Mona Lisa Smile

I had an interesting conversation with my mom last night:

My mom has what she calls the Mona Lisa Smiles theory. Several years ago there was a movie out called Mona Lisa Smiles and the premise of the movie was that women, in that time period, only went to college to find a husband and get married. I think, without looking it up, the movie was set in the 60s. Enter stage left, a forward thinking, open-minded female professor, played by none other than Julia Roberts. Though, in the end, forward thinking does no prevail because Julia Roberts’ character is fired over controversy, birth control, if I remember correctly

Back to our conversation. So according to my mom, a woman can’t be of the Mona Lisa Smiles school of thought and be independent and forward thinking. She used an old friend as an example. Her friend was trendy, to the point that she had the country’s top hair stylist do her hair for her wedding. (don’t ask me who, it’s a miracle if I get my hair cut more than once a year) At any rate, this friend’s whole house was white: white chairs, white carpet, white walls. And then, she got married and had a baby. According to my mom, everything changed for her friend. She became mommy, and wifey, and to hear mom tell it, she lost her independence. To hear mom tell it, you can’t be trendy and be a mommy.

Even though I can’t get a job as an English teacher, I treat her like I would my students, sometimes. (partly out of habit, partly because I want her to think about many points of view, and partly because I know it drives her nuts) I play devil’s advocate. I asked her if it were possible to be married and independent. She kind of ignored my question, because she’s caught on to my tactics. But I started thinking, is it possible for a woman in the Mona Lisa Smiles school of thought to be independent.

What usually brings up this conversation, is my mother-in-law (MIL). The woman is insufferable. She comes into my house and cleans it when she catches me out of the house. (When we went to Branson, she came in and deep cleaned the whole house) This drives me nuts for two reasons: 1) I can’t find anything in my house for several weeks and I blame her for it even though I know she’s just doing it to help and 2) I feel like she is constantly judging me for my cleaning abilities, or lack thereof. I cleaned the house before we went to Branson (because I knew), but when we came back she had doubly cleaned it. I know I should be happy that she helps, but to be her acts of generosity always seem self-serving and judgmental. Anyway, I have totally digressed.

My MIL came from the Mona Lisa Smile clan, where my mom views herself more independent, creative, and fun. My MIL came from the land of debutant balls and in her  house you could literally eat of the floors, her house is spotless. whereas my mom’s house you could eat off the floor only if you believed in the 5 second rule. My mom came from the land of camping trips, beer, and teenage rebellion. I fall somewhere in between. I’m independent, but married. I’m organized chaos. My house is mostly clean; kids need dirt, right?

The conclusion that I think, I’ve came to though is that: I am me. I have been shaped by my experiences with my mother and my mother-in-law. I am independent yet married. Comparing the two is like (cliché alert) comparing apples and oranges. They both have similarities, yet they are different. Neither orange nor apple are right or wrong.

So, in the comments I’d like to hear opinions, and no I’m not playing devils advocate this time. I want to hear what people think about independence, marriage, housecleaning, and any other theme I may have brought up that I may have missed.


Branson, Missouri Adventure

A few weeks ago, my mom, my son, and I went to Branson, Missouri. It’s the first vacation that I’ve had since Liam was 3 months old, and he’s five now. I just thought I’d share a few high lights from the trip. (I found my journal)

Liam is obsessed with the Sesame Street Silly Song CD. I have memorized every song on the disc and can sing them in my sleep, literally. I will be laying in bed singing Grover’s song, “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea,” in my head. Branson is about 12 hours from our house; the disc is 30 minutes long. Doing the math we could have listened to the CD 48 times int he time it took us to get to Branson and back. We didn’t, but we could have. Instead we probably listened to it 6-8 times. Here is the Elephant Elevator operator that I drew from the songs. Enjoy.

Elephant elevator orperator

Elephant Elevator Operator


Kum and Go is a real gas station and a very nice one at that. The 14 year old boy in me giggled EVERY TIME we passed a sign for Kum and Go. We even picked up loyalty cards for Kum and Go so we could say we had Kum and Go cards.

Proud parenting moment: going through Sugarland, Indiana, Liam shouted from the backseat, “Graaaaanma, are those solar panels?” My little scientist in the making!

Apparently in Missouri, “Speed limits are not suggestions” per the signs on the side of the road. We rented a Kia Sorento to save wear and tear on mom’s Nissan. This sucker was like driving a tank. We loved it and Liam loved it so much that he is saving all of his pennies to buy the “car with the backseat.” What he means by this: the Sorento had a third back seat that pulled up out of the trunk area. Thankfully we didn’t find it until we were back home because Liam would have driven us nuts bouncing from the middle seat to the back. At any rate, I was able to drive the Sorento in the Ozark Mountains. This was the first time that I’ve driven on a vacation and it was the first time I’d driven in Mountains. Because we were driving a rental, I was going to follow Missouri’s suggested speed limits of 70 miles an hour on the highway.

At one point Liam was hungry and he shouted that he wanted “King Burger.” So we made a pit stop at Burger King and he played in the play place. And The Charlie’s Chicken we stopped at for dinner in Joplin, Mo., not good.



This is my Fight Song

I have been an only child all my life, but I have two brothers. 

I can practically hear you asking me, “How are you and only child and have siblings?!?!” Well, I’m glad you asked.

My mom and dad never married one another. My mom has never been married, which I never saw the genius in until recently. She is fiercely independent and in turn as am I. My dad on the other hand married when I was about 3-4. My step-mom’s name is ,Holly, but we never, EVER called her my step-mom. She was simply my dad’s wife. Step-mom sounded so ugly and negative and Holly was not an ugly and negative person.

When I was ten my baby butter was born. I called him my butter for years. (And no I didn’t have a speech impediment.) He was my butter, because I was afraid to call him my brother in front of my mom and grandma. Why? I thought it would be awkward because he was my dad and step-mom’s son. And, you know, butter is MUCH less awkward. At any rate he was almost ten years to the day younger than me.

I remember holding my butter as a baby in the hospital. In a way, he kinda looked like butter, babies aren’t very defined looking humans. He was HEAVY. I immediately fell in love with him and his red hair. I went over every other weekend to my dad and Holly’s house until I was about 15. Independence set in when I had a car, I no longer stayed the night.

When I was 15 not only did I get my temps, but Holly had another baby. By this time, I was a teenager and completely over babies, they had lost there charm. I feel guilty about that too, but that’s for another story.

Fast-forward 15 years. TJ, my butter, was had ADHD and the impulsiveness that went along with it. He was smart, street-smart. Books held no interest for him like they did me. TJ like to run the streets with his friends. Our dad, which is another story entirely, is an alcoholic and an old school parent. Holly was at wits end with TJ. TJ did what he wanted and then told you about it afterwards. It was no secret that TJ smoked cigarettes and then pot.

TJ would do absolutely anything for you. Literally, I called him up one time because I needed help plowing the snow out of my mom’s driveway and he was right there.

When he was 18 he started getting in to BIG trouble with his parents. He called me up and asked if he could stay with me for a while because his mom and dad had, “kicked him out.” I of course said yes, because after all he was my butter. He stayed with me for about a week. During that week, my mom bought him clothes at the thrift store. TJ babysat my son. He even helped me work on a set for a school production of Once on this Island, which I took him to see with his girlfriend a week later. Then I sent him back to his parents. He went willingly because he worked harder for me then he did his parents and he was away from his friends.

Five days before my birthday I had this conversation with him via Facebook:

January 2013



I wanna come live with u lol



The dog would be okay with having a roomate lol

Whats going on? why’s it so bad?


I’m homeless now

Some one style something thy belonged to my grandma an I’m gettin blamed for it Katie my mom is forreal throwing me out

I’m sorry, what’d they steal


My grandmas jewelry


Ooooh bummer

was it one of your buddies?


Idk who did it I wasn’t me. I would never do that shit ever but I guess I’m gonna go out in applications an try an find somewhere to stay till I can get on my feet an my own place


you wouldn’t like living with me, I’m 100% NO nonsense 


I’m not worried bout it ill run the streets all night if I have to


thats not good bubby

go to my moms house


Cause there not gonna let me come back


go to my moms house i’m going over there tonight


I might have to I’d I really can’t find anywhere to stay 


go to my moms house i’m going over there after work tonight, Keep in mind she’s at work


If I can get over there ill be there but I gotta walk down the street to get out of the house so ill be back I. In a few

just start walking

I found out later that he lied to me about having stolen his grandma’s jewelry. He took it to a pawnshop and the pawn shop immediately dismantled the jewelry for the gold and the gems. His grandma, Holly’s mom, had just passed away not long before the rings when missing.

Secondly, when this conversation was going on I was at college and had to work that day, that’s why I told him to walk to my mom’s house. I was trying to keep him away from his “friends.” I knew he’d shack up with his friends and smoke pot.

Thirdly, we had had text conversations beyond this message. I found out that his parents told him not to bother me so he never came over. Though, I’m not entirely sure this is true.

March 31st 2014, after I got off the phone, I felt numb. I’d never felt such a horrible combination of numbness and guild in my life. And then came the tears. I believe the kids are calling it an ugly cry. I sobbed like I’ve never sobbed before. My body heaved with each breathe I struggled to draw in to my lungs. My brother, my baby butter had died of an heroine overdose. HEROINE! What the fuck! I knew he smoked pot, but heroine!

I don’t tell this tale for pity. I don’t need pity or condolences. My brother died, the heroine epidemic is ridiculous. Everyday in the news, there is another story of an overdose. Yesterday, a little boy was found with his parents  in  a vehicle at a local UDF, alive and well. The parents were passed out cold, OD on heroine. A woman I worked with in college, her daughter is in the grip of heroine. The daughter hasn’t seen her son in months because she chooses the drugs over her family.

This needs to STOP. I’m not using my brother’s story as a cautionary tale or a PSA. It is a battle cry. I am declaring war. There is a battle raging and something needs to be done, if my experiences can help one person, penning this is not in vain.

Here is a poem that I wrote the day after THAT call, trying to make sense of what was happening. It’s not the best and it’s emotion fueled.


Passed Away

My brother didn’t pass away, he died

Violently amputated from our family

A gangrene limb that now rots in a hole.


Venom made in some assholes basement

spread through his body, silently killing him

Introduced through a hole ripped in skin.


A poison that has taken countless other,







Passed away implies something peaceful




My brother died from bold face lies and

Promises broken.




The Actual End of the World

Liam and I took the dog out for a walk this morning. We walked across two streets and around an empty lot that is surrounded by houses on all four sides that used to be a school. This is One of Liam’s favorite places in town; his favorite activities is rolling down the hill on the lot.

On our way back from rolling, Liam decides he wants to race his old, slow mom, that has the dog. So the dog is pulling me faster than I usually am able to move. Neither the dog or the kid are able to walk in a straight line and they collided knocking Liam to the ground. Liam skinned his knee, and the way he’s wailing I was a little afraid that he knocked his kneecap out of place or broke his leg. (Occasionally, my kneecaps come out of place.) The dog was barking at some little yappy pups that are bouncing on the fence like rubber balls and Liam wants me to carry him. I don’t because I’m afraid the dog will dart taking both of us with him.

When we get to the house, I clean up his cut with soap and water afterwards, I put a little Neosporin on to numb the pain. He’s sitting on the couch watching cartoons in the living room going,”Is it almost gone?”After many hugs and kisses he’s sitting quietly waiting for the boo boo to go away magically like it does on the Neosporin commercial.

I’m not making fun of him because I remember having similar boo boos. And Liam’s daddy still wails like that when he gets a boo boo. When I was little, I would scrape something and my grandma would let me sit on the couch until I felt better without judgment because, after all, I was dying. My grandma was a very wise woman who had reared many children, her own and otherwise. Eventually, I would forget the pain and run off to play.

It’s funny, my mom and I were on the phone the other day talking about how we remembered the small things that people would do for us. When I was little we had a Winterfest (which they are bringing back next year, YEAH!) where you could rent ice skate and skate on the fountain in the park and they had a smaller one for the kids.. The last year we went I kept falling on the ice in the kids section. There was a boy there that was slightly older than me; every time I would fall he would offer to help pick me up. I never saw him again; I don’t know what his name was, but I’ll never forget how he picked me up. Mom told me about the boy who fixed her hair from behind on the bleachers at a pep rally at school.

Sometimes it’s the small kindnesses that make all the difference.

Depression or Something

This has been a weeks of ups and downs. My baby started kindergarten on Monday. An hour and a half after I dropped him off I received a call from the principal. Not only was Monday his first real day of school, but his first melt down in school. (over Velcro) AND the first incident report the school had to file of the year.

Our weather has been wonky in general. It has rained almost everyday this week.

I had another job interview; I’m 97.3% certain that I didn’t get the job and it’s getting difficult to move forward.

IN general I feel gross. Call it that time, call it sinuses, call it depression, whenever you call don’t do it early in the morning because I’m sleeping in. I have felt gross for days now. When I say gross, I don’t mean I haven’t had a bath in couple of days because I took one yesterday. there’s not any particular symptoms other than I could have a headache at any moment, but not really, or not have a headache. I’m tired in general. And I’m pretty sure I’m looking at my computer screen with crossed eyes, so on that, I’m going to bed. Good Night All.

Stories from the Family

I love writing about my family. They are crazy, quirky, and I have relatives named  Aunt Pat, Uncle Buck, and a Great-Grandpa named Cletus, need I say more. I consider myself the memory keeper of the family. I decided too late that I needed to start writing down my family’s stories. I, fortunately, had writen down a few of my grandpa’s stories before he passed.

Now I feel the need to write them down before my memory fades. Grandma died almost 15 years ago and papaw passed about six years ago. I’ve been writing them down in my journal, my mom lovingly calls my starship log.

Here is another Shorty from the family Sturgell:

gpa and katie christmas

I love this picture of grandpa and me. I’m probably about 7-9 years old. I’m more than likely trying to get him to smile for the camera. (PS the 70s paneling on the walls is still in the house. blech!)


Grandpa, Tom, was a man of purpose. He knew his priorities and stuck to them. When he was 17, he lied about his age to get into the army, making country his number one priority. (This  was a tall tale because I found his enlistment date and he would have solidly been 18.) I’m not sure if he enlisted or was drafted, or if enlistment and the draft were the same thing in the time of war. His army papers say, “Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law.” He transferred several times when the opportunity arose to different parts of the army, finally settling on the paratroopers.

It hit me the other day, my grandpa was a badass. I wouldn’t have jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. And he did some sort of tests on the airplanes. I think he said he did their preflight preparations.

Fortunately for me, unfortunately for him, he was honorable discharged on 6 Mar 1945 because he had gotten hurt.

It was the last practice jump Tom was to make before he was to be sent to Europe to fight in the war effort. He readied his parachute and steeled his nerves. The open door howled from the force of the wind. Without too much though, Tom jumps. After a few seconds he pulls the ripcord and the parachute jerks him upward. Hovering above the void, Tom hangs in between firmament and ground. The ground grows bigger, Tom prepares himself to land. Just before he hits the ground a gust of wind pulls him sideways. He hits the ground hard, a sharp pain in his foot makes him wonder if he’s broken it. For a short moment he sees stars, the pain is intense.

I don’t know what happened at this point. I should have asked Grandpa, but I took him and his story for granted. I don’t know if he hobbled back somewhere, because he totally would have done something like that because he was a badass (the man had a heart attack in his sixties, for God’s sake, and didn’t tell anyone!) or if the medics saw what was going on and ran to assist with a gurney. What I do know is that he landed on “Strawberry Hill” (his words).

Grandpa spent six months in the hospital with “squashed liters.” He described his foot as having bent up to touch his shin. I suspect he pulled and ripped tendons. At any rate he didn’t go over to the Aragon Forest where he said that there was 60% casualties in his troop because they dropped them too close to enemy lines.




I’ve written about my grandpa, but not about my grandma. My grandma in her heyday was beautiful and thin. As long as I can remember she had dark brown hair, someone once asked me if she dyed it and I could honestly answer, “No.” When she passed away, her hair had only wisps of silver running through it.

A story on Facebook sparked this memory for me:

gma raisen 2

I love this picture of grandma. I have no clue where she’s dressed up to go and even less of a clue as to why she has a California Raisin.



The date had to be before 1975, I always imaged these events to be set in the sixties but it probably had been as early as the fifty’s. My grandma, Helen, had several jobs. Back in the day, truck stops weren’t like they are today. My understanding is that they had full diners in them.

Helen worked in the truck stop. Knowing how she cooked she may have been the cook, knowing how she looked, she was probably a waitress. In walks a hobo. This hobo stinks and is wearing rags. The hobo sidled up to the counter and explains to my grandma that he is hungry and has no way to pay for his food. Helen was a compassionate woman, or it may have been her Appalachian roots that prevailed, but he did not leave the diner hungry. In fact, she put him to work after he ate.

Several days later a simple note came thanking her, or it may have been when he left I unfortunately did not write this story down when she told it. At any rate, she received a note that was signed simple HH. Not thinking anything of it she at some point disposed of the note.

I always imagined her watching TV, sometime later, when a man walked down the gangplank to an airplane and her recognizing the gentleman. On the TV the announcer speaks of the odd man who just disembarked the airplane and his many quarks, but also of his many accomplishments. I can only imagine grandma’s surprise to find out that she may have given lunch to Howard Hughes.

***I plan on writing this in story form, later, but I’ll have to take some liberties with the details as my grandma nor is anyone still living that can validate the story. The fun thing is that it’s so plausible because Howard Hugh did that sort of thing. He was the definition of the “Excentric Millionaire.”





Look at me!

I never understood people’s need to dye their hair a different color than its’ natural color. To me, the only good reason to dye your hair was to cover greys. All my life, I have been told things like “your hair is beautiful” and “what a lovely color.” I was led to believe that my natural color was perfect for me. My mom pleaded with me not to color my hair. I was 32 the first time I dyed my hair. You read that right, thirty-two years old. I really didn’t rebel too much as a teenager, honestly, I mostly hid.

I was born with naturally red hair that my grandma would wrap around her bony fingers to create finger curls. I looked like Shirley Temple until I was 4, when my naturally curly, red hair started to lighten in the sun. After that, I was strawberry blonde. (I feel like a Peanuts character describing my naturally curly hair.)

peanuts naturally curly

All my relatives raved about my hair and how beautiful it was even when it started to fade.

I went into my adult life believing that my hair was the perfect color for me. Then two things happened. 1.) My husband casually asked, “Why don’t you dye your haired.” I try not to ponder the significance of this statement too much because I have a feeling it would make me profoundly sad to know the answer. 2.) I felt, I don’t know, powerless, useless, let it just suffice to say I felt a mired of feelings that I was trying to make sense of. I couldn’t find a job. My son’s behavior was scary at school. My husband was at work the majority of the time, making me the primary caregiver for our son. There was/is a lot going on.

As I grew up everyone reminded me, “Do you remember that pretty little girl with the red, curly hair?” (and I wish I weren’t making this up, that statement is practically verbatim.) I think the first time I dyed my hair it was to regain a little bit of the control that I felt like I was losing over my life. And, dying my hair a bold red, made me feel bold and confident. I no longer blended into my background, by the laws of color theory, for the first time in my life, I stood out.

My mom nearly pooed herself when I walked in the door. She asked me why, why did I do that to my beautiful hair? I told her, “So the drapes matched the carpet.” (I never claimed to be ladylike.) But in reality I did it because I wanted to. I wasn’t wearing a mask, like I thought other people to do who dyed their hair, I was being me.

Now, a bit of irony: remember my husband, who made the comment, “Why don’t you dye your hair red?” He didn’t even notice until he walked in the bathroom one night when i was in the process of dying my hair for the third time. He asked me, “I hope you didn’t do that for me?!” And I was telling the truth when I replied, “No, I’m doing it for me.”


We’re going through a transitional period in our household. School starts next week. Monday is D-day and Liam is Chernobyl. The most frustrating aspect of his meltdowns is, he can’t articulate what the problem is. Liam is fully verbal, but still takes speech therapy to help give him the words to express his feelings. I have a feeling it has to do with school starting, but I can’t figure out the triggers. We’ve had no less than 3 full-blown meltdowns today, and to be honest, I’m exhausted.

Pretend You’re Good at it

I can convince an Eskimo to buy ice, or so it was said. When I worked at Books-a-Million (BAM) our job was to sell discount cards. I can practically hear you thinking, “You worked at a bookstore; your job was to sell books.” Not at this bookstore, our job was to sell discount cards. I could convince a person that they needed to purchase a discount card like a beast.

Once, I persuaded a guy to buy a card in Spanish. My Spanish skills are mediocre at best. I talked people into buying a card that didn’t even have a BAM in their city. I’m not entirely proud of my selling abilities because I didn’t always use my powers for good. I sold discount cards because I got a very, very small commission and I didn’t get fired. For 4 year, I sold discount cards and when the company wasn’t looking I sold books and myself. NO, I’m NOT a prostitute, get your head out of the gutter.

When I was in the stack and not behind the register, I was a totally different person. I was Katie Book Lover, not Katie Discount Card Seller. I would have the most intellectually stimulating conversations with guests that I’ve ever had outside of a classroom. (inversely, I’d have some of the stupidest conversations i’ve ever had in my life as well. (Yes, Yes, I did type stupidest intentionally. (And Yes, I did use parenthesis in parenthesis))) I’d learn about their lives, their likes, and I was the one that was able to convince a student to read that hadn’t picked up a book since elementary school.

Now lets fast-forward to now-ish, I regularly get job interviews to work as a teacher. During those job interviews, I have found the one think that I can not sell, my self-confidence. I can not string together an intelligent sentence to save my life. It’s like I’ve contracted the stupid virus and I say the exact opposite words to get me hired. I once told an interviewer about times that I had sent students to the office. No principal wants to hear about times when I couldnt’ handle students and made more work for them! I completely blanked on what the word “formative” was in my last interview.

I feel like I’m sabotaging myself. I have the skills, I have the knowledge, and I have the confidence once I’m in the classroom. As Neil Gaiman told Jenny Lawson, “Pretend you’re good at it.” His way of saying, fake it until you make it. Which is an actual scientific thing; I read an article on.

This year, I’m writing my goals down.

  1. Walk daily, part of my self-confidence issues stem from my weight. I feel like I would feel better in general if I moved more
  2. Read as much as possible. Fiction, non-fiction, teaching books, EVERYTHING
  3. Write as much as possible. (Sorry in advance for my rants, WordPress people) And it helps me to figure things out.
  4. Substitute teach as much as my schedule will allow.
  5. Stop making excuses.

Writing things down helps with accountability.