly – those aren’t any good. They’ll make you sick. But the ones you have to work for? Those are the best ones and the ones you’ll remember.

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

Soup beans and cornbread


Last Sunday was soup beans and cornbread night in our house.

Great Northern beans almost the way Dad made them... just need a little ketchup now...
Great Northern beans almost the way Dad made them… just need a little ketchup now…

It was 60s out in May in the South, so it was soup weather. And what good is soup without cornbread, right?

There was a time when I wasn’t exactly proud of telling anyone that we regularly ate soup beans.

I mean it is a reminder of my family’s poor upbringing. It’s rural Kentucky food. It’s mountain food. It’s not the food that anyone is going to put on the menu at a fine dining restaurant, but everyone has seen on the menu at Cracker Barrel.

Mine are nothing like what you get at Cracker Barrel… tonight it was pintos and salt pork with peppercorns. Throw it all in the pot with an onion and let it cook for hours and you’ve got a huge bowl of flavorful protein. Yum.

Sometimes, we have navy beans or great northern beans with left over ham. That’s my special favorite because it reminds me of my Mom’s house.

Sometimes, we have 15-bean soup, which comes with its own ham flavored seasoning pack, so you don’t have to add, you know, … meat. It’s the soup equivalent of Coors Lite – a little bit of flavor without any substance of any kind.

When I was a kid, it seemed like every time we went to my grandmother’s house to visit, we had soup beans and cornbread.


I hated it.

In fact, I dreaded it.

The smell is unique and has a smoky sweetness with a sort of bacony aroma.

And every time I smelled it, I groaned.

But, it made sense. My grandparents weren’t rich, and soup beans were the best choice for them when the house went from two to six. Cheap and easy to make, it was a way to extend a meal to feed a crowd, no matter how many showed up.

But I hated it. It wasn’t bad. I mean, it’s tasty, but I wanted pizza or hamburgers, or fried chicken even. For a spoiled doctor’s daughter, soup beans were NOT the dinner one looked forward to.

Of course, my mom loved it. It was her mother’s cooking, after all. She loved going back to the comfort of her childhood.

I grew up hours away from my grandmother in Central Kentucky, but still my mom made Kentucky favorites. Summers were spent eating cottage cheese and tomatoes fresh out of the garden with a little dollop of mayonnaise on top. We had corn pudding for Thanksgiving dinner. Derby time always meant Derby pie.

And soup beans were a rarity, but a still on the menu

I couldn’t stand them. I just let my mom eat them.

It was like when our family went to Florida. Everywhere we stopped to eat, someone was handing us grits. The further south we got the more plates of grits piled up on the table. Actually, they all ringed my mother’s plate, as we all passed them to her and let her eat them. It’s honestly a miracle that woman didn’t blow up like a hot air balloon that summer.

It was like when our family went to Florida. Everywhere we stopped to eat, someone was handing us grits. The further south we got the more plates of grits piled up on the table. Actually, they all ringed my mother’s plate, as we all passed them to her and let her eat them. It’s honestly a miracle that woman didn’t blow up like a hot air balloon that summer.

At the time, I was starting to cook. I was 11 or so, and I discovered that I really enjoyed cooking, especially cooking for others. I made quiche because I thought it was cool. I made barbequed hot dogs on noodles when my mom went back to school. My aunt taught me to make pies using gooseberries that had been in the freezer since the day I was born. I learned how to make Mom’s chicken and dumplings and beef stew.

Of course I also wanted to expand my knowledge. I devoured cookbooks like some people do peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches. I learned about French cooking and the specialties of New England, and the differences between Northern Italian and Southern Italian cuisine.

I all but turned up my nose at the Kentucky food I had grown up on.

One day, I was reading a cookbook and found a recipe for Senate bean soup. I was thrilled. If it had the word “Senate” in it, it had to be special didn’t it?

look familiar? yeah... you'll find recipes for Senate bean soup in Bon Appetit, but soup beans and cornbread? Not so much...
look familiar? yeah… you’ll find recipes for Senate bean soup in Bon Appetit, but soup beans and cornbread? Not so much…

This was going to be my culinary adventure into Northern cooking, I thought. Why, they even had cans of it by some famous chef in the grocery store! It had to be excellent when made from scratch, right?

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the ingredients… beans, ham, water. It was fricking navy bean soup! Only with a few potatoes added.

Yep... sorry folks, polenta is Italian grits. Seriously. You can do this at home...
Yep… sorry folks, polenta is Italian grits. Seriously. You can do this at home…

Disgruntled at being tricked, I decided to only cook recipes from Europe from then on. I learned how to make shrimp scampi, paella and pate. By the time I had worked my way up to Italian polenta, I was a dutiful Europhile foodie … right up until I realized that polenta was basically fried grits.

All of the food I had hated during my childhood was loved by others. They just had different names!

Now in fact, a bowl of soup beans and cornbread is probably one of the most ordered side dishes in the South, right up there with macaroni and cheese, sausage gravy and biscuits and rice and gravy.

I’m telling you – don’t turn your nose up on rice and gravy until you try it…

But it wasn’t until after I graduated from college that soup beans and cornbread became my go-to comfort food.

Always on Sunday afternoons, when it was cool and rainy out, soup beans became this way for me to be home, without actually going home. It became the way to connect with my past, and rethink my future.

It’s the smell, I think. Its earthiness and richness grounds me. I can put them on the stove; take a nap and fall asleep dreaming of my old Kentucky home.

In our house, we eat soup beans differently – the way my dad did.

Traditionally, with soup beans, you eat them with raw onions broken up in the bowl and cornbread on the side. Since my husband can’t stand soup, he crumbles the cornbread right into the soup beans to make some sort of stew like substance.

My dad, however, ate them differently. You take the soup beans; you add ketchup and a forkful of sweet pickle relish. Why? I have no idea. Then again, my Dad perfected the fried bologna sandwich and was the first person to ever make yellow tomato ketchup.

I’m not sure that says anything about Dad, but I do know that’s the only way I will eat soup beans, regardless of the weird looks I get from waitresses in virtually ever restaurant I’ve ever eaten it in.

I know there are regional favorites that I’m sure some people identify with like I do bean soup. Maybe Mainers are like that when they eat New England clam chowder, or a lobster roll. Maybe Southwesternites are all happy when they eat Tex Mex. Maybe even Chicago-ites wax nostalgic when they eat a slice of pizza.

But none of them know what it’s like to eat a bowl of soup beans and be taken back to their grandmother’s house – with its heat vent in the middle of the hall, the smell of cigarette smoke and coffee in the air, and millions of memories lingering in the walls, the rooms and the furniture.

This past weekend, I made the guys French toast, bacon and grits. My kids rolled their eyes at the lumpy white mush. I’m hoping one day, they’ll look at a bowl of grits and think of their old Mom. Or at least take me on vacation and load me up with all their unwanted bowls of grits.

And maybe, one day, they’ll make a pot of soup beans and cornbread and smile.

As long as they eat it with ketchup and relish, I’m okay with that.

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014


Castle for sale, right down the street

So, the castle down the street from my childhood home is for sale.

No, I don’t mean a really nice house.

I mean a castle.

The Versailles Castle as it stands now. The road on the top of the picture would be Versailles Road, the road between Lexington and Versailles… follow that road to the right, go about a quarter of a mile, turn left and go all the way to the end of the street? That’s where I grew up.

Let me explain, it’s a real castle. We’re talking about a huge multi-turreted-building-in-the-middle-with-a-courtyard-between-it-and-four-fortress-walls castle.

This palatial estate on more than 252 acres in the middle of horse country in Central Kentucky is roughly one mile to the left and up the street from my mom’s house – which we all know is my first castle. I grew up next to this thing.

Heck, the invitations to my wedding included directions to my reception (at my Mom’s house) that included the words “pass the castle and take the second left.”

It has literally been a part of my life since I was three. I watched it being built from the moment ground broke, until it sat dormant. Ever since I was in elementary school, the Castle in Versailles, Ky. has been a mystery, a landmark, a laughing stock and a wonder.

When I was in second grade, my friend, Jeff, and I sat on the playground of Pisgah Elementary School watching the castle and speculating about it.

To be honest, we would sit inside of a two-foot tall concrete tube left on the playground during construction, and we would periodically poke our heads above the side like little gerbils to look at it before burrowing back into the tube to furiously discuss in our 7-year-old furor over why it was there.

I mean… uhm… it was a castle… in the middle of nowhere Kentucky… and there weren’t any horses or playgrounds anywhere on it! Our 7-year-old minds boggled.

Granted it was in VERSAILLES, but in Kentucky (as in Ohio and Indiana) that’s pronounced Ver-sales, not Ver-si like they say in France.

At the time, we ALL thought it was a gift from the Six Million Dollar Man to one of Charlie’s Angels.

The Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie's Best Angle
The Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie’s Best Angle

Because Lee Majors was then was married to Farrah Fawcett. And he had a horse farm in Woodford County, or so we all thought. And this was when every boy in school had a Farrah bathing suit poster on their wall, and the Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox was THE lunchbox to have.

We thought we were looking at a wedding present and that soon we’d be watching little Six Million Dollar Angels during recess.

Maybe if he had given her the castle, she might never have left him and gone kinda nutso. Or at least had a little more space to do it in private.

Can you imagine castle walls painted with a Farrah brush?

Boys everywhere would have been checking in to see bathing suit marks.

Not that they could afford it now.

Started in 1968 by Rex and Caroline Bogaert Martin, the castle was inspired by a trip to Europe. Cause doesn’t everyone come home from vacation and think “Hmmm. I’d like to have a little piece of medieval history right here that I can live in”?

But construction stopped when the two divorced in 1975. For more than a quarter of a century until Rex Martin died, the castle remained vacant.

In 2003, the castle was purchased by a Miami tax lawyer who had plans to turn it into a bed and breakfast.

Seriously... who eats beans for breakfast? I mean, come on! Where's the oranges and muffins? And don't even get me started on the tomatoes and mushrooms.
Seriously… who eats beans for breakfast? I mean, come on! Where’s the oranges and muffins? And don’t even get me started on the tomatoes and mushrooms.

Now, I’ve stayed in bed and breakfasts in England…. And I have a hard time imagining that anyone staying at the castle would get scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato slices and baked beans for breakfast. Or have to share a bathroom. Or find themselves curled up to sleep under chintz sheets that smelled oddly like your 80-year-old grandmother and lavender.

When an unfortunate fire during the initial stages of construction in 2004 (uhm… Jewish lightning anyone?) destroyed the building, construction began again. In just a few short years, it was finished and opened to the public.

Well, at least the public that could afford the $750 a night it cost to stay in a turret room.

Currently, the 50-room castle includes a full library, a great hall, chandliers, marble floors, a game room, and a dining room that seats 40. The grounds – on the inside of the fortress walls, includes manicured gardens, a tennis court, a pool.

And let’s not even get started on the rooms that look like something out of Downton Abbey on steroids.

Now guest rooms go for between $325 for a state room and $1,250 for a turret room.

That’s inflation for ya. I mean, what is the world coming to when a turret room in a castle in the middle of nowhere increases in price by nearly 70% in just a few short decades and a complete renovation?

There are signs around the building now that say “Guests only!” This is a place that everyone who has driven thru Versailles – and I’m sure there have been dozens through the years – would stop to take a picture of. Now they want to close it off only to the one percent?

The view, almost, from where Pisgah used to sit.
The view, almost, from where Pisgah used to sit.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from driving up the driveway, looking around and taking a few pictures the last time I was there. No Swiss guards came out and chased me off. No beautiful golden retrievers came bounding out to greet me. No one screamed out the turret “Get off my lawn!”

I’d always dreamed of going inside.

And now, I can. I could just buy it and continue running it as a “boutique hotel.”

It’ll only cost me a cool $30 million.

That comes down to renting out all the turret rooms 6,000 times to break even.

I think I’ll take the view from the concrete tube.

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

Bless me, Leah, for I have sinned

I have the coolest miracle worker in the world.

And by miracle worker, I mean hairdresser. No, stylist. No. High priestess of hair.

kindle fire girlLeah, my miracle worker, is the religious equivalent of nirvana in black leggings. Irreverent, ballsy, out-spoken and always smiling, she is the confidante of my inner wildest fantasies – purple hair.

She has given me the hair cut of my dreams – the one I have asked for since I was 23 years old – “Just something that looks great, but that I don’t have to really work on.”

This is not as easy as it appears. For years, I have labored under the delusion that I had to work hours on my face and hair to look like I didn’t have to do anything at all.

But Leah, went one better than that. She gave me a beautiful hair cut, that made me look like I didn’t even curl it AND she made me look cool.

Just before I left for a writers’ workshop in April, I went to Leah. I told her “I want purple highlights in my hair. I want to look like the girl from the Kindle commercials. I want auburn hair with purple in it.”

I wanted to embrace the inner artist in me that I was sure was going to come out at that conference. And I wanted people to remember me, because, in my own head, I am completely forgettable. Did I mention I’m 48, overweight and about as boring fashion-wise as Charlotte from Sex in the City?

Leah didn’t bat an eye.

In fact, she said, “I love it! This is going to be fun.”

I should probably also point out that meeting Leah was the result of having my hair cut only weeks earlier by a 30-something girl who spent most of the time, while she had scissors next to my ears, talking about how awful it was that her ex-roommate told her parents she was dealing drugs out of the trunk of her car and they were threatening to take her car and kick her out of the apartment. She was ready to cut someone, she said.

bad hairdresser
not an exact replica….

I smiled and said I understood (even though I couldn’t possibly imagine) praying to the very depths of my soul that I wasn’t the one she decided to cut.

I mean, who says that to someone you’ve only known for 10 minutes and is giving you money for a quality hair cut?

In fact, it wasn’t a quality hair cut, even if my ears did stay in tact.

I didn’t have the guts to tell her how much it sucked. I did, however, decide that I was never going back to Great Clips. For the first time in 20+ years, I decided I needed a REAL hairdresser and wasn’t going to settle for a $12 hair cut anymore.

Just a thought – there’s a reason why some salons use as their slogan “We fix $12 hair cuts.”

And, of course, I turned to Facebook to bitch and to ask for suggestions, and that’s where the kismet began.

I needed a GOOD hairdresser. I needed a Truvy! I needed someone I could trust and someone I could relate to. No way a razor wielding drug dealer was going to cut it anymore. I needed to woman up and find someone special.

My Facebook friends said to call Leah.

Growing up, I had been part of that special woman/hair goddess relationship. I just didn’t think it was that important. Until now. Real women have relationships with their hairdressers.

When I was a much younger girl, every Wednesday night was spent with Dottie, my mother’s hairdresser. We would travel to the mall in Lexington, a full 30-minute drive, for an evening where I would shop and buy nothing, while my Mom sat in the chair and had Dottie do her hair… the same way… every week… for 10 years.

She was the Dottie Lama. My sister, her daughter, my mom, me… we ALL went to her for guidance and forgiveness for our hair sins. She was the ocean of forgiveness, my sister says.

And through those years, my tomboy years, I spent time shopping while my mom spent hours talking to Dottie. I would get bored with the “talk” and wander off to look at little Spanish Flamenco dolls and SuperTramp albums, before rejoining my Mom for dinner at Morrison’s cafeteria. It was a big night out for us.

Dottie did my hair too, occasionally. She gave me my first perm and my first dye job – beach blonde, naturally. She counseled me on how swimming (I was a competitive swimmer back when I wasn’t technically a whale) meant more hair care and how taking care of my hair, even when the chlorine, the work outs and the sun were on the verge of turning it green on a daily basis, would pay off in the long run.

When I got married, we went to Dottie’s salon where she did an up-do and gratefully understood my distaste for big hair.

non-big hairWhen people understand the little things about you – like the fact that you’re only inclined to have “big” hair if, say, you’ve been under the influence of whiskey and Diet Coke for the past few days, it really makes life easier.

But Leah,…hmmm. She got those things the minute that I met her.

Leah is my size and my height, and gets my sense of humor, my attitude and my flippant outlook on life. She even cusses like me.

This ain’t no Steel Magnolias. This is more like Iron Roses. In the Truvy’s House of Beauty of Life, we’re both Ouiser. We’re tough. And we’ve got the thorns if you cross us. There are no seven different shades of pink here – we’re seven different textures of black, with a little leather thrown in just to show people not to mess with us.

We talked very little small talk the first time we met. I admit, I was a little nervous cause I was scared she wouldn’t like me and then we’d have nothing to talk about and I’d have to start the search to find someone I could relate to over again… kind of like dating, only with harsher chemicals. But almost immediately, we hit it off.

We talked about purple.

We talked about people.

We talked about not fitting in and how we didn’t care.

Cause women TALK to their hairdressers. We tell them things men can’t imagine… well, actually, it’s more like we talk to them about stuff men don’t care about. Being in a “beauty parlor” or “salon” is the female equivalent of going to the bar and having a few stiff ones and talking to the bartender to unburden our souls. Only hairdressers actually give a crap.

Come to think of it, salons probably would be even more interesting if we had a few glasses of wine while we talked.

Come to think of it, salons probably would be even more interesting if we have a few glasses of wine while we talked.

And yes, we talk about a few stiff ones.

It’s the one place where women can go and it’s all about them.

So, we unload our souls to our hairdressers.

I’ve listened to women talk about their vacation plans and how they were looking forward to having some time alone.

“Hell, I’m looking forward to the bar as much as I’m looking forward to the cruise – nothing like a pina colada or six at sea…while someone else watches the kids.”

I’ve listened to women talk about their husband dallying on Craig’s List looking for “a discreet encounter.”

“Are you worried he will find someone?” someone asks.

“Hell, no. I’m thinking that frees me up for 15 minutes a week” she answered.

Bless me Leah, for I have sinned.

And Leah will never say who said that. She will take those confidences and answer them back. You will tell her your secrets and she will tell you secrets back.

I mean, for God’s sake, the woman knows my real hair color, which is something no one has really known for the past 20+ years.

purple hairSo she dyed my hair auburn with beautiful streaks of purple and blue and pink in it. It was a Friday afternoon and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And she meticulously placed it in places that she could expertly cover it up with a wisp of hair here, or a curl of locks there.

And much like every beauty parlor I have ever gone to, when I got home I couldn’t replicate it because I am not a girl and I never learned how to do those things.

I had a Dorothy Hamill hair cut when I was 10, for cripes sake, and still managed to screw that up if I didn’t somehow manage to burn the perimeter of my scalp while curling it.

But she did it and it was beautiful and I loved it. I flaunted it. I sent pictures to my friends. I went to the store with it pulled back so the purple showed. I put on sunglasses and ran my fingers through my purple hair to show everyone how cool – again, at 48 and overweight – I was.

Until Sunday afternoon.

When I realized I had to go back to work.

And I had to look like a professional businesswoman.

And eventually, I would have to face my mom.

I was so scared – of both losing my job and of telling Leah – that I went to the store, bought a few boxes of chemicals, stripped it out and spent the next four hours putting dye in my hair to make it a color that looked somewhat close to normal.

When I talked to Leah days later, I explained it all to her. I have to tell you, I was damn close to tears. We had shared dye together. We spent two hours together discussing celebrities and local gossip. We were bonded.

And I had not only ruined her masterpiece, but I also felt I had washed our time together down the drain.

But instead of being mad, she said it was okay and that I needed to come see her. She said we were friends and she would have helped me.

I cried.

She soothed.

I went.

One look from her and I knew everything was okay.

“Honey, you come in after you get back from this workshop. We’ll put some highlights in there somewhere. Cause right now you look normal – and there’s nothing about you that screams normal.

She so gets me.

Soul mates. In hair.

(c) copyright Liz Carey 2014

Mommy Snearest

There are days when I find myself trying to measure up to the idea of the perfect mom.

You know the ones… they’re online – on Twitter and on Facebook – always talking about their perfect lives and their perfect families and their perfect days at home, working around the house.


They’re the ones that are all matchy-matchy, from their bows in their hair to their designer shoes. And while they talk about their problems, they actually don’t have any because their kids are actually perfect, as are their husbands, their dogs and their houses.

While there are days I wish I could live like them, the fact of the matter is I will never live like them.

In the first place, I have to work for a living. In the second place, I’m about as far from perfect as you can get. And in the third place, I just wasn’t brought up that way.

Don’t get me wrong; my mom brought me up right. If it weren’t for my mother, I would still be dressing in nothing but jeans and t-shirts… okay, I still do that on the weekends, but that doesn’t count. I mean, if it weren’t for my mother, I would not be making a conscious effort to have my underwear match my outfits… kinda like that clean underwear mama mantra on steroids.

It’s just that she also brought me up to be myself and to love who I was instead of always trying to live someone else’s life.

So, that kind of mom isn’t really my way of life.

They are the moms who drive their BMWs to the local organic farm to purchase local fresh produce for their gourmet meals, made possible by the fact that they have all the time in the world to drive to the organic farm and come home and cook a gourmet meal.

I am the mom who roars up to the farmers’ market in her Jeep, in a tie-dye t-shirt and matching sunglasses, with INXS blaring out the windows and grabs the closest box of strawberries to save a few minutes before roaring home to throw something together for dinner.

They are the moms who “salon” to have all manner of their body hair teased, tweezed, tweaked or otherwise tamed.

cellphone mom

I am the mom who calls her kid from the back porch and asks them to bring her a razor, because she missed some hairs while she was in the shower.

True story. Just happened.

They’re the moms whose housekeeper takes care of all of the problems in the house while they “work” on their “mommy blog” next to the pool.

I am the mom who writes at night after my second glass of wine and sweeping the kitchen floor for the seventh time since I got home from work.

And while they are the moms whose children were in their perfectly spotless rooms before Mother’s Day making them gifts to celebrate their motherliness – like knitting them a coffeemaker to replace their broken one, or creating art out of tooth picks and dryer lint that would most certainly be hanging in the Louvre if it weren’t on her walls, I am the mom whose kids borrowed my credit card last weekend to buy my Mother’s Day present and argued for the better part of an hour over whose was better.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge those moms their perfect lives, and I’m sure they are happy.

There’s just always that niggling little voice in the back of my head that reminds me I am not one of them. And that for some reason, I should strive to be one of them.

But I can’t live like that.


cool momI’m not home baking cookies; I’m at work. I’m not president of the PTA – I did that once. It wasn’t pretty. I’m don’t have dinner ready by the time they and their father get home from their important things. I slap together the occasional casserole when I have my own important things to do.

And more than that, I’m not perfect. I have curves. I haven’t had the same hair color six months in a row since I was 29. I have a wardrobe that consists primarily of jeans, stretch pants and business attire in red, black, white and tan. I’m a workaholic. I live in flip-flops and bare feet whenever I can from April until November. I can be a little crazy.

Stop rolling your eyes and saying “a little?”

I’m not the ideal mom to others, I suppose, but my kids and husband think I’m pretty okay, even when I dance in the grocery store aisle or sing off key.

I guess all that’s important is that I’m the ideal mom to them.

I can live with that.

(c) Liz Carey 2014

Riding in cars with mom

The other day I came home to see my 15-year-old, Mason, in the passenger seat of a car driven by his newly drivers’ licensed friend.

They just were pulling out of our driveway as I drove up. While my heart sank, Mason looked at me from the window and waved.

kidsincarsI really could only think of one thing.

“Okay, Mom. I get it.”

All of a sudden, I could hear my Mom’s voice in my head – “I’m not sure I want you in a car with someone who just got their license.”

And I could feel it beginning to come out of my throat as I mouthed the words “Wait!”

As Moms we get to experience a lot of things – the joy of having your child wrap their fingers around yours; the frustration of a poop explosion at exactly the wrong moment; the heart-bursting pride of watching your child succeed when even they thought they couldn’t; the unexpected blend of concern and consternation when the projectile vomiting begins, and the awe of watching them grow up.

Life has its ups and downs.

We never really think about what it meant to be our moms, until one day, you’re confronted with the reality of being a mom yourself.

My Mom was pretty cool when I was Mason’s age.

She let me be myself, even though there was more than a little bit of gentle prodding to wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt, my Dad’s surgical scrubs or purchases from the Army/Navy store clearance rack.

She let me date losers to find out on my own what kind of losers they really were. And never ONCE did she say “I told you so.” Well, not to my face anyway. She told me once that she knew if she said “No,” I would run right to him and really be in trouble. Smart woman. And she did confide in me years later that she was really, really, REALLY glad her plan worked.

She bought me beautiful dresses and skirts when I needed them, even though I hardly ever wore anything other than jeans and usually ruined the whole girly look by doing something stupid like pulling the crinoline all the way up to serve as makeshift strapless bra or matching my beautiful madras plaid skirt to a popped collar polo under a ripped neck sweatshirt.

Look, I was going for a “Flashdance” meets “punk” meets “preppy” look. Don’t judge.

She was always there for me, always teaching me how to be a better person, how to let go of expectations, how to deal with tragedy with courage and bravery.

Still is, in fact.

But she always worried about me, especially when I was in a car.

woman-wagging-finger“Don’t let your friends drive too fast,” she’d say. “Stay off those country roads. Be careful at four-way stops. Don’t go too fast. Where are you going? Who are you going to be with? When will you be back?”

For me, it was pure torture.

“OH MY GOD! Does she NOT understand? Doesn’t she trust me? It’s not like I’m out doing drugs or screwing around, I’m just going out with friends! What harm is there in that? ”

What could possibly go wrong?

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I was worried. I didn’t want him to go. He was already out of my reach and slipping through my ever-controlling fingers more and more every day. I started to worry.

My Mom still worries when I’m driving.

I’d like to say this is due to the time I sort of stole the family station wagon and took all my friends for a joy ride before wrecking the car, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

She worries about what could go wrong.

Recently, on a drive from Kentucky to South Carolina, she was worried about me being careful. Not that she thinks I can’t drive, she says, but that other people are crazy.


potkettle“Look, pot, I want you to watch out for all the kettles…”

She warned me about the semis.

“You know, keep an eye out for those semis. Those truck drivers can be just dangerous. Every time you see one of those horrific accidents where a semi wrecks into another car and bursts into flames, it’s almost always on a Sunday afternoon.”

Thanks, Mom.

For the longest time, I used to roll my eyes and shake my head at her concerns.

But as I sat there in those fleeting seconds while Mason and his friend pulled out into the road, every possible “what could go wrong” – from running out of gas, to being attacked by mutant hill people, to getting hit by a semi – ran through my head.

Yes, those were actual thoughts that went through my head.

And I let them go anyway.

I realized being a mom is a job you keep forever. My mom will always worry about me, just like I will always worry about my sons.

But you have to let them go in order for them to come back.

I’m so not ready for mine to leave yet. There’s so much I still have to teach them… I’m not even sure if they wear clean underwear when they go out yet.

It takes strength to let someone go and trust they will come back to you.

As I waited for them to head out, Mason flashed me a smile and waved. He was elated. They were in charge of themselves for a while. They were making their own history.

finger heartThen he made a heart shape with his thumbs and fingers and blew me a kiss.

And I realized what my mom had gone through when she watched as I ran headfirst into the wind that was the rest of my life

And it clicked.

“Thank you, Mom, I finally get it.”

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

Monster jobs, ripe for the picking

Every time I get depressed about my job, I go to my email inbox.

It almost always reminds me, life could be worse.

cage worker
Working for a living

Friday, when I was contemplating how busy I was compared to my friends who were traveling across the country, I got an email from Monster.com.

According to them, I am uniquely qualified to be: an HVAC technician, a vending machine route supervisor, end-user technology support for a feminine hygiene and toilet paper manufacturer (I shit you not), a chain restaurant general manager and an activity director for a senior living center.


So much for the English degree.

Now, I have never touched an HVAC unit, outside of the thermostat, and the only time I’ve ever diagnosed that anything was wrong with one was when ours started squealing at 2 a.m. on one of those nights when it was 267 degrees outside. My diagnosis? It was about to be shot if it didn’t find the will to work. It did stop squealing after I yelled at it several times. The repairman we called the next day said there was nothing wrong with it. I like to think it just decided to shape up.

Oh! The Vending Machine Supervisor is here! Huzzah! said no one ever...
Oh! The Vending Machine Supervisor is here! Huzzah! said no one ever…

And I wouldn’t be a vending machine route supervisor if you paid me to – which of course, I guess is the reason for the ad – mostly because I don’t like getting yelled at. No one ever says “Oh! Thank GOD, the vending machine supervisor is here! The Snickers bar row is refilled! Our lives are complete! Huzzah!” No, what they say is “Hey, you! Three weeks ago this stupid machine ate my 75 cents causing me to nearly pass out from not getting my afternoon Skittles sugar rush, I want my money back WITH INTEREST!”

Taste the rainbow indeed.

I don’t know what kind of end user technology support a toilet paper manufacturer could possibly need (“No, ma’am… it doesn’t really matter if the roll goes over or hangs under.” “Yes, ma’am, it’s okay to use it to blow your nose, so long as you don’t do that AFTER you’ve used it for something else.” “No, sir, I’m pretty sure the fact that your wife is a wadder when it comes to the tp in question, does not have anything to do with your plumbing issues. I take it you’re a folder?” And yes, I looked it up… 38 percent of women are wadders; where as 52 percent of men are folders. Only 20 percent of people are wrappers. Six percent don’t know… Uhm, just a question… how do you NOT KNOW? Thank God Monster didn’t say I should start a career as a survey taker.)

 “No, sir, I’m pretty sure the fact that your wife is a wadder when it comes to the tp in question, does not have anything to do with your plumbing issues. I take it you’re a folder?”

More over, I’ve worked in restaurants before and suffice it to say, that’s pretty much the reason I finished college. And since most of my activities involve alcohol and/or signing release forms, I’m pretty sure I’m not the person to be the activities director for a senior citizens community… although that does give new meaning to white water rafting, now doesn’t it?

I told Monster I had management experience and excelled in communications and marketing. Either every job on the face of the planet now requires those qualifications, or, and I’m thinking this is more likely, there are just way too many English and marketing majors out there.

There are just too many people who know how to write and promote businesses all applying for the same jobs. Which would leave very few left for me, if I ever decided to actually leave the job I’m in now.

So, I have a thought… let’s round up all of the unemployed English and marketing majors and let them compete, a la “The Hunger Games,” for survival. We can drop them all in the wild and let them write or market their way out.

English majors and marketing majors should compete for jobs in a more satisfying way...
English majors and marketing majors should compete for jobs in a more satisfying way…

Pen a great paragraph and you get a map to the exit. Make a killer logo out of twigs and stones and you get food for the rest of the game. Promote your cause via social media which goes viral and gets you more votes than Delvin on “The Voice,” and you win your way out of the wilderness and into a job as a vending machine route supervisor.

It really probably won’t be good for the English major community.

But it sure as hell will make being already gainfully employed seem a lot more appealing.


(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014