Knee Replacement Surgery: Letter to a Friend

Dear Natalie,

Missing time on the tennis court is depressing. Playing tennis keeps us healthy, active, social, and happy!

Longevity in the sport is the ultimate goal, right? [Having a Ball: The Joy of Senior Women’s Tennis, USTA, Alex Rappoport] I want that, in the video, to be you and me playing doubles at the age of 86!

How can we get there? Well, first, what are our problems? Knees, back, and weight. Ok, weight might not be for you, but it’s a primary concern for me.

Did you know that I started playing tennis as an adult in October of 2015 after having Gastric Bypass Weight Loss Surgery in July? A major goal Roller Weight Loss encourages is a consistent activity; without activity, the weight won’t come off and it won’t stay off. They taught me that it is about lifestyle changes, not a miracle. So, as a 6-year survivor of obesity, tennis has saved me physically.

As I became more active through tennis, I had to have my knees checked out. I thought dropping the weight would take away all my knee pain. Since I had torn them both up playing basketball in high school and college, gone through 2 ACL repairs, including a staple and a screw, having 3 arthroscopic surgeries, I had no cartilage left at all – I was playing singles tennis, bone-on-bone. I was concerned with my ACLs and injuries, but I was assured that my knees were stable. The pain increased, the acetaminophen increased, and the curve of my right knee increased. Most of my opponents would ask me how I could even walk, much less play tennis. [You’ve heard that before, right?]

Several tennis friends started to mention Knee Replacement Surgery – yikes, surgery! Who wants to do that? They all said they would do it again in a heartbeat, and the only thing they would change would be to do it 10 years earlier! Then there were friends in education who said the same thing. I talked to them all: Who was your doctor? How long were you out for? Did you have both knees replaced? What about insurance? What was therapy like?

Early in the fall of 2019 I called Dr. Hanby at Ozark Orthopaedics. I didn’t get an appointment until November, which depressed me because when I make a decision I want to do it NOW, just like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, after Dr. Hanby checked out the x-rays and had me walk up and down the hallway, he said that if 1,000 Orthopaedic surgeons looked at those x-rays, all 1,000 would say I should have knee replacement surgery on both knees. No doubt. This actually made me feel good – I wasn’t just being a weenie! More importantly for me, there was a solution, a fix.

The educational materials on what to expect told me everything I needed to know: the timeline for surgery and recuperation, physical therapy (1 visit before, 14 after, I think), what I needed to buy, from where, what was optional, etc. The availability of everyone from the people answering the phones to the nurses to the lady in charge of insurance questions, were all wonderful. I’m a self-advocate and you should be as well. It’s your body, your life, your health. Make sure you know what is going on, read all the materials and take notes. Go into the appointment with your questions, even if you think they might be silly. It will allay all your fears!

Natalie, you will feel so good about yourself and your knees if you will just take the plunge! It is so worth it – all the hard work and time spent! My knees are now good for 20 more years! I will follow the doctor’s orders and keep my yearly appointments so he can keep an eye on them and make sure my knees are still healthy.


  1. Washington Regional Medical Center. I trust them completely and they house Dr. Hanby’s Total Joint Center which is a well-oiled machine, but very patient, friendly, personal, knowledgeable, and cool staff! I highly recommend them if you have a choice and I would not go anywhere else, personally. From Joint Camp (in February – for the June surgery we were in COVID and everything was cut back), to billing, to check-in, to iOvera shots, to recovery, to Physical Therapy, day staff, middle-of-the-night staff, to food service. Everything felt like it was all about me because someone was always there to help me or answer questions when I needed them, no matter what.
    1. Note about COVID surgery: Dr. Hanby and his staff were still very helpful with all the educational materials, answering questions, offering the iOvera on surgery day, communication of expectations, etc. It was a very different experience, as you might imagine, but I still felt taken care of!
  2. Pain. Everyone (every single person), who had knee replacement surgery said the same thing about the pain: it was excruciating, but they would still do it again because of how great they feel now. BUT…I was offered an option called the “iOvera shot” which helps with the pain by deadening the nerves all around the knee for 3 months. It was NOT covered by my insurance, but I chose to have it anyhow. It was worth it! Truly. For both knees I did this and had almost no pain!
  3. Drugs. You do have a prescription for some heavy codone stuff. I’ve heard everything from “I never took one,” to “I had to get refills for a year.” I was somewhere in between with one refill needed, but it was mostly to get me through the night without leg twitches and discomfort more than pain. During the day I was fine. Everyone is different, just be careful since it’s an opioid.
  4. Time and Help. For 7-10 days you will need someone with you 24-7, especially if you have stairs in your house. They actually help you practice up and down stairs at the hospital before you’re allowed to leave. I had my right knee done first, so I couldn’t drive for 6 weeks, I think. For my left knee, I could drive as soon as I was not taking the pain meds.
  5. Accoutrements and Space. Walker, toilet chair, comfy chair where you can raise or lower your legs. My daughter and husband set me up with a side table to keep things to entertain me such as books, writing journal, drugs, earbuds, tv controllers, water bottle, etc. Don’t get too comfortable, though! It is extremely important to get up at least every hour or so to take a stroll around with your walker (at first), your cane, or just go to the bathroom. Movement is 100% encouraged from 2 hours after surgery and should be continued. When you fall asleep, someone should wake you up after 2 hours to get up and move a bit. Truly, the old-people toilet seat was a life saver!
  6. Dedication. This surgery is a choice, a choice to move without pain and be more active for the decades to come! It’s up to you to work hard through Physical Therapy, do what they tell you to do, do what Dr. Hanby tells you to do, ask questions when you have them – advocate for yourself, and then keep up the exercise when PT ends. Work has been my biggest challenge, especially this year with COVID teaching – I sit at a computer more than ever which is good for no human being on the planet. The challenges are greater than they were after the Gastric Bypass Surgery because of that – but aren’t we all in that same boat? Yes, at least for the time being, so we have to dedicate ourselves even more and garner the support of our friends and family!

For me, I need to walk daily as a low-impact way of keeping active. Random tennis matches, if I don’t stay fit in between, will be painful and I will run the risk of injury. I also need to keep up with some strengthening exercises like arm-raises with mini-weights, girly push-ups (sorry, that’s all I’ve been able to manage since college), step-ups, “Duck Walk” and “Bird Dog” exercises for my lower back (thank you, Dr. Eric Walker), and leg pulls with the stretchy band thing. My sister is sending me swim suits so I can start swimming laps – which will help with core strength – but will not be a tenth the fun of playing tennis with friends!

So, 6 years after Gastric Bypass and 1 year after Total Knee Replacement surgery (7 months after the left one), what do I need to do? I need to remember that staying healthy is a lifelong journey that should be fun, challenging, and always include tennis!

NOTE: I originally wrote this in the fall of 2020, but a lot of sitting still occurs and keeping up my active lifestyle really took a hit! I’m working harder than ever to get into an exercise routine. An update on my weight is that I’ve gained quite a bit since January of 2020 – COVID negatively impacted my work routine + knee surgeries and I’ve changed my eating routines and dedication quite a bit. I’m working on a reset! I’m really tired of everyone, myself included, blaming everything on COVID – we’re stronger than this! ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, I can! Yes, we can! Yes, Natalie, you can! I will help you! To end on a positive note, I have not been back to see Dr. Walker at Millennium Chiropractic since a few months after the second knee replacement – August of 2020! Now that my knees are straight, I no longer have back issues! I also got new orthotics with Dr. Bright and my bunions and heels are better!

I’m the 2nd from the left with leggings; look at that right knee curve! This was September 2019, 5 months before total knee replacement surgery.

My Tennis Journey

After a recent visit to my parents in my hometown of Mountain Home, Arkansas, I was reminded of my beginnings in tennis.

My mother organized and ran a variety of programs through the Parks & Recreation Department in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s from synchronized swimming, to building a swim team, to tennis lessons. My older sister, younger brother, and I did it all: Red Cross swim lessons, swim team, softball, tennis lessons, and free swim days. #mountainhomearkansas

I recall tennis lessons at the public park courts with my mom at about age 10, a kids’ day camp type situation at the Racquet Club, and vague recollections of either taking lessons or just playing at an indoor facility in Midway.

As I got older other sports like swimming and basketball gained interest and I didn’t play tennis in high school. Throughout high school and college, I would occasionally grab my cheap Walmart racquet, a can of balls, and play somewhere with a friend or two or three.

One semester in college I took a 1-hour tennis elective just to have enough hours to qualify for a loan. It was in this class where I learned how to manage a “big kids” serve rather than dinking it in like that proficient 10-year-old beginner.

My tennis obsession began in 2015 after having gastric bypass surgery for weight loss (Thanks, Dr. Josh Roller!). Obvious to some is the physical activity aspect of life-long success with weight loss, but it was so strongly encouraged by Roller Weight Loss that I knew I had to find a consistent activity. Walking, jogging, and playing basketball were all out – BORING and horrible on your knees.

Enter Kim Wood: my sister is the true athlete in the family and was one of the top 2 players in the state back in high school. As a mother of a serious, traveling, nationally-ranked son, she picked tennis back up in San Antonio and was an amazing 4.5 player. She checked out tennis in my state and area and told me where to join, how to register with USTA, bought me a cool, REAL racquet and my nephew picked out my fancy Wilson tennis bag! I had the equipment and a location.

I started by joining Cardio Tennis sessions almost every night and on Saturday mornings. No one was rude or judgmental at Cardio: everyone was just there for the exercise and fun! This is where I heard people talking about leagues and teams. It was already October and no singles league teams had room and I had no idea what to do. A Pro at FAC (Fayetteville Athletic Club), gathered up enough new-to-the-area and new-to-tennis ladies for a 3.5 team. I was a 48-year-old, self-rated 3.0 who probably should have begun at 2.5, but knew I could be competitive as I lost weight and got in shape. Also, I was technically a college athlete, having swum without a scholarship for a semester at Hendrix College.

I lost my first match 0-0, the double bagel! My first lesson was learned here – tennis is fun and you meet so many people from diverse backgrounds! Jennifer Rogers was my first opponent and was so patient and pleasant that we are still friends on and off the court! Who would be EXCITED after a double bagel? Me! I called my sister immediately to tell her my results, but the fact that I was becoming active again and could even step on the court was a true achievement.

When I won my first game (not set, not match), I called again. When I won more than one game in a set I called her. My sister was always supportive of my gleeful journey and always encouraged me to just keep playing. It’s for the exercise, the fun, and meeting cool people.

When I started playing on a Spring League team (which the area League Coordinator helped me find), I finally broke down and bought a package of 4 lessons with a Pro at FAC, Dillon Yeilding. I spread them out so I could just focus on one thing as I played matches and attended a weekly drill at Memorial Park. It took me a year to use up those 4 lessons, but as I got better, I had a specific problem, deficit, or frustration each time to have Dillon help me with. It was perfect for me. (Matt Hogan, Melissa King, Wakako Yamaguchi, Robin Wise = #saturdaymorningdrill)

When I won my first singles match I was high as a kite! When I was slaughtered in my subsequent match my sister taught me my second major lesson: tennis is a humbling sport! Regardless of abilities, some days it’s just not your day AND you have to remember that the other person across the net is also trying very hard to win.

I now have a core group of cool tennis friends, play in most leagues as each season rolls around, have had two knee replacement surgeries (right then left, both in 2020, Thanks, Dr. Hanby!), and won a state championship with my team who also went to sectionals in Mobile, Alabama and made a respectable showing.

Tennis is fun, great exercise, and social. There is a place for everyone: all ages, abilities, backgrounds, races, sex, and even financial status. There are always independent teams who do not play out of a club, so players do not have to be a member of an expensive club. There are lots of parks with courts that anyone can play on, and yes, you can still buy a racquet and can of balls at Walmart!

I was under the impression that people would be very judgmental when I was unsure of a rule or etiquette, but with very few exceptions, that is not true! Everyone was super kind and helpful when I told them I just started playing and encouraged me to keep playing!

Tennis is a sport you can begin at any age and play through any age! I hope to play until I am 90+!

#tennis #getoutandplay #tennischampion #FACtennis #rollerweightloss #ozarkorthopaedics #arktennis #USTAArkansas USTA Arkansas United States Tennis Association – USTA (Official) USTA League (Official) Fayetteville Athletic Club Kristin Webb Libby Smith Kim Wood Matt Hogan

Family Vacation: 1979 Edition

We traveled a lot when I was growing up, but not the fancy trips on airplanes, hotels, or even overseas. We drove places, admired the beautiful scenery, read Archie comic books and library books, and stayed with family or friends of my parents.

For a full year leading up to the summer of 1979, we planned a 5-week family vacation.

Perspective Reminder: there was no such thing as a cell phone, internet, home computer, or even push-button telephones (we had rotary phones and only needed to dial the last 4 numbers if it was in town). 

Process: My mother either called or wrote letters to the Chamber of Commerce of numerous cities and small towns throughout the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest of the United States. Then we waited a week for the mail to come in: pamphlets, letters describing local interests and accommodations, brochures, etc.

Mom would lay out piles of these treasures on their king-sized bed for my brother, sister, and me to pore over and talk about what we thought sounded interesting or fun.

From all this information, plus taking into consideration where friends and family lived (Oregon and Montana for example), mom set the route. *Map to be included in the next post.

Also during this time, we either bought a Coleman pop-up camper or maybe just spruced it up. We were already serious camping people, often combined with lake or canoe trips, so the prospect of camping out for 5 weeks was not anything new in itself.

Dad also ordered a custom-made new Dodge Maxi-Van remarkably similar to the picture below I found online! That had to be a serious splurge they had saved up for! It was maroon and silver, and the custom part was how the two bench seats in the back could be configured: facing forward like normal, facing each other with a table in the middle, flat like a bed, or, our favorite for times when we drove for most of the day, a “lounge” with the back seat set regular, but the front seat flattened out. Cool!

NOTE: no one wore seat belts in 1979, so all of these configurations worked with no safety restrictions to ruin our fun. We could play cards at the table, read in our lounge, or sit on the seats facing forwards.

Kim always had dibs on the front and center bench, staring intently at the highway or road between mom and dad’s captain’s seats in the front because she would get car sick otherwise. Bob could read, sleep, sing, talk, or do whatever in a car. I was somewhere in between; as long as the road wasn’t too curvy, I was fine reading in the back or gazing out the side windows.

One other thing my dad created before our trip was what he called a “Grub Box.” If we were going to be camping out and cooking outdoors for 5 weeks, there were some things we needed to have readily available all the time. It was a wooden box approximately 3 feet square with a front that dropped down with chains on hinges to be a sort of table opening up to a mini-pantry with cubby holes. Salt, pepper, sugar, flour, some canned goods, and other non-refrigerated goods could all be stored neatly in the Grub Box. What a genius my dad was!

**This one is going for $335 on Etsy and is similar, but my dad came up with his own idea and made an even better one himself back then, before the Internet, Amazon, and Ikea.

We also had a large cooler we iced up and drained at every possible stop to keep things like milk, cheese, mayonnaise, hot dogs and the like.

Man, were my parents amazing planners! They really thought of everything!

International affairs nearly spoiled the whole thing and we almost did not get to take this incredible journey. If you are old enough to remember, there was an oil crisis to do mostly with events in Iran. With the serious spike in gas prices, doubling the cost per gallon, my parents were uncertain we could still afford to take such a long trip in a big van pulling a camper.

But we did …

**Trip stories in subsequent posts this month**

Teacher Shortage

That is my prediction for the upcoming school year. I’ve already seen 5 posts for teacher positions, just in my area of World Languages. Many who are near retirement, who I thought would have taught forever, are leaving .. happily. Many who are young in the profession, less than 5 years, are moving on to do something else.

I’m personally leaning towards that first category as I near the close of my 28th year as a teacher. Or, at least in December I was 95% I would retire and do something else, almost anything else! The first semester of this year was horrendous in so many ways. I know, poor students, poor parents, poor administrators – sure, but I don’t have that perspective, so I won’t speak for anyone else.

What I do know is that this semester, with a strong feeling that deadlines and clear expectations that we stick to are healthy for students and teachers alike, I have felt at least close to being a teacher rather than a creator of content on Google Slides and Screencastify videos that no one but myself looked at or watched. When I say, “This assignment is due by X date and I expect X quality,” my students have risen to the occasion and manage – they know what to expect and do quality work. I have stuck to my word on deadlines and students have done assignments by those deadlines – they can and they will if you clearly communicate that expectation – and back it up. We have an “Amnesty Day” box where they can turn in 2 late assignments for 50% credit, like in many years past, and they understand that. Sometimes we don’t get everything done, but we have a little bit of relief.

What is unhealthy is, “You didn’t manage to get anything done for my class for a whole week, missed class on 1 of the 3 whole days you promised to attend, and didn’t communicate with me at all during that whole time? No problem, I’ll sit down with you, ignore the students who came to school 5 days and did all their work, and I’ll hold your hand for 3 more weeks while you get this one, simple assignment done while I think for you.”

Better yet, “You chose to self-quarantine for 2 weeks for no justifiable reason (no state competition, no family member at health risk, etc), complete zero assignments during this time, do not review the slides I’ve been required to prepare for students who choose not to come to school, do not communicate with me that entire time, and today, when you return, would like to know what you can do for my class.”

Thinking: What you can do for my class is either learn Spanish or drop, child! Thankfully, one mother had the brilliance to be angry with all her child’s teachers for NOT holding him accountable – she doesn’t have a leg to stand on to discipline him if he is now allowed to do EVERYTHING he did not do during his self-imposed 2-week vacation.

That was an eye-opener because I know that we teachers felt like we HAD to give these poor traumatized children a billion opportunities to wake up, get up, get dressed, and do almost nothing. How is that healthy for anyone? I felt so supported and … normal by that parent’s perspective!

We talk about post-pandemic strategies and all. Well, normalcy is a GREAT relief, right? No masks, hanging out with friends, expectations, … homework for hours, being overwhelmed with college applications, mock exams all weekend, juggling work and school, juggling work, athletics, family, and school, juggling…well, juggling is normal, right? Welcome back to real life.

Another thing I’ll be glad to say goodbye to is allowing students to NOT come to school so that they can take on the role of their parents: babysitting siblings, cousins, neighbors, or being a major wage-earner for the household. I don’t argue that many families need some extra income to make ends meet. My 16-year-old student, however, should NOT have to choose between coming to school and going to work – their education is precisely what will keep them out of that SAME cycle of poverty they are in right now with their family. They have opportunities and a positive future and need to be supported and pushed to pursue their own dreams and possibilities! I’m not certain many businesses in my community have been supportive of education during this time. Hello, Northwest Arkansas: Your employees who are 18 and younger and in school should be expected to participate in all academic, athletic, and social activities and CERTAINLY not have to choose work over education on a weekday! School first – not work.

The news that my district will NOT offer the Blended option for next year was the best news I’ve had professionally since over a year ago! I’m now about 40/60 on returning to school next year! I assure you, that is not wishy-washy, that is a 55% swing in emotions, feeling, passion. Coming back to school after Spring Break, I feel so much freer and have felt so much joy interacting with my students and feeling like a TEACHER again! Personal, human interaction is so life-affirming! I love my students and they learn so well with expectations and deadlines.

I hope administrators and especially, ESPECIALLY legislators, [who traditionally know NOTHING about education as an institution, other than the fact that they possibly attended some schools along the way to their position to show up with the craziest ideas for bills ever – ok, maybe that’s just Arkansas? … ok, not you, Megan Godfrey], will truly consider the situation as we end this year.

What are districts, states, and the national government doing to support educators at every level? To make things easier while maintaining reasonable accountability?

How are you feeling about the 2021-2022 school year? Will we have a teacher shortage or will we all return to school?

“The idea of being forgotten is terrifying…”

My mom is a voracious reader and instilled in my siblings and me a love of reading and books – real, physical, books.

A while back she was reading The Library Book, by Susan Orleans, and took some notes on Chapter 8 about our memories, our mothers, and books; these resonated with me.

The author says that she felt that if she wrote down her memories they would be saved, somehow. “The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten, but that we are all doomed to be forgotten…” This is definitely an older, or at least more mature, experienced person’s perspective. I am certain I would not have connected with this idea and probably would have thought it morbid, when I was 22 or even 35.

As the mother of 4 grown children and 2 step-children, as well as the proud grandmother of the most impressive, beautiful, funny granddaughter (that’s definitely a new perspective on life), that fear that Susan Orleans mentions is very real, almost tangible.

It starts with this fear of not being recognized – by my nieces and nephews that I don’t see very often, or my sweet, precious granddaughter. I feel very urgent about weird things: “What if she never reads this specific Mother Goose Rhyme?” or “I must sing ___ song to her on my next visit.” Her parents read with her and sing to her – does it really matter what those books or songs are? Well … yes, because they are connected to me, to my mother, to my upbringing, my brother and sister, to my parenthood memories of raising my children.

So I have started feeling the urge to write over the past 5-6 years. The living room, my bedroom, my office room (not-so-endearingly called the junk room), my school bags are all littered with multiple journals filled with random thoughts, ideas for fiction and non-fiction, teaching plans and ideas for writing (there is another area of fear as I reach retirement age – “everyone should know ___ or how will they survive without me?”), and the typical Dear Diary entries about my feelings, my joys and frustrations, my surgeries, my journeys. .

If someone could make heads or tails (tales?) of anything I have in there, it could turn into a mini-library of its own! Therefore, I have these dreams to do that myself – write! Be a writer! It sounds so romantic to take each of those ideas, one day at a time, and develop it into a lovely story, book of vignettes, blog post, children’s book or series, or best-selling novel.

Ms. Orleans says, “Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.” Maybe that’s what Salvador Dalí was telling us in his painting, “The Persistence of Memory,” with the melting clocks? I need to defy time, be more defiant, and write more intentionally.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his/her library has burned … But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it – with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited, it takes on a life of its own.”

Wow. I can’t stop thinking about that saying.

My sister Kim put it like this: “I think it means that what is important to us, our experiences and times, and all we know, dies with us. And even though we get interested in personal history(ies), when we get older it is because we don’t want people still here to forget our library. … What we won’t forget, and grieve the loss of, is our time and those deeply important experiences with our closest family. Like the snow stories. [family sledding stories] Those hit a nerve with me … they just brought to the surface life as it should be, almost like the Wimpy Kid stories.”

“Our trip in ‘79,” is a phrase that has begun many a tale told to my children – so often it inspires an eye roll followed by, “Yes, we know, mom. You’ve told us that before.” Kim, Bobby (brother), and I merely have to say, “Look at those sheer crags!” and a knowing, loving smile will appear on our faces, and if we’re in the same room, peels of laughter will break out and all three of us know that all’s right with the world again.

I’ve become my mother, for better or worse, and the similarity comes with that instinctive urge to share everything I know, my memories, with those I love because the fear is real.

“The idea of being forgotten is terrifying.”

**All quotes, other than the one at the end by my sister, are from my mother’s notes on the book, The Library Book, by Susan Orleans.

Letter of Thanks to Dr Margaret Clark

I met you in 1990 sometime towards the end of the semester. I had graduated with a degree in Spanish, began grad school, and quickly learned that the study of literature was not for me. I also got married in October of that same semester and was pregnant with our first child. What on earth was I going to do?

As far as I can remember, my husband’s best friend, Greg McCone, sent me your way; he was a PE/Coaching major in the College of Education and was almost done with his studies. I remember meeting with you and having no doubts that I would begin my education classes in January, although I couldn’t even imagine what being a teacher would actually look like. Your classes helped me begin to formulate a vision.

You purposefully placed me with one of the best ever, Michelle Gayon at Ramay Junior High, for my Student Teaching and she remained my mentor through retirement. That experience set me up for success the rest of my career. The two of you helped me with more than teaching. You were, and continue to be, strong-willed, intelligent women who seem to understand the whole world as well as every individual you meet. High expectations, yes, but also the guidance to get there and the freedom to try something and fail on my own. What an ideal learning experience!

When the UofA began the MAT Program, they started out working with only one district to keep things less hectic – I happened to be teaching at Walton Junior High in Bentonville and was blessed to get to work with you again, mentoring Miranda Risinger as the first Spanish MAT Candidate! Because I was able to meet with you and talk about the program, as well as catch up on life, just listening to your advice at a different point in my career and personal life was a blessing. I always felt the urge not to let you down, which is a good thing because it made me strive to do my best, even when you were not present.

Through the years when people would ask me why I started teaching, I would say that I never planned to, even headed in several different directions first, but that God knew what he was doing and pushed me in that direction. God sent me to you, Dr. Clark, because He knew I would listen to your strength and wisdom.

Why Should I Write Every Day?

Dreaming about being a writer is so pleasurable. I’m an outstanding dreamer! But maybe I mean … being an author? Like, “I wish I could play the piano,” by just waking up one day without effort or the frustration of practice and can play.

I seem to be more of an idea factory with writing, than a producer of content. Much like my students, I imagine I can just sit down and out it will pour, fully formed and lovely. I know this to be wrong because I tell them so, have witnessed it, and … I’m always right … right? I’m the authority figure.

Beginning in February I have been taking an online copy writing class through AWAI which satisfies the practical side of me: assignments, feedback, lessons, and reading assignments. I have learned a great deal. For example, this is a sales marketing field which in general I do not enjoy, but there are numerous stages, styles, and mediums across the spectrum and some actually do interest me or appear more attractive than others.

The best leaders of this webinar series (Pam Foster is probably my favorite so far), also remind us that we should work for clients we agree with, or have common beliefs, or at least believe in the product or service we/they are promoting. For a few weeks this seemed hollow advice to me because most of our assignments and lesson examples were for financial markets, random health pills, or other “gimmicks,” in my opinion, and I couldn’t see past that. Not interested.

However, we started our “5-Part Campaign” project and one product option was basketball-related. I really got into the idea of trying to convince my husband to buy this fictional product through my copy! We’re supposed to write with ONE person or prospect in mind and he was perfect. Interesting, challenging, and not fake desire on my part. I feel like I know enough about basketball to come up with an angle, multiple ideas, stories, and headlines – a strategy! I get it.

Then, last Friday during the AWAI “2021 State of the Industry Virtual Summit,” a surprise guest got through to me personally. Seth Godin said, “Everyone should write a blog daily.” It doesn’t have to be perfect; it doesn’t even have to be good.

What? How can I share my imperfect creations?

Because, again, I tell my students to do the very same thing! The same advice has been popping up from various sources over the past decade: write every day. Even Whoopi Goldberg’s character in “Sister Act 2” says to Lauren Hill’s character, “If you wake up in the morning and you can’t think of anything but singing first, then you’re supposed to be a singer girl.”

Writing on a blog, knowing someone will possibly read what I write will make me take better care, be more empathetic, and get accustomed to writing more clearly. I act like I’m not afraid of anything and I normally believe myself, but writing where people can see … yikes! If I write every single day for a year, I will have some good, some bad, and I will find my niche for writing.

So, “Here I go again on my own…” I’m putting it out there hoping it is true: I will write and post something every day. It may be long. It may be short. It may not be quality (gasp!) or interesting. But I will do it and I will get better at writing … because my teacher said so.

“Progress is the ultimate motivator.” ~ [thanks, Kim!]

Southern Sledding Stories

Arkansas is the Winter Wonderland of the Sledding South. Didn’t you know that? I grew up in Mountain Home in north, central Arkansas, close to the Missouri border. As its name suggests, Mtn. Home is nestled in the Ozark foothills and, as a summer bonus, between two pristine Corps of Engineers man-made lakes. In the 1960s it was a cute, small village where everybody knew everyone else.

In 1968 my parents finished building our home next door to dad’s parents. The houses sat on two sides of the best sledding hill around! Our grandparent’s side was steeper and led past Cardinal Drive, after a zag left to avoid the telephone pole, down Buzzard Roost Road towards Indian Creek where the “new” Cooper Park is located. Our side of the hill was a little less steep, but had an outstanding zig-zag in the road at the bottom adding to the challenge, and continued to the Ostrowski’s house by a little creek there as well that ended any progress you had made. Truthfully, it was the rare run that continued that far and was worthy of bragging rights for the rest of the winter and into the next!

I’m fifty four and just this week my mother shared a story with my siblings and me that astounded us.

Something you may not know about sledding history in our family. Spring Street was a great place to ride a sled to the west. If you got a good start you could veer to the left and then to the right and make it all the way to the Ostrowskis. The best time to do this was at night when everything was frozen solid and no cars were out and about. We had little children in bed so we didn’t go out together. We took turns. Rock would stay in the doorway to watch me while listening for the little ones. I would have a great ride and bring the sled back. Rock would then make a run while I watched and listened. It was a great spirit-freeing experience. We usually each took 2-3 turns.

Hilarious! What cool parents! The “west” side had to be used for these evening adventures because the spouse who was sledding could be seen from our doorway almost as far as they could go.

One year when we were old enough to bundle up and go out to play in the snow to make snowballs and sled a little, mom took forever bundling me up – like the kid in “A Christmas Story” that could barely move. I finally got out the front door and my own father threw a snowball at me, hit me square in the face, and had me crying and returning to undo all mom’s hard work. I was done!

Any kid worth their salt harbors a deep seething anger towards snow plows and gravel trucks. I recall being quite flabbergasted by the gravel truck’s purpose in life. Who on earth would do such a thing and why? Surely nothing positive could come from gravel on the best sledding hill around? And, who sent it here? If my grandparents, parents, and our neighbors were ok with an amazing Winter Wonderland of a street, why should anyone else butt in?

From Bob Engeler: The Last Great Snow at 915 Spring. Like the Piss Up a Rope story*, it starts with, “Bobby, go away!” It was a good deep snow, and word around the neighborhood was that the snow plow was already clearing the streets. We were appalled and all agreed that we would throw snowballs at it when it came to our street. So like the righteous warrior, I didn’t play in the snow but waited more than an hour for the plow’s approach, street by street. Finally it came up Mimi’s side of the hill (our grandparents’ side) and I ran to that side of the street’s stash of snowballs. I timed my throw perfectly right at the drivers side window…..

Suspense. Which was wide open. And I nailed him right in the neck.

Standard procedure for this kind of situation is to–as soon as you see brake lights–Run Away. I don’t know if I was just too impressed with my incredible accuracy, confused that he actually had his window down, or petrified I was going to be “In Trouble,” but I just stood there with my mouth open as he stopped and slowly, slowly backed back up the hill. I stood there agog as he laid out the standard “you coulda put an eye out, kid” mixed with a pinch of “you kids these days.” And then he drove on. And stood there guilty and victorious. And looking at the slickest, most tightly packed, fastest sledding hill I had ever experienced…and it lasted for 3 days.

Our oldest, and coolest, cousin Margee – whom we all obey no matter what – had a story to tell as well. Most likely when we were too little to participate, she and two friends, Renee Crawford and Margie Collie, were sledding on the steep side of our awesome hill. At the time, Margee lived with her parents, my Aunt Buff and Uncle John, a ways down Buzzard Roost Road on 4th Street, so it was within walking distance – well, in those days we would walk anywhere!

I hit the snowbank at the bottom of Spring Street! We couldn’t negotiate the turn! Renee fell off halfway down the hill. After I hit the snowbank, both ankles rolled under the sled. Margie pulled the sled off and then pulled off my right boot. My ankle was already swelling! Uncle Rock was already on his way down the hill. He pulled me back up the hill on the sled and then carried me inside of Mimi”s house. My hero! [Mimi is our grandmother, Rock is my dad].

Growing up in Mountain Home, Arkansas was truly idyllic! We had friends, family, sledding, summer lake skiing, swim team, neighborhood biking without parents, and all the youthful fun you can imagine!

Mary Evelyn, Part 2 ~ Life in Stone & Izard County

When Mary Evelyn tells a story about herself and her family she tells it as an unvarnished truth. “Truth” to each of us is the recollections we have of events, relationships, interactions and communications. So this is how she remembers …. Life.

Now, dear reader, you must understand that there is always a change in a story as it goes from one set of ears to the other in the telling of a story – sort of like the game of “Gossip.” This story is told from the standpoint of a cousin who believes deeply that there is not a shiny surface overlying the story. Unvarnished, it is as close to the bare wood as it is in my power to relate what has been told to me.

Mary Evelyn Jones was born to Herbert and Nellie Victoria (Wallace) Jones on August 22, 1940. Her story began a long time before that August day. There were world events, family relationships, community and cultural practices, economic and environmental conditions that swirled around her parents as they prepared for a family, a home, a life.

The hills, creeks and valleys in their part of the Ozark uplift was an isolated place when compared to the rest of the country, even the rest of Arkansas. There were no paved roads, often no roads at all in a terrain that is difficult. At gatherings of people, there was a sort of ranking system. Anyone who could play a fiddle was ranked in high esteem. A second to the fiddler, the guitar player, was highly regarded as well. A bonus was to have more than one of the fiddle and guitar, plus a banjo, a mandolin or a bass fiddle. Herbert Jones was one of those valued musicians. Nellie and Herbert met at one of those dances. It is very likely that Nellie was another person with some star power: she could dance and sing. It was well-known among folks in the community that in her early school days, six-year-old Nellie Victoria won the award at the Singing School for memorizing and singing all her notes correctly. She received a pencil as an award. She broke the pencil in half and gave the half without the eraser to her twin brother, Olen.

Herbert came from a family descended from pioneers around Calico Rock in Izard County. Nellie was born into a family with roots in Stone and Izard Counties. Both of them had ancestry dating back to the year of the New Madrid earthquakes (1811 & 1812). The United States began plotting boundary lines separating Missouri and Arkansas in 1819. Louisiana was on the southern border. No explanation is needed about toughness. Families who descended from early pioneers worked hard and survived as the fittest. They had great skill and practice in subsistence farming. They were good at it.

Nellie and Herbert fell in love in the setting of the Ozark culture of the 1930s – they met at a dance. Music was the thread that bound people together. When they learned to read shape notes at the Singing Schools the songs were taken from church hymn books. There were no churches in the Livingston Creek area of Stone County. Across the White River, in Izard County, there were a number of churches. All of the folks who had any relationship to the Jeffery family considered themselves connected to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The Church at Mt Olive was established by the Jefferys in the early 1820s. The first building was erected on the site that is still occupied by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Mt Olive. There are cemeteries around there with headstones of early pioneers along the White River.

One hundred years after the Cumberland Presbyterians brought their religious practices into the region, there were numerous other religious and church persuasions dotting the hills and valleys: Methodists, a variety of Baptists, split-off groups of the Methodists (Nazarenes), Christian or Disciples of Christ (Church of Christ), and some Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons. Anyone who could stand in front of a tent and shout his or her beliefs would draw a crowd.

It was often religion that was at the root of increased educational opportunity. Schools were sites of both church and community gatherings. School terms were based on crop planting and harvesting. Contrary to ideas abounding in other parts of the United States, inhabitants of the Ozark hills valued education. At times they went to great lengths to find their way to an educational institution. Women were not encouraged to do so. This resulted in many women getting stronger, not weaker. There began to be generational encouragement for daughters and nieces and granddaughters to buck the attitude or repression. In their way they became feminists.

It was in this milieu of musical culture, religion, education and family farming that Mary Evelyn was born in Mountain View, Arkansas, August 22, 1940. Her maternal grandparents were Mary Emily Sullivan and Arthur Warren Wallace. Paternal grandparents were Ellen Langston and Henry Jones. Besides parents and grandparents, there were numerous extended family members never far away, though her uncle, Nellie’s twin Olen Jeffery, had gone far away. A World War was about to include the United States of America. Olen had been the right age to participate in the recovery efforts of the New Deal which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated to lift the country out of financial ruin and dust bowl devastation. He joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) along with thousands of other Arkansas boys. They planted trees in the forests. They constructed rock buildings and bridges which are still seen in all parts of the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas.

Kinfolks were the most important people in one’s life, according to Ozark culture. Mary Evelyn Jones began to develop her self-image as an important part of the community she knew. She had two cousins who were born that same summer of 1940, Jesse Loren Wallace and Arthur Ernest McGowan. There were many older cousins, born as early as 1924, and younger cousins by the end of the 1940s. So by the end of the 1940s she hadn’t much use for solitude. She longed for relationships, companionship, playmates. She wanted, yes needed, people, preferably her own age. By the time she was almost 4 years old she got some company.

On June 1, 1944, Eva Jean Jones was born. Mary Evelyn saw the doctor come in with his black bag. Of course, she thought that must be how the baby arrived. She thought the doctor brought the baby in his black bag. Herbert Jones actually assisted in the delivery of the baby. Mary Evelyn loved that little sister. She loved her parents, too. But Herbert Jones was sick. He had tuberculosis, the most common disease in the late 19th and 20th century United States. Everyone knew the famous singer and song-writer, Jimmie Rodgers, died with tuberculosis at the age of 31. Millions suffered and died because of it. In May, 1945, Herbert Jones had spent some time at the Arkansas facility to treat tuberculosis in Booneville. He was not cured and came home to die. Mary Evelyn would be five years old in August. It is hard for anyone to lose a parent and a preschool age child does not understand death. The person who loved her was gone. Was it her fault? Young children often think they cause events. She doesn’t remember. Her mother and grandmother wondered why she didn’t cry. Some things we just don’t know.

In 1945, Mary Evelyn, her mother and her sister were living in Calico Rock. She attended a Sunday School at a church there, pleased with picture cards she was given. She was fortunate enough to see her Grandma Ellen often enough to develop a relationship with her. She was Ellen’s favorite granddaughter. In August, 1946, she was old enough to begin school in Calico Rock. She sat near a well-known person in Calico Rock, Bonnie Copp, a doctor’s daughter.

She had only been in school a couple of weeks when her mother took the two girls to Grandma Wallace’s home on Livingston Creek to help with canning for a few days. They had a hot fire going. The flu caught fire and everyone fled with no time to retrieve anything. The house burned to the ground. That night they slept on the creek bank. Arthur and Mary Wallace had some decisions to make. Arthur took his hogs out on the mountain past the Green Tower to stay with the McGowans. Iva McGowan was Mary’s aunt, Nellie’s sister who married Arville McGowan in 1939.

Grandma Wallace (Mary), Nellie and the girls went to Fifty Six where Aunt Jane Lancaster, Grandma Wallace’s sister lived. She took them in for a month. For the second time in a month Mary Evelyn Jones was enrolled in first grade, but in a school where she knew no one. Later that fall they moved to a little shack at Blanchard Springs and stayed there for several months. Once, when there was snow on the ground, Nellie’s brother Jesse, and his son Loren, paid them a visit. First grade was not easy – just getting there involved a long walk. By sometime in the spring of 1947 all of them moved into a sharecropper cabin on Hale Hayden’s land near the Harris Bottom – and she enrolled in her third school for first grade, Mountain View. Grandpa, Grandma, Nellie, Mary Evelyn and Jean lived there when Uncle Jesse, Aunt Euna, Nellie Faye, Loren. and Nancy visited in the summer of 1947. Having cousins visit is fun for most children. For Mary Evelyn it was pure excitement and joy. She liked nothing better than to be with other children and these were her cousins. Those cousins loved being with her too. They were all very active children. Grandpa Wallace was rebuilding a house on the creek. One day he and Jesse allowed the children to accompany them on a hike up the valley to the site of the old school house above Livingston Creek. Boards from the school house were stacked and used later for building.

Another thing that happened while the cousins were there was a visit from an officer of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Grandma made us all stay out of the house while he visited with Nellie. Melton Allen and Nellie Victoria Wallace Jones were married in 1948 and they moved to Batesville. Mary Evelyn attended fourth grade at Southside Elementary School. In 1950, Grandma and Grandpa Wallace were moved to a 4 room house on Highway 9 on the stretch known as Levisy Flat. The location was directly across the road from Nellie, Melton, their baby boy William Ivan, and the girls. From that time until she graduated from high school in 1958 Mary Evelyn had many chores and many adventures.

Once they were settled into the house on Levisy Flat everyday chores involved stacking and carrying wood for the stove and the wash pot, hoeing and pulling weeds in the garden, drawing water from the well and sweeping or mopping. Washing dishes was done by filling a large pan with water on the stove and pouring some of the hot water in another pan for rinsing. Grandma used a lot of handmade soap for this job. These were chores that had to be done on both sides of the road. Grandma and Grandpa needed to have some help though they still did many of their own chores such as feeding the chickens and hogs, caring for the yard, cooking, sweeping and mopping. Behind each house there was an outdoor toilet.

One of the best things about living on Levisy Flat was the neighbors. Mary Evelyn became friends with Mary Ann Henderson and remained close friends all their lives. The blessing of a good friend is treasured and distance of time and place never lessened their love and respect for one another.

Mary Evelyn Jones was afflicted with the same disease that claimed her father. A year after high school she tested positive for tuberculosis and was committed to the facility at Booneville, Arkansas for treatment. She claims that was the worst time of her life because of the harsh treatment of patients. To her it was extremely harsh due to the requirement of isolation to prevent the spread of the disease. To be isolated from others was an awful kind of loneliness for her. She did make friends there, however. A young man arrived at the institution to visit his father. He was able to get a job cooking and helping with meals. He had left a car in California with his aunt and he was resourceful in finding solutions to problems. John Ridgley was more than a cook and a problem solver. He was handsome and someone to love. In August, 1959, Mary Evelyn Jones received a pass to leave the facility for a home visit. She and John went to Mountain View, got help from her mother and got married. What a birthday! There began the journey of unimaginable possibilities.

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