Sunday, April 29, 2007

One Candle on the Cake

Here we were, a little more than a year ago. We all knew our lives were about to be very different- Cathy with her first baby, Beth with a second girl arriving barely more than a year after the first, me with a little sister for Connor and Aunt Tiffany with three more babies to buy stuff for.

Unexpectedly, Francie came first, taking the genes her big sister left behind.

Then Chloe came a couple of weeks later- about when we expected her, but still on her own terms.

Charlie seemed to know that the party had gotten started without him, and decided May 1 would do- no sense waiting until June.

Tiffany made sure all the babies were well-dressed and all the mamas were fed and rested, and that the older kids still felt important.

I wish I had the talent to express how important it is to me to have these women in my life. Instead I'll just say thanks, Tiff, for stopping by to see the kids last weekend. Beth, sometimes I still cry because you aren't closer. Cathy, my life has been better since you started working across the street from me. I love you girls! And I'm so proud of us. Happy birthday, Mamas!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

All About Us

If you took enough Zoloft to make it through my interview with RJA, you might be aware that we birthed the now-famous blog series, "Get To Know Your Blogger." (All we did was IM, yet it still resulted in a birth.) This week Chip had lunch with Stacey and her notebook, and the resulting interview was published over at Dining with Monkeys. Andria stuck with the medium I love most, firing questions at me through cyberspace. You can find a transcript at Secret Agent Mom.

Right now you're looking at this picture, trying to figure out which kid is collecting rocks and which kid is trying to eat them. I'd tell you, but I'm too full of my own importance to waste my time on such trivial matters.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Tech troubles

For those of you who access this humble blog through, it works again. I had some hosting problems. Should be all fixed now-- sorry, it won't happen again.

Chloe has just about shunned the crawling thing for good. I wouldn't say she's the most graceful creature when she walks, but she is improving quickly.

Sorry, Connor-- you'll get your own post soon.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the Chockley clan ate out again, and just had to review it over at Dining With Monkeys.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The World's Great Optimist, An Interview With RJA

Earlier this week, I was chatting with RJA of Urf! fame through the miracle of instant messenger. Although I already knew at least a hundred and four things about him from his blog, I found myself getting nosy about what he does for a living and why. Along the way we had this exchange:

RJA: Will this interview be featured on One Of Each? That would be pretty cool.
SLC: Good idea!
RJA: It is a good idea. "Get to know your blogger"

Typical, that one narcissistic blogger would want to hijack the blog of another. But in truth, we’re not so taken with ourselves that we let the readers in on everything. We end up blogging about our kids, about where we go and what we eat, embellishing stories and posting pictures we think might entertain others. But rarely do we mention if we find ourselves following our dreams, or if running a smoke shop brings in enough money to support a family of six. And even more rarely do I stop talking enough to actually learn those things about someone else. So if you dare- get to know your blogger.

SLC: So how busy is your store? I don't know anything about tobacco sales.
RJA: Varies.
A lot of lottery sales, not enough cigar sales, but the money is in cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco.
SLC: So is there a lot of competition in Memphis?
RJA: Not really. There's me and Tobacco Corner.
Vinny in Midtown is a bit of competition and then there are a couple way the hell out in Cordova. In Memphis, our biggest competition isn't with each other but with online sales.
SLC: So is this something you always had an interest in, or was the store a good business opportunity for you independent of that, or both?
RJA: I wanted to work for myself. I've always wanted that.
So, in August of '98, when C was only eight-months-old, I started feeling pressure to do just that. I saw a notice that this place was for sale and thought it would be an interesting place to work. After much negotiating (though not quite enough), I closed on it at the end of December of that year, then took over Jan. 4, 1999.
SLC: So that place just caught your eye- you weren't on the lookout for a tobacco store in particular?
RJA: Nope. Not on the look out for a tobacco shop.
SLC: What were you doing before that?
RJA: I was working at The Commercial Appeal before this. Mostly, Stephanie, in the Sports Department!
SLC: Stop it!
RJA: Yep.
SLC: What did you do at the CA? Write?
RJA: A little. Mostly grunt work, but they did let me write a little.
SLC: So you chose being your own boss over writing for a living. . . because you can do both as your own boss?
RJA: It's more complicated.
SLC: Nothing's too complicated for IM.
RJA: I didn't go to college and all the CA wants to see now is a diploma when they’re hiring writers. But, as an editorial assistant, which is what I was, they would let me do freelance writing - book reviews, concert reviews, I covered a high school soccer match. And that was how I was going to prove myself. But then they cut out the freelancing by EAs, so I said screw it.
SLC: Gotcha.
RJA: My plan was to do more writing while here, but it's not that simple. Too much going on.
SLC: What, running a business and raising four kids doesn't leave you much extra time?
RJA: At the time I only had one. I pictured me doing a lot of writing between customers but there's always something else I need to be doing. Then more and more kids start showing up, so there's not as much time to write at home, either.
SLC: So the interview can continue tomorrow?
RJA: Okay. That's cool.
There's more to say. More than can be squeezed into IM.
SLC: You are severely underestimating this medium.

To be continued. . .

Part Two: RJA and the Smoke Shop of Doom

The next day, after enjoying lunch with RJA and Chip without a tape recorder for interview purposes or a camera for the “RJA with Orange Crush” photo op, the chat resumed.

SLC: So are you having a slow day?
RJA: Today is stupid slow.
SLC: Sorry I wasn't in the mood for a cigar.
RJA: I was counting on that sale, too.
SLC: So how long are you going to run that store before moving on to the next thing?
RJA: I have no idea.
SLC: You haven't started thinking about it? It's going okay for now?
RJA: Oh, I think about it. Kristy thinks about it. I'll either sell it, shut it down or it will be taken from me. Then what? I'm unemployable. No diploma.
SLC: So you don't think about selling it and buying into something else? Your assessment seems kind of negative.
RJA: I can be very negative when it comes to this place and what it takes to run a business in Memphis.
SLC: Well, good that you spend a lot of time there then.
RJA: Our debt is so monumental that if I sold, it would probably only cover (hopefully) that debt.
SLC: I'm sure in some ways it would be a relief to do that, but not at the expense of your daily happiness- assuming that being a business owner makes you happy.
RJA: I hear my brother-in-law, who works for a bank, and my office-working customers talk about meetings and conferences and power point presentations, etc, and I don't know how they do it. . . I honestly can't think of anything that would interest me. Except writing. Or being a professional cyclist. Or an adventurer, like Indiana Jones. Or being a character actor in major motion pictures.
SLC: So if you were writing for a living, what would it be? Fiction, short stories?
RJA: If I could do anything at all? Novelist. But I'd also write short stories, screen plays, plays, some journalism. Blogs.
SLC: Blogs plural? Like Stacey?
RJA: Well, if I'm writing for a living. Sure.
SLC: So do you have half a novel lying around somewhere, or what?
RJA: I've been working on a few short stories that could probably be combined into a novel at some point, provided I had the time and focus to figure it out. I haven't actually written in years because of time, mainly because Kristy wants to write, too, and it didn't seem fair for me to do so if she was tending to babies. However, a few months ago she said something that changed all that. I told her how I felt and she said, "If I could think of something to write then I'd write no matter what." So I've been writing a lot more since then.
SLC: Has the blog helped get you back into writing regularly?
RJA: Very much so. It's really good practice.
SLC: Looking back, do you think you'd actually have more time for writing if you weren't your own boss?
RJA: Yes. I can't get away from this place, even at home.
SLC: Do you ever think about getting your degree? In your abundant spare time, of course.
RJA: I've thought of going back to school. It would be to study creative writing and literature.
SLC: If the diploma thing is what's keeping you from thinking you can move on, there are lots of online programs you could do in order to get that piece of paper.
RJA: To do what? I don't even care about going to school for a diploma. I'd like to go to learn.
SLC: Of course. But you said you felt that if you sold your business you'd be "unemployable" without a diploma.
RJA: Right. But I also have no idea what I'd want to do. None.
SLC: You don't think you'd enjoy doing something somewhat mindless so that your mind would be free for your real passions?
RJA: I don't know. That does make sense, but I just feel that being a salesman or something - selling some product I don't really care about - would just depress me more than anything. I don't really know what jobs are out there, I guess. What do people do?
SLC: When I left teaching, I really had no idea what jobs there were out there, or what I was qualified for (jinx!) so I was surprised by what I found. . . But you're right about the diploma- if you have one, people assume you can do whatever they need done. There were times I regretted the liberal arts education- I felt lost not having learned any particular skill. I didn’t realize people are willing teach you anything if you’ve got a documented education.
RJA: What I wonder, though, is what the equivalent to a diploma is? Is running your own business for eight years as good to someone hiring as a four-year degree?
SLC: For a lot of things, I would guess it is. But some places are going to be run by strict HR departments that are stupidly rigid- like how the CA was.
RJA: Right.
SLC: If I win the lottery tonight, I'll be your patron. Can you tell that pretending I've won the lottery is my favorite hobby?
RJA: We do a lot of that pretending, too. I often wonder if there's a job that would pay me to listen to jazz all day and read. Then I realize that's what I'm doing.
SLC: Good to hear you say you enjoy it.
RJA: I like this job okay, except for the financial part.
SLC: Knowing your sunny disposition, that actually reads as the highest of praise. Does that mean despite it all, things are pretty good?
RJA: I do like this job. I actually love this job and love being my own boss. However, I tend to obsess about the problems and debt and cash flow issues. But I'm very proud of what I've created here. I've met a lot of good people and a lot of people have come to know each other while sitting around smoking cigars and drinking coffee. My store has become an oasis in downtown Memphis and that thrills me.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Little things I've forgotten to mention lately:

Connor has ringworm all over his face. He looks horrible, and I can only kiss him on his left cheek these days. It sucks, and although I smile to the face of the person I think he got it from, I secretly hate her.

Chloe can walk! We saw her take steps for the first time on March 27. She is still being kind of lazy about it- she'll walk if you encourage her, but if she's in any kind of hurry she drops to her knees and crawls with the quickness.

Where's the ringworm in this picture? Photoshopped!

On the list of things that have gone wrong for us lately, you can now add "shattered glass door on the entertainment center." Apparently Connor opened the door, and for no discernable reason it just shattered everywhere. Fortunately no one was hurt, but everybody cried anyway.

Totally out of the blue, Connor wrote his name for us. His first sign of impending literacy! Apparently he had been waiting to unleash this talent until he got the "r" just right.

Chip is going to turn 35 in less than a month. I had the idea that I was going to have a big party, invite everyone and their kids over and feed them, but the expense from the most recent break-in has proven prohibitive. So if anyone has any cheap ideas about how to celebrate, let me know.

Stacey's latest crazy idea is that we need to start a dodgeball team. We watched some teams play recently, and although Chip and Connor loved it, I thought it was kind of scary. Obviously I am not cut out for it, but Chip insists that I'm "athletic" and would enjoy it. I think Cathy hit the nail on the head regarding my involvement: "But honey, you're a cheerleader." Agreed.

In case there is anything at my house you would like to "borrow," I need to warn you all that we are now protected by Brinks! First time we got security doors, the second time we got an alarm system- I guess we'll wait until next time (tentatively scheduled for the end of June) to get the rottweiler.

Chloe has been working on this scowl lately. It's funny now, but I'm sure we'll come to hate it in her teenage years.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

You Can Always Go. . .

As long as Chip has worked Downtown, our budget has included a line for “Chip’s Lunch.” A whole world of restaurants greets him every day, and there is no way to avoid exploring it. I have long maintained that I enjoy taking my lunch to work and eating it at my desk, but it’s time to admit something- I’m jealous.

To begin with, I’m jealous that there are so many places he can walk to during his lunch hour. My choices are limited- I can walk to the gym and do whatever it is people do there, or I can walk to the Rat (the Rhodes cafeteria) and plunk down $4 for that day’s buffet of crap. No matter what they are serving, I always end up with a salad, a slice of pizza, and soft-serve ice cream. (When I was pregnant with Connor, I looked forward to that meal every day, but in the four years since his birth it’s lost some of its luster.) And while there are plenty of places to eat in Midtown, getting in your car, driving to Lenny’s and standing in line for a sandwich is just not the same as the Downtown experience of running over and grabbing a sandwich. And yes, I realize I’ve just revealed how lazy I am.

I’m also jealous of the Downtown social scene. Sure I can walk over to the Rat and there will be lots of people to visit with, but there’s something about the fact that we’re all coworkers that keeps me from getting too excited about it. No chance I’ll randomly run into someone I went to high school with, or an NBA player, or even a famous Memphis blogger. If I get in my car and drive somewhere, I might see someone interesting, but only in the confines of that restaurant. No running amok through the streets takes place on a Midtown worker’s lunch hour. And to emphasize again how unlikely many of us are to get in our cars in the first place- I work on the same campus as one of my best friends, and around the corner from another. The three of us have NEVER gone to lunch together. Ever. Tiff and I have managed this feat alone one time. And although Cathy and I have been known to go to the gym together at lunch, we have never actually broken bread during that hour of the day. Amazing.

Lately Chip has been trying to lure me Downtown for lunch. He finally declared that I must come have the crawfish BLT at Lolo’s Table- no excuses. So I bit the bullet, collected some spare change for a parking meter, and headed out for lunch. It was great. We passed a million places to eat on the way to our destination, we knew our waiter, we had great food, and we even found time to go buy lottery tickets when the meal was over. We dreamt about how, if only we were childless, we could live Downtown and go to a different bar every night to people watch and enjoy great food and wine. (We’d be able to afford it- no daycare bills!) And then I drove back to Midtown, happy in the knowledge that next week I’ll be back Downtown eating a Santa Fe Chicken Wrap.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Nick and SA

Back in the spring of 1993, my roommate’s boyfriend went to the Crossroads music festival in downtown Memphis and came home a changed man. “This band, 311- they rock! They got on stage and opened with this song called Welcome and it blew me away! I bought their CD- let me play it for you!” He was right- they rocked. Soon they were my favorite band too.

Eventually I married my roommate’s boyfriend, and we had kids, and to no one’s surprise those kids are huge 311 fans too. When Connor was a newborn, he cried every night from about 7:00-8:00. The only things that would settle him down were if I carried him around outside, or if we played Creatures by 311 really loudly and danced while holding him.

Last year, the 311 Day concert was held in Memphis (March 11- get it?). I had a ticket, and insisted I was going despite being 38.5 weeks pregnant. Unfortunately, I had a dramatic spike in my blood pressure that morning, and after spending the day at the hospital was allowed to go home only if I promised to rest until my c-section appointment that Thursday. I sent Chip to the concert without me and spent the night at home crying. Fortunately, HDNet was on hand to film that concert for me. (Still not the same as being there!) We recorded it when it aired, and Connor was thrilled. Lately he’s been wanting to watch the concert daily. He likes the songs where “everybody jumps!” and the ones that “rock it out!”

This week at his school is rock star week, where he is supposed to dress like his favorite rock stars and bring their CD to school. And here’s where the problem lies. This band is not at all preschool-friendly. Their audience is mostly stoners (which we aren’t, and never were, but we like them anyway) and the lyrics to the songs talk sometimes about smoking pot and often have bad words. Connor hasn’t noticed any of that, because in his mind “butt” is the only real bad word. In fact, he can point out the song lyric when they say “knock you on your butt,” but has never once taken notice of an f-bomb. I don’t know how I’m going to break the news to him that he can’t take any of their CDs to school this week. I am certainly not going to tell him why. I’m prepared to discuss bad words when the time comes, but there is no way I’m going to point them out to him. In the meantime I’ll send him to school with a Death Cab for Cutie CD and be thankful that he’s not into gangsta rap. Yet.