Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Really Awesome Mostly Decent Parents Guide to the Happiest Place on Earth

Well, the Walkers are going to Disney World!

According to the custom-made Disney trivia paper chain that hangs in our kitchen, we are just a few short chain links away from the happiest place on earth!

We’re all very excited. We’ve been preparing for a while, and getting all of us ready for a trip to the Family Capital of the Entire Free World—Orlando—is no easy task.

The way I see it, there are two main categories in planning a successful Disney visit:

Basic magic

Ultra magic
Basic Magic
Basic magic, commonly known as “you’re laughable as a parent” is for simpletons who barely care anything at all for their offspring. Basic magic may include a ticket to the parks (all four—only one park ticket kicks you down to “limited basic magic”) and a souvenir light-up Mickey lanyard (estimated cost: your dignity, which you left in Pluto Parking Lot when you realized all the other families arrived two hours ago for “extra magic hours.”) You will not be getting a Fast Pass for any ride. You certainly won’t get into the new Be Our Guest Restaurant for any reason, not even a counter service meal. Maybe, if you are extremely lucky, your kids won’t notice what a dolt you are and you can snag them a turkey leg over in Frontierland. If not, you may as well throw yourself off the top of Splash Mountain.

Ultra Magic
Ultra Magic is a tricky place to be. Often referred to as “Mickey’s fantastical, extraordinary, fantabulous, if-you-love-your-kids-you’ll-do-this magic,” Ultra Magic parents are savvy enough to stay on Disney Property and purchase the meal plan, which costs approximately what you spent on your wedding reception, if you had your reception at The Plaza, offered an open bar and invited Lindsay Lohan.

But do not be fooled: staying on site and having the meal plan is totally worth it. Nobody takes their kids to Disney only to make them eat Lunchables out of a cooler in the trunk of the minivan. Don’t be those parents; spring for the plan. A big perk is that, if you have food sensitivities, your chef will accommodate you, sometimes even coming to your table to visit and design your meal. That’s some Ultra Magic, right there.

One common mistake of Ultra Magic parents is assuming that they can get into a “character meal” less than a full millennium before the meal takes place. We made this very mistake when we tried to get five seats at Cinderella’s Royal Table three months before our trip. Our reservation specialist laughed out loud and we could actually HEAR her giant eye roll through the phone.

A similar experience happened when I tried to schedule an appointment for my daughter and two nieces at the—wait for it—Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I know, I know. But listen: this boutique is inside Cinderella’s castle, staffed by several “fairy godmothers.” I mean, if a gal is going to get gussied up for a special day, the castle is the place to do it!

But no can do, apparently, unless you actually ARE Cinderella. The guy on the phone gasped loudly, as though I’m the kind of parent who drives a school bus, drunk, to deliver drugs to children while running over puppies. He said, “Nooooooo ma’am. We are booked through the end of the year. I MAY, however, have an opening at the Downtown Disney location.” That was his magical way of saying, “There is an opening in steerage, riff raff. Too bad you didn’t call me while your little princess was still in utero. Parenting fail.”

Still, there are ways to score some Ultra Magic specials, which—let’s be honest—all of us would go to great lengths to do for our kids. Here is how to get a seat at a character meal:

They book 180 days early and that's no joke. Calibrate your cell phone to the U.S. Naval Observatory Master clock and begin calling exactly six months before your visit to Disney, even if you don’t know you’re going yet. Trust me. Do this. Also be prepared to offer your first born, a pocket-full of doubloons and a single hair from a virgin mermaid. Pray nightly under the glow of the second star to the right; pray on until morning.

Once your big table meal is squared away, you will have the opportunity to separate yourself from the rest of us crappy parents who neglected to get a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table while the jelly from our “it’s a girl” ultrasound was still cold.

You can rise above your meager Ultra (although still marginally basic) Magic status by almost killing yourself with ten thousand magic details. My favorite is Tinkerbell gifts (think mini-Christmas gifts left in your room while your kids sleep happily.) It’s a fun way to distribute sunglasses, headbands and t-shirts that the regular parents just pack, without a trace of magic. Charlatans!  Oh, and for God’s sake do NOT forget to see that Tinkerbell sprinkles magic pixie dust, which can be purchased at any corner Pixie Dust Shoppe in Neverland, in a trail from her treasures to the door or window. It’s enchanting for the kiddos, and the Disney staff just get a hoot out of how magical that stuff is to vacuum up!

Other advanced Ultra Magic parenting tips include:
-trading Disney pins with other guests and Disney staff. I have no idea what that means, but I think it’s like magic Pok√©mon cards.
-making sure to have an autograph book for all your child’s favorite characters to sign. Have your Sharpie ready. You don’t want to see what kind of black magic unfolds when the Evil Queen from Snow White has to wait while you uncap a pen.
-interactive scavenger hunts in the parks. Fun stuff!
-matching family t-shirts. Just do it. At least get monogrammed mouse ears. If you don’t, you obviously are cruel and hate your own children.
-keep in mind you might want to injure someone upon your return home, like, say, the server at O’Charleys who refuses to accept your Magic Your Way card for payment and doesn’t tell you to "have a magical day." Prepare yourself for re-immersion. It’s not such a magical feeling. You should purchase the $300457902358304670394850293850945.99 Photo Fun Pack to keep reminding you of all the fun you had.

I think there is even a tier of secret magic that gets you to the upper echelon of all that charms any Disney fan. People in this stratum get reservations at tables usually reserved for those with the last names Winfrey, Christ or Jolie-Pitt. Here, parents make reservations promptly on time (20 years prior to visit) and spend endless hours of fun being together, making the most magical of memories.

Wait a minute! Endless hours of fun? Magical memories? Being together? That sounds exactly like a Walker Family Vacation! What a relief! I’m thrilled to be going to Disney World—I won’t even pretend I’m not over the moon—and am extra happy to be there with grandparents, in-laws and cousins.

But I find it simply magical that whenever I am together with my little nest—the Walker 5—THAT is the happiest place on earth.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hey, out there

Hey, out there,

As usual, I am approximately six weeks behind in getting another blog posted. It’s a chronic dilemma, and one for which I offer no excuses, except life is what it is and there you have it.

My salutation—hey, out there—has presented itself to me twice all ready today, and it is only 1:08 in the afternoon. I thought it was significant enough to mention. The first was a rather pithy Facebook repost of the common (though, frequently amusing and even helpful) grammar lessons people are fond of. The author of that piece cautioned writers against using the term “hey, out there,” noting that it is unprofessional and puts distance between writer and reader. Out where, the author wants to know? Bring readers in, she cautions, don’t keep them “out there.”

But the next time I came across “hey, out there” as a salutation was while I happily read over the website of Pat Conroy, who, if you don’t know by now, is my favorite author. I do that from time to time to find inspiration, or to avoid my own writing.  I was comforted to find that Pat, like me, has not been altogether prompt about new blog posts of his own. Of course, he has been working on his 10th book, so that gives him a bit of an excuse. But the point I make here is that if “hey, out there” is good enough for Pat Conroy, it is certainly good enough for me.

I recently read an article in Psychology Today about writer’s block. Not surprisingly, it’s a form of perfectionism that cripples us with the threat of getting words down on paper that will never measure up to the way they are arranged in our heads. It’s a sad case of “A means Adequate, B means failure.”

I liken it to letting someone hold my newborn child. It’s a short list. Not just anyone gets to hold my baby. If you have a weird vibe, you look shifty, you are not a board certified pediatrician, or you don’t remind me in the slightest of Mother Teresa, you don’t get to hold my newborn.

So it is with my writing—especially my novel. For a while, only two people other than me were privy to the inner workings of my novel, and one of them had to listen to me read it aloud, lest I decide suddenly that I had changed my mind. This is an excellent way to practice perfectionism, but a terrible way to finish a novel. When that happens, the idea remains in my head, never risking the mess of words tumbling out onto blank pages, filling margins with tales and tragedies and salvation for characters I’ve come to know and love.

But slowly, gradually, I’ve widened the circle to include a few other trusted readers whose appearance on my short list is by invitation only. Some of the select few were randomly chosen; others were there from the first paragraph, which everyone knows is the hardest one to get on paper.

I’m trying to take the centuries-old advice from Phillip Sydney, whose Elizabethan sonnets are considered, after Shakespeare’s, to be the best sonnets of his age. In Astrophel and Stella, Sydney says,

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
"Fool!" said my muse to me, "look in thy heart, and write.” 

I’m guessing he spent a minute or two hesitating to share them, wondering if the damn Bard would cool his ink well long enough for someone else to get a sonnet or two out there.

“Hey, out there,” I’ll bet he said to his waiting public, “have a read.” But before he did that, he had to do the one thing that writers absolutely have to do to call ourselves writers.

He had to write.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Uganda: Part 1

So, how was it?

It’s hard to believe it has already been three weeks since I participated in a mission trip to Uganda, Africa with my husband, daughter and several others.
It seemed like such a long preparation for this 12-day trip. We had to prepare for the commitment to go, the money to get us there, and arrangements for the kids too young to accompany us. And the packing—dear Lord, the packing! The preparations started over a year ago.

But now that we’re all safely home and resuming something like a typical schedule, our kind and wonderful friends and families want to know about the trip. Oh, how I want to tell them! I want to share, with each one who asks, how the mission came about, how it affected me and how I want to stay involved.

But I find that I’m still processing it myself.

I really, truly appreciate the genuine interest in the mission trip. In fact, if you haven’t heard about it yet, please ask me! But if I hesitate slightly before answering, it’s not that I don’t want to share about it; it’s that I DO.  Sometimes I even find myself searching for the words to say, and it is a rare and highly uncommon thing to find me at a loss for words.
But the truth is that in the seconds following the inevitable question from folks—“So? How was it?”—I feel myself transported to the late-June Ugandan landscape and wondering exactly what and how much to share.
How can I convey the sights, smells and scenery of this east African country, the Pearl of Africa? I’ll bet no one expects to hear how everything smelled vaguely of diesel fuel, body odor and earth for 10 days, and coming home to Tide with Downey wasn’t quite as April-fresh as I’d imagined. I miss Uganda.
Can I create for someone the pleasure of the nearly 50 individuals that took ten days to become friends, and how these Nashvillians (not to mention a few Indianans, Californians and Mississippians) have already scheduled a mid-August get-together, because, frankly, there is an understanding among us now that we value and want to share over and over.
Further, can I relay how an entire team of Americans and Ugandans—a bit timid on that first night after an exhausting 8,000 mile journey, and the hard work that went into preparing it—were clinging to each other that last Friday at Good Samaritan school, not wanting to say goodbye to new and beloved friends?
Do I share about the translators, helpers, leaders, and servants who gave of their time and selves to accommodate we “mzungus”?
How do I express the freedom in worship I witnessed as my Ugandan brothers and sisters stood, hands raised in devotion, thanking and praising God?
Surely they should know how grateful we were for Ms. Rebecca, who fed us so well—two meals a day, in addition to feeding over a thousand children and adults. Her meals were produced from a “kitchen” without water and electricity, her giant pots simmering over a wood fire and her small army of helpers smiling our way, bringing our daily bread and constant lessons in gratitude and appreciation.
Is there a way to explain the feelings of excitement, joy and even guilt at the unprecedented welcome we received when we reached a point along the rural dirt road and had to walk the rest of the way into to village while throngs of children sang us into their lives? Maybe they want to know about the wide smiles and warm hugs of the thousands who touched me that day—literally, physically touched me— saying, “Welcome! You are welcome!”
How do I tell them that I’m still processing the moment I heard that my friend Sarah had saved the life a 10-day old baby whose mother died delivering him?
What about a day or two later when the severely malnourished boy was brought to the clinic, 8-years old and weighing only 18 pounds, and our medical team sought long-term, permanent help for him, continuing even now to monitor his progress?
How about the 11-year old epileptic that came to Raise the Roof Academy telling of how no other school would take him because of his health issues, but left, not only as a Raise the Roof student, but as the sponsored child of one our own medical workers?
How do I explain the 87 sixth grade children that filed into my VBS craft class one hot Tuesday morning, every single one of them without shoes, feet shuffling among tiny cloud-puffs of red African dirt?
How do I convey that, at least three times a day, a new batch of Ugandan children came into that room, eager and happy about what we were doing, and from then on, as I walked among the children outside, they ran up to me, palms raised, shouting, “High five! High five!”
Do I tell them of the morning I sat among the children at breakfast and held out my hand for my usual “high five” and a kindergarten-aged child placed his only slice of bread in my hand without hesitation or thought, and how I choked up so badly that I couldn’t speak for several minutes, instead pulling the child onto my lap and watching that generous little heart laugh with his classmates?
I want to give details of how we met our precious sponsored child, Bankiya Madda, and how her family received us with a moving and graceful hospitality. They fed us a veritable feast, giving us a place of honor in their home and gifting us with a kindness we could barely process.
Will I think to tell them that Madda’s favorite color is orange, that she is bright and beautiful and quite shy? Should I include how cute it is when she answers in the affirmative with a slight raise of her eyebrows when she gives a soft, “Yes”?
Can I talk about my daughter? Is it okay to tell them how she jumped off that bus immediately and threw herself into those children with all she had? I want to tell them how, when Madda had a fever, my Julia scooped her up and marched her to the clinic announcing, “This child needs to be seen!”
I want share with them the fear and concern I had about Madda getting home that afternoon with a fever, because she walks miles to school every day.
And what of the mothers? Do I tell people of the lump that forms in my throat every time I think of those dark-skinned, beautiful, hard-scrabble mothers going to any length—even in the most difficult of circumstances—to see that their children have a better life? The chance at an education? Enough to eat?
I think they will want to hear about the old African man that stopped my husband on the first day and with a leathery, aged hand, pulled him close and said, “Thank you for loving Africa.”
What about how my husband was as fulfilled and content with his work as I’ve seen him in over a year?
Then, what about the funny stuff? We could tell endless, hilarious tales about drowned lizards, the chicken dance, the chicken GIFTS, mzungus taking care of babies and the great balloon stampede of 2013.
Surely everyone will enjoy the story of how, on July the 4th in a tiny, little village, hours down a dusty African road, nearly 50 Americans stood among a group of loving Ugandans, hands over hearts, and belted out our national anthem.
Uganda was all these things and many more.
Mostly what I’ve been saying when someone asks me about the mission is, “Oh, wow. It was awesome.” But now you all know what I’m really thinking. You know that in the split second before I respond, a thousand meaningful, heart-breaking, uplifting stories flash in my mind.
So if you ask me about Uganda, and I pause ever so slightly, please know that I’m searching for the right words to tell you about my trip. Maybe I’ll try to be brief. Maybe I’ll pull you into an hour-long synopsis and show you pictures. More than likely, I’ll continue with a series of other blog posts about it in the coming weeks.
But maybe, just maybe, I’ll come up with just the right words, and you’ll understand what I mean when I give you a faraway look and say, “Oh, wow. It was awesome."
And y’all, it really was.
If you aren’t familiar with Raise the Roof, the organization we went to support, please read about them here and consider getting involved:


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Of hills, hillbillies and home

Do people even know anything about West Virginia?

When you tell people you’re headed to a family reunion in the Mountain State, they either start singing John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads (like we’ve never heard that before) or they tell you they have people down in Roanoke, which is fantastic, except that Roanoke, being in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is in a whole other state. It’s been that way since June of 1863. Look it up. (BTdubs, happy 150th birthday, Mountain Mama!)

Granted, there have been many attempts—some, quite successful—to exploit and poke fun at West Virginians. The most recent was the short-lived MTV reality show, Buckwild which featured Charleston-area teens engaged in various activities in their rural areas. Naturally, it perpetuated negative stereotypes of West Virginians, essentially doing for them what Jersey Shore and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo did for the casts of their shows: it paid them to be obnoxious caricatures of their worst selves and duped them into mistaking infamy for fame.

Not that there aren’t plenty of mountaineers who are like that for free.

Last weekend, during a visit to my home, I had such a run-in. I was in the parking lot of the local Kroger and happened to be wearing my Downton Abbey t-shirt that says, “Free Bates.”(If you watch Downton, you know what that’s about. If you don’t, why are you still reading this? You should be ordering seasons 1-3 at this minute.)

As I neared the store entrance, a bearded woodsman in the passenger seat of a mud-covered pickup truck stopped me. I solemnly swear this is how it went down:

Bearded Woodsman: Hi. (He made it sound a tiny bit creepy.)

Me (smiling): Hey.

BW: What’s that shirt say? “Free” what?

Me: Free Bates.

BW: *crickets chirping*

Getting the feeling that he might not be altogether familiar with Masterpiece Classics or the Crawleys, I offered a quick explanation.

Me: Bates is a fictional character on a television show I like.

BW (with a sly grin): Oh. That’s cool. I thought it said “Free Bites.”

Um, you wish, Grizzly Adams. You wish.

That trip home was epic for me. I got to attend a family reunion AND the Belle Town Fair! I finished it off with a little visit to the Dairy Winkle, the site of some pretty awesome onion rings and an enviable West Virginia-style English dog.

Not to brag, but back in the day, I participated in the Belle Town Fair Parade as a Belle Bulldog Majorette. So, as you might imagine, I was quite thrilled to realize that my visit coincided with such an extravaganza. Even if I did forget my baton. And if majorettes haven’t existed in 20 years.

Still, I was ready for the parade!

I may have romanticized it a little, but really, it was not the spectacle I remembered. I was happy, however, to overhear my mother refer to me as “The Shizzle” when she proudly recounted to my children my stint as co-captain of the squad.

(And, as you can see in the picture below, I [front left] was indeed rocking the boots and baton at the Belle Town Fair parade, circa 1979. And check out those lovely WV hills behind me.)

We walked from my mom’s house to the parade, visited the fair and meandered back home. My husband loved the small town-ness of it, and it’s true—it did feel very River City Iowa, very Music Man. I half-expected Mrs. Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn to sneak up onto the podium at the coronation of Miss Belle.

We were taken by the mayor, whose approach to politics seemed to be genuine and earnest, and at times even funny and politically incorrect without him even knowing or caring.

We also liked the lady who didn’t have enough cash to make change when we paid for our hot dogs and simply told us to “come back and pay later.” We did.

I enjoyed that comfort of being raised in a place where 23 years after I moved to another city, people recognize me, saying, “Oh, honey, you look exactly like you did as a girl!” and “Those kids have to belong to you, girl, they are your spitting image!” Some people I didn’t even recognize called me by name.

But it was the Nelson Family Reunion that took me there. The Nelsons—my mom’s side—gathered for a long-overdue family reunion at Point Lick Park, the Campbell’s Creek site where my Aunt Pat used to take me, before I was old enough to have memories. But my soul remembers, and because of that, Aunt Pat was there, too.

I reconnected with a cousin I hadn’t seen in years, whom I always thought seemed older than I was. Turns out, she’s only two years older than me, and just as funny!

It didn’t take long for some of the old family stories to be retold. We heard the hilarious story of how Uncle Tykes reacted to a man on the moon, and recounted the times when my Paw Paw’s sisters would gather to make fudge in Aunt Dell’s tiny kitchen, the sound of a stirring spoon, heavy across the bottom of a cast iron skillet.

I heard, for what seemed the first time, of cousin Buster who lied at age 16 so he could join the service and went on to become a POW in WWII.  I must have heard of Buster and his story dozens of times, but it wasn’t until someone showed me his picture and I saw his sister wearing a POW pin with the piece of a retired flag on her blouse that it connected somehow. In his picture, he was young, beautiful and mischievous. His eyes, that same blue I’ve recognized in other Nelsons, shone behind a freckle-faced, dimpled grin.

We remembered the Nelsons who had gone on to their own reunion, the ones whose lives were harder than ours, and who were back together again just the way they always liked to be; the way we were that evening at the park.

There were no stereotypes around that table—just a group of good, honest, loving family members lucky enough to know the unique life of hard-working West Virginians.

I watched my kids playing ball and running around with their cousins in that valley, in the shadow of those great, green hills, the way I had as a child, and my mom had before that. I kept taking pictures of the children as they played, and found myself adjusting the zoom to include the mountains around us, as though I wanted to give my pictures a context.

Those mountains, it turns out, are always a part of my picture.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Jumping Off Place

For some time now, I’ve had something of a love affair with the Palmetto State. There are two main reasons for this: South Carolina is home to Myrtle Beach and some of my favorite people.

I truly love to be at North Myrtle Beach. Our family considers it a necessary destination at least once a year, but that’s never enough. Each year, we buy a white picture frame and have it personalized with the year and a smattering of our favorite memories or catch phrases from the week. We didn’t get there in 2010, now known to all of us as The Dark Year.

The rituals we’ve come to love are familiar and have been ingrained in our coastal consciousness. The minute we pass the first palm tree on that 10-hour drive (somewhere between Florence and Marion), we begin to get into “beach mode,” and it’s only a matter of time until we finally hit US-17. Soon enough, we’re jumping from the car and rushing toward the Atlantic, dipping our toes in the sand before heading to Hoskins for our inaugural meal.

Honestly, I didn’t realize families even visited other beaches until I graduated from high school and moved to Nashville. Everybody kept talking about going to “the beach” and I didn’t recognize any of their destinations: Orange Beach? Gulf Shores? Destin? None of those are places in the 29582.

Sure, those sandy white beaches in Florida and Alabama are fine, and you fans of the gulf can have them.  You will never lure me from the midnight blue waters of the South Carolina low country.

South Carolina also boasts some pretty awesome people, their curious selection of a governor notwithstanding. In fact, some of my very favorite people are South Carolinians.  It’s no secret how I revere the great Pat Conroy, supreme novelist and Beaufort resident, whose tributes to the low country are unparalleled. Reading his work is, for me, a religious experience.

If you’ve been to Charleston, you know there is nothing quite as lovely as a slow walk along The Battery. But Conroy turns an afternoon in Charleston into a diaphanous, other-worldly stroll. The voice of Tom Wingo, affable protagonist in The Prince Of Tides, tells us in his unforgettably tender first line, “Geography is my wound. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” Naturally, Tom is referring to the low country; his amazing story—and Conroy’s masterpiece—unfold from there into magnificent, heart-breaking prose.

Upstate, I have family: wonderful, enjoyable, hospitable family.  In fact, this weekend, my great-uncle Ray will celebrate his 90th birthday. Family and friends will gather, not far from his little white house, to celebrate with him.

Everyone who knows Uncle Ray loves him. He’s one of those good, godly men whose life is worthy of emulating. During one of our visits a few years ago, he pointed to his well-worn bible, and said to me in his pleasant drawl, “Kristi (which comes out more like Krees-teh), the answer to every problem you’ll ever have is right here in this book.”

I was especially amused once during the brouhaha caused by The Passion of the Christ movie. My husband asked him if he planned to see it, and Uncle Ray replied without incident that he didn’t need to; he’d read the book.

I love to hear my mom tell stories of the summers she spent with Ray, and her beloved Aunt Sue, as a teenager. She tells us of the time she tried to show off for a cute boy by riding a skateboard down a steep hill—a task she hadn’t done before or since. She was banged and scrapped up, hide torn from the entire side of her body.

She tells that when she ambled back up to Ray and Sue’s yard, she was taken care of, nursed back to health (and pride) after the skirmish with the skateboard.

My mom felt safe and cared for by Uncle Ray back then, and she still does. She carries an unsullied respect for her favorite uncle, an honor she reserves for few people, because few people deserve it more.

My favorite Uncle Rayism involves the time told me that his great-grandchildren were such big fans of he and Aunt Sue that they would, “follow [them] to the jumping off place.” I love that: the jumping off place.

And in a way, I think some folks have followed—and continue to follow— him to the jumping off place. His 40-plus years working for R.C. Cola is a highly-regarded rarity these days, as is his involvement at the little Baptist church to which he remains so committed. But his legacy is his family, and inside that white house in Greenville, SC is the headquarters of a mutual admiration society: he adores his family and his family adores him.

I’m sad that I won’t be headed to the Palmetto State this weekend to hug my uncle, to celebrate his birthday and let him know what an amazing guy he is. But I imagine I’d have to wait in line. All the other attendees will be telling him their own version of how he has impacted their lives, and the line to following him to the jumping off place is pretty long.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Sometimes, a situation occurs—something way too delicious to let it slip by—that merits it’s very own blog post. Such a sitch has, indeed, occurred in Walker World, friends. Enough even to send me back into the blogosphere, a place I have avoided since December.

Turns out, one can get a great deal of television watched when avoiding one’s craft; but not much else. So consider this my Back to Business blog post. I want to keep it updated, at least once a week. No need to disappoint all 12 of my followers.

Once again, I have learned much about how a “simple” home renovation is a mirror of real life relationships. These same repairs also create an enormous amount of dust.

We are “thiiiiisss close” to finishing our brand-new bathroom. We are a family of five sharing a smallish space, whose bathroom grand total is one and a half. That ain’t much space, folks. Not only does it mean we use a carefully calculated Excel file coordination system of who showers when, but it also means no adult has showered (or done any other bathroom business) unaccompanied since around 2002.

While the full bath re-do was happening, we shared the half bath, a space approximately one-third the size of a Smart Car. It was loads of fun, especially before I got wise to using my daughters’ closet space as a handy litter box placement; until then, even the cat used the half bath. It was a constant lesson in patience, something I run short on too often.

Further, the half bath doesn't have a shower, so let me just say we're now members in good standing at the local YMCA. I joined the day before Easter so I could show up at church clean and spiffy in my Sunday best, and not the yoga pants and "St. Patrick's Day 2009" t-shirt I'd sported most of Spring Break.

The re-do has been a family affair. Most of the work has been done by my husband and my dad, though me, my brother and my sister have all pitched in. It is looking great. I love the gray walls, the new tub and sink, and can’t wait to hang my shower curtain—a 72”x72” New York City subway map.

But the one sticking point has been the shower vent/light. They were able to turn the vent on, and it worked fine, but the light did not. A series of re-wiring, junction box inspections, plugging and unplugging, then re-plugging in every possible combination, left the fellas out-of-sorts about the whole thing. There were trips to The Home Depot (this is how men solve an assortment of problems), calls to electricians and even reading the directions. Still, the light to the vent was not turning on.

Meanwhile, this slowed the progress of my dream ceiling: tin tiles, sprayed-painted yellow and affixed with some adorable crown molding. Then I realized that the ceiling was about to cost more than the combined cost of the new floor and tub. Now my dream ceiling has a less lofty requirement: done. And yellow. I will not bend on the yellow.

Alas—and here’s where the real life lesson comes in—the solution was simple. My hard-working man climbed up into the attic on Saturday, determined not to come down until he figured the damned thing out.

And then there was light! And a vent! At the same time!

Here is exactly the way my beloved explained the problem to me—I swear—word for painfully-true-yet-simple-to-solve word:

 “The male end was not connecting with the female end.”

Let me type that again for you, folks. It’s too good to say only once:

“The male end was not connecting with the female end.”

Well, I’ll be damned. There it was, the solution to an entire lifetime of complications, all wrapped up in a Columbia sweatshirt, feet dangling out of a hole in my bathroom ceiling.

He went on. “It was actually a simple solution. The male end was just pushing the female end away, but I needed to make a way for them to connect to turn it on.”

Listen, fella, who you tellin’?

And so, we have a light, a vent, a connection and a really, really good story about the bathroom.

It’s all about connection. Once that’s been made, it doesn’t take much effort to flip my switch.

Who’s turned on?