Tag Archives: mom

Conversations Spark Memories

This afternoon, after we’d finished our meeting, my colleagues and I sat around regaling stories from our past. Stories of partying way too much, getting arrested, failed marriages, and times we got into trouble as kids and teenagers gave us a bit more insight into one another, shocked us, and made us laugh. One of the stories I told was when I was 18, crashed my new truck, and lied about it.

It was the summer of ’99 and I had recently turned 18 and graduated from high school. My gift from my parents was a beautiful 1996 Chevrolet Z-71 Extended Cab pick-up truck in electric blue. It suited me perfectly. When you’re a teenager with a driver’s license and a vehicle, you have freedom like you’ve never known before.

On this particular Friday night, my best friend Nicole was spending the night, as she often did. My parents were out with friends but were due home soon. “Nicole, hurry up, we have to get there before they close,” I said on my way out the door. It was close to 11:00pm, and Blockbuster was going to close soon. If we wanted to get a movie for tonight, we’d have to be quick. Jumping into the truck, the latest hiphop song blaring on the radio, I threw it into reverse and pushed down on the gas pedal. I know I would have used my rearview mirror, but I clearly miscalculated. Our driveway was long, with telephone poles on either side, making it imperative that you back out carefully and straight. As you can imagine, in my haste, I hit one of the poles. Hard. Nicole and I both experienced a bit of whiplash, alerting us to the major accident I just had.

“Oh my gosh! What just happened?!” Nicole shouted. We immediately hopped out and ran around to the back of the truck, and my hopes of it being a minor issue quickly dissolved. I’d managed to hit the pole smack in the middle of my tailgate, as evidenced by a concave U shape in what was once a perfectly straight piece of metal. My bumper, which was previously at a 90 degree angle to the tailgate, was now bent down, forming a 180 degree angle.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit…” I cried, with my hands on my head, as I stared in disbelief at my truck. “My parents are going to kill me!”

Nicole, who was hearing me cuss for the first time since 8th grade (when I made a New Year’s resolution not to curse and miraculously kept it for all of high school), smiled and excitedly said, “You cussed!!” while jumping up and down and clapping.

“That’s not the point! Look at this! I can’t let my parents see this. They’re going to be home any minute now. Get in the truck.”

“Where are we going?” she asked, wondering what had gotten into me and where we could possibly be going.

“I don’t know!” I barked, as I precariously backed out of the driveway and drove away from home. My mind was reeling, wondering how I was going to handle this situation that was sure to put me in the grave. My nerves were wrecked and I needed to calm down. Almost on auto-pilot, I drove to the nearest McDonald’s, where I ordered us both hot fudge sundaes. As we sat in the parking lot, letting the sweetness of the ice cream calm our nerves, I hatched a plan.

“I’ll just tell them that someone must have hit my car while I was at work,” I told Nicole.

Looking at me like I must be crazy, she asked, “Do you think they’ll go for it?” knowing full well they wouldn’t. While I knew they wouldn’t, I had no other options. The option of telling the truth was not an option in my mind, as I couldn’t even begin to fathom the wrath that would come down on me if I told my parents that I’d crashed my new truck that they’d just given me less than a month ago.

Steeling my nerves, I slowly drove home in silence, the beating of my heart almost audible in the cab of the truck. I parked on the street and took a few deep breaths before walking into the house. Nicole, who was supposed my wingman in this lie, didn’t say a word as we came in and saw my parents watching TV in the living room. “Mom, dad, someone hit my truck,” I quickly said, the words running together.

“What?!?” my mom shouted. “What happened? Where were you? Are you okay?” dad added. They were both already getting up and walking out the door.

“I’m not sure…It must have happened while I was at work…maybe someone hit my truck while it was in the parking lot…I didn’t notice since it was in the back…didn’t see it until later tonight…” I stammered, trying my best to keep up with them as they barreled down the sidewalk toward the truck, Nicole following along behind us.

My mom started wailing, in shock, yelling about how bad it was and what on earth could have happened, while my dad took one look at the damage and calmly said, “Jennifer, you hit a pole.”

“What?!?” feigning dismay and shock. “I would know if I had hit a pole, dad. I didn’t hit a pole. I don’t know what happened.”

“You hit a pole,” he repeated, turning back toward the house. “I’ll be inside when you’re ready to tell me the truth,” he said flatly, leaving me, my mom, and Nicole out by the street.

Bless my mom. She wanted desperately to believe me. “Jennifer, are you sure you didn’t hit a pole? Now that he’s said that, it looks like you did.” I concocted some far-fetched story about how a big truck with a pole sticking off of it must have hit my truck in the parking lot of the Cinemark movie theater where I worked part time. While I know she didn’t really believe me, she was on my side, thinking that I wouldn’t lie to her.

With my parents, I held strong to the lie for the next week, embellishing the story more and more. However, inside, I was eaten up with guilt. The more I held to my story, the more my parents believed it. I had even convinced my dad, who had been hell bent on the pole theory.

It wasn’t until one afternoon, a little over a week after it had happened, that the truth eventually came out. My dad and I were inspecting the tailgate again, assessing the damage for the umpteenth time, when he noticed some wood chips stuck into the plastic part of the bumper. “Look at this, Jennifer. There’s wood stuck in the bumper. You hit a telephone pole.”

Unable to keep up the facade, the floodgates opened. Crying uncontrollably, I told him the truth. He hugged me, and I knew it was going to be okay. He told me that I needed to apologize to my mom for lying. She believed me and I needed to fess up. I drove to her office, but I couldn’t face her. When I finally told her the truth, she started crying, upset that I’d lied to her for so long. We both had a long talk and a good cry.

After that, I kept waiting for the punishment that was sure to follow, but it never came. When I asked them about it a week or so later, they said the guilt I had was punishment enough.

Coffee

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

C is for Coffee

A whole world exists in coffee. Glean those details. Write everything you know about coffee.

There’s something about the smell of coffee that makes me feel comfortable and content, like I’m wrapped up in a big hug. The sounds those fancy espresso machines produce at coffee shops make for great background noise when writing, reading, or doing work on a Sunday afternoon. Meeting a friend for coffee is such a great way to spend the afternoon, catching up on life.

The thing is, I hate the taste of coffee. Always have, always will. The bitterness comes through, no matter how much you try to cover it up with sweetness, dilute it with milk, or hide it in a dessert. Don’t give me coffee-flavored ice cream, frappuccinos, or tiramisu. I just can’t do it. No matter the package it comes in, coffee just isn’t my thing.

Coffee is ingrained in so many cultures, making it hard to turn down. A new friend invites me for coffee, but I have to politely tell them that I don’t drink coffee. I’ll take a hot chocolate or tea. But why don’t you like it? It’s so good! They can’t understand that someone could possibly hate coffee. When I lived in Albania, there was a coffee shop every few hundred meters, if not closer. The seats were always filled with patrons getting their fix, sipping ever so slowly on the tiniest cup of espresso, making it last forever, as they caught up on the latest gossip. Not drinking coffee was a cardinal sin.

When I was younger and I first started earning my own money, first from babysitting gigs and later from part-time jobs at the local Sonic and cinema, I always bought my mom coffee mugs and fancy flavored coffee from the specialty coffee shop in the mall. She used to love drinking coffee, hazelnut her favorite flavor. It made gift-giving easy, and her mug collection is extensive, thanks to me. But several years ago, she gave up drinking coffee. One day she couldn’t get enough of it, and the next, she was strictly a tea-drinking gal. I’ve asked her why she quit numerous times, but there was never a real reason. She just stopped.

Part of me wishes I liked coffee. It’d make life a lot easier, I’m sure, but having made it to nearly 39 without a taste for it, means I will probably never enjoy it. And that’s okay with me, because while I might miss out on the social aspects of coffee drinking, I’m not dependent on the bitter, brown liquid to get me through the day. I don’t have the jitters that come with caffeine withdrawals, and I don’t have an expensive Starbucks habit.

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Letter M #AtoZChallenge

Half-way through with the A to Z Challenge…memoir encyclopedia entries for Letter M on the menu for today.

Mamaw

Mamaw and Gradaddy

My first best friend and the best secret-keeper around,
she loved me more than anyone ever could.
Her contagious laugh and loving smile
caused everyone to turn their heads
whenever she entered a room.
Raised in the country, she knew just how to
sew and quilt, cook from scratch, tend to a garden,
milk a cow, drive a tractor, and build a fort.
I can remember attending the annual Chili Day with her
eating chili and crackers, sweet tea, and chocolate sheet cake,
bidding on the auction items with her by my side,
caught up in the excitement of the auctioneer’s fast-paced voice.
Mamaw was the best cook in the whole wide world–
everyone said so.
She could make a ‘nanner puddin’
better than anything you ever tasted!
Andrew and I, the official taste testers,
eagerly awaited that first bite,
warm from the oven.
It was always just right.
With a listening ear and a heart of gold,
Mamaw made everything ok.

Meme

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Meme, my grandma on my dad’s side, used to live two houses down from us, in the house my dad grew up. She and Papa would see us all the time, and I remember spending a lot of time in their wood-paneled living room. Sometime when I was in elementary school, Meme moved to Dallas to open up a shop called Socko. Papa still lived in Bryan, where he ran a lab that did blood work, and they would visit one another on weekends.

I remember going to visit Meme in Dallas and staying in her apartment. I loved going to Socko, a huge big box store with loads of random stuff, because she always let me pick out a toy to take home. Meme, like me, loved Dr. Pepper, and her fridge was always stocked with ice-cold cans. I think she had Big Red, too, or maybe that was Papa that loved Big Red? Anyhow, Meme was not your typical grandma in the sense that she didn’t spend all day cooking and tending to the house. She was more metropolitan and worked really hard. I appreciated that about her.

When Meme got older and especially after she got sick, she took up painting. She was really talented, and created some beautiful pieces during that time. Many of her paintings are hanging in my parents’ house, a constant reminder of her. I was 21 when she died, and I remember being so shocked and sad. I still miss her, but I’m glad she is no longer suffering and that she’s with Papa.

Mel B

You may have read Mel B and thought I was talking about the former Spice Girl turned AGT judge, but I’m not. The Mel B I’m referring to is much cooler! Melissa, or Mel B, and I met in Shanghai. She began working at RBIS a year or so after I began, and while we didn’t become friends right away, somehow it happened. Isn’t it weird that I can’t remember exactly when our friendship turned from a mere acquaintance into a bonafide friendship? I guess it just evolved.

Anyway, I love lots of things about her. For one, she and I are similar in many ways. Some might describe us as bossy (I prefer leaders), we are both really good cooks, and we love to travel. Mel B and I have taken some pretty epic trips together.

Our first trip was to Egypt was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will never forget. My favorite pictures were the one in front of the pyramids and the one where the camel photo-bombed us.

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My first time in Myanmar was with Mel, and boy, what an adventure that was! First off, we didn’t realize we needed to apply for visas ahead of time and then didn’t think we’d get them in time. As luck would have it, they arrived 24 hours before we left. Due to the visa fiasco, that trip was unplanned, and we flew by the seat of our pants. This was really fun in many ways, and stressful in others. Mel got super sick on the 12-hour bus ride from Inle Lake to Bagan, and despised me for being a “princess” and sleeping on the bus while she was having to stop the bus to throw up several times, while also having a Burmese man sleep on her shoulder (the whole hilarious story is here). Then, I made a pretty big mistake and misremembered the time of our flight back to China, making us miss our bus back to Yangon and have to buy a last-minute plane ticket. She was super excited about that one.

Would you believe, she still traveled with me again! We ended up taking a trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand during our last year in China. She’s since moved to Senegal, and I’ve even visited her there. Mel B is one cool chick, a fantastic momma, and a true friend. Love you, Mel!

Michelle

Michelle and I met in Shanghai in 2010, on a hot, sticky day in August, when we both moved there to teach at RBIS. I remember thinking, This girl and I are going to be good friends. There was just something about her that made me know she and I were meant to be friends. It took her a lot longer to figure it out than me, but she finally came around and we became incredibly close. Going through some serious struggles together will do that to people.

We’ve laughed, cried, traveled, ranted, collaborated, created, and supported each other over the past several years, and I can’t imagine not having one another as friends. Michelle’s no-nonsense and will tell it like it is. While I usually love this about her, it has led to some miscommunication and fights between us. I have played my fair share in the arguments, too, as my tendency to be passive-aggressive drives her crazy. But, we love one another and no matter what, we apologize and move forward. I appreciate her straight-forwardness, thoughtfulness, and sense of adventure. She’s one of those people in my tribe that’s always gonna be there. Love you, Shelly! (She hates when I call her that. 😉 )

Middle School

Middle school was a mostly a series of awkward experiences where I doubted myself nearly all the time, struggled with my changing body and emotions, and suffered through a shitload of teasing from classmates. It wasn’t all bad, mainly because I had Nicole, but I can say I definitely don’t look back fondly on those years. I guess it’s a necessary right of passage into teenage years though, right? All I can say is, I’m glad it’s over.

Mom

My mom is my biggest supporter and cheerleader. I can always count on her when I need her. She’s a great host, and I know I get my entertaining chops from her. My mom’s a hard worker, and I can’t believe all that she can do! I recently wrote a Slice of Life about her here and how I am going to miss her when she’s gone. I plan on cherishing the time I get to spend with her, and I’m already looking forward to this summer! Love you, mom!

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How cute is my mom!?! Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, my birthday cake says “#1 Pin Up” on it…haha 🙂

Moving

Being that I’m now an expat, I’m no stranger to moving, which is in stark contrast to my childhood, where I lived in the same house from birth until I graduated from college. Since finishing college and moving out of the house for the first time, I have moved a total of 11 times. Most of the time I’ve lived in apartments (Check out Letter A for more details on all of the apartments I’ve lived in), however I’ve also lived with Uncle Mike and Aunt Kathy for a semester, in a house in Sydney with a family I nannied for, and in my own home for a few years in Houston.

I both love and hate moving. I love the excitement of setting up a new space and making it my own, but I loathe packing and actually moving all my stuff. Every time I move, I end up purging and getting rid of extra stuff, but somehow, I end up accumulating more and have to do it all over again when I pick up and move again. Sometimes it’s just easier to get new stuff rather than schlep everything across the world. For my next move in a couple of months, I’m planning on shipping a small container and bringing a few suitcases. Hopefully this will be a good idea and help me not have to re-buy everything. Only time will tell.

Music

I love listening to music. It helps calm and center me when I need it and gives me energy and makes me happy. I love finding new songs I love and sharing them with others. My musical tastes range from indy chill-out music to popular pop and hip hop to classical to a bit of country. I’m also a huge fan of 90’s music, which is either hit or miss at my parties. Lip syncing is one of my favorite things to do when I’m in a silly mood, but karaoke isn’t my jam. I used to be in choir when I was younger, and I had a great singing voice. I’m not sure what happened though because I’m not a good singer anymore. Maybe puberty changed my voice…who knows. Regardless of the fact that I’m no longer able to carry a tune, I still sing along with the radio every time I’m home and driving around. For a selection of some of my favorite songs, click here.

Myanmar

Have you been to Myanmar? No? Do you know where Myanmar is? Formerly called Burma, Myanmar is located in Asia and borders Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh, and Laos. It’s one of those places that isn’t on many people’s radars, so it’s a bit of a hidden gem, although that’s changing rapidly as more and more people hear about this incredible country. I have been twice and am already dreaming about going back. I highly recommend adding it to your list and going sooner rather than later.

I’ve posted a few times about Myanmar (here and here and here), so I won’t go into a ton of depth in this post, but there is just something magical about that place. The people, natural beauty, history, food, and charm make it an ideal place to explore. I’ve only visited four cities in the country, so I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg. In my opinion, Inle Lake and Bagan are the best places to visit. Mandalay is nice, too, but if I were you I wouldn’t bother with Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Yangon, to me, was just a big, dirty Asian city and it doesn’t hold the same charm as the other places I’ve visited.

Inle Lake is one of my top two places in the entire world, the other being Sydney. I can’t really explain why I love it so much, but when I’m there, my heart is happy. Inle Lake is a beautiful lake surrounded by five small towns with a total of about 70,000 inhabitants. There’s a daily market that rotates between each of the five towns, most of which can only be reached by long boat. I’m happiest when riding a bike down the dirt roads through and around the main town or out on the lake in a long boat at sunset. Watching the fishermen balance on the edge of the boat while they row with the other leg is something you really have to see in person. And the sunsets on the lake are some of the best in the world, but don’t take my word for it.

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They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I told ya! Are you looking into ticket prices yet?!?

Bagan, my other favorite place in Myanmar, is an ancient city with over 2,000 temples. Seriously…temples as far as the eye can see. In the couple of times I’ve been there, I’ve only seen a small number of them. Wandering around the temples, climbing up to the top to watch a sunrise, and watching (or riding) the hot air balloons is truly awe-inspiring. I can’t wait to go back!

There’s one last thing I must tell you. As a foodie, you know I’m not gonna steer you wrong with food. You must try the Burmese Tea Leaf Salad when you go. I was hesitant at first, but once I tried a bite, I had to have at least one per day! It’s a salad of fermented tea leaves, cabbage, tomatoes, dried beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, chilis, garlic, lime, and a yummy dressing. Sounds weird, I know…but trust me on this one! (It’s the one on the white plate below.)

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A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My Mom

This isn’t what I was going to write about today, day 31 of 31 in the Slice of Life Challenge. I had planned on writing a reflection on the past month of writing, my take-aways, if you will. But damned if the universe had different plans for me.

To unwind after a long day, I sat down to watch the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. If you are a fan and haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now, as there are some major spoilers in this post. This week’s episode centered around Maggie and her mom, who has cancer. During the episode, Maggie is fighting her mom’s cancer, taking every risk she can to keep her alive, and the steps she takes only end up making her mom sicker and sicker. Her mom ends up stopping the treatment, and later in the episode, she passes.

Just before her mom dies, Maggie says, “She’s gonna go. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.” With tears in her eyes, Meredith responds with, “You’re never ready. You just…do it. Listen to her. Talk to her about whatever she wants to talk about. Record her voice in your mind. Just keep sitting there.” That quote really hit me. Throughout the episode, we see glimpses of Maggie’s journey- the denial, the fighting to stop it, the crushing realization that she can’t, the spending every ounce of time she can with her mom, and the bond between family, blood-related or otherwise.

It was absolutely gut-wrenching. I cried no less than 5 times while watching this episode. I cried because it was an extremely sad story, of course, but it was more than that. I cried because that will be me someday. Someday, my mom will pass. I hope and pray it’s many, many years from now, but the reality is that the pain Maggie experienced will be my pain. Right now, my mom is healthy, active, and leads a full life. She’s not sick, and I hope it doesn’t happen. But in some way, age will catch up to her, like it will to us all, and I will be faced with a devastating loss.

It makes me think about how finite our time is on this earth, and the fact that we need to treasure every moment we have, especially with the people we love. Living abroad means I don’t see my family very often- only twice a year to be exact. I want to make sure that I make those moments count. I want to be more intentional about the time I spend with my mom. I want to listen to her stories, and commit them to memory. I want to learn her recipes, the ones she knows by heart. I want to do things she enjoys, rather than sneaking off to do my own thing. I want to tell her I love her each and every day, because I do, and she needs to know that. I want to tell her thank you for everything she’s done for me, and for being my biggest fan. I want to tell her I know that she loves me so much it hurts, because I can see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. I want her to know how proud I am of her, too, for all the sacrifices and hard work she’s put in to being the best daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, entrepreneur, and friend she can be. I want to travel with her, and show her my favorite parts of the world, so she can see the world through my eyes, and I can see hers light up with the excitement of new experiences, tastes, sights, and smells.

My mom is one of the best people I know on earth, and without her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. She showed me how to be fierce and independent, something I wonder now if she wishes she’d done a little less of, considering I choose to live alone halfway across the world. She supports me in everything I do, and she loves me unconditionally. It kills me to think about a time without her in my life. Who will I call when I need advice? Or when I’m scared and alone? Or when I just want to celebrate? For now, I’m fortunate I don’t have to think about these things. I’ll just cherish the time we do have. That will have to be enough.

I love you, mom.

 

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A Year in Photos- 2015 #sol16 20 of 31

Last year, I wrote a post sharing my favorite photos from 2014. This was a really great way to reflect on my year, and to relive some of my favorite moments. So here goes 2015’s year in photos (in chronological order). I hope you enjoy! 🙂

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All photos copyright of Jennifer Kesler. Please do not use without permission.

A Year in Photos

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a post from one of my friends, Jee Young, where she reflected on 2014 through photos. It was such a unique way to show the past year, and I just had to give it a try! Now that I’m back in Shanghai with my laptop that has all my pictures, I can. I’ve sifted through the photos I’ve taken over the past year, and have narrowed it down to my favorites. These pictures make me smile, show an interesting perspective, or carry a certain memory. Here’s my year in photos…

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