Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Spray Painting and a "Shelfie"

Fifirst of all, I stole the word and concept "shelfie" from a Chris Gavin, because I think "shelfies" are going to be the next big thing, and I am determined to help Chris make it a thing and get him an article on Wikipedia.

Secondly, I am very excited to show that we have accumulated enough books to half-fill an actual (small) bookshelf!! This is big. If you've been following our story, you will likely know that we had to give away almost all of our books when we moved. And we had lots and lots of books. We both love to read, so this was pretty much the saddest part of moving, except for the people we had to leave. So actually having a little bookshelf makes me very happy, even if we don't have enough books to fill it up yet.

Some of our old books

My lovely friend and neighbor Amy gave us this little old bookshelf, which I've put in our living room behind my trusy rocking chair. I want to paint it, but here's the question: Do I paint it a fun color or a normal color?

I bought two spray paint colors, pink and brown. Pink was for my desk chair. Brown was for the shelf.

I personally prefer Rust-oleum to Krylon.

I just want to cuddle it, it's so cute!

But after painting this chair and loving the bubble gum pink color so much, I'm wondering, should I do the shelf pink too? It would match the bright chair cushions...

However, the rest of the furniture in the living room are brown, so I should probably keep it matchy, shouldn't I?

Anyway, I have a bookshelf. I'm happy. I shall continue my quest to fill it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Birthday Banners

Well it's only taken seven years, but I've finally started my kids' birthday banners I've been planning since Fifi turned one.

I had this idea after watching an episode of Gilmore Girls (ha) where Lorelai pulls out all these weird and wonderful objects representing all or Rory's birthdays - gigantic stuffed unicorns and the like. I thought it was an adorable idea to have memorabilia from every birthday, except I didn't want to have anything quite so big. So I decided I'd make a banner, and use patches and appliques to represent each birthday.

For each birthday until they are 18, I wanted to have a separate triangle. For younger birthdays, there would be a patch that would represent what the theme of their party that year was. As they get older, it could be an achievement from that year, or a hobby, or something reminding us what we did for that birthday.

We did start making Fifi's around her fourth birthday, with my mother-in-law knitting the triangles, but it was just too hard to keep up with all the triangles for all three kids, and especially now that we are living in the US, it was too hard to keep up with that. So I decided I'd just get some canvas bunting for all the kids.

Last year, for Jaguar's first birthday, I bought the first package of triangles (5 in a pack) and started Jaguar's. One patch was easy enough to start with. So his has been up in his room from the time we moved in to this house.

His first birthday was a "little man" party with a mustache theme.

Six months later, it was Lolly's 5th birthday. Part of her present was getting her banner complete, with the exception of a few patches I had to order. It finally got put up about a month ago.

Lolly's birthdays have been the following themed parties:
1st - Rocking horse/Carousel party, where she got a rocking horse, a dress with a rocking horse on it and a Carousel cake and carousel-shaped cookies.
2nd - "Clicky Shoes" party, since she loved wearing my heels all around the house, which I apparently have no surviving images of. :(
3rd - Dora the Explorer Fifiesta - Catch the Stars party (which was a far cry from the well-thought-out Dora fiesta Fifi got years earlier)
4th - "Over the Rainbow" Wizard of Oz party, her last big bash before leaving Scotland
5th - Powerpuff Girls Superhero party

Super difficult Carousel Cake
Since I can't find any documentation whatsoever of my poor neglected
middle child's second birthday, this is what her cakes kind of looked like.
Her party this year was snowed out too, so only like two people came.

Dora Catching the Stars Cupcakes

Yellow Brick Road (and dead witch) cake

Creepy Powerpuff Girls cake

Last was Fifi, who now had seven years worth of patches to collect. I had the first four from her knitted banner, though, so all I needed was the final three and the triangles themselves. Fifinally, last week, I got them all ironed on and hung. Seven years after having the original idea!

Fifi's parties have been the following:
1st - Duckie party because she loved rubber duckies
2nd - Cupcake party, because we were decorating her room with cupcakes. She had the cutest cupcake bedspread.
3rd - Dora the Explorer Fifiesta, my favourite party ever thrown!
4th - Enchanted Forest Faerie party
5th - My Little Pony party
6th - Mad Hatter Tea Party at Teacups in Largs, her last big bash before leaving Scotland
7th - Fairy Princess party

Duckie Cake

Giant cupcake

Pinata cake - outside

Pinata cake - inside

Faerie Toadstool cake

MLP cake (made by Helen Ireland)

Mad Hatter's Tea Party Cake

Creepy Fairy Princess cake

Now that I am all caught up with parties, the only aim is to stay caught up. Jaguar's second birthday is coming up, and he's having a Carnival in the backyard. (However, if I hadn't already planned it all, he'd probably be having a Frozen party - or as Jaguar calls it, "Deep Deep Mo" (as in "Arandale's in deep deep deep deep snow") - since it's his FAVORITE movie.)

Hopefully these will be cherished as precious memories when they are older. I hope they'll want to keep these banners hung in their room even when they are teens - I know I'd have kept one up!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hashtag TBT

It's embarrassingly been a whole week since I blogged last, and even though I've *thought* about blogging many times, I just, well, haven't.

So it's Thursday, and I'm insisting to myself that I post something, so it's another lame "hashtage TBT" day. Throwback Thursday.

(These are the photos I tried to scan in last week.)

Going way back, this is a picture of all the Cornerstone church youth group girls. We went to the Old Mill and like dorks got photos made. I look at this picture and think we are all such babies -- and now most of the ladies in this photo have babies themselves now! Cray cray.

I wouldn't be much of a good sister if I didn't post a dorky picture of my brothers. No idea what ages they were here, but it was a while ago, judging by that awesome wallpaper in the foyer.

College. Hair. Denim shirts, cardigans and "ironic" tshirts. College.

(Amanda, Erika and me.)

The last vestiges of Scott's lustrous long hair. This was before Stevie was a professional hair expert. I'm guessing he was just finishing school, judging by the signed tshirt look. Scott and I were only *barely* dating here. Had held hands at this point, I think. I can't believe I let -- encouraged, even -- him cut his hair. It was beautiful.

Happy Thursday, errbody!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday at 11:11pm

Started feeling a little nostalgic tonight, so I got out an old shoebox of photos, with intent to scan them in and mock the people from my past.

Unfortunately, I'm an idiot and can't get them to scan to my new computer. So I just reviewed old Flickr photos instead.

Carol, Maria and I. We are now at three different corners of the earth, but I still love those two girls to death (and miss them all the time).

Scott and I on our second anniversary. We went to Inverrary for the weekend, with fetus Fifi in my belly. No wine for Lori on that trip!

Debbie and I on our Paris Day Out. So sorry for the crazy face photo, Debbie, but it's the only one I have that I am actually in. The other 21 photos in that album are all of Notre Dame.

Amanda and I and a box full of wigs. This photo is epic. I wonder if Amanda still has the giant blown up version I gave her for her birthday ten years ago? I'll maybe have to make her a new one as a wedding gift just in case she's lost it...

Fifinally, Gwen Stefani and two little Hannah Montanas. My Music-Mania 30th birthday party. Best birthday ever. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

If Babies Could Blog About Playdates

Today a friend and her two year old son came over for a play date at my house. From the grownups point of view, there isn't really much to say about it; we had a good chat in between child interruptings and planned to get our families together for a BBQ soon. But from the kids' point of view, I imagine the play date was very different.

So, if Jaguar could blog, he'd probably say something along the lines of this:

Me and my big sissy were just minding our own business, her watching bright colors talking on the TV and me pushing my green dump truck, when the door opened and in entered a big person and a little person.

The little person caught my interest. He was my size roughly. At first, he didn't seem very interesting; he just sat on the big person's (a mummy of some sort perhaps?) lap. When he got up, he was just trying to look out the window, not even noticing Mummy had brought out ALL MY TOYS! Mummy NEVER brings out ALL MY TOYS at once, so this was a big deal. Since the person my size - they kept calling him something weird which made no sense and I couldn't pronounce anyway, so I just called him 'Babeh' because I can say that and it makes more sense - wasn't even paying attention to the awesomeness that is ALL MY TOYS, I tried to gently encourage him to come play by dragging him by the neck. For some reason (weird babeh) he cried when I was just trying to show him ALL MY TOYS.

So a few minutes later, he finally came over to the toys that I'd poured all over the floor, so we could both see better, and guess what Babeh did - he started playing with my NOAH'S ARK! I mean, not my NOAH'S ARK!! Seriously, Babeh, that's MY Noah's Ark. So I gently tried to take it back and Babeh cried again!

But get this, ya'll. Mummy took MY Noah's Ark back off of me and gave it back to Babeh!!! Then she gave me a dumb old airplane instead, which was like, NO. But then I realized the airplane made noises, so it was cool. Noah's Ark's batteries are dying anyway and the noises don't work.

So me and Babeh played with those toys for a little bit. I liked having Babeh there. We're both short, and we both like to play with toys, and get this - he knew what a potty was! Just like me! And Babeh was so cool, he didn't even try to use my potty, he just looked at it and used the Big Boy Potty in the bathroom, which was nice of him.

But just as things were getting good with Babeh, I noticed Babeh had MY TRUCK!!! Guys, that is MY truck!! So naturally, I once again gently tried to persuade him to give me back my truck by pushing him in the face, and Babeh responded by pulling my hair! I'm, like, you take MY truck out of the toy box and when I nicely push you to get it back you PULL MY HAIR? Me and Babeh were both crying now, and our mummies picked us up and gave us both into trouble. Not fair.

Babeh was a cool kid though, because he gave me the truck and I signed 'Thank You' back to him, and we were friends again. Mummy even gave him another one of my trucks (which I had to try hard to not get upset about), and me and Babeh rolled our trucks around on the table for awhile. Until Babeh tried to swap trucks with me, and then it all started all over again. He pushed me so I tried to bite him. Unfortunately Mummy pulled me away before I could really show him how I felt about him trying to swap trucks.

I calmed down though, and we started playing with blocks together. We were sharing SO GOOD, ya'll, and our mummies kept saying nice stuff like, "Good boys" and "Nice sharing" and that made me feel pretty awesome.

Then this one thing happened.

See, sometimes when Mummy opens up her mouth wide, I stick my finger in her mouth. It's kind of a thing we do, I guess you could say. So Babeh opened his mouth and I thought he was doing the thing too, so I stuck my finger in his mouth and want to know what he did? He bit me! He bit down on my finger! Mummy once again rushed over to intervene, and I was pretty distraught. Mummy kept saying stuff like "You shouldn't have put your finger in his mouth" like it was MY fault he bit me! Crazy. Mummies just DON'T GET IT.

Well, so we played a little while longer, and even though Babeh kept playing with my toys, which sometimes was okay but sometimes was totally NOT okay, we were having a good time. Until I wanted both of the trucks (they're MINE!) and Babeh started crying and Mummy tried to take one of the trucks off of me and I started crying and it was just really terrible what she was doing to me. I have to admit, I had a little bit of a breakdown, throwing myself on the floor kicking and screaming. It wasn't my best moment, but what would YOU do if your Mummy tried to take one of your trucks (that belong to YOU) away from you and give one to another person?

Well, mummies talk about these things I can't pronounce ("consequences" or some weird thing like that), and I guess that's what happened next because Babeh started pulling on his mummy and pointing at the door and saying "Go". So you know what happened next? Babeh left! He left!! My best friend, the best person in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD left!! I was devastated. Why did Babeh have to go? I loved Babeh!

Mummy said I was "tired" and I was like "I'm NOT tired, I just didn't want Babeh to leave (or play with my trucks)" but Mummy put me down for a nap anyway. I was SO NOT TIRED, but I ended up falling asleep right away anyway because my pillow felt SO GOOD to my head and it really had been a rather eventful morning.

The end.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Arkansas Governor Primaries - For Dummies (Like Me)

So the Arkansas gubernatorial (I love that word) primary election day is in under two weeks. Early voting is currently open.

I'm a little late getting on the ball, but luckily I've still got time to research all the candidates before casting my primary votes. In Arkansas, to vote in the primaries, one has to choose a party and vote only within that party. Typically, I'd vote fairly Democrat, but since I live in Nowheresville, Arkansas, nearly every Democratic candidate on the ballot is uncontested, except for the position of Governor. (That means all the other positions on the ballot - most of which I think are strange positions to vote on like Sheriff, Judges and Coroner - only have one Democrat running at all, or in the case of judges, are non-partisan anyway, and still largely uncontested.) Therefore I'm also considering the possibility of choosing the Republican ballot and voting more tactically, or even - anything's possible! - finding a Republican candidate that I actually like.

I'm a newbie at politics, particularly American politics, so I'm writing this almost like a child doing a book report or an Arkansas Gubernatorial Elections for Dummies guide. My views might be inherently a little biased, but I will try to do justice to everyone's positions. My left leanings can't help but surface at times, but I'll do my best to keep commentary to a minimum.

After spending far too much time searching the four candidates' websites instead of doing housework and playing with the kids (they napped during most of this anyway), I present to you my clumsy assessment of the four gubernatorial (just love that word!) candidates based *solely* on their websites. This is the information THEY want to disclose about themselves (or their opponents), so everything is to be taken with a politician's grain of salt. Still, their own sites are a good place to start, demonstrating what they themselves find to be the important topics, or what they perceive we voters see as the important topics.


I'll start with the two Dem. candidates, Mike Ross and Lynette Bryant.Lynette "Doc" Bryant is a physician and a substitute teacher. She is involved in charity work, mostly in the medical and educational sectors. This appears to be her first foray into public office. Unfortunately, her website is absolutely woeful, resembling a geocities site of the early 2000s (animated gifs and all). While I understand she may not have a huge budget (and Obama won a seat in the Illinois Senate with a fairly small budget, so budget isn't everything), even the content on her website is hard to get through and make sense of. One gets the impression that she is a little unsure of how to talk like a politician. True, everyone is sick of the average politician, and perhaps this is her angle, but like it or not, we still tend to trust politicians with our politics, and not so much those who appear inexperienced.

It didn't take much time to search the issues on her website. She only touches on a few topics anyway. Beginning with Health Care (my number one topic of importance), she gives lots of examples of various Arkansans' opinions or situations before finally almost saying what she thinks herself. I understand her tactic; she's showing she listens to the people and understands different residents have different needs and circumstances. Where she fails is that readers have to trudge through numerous examples before finding out her platform, only to be disappointed at the end with very non-committal conclusions. Regarding health care, she shows how the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) affects different Arkansans differently. She makes good points, about how it helps some people, some people don't want it because they don't perceive they need it, and some choose to accept their insurance companies increadsed premiums because they want no government assistance. (Incidentally, how come NO ONE seems to get that increased insurance premiums are not ACA's fault, but the companies themselves who have seen an opportunity exploit their customers by increasing premiums for no good reason?) Yet her conclusion? "The Affordable Care Act needs to be reviewed." Um, thanks. No mention of how she will treat the Medicaid expansion (the "private option"), which for me is going to be a deal-breaker on how I vote. I'd like to know - is she going to continue the private option? Or does it need to be "reviewed" too?

Her other issues, Education, Pre-K, Jobs and Armed Forces, are all similarly, well, void of information. I don't really have, judging by her website, any idea what she stands for. She is in favor of expanding pre-school to all children in Arkansas, but her article on that issue only discusses her opponent's previous voting record on the matter. I just have to assume she'd have voted Yea instead of Nay. Regarding Education, she acknowledges the problem lies with the system and not the teachers or parents. She feels there is too much bureaucracy and advocates loosening the government's control on teachers. There is a 24 minute "Meet the Candidates" video on her website discussing education for more information.

On all other important subjects, like Taxes, the Second Amendment and so on, her website is silent.


Mike Ross is her opponent for the Dem. spot. He is experienced as a former state and US Congressman. His website is better, much more professional. He includes more issues of consideration too. On Health Care, he states that he is very much in favor of Arkansas' Medicaid expansion/private option, and intends to fully implement that as Governor. (Here's some more detailed info on it from the current Governor, Mike Beebe.) Yet he then goes on to say he voted against the ACA 4 times and voted to repeal it 23 times. He apparently felt Obamacare had too many bad points, but also a few good points and that the Medicaid expansion option was one of the good ones. He states emphatically, though, that "in the richest, most powerful country in the world, there is no excuse, ever, for a child born in America today to be denied medical care because his or her family can’t pay." He helped expand ARKids Fifirst during his time in Congress.

He too is pro-preschool education for every 4 year old in the state. His opponent, Bryant, showed on her site how he voted against the Head Start bill in 2003, but that's all I know. That bill did include that religious organizations could use religion as a hiring factor, which leads me to wonder if this could have been his reason for voting against it. Who knows? Bills are fully of things, they are never single-topic, so there could be all sorts of reasons one votes against them, apart from the obvious. At any rate, his site doesn't discuss that, obviously, but explains how he intends to implement his Pre-Kindergarten Education plan, by gradually increasing funding and investments into the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program so that every 4-year old in AR has the opportunity to attend pre-school by 2025.

He discusses natural energy production, and our state's high ranking in natural gas production, and how we should be trying to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. He wants to attract manufacturers of windmills and solar panels to help do our our part to produce natural energy, since we can't directly produce the wind and solar enegeries, and to create jobs. I am happy to see "green" issues on his list of concerns. He is also an advocate of agriculture and farming, though I'm sure all of the candidates are! He was a member of the House Agriculture Committee in 2002 and helped pass the 21st Century Farm Bill and helped override Bush's veto of the 2008 Farm Bill.

He is pro-guns, a life member of the NRA, and will do nothing to restrict your gun-owning, gun-carrying rights. So all you gun-lovers will be happy to know that if he is elected, your guns will remain safely in your holsters. He has the voting record to prove it.

Fifinally, he discusses Income Tax. Everyone is always wanting to cut taxes, of course. No one likes paying them, but taxes are unavoidable and necessary. However, the income tax in Arkansas hasn't been revised since the 1971, when the average household was making $8,000. The average today is $40,000. Basically, all the candidates for Governor want to address this; the question is, what kind of plans do they have?

All of the candidates (except Bryant) indicate on their sites that they want to reform not just the percentage rate of taxes but the income level brackets too. Basically, if a family in AR makes $34k, they pay the topmost rate of 7% in income tax, which is higher than almost every other state. This is the same percentage for everyone over $34k, meaning those earning $100k, $200k, etc are all paying 7%. Remembering that the average income in AR is $40k (and the poverty line for a family of five is $27,910), $34k is a low cut-off rate for the highest income tax bracket.

Ross proposes dropping the percentages by only .1%, but he also wants to change the income level brackets to make the top payers those who make $75,100 and over. These top payers would receive a .1% decrease in taxation, paying 6.9% in income tax. The next level would be between $45k and $75,099, paying 5.9%. You can see the graph (and the plan) here which shows all his proposed new income tax brackets, but that means for the average middle class $40k a year earning family, they would now be paying 4.4% income tax. He does not indicate his time frame for this, but it appears these changes would happen simultaneously for all brackets. Those who are in the "working poor" classes then would get the break at the same time as everyone else. (Compare that to the plan Asa Hutchinson (R) proposes below where tax cuts start with the middle class and will later be extended to the lower class.) I think if anyone needs the tax break first, it's our working poor.


Let's move on to the two Republican candidates, Asa Hutchinson and Curtis Coleman.

Asa Hutchinson is a household name. He has been a US Congressman for many years, was the Director of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. There is no doubt that he is an experienced politician and has done some great work during his time in Congress, including negotiating the surrender of a violent terrorist group in Arkansas during Reagan's administration. His website, however glamourous, is somewhat devoid of information. You have to watch videos to find out what his platforms are, and the videos end up just being little soundbites of his ideologies. I hate watching videos, even if they are all under one minute long; I much prefer reading articles. He has a few articles posted about his issues, so I'll start with those.

He briefly discusses the Affordable Care Act. He is very much opposed, naturally as a Republican, and would like to see it repealed. He is dissatisfied with the insurance premium rates increase (again, the companies' move, not Obamacare's) and sees it as a job killer. However, repealing and replacing ACA is not in the Governor's remit, so at best he would have the influence over the Medicaid expansion option which Arkansas chose to implement. He states that AR was handed a terrible program and has had to make the best of it. Still, he is wary of the private option too, sees it as a "pilot" project and intends to assess its value to see if it should be terminated. He isn't convinced that it will have long-term cost benefits to taxpayers. In his words, "If the Private Option is not accomplishing its objectives and it costs too much, then we need to end it and I will be the first one to call for its termination."

He too wants to reform Income Tax in the state. As I mentioned previously, he wants to begin with tax cuts for the middle class first. His plan would mean a full 1% decrease in taxation, dropping the rate from 7% to 6% for earners between $34k and $75k, and from 6% to 5% for earners between $20,400 and up to $33,999. This does provide a good tax break annually for middle class (and lower middle class) families, which is great. Later on, he would bring the percentage down for the rest of those earning over and above $75k, but he says nothing about the rest of those in the lower brackets (under $20,400). I must admit I find it incredibly difficult to understand why he is completely ignoring the working poor who need the tax breaks more than anyone.

(And also, the question remains to all of the candidates- what programs are going to get cut out of the budget when the proposed tax cuts are implemented? That's a lot of money that was going somewhere no longer going there.)

The only other issues he writes about are education and job creation. He intends to allocate money for more training for students (particularly those not suited or interested in four-year college educations) to help them get jobs, and he will revisit the decision to include Common Core in our schools. He would like to see computer coding/ programming started in high schools to get more students learning computer science, which he feels is a window of opportunity being missed in the state, with well-paying jobs in technology on the steady rise. There are jobs out there in computer science, but students aren't introduced to the field in the numbers they could be.

That's all he really talks about. His short video clips just give soundbites on family values and experience without saying much of anything. And of course, his website informs us that he is endorsed by the NRA, of course, so your guns are still safe.


Then there is conservative Republican Curtis Coleman. He was the Founding President and CEO of Safe Foods Corporation and Chariman of The Institute For Constitution Policy. Since I've commented on the rest of the websites, I'll say his is fairly good-looking, but again, woefully devoid of useful information. The two easiest issues on his Policies tab to address are Life and Marriage, both of which he sums up in single sentences. These two sentences make it clear he is totally pro-life and totally anti-same sex marriage. Nuff said, I guess.

Similarly, his support for states' rights (10th amendment) is strong, and he advocates for no taxation of retired veterans. He is against federalization of the Arkansas National Guard. He also pro-guns (2nd amendment).

Education and taxation are the two topics that he offers more than just a few paragraphs (or sentences) to. In fact, he offers so much information on these two topics, I am completely unable to summarize his positions easily. Regarding education, he would like to implement ideas like creating vouchers that would allow parents more choice on where they send their kids to school, wiping out Common Core and other curricula forced on schools and increasing opportunities for technical training rather than focusing solely on sending more kids to four-year degree programs. Arkansas is one of the worst ranking states (49th actually) in education, and he rightly wants to make changes to improve on that. He has lots to say on the subject.

His tax reform policies are somewhere in between Ross's and Hutchinson's proposals. His graphs show by 2016 changes reflecting a simultaneous shift of earners over $50k paying 6.82% (a slightly higher cut than Ross, a lower cut than Hutchinson for this bracket), and the average family making $40k a year would be taxed at 5.85% (higher tax rate than Ross, lower than Hutchinson). By the end of his estimated roll-out plan, though, by 2023, families making over $50k would end up at a 5.53% income tax and those earning $40k - our current "average" (he doesn't say if this incorporates inflation) - would pay only 4.66%.

He talks extensively about his taxation plans, including sales tax reform. He has plans for significantly reducing taxes on small businesses, creating "tax-free enterprise zones", limiting the involvement of government in businesses, and reaching the ultimate goal of increasing the median household income by 32% and decreasing the number of households in poverty by 20%. I don't know how he's going to do it all, but it's ambitious and praiseworthy.

His website is silent on the subject of health care.


Those are your gubernatorial candidates in the upcoming primary elections. Once again, I'll reiterate that I tried to stick strictly to their individual websites for information. If a candidate strikes you as worthy of more research, please go learn more. If one is speaking in a town near you, go listen to them. And once you've decided who you'd like to stand behind, go vote!! Early voting is open now, and the official Election Day is May 20th.

And once we have our two official candidates for Governor, spend some time getting to "know" them better in time for the final election!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Survivor Guilt

I've been putting off posting about this, because I don't know what I can say to do it justice. But it's so heavily on my mind, I can't just not say something about it at all.

Found in the wreckage.
A week ago yesterday, a terrible storm crossed Arkansas culminating in tornadoes that touched down in several surrounding areas and leveled a neighboring town (as well as a few others). The same storm system also created tornadoes in a couple of the surrounding states.

It's been a long time since I've lived through a tornado warning. In high school, I remember a tornado warning being issued during a rehearsal for our school's spring musical. We all had to line up along a wall within the auditorium with textbooks over our heads. Our parents weren't allowed to come pick us up until after the tornado passed because the school was on lockdown. For the parents, it must've been terrifying. For us teenagers, it was just a thrill. Nothing bad happened nearby that I remember.

In college, I saw a tornado for the first and only time. I was staying at my then boyfriend's house in Searcy, AR, and the whole family plus me was crouching in the hallway. His dad kept going outside to look. I worked up the courage to go look too and in the far distance I saw the funnel cloud reaching from the distant black sky to the horizon. It was terrifying and breath-taking.

But last week was the first time I ever experienced the actual reality of a tornado.

I woke up early that morning to a thunderstorm. The night before, we'd left our canopy out in the back yard, so I quickly woke Scott and said we needed to get it down before it filled with rain. In our pajamas, we ran outside and clumsily fumbled with metal poles while lightning forked through the sky and thunder roared. It was a little frightening.

The forecast predicted tornadoes. I'm not a panicker in these kinds of situations, so I wasn't really all that unhinged. A bit freaked out, yes, but that was it. We spent the day inside, as thunderstorms came and went. It wasn't until late afternoon that I began to sense the seriousness of the coming storm.

An enormous black cloud was approaching outside. I tried to film it with my camera, but my camera's settings kept trying to compensate for the blackness by increasing its light balance. (Apologies for the lack of correct photography lingo.) It was mostly silent outside, and a little greenish, two indicators that this was tornado weather. Never had I seen a cloud like it. It covered the whole sky from my view outside my back door. On one edge, Scott noticed clouds swirling down and back up into the greater cloud. He called me to come look. Little wispy clouds were being sucked up into the black cloud in circular motion. I'd never seen anything like it.

This cloud looks dreary and grey in this picture;
in reality, it was almost completely black.

I started watching the storm chasers online. We don't have access to TV stations, so I couldn't watch the news. Facebook too was popping up with lots of weather updates from friends, including some 'how to stay safe in a tornado' posts. I'd never considered half the things people were suggesting - food for 72 hours, bike helmets, shoes in case you had to walk through rubble. I felt a little paranoid doing it, but I went ahead and cleared out Jaguar's closet, which is the innermost room in our home, with no outside-adjoining walls. I gathered together our personal documents, some water, our shoes and the kids' bike helmets. We put the kids to bed, thinking we'd scoop them up and bring them into the closet lined with pillows should the sirens go off.

I watched the coverage by professional storm chasers until midnight, when the storms had officially passed out of our area. I knew the storms had severely hit Vilonia, a town 18 miles north of us, and Mayflower and Maumelle, about 20 miles west. But I didn't know the full extent of it until the next morning.

Vilonia (and Mayflower) had been destroyed. Over a hundred people had been injured and at that point at least 5 dead. The total rose to 12 (then 15) as the day progressed. Around 40 people were still unaccounted for. Emergency staff were the only ones allowed in the disaster areas and no lay volunteers were being allowed to help at that time.

Someone's home.

Someone's truck.

I don't know what it was about this particular storm that hit me so hard. Was it the proximity? Was it seeing the start of myself, knowing that very cloud and those swirling cycles were the beginning of the tornado that devastated a town so close to us, that could have hit us if we'd just been a little less fortunate?

I still don't know what made it touch me so deeply, but it did. My neighbor and friend is friends with a few of the families who lost everything, and one who lost the family's father/husband. Another friend of mine lost a co-worker. Another friend of a friend lost her two young sons. The stories kept coming in, and they all were far too close to me in some way or another to ignore.

What does one do when they hear these things? What can one do?

All over Facebook people were saying to pray for Arkansas. In the face of such tangible devastation and need, not even to mention grief, the concept of just praying infuriated me. We were already being told of the many, many things that would be needed - supplies, clothes, first aid kits, money. I understood that people believed praying would do something (comfort the victims, I guess), but there were so many things we could actually DO besides pray.

This perhaps is what hit me the hardest.

For all my life, with a few exceptions, when horrible things happened, my response had always been 'pray'. And after praying, I felt I'd left it all in God's hands and he could go on to deal with it for me. After all, what was I able to do? But now, there I was, realizing that prayer is just a practice that helps the person praying feel better, makes them feel like they've done something useful, in times when they are otherwise helpless. I understood the urge to pray - I felt helpless too - but I also realized that praying was the lazy way out. I needed to DO something that actually might make a difference, however small.

It almost felt like I had a life time of doing nothing to make up for.

There wasn't a lot I could actually do; I knew that. I donated what I could and volunteered one day in the tornado-ruined neighborhood when I had childcare. It wasn't much at all, and I still felt the huge weight of how much there was needing done and how little I could do. I still feel that weight, and I still feel that helplessness. We might be able to get on with our lives a week later, but those whose homes were leveled to the ground and those who lost loved ones will never be able to go on exactly as they had before. For the rest of their lives, those who lost their homes and belongings will remember irreplaceable things they lost, and those who lost members of their families will never forget the agony and pain that will remain with them in waves of rawness their entire lives. I wish there were more I could do to reach those needs. Instead, all I can do is just meet practical needs where I possibly can and hope it means something to someone.

I understand through all of this the desire to pray. And having been a Christian for my whole life, I understand the theology behind praying. But as a non-believer now, I just see the irrationality of it and how futile it is. It makes us feel better to pray, it really does, but that's all it does. I've spent plenty of time in prayer - not enough time in action. I just can't sit back and do nothing anymore.

I know that one day, probably soon, I'll realize there is nothing more I can do. I know that I'll live with 'survivor guilt' for being able to move on with my life while knowing many of them haven't even begun to imagine what moving on would even look like. I know that I'll be better prepared for the next storm, with fully equipped 72 hour bags, and I won't wait to get the kids in our designated shelter, now that I recognize how quickly tornadoes can hit - too fast to scoop kids up out of bed and get their shoes on them and get them into a closet. I've learned a lot from this storm about the realities of tornadoes. But I've also learned a lot about the reality of myself. I've spent a lot of time doing nothing when I could have been searching for ways to do at least a little tiny something.