Monday, December 7, 2015

Travel Brochure by Tiny Pants



Image: masoncounty.lib.wv.us



Tiny Pants had to make a travel brochure for school this weekend. It was supposed to be about his home town, but it did allow for “any other place” or something. Tiny chose West Virginia. 

I felt this was a bit of an odd choice, since we live in Ohio, and he travels frequently to both Florida and Illinois.  Yes, I go to school in West Virginia, but Tiny has only been there once. 

Mama:  Why West Virginia? 
Tiny Pants:  It’s the only state I can draw.

Well, that clears up one mystery. 

His brochure proclaims: Wet, Wet, Wet, West Virginia. 

Mama: West Virginia is wet?
Tiny Pants: Yes.
Mama:  Are you sure?
Tiny Pants: Yes. 
Mama: You aren’t thinking, Wild, Wonderful West Virginia?
Tiny Pants: It’s wet, Mama.  Wet like a hurricane.
Mama:  Hurricane?
Tiny Pants: Yes. 
Mama:  Are you sure?
Tiny Pants: Yes. 


I kind of think this homework was for Social Studies, not Art and Imagination. But, you know, maybe he knows something I don’t. I’m not in the mood to argue. For all my friends in WV, to be on the safe side, I recommend you buy an umbrella. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Oh, Santa, I'm Sorry.



I took Big Pants and Tiny Pants downtown to see Santa, as I do every year. We take the train (which is quite possibly slower than driving, but more fun) but I messed with tradition just a little to take use a different station. The new one was closer, however it did smell like pee on the first floor and patchouli on the second floor. Big Pants voiced that in the decision of weird odor versus shorter drive I chose poorly, and I believe he made a valid point. 

I watched the children closely, because I have a feeling that this is the last year my kids will both still "believe." Tiny Pants wanted to know if the Santa we saw was an elf from the North Pole (my excuse for how Santa is in every mall across the country on the same day) or just a grown up in a costume. I asked him what he thought because I am the queen of avoiding difficult questions.  Big Pants, was quick to interject a theory about oversized elves that seemed well thought out and plausible. Big Pants, who is old enough to hate being called Big Pants, still finds Santa completely rational. As I type this, he is working on a science fair project involving the laminar flow of air and other principles of physics I really only halfway follow, yet he blindly accepts Santa. 

I’m starting to worry just a little that I’ve let it go on too long. At what point do I say something? Or, is it possible that he knows full well about Santa and is just trying not to disappoint me? 

Nope. Big Pants was a little awed by Santa. He was a bit intimidated to say what he really wanted for Christmas, but I gave him a nudge and he told Santa that he really wanted for Christmas - a DNA test. 

I’m not sure Santa understood that Big Pants wanted to learn whether his relatives really came from Germany as they claim, or if they are, as he suspects, Secret Lithuanians. Santa looked at me like perhaps I wasn’t a very choosy mom. 


Luckily, when Tiny Pants was reading his list to Santa, he substituted “real-looking rabbit stuffed animal” for “taxidermy rabbit” as he had written down. I’m not sure he could have handled DNA tests and dead animals in the same photo session. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tiny Pants Makes an Unexpected Request For Christmas

I haven’t been posting here that much lately, mainly because I am not all that funny, and as the kids get older, they stubbornly refuse to provide me with free material. But every now and then, they still give me something worth sharing. 

Tiny Pants is making his Christmas list, because all he wants to do is shop and he’s making me crazy, so I told him to write Santa and stop bothering me. (I’m good at parenting like that.) 

So on his list there are a bunch of regular toy-type items that one would expect. But then we came to the One Thing He Wants Most of All. 

Tiny Pants:  Mama, can we get a live rabbit?
Mama: No. 
Tiny Pants: What do you call an animal that died and they stuff them?
Mama: Taxidermy?
Tiny Pants: Yeah, that’s it. That’s what I want most of all. A taxidermied rabbit. Can I google them?
Mama: Uh, yeah.
 (I was sitting next to him to make sure he didn't get anything to gruesome, for the record.)

Tiny then copied and pasted an image into his Christmas list, but he isn't exactly a pro at resizing, so the image is now stretched and flattened in a most unappealing way. 

I’ll have to let you know what Santa says when we visit him on Saturday. 



Footnote: At his age I did have a taxidermied squirrel I slept with every night, until I unwisely left it in my church school classroom and the janitor threw it away. I have to admit he comes by his weirdness honestly. 




P.S. Bonus points go to anyone who can explain why taxidermied is not a real word. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Grieving the Loss of a Pet

As some of you know, my ex-husband’s dog died recently.  The boys are emotional messes.  I found this workbook online, which has been surprisingly helpful: I Miss My Pet.


I’m a pretty emotional person myself, and consider myself pretty good at this sort of thing, so I wasn’t sure I “needed” a workbook to help talk to my kids. We talk about this stuff fairly often. 

My youngest son, who has the better emotional vocabulary of the two, has been pretty reserved about the dog dying, compared to his brother, who cries several times a day about it. The workbook has really helped him open up about the mess of feeling he has. 

Last night we were working on the workbook, and at one point he got up and ran to the corner of the room to hide his tears. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “I am afraid the dog is mad at me.” 
(This was in the section about blaming yourself.)

I couldn’t imagine why the dog would be mad, but he said, “I told him I’d see him next week and then I didn’t get to see him again.”

Sigh. This is the sort of thing I wasn’t even thinking of that this workbook has allowed to come out. 

This morning he wanted to work on the workbook before school, but thankfully the workbook talks about finding a good time to talk so I was able to gently remind him that I am here for him but we have to go to school now. 


I am so grateful that someone made this available for free online, so I wanted to share it here. 

If you have children who are grieving a pet, download this workbook. It really has helped. 
Here is the link again. I Miss My Pet.


Rest in Peace, Zulu. You were loved.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tiny, Perfect, Beautiful Princesses or Hummingbirds are Assholes




Every summer I work on the cabin porch, six feet away from a hummingbird feeder.  We hung it up so we could see those amazing, tiny, beautiful creatures up close.  But spending a summer in close physical proximity to hummingbirds has taught me something:

Hummingbirds are assholes. 

Their entire lives consist of drinking nectar and trying to beat the shit out of each other. When they chase each other they don’t mind flying six inches above my head, because they are so intent on their harassment of other hummingbirds that they don’t even notice that I am a human and should be viewed as a possible threat. They know they are small and that doesn’t stop them for even a millisecond.   

We have two hummingbird feeders, one has four sippy places and the other has only one sippy place. The hummingbirds like to stake out the four-sip feeder. I mean they hover next to it, not drinking from it, just waiting for another hummingbird to come along so they can try to impale it with their razor beak, which is nearly half the length of their bodies. Did I mention that the feeder in question has four sippy places? Two hummingbirds could share the feeder and not even have to be next to each other. But noooooo that can’t happen because, I repeat, hummingbirds are assholes. 

If a hummingbird was the size of a sea gull, we would recognize their sinister nature and consider them a threat against all humanity.  But they are tiny and delicate and so we write poetry about their rapid heartbeats and their little speedy wings and the iridescence of their feathers. In other words, forget pretty is as pretty does, hummingbirds can pretty much get away with being the biggest assholes of the bird community and no one minds because tiny. Because beautiful.  

I could write here about not being a tiny, perfect, beautiful princess.  I could write about primadonnas and stuck up women who think pretty is a gift they bestow on mankind.  I could write about how small Cinderella’s feet were compared to mine.  I think we all know ways we are the anti-hummingbird—the times we were not tiny enough,not beautiful enough to have as much value as people who were not deserving of the adoration they received.  I’ll let you finish this story on your own.  




Monday, June 22, 2015

How to Clean Your House in 30 Minutes or Less (for slackers only)

All adults have mastered the ability to pull off the bare-minimum get-ready-for-work-because-I-overslept-and-have-to-leave-in-ten-minutes hair and outfit combo.  You know—the days when you are chanting in your head, “I just have to look professional, not fashionable.”  But few of us can do the same with our houses.  While I might not be the queen of the slackers, I definitely have a tendency to let my house get away from me on occasion. As a matter of necessity, I decided I needed to have a go-to plan for the quickly arriving visitor. 

Let’s say you have 30 minutes and your house is a disaster.  

Start chanting the following:

Messy is better than filthy. 
Smells clean, it is clean. 


1. Lock the children in the closet. Leave them there until the 18th birthday of your youngest child. 

2. Mop your kitchen with strong smelling cleaner. Throw dishes in sink to hide dirty sink. 
Alternate: spray cleaner in the air to give false appearance that you cleaned. Both provide the excuse that the smell gave you an allergy attack so you must only allow guest in to the backyard due to said allergies. 

3. Vacuum your living room before you pick up all the toys. Vacuum around them and under them as needed.  Then you can say, “Look what my children did when I was in the shower!” (This works best if you have remembered to let children out of closet first.)

4. Wet hair to make shower excuse plausible. 

5. Take a laundry basket and using a one-armed sweep, clear your table into the laundry basket. Hide basket in the basement. 

6.  Close any door possible, pull shower curtain shut. 

7. Scatter important looking books around the house to create excuse for the mess.

8. When guest arrives, talk a lot and make expansive hand gestures to distract them. 


Alternatively, ignore entire mess and bake cookies. They may think you are a slob, but they will forgive you anything if you greet them with hot, delicious cookies. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Guest Post: Open Letter to Clay Travis of Fox Sports RE: Trashing Appalachians

On the Oppression of Appalachians: A Response to Fox Sports columnist Clay Travis
By Andrea Fekete

Today, I read a blog post titled “Kentucky V. West Virginia: The Dumbest Sweet 16 Game of All Time” by Clay Travis on Outkick the Coverage: Fox College Football Blog of Fox Sports.com, an unlikely place to find hate-speech of any kind. His verbal assault on Appalachians takes me back to the stories I grew up hearing on Buffalo Creek, stories about the man-made disaster officials of Pittston Coal dismissed as an “Act of God.”

According to Travis’ post, Kentucky and West Virginia residents are the dumbest, most uneducated people in our nation. First, let me say, I do not fit Travis’ stereotype of an uneducated hillbilly. I teach as an adjunct at local university.  I am a published writer. I do the work I love. I educate a populace often told how dumb they are by people like Travis. With that said, let me be clear, this response it not at all about how we do or do not fit his stereotypes. My response is to explain why these exist.

Travis, who is supposed to be writing about a basketball game between Kentucky and West Virginia, instead attacks folks in our region with trite insults we Appalachians often hear in the media. He tells us how dumb we are, how we have no self esteem, how so few of us have Bachelor’s Degrees, how we are racist, violent, and homophobic.

The language he uses is verbal violence, hate-speech. He taunts Appalachian readers by adding that soon the comment section would be filled with “dumb people proving just how dumb they are.” Even our smart people are dumb, according to Travis. Kentucky is “number one in mullets.” We are worse than ignorant to him.

I wonder if he realizes he is merely a cog in the massive money making machines of coal barons who destroy our land and chemical companies who poison our rivers.

I wonder if he knows using a major platform to insult a disadvantaged, struggling population could possibly breed fatalism among our youth, kids who already have a difficult enough time.
I wonder if he knows what dehumanization is, what it allows.

I wonder if he realizes how his article exudes ignorance; the very trait he ironically says is our worst.
Appalachia is inhabited by a people who have historically met impossible odds with courage. We are defined by our intense love of family and of place. We have inherited a painful history, true. No one can know the strength of our people, not unless they are one of us. There is a certain kind of strength we inherit when we listen to our fathers talk with closed eyes about walking among ghosts and surviving to tell the story.

When the Buffalo Creek Flood of 1972 destroyed everything in its wake in Logan County, West Virginia killing 118 people, some bodies were never found. There is a grave back home that contains the bodies of unidentified infants with a headstone that reads: “Angels Known Only to God.”
After I read Travis’ long monotonous rant punctuated by the word “dumb” every sentence or so and other cliché insults directed at us, my mind turned dark. I starting remembering stories of corpses in trees, bodies under railroad tracks, unidentified babies, and deep despair of survivors, because it is the violent hate-speech in Travis’ column that perpetuates the idea that Appalachian people are less than human, that we deserve scorn and exploitation. It is the collective blind eye to our history of oppression that allowed Pittston coal to cause the deaths of over 100 people one early morning in February.  

Pittston Coal had allowed three “dams” which were not actually dams but clogs of coal slurry blocking the creek in three places to go unchecked. The water reached such a heights that when it rained for several days in February, the coal company was aware the poorly monitored “dams” might break, yet they warned no one of this impending disaster.

After the devastation, a lawsuit was filed by around 600 surviving families. They received about $13,000 as compensation for their destroyed homes and lives.

According to Kai T. Erikson, author of Everything in its Path, a 70-year-old man commented to a Pittston attorney, "I've often thought some of this stuff could have been avoided if somebody would have come around and said, `Here's a blanket and here's a dress for your wife' or `Here's a sandwich. Could I give you a cup of coffee?' But they never showed up. Nobody showed up to give us a place to stay. . .”

The website of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History reads: “In 1978, an attempt to incorporate Buffalo Creek as a town failed by a vote of 816 to 546. Incorporation would have qualified the area for federal and state rehabilitation grants. Opposition to incorporation was backed heavily by coal companies, which owned 60 percent of Logan County's land and wanted to be excluded from incorporation property taxes.”

I was born and raised in Logan County, West Virginia, right on Buffalo Creek, where mountaintop removal is rampant. Coal companies lop mountaintops off, dumping them in streams. In my hometown jobs are scarce, coal companies are still in control, and poverty is evident.

The man-made disaster Pittston Coal officials called “An Act of God” still lives fresh in our memories, even in those who were unborn at the time of the flood, like me. I was seven when I first saw photographs of the destruction. It has always been a presence in my mind.

A month ago, my father recollected the flood to his grandson, my nephew Trace, who was writing a paper on the Flood for a school assignment. I sat still listening intently, like a kid soaking up the wisdom of a war veteran grandfather.

He talked uninterrupted for half an hour. Not once did he open his eyes or relax his brow.  Among his resurrected memories, one I found most striking was his story of the state police ordering him to help clean up the corpses. A police officer motioned to a flatbed truck saying, “Hop in, boys.” They drove them through the black sludge covered road. My 23 year old father picked up the muddy corpses with the help of other young men. The bodies were later piled in our school gymnasium to be identified by family. I never sat in that gym without imagining the scene.

Afterward, to prevent another similar disaster, laws were passed but not enforced.

The WV Division of Culture & History reports: “In 1973, the West Virginia Legislature passed the Dam Control Act, regulating all dams in the state. However, funding was never appropriated to enforce the law. In 1992, an official with the state Division of Natural Resources estimated there were at least 400 hazardous non-coal dams in West Virginia, many of which were owned by the state.”

I know our history well. I wrote and published one historical fiction novel about our coal miners fighting (literally) with coal company thugs and national guardsmen on Blair Mountain. They were fighting for basic workers’ rights, human rights. It was the largest armed insurrection against the U.S. government since the Civil War.

Our state is strangled by the strong hand of industry while our mountaineers are left starving in the shadows. The coal companies lie to our people, convincing them if we don’t allow them to lop off tops of mountains we will have no mining jobs at all. Then, when it is convenient for King Coal, they layoff miners anyway blaming Obama and the EPA.

Then, there are the sins of the chemical companies. In 2014 there was a major spill of crude 4- methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) in Kanawha County, West Virginia. Freedom Industries’ negligence was to blame. Ken Ward Jr., of the Charleston Gazette, wrote, “When West Virginia inspectors arrived at Freedom Industries late Thursday morning, they discovered that the company had taken ‘no spill containment measures’ to combat the chemical spill that has put drinking water supplies off-limits for hundreds of thousands of residents.” Soon after, new protections were put in place but with a Republican majority, a bill to roll back safety standards on these chemical tanks in West Virginia was recently introduced.

As with any historically marginalized people sharing a collective cultural identity, Appalachian people have been dehumanized, have been branded “other” by the mainstream media and therefore, the sins of industry committed against us are forgotten and forgiven.

It is well known that African Americans were dehumanized to the most extreme levels in our national history. During the pro-slavery and abolitionist debates, doctors and scientists published writings in support of slavery. They used their positions of prestige to give validity to their assertions that African Americans were inferior to whites not only in intellect, but also in their hearts. These “experts” spoke of Africans’ inability to feel love, even for their children. Africans were labeled inferior, as deserving of their captivity and torture. Some “experts” even claimed slavery was best for them since a population so stupid could never self sustain. They were “better off.” Historically, Appalachians and Native Americans have also been branded with the label of inferiority. It is not a coincidence that these three groups also share a history of exploitation for financial gain.

When we talk about racism or sexism as it relates to literary theory in my Fiction and Nonfiction course, one student always asks, “But why does it seem like one group is always stereotyping another? Why?”

I always answer by writing one lonely word on the board: POWER

Without power, no group can profit off the backs of another group. The bricks of this nation are bound with the mortar of black slaves’ blood, sweat, and tears. Without making the oppressed group less than human, citizens of even the mainstream oppressive group would disagree with the abuse of the so-called “inferior” group. The stereotypes are there to maintain the hierarchy, to assure the party gaining financially will continue to do so.

How does one group convince the general public the oppressed group is not oppressed at all but rather deserving of and even implicit in their own oppression and exploitation? Through brainwashing of the mainstream, of course, but how is that achieved? The media.

Of course, it isn’t only through the media stereotypes can be widely spread and maintained. Evidently, even national chain pharmacies like to step in and help out. Walgreens carries the Halloween “costume” pictured below in their stores. I took this picture Halloween of 2014. You can see the “W” logo of Walgreens just above the package.

While I don’t attend church myself, many of my West Virginia and Kentucky family and friends are proud Christians. On their behalf, in regards to our bigots and our oppressors, I say: forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.

Works Cited


“Buffalo Creek.” West Virginia Division of Culture and History. West Virginia Archives and History,  n.d.   Web. 27 March 2015.

Erikson, Kai T. Everything in its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976. Print.

Travis, Clay. “Kentucky V. West Virginia: The Dumbest Sweet 16 Game of All Time.” Outkick the  Coverage: Fox College Football Blog. Fox Sports, 25 March 2015. Web. 27 March 2015.

Ward, Ken. “Freedom Industries Cited for Elk Chemical Spill.” The Charleston Gazette. The Charleston Gazette, 10 January 2014. Web. 27 March 2015.

 This article first appeared at http://proudtobewv.blogspot.com/