Parts Unknown: Flint

Parts Unknown: Flint                          Will air Tuesday, June 25: Happy 62, Tony.

8am Coffee-Flint Crepe Co.

8:45 Breakfast-Krystal Joes

10:00am Flint Coney-Starlite

11:00am Steak n’ Onion-Big John

12:00pm Local Beer-Red Baron

1:00pm Taco-La Familia Morales

Maybe fit in a car nap?

2:30pm Eclaire-Pestos

3:30pm Slice of pepperoni pizza- Sicily’s (cash only)

4:00 Ice cream-Banana Boat

4:30 pm Ribs-Charlie’s at the Flint Farmer’s Market

(Homeboys is closed on Tuesdays-they’re cash only)

5:30pm  Pho- MaMang at the Flint Farmer’s Market

6:30pm Burger-Torch (Halo Burger if it’s too busy)

7:30pm Fried pickles-Soggy Bottoms

8:30pm Whiskey Cocktail-Churchills

9:30pm Stromboli-White Horse

10:30pm Wine-The Cork                                                Times are apx give or take a half hour.


For years I have fantasized that Anthony Bourdain would come to Flint for CNN and do an episode of Parts Unknown, or maybe have a layover in Detroit and do an episode of The Layover in Flint since he’s experienced Detroit previously. Or maybe kick it all the way back to No Reservations and just show up at local establishments with a camera man and me, his beautiful, introverted but fun loving adventurous guide. We would hit Flint Crepe Company for coffee first. I’d go with a Peanut Butter Mocha. He would think that is ridiculous and get a black coffee with a shot of espresso. He’d also order an Egg n Cheese Crepe even though breakfast would be at our next stop. He’d start by asking me questions about where I ate growing up here and I’d tell him we were poor so I got frozen fish sticks and mac ‘n’ cheese. On a special occasion we would go to Ponderosa, the local buffet where I’d fill my plate with fried chicken wings, cottage cheese, and turn my cup into a sundae container and fill it with vanilla soft serve, chocolate sauce, and M&M’s. If my Grandma Shay was feeling well enough, she might take us up to Mickey D’s for a burger and fries. But this really was the extent of eating out as a kid. I’d never eaten at a formal restaurant until I started playing travel softball in Grand Rapids and then later, traveling to Europe, D.C., and Hawaii with my school. Then Tony would rave about the crepe and say, “Can’t I get another?” and I would have to tell him “No,” practicing for the busy day ahead of us.

At Krystal Jo’s I would tell him about my friend Wendy and her thieving coffee cups and also the bike give-away. He’d want to meet Tony and shake his hand. We would order the Ginormous Breakfast and he would not want to share but I’d say: “Look Tony. we’ve got a whole day of eating ahead of us. This is gonna be packed.” He would relent and we would divide the stack of pancakes and the eggs and bacon. Then it would be smash time. On to stop three…

Starlite has the freshest coney sauce so it beats Angelo’s. Take me to my grave on that one, but it may seem like Angelo’s gets the victory here since they’re “original” but Starlite just does it better, and Tony deserves the best Flint offers. Tony would ask about the difference between the Detroit coney and Flint coney and I’d inform him that in Flint you must use a Koegel’s brand hot dog. That is then served on a steamed bun with Coney sauce, onions, and mustard. Flint style uses the dry, loose meat Coney sauce and not chilli or red sauce. No beans, no ketchup,no sauerkraut-no extras. He’d dive in to his (since we each got one) and be transported to heaven for a moment. “Life is good,” he’d say laughing. He would chug his Coke down and want to order another but I once again would have to say a firm, “No.” On the way to our next stop I would have to run into Rite Aid for Tagamet or Tums because I would have forgotten mine. He would oblige me by coming inside and wonder why the drug store sells sundresses and beach hats and we are in Flint. I’d tell him about the gentrification and local lakes but then the conversation turns to water and I tell him about Bluebell Beach where you usually can’t even swim because of E-coli. None of the water is safe. “Irony man,” he’d say walking out to the car.

Big John’s is next where we go inside to order and get an Original. He’d also want a bottle of the red Sauce for dipping. We watch the steak sizzle and Tony takes a few pics with locals who think they know him but why the hell not get a selfie if there’s a film crew? Flint, man. It’s the little things. I call the owner at Red Baron and he said we could bring our food in, since it’s Tony, so we head down the street to the bar. He wants a Guinness but I talk him into something similar but Michigan brewed. I have him try: Dark Horse Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th, Founders Oatmeal Stout, and New Holland Brewing Company Dragon’s Milk. Surprisingly he goes with Plead the Fifth but I think it’s because he really liked the name. I get a Dragon’s Milk and make a really bad mother of dragons GOT joke and he laughs politely. I watch him open the sandwich and the aroma from the steak and onions fills the bar. A patron whines, “Why does Tony get to have all the fun?” He smiles and takes a huge bite of his half. I remember our stop at Rite Aid and grab a pill from my pocket to down with my beer. My stomach is not happy with me but we have a full day ahead of us. I’d want another beer but this time he’d say, “No. Tacos are calling.” We would get in the car and head downtown.

La Familia Morales is the place to get tacos in the city. We order three: one soft, one medium, and one hard shell. He piles on the hot sauce. I take it easy. I love the medium shell so I give him a bite then let him devour the other two. We eat indoors and he says he feels like he’s in Mexico and I say nothing because I have been transported to heaven with this taco. After a moment I come out of my trance and he asks for another. “No,” I say then he follows with a, “Where to?” At this point the beer and food have made me sleepy so I tell him it’s nap time. We drive over toward Pesto’s and I pull in but don’t get out. “Power nap,” I say kicking on the air conditioner and putting jazz on the radio. He pulls his hat down over his eyes and we rest.

Pestos isn’t super busy when we wake since it’s the middle of the afternoon so we are seated quickly. “Now this place is it. You know it’s homemade when you enter places like this.” One of my former students greet us and I can’t recall his name, but I act like it and Tony says, “That happen often?” I giggle. “All the time. It’s shameful but I’ve taught for fifteen years.” He shakes his head and says, “Does this place serve alcohol? You need like 15 shots.” I laugh again and we order dessert to split; the infamous eclair. It is to die for. Tony asks me about food and well, I have a lot to say. I’ve always been a picky eater but then things got a little obsessive. Like turkey sandwiches for an entire year. Like no meat for nine years. Like a little weird when it comes to habits. “I love food. I love trying things now, but man, it took a long time for me to appreciate everything that goes into cooking.” He nods. He understands. He gets up ready to hit our next stop and his head almost breaks the chandelier he hits it so hard. He is just that tall. He looks at the camera breaking the fourth wall: “Happens a lot,” he says then turns back to me. “Tylenol then pizza, in that order.”

After another quick drug store stop for Tylenol we head through the entrance of Sicily’s which is through the kitchen. Tony eats this up. He talks to the cooks while I just watch them talk and work, their hands kneading and tossing, and oiling the pans. This place has family history. Sicily’s was my Grandma Shay’s favorite pizza joint. She would order it on special occasions. Usually her birthday. My mom and dad went here on their first date. And nothing has changed since the 70s. You must bring cash, you must expect no frills, you must wipe down your own table if you like it real clean like me, and you must have cash. Tony catches up to me in the front of the restaurant and we order two slices of the original, little pools of grease made by tiny pepperonis are my favorite part, but the thin crust is exceptional because it still is chewy and light. We take our pizzas to the booth and I tell him my parents love story. He is impressed. He reveals that he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic but things haven’t worked the way he ever planned with the loves of his life. “I just want to do well by them all,” he says, “especially Ariana.” Things get a little emotional so I ask him if he wants to head out back to the Caboose for a cheap beer. $1 Domestics on Tuesday. He’s on board.

We grab a Bud and sit at the bar. An old man next to me begins telling Anthony about what Flint used to be like, even before my time. “All these bars,” he says, “were for the shop rats. We worked hard then did over time then drank until we were too tired to head home to the missus, but we did anyway then woke up to do it all over again the next day. When those truck and bus plants closed, so did our opportunity to provide for our families.” Tony nods but I see he’s getting antsy so I say, “Next stop, Banana Boat.” The barkeep tells us to order the black cherry chocolate in a waffle cone. We both thank him, say goodbye to the drunk, and hit the road.

Banana Boat’s line wraps around the building. It’s hot, sunny, and Flint loves its ice cream. Tony takes pics with babies and kids and teens and a few workers as well. We eat our cones on the way to the Flint Farmer’s Market. Even though we both got small cones of hand dipped goodness,  Banana Boat serves you double your order. We decided to park where we will end the night, The Cork on Saginaw, and walk a little of the ice cream off strolling down the bricks. Flint’s claim to fame. Well, one of them. The Market has two spots for us to hit today: Charlie’s Smokin BarBQ and MaMang. Since we can grab and go at both spots, we order our food then head up the stairs to Market Tap and sit outside with beers and food. At Charlie’s we ordered a half slab of ribs with brisket and greens. At MaMang we get the pho, banh mi, and duck buns. The Market provides local brews and domestic. We opt for a lighter fare this time with Bell’s Hopslam and hazy Old Nation M43. I dive into the pho first and it is spicy but beautiful. The ribs come next and fall off the bone. Tony is diggin’ the greens and duck bun. He states: “Worst food memory,” like we’re about to play a game of  “I never” or something. I divulge. I was a junior in high school in DC. We went to a famous Soul Food place, sat down at a table with a bunch of teens. I didn’t know what to order so I asked for a Turkey Sandwich. The server was so nice, he didn’t blink an eye, just repeated my order and left. After our meal, our guide for the week came by and asked everyone what they ate and if they liked it. When he came to me at the table, I told him. He was incredulous. I said “It’s my favorite.” He was like, “Carrie, you missed the point of eating here. Come here.” He took me back to his table where the adults all were and gave me a piece of cornbread and a bite of greens. “See?” he said, “that’s why we are here.” Tony kept eating, now onto the brisket and just shook his head. He took a swig of beer and said, “Damn humiliating. Good lesson.” We looked out over Flint and I pointed at different buildings and gave info on different stories I had heard throughout the years. We walked over to Buckingham Alley and peeked in on an art museum and yoga class. Then hit up the most famous food in all of Flint: The Torch Burger.

It comes with everything. It’s a half pound. It is better than any bar burger in the area-probably even in the state. It is the grill-they say-that makes it so special. With our burger-I only need a bite at this point, we each get a shot on the house. “A Special for Tony,” they say. We say cheers and drink up then I look at him and say: “Worst food memory.” Time for him to spill. He shakes his head and says, “Can we get another shot?” We wait, we drink, we talk. “Ok, that’s easy,” he replies. “Hakarl.” I remember the episode in Iceland. He says, “It was the single most disgusting thing I have ever tasted. Shark fins secrete ammonia so that is the smell that hits you first. And it’s fermented, so add that aroma in and you can only imagine the taste.” I cringed. “Apparently it’s a delicatessen but only old people and tourists eat it there now. They got me with that one.” After he devoured the burger, we walked over to Soggy Bottom’s but I had to introduce him to my friend Oaklin first. He bought a GoodBoy hoodie and we moved on down the alley.

Tuesday is jazz night at Soggy’s so Tony is feeling it. He mentioned his love for punk rock but there’s also a place in his heart for Jazz. John Douglas and Ramona Collins are on the mic tonight. We decide to get an order of fries and fried pickles with two painkillers: a summery mix of Rum, Pineapple, Coconut, Orange, and Nutmeg. I remembered that Malcolm X snorted nutmeg in prison. “I thought it was cinnamon,” Tony says. “Whatever it was, it must’ve been desperate,” I reply. He nods. “Desperate people do stupidly desperate things.” I didn’t probe further. We listened to the music and then the food arrived. A plate of perfection with golden pickle spears and a huge bowl of homemade shoestring fries. The music was a gift and this moment would be one I would cherish.

After listening for a little longer we walked to Churchills for whiskey flights. He loved the quotes on the wall. My friend Jaime served us and we really enjoyed the atmosphere. It was a mix of young and old, black and white, male and female. The whisky almost did me in, but I was able to get him to talk about one thing that I really wanted to hear about, his tattoos. He said he gets them for locations and people and more so, for experiences. The one in the jungle, hand tapped, on his sternum hurt the most. He revealed that he felt remorse since he didn’t keep his promise and return each year to Borneo like he promised and the chief passed away. It took him nine years to return to the Iban people for festival. “I wanted to see if I had worked my issues out,” he said. “Well, did you?” Smiling he took a drink of whisky: “I think so.”

After that was a long ass walk to The White Horse, another older Flint establishment mostly visited by lawyers and nurses and teachers on Friday Happy Hour afternoons or early morning shift changes. Tonight was different-tonight was karaoke night. We sat at the bar, ordered a pitcher of Oberon and a stromboli to share. There was a lot of country and a lot of Kid Rock happening until some Kettering kids brought it home with The White Stripes, ACDC, and The Shins. Tony liked the place. The beer was fitting after that whisky flight. We weren’t too tipsy yet, but we felt good and the singing wasn’t bad so that tells you something. The food was delicious: chewy bread, solid mix of meat and cheese, and the Ranch dressing was homemade. Tony shook his head at the Ranch thing but he’s not midwestern so whatever. Nachos, since they are baked, are another good pick there but we couldn’t even finish the stromboli. The last stop of the night was just another walk away and I didn’t want it to end. Tony was exactly like he was on television-everyone who knew him said that, but seeing my icon, spending time with him, this was beyond priceless and I was guilty of wanting more time. Wanting more Tony. Wanting more of his writing, his quips, his laughter, his stories, his ability to put people at ease, his open minded sensibility, and his stubborn sense of adventure. I wanted more.

When we enter our last stop, The Cork on Saginaw, word was out that Tony was in town and chef Marge was livid with me for bringing him to her place, last. Shannon, a dear server, said, “She prepared food, Carrie. Be ready.” I took him back to the circle booth and we used my wine card to get drinks from the wine dispensary. Marge was not having that either. She came out of the back with a platter of cheese and a bottle of 2006 Sichel Bordeaux. Now I don’t know wines well, but I know enough to know that, that one is expensive. She tossed our dispensary wine in a server’s tub and grabbed fresh glasses from under the wine dispensary. “Let’s do this right,” she says. Before I know it Shannon is bringing out scallops and crab cakes and calamari. We begin to feast. I listen in on the chef’s bantering about how to correctly cook all the things and I realize how fortunate I am to be in this place. I am in awe of the knowledge about food and culture that surrounds me. And all this coming from freezer pot pies and tater tots. Our friend, also a server there, Michael, showed up and he told stories of teaching his students and the water crisis and then Shannon brought out duck and filet and Tony said, “I thought this was our wine stop.” I laughed, sneaking a quick glance at Marge. She smiled and nodded, understanding that we only had a day to spend in Flint and maybe she was slightly buzzed from the delicious vino. “Tony, I’d eat here every day if I could afford it,” I said. Marge scoffed-dammit, mad at me again. He laughed and said, “But you’d miss out on all the other places left to explore.You’ve got to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the (Flint) river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody.” And with that, he excused himself to the restroom. Shannon, Micheal, Marge and I were smitten. “Holy shit you guys,” I said, “That’s the first time he’s pissed all day.” We laughed and laughed as I recounted our day’s adventures but he never returned. He just left. We didn’t even get to say goodbye. I guess that’s how he wanted it.

RIP Anthony Bourdain June 25, 1956 to June 8, 2018

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All thoughts and ideas are my own. Some quotes are published Anthony Bourdain quotes. Some people mentioned do exist and are highly respected but were not interviewed for this piece. I hope, however, that they enjoyed reading it.

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13 Years…

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When I was 21 my cousin, Caylin,  was born and I was allowed to be in the room during my aunt’s labor. It was long and painful and beautiful and mind altering. When my mom and I left to get some rest after being awake for my aunt’s 24 hour delivery, I distinctly recall telling my mom, “I am never having kids. Never.”

 

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Flash forward four years to age 25 and I am in the delivery room with my boyfriend, Paul. My parents came as quickly as possible, but our sweet Claire didn’t show up for about 12 hours. And when she did, I knew that I was meant to be a mom. It sounds completely cliche but it is the only way I can describe this new sense of purpose. I knew that what I had said years prior was out of fear and naivety. I knew I had a place in this world bigger than my own space.

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Claire has taught me many things in the last twelve years and 10 months carrying her. Some of the highlights would include:

1. Being an older sister is tough and special. Only other older siblings recognize this dichotomy. Bringing little Leo into our family of three was the most challenging thing I could ever imagine doing to a precious three year old. We had to open our hearts further. And ask her to share our love. And herself. It is a big task for a toddler but she amazed us.

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2. Being comfortable is much more important than matching or looking cute-Claire did not wear jeans for years and still only owns two pairs! She “marches to the beat of her own drum” in terms of fashion and loves soft comfy clothing more than dressing up formally.

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3. Being silly is necessary in this harsh world. I was looking for lighting for our bedroom when I heard, “Mom! Mom. Mom. Ohmigod Mom.” Knee deep in mismatched lamps and shades at a Florida flea market, I turned around and there she was. We both laughed and laughed. Later I reflected on her childhood innocence and hoped it would stay with us longer.

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4. Photo opportunities exist everywhere and traveling is necessary, especially if that means taking a pontoon out into the middle of the Gulf for a sliver of sand called The Sand Bar. Grandpa had only been to this hidden spot once and wasn’t completely sure of the location so it was kind of scary but then we saw Hulk Hogan and he yelled from an enormous jet ski, “Not today, brother!” after posing for a few pictures.

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5. Friends, Dawson’s Creek, and Grey’s Anatomy still resonate today. These two and their shows! I love that she can share her thoughts with me about some of my favorite old shows and then share them with her friends but I was baffled when she hated the pilot episode of My So Called Life.

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6. Dancing should happen daily. Claire has a passion for ballet. She prances around the house. Constantly. It happens in the store, at the lake, at school, and even at the tattoo parlor yesterday when I was getting my nose pierced. I asked her to take a picture while she was pirouetting in front of a haze filled mirror because an apprentice vaped along to AC/DC.

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7. When you feel like you need a breather, water helps. Lake Michigan is the best. Claire’s escape is water. It calms her, nourishes her soul, and gives her comfort.

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8. Sleepovers are not for sleeping. Since ten or so, these girls have been enjoying numerous sleepovers where we hear tales of headstands and backsprings, see remnants of musically videos, and often find empty bags of crackers and cheese scattered around the basement.

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9. Being an ally is one of the most valuable gifts you can offer. Claire asked if I would lend her money at a flea market up north. I did and she bought a PRIDE flag. When we returned home, she hung it in her bedroom window as a proclamation. I didn’t notice it for a few days after and when I did, I went in and gave her a hug. Her birthday occurs on the second day of PRIDE month.

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10. Compassion doesn’t always come with a smile; sometimes it comes with grief and pain. This has been a tough one for us to wrap our minds around, but we are learning to feel and then let go. To use our voice and be able to defend it. To offer a hug instead of a critique.

IMG_8722Happy 13th birthday, Thumper. We love you more today than ever before and look forward to what this year will bring. Thank you for your beautiful gifts. Keep sharing them with the world. It is a much better place with you in it.

 

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Pearl is 5.

When people meet our family for the first time, they are smitten with our precious Pearl.
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I think it’s her dimples.
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Or the way she puts on shows for the family.
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It might be her infectious giggle.
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Or her diva poses.
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It may be the love of her sister.
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Or brother.
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Or baby sister.
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Or daddy.
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Or mommy.
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But I think I know why most of all…
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it is the sheer joy she brings to our world every single moment.
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We are lucky she is a part of our family!

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Happy birthday, Miss Pearl.
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Leo is 10

leofamAnd this last weekend I watched him play basketball like I do every Saturday. Two weeks ago he finally scored and since then he has been a different player: aggressive when he gets the ball, driving to the hoop each time, and following his shot. This shows his learning. What hasn’t changed is his attitude and sportsmanship. He is the first to tell his team great job, and also the first to recognize a good job on the opposition. He sprints out to give his coach a high five each game, and runs over to give him one when he scores. This week, though, I saw his heart on the floor.leotieBecause the players are in third and fourth grades, they are still learning the basics of the game. Leo’s teammate shot it in the wrong basket, for the other team, even with the crowd, his coach, and players all yelling not to. This child was furious when it went in and he realized he scored for the other team. Leo ran over to him, put his arm around him and ran down the floor next to him saying, “It’s alright man. We got this.” They ended up losing by one point. Leo did not say on the way home that it was his buddy’s fault. He said, “Man, I feel like Grand Blanc must’ve felt last night losing to Carman by one. We played hard but just not hard enough.” This man child is really something special.leosis
Over the course of this last year he has established himself as a big brother of two little ladies, both bossy, but he stays gentle. He cares for Isla more than any of us. Pearl, on the other hand, will be his best friend one hour and his nemesis the next. They are too much alike to see eye to eye but love each other unconditionally. Lately Claire is more empathetic toward him so they like to snuggle in and watch a movie or play Minecraft together.leopillowGames are this guy’s main hobby. He loves talking and comparing games and characters. His favorite store is Retro Replay which papa takes him to anytime he visits. I think coding or technology is in his future.leoadventureFor his ten year trip, Leo has decided to visit LA in October. He wants to do some touristy things, like shop and see the Hollywood sign. He also wants to visit his Uncle Tanner, Aunt Ley and cousin Maggie, then tour Discovery or Universal studios. He plans on watching a Lakers game with his dad or hitting up a day or two of Comic Con. He has plans but is so open to adventure, it will be a riot hearing about him discovering an unfamiliar city.leo4thEarlier this year he told me about a great new radio station called 92.7. I was like, “New? What do you mean?” He responded, “Oh you will love it mom. They play 90s rap, hip hop, even Eminem.” I laughed so hard because he really thought he was sharing something new with me, and here I am kicking myself that this kid is 9 and hasn’t heard of my favorite Flint radio station. To be fair I usually have it on NPR for my daily news intake. Leo is such a fan of music, particularly Marshall which keeps him begging to watch 8 mile, but also dubstep and more modern rap. He also sings in the choir. He loves playing with instruments and has asked to try the violin like his big sister next year.leogrownLeo also enjoy the outdoors. Recently he received his Uncle Tanner’s grappling hook and has already tested throwing it and swinging from it like I remember doing with my brother. Even though it was snowy out, he had to see if his weight would hold off the playscape in our backyard. I just warned what comes up also comes down, so be sure to get out of the way!leowenIn ten years this boy has stolen my heart and taught me so much about love, patience, and sensitivity. He has helped me redefine what being male means…and how society is so quick to label boys as aggressive and tough. This tender heart is going to change the world for the better…and I know this because he has already changed mine.leomom1

 

 

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My Head is Full of Poems that Barely Make it to the Page.

Student

This is how you use an apostrophe; this is how you use a semi colon; this is how you use a dash; this is how you analyze lyrics; this is how you analyze a poem; this is how you analyze a story; this is how you analyze a novel; this is a prefix; this is how you survive a school shooting; this is a suffix; this is how you write a letter; this is how you write a persuasive essay; but what if I don’t want to become a target? this is how you research; this is how you read for pleasure; this is how you read academically; this is how you write prose; this is how you write dialogue; this is how you write citations; this is how you infer; this is how you survive a school shooting; this is how you write an essay; this is how you summarize; this is how to think critically; but what if I head out the window instead of barricading myself in the classroom? this is how to paraphrase; this is how to write an expository essay; this is how to edit; this is how to revise; this is how to use diction; this is how to create tone; this is how to debate; this is how to write a call to action; this is how to survive a school shooting; this is how to create mood; this is how to identify point of view; this is how to comprehend; but what if I die? You mean to tell me after everything I’ve taught you that you really think you’re the one that’s going to die?

Thank you to my students and Jamaica Kincaid’s, “Girl,” for inspiration.

 

On meeting a homeless man in Flint

His handshake so smooth
from years of callouses
and cold-
Swollen to the point of
Skin tearing across tight.
Like a child putting on
too small tights
that their belly fat
doubles over the elastic waist
while their stocky legs are
sucked tightly into the nylon.
All I could offer was
a warm touch and
a cup full of pennies.

 

“Counterfactual”

When I was 12 years old
we took a trip to northern Michigan.
Mom and me in the front seats
waiting for dad and Tanner to
bring Diet Coke and fishing tackle
out from the store.
A man drunk stumbled near us
kept coming closer
and closer to the car
so I hit the lock button
and looked over at my mom
reading in the front seat-
Oblivious
Content
Safe.
How did I know that at this moment
our lives could have been altered
by one push of the button?

Thanks to Clint Smith for the inspiration.

 

34 Refugees drown trying to escape Lybia

while I vacationed in Southern California.
Drunken mimosa stumbling upon a beach
combing through rocks and shells-
a small smooth bone, a femur.
I didn’t think of my students
until I saw this headline later.

 

For Dunya. Omar. Abrar. Rasha. And others still.

 

Each week my seniors study a poem and then analyze, respond, and imitate it. A few of these are my imitation pieces. If you are interested in learning more, email me at: matterncarrie@gmail.com.

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Poetry Inspired by a Trip to D.C.

 Poems by C. Mattern

What Have I Become?

Today I spent

one fifty on a few drinks

and ignored homeless.

 

That Time I Crashed a Family Reunion

So I’m crying at Obama’s Inauguration speech,

encased in a glassed wall,

when a black woman walks up and begins comforting me.

She’s in a purple family reunion shirt,

one of the plethora that day

reading “2017” in varied fonts and colors.

I mean, we’re in the tomb of her history,

and she is here next to me,

telling me it will only get better.

She who has viewed her

ancestors’ pictures

in this place:

a family photo album

for the world to analyze.

She who was once

denied the right to vote

by my people.

She whose ancestors were

enslaved by mine.

She who once

heard stories of

her grandmothers nursing mine and

then were forced to

give

up

their

own

babies.

Milk good enough for mine

but not equal enough to sit

at a table together and

pour from a pitcher.

She who is not so much a visitor here

but a brick-

the foundation-

a family reunion

I’ve intruded upon

only to be

consoled.

 

That Time I Called Home to Check In

When I told you

about the emotions

I felt

while

walking

through the museum

you replied,

Imagine living it.

So I did.

It wasn’t

even close to anything

like

I was feeling.

 

 

 I was Silently Sobbing

 

When I heard you whisper

in your husband’s ear

loudly enough though

for us to hear

that the pic of

President Obama’s Inauguration

was photoshopped.

 

Then soon after,

“I think they’re

Ignoring us.”

We weren’t ignoring

you, grandma B. 

We were cursing you

Invisible-

putting an Evanesco spell

on both yours and grandpa’s asses.

Pretending we were Ron, Hermione,

and Harry and you were

merely fucking muggles:

Ignorant, rude, inferior.

We were fresh out the

Emmett Till Memorial

and you frontin like Carolyn Bryant

Up in here

Spitting lies

Wanting attention

Creating drama

that made us wonder:

Why the fuck you even visiting?

Shouldn’t you be

headed to New Orleans

trying to stop the destruction

of General Lee

or down to Florida to

visit your president,

Instead?

Poems by A. Sewell

Dear White Girl at Open Mic Night

 

I should have closed my eyes because

I did not really hear you.

I only saw you.

I cannot recount your struggle- your pain.

All I saw was the color of your skin,

and thought- what does SHE know about-well- ANYTHING?

 

I feel ashamed.

 

The cries of children should not be prioritized by color.

 

 

 
 
When I traveled to DC with a couple of girls & they accidentally gave me the experience of what it might be like to be a color other than my own. 
 
 
I watched their behinds as they walked in unison several steps in front of me.
Their athleticism reminding me of my extra extra swaying drenched in sweat.
My struggle to keep up was real.
 
They talked, as close friends do, and I longed to interject a few words
that wouldn’t come out sounding forced or awkward.
The relaxed countenance during their intimate conversations
changed unintentionally to a furrowed brow when they remembered I was there.  
 
I felt seperate but equal. Scratch that- I was not equal.
I was inferior, and I felt it.
Yet I didn’t want to act like someone else to balance out the distance between us.
I wanted to be myself around people who were not like me. 
 
I wondered if that might be what it feels like to be a minority.
Wanting to be a part of something- an individual in a myriad of individuals
connected by differences instead of similarities.
Craving to keep what makes them unique, yet similar enough to be included in the conformable moments of love and togetherness.
 
But inclusion is not acceptance- merely tolerance.
Who knew tolerance could be so painful?
If this is how minorities feel, then teaching tolerance
is simply a beautiful blade disguised as an open hand.
 
And when you are a minority and similarities bind,
there is no place to be but 5 steps behind.

 

 
Perspective
 
You see our founding fathers
The building of a great nation
A place people flock to for freedom
 
I see cold stone statues that cost more money to build than I will ever make
 
You see a signed paper giving birth to a nation
 
I see a paper picked apart and used like the bible to support corrupt agendas
while the true meaning of it goes ignored by those with the power
to give the document meaning
 
You see a memorial of a great man who fought to end slavery
 
I see another white man revered while the
MLK memorial is outside the circle and a struggle to get to
 
You see the White House
a place where your great leader resides
 
I see a large white empty structure
crying out to once again be filled with men and women of substance, character,
and a desire for change
 
You see a wall of names honoring soldiers who have died for our country
 
I see my existence
A wall covered in so many names
and thankfully not my father’s
But I see his stories, and wonder which names are people he knew
 
You see a tour
I see a sad history disguised as hope.

 

 
 
 
Poem by R. Zimmerman
 
 
 
Still
That white momument stands tall against the blue sky
You know the one
The one that reflects in the pool
The one that was built to honor our nation’s “most essential Founding Father”
That tall white monument 
 
But in stark contrast 
Nowhere near as tall
No reflection but that of its past 
Sits a squat colored building 
A building that houses history,
abuse, 
pain, 
triumph 
of a people who’s skin color shares the color of that building 
 
The segregation of what was supposed to be “then” lingers in the skyline.
 
 

 

 

 

Without the Majority 

 

 

Killing thousands upon thousands who had no voice

 

Oppressing thousands upon thousands who had no voice

 

Representing thousands upon thousands who had no voice 

 

Without the majority he had…

Control

Power

Money

Fear

Stormtroopers

 

The Only Voice

 

Without the majority.  

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DC on a Dime

This past weekend I spent my birthday in Washington, D.C. with friends. Originally we went for a teacher’s march, but the date was changed, so we still decided to go for a weekend getaway. I have been there twice, but each time it feels a little different and this trip helped me to define community. Here are the highlights and a few key pieces of advice if you are trying to travel on a budget.

FRIDAY

We drove through the night Thursday and arrived at 9am Friday morning. This was the perfect time to refresh and get to the city. We parked at our hotel in Maryland, then found the closest Metro Station. It was only about a fifteen minute walk there. Immediately we put twenty on a card and were on our way to the first stop: Smithsonian. At 6:30am that morning we had scored tickets to the African American National Museum. If you check the website they are “sold out” through October, but often you can secure a free time pass if you get online right at 6:30am. It is a free museum but you must have a ticket or time pass to enter.

Just prior to our museum entry we had lunch at a sandwich shop. On the way back we passed a farmer’s market only open on Fridays at lunch. It would have been a perfect treat. It is the Reagan Courtyard and good to keep in mind since the food trucks only seemed to line up there on weekends.

The museum was powerful. We waited in line for Emmett Till’s Memorial so I would suggest heading there first. It is on the second floor. The staff advises you to work your way up through time, but I would go get in line to pay your respects to Emmett Till first. Architecturally it is a beautiful building for such a tragic history.

We decided to decompress and check in to the hotel after the museum. Then we went to Hamilton’s Bar and Grill (not to be confused with the classy and expensive Hamilton’s downtown) and I had a few too many birthday drinks. Hamilton’s Bar and Grill is super cheap and smells like a frat house. It was the kind of place you’d meet girls from Ohio and play a drinking game at the table. Next door was an English pub, The Alibi, perfect for a cheap Scotch Egg or Beef Wellington appetizer to soak up some of that alcohol. Since we hadn’t slept yet, we got an Uber and crashed.

SATURDAY

Today would be full of art. We had time passes secured for the Holocaust Museum ($1 online), but decided to hit up breakfast downstairs with the Sons of Solomon biker club that took up our entire hotel first. It was their annual gathering. After eating we hopped the Metro to Blind Whino, otherwise known as the DC Painted Church. Inside is a free gallery and performing arts stage. There is no easy way to get to the church, so trust your map. We took pictures and made art, then used lyft to get us to the Holocaust Museum.

I had never been to this one, only the one in Bloomfield Hills. They are set up similarly, but nothing really prepares you for the depth of death you encounter. It was pretty emotional adding on that I still hadn’t fully processed yesterday’s museum experience either. After the museum we decided to hit up a recommended restaurant, Busboys and Poets, named after Langton Hughes. The story goes he was a busboy and left poetry at a table for a poet, then the next day he saw his work in the paper! When we walked in a couple was getting wrist tags so I asked what was going on. Best timing ever: we could attend an open mic for $5. It was to help the National DC Youth poetry slam team to their next competition Brave New Voices. While I cannot share video because they are competing nationally with the poems we heard, all I can say is I was inspired. It was the best $5 I have ever spent.

Bathroom breaks can be tricky in DC, so we hit up Capitol City Brewery for a flight and restroom. Three of us shared a flight for $8.50 and I received a sample for my birthday free of charge. The complimentary Bavarian pretzels and spicy ranch dip were an added bonus for this impulsive stop.

Getting back to the room a little later than we expected, only two of us went out for the night, but once again, opted for local joints rather than tourist traps. We took the train back to the city and explored a little place called Showtime. Our friend recommended this spot and she met up with us there later. It was super cheap ($3 Natty Boh), had a funky disco DJ, and some amazing people watching. Granny wasn’t performing, but it wasn’t Sunday night either so we made due. We even ran into a guy there that runs the Crim each summer!

SUNDAY

We had to switch hotels this day, but it was not troublesome. We even were able to check into the W downtown three hours prior to our check in time! It was beautiful; the decor was modern and full of painted lego originals as well as a Nixon graffiti bar.

We had been waiting for this day the entire summer…it was the day we would attend the Game of Thrones pop up bar. We took the metro to the Howard University area, walked a few blocks, and saw it: the line. It was not as bad as I imagined so I was happy. We only had about a half hour until it opened and the lady in front of us was sure we would be getting in (they only allow 70 and then it is come and go). Also, if you’re a Fed you and your girl get to cut the line so there’s that.

The bar is unmarked-in fact, it is three bars that are owned by the same dude and he rented them out to this place called the Drink Company that puts on these Pop Up events all over. We waited for close to two hours with like minded fans which actually wasn’t terrible, and finally entered. Red leaves and a lone white wolf near the bar adorn the the first room signaling that you have entered the House of Stark, fitting for the many fans of Ned to begin in this room. If you keep walking towards the back you enter Mereen with a fire breathing dragon. It is smaller back there and a bit smoky, so we kept exploring. The House of Black and White ruled by the many faced god (over by the bar there is spot for your own head where you can take pics) is the next room. Look carefully enough and you can spot your bartender’s cask on the wall. Through the hallway graffiti’d with “Kill the Masters” you enter the Red Keep where you can pledge allegiance to your house and get a picture with Ramsey Bolton’s flaying device or Theon’s weiners. The throne room is located here so Jon Snow and Khaleesi may be easier to find in this room than the others.

If you go, sign up for the text message service to get a picture on the throne. Our wait for the pic was 150 minutes estimate, but less than that real time. Go with 3-4 people so you can taste the full menu and get shamed with the Tequila grapefruit drink. We got through every drink but two. I had to switch to Bend the Knee beer so I wouldn’t fall asleep. Yell out “The North Remembers!” every so often and eat prior to going because there are only a few bar snacks for sale.

After GOT we were starving and Oohs and Ahs was within walking distance. It is a soul food place that has been featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. I shared a chicken meal and also got to taste the catfish. Let me tell you: it is worth the wait AND the price. It may seem expensive for diner food, but there is so much of it, you can’t go wrong. I would order the grits again (w/o cheese) and also the Mac n Cheese as side. The greens were good but too spicy for my belly. The corn bread was a disappointment as it was dry but the seasoning on that chicken and catfish made up for it!

We most definitely watched the premiere of GOT then walked upstairs to the roof to one of DC’s hottest bars: POV at the W. It is known for its expansive views of the city and reminded me of NYC aside from the fact that you are literally looking down into the western lawn of the White House. Bring your money and leave your telescopic lens at home so you don’t get questioned by angry FBI agents who are on the lookout for snipers. After a few rounds and pictures at the photo booth, we were ready for a walk.

The monuments at night is the best tip I could ever give for DC on a Dime. The atmosphere is sweeter and calmer than earlier in the day with tourists everywhere. The feeling at each spot is in itself, monumental. This impulsive walk was one of the best memories I have of this trip: most of the monument can be reached within a three mile radius of downtown. Beware the rats-trash cans are usually filled up and not dumped until later on in the wee hours of the morning so they skitter about like Michigan chipmunks.

Traveling always reinvigorates me. There is a sense of community I found in DC that was unexpected. In fact, the more I reflect, the more I realize we were welcomed with open arms into a teen writing community, our GOT fan community, the local bar community, the African American community, the Jewish community, and even reintroduced to CA community by meeting up with a former student. This by far was the highlight of our trip: to come to an understanding that although our country is deep in the midst of a political nightmare, the people here are as open and connected as ever, and that cannot be broken, or purchased.

 

 

 

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Summer Reading

Each year I put together a list of books that I think friends and family will enjoy. This summer’s list is quite diverse, but all have special meaning behind the recommendation.

To begin we will go with YA book recently turned film: Everything, Everything by Jamaican-American author, Nicola Yoon. Illustrations are done by her husband which gives this story an intimate tone. It is your typical Shakespearean tragedy, with star crossed lovers and flawed parents, but there is no tragic death which is not a spoiler so much as it is foreshadowing. The protagonist, Maddy, can die at any minute IF she leaves her hermetically sealed home…like John Travolta was years ago in the Bubble. The boy next door moves in, they fall in love through their semi-stalking of one another and she plots her great escape along with her nurse, Carla. I love Carla’s character since she is the one who reiterates that life is about living not just existing. The writing is well done here, and the plot is redundant but a good redundant. Like eating another bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The book came highly recommended by my pre-teen daughter and one of my favorite students, so there’s that…how can you not love a book that ultimately serves as your daughter’s first love story?

The opposite of love is hate, and The Hate U Give is my next recommendation. This new novel by Angie Thomas takes newspaper headlines to YA fiction in a masterfully woven tale of a police shooting from the witnesses perspective. Thomas began writing it in college after the murder of Oscar Grant, but then life happened and she set it by the wayside like so many authors do. After additional killings by police, she decided the time was NOW and gives us the tale of a girl protagonist turned activist. Our world needs this novel. If you read anything this summer-it should be this book. If you listen to it on Audible, you will not be disappointed in the reading done by Bahni Turpin.

Another novel that needs a re-read, or maybe a first read, is To Kill a Mockingbird. I just finished this with freshmen and realized how this book resonates at any point in my life. For example, I used to connect well with Jem, the know it all of the book, and saw a lot of my brother in Scout. The latest read had me thinking a lot on Calpurnia. It may be because I read Go Set a Watchman last summer, but her strength and compassion for children, who weren’t hers, really inspired me this spring. The staying power this book holds is what makes it a classic.

Next on the list is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. This hilariously sad book comes from debut Scottish author, Gail Honeyman. Poor Eleanor is socially awkward and does not realize that her life is sad. She also has some sort of facial deformity which is reminiscent of last year’s children’s rec, (and again this year for those of you who have procrastinated) Wonder. She’s going through the motions and not really living it (similar to Maddy in Everything above) until she meets this stinky IT guy who appreciates her quirky nature. They sort of get into a relationship when they help an elderly man; so becomes a reason to actually live life…and LOVE life. The mystery surrounding her past unfolds with each new experiences she chooses to live. This book had me crying and laughing all on the same page but I am still hormonal so don’t let that hold you back from reading something fresh and meaningful!

Wonder, a children’s novel by Raquel Jaramillo, under the pen name of R. J. Palacio, is a rec from last year, and is the children’s version of the above book. It is the most satisfying tale of empathy I have read. Schools should require this book. Here is the upcoming trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngiK1gQKgK8

Another classic children’s tale in my house is the picture book, When Dinosaurs Came With Everything by Elise Broach. Illustrations are from Davis Small. This hilarious encounter is a fun read for any age. The premise is as the title suggests, so one can only imagine the conflicts that occur when running daily errands such as buying groceries, getting a haircut, and even, as my favorite line suggests inside the doctor’s office begging: “I want a shot!” The larger than life illustrations take children into a world where dinosaurs don’t necessarily roam free, but are free. Read it to your kids, or to yourself if you are a kid at heart!

Not for children is The Handmaid’s Tale. I would urge you to listen to this on Audible as Claire Danes reads it. It is painful but necessary. If you need a visual, Hulu has released a series that documents the text quite well, but as a feminist reader, I suggest listening to it first. Margaret Atwood wrote it in 1985 but today, all I can say is, shame on us for heading in such a dystopian, evil direction.

In addition to this text, if you missed George Orwell’s 1984 in high school, or just read the Cliff’s Notes version, it should be on your to do list. Big Brother is always watching, and in this case, it is through the television screen. Albeit long, and sometimes tedious, I think a full read is necessary for an informed adult/YA today.

The last of the dark dystopias is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This brings the Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 together in a Shakespearean sense. It feels much further away than the two previous recommendations, which allows it to be much more entertaining. I mean, who wears birth control on their waistband, right?

Two books that I haven’t read yet but will be doing so in the next few days are: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children and Give a Girl a Knife. Both are new releases but vary in genre. Beautiful Music is about a guy who was born as Elisabeth and is coming to terms with his gender identity. Its relevance today makes it a must read for every teacher while Give a Girl is a memoir for foodies. It follows one chef from the Midwest to NYC on an amazing culinary journey. One can only hope for a female Anthony Bourdain!

This group of texts should suffice for a summer of education and entertainment balance. Let me know if you enjoy any of his year’s choices, or if you hate them. Either way, I love feedback! It lets me know people actually do still read  which always, always gives me hope for our chaotic world today. And remember, books are expensive but the library is always FREE.

 

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Thumper is…12.

Twelve years ago my boyfriend, PQ, and I went over to our friend’s house for pizza. They thought I was crazy because I  dumped Thousand Island dressing all over my pepperoni slice, but we chalked it up to being out of Ranch and called it a craving.

Afterwards PQ and I took a walk and went to bed early since he had to take one of my Brown City students, Mike, to Western the following morning for an early bird college orientation. PQ was his recruiter and Mike had no adult family to help, so it just made sense. In fact, they had to leave at 4am to arrive by 8am and with traffic, and who knew how long they could get stuck on 69?

So the alarm went off by 3am and PQ begrudgingly got up to head from Lapeer to Brown City to pick up this kid and then drive him over to Western Michigan University. After he left, I got up to use the bathroom, but I couldn’t stop peeing. It was an odd sensation-one I had never experienced before. Maybe this isn’t pee, I thought to myself. Then it hit me: this wasn’t pee! Oh my god I am going to have a baby tonight! I grabbed a towel as the fluid continued to trickle and called PQ. I am sure I was a cursing blubbering mess already but all he said was: “Carrie, you’ve got this. Get the to go bag downstairs and go to the hospital right now.” He told me he loved me and he would see me and “Thumper” as soon as possible.

FullSizeR (3)

I wandered downstairs in somewhat of a fog until I saw the bag and thought: THIS IS IT. I am going to drive myself to the hospital and have this baby. There were still no contractions, but the fluid was still trickling out. I grabbed a banana and shoved it in my mouth, drank some milk out of the carton, and picked up the bag. There was still a towel stuffed inside my panties so it was awkward getting in my Jeep to drive, but I figured out how to balance just right without getting anything too wet.

Luckily the hospital was only a mile from our house in Lapeer, so it did not take long to arrive. Once I did, though, I wasn’t sure where to park. We took those classes, but they never really go into the important stuff….like where the labor and delivery entrance is and how to drop yourself off if you need assistance. Does that happen often? I finally stopped circling the place and followed this pregnant couple inside. I got on the elevator with them and figured they would know where to go. Getting off with them on the delivery floor, a raucous table full of overworked, underpaid nurses sort of greeted me.

“Are you delivering tonight?” one nurse shouted over the others.

“I think so….” I replied.

“You think so, girl, c’mon now,” she stated matter of fact.

“Well my water broke…I think….” I said.

“You think?” she replied.

Because it wasn’t the gusher I had seen in every movie, I really had no idea.

“Well let’s take a look,” she said escorting me to triage. One look and they confirmed my story.

“Your baby’s got a ton of hair,” the delivery nurse said.

“Whaaaat? You can see hair already? Oh. My. God.” I reached for my bag and called PQ.

“Where are you? Call my parents. The baby has HAIR.”

He thought I had already delivered so he arrived moments later breathless and sweating.

“Where’s the baby?” he asked simultaneously with my, “Where’s Mike?” I couldn’t stop thinking about this poor kid who had no clue what was about to happen to his life as a new college student driving himself to his own orientation. Kind of a metaphor for PQ and I now that I reflect on our situation.

“I gave him the car. He’s gonna have to be a big boy today,” he said. Taking my hand he told me how proud he was of me and asked for the details. I wasn’t contracting but was still losing water so they thought it best if we begin Pitocin. I wasn’t sure I wanted any meds but the more I lay there, the more I worried my water would run out and Claire would not have anything left to swim around in so I consented and we began the induction.

At this point it was nearly 6 am and my parents had heard their message on the answering machine once they woke up. The both hopped in the shower to drive from Burton to Lapeer, and my dad apparently thought my mom was taking too long so he left her. While she was still showering. He didn’t want to miss it! He was speeding east on 69 and got pulled over so when my mom arrived, he wasn’t there yet and we were both in a delivery room reading. She walked in like, “Where is the baby?” while we said “Where is dad?” We were pretty worried about my dad after we filled her in on the labor prognosis. About twenty minutes later dad rushed in thinking he had missed everything and said, “Where’s the baby?” while we all replied, “Where were you?” He talked us through his police ordeal and managed to not get a ticket using Thumper as a true excuse. It was a good laugh and then things got real pretty quickly.

Contractions finally started and we were on our way to becoming a family. Little did we know then but this baby would unite PQ and I more so than any ring or promise. She was our union. When she finally arrived at 1:42pm, she wailed. Like a huge HELLO! And then a small, “Where am I?” We decided to call her Claire Elizabeth. PQ had to help the doctor with the cord blood donation after he cut it, so my mom filled me in on her ten toes and fingers. Finally they gave her to me and I was awe struck. This beautiful being was created from two naive, reckless lovers and she was absolutely perfect.

IMG_8158

As she suckled, we crooned over her. Then we heard someone knock at the door: a visitor already? It was my student, Mike, returning the car keys. He had a good orientation at WMU and had made it back safely. Then we introduced him to Claire. He said, “I guess you won’t be there for exams tomorrow, huh?” I smiled down at the greatest gift I have ever been given and realized not only did she get my dad out of a ticket, she got me out of proctoring exams!

Claire really has the best birth story.

 

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“The Body Says What Words Cannot”-Martha Graham

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Claire will turn 12 tomorrow and today presents a final look at 11. Although an introvert by nature, Claire shines when discussing her love for dancing. That shine resonates in the following images. Photos by Rachel Zimmerman.

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