Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A New Address

Hello friends,

I've got a new address! Some of you know that we recently moved from Roanoke, TX to Arlington, TX to be closer to my honey's work. It's a move that makes all kinds of sense for our family. We're already feeling the benefits and we are loving exploring our new area. We've got a new house in the works which we'll be moving into at the end of this year.

In addition to that excitement, I've decided to move my little blog on over to WordPress. I'm gonna learn the ropes, and see what the fuss is all about!

Please stop by for a visit! My new blog url is:

Between losing my Mom, moving, and being the mama in this family of four, my head, hands, and heart have been full to overflowing. I haven't posted much lately, but I will soon!

Thanks so much! Come see me!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My article on kids and agritourism for Fort Worth Child Magazine

Below is a link to an article I wrote for Fort Worth Child Magazine on opportunities for kids in Tarrant County to get out an enjoy some hands-on fun at local farms. This was such a fun article to research! I'm looking forward to taking my girls out for some local farm fun this Spring.


To Mama: A Eulogy

Eulogy for my Mom, Rena Jo Livingston Bulsterbaum
December 22, 1948 to April 7, 2013
Delivered on April 10, 2013
at First Baptist Church of Deming, New Mexico

It's an honor to say a few words this morning about the life of my Mom, Rena Jo Livingston Bulsterbaum. To me, it feels right to speak these words as if I were talking directly to her.

Mama, you liked liked history, so I'd like to begin by marking a few important events in your life.

You were born Rena Jo Livingston on December 22, 1948. You were the 2nd child, the 2nd daughter of Rex and Para Livingston. At the time of your birth, doctors questioned whether you were alive, because the umbilical cord had wound itself so tightly and multiple times around your neck. The story goes that the doctor actually assumed you didn't make it and began to focus their attentions on Grandma. Well, they didn't know yet what we know well: one should never assume anything about you. You cried out as a little baby and made your presence known, something you did and did well for sixty-four years.

Eldorado, Oklahoma was the place your story began, and your heart grew deep roots there.

Anyone who knew you well knew that the love of your immediate family was a source of joy and strength for you your entire life. Your Daddy, Rex, your Mom, Para, your adored big sister Jeannie, your one and only little brother Earl, and your beautiful, treasured little sister Connie. You always said that your family didn't have much materially, but you had everything you ever needed in their love. You were taught by your parents to do right, to love God, to work hard, and to be there for one another through thick and thin. As I have watched you, your parents and your siblings love one another over the years, I saw a truly inspiring love play out.

You were quite a character, even as a child.

In the words of my Aunt Jeannie: "Everyone loved Rena. Her jokes, her wit, her beautiful smile and fun-loving attitude." Aunt Jeannie wrote: "Rena wanted to be a boy when we were little. She could run, jump, hit the ball, shoot a BB gun and out-do most boys at everything she tried. She wore her hair back in a ponytail and refused to get it cut until about the time she discovered boys as more than play-mates." Uncle Earl wrote: "Rena was the brother I never had. If she ever lost a fish it was always whoever she was fishing with's fault and sometimes she even talked like a sailor if she lost a fish! I remember like yesterday when my brother Rena all of a sudden became another sister and started wearing girly clothes and acting more like a girl instead of my big brother." I would not have changed a thing about Rena, he wrote.

Mom, you treasured growing up near extended family and you talked lovingly of your memories with your grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

In 1962, you moved with your family from Oklahoma to Elida, New Mexico. There, at the tender age of 14 you met a boy named Stan Bulsterbaum who would grow into the man you would marry and build a life with. You married in July of 1967, the summer after you graduated from high school. Five years later, you gave birth to a son, my brother Kary. Two and a half years later, you gave birth to a daughter. Me. My Aunt Jeannie says that you could out-brag anyone when it came to Kary and I.

You stayed home as a full-time wife and mom until after Kary and I started school. You made it possible for us to try many new things, to learn and grow at the things we liked. I remember sitting in the stands next to you at one of Kary's little league baseball games. Mom, you could be a really loud fan at Kary's games. At this particular game, Kary smacked a homerun. From the stands, we could hear the ball shatter the window of a parked car. Somebody in the stands told you they thought it was your window that had been broken and I remember your loud response: "That's OK, baby, if you broke it I'll pay for it, just do it again!" Kary never had a bigger fan than his Mom.

I knew in my heart that you were proud of me for wanting to follow my heart, to see the world, to try and change it in whatever ways I could. Even if that took you and Dad way out of your comfort zones. In college, I did an exchange program to South America for a year. What a difficult thing to let your child go so far away to an unfamiliar place. Just before I left, Mom told me, "What am I going to do if something happens to you while you are there? I don't speak Spanish. I don't even own a passport. I'll just have to get myself there and yell out: "MI BAMBINA! AQUI!"

Kary and I did many things you would have loved to have done. And we, in turn, are so proud of you. To me, my naturally beautiful, spirited mama was the most beautiful mama in the world. I watched you tackle challenges with your can-do attitude and I grew up feeling like there was nothing in the world you couldn't do. What a wonderful way to feel about my Mom.

Your love of family put you at the heart of efforts to gather family together. Your own, and Dad's. Your enthusiasm was contagious, and today we all love our memories of family reunions and time at our cabin in Ruidoso. We have so many special memories there, hanging out waiting for Dad and Uncle Jiggs to fry fish, playing horse shoes, going to the races, playing card and board games, eating delicious food, laughing and telling stories. Mama, I know we'll never get together without thinking about how much you'd enjoy being right in the middle of it. All the more reason for us to continue getting together.

The love you gave to your children you also gave to your nieces and nephews, and they adore their Aunt Jo. All my cousins know that you accepted them as they were, and were 100% on their team. Your great-nephew, Casey, one day asked his dad (your nephew): "Hey Dad, did YOU have an Aunt Jo when you were a little boy?" --because you spoiled your great nephews and nieces just as you had spoiled their parents.

Mom, I will always remember the joy you had towards your grandchildren. Now that I am a mama myself, I appreciate this joy much more. First came Jordan and Jaylen, and you loved nothing more than to see the bright light shine in their eyes. I believe you were happiest when you made other people happy, especially children. You gave your granddaughters toys, took them on trips, cheered them on at every activity you could, and told them you loved them so many times that they will never forget it. Mama, I thank God for the peace he has given me with you. I would give anything to be able to give my own girls time with their grandmother and for them to know first-hand what a vibrant, spontaneous, generous, unique woman you were. I no longer have that opportunity, and they will not get that time. But mama: I will never forget you, and I will always remember you with my girls. You have taught me so many good things to pass on.

We can't honor you without recognizing the role that work played in your life. You worked hard your whole life. You picked cotton, chopped cotton, babysat, waitressed, sold insurance, owned a clothing store, and finally found your niche when you created a rich and rewarding career in real estate, as co-broker of your own company. You did all this while supporting Dad, raising kids and loving your grandkids. It was a joy to watch you succeed professionally, and take on leadership roles in organizations in the community and state. You particularly loved southern New Mexico, and your life made a positive difference here.

You were--how shall I say it--more apt to talk than to ask questions. More likely to take immediate action than to ask advice. I mean, questions just slow a person down when they already know the best way to do things, right? :) You made decisions quickly. You were spontaneous. You probably did too much for us, and for everyone. You could have delegated more. But you know what, Mom? At the heart of all this was your own big, big heart that only wanted the best for all of us. You forgave quickly. You loved deeply. My Uncle Wayne said it well when he wrote that you were loving, almost to a fault, to every member of this family.

It was particularly heartbreaking for us to see you, once so vibrant, bright and capable, to suffer illnesses which filled your body with pain, confused your mind, and made you depend on others in ways you would never have chosen. But even then, how positive and determined you continued to be! You gave us loving words like gifts until the very end. The caregivers who assisted my Dad, Rosa Marquez and Pat Vega, loved you. Rosa and Pat became like part of our family and we love them and thank them from the bottom of our hearts. Regardless of the condition of your mind and body, your spirit remained kind and indomitable. Your will to live made me feel so proud of you till the very end. You surprised everyone in your last days, just as you did on your birthday, 64 years ago.

So, back to that boy you met when you were 14, Stan. He loves you so much. He admires you so much. And in your last years of life, he showed enormous strength and compassion in his role as your primary caregiver. I pray that some day you will meet him in heaven and you will know no struggle, only joy. (But, hey Dad: I also pray that this doesn't happen too soon.)

Mama, you taught us about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. As hard as it is to tell you goodbye, we cling to His promises that this world is a precursor to our true home. You went ahead of your loved ones, and some day we will see your beautiful, ornery, generous, spontaneous smile again. Happy to see us.

Meanwhile, we will miss the sight of you laughing as you dance, humming to good country and gospel music. Calling with your latest and greatest new idea, which you'd give us very little time to ponder. The back and forth teasing between you and Aunt Sharon. Talking with your sisters. We'll miss how much you loved Christmas.

We will miss you, but we will remember you, and we will love each other as you loved us until we see you again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

To Mama, Draft #1

Dear Mama, 

Before your 64th birthday party, I invited your loved ones to write down stories, memories, and special words of encouragement about you and for you. I did this in part because I watched you do this as a little girl. You gathered family stories, and you made more family stories possible because you love to gather family. I wanted the many people who love you to help honor you by writing their own versions of your story. We are all grieving. You have changed so much from the vibrant, dynamic, ever-moving, (I can’t help but say it but...) bossy, loving, generous, proud, sharp, can-do, capable Rena Livingston Bulsterbaum that we love. You can’t help this. You have illnesses of mind and body that have resulted in dementia, increasing motor problems, and unrelenting pain. It breaks my heart. You have been so brave. So very brave. You have shown the most remarkable attitude through it all. But you are slipping away. In the last week, you have experienced a sharp downturn in health. As of yesterday, you are receiving hospice care. Your loved ones all hope that hospice can do a better job of keeping you comfortable, and we can see that it is already helping. We want so badly for you to be comfortable. You are so loved. 

So, back to the writing down of stories. When I invited our family to send short writings, I tried to be encouraging. I said hey, everybody...don’t fret this. Keep it brief, just share something you’d like to share. I know that writing can be hard. I face this challenge every time I do it myself. I tutored and taught freshman English and watched students wrestle with writing every day. ( I loved that. It was fun.) 

I asked for writing about Rena, and I received. Lovely, smile-inducing letters and emails trickled into my inbox and my mailbox. I kept every one, and I still intend to do something pretty with them to share them with others when I find time to pull that off. I tried reading them to you, but I could tell you couldn’t really follow what I was doing, so I just re-told some of the stories others had written, giving credit to the authors. This pleased you more. 

Some family told me that writing wasn’t their gift, and/or that it was a struggle getting their thoughts and feelings down on the page. I empathized, but I still hoped they would just do it. But you know, I haven’t tried to do it myself until now. I’m overwhelmed. I’m grieving. I love you, and I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to deal with the reality that you are leaving this world, much as I also cling to God’s promise that this world is not our true home. I knew that the words your family members wrote didn't--couldn't-- fully express the love they feel in their hearts. I get that. But I’m still glad they wrote, because I loved reading their words. And, I hope that someday those words might help my girls can get a fuller picture of who their grandmother is. 

Back when I taught a writing class at California State University Fresno, there was an essay many of the instructors liked to use in their class. It was written by Anne Lamott, and it was titled “Shitty First Drafts.” Basically, in a funny way, she writes about giving yourself permission to just write that first, completely shitty draft. Because if you think you have to get it perfect--or even good--the first time around you will feel so hamstrung and stressed out you’ll never get to the good stuff. She urges you to go ahead and get started, no matter how shitty. Then, revise. Make it better. Take it in a new direction. Do something. So, here I go. 

Mama, my heart is breaking and so heavy right now that I don't know how to express this enormous love and grief I feel. I feel healthier spilling part of it onto a page rather than only towards the people I can touch, see and feel. I’m in no shape to write anything beautiful, but maybe if I write something and share it with others it will help. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have two beautiful girls, and a wonderful, loving husband, and I want to do the best I can with this precious life you and Dad gave me. You have always been strong, and I want to be strong like you. 

I love you, and I’m coming to see you on Friday! My mother-in-law kindly offered to drive to New Mexico with the girls and I. This is so much better than driving from here to there on my own. I am grateful. I can’t wait to see you, hug you, hold your hand, talk to you, do what I can to love you just exactly as you are. 


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

(my) article on homeschool book clubs

It's taken me a while to put this link up on my blog, but I want to share with you that I've been published. I should probably be more smooth and subtle about this, but, well, it was my first time to be published in print. So I hope you'll understand that it was really exciting.

My article in The Old Schoolhouse Annual Print Book 2013

Karla :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Use your words. With integrity.

Last night, I finished reading a fantastic book, with a great title, too: Use Your Words: a Writing Guide for Mothers, by Kate Hopper.

Hopper has developed a niche writing and editing pieces about motherhood, and teaching classes on "motherhood" writing.

This book dives into many interesting topics, among them how myths and models of motherhood shape us; using voice in creative non-fiction, how to ground your writing in concrete details, writing about parenting partners. Each chapter included writing prompts I found enticing. I don't always find writing prompts enticing. I didn't stop reading much to write, though, because the book is also part anthology, and there were delicious excerpts from essays about motherhood.

A section of the book that lingers with me this morning was on how to write about others with integrity. This is something I think about a lot. It has been a bit of a stumbling block to me since starting my blog, not because I don't "get" the notion of how to write about others with integrity, but because the stuff of my life that I am inspired by is intensely personal, and it is a challenging balancing act. I want to write and share, and I want to develop a community through writing, but I feel strongly about not over-exposing my kids and other important relationships in my life.

Annie Dillard wrote, in an essay "To Fashion a Text," "I don't believe in a writer's kicking around people who don't have access to a printing press. They can't defend themselves."

So true! Children, obviously, cannot defend themselves. And they someday may not appreciate all the sharing about them. And yet, writing about motherhood can be so powerful, and one of the best ways we humans connect to each other is through stories. And, at the end of the day, writing to me feels more like a need than a want. I need more of it, and scary as it can be to share it with the wider world, that's exactly what I want to do.

So how do I do this in a way that feels right to me? Some people blog under a pseudonym for themselves and their kids. Others use only initials. This doesn't seem like my style. When I set up my blog, I chose my real name, in part because I desire to develop a freelance career and ultimately your name is how you become recognizable. Using my real name also feels more authentic to me. I told myself, I won't write and share something that I am not comfortable signing and putting out there for the whole world to see. That does cut down my topics significantly, but I will find a way to write about people and events and topics with integrity. Using my name adds additional accountability for that.

Hopper mentioned that she made the choice not to write about her son past the 6th grade. That's cool. She didn't want kids in junior high googling him and coming up with anything that might make life more difficult. She chose to use her husband's first initial only. Only on her blog. If you read other pieces of her writing, you can figure out full names, but since a blog is google-able, these are her precautions. Also, she strives for honesty and humility regarding herself as a narrator in her writing. She tries to write about others in a three-dimensional way. Whenever possible, she shares her writing with those she is writing about. They usually have no objections because she's made an effort to be three dimensional and honest in the first place.

As an aspiring writer, this seems like great advice.

If she is writing for a print publication, she feels a little freer to write in a more personal way, I assume because it is a smaller, more focused audience, and the writing is less instantly accessible than on the internet.

Writers: how do you write freely and authentically about the things you really want to write about, while balancing your desire to protect those you are writing about? Dole out your best advice. I'm all ears.

Last thought: I want an MFA in Creative Writing. Until that's possible, I will keep reading and writing and trying to start conversations. I'm going to have to get up at 5 in the morning to do this, though. Mercy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sweet Fruit

Yesterday, while my toddler was napping, I baked cupcakes with my six-year-old. I love cooking with Sofia. I’ve written about it a time or two before. 

I asked her to open my Martha Stewart cupcake cookbook and find the recipe for the Peanut Butter-Filled Chocolate ones. She found it, and, unprompted, began to read down the list of ingredients. We fell right into working together. It was nice, and I couldn’t help but hope that we will have years of these times together. She’d read an ingredient, and I’d hunt it down in the fridge or pantry. She’d read the next ingredient, stumbling when she came to a word like confectioner’s. We talked about how to read fractions.  She continued down the list, giggling now, holding the cookbook out of my sight, thoroughly enjoying that she was in charge and I was the one running around.

She’s been reading for a while. She reads well, and regularly, usually from readers like Bob Books, Magic Treehouse, etc. But yesterday was different: she was reading to complete a project. She knew her contribution was valued, that it would result in a yummy cupcake, and that we were a team. 

As a homeschooling mom, I have had the privilege of nurturing her growth in reading and writing. As a result, this process of learning to read doesn’t feel mysterious or hidden from me. I am grateful for that. We worked through a phonics book, side by side. (We’re still working through it. We’re halfway done.) I learned more about our language and the process of learning to read as I worked with her. We’ve made many trips to bookstores and the library to pick out readers meant for practice and building fluency. I’ve overheard her read to her baby sister the same books I read to her when she was a baby. I encourage her to read whenever the opportunity arises and she has an interest: menus, signs, tags, receipts. I haven’t pushed it. She’s a kid, and I want her to be one while she can. I believe she has plenty of time, and I love it that I can help her advance without feeling like she has to move lock-step with a big group of kids segregated by age. Reading is important to me, and I hope she will value it, too. The last thing I want to do is kill it. 

As Sofia sat on the kitchen counter, reading, and looking so big, I was keenly aware of the passage of time, at the same time feeling zero regret. Those hours and days of sitting and/or snuggling by her side as she made important connections yielded the sweetest fruit: my baby, my giggling girl, relishing in her power to read. I treasure that I was essential to her unique process, and that it unfolded in the context of our home. At the same time, I want her to know that from here, she can go anywhere.