Raising Readers

By: Crissie Kirby

Let’s face it . . . we ALL have one or two (or more) guilty pleasures in which we indulge.  Some of these might not be good for us (smoking, excessive alcohol intake, overeating, etc.), but some might not be terrible (working out, writing, crafting, etc.). For me, my number one guilty pleasure is reading . . . few things excite me as much as beginning a new book and delving in to the world created by the author. I don’t know when my obsession with books began, though I do vividly remember reading issue after issue of Reader’s Digest as a child and any other book that even remotely piqued my curiosity.  Reading isn’t a terrible habit to have, other than I could easily while away any number of hours in a land where dirty laundry and dirty dishes and messy floors don’t exist. I fully believe that being a voracious reader has allowed me to become a semi-decent writer.  When I had children, I just KNEW that I would have children who would LOVE books as much I did, so to ensure that, I bought a small library of children’s books. We had Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish and lots of Dr. Seuss and many other not so famous children’s books.  Then the unthinkable happened . . .

I had two very busy little boys.

Little boys who wouldn’t sit still for books.  Little boys who exhausted me to the point that I could often not finish a book we started before bedtime because I would, myself, fall asleep before they even blinked one tiny eyelid. I was failing as a reading parent.

As the boys got older, I would try to tempt them by buying books that I (again) just KNEW they would love. Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse and other not so famous short chapter books adorned the bookshelves above the aforementioned little kids books that were ever so subtly gathering dust from years of not being touched, much less read.

Unfortunately, most of these books, too, met with the same dust-encrusted fate as the earlier ones.

I was crushed. I was heartbroken. The one habit I had that I had literally waited years to share with my offspring was falling quickly by the wayside. In many ways, I resigned myself that my children were going to be like so many other boys who just didn’t like to read.

But, I kept on reading when I could. Vacations. Late nights. When I should have been folding laundry. I read. I read because it was my one little guilty pleasure that I couldn’t give up. Sometimes it would be with actual paper in my hands; other times it might be with my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone, but read I did. I continued encouraging the boys to read. I accompanied them to book fairs where I bought books that I silently prayed wouldn’t just become more dust magnets in our house.

Then, the tide began to shift. As surely as the sun rises slowly each morning, I would catch the boys reading books or magazines (mostly the Lego magazine, but, hey, whatever works, right?) when they weren’t required to by school. For my eldest, the reading bug sort of hit him after watching Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and he began to read one of the Heroes of Olympus books. I was dumbfounded. I had tried buying the short little chapter books in an effort to ease them into reading and he picks up a 500+ page book and starts reading it willingly? His recreational reading has taken an even more dramatic turn in the last few weeks and he has been quickly devouring more than more than one book at a time. At bedtime, he reads. On the way to and from school, he reads.  The other night, I found him reading at 1 a.m. How could I fuss at him? As my mom replied when I relayed the story to her, it sounded like something I probably did as a child too. My previously devastated reading heart swells each time I look around and notice my son with a book in his hands sitting in the car or sprawled on the couch or nestled under his covers.

Study after study has shown that reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge and helps teach patience.  As with learning to walk and talk, developing a love of reading, it would appear, is just something that develops when the time and conditions are right.  And I’m so grateful to finally be sharing my guilty pleasure with my sons.

Tough Love

By: Crissie Kirby

tough love
“Ms. Kirby”, the voice said, “guess what?” I cringed a little when I heard the voice; it was one of the directors of the SC National Guard Youth Camp. My fear was that, after only a day, Pierce had gotten injured. The words she uttered were honestly more difficult for me to hear.

“Pierce is homesick and wants to come home”

UGH. That was honestly the LAST news I expected to get from camp. I suppose I went into the whole sleepaway camp idea a bit naïve. My children spend a week to ten days away from home with their grandparents. We are a family that does sleepovers for crying out loud. BUT, this mom totally failed to take into account that Pierce had never been away somewhere with people he did not know. And when he went to camp, he, literally, knew no one. No other campers. No counselors. No one.

I was at a loss. Pierce is my independent, never-meet-a -stranger kid. Even as a two or three year old, he would stand on the balcony in Hilton Head and talk to every random person that walked towards the pool. But, oh the tears that I knew were falling and the despair I could audibly hear in his little voice rocked me to my core. However, my core told me that going to pick him up, to rescue him, was not the lesson we sent him to camp to learn. I told him that I wanted him to stay at least one more night. The director and I spoke again and we agreed that maybe it was a combination of just adjusting and being tired and that staying was to his benefit. We made the decision to talk on Tuesday. On Facebook, I posted a passionate plea for prayers of peace and comfort . . . for both Pierce and me!

Tuesday rolled around and I thought we were in the clear. I posted a grateful message of thanks. At about 7:45 p.m. my phone rang. My heart sank as I heard my son’s tears before I heard his voice. He begged and pleaded with me to come pick him up. He declared that he could NOT stay one more night. I tried being nice. I tried being stern. Finally I spoke with his head counselor who relayed that Pierce had had a good day, until he got mail from home. I got my ex-husband on the phone because frankly, I was cracking. The weight of the tears and the despair was weakening my soul. Still, I didn’t feel “right” about picking him up early from camp. Together, the adults made some tough decisions that night. We decided that unless Pierce was injured, there were to be no more phone calls home. That ability was totally taken off of the table. We also made the seemingly cruel decision to withhold ALL of his mail for the remainder of the week. He would get his mail on Saturday after graduation when we were there to pick him up. I asked his counselor only one small favor . . . could he just text me and let me know that Pierce was ok at night. He was immediately receptive and followed through with this and Pierce was none the wiser.

tough loveSaturday morning rolled around and the two hour ride to Summerton and Camp Bob Cooper felt like it might as well have been ten hours long. We arrived and gathered Pierce’s belongings. We waited on the graduation ceremony to begin. My son beamed when he saw us. My heart swelled to see that other than having a little tan, he looked no worse for the wear. The campers marched in and performed their group cadences. As the sun rose higher and the temperature crept up, the ceremony began to draw to a close; there was only the awarding of the two camp awards left. The first was the MVPeavy award (camper of the year). As the description was read off, Pierce’s dad and I looked at each other and whispered that it sounded like it was Pierce they were talking about. What? It was Pierce. Tears fell from my eyes as my ten year old’s name was called out as having been chosen as the MVP of the entire camp. My child, who had called home twice, adamant that he could not spend one more night there, had just been called out for displaying notable assistance to other campers during activities and for having a positive and helpful attitude. Suffice to say, I was, and am, proud beyond words of my son.

However, my pride is not rooted so much in him having received the award as it is in his overcoming a challenge that seemed insurmountable. What would have happened had I caved on the first night, or even the second, and gone and picked him up? I would have sent him a solid message that I would rescue him at any point in time when life gets just a little tough. Make no mistake, tough love is HARD; I cried that week; I barely slept that week; my concentration was at an all time low that week. Every day it seems that we hear, see, or read some article about the increasing role of helicopter parents in today’s children. We see parents who constantly rescue their children from any level of difficulty or disappointment in life, whether it be in school, on the playground, or even in college of all places!! Was Pierce disappointed in my not coming to pick him up? I’m sure that he was. Was being away from home with no familiar face difficult for Pierce? Again, I’m sure that it was. But, when my son looks at me on a regular basis and tells me “thank you for sending me to camp” and how excited he seems to be about attending camp next year, it makes the tears, worry, sleeplessness, and, most importantly, the tough love completely worth it. Are there some situations from which we, as parents, need to rescue our children? Certainly. But there comes a point in time when we, as parents, must learn what is really helping them out of harm’s way and what is just interfering with a part of growing up and requires just a smidge of “tough love”.

Saying Good-Bye

By: Crissie Kirby

As you have no doubt come to realize over the last few years, I am a deeply sentimental person. As such, good-byes do not come easily for me. As an adult, I have only had 4 jobs since completing college and, even for the ones from which I was happily leaving, I have shed some tears. I develop strong attachments and bonds to people, places, and movingthings. Does this make me materialistic? I don’t think it does. Rather, I tend to attach memories to items that probably aren’t as important as they should be. As several of my Every Woman Blog counterparts did, I, too, have recently had to say a fond farewell to a home in which I have developed many memories.

I still remember the feeling as I stood on the porch, a 22-year-old newlywed, moving in to the home I would occupy for the next 14 ½ years. Home is where the heart is and my heart developed a very strong attachment to that little house in Leesville. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in that little tan house. Both of my boys came home from the hospital to it as well. It is the only home they have ever known.

The little house on Long Terrace has seen much over nearly fifteen years; many happy memories and some that need not be remembered. She bears the scars of a young family with two growing little boys and a small circus of cats, dogs, and even a couple of hamsters. Her once-white walls are now all painted and most of her carpet was replaced in favor of more durable flooring. I like to think that she has a little more character than the day we moved in.

As time and circumstances have a way of dictating the certainty of change, an opportunity to start anew presented itself in the late spring of 2015, and it was one that I could not really pass up. After nearly forty years and much hard work, my parents decided that they were ready for a change and purchased a new home not far from my childhood home. As my childhood home sits on “family land,” my parents offered the boys and me the chance to make the move to their old house.

I cannot really say that I jumped on the chance. I mulled it over. I shed some tears. In the end, I opted to take the chance and to begin the moving process. Although my heart hurt to begin saying good-bye to my adult home, there was something comforting about “going home”. In truth, I had spent 22 years of my life there, but my boys had not. As they definitely have some of their mama’s genes, the move was not totally easy, emotionally, for them either. And for someone who has a slight tendency to be a hoarder, moving has not been a physical or logistical piece of cake either. But, for the most part, it is finally over and I have said my good-byes as I have steam cleaned the remaining carpet and swept her floors. And, yes, I have shed a few more tears.

But, over the last few months, we have begun to develop our own attachment to the house in the country; the house to which I was brought home from the hospital as a newborn. In the end, I suppose, we aren’t really saying good-bye, so much as we are saying “Welcome Home.”

Straight Talk about Sleep

By: Crissie Kirby

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the worse my sleep habits have become. I’ve always been an “early to bed, early to rise” sort of person; however, over the last few sleeplessyears, this has evolved into a sleeping pattern/cycle that, frankly, stinks.

I swore I would never let my children sleep with me; and yet, sometimes, they do. Even worse, sometimes I fall asleep with them. I will go in to read to them and, more often than not, I fall asleep before they do. It is not uncommon for me to fall asleep between 9:00 and 9:30, then wake around 1:00 or 2:00 am and fight getting back to sleep for upwards of 2 hours; thus leaving me only about an hour or two before the alarm is calling me to get up and start my day. This all leaves me feeling exhausted most days.

Part of my issue is ADHD-related, and part of it is being the single head of my household. Regardless, when I wake up at those random hours my mind is usually racing. What can I fix for supper? Did I leave that load of laundry in the washer (again)? Did I finish grading those tests? Do the boys have clean underwear? Where are the dogs and cats? Did we remember to feed said dogs and cats? What bill(s) do I need to pay today? Did I remember/forget to get gas in the car? The list could, and often literally does, go on for hours.

What is a sane person to do?

Fortunately, on one of those sleepless nights, I happened upon an article that discussed different apps one might use to help himself or herself fall asleep and stay asleep. As a direct result of that app, I have become a fervent believer in one of those apps ~ Relax Melodies by Ipnos Soft. Consistently, when I have trouble sleeping, I can turn on this app and be asleep in less then twenty minutes; often less. And I stay asleep as long as I just let it play. The beauty in the app is that it is essentially a sound machine, but one with endless possibilities as it provides you with a plethora of sounds that you can mix and match and save as favorites. You can upgrade to the paid version, but I’ve had great success with the free version. My “go-to” sound is one I created that I call Stormy SC Day – lots of rain sounds, mixed with some thunder and lightening. Sometimes, when I remember, I will have the app play on my alarm clock through the bluetooth wireless connection.

Do any of you suffer with lack of sleep or lack of quality of sleep? If so, what are some of your tried and true methods for getting that oh-so-important 7-9 hours each night?

Lexington Medical Center Heart & Sole Women’s Five Miler

LexMed Heart & Sole Women's Five Miler

Lexington Medical Center is pleased to announce it’s now the title sponsor of the Heart & Sole Women’s Five Miler, which is set for Saturday, April 25 in downtown Columbia. As South Carolina’s premier all-women road race, Heart & Sole includes a five-mile run, and three- and five-mile walks.

For the past 14 years, the event has encouraged healthy lifestyles through physical activity and called attention to the issue of heart disease as the #1 killer of women. More than 2,000 women participated last year.

With a personal and supportive environment, the course begins near Finlay Park at Laurel Street, and winds through the Vista and the University of South Carolina campus before ending on the Taylor Street side of Finlay Park. This year’s event will begin with an opening ceremony at 8:00 a.m. featuring news anchors from WIS-TV, the co-sponsor. The five-mile race begins at 8:30 and the walk at 8:35 a.m. Top runners will receive cash prizes.

After the race, participants will enjoy special refreshments, entertainment and an expo featuring health screenings and local vendors.

We know you’ve got heart. And we know you’ve got soul. So, join us on April 25! We’ll see you at the start line!

General Registration

Registration is only available online.

For group of 7 or more people, registration is $23 before March 20. There will be no group registration after March 20.

Individual registration varies:

  • $28 before March 20
  • $33 through April 24
  • $45 on Race Day

Get Social

Learn more about the race on Facebook! LexMed Heart & Sole Women’s Five Miler

Follow Every Woman Bloggers, Sherree Thompson and Crissie Kirby, who are training for Heart & Sole here from now until race day!

Chinaberry Dreams

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

Growing up in rural Aiken County, we had lots of different trees that would sprout up here and there.  They would just take hold of the soil where they were dropped and they would grow and flourish. One of these trees was a Chinaberry Tree.  I can’t recall anyone ever actually planting one. They seemed to just appear, take root, grow and flourish, carried here, there, and yonder by the birds visiting within her branches.

Chinaberry Dreams

Much like the Chinaberry Tree, Trina Floyd has flourished where she was planted and, like the Chinaberry Tree, has offered up pieces of herself for folks to carry near and far from her store, “Chinaberry Dreams Soapworks, Gifts, and Artisan Marketplace,” which is located on Main Street in Leesville, South Carolina.

Trina comes from a long line of women who valued handmade items, from handmade lye soap to beautiful, but functional, quilts.  From a young age, Trina watched her mother, grandmother, and other family members make all of these items, and in doing so, she developed a strong desire to be a part of, and to carry on, those talented handiworks.

Chinaberry Dreams

Her strongest desire was to hand make bars of soap and when her sister, Frana, began building a herd of Nubian goats, Trina gained ready access to fresh goat’s milk with which to begin “Chinaberry Dreams Soapworks” in about 2006.

Finally, in 2009 Trina was able to secure a small location on Main Street, Leesville in which to open a part-time shop while continuing her day job with Lexington Medical Center.  The shop began to grow past simply soaps; she began accepting other items from other local artisans and eventually she outgrew the space she was renting.  Fortunately, in 2010 she was able to secure a new location across the street from the original location.

Chinaberry Dreams

Again, the shop and customer base continued to grow and Trina longed to open her shop as more than just a storefront, but to also be a place where artisans could come in and actually teach classes in their medium.  Trina dreamed of and prayed for a location that would not only support her dream, but also would assist in supporting her family by allowing her to be in the store full time.  For nearly four years, this was her dream, her prayer.

In late 2013/early 2014, Trina’s dream began to come to fruition and in February of 2014 (delayed slightly by the crazy winter weather we experienced this year), she moved into her new, much larger location on Main Street, Leesville.  In this new locale, Trina is able to offer more space for not only her own soaps and other wares, but also for other local artisan booths and space to host various art classes. Already she has hosted art classes for children and beginner’s quilting classes, with many, many more on the horizon.

Chinaberry Dreams

And it’s more than just a personal endeavor for Trina – it is a family affair.  It’s not unusual to find her sisters, her parents, and other family members helping out in the store and helping teach classes.

To step into Chinaberry Dreams is to take a peek back into the past, while still being very much in the present.  For me, it is a unique opportunity to capture a part of my own heritage, as Trina’s grandmother and my own were sisters. Every time I step into the store, there is something there that reminds me of my own childhood and those wonderful memories of playing under quilts stretched out on frames and women talking and catching up with each other.

Chinaberry Dreams

So, if you are ever in our little neck of the woods, stop by Trina’s store on Main Street and, as Trina is fond of saying, “take a little Chinaberry home with you”.

Stop by and check out Chinaberry Dreams Soapworks and Gifts on Facebook for information on hours, current artisan work, and upcoming classes.

One Cat Away

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

In keeping with the animal theme that we have seen of late, I figured I might as well fess up…

I have become the crazy cat lady.

Ok, maybe I haven’t completely become the crazy cat lady, but I’m pretty close and I seem to be getting closer with time. I have no shame. I love four-legged animals.  Puppies are cute, but a kitten will suck me in. Every. Single. Time.

Truthfully, any cat will suck me in. I would take in every single stray cat if I could afford to do it. If love could feed them, I would have far more than I have now. Our number of cats, for several years now, has been three and I was adamant. No more cats.

Well, until I saw this on a friend’s Facebook page . . .

Adopted cats“This is Teenager Tom, formerly known as Tom Kitten. (My husband) recently caught all the neighborhood strays and got every one of them fixed with the helpful low cost at Pawmetto Lifeline. Tom is a lovely but skittish boy, has had all his shots, but the female cats don’t like him and smack him if he tries to eat or get any attention. He is used to small dogs. Will you help me find Tom a home? I don’t want him to go to just anyone. I am thinking of asking for a $20 donation to Pawmetto Lifeline for him but if I know the person I would be just fine with giving him to you.”

You need to understand something here – my first cat, when I was very young, was a white male tomcat named Snowball. He was a scruffy, scraggly-looking critter, but I loved him and carried him around everywhere. I’ve had more cats that I can count. I can wrangle a stray kitten like a boss and barely wince when they bite me or leave a menacing scratch on my arm. When I was pregnant with Pierce, I owned a male tabby cat named Beau who was the most loving cat (He was also the biggest cat I have ever owned, weighing in at 26 pounds).

Unfortunately, after getting sick numerous times over a few months, he was diagnosed with severe kidney failure, from which he was unable to recover.  I swore that one of my next cats would be a male.  Life happens and I didn’t fulfill that promise to myself for over eight years.

Childhood pet

So, I was sucked in by a handsome face and the fact that I wouldn’t have to fight off tiny claws and sharp kitten teeth in the middle of the night. So, we went and undertook the task of trapping this cat because he wasn’t too keen on being picked up and taken to a new home. But trap him we did, and we took him home.

Cat

He is christened Thomas Rhett Kirby – keeping his original first name, but changing his middle name to be called name to “Rhett” to fit in with the Dixie and Scarlett that we already own.

At first, he spent all of his time hiding in my bedroom closet, all of us too afraid to let him out into the general craziness of my house. Afraid of what the other cats would do. Afraid he would run out the door. Afraid that utter chaos would ensue. He was skittish at first and would only allow us to pet him for short periods. The littlest noise sent him running for the depths of darkness beneath my dresses.

But, over that first week or two, things began to change and he began to venture into other parts of the house. First my bedroom, then the boys’ rooms, then to the den and kitchen, and then, finally, into the mudroom where the other cats are fed.

Rhett after his arrival at his new home

Rhett after his arrival at his new home

Nowadays, Rhett splits his time between eating, sprawling on the floor begging for someone to pet him, weaving himself between our arms and legs whether we are standing or sitting or lying in the bed, and playing chase, tag, and hide and seek with the new dog, Knight (another story entirely).

Proof positive that a little bit of love by a crazy cat lady really can go a long way.

In The Giving, We Receive

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

As many of you may know, Columbia College is an institution that is very near and dear to my heart.  The years between August of 1996 and May of 2000 were life changing for me and I owe it all to those hallowed grounds. When I wanted to obtain a Masters degree, and after trying an “online program” from another institution, I migrated back to that same North Main Street/Columbia College Drive campus. I successfully completed the Master in Organizational Change and Leadership program in August of 2013.

In late October, I was contacted by the Director of Alumnae Relations and asked if I would be interested in speaking at Mom’s Day.  Mom’s Day is a tradition that dates back about 40 years and is a day on which Moms (or other important female influences) join their Columbia College daughters on campus for a chapel program, lunch, and other activities.

Unfortunately, I did not plan ahead well enough, so I do not have a live recording of my presentation. However, I would like to share with you here the written version of my speech: 

SONY DSCGood morning and welcome to Mom’s Day 2013.  It is such an honor and privilege for me to come and speak with you all today.

I am a Columbia College woman, twice over, in fact.  I’m a blogger.  I’m a daughter, sister, and friend.  But, my favorite job title is mom.  I am blessed to be the mother to two beautiful, precious, and mischievous little boys.  Yep, no little girls for me to groom and send to CC; but that’s okay, I am just trying to work hard and do my best to show my boys that the best women are Columbia College women.  So, maybe I’ll have Columbia College women for daughters-in-law one day, a very long time from now!

I have really struggled with what to say to you all today that will matter, that will make a difference to at least one of you sitting in the pews in front of me, and it is my prayer that you will be able to take a little something from the words I share with you now.

Then it came to me, just share your story. 

Last weekend, I attended a Christian Women’s Conference called the Magnificent Mess and the theme was “Embrace Your Story.” I firmly believe that we can learn a lot from each other when we share our stories. They can provide validation; they can provide comfort; they can provide inspiration.  I can only hope that you will allow me the indulgence of embracing my story and my prayer that you will find some measure of inspiration within my words.

Let me tell you how I came to stand before you today; it is probably not what you think.

5 ½ years ago, I thought that my world was pretty near perfect.  I was happily married, two beautiful children, a job I was happy with, a house, a few cats, and a couple of dogs.  What in the world could possibly go wrong with this story?

Oh what a difference about six months can make.

My world, as I saw it, started to crumble around me as my eight year marriage starting falling apart right in front of my eyes.  I didn’t know how to react.  I didn’t know what to do.  I begged, pleaded, and tried to bargain with my husband.  I begged, pleaded, and tried to bargain with God.  My marriage was part of my identity and I was terrified of who I would be, or really who I wouldn’t be, if I didn’t have that as part of my identity anymore. 

Everywhere I turned, though, God kept showing me a Bible verse: Jeremiah 29:11.  Many of you may know it.  “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you; to give you hope and a future.” 

Literally, I kept seeing this verse everywhere.  God was slamming it in my face to remind me that while I was in this mental and emotional turmoil, He knew already what I would face and He already knew the outcome.  But, even better was that He already had a hope and a future planned out for me and my children; and that He intended no harm to come to us.  But, I had to seek Him first. 

Not easy for someone who has always liked just a slight bit of control over her own life; who liked to plan things weeks and months in advance.  It was a little too “fly by the seat of my pants” for me, but in the end, what could I do? 

I recently heard, at the aforementioned women’s conference, the very best analogy for dealing with our lives when something isn’t going the way we want it to. 

Have you ever been reading a book or watching a movie that has a twist to the plot that you just don’t really like?  Maybe things are going too slow in the story?  You are ready to close the book, put it aside; turn the movie off in the middle?  Yeah, sometimes our lives can be like that too.  Often, we find our lives at a juncture or twist in the plot that we, as humans, are not really very fond of.  Lord knows I was not really comfortable with where I was in early 2009.

But, who wrote our stories?  

God. 

And He reminds us at several points in the Bible that He knew us before he knit us together in our mother’s womb.  He reminds us that He already knows what is going to happen to us and that He has that future all mapped out.  We just sort of have to let go of that little issue of control.

Okay, so I tried to sit back and do what I thought God would want me to do.  While everyone around me pushed me to go ahead and end my marriage; I sat tight.  God impressed upon me the importance of not taking the easy way out; He impressed upon me the fact that I needed to wait and be confident in saying that divorce was a very last option for me.  I really felt like that is what I was supposed to do.  So, I did.  I tried to wait out the storm. 

Now, I’ll be honest, there were a lot of times that I thought by sticking it out, God would answer my prayers and heal my marriage. 

But, that didn’t happen.

I have been divorced for almost three years now.  My final divorce hearing was, literally, only three days shy of being two years from the date my husband first said he wanted a divorce.  Two years!

At that point, I had to make a decision: Would this bump in the road, this game changer, this plot twist – would it make me bitter or would it make me better?  Would I try and close the book or would I simply push through and keep reading the story until I could turn the page?

SONY DSC

Now since we are in church, I am not going to stand up here and tell you an outright lie; that I was never, ever bitter.  My mama raised me not to tell a lie and since she’s sitting here with us today, I have to be honest; I was bitter at times; very, very bitter.  But, I did make the decision that even when I was bitter, I was going to learn from this experience; that some good would come of it; that it would not have been in vain; that I would become better and brighter and I would share my story and pray that if I could help only one person it would have been worth it.  I was so very fortunate to have had some wonderful friends and family who encouraged me, shared their stories with me, allowed me to laugh, cry, and rage on occasion during that time.  I wanted to pay it forward.

And in seeking that desire to help someone, God has really given me some wonderful gifts over the last five years.

He allowed me to reconnect with some old friends and make some wonderful new friends who have been so very supportive of me, even when they thought I was absolutely insane at points over those two years of waiting. 

He helped create a bond between me and my brother that had never really been there before. 

He created a bond between me and my in-laws that had not ever been present before during my marriage. 

He also gave me the courage and the tenacity and the drive to do things that I had long forgotten I could do or that I loved.

The first of these was writing; I have always loved to write. In the late summer of 2011, I decided to enter a blog contest being sponsored by Lexington Medical Center for a new blog they were creating; the EveryWoman blog, it would be called.  For women, written by women.  I took a giant leap of faith and even though I was terrified of rejection, I entered the contest.

And I was one of only 10 women chosen to be a featured writer for them.  And that has been a wonderful experience for me.  I have met some wonderful ladies from different parts of the Midlands and formed meaningful friendships.  I got to participate in Lexington Medical Center’s 2012 entry for the Pink Glove Dance, which they won for the 2nd year in a row.  Fortunately, you couldn’t see me in the video, but I was there and it was an awesome and inspiring event to be a part of. 

As the result of one of my blog articles, I was contacted by the editor of Mamapedia, which is a national online mommy network and was blessed to have written several articles for them, as well.  I gained a lot of courage and backbone through that process because my articles were seen by thousands of people. Not everyone agrees with what I think, and I’ve learned that’s okay.  I also gained new friends that I’ve never met.  We correspond through Facebook mostly, sort of like new age pen pals.  But, we encourage each other and pray for each other and empathize with each other over being single mothers of little boys.

Then, God renewed a drive and desire for education in my soul.  I had always considered going to back to school to further my education, but honestly, never really thought it was a possibility when I was a working wife and mother.  Oh no, I waited until I was a single, working mother to decide that it would be just the perfect time for me to get my Masters degree.  Brilliant move, right? 

I know, don’t say it.

And let’s not forget that not only was I a single working mom, I was also involved in our church and I was the Secretary and then co-chair of the Parent’s Association at my children’s school. 

Crazy, right?

Now, I’m going to tell you that graduate school here at CC is no joke and there were many nights that I thought to myself, there is no way on earth I can finish this program; I need to just drop out.

No, I couldn’t do that.  I had to finish the program.

God led me back to my educational roots for a reason; and I had to finish my Masters from Columbia College. 

You see, Columbia College is where I originally found my voice; nurtured by some of the very best professors, like Belinda Gergel, Anne McCulloch, Bob Moore, Seldon Smith, Tandy McConnell, and the rest of the folks in the History and Political Science department as it was known back then.  When I was allowed the chance to participate in one of the first Washington Semesters and this girl from small town South Carolina walked the streets of Washington, DC and realized that she could be anything and do anything she wanted.

And on August 4th, 2013, I walked up that aisle and across the front right here, received my Masters degree, and my children helped place the hood around my neck, with my parents, my brother, and my in-laws all sitting in these very pews to witness it. 

Never, when I was married, did I think that I could write on a semi-professional level. Never, when I was married, did I think that I had the courage or willpower to go back to school.  Never, when I was married, did I think I would have the courage and the confidence to stand before you today and share my story.

But, God knew that all of those things were important to me – recall His words from Psalm 37:4, “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And He granted them to me.

But, not in my time; in His time.

And that is what led me to stand in front of you today.

I had to persevere and push through, get through that trying period, finish that part of the book and get to a point where I could turn the page; and start a new chapter.  And what a chapter it has been for me.

But my story isn’t finished and neither is yours.

You might be facing a struggle right now; roommate or suitemate problems; problems with one of your courses; decisions regarding your major; boyfriend issues.  They all seem so major in the moment.  Not to diminish them at all; they are major for the point that you are at in your life.

But, never, ever put a period where God has only placed a comma.

Allow the mess you are in today turn into a message.

I just did.

And you can too.

Never before have I been so overwhelmed at the response to something I have written or spoken; mothers and daughters stopped me and thanked me for my words of encouragement, of perseverance.  I was truly touched and honestly think that I received more encouragement and words of affirmation and perseverance than anything I gave. I felt free; I felt invincible; I felt confident.  I finally felt like I had been able to give back to the institution that originally gave so much to me.

It is in the giving that we receive.

The Wit & Wisdom of Pat Conroy

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

“…I have a need to bear witness to what I saw there.  I want to tell you how it was.  I want precision.  I want a murderous, stunning truthfulness.  I want to find my own singular voice for the first time.  I want you to understand why I hate the school with all my power and passion.  Then I want you to forgive me for loving the school.  Some of the boys of the Institute and the men who are her sons will hate me for the rest of their lives.  But that will be all right.  You see, I wear the ring.”
The Lords of Discipline

“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton”
— The Prince of Tides

Looking back, I honestly don’t remember what made me fall in love with the wit, wisdom, and words of Pat Conroy. In some ways, it seems as if have always loved them, although we all know that cannot be true.  The first recollection I have is watching The Prince of Tides, then reading the novel.  In truth, it makes no difference; over the years, I have developed a deep admiration and respect for this Son of the South.  I cannot boast about an impressive, first edition collection of Conroy books.  I do own the majority of his books, but mostly in soft back editions.  I did venture to eBay a few years back in search of a copy of The Boo, which had been out of print for many years. At the time, I may have spent $30 or $40, but it was worth it to complete “my collection” of Conroy novels.

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This past Thursday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Pat Conroy interview and signing event at the Township Auditorium.

As I, my cousin Beth, and my dear friend Lynne, sat in our seats along the back row of the orchestra level, you could feel the excitement in the air.  Maybe it really was just the excitement exuding from me and Beth.  We are both lovers of the written word and she, truthfully, probably loves Pat Conroy even more than I.  Of course, I had my trusty camera in hand so that I could record some of the moments for posterity, even if it is just my own memory that needs that feeding.  As Mr. Conroy and Walter Edgar walked on stage and sat casually in the chairs, I almost felt like I was being given access to a very private conversation between the two men.  He made us laugh and could have easily made us cry if it weren’t for the large company we were in and the fact that the funny anecdotes kept coming.  Hearing him speak was a lot like reading one of his works; it would have been easy to lose yourself there in the auditorium for hours if only he would keep talking, if the novel never had an end.

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Alas, end it did and we rose to join the ranks in line for the chance to meet and obtain signatures from the great Pat Conroy.  Fortunately, our back row seating gave us nearly front door access to the quick-forming line and we did not have to wait long.  As the three of us moved towards the table, I moved to take my place to take some pictures.  Something was said about Batesburg-Leesville and I heard Pat Conroy laugh and say that he was sorry that we were from Batesburg-Leesville.  As it turns out, one of his brothers is married to a “local” girl.  As always, we are reminded that “it’s a small world after all.”  As my turn came to stand in front of Mr. Conroy, I handed over the 3 books I had for him to sign; one of which was my EBay bought copy of The Boo.  As he signed it, he tapped the front and said “this is a valuable edition”; to which I replied, “Yes sir, I feel fortunate to have been able to purchase it.”

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While waiting in line, we had been given sticky notes on which to write our names or message, etc.  Ever the writer, I had written the following on the Post-It note: “To Crissie, an aspiring Southern author.” As I rounded the table to shake his hand and to capture the moment for posterity, he laughed and said “tell Crissie about this little mistake”. I laughed and smiled when he pointed out that he had started writing “inspiring” instead of “aspiring.” I am certainly no inspiration, but thank you Mr. Conroy for being one of my inspirations and for reminding me that “there is a relationship between art and life.”

(And for those who might be curious, I checked eBay. An identical-to-mine, but unsigned, copy of The Boo is being offered up for a mere $550!)

Staycationing

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

A new term has been rising in popularity over the last few years as people search for ways to both entertain their families, but also still provide enjoyable and memorable experiences: Staycation.  It’s become so popular that even a quick Google search pronounces that it is a word that can be found in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.

Staycation: blend of stay and vacation.  A vacation spent at home or nearby.

I don’t know if any of you have ever enjoyed a staycation before, and, honestly, until recently, I had not either.  New Year’s Eve 2014 was my first real experience, and I can guarantee it won’t be my family’s last.

This year I had the boys on New Year’s Eve and since it fell during the week, it was going to prove a little more difficult for us to travel to the coast as we do over many short holidays.  But, I wanted to do something fun; something different; something out of the ordinary.

What to do?

For starters, I decided to rent a hotel room in Columbia; at a hotel with an indoor pool.  I was able to grab up a suite with two queen sized beds and a sitting area at the Comfort Suites near Harbison for less than $90.

Ice SkatesThen I decided to take the boys downtown to the Family Fun Fest.  Many people said that with the Famously Hot New Year’s celebration down the street, Main Street would be packed and miserable to deal with.  It was exactly the opposite.  Upon arrival, we were able to park in a City of Columbia parking garage and walk a very, very short distance to our first stop: the ice skating rink. Neither of the boys had ever ice-skated before and it has been many years since I had.  So, to the ice we went.  Our ventures there did not last long, but it was enough to say “we did it!”

Next we walked just a block down Main Street and both boys were able to get wristbands for the rides for $10/each.  When the boys tired of the rides, we traveled back to the hotel stopping to get pizza and drinks that we would eat on the beds in the hotel room.

We watched tv and laughed and ate and watched the ball drop over Times Square.

The next morning, we rose early and had breakfast at the hotel; changing in to our swimsuits shortly after and then spending about an hour in the indoor heated pool before we needed to run up, change clothes, and check out.

While it may have seemed so simple in thought and theory, my boys have talked about that night many times and have asked about swimming in the indoor pool again.

Staycationing may seem like a “waste” to some, but it was a wonderful experience for my family and I think that we will be doing more of them in the years to come.