Archive | Sunday Sensations

Sunday Sensations: The World Before

I ate some M&Ms yesterday and was struck by one simple fact. I knew of a time before there were blue M&Ms.

It’s rare that I think of myself as old. I haven’t even hit the age of 40, let alone a time period where anyone thinks of me as “older,” but the longer I live — the more I realize how much I know of a world that is no longer here.

Some of it I see through my son’s eyes. To him, everything is new just now. I tried to tell him two years ago that Mario was a video game from when I was a kid. There was disbelief and even confusion (until I played it with him and my reflexes kicked in and I beat the level on the first try).

I marvel at this before world. At Christmas, I marveled again at how Christmas presents have changed. My grandfather still remembered fondly the childhood where his dad found a beat up toy truck and refurbished it for him. My mom talked about receiving a beloved doll. I remember a Christmas where new bedding was my “big” gift. Now, my son, was longing for a new iPad. How far we’ve come in just four generations.

I lived in a world that knew the fear of a cold war, where Pluto was still a planet, and pay phones were still on every corner. All these things have been dead for awhile. And yet, these things don’t feel like they should be in a museum fact sheet.

I can touch those things still in my mind’s eye. I remember big plastic glasses, neon shoe laces, and when gel was the coolest thing you could put in your hair. It doesn’t feel like actors like Michael J. Fox or Robin Wright should be playing parents. Not enough time has passed for me to understand the need for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

Maybe some gray hairs are creeping in and maybe I feel old when I have to explain She Blinded Me With Science to my coworkers, but is this world before so far gone?

Memories are a tricky thing. They slip and slide like rocks on a beach. Over and over they grind down their sharp edges until only the smooth remains. There’s few moments that I would want to relive from this time past. I bear no illusions to it being a better or more significant time. I may be as old as Celine Dion’s career, but that doesn’t mean I want to relive it.

And yet, so many of those pieces from the time before have built me into the person I am now. Is it any wonder why a blue M&M can send someone into such reverie? I take another candy from my son’s stash and wonder what things he’ll remember as being a before. Will it be fidget spinners and that year where everyone on the planet dabbed? Or will it be YouTube and Minecraft and school lunches? I hope it’s a good thing and that he doesn’t mind losing it to the land of before. I also hope he doesn’t mind that I ate more of his M&Ms… I think I’ll leave him the blue ones.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Sunday Sensations: The First Christmas Without You

I’m slipping into the holidays sideways this year.

1986 Tabitha & Hannah02022015When you experience tremendous loss, the whole world functions differently for awhile. Grief is a weird sensation. It’s simultaneously universally known and deeply personal. If you’ve lost someone dear to you, you know how it feels, but you can’t know how someone else feels. Your own grief is picking through a town that you haven’t been to in years. It feels familiar, but the signs have changed. You never walk the same street twice.

So bring on the presents, hot chocolate and cheer. Let me touch things my mother touched. It’s all familiar, but foreign.

If my mom hadn’t been so great at Christmas it may be a bit easier on my heart. Everything I do echos her. There’s an echo here as we make cookies and my husband asks why I put the sugar on after bringing them out of the oven. “Because mom did it.” There’s a wisp of her as I hang ornaments she crafted years ago. If I close my eyes and listen I can hear her as I wrap gifts for my dad.

Mom is Christmas. It’s as if the holiday was made just for her — her creativity, her skills, her belief in Jesus, and her heart for others all came to life at the end of the year. From presents to tree to cookies and decorations, she was the event planner and we her happy elves. I ached every year to put out her Precious Moments nativity set. Every tradition cemented my love for Christmas and for our faith.

Christmas I’ve had the ache of loss at Christmas before. Losing my grandparents early and watching my friends travel from grandparent to grandparent was hard. Seeing a tree decorated in all blue still conjure up images of my Grandma Shirley singing “I’ll have a blue Christmas” over her petite live Christmas tree. I remember the story of my Grandpa’s favorite childhood Christmas. But this is different.

This is not to say that my life is full of despair. Loneliness is hemmed in by family and friends. Puppy kisses and kitten purrs sooth the rough spots. There are many happy moments of peace, kindness and love. There’s simply something about grief that’s so personal, and (at times) a bit selfish.

So here’s to all of us coming to the holidays sideways this year. Our journeys are different, but similar. The lights are a bit dimmer, but they still shine brightly. We drink deeply of the sweet and bitter. We will love. So cry. Rest. Love. Christmas may not be as magical as it has been, but they won’t always be like this.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Sunday Sensations: Surprised

Sunday Sensations - Tabitha

There are people who have never left their hometown. As a newly minted adult, I met them. Boggled at the complexity of the thought, I gaped. They didn’t even drive the foTabitha in Icelandur hours to the nearest city across the state line. They’d never left Iowa.

Corn fields are nice, but I need to breath new air every once in awhile. My father was made of wanderlust. As I grew, there were few places in our town we had not seen. Los Angeles was as familiar as an old friend. I spent hours in our car traversing the length and breadth of her streets.

And we went further.

Trips took me to state after state in our nation. I experienced humidity for the first time as a small child. I had my mind expanded when I realized that, if you drive far enough, people’s accents change. I learned the world is not black and white, but filled with all shades of gray. There was lessons learned in trains and buses and planes. I saw America.

I climbed through the desert, I picked through the forest, I sat by lakes and streams and two major oceans.

I lived in other people’s shoes. You can’t not when you travel. I slept in beds that were not my own. I ate at tables that did not resemble home. I found the foreign even in my own country. Early on I found out that not everyone is shaped the same.

I marveled in Missouri why there were so many trees. In my California mind I believed that trees were something you planned. To have them so densely, so chokingly — must be a conspiracy. I voiced my wonder to my parents and asked, “what are they hiding?” It’s been a family joke ever since.

Packed bags provided their own life lessons. All you really need can fit in one or two suitcases. Vital life can be done with less. Real happiness comes with who you are with, not what you carry.

To say I am grateful for my father’s traveler’s heart would be the understatement. My mother provided the necessary comfort for any journey. She packed as if the Boy Scout motto was a creed to be followed without deviation. We were always prepared.

Surprised_01_Iceland

Last week, I stood on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Iceland. I thought of those people I met so many years ago who had never thought to leave their own state. I discovered a new favorite place that took six hours of plane travel and two hours of driving. Had I been like them, had I never moved from my spot, I  would have missed the chance to see something this beautiful. This was unlike anything I had seen and I had seen so many days at the ocean. I held my husband’s hand and fell in love again with travel. I can’t wait for our next trip.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith.

A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Sunday Sensations: Feels Like Home

My great-grandma, Golda, was home.

No one in the world smelled like my great-grandma, Golda. She was a small woman, yet her hug could engulf you. To this day, I can’t tell you what exactly she smelled like, but it was a smell all her own.

To an inner city kid, the drive from Los Angeles to Missouri never entirely made sense until we got to Grandma Golda’s house. The long hours. The boredom. The tension. The countless times I had to pee, but it was awhile to the next rest stop. All those things melted away when we saw her on her front porch. Everything slowed down once we got there. Suddenly, there was time again. As if we’d traveled back in time and could reclaim some we lost.

Missouri felt different too. This was the place I learned about sulfur in the water, the evils of humidity, the joys of dressing up “to go to town” and how happy a pizza delivery could make one person.

There was a comfortable familiarity whenever we’d go to Grandma’s house. There was the ceramic deer in the lawn that every grandchild and great-grandchild had posed by. I can still hear her grandfather clock ticking away if I close my eyes. Everything sat in the same place. Even if a couple years went by, I could count on those things. They were just always there. In a world where it seemed everything changed in a whirlwind around me — Grandma Golda’s house was a constant.

Golda

 

Grandma was a storyteller. We’d have a meal and not leave the table for hours while she told stories and talked. She had a twinkle in her eye that I often saw reflected in my grandfather (her second child). The family’s history, our legacy, everything was contained in my Grandma’s stories.

Sometimes, when life gets too hectic or stressful, I sit out on my front porch, close my eyes and remember my Grandma Golda saying “come in, I’m so happy you’re here.”

For a minute, it feels like home again.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Sunday Sensations: An Ode to Fall

I adore the fall season.

I’m not the biggest fan of summer – other than the ability to wear flip flops every day and swim in a pool outside. Winters fill me with intense dread and spring I can take or leave, but fall absolutely excites me. Fall is when the world comes alive with sensations. Enjoyable sensations. Crisper weather, crunching leaves, and caramel flavors.

There’s just the right amount of cold. It’s not enough to seep into your bones until you feel as all the color has drained from your world. It’s not warm enough to make you wish your home has central AC. Jack Frost barely lifts a finger, but your cheeks can feel his kiss.

In fall, you can snuggle into a soft sweater. You’re hugged by your clothing instead of restrained by it. No longer are you longing to join a nudist colony. Summer is so hot that even your thin strapped tank top is sticking to your skin. No more. Now you can layer with abandon and for fashion. Hats that aren’t ball caps are once again welcomed. Boots are worn for the sheer pleasure rather than necessity. All of your closet is now optional. T-shirt and leggings? Yes. Sweater and jeans? Also, yes. It’s truly a magical time of year for your wardrobe.

Never a huge fan of nature myself, I love the fall colors outside. The world outside may be settling in for a long winter’s nap, but it’s going out with a bang! It throws a final hurrah of colors, sights and smells. Red, a personal favorite, appears as Cinderella at the ball. She dips herself into leaves and wild grasses. Wrapping herself up in smoke and frost, she is the brash opening to a symphony that will echo until the first snow. Orange runs and laughs from treetop to treetop. Snaking his way through the landscape and bursting out in giant plumbs in every pumpkin patch. Yellow, who has been around all summer, throws one final party as it bends through every corn and wheat field.

And the food.

America’s food landscape alters dramatically in fall. Pumpkins, apples, caramel, and cinnamon dominate the landscape. Suddenly, it’s a time for warm pies, hot soups, and spiced drinks. The #PSL coffee craze aside, pumpkins come into their own in the fall. Soups, cakes, cookies, pies, pasta and so much more can all be made with this impressive gourd. Apples are being picked so fresh you can still taste a bit of the summer sun that nurtured them in every bite.

Food is the reason for the season. Factories work around the calendar year just to feed our need for candy and sugar when Halloween hits. This holiday may have begun with some pagan roots, but in reality we all know it’s the candy that’s won out in the end. The haul of tipped over buckets and bags is carefully picked through by the time the clock strikes midnight on October 31.

Food warms and comforts you in the fall. So much so, we have entire holiday centered around it. Thanksgiving is about warmth. Warm food, warm hugs and time with family and friends, and the warm glow of thankfulness.

Really what isn’t there to love about fall?

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some hot apple cider.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Sunday Sensations: An Open Letter to Chester Bennington

On July 20th, the frontman for the band Linkin Park, Chester Bennington committed suicide.  As someone who felt so very personally connected to his music, I wanted to dedicate this month’s column to him. While Bennington had always been open about his struggles with addiction and depression, it was a shock to everyone (including myself). 

Dear Chester,

I know you can’t really read this letter now. Nor do I harbor the delusion that if this letter would have been written sooner and read it that it would have saved you. I grieve for your loss in such a way that I need to express the impact you made on my life. I hope it may help someone else.

I remember in vivid detail the first time I contemplated suicide when I was in high school. One day I was sitting in the bathroom, looking at a bottle of bleach under the sink, and the thought occurred to me. I didn’t have a terrible childhood. My parents loved me, I had a strong support system and I was extremely happy. I didn’t know where the thought had come from and I tried to move on from it.

I knew about depression as a young adult, but never thought it applied to me. Again, I had so much going for me. College was some of the best times of my life, but I was depressed. There was a weight to things that I couldn’t explain. Some days everything felt so hard. Even if I had reasons to be happy, I wasn’t. It wasn’t until I wrote a paper for a grad school class that it occured to me that I might be depressed. I can’t even remember the focus of the paper, but I remember my professor wrote in the margin of it, “do you think you may be depressed?”

My life took a crazy nose dive after that grad school paper moment. My relationship with my family was terrible, I lost a boyfriend, and everything felt terrible. Sorrow closed in all around me. I nearly lost my job because I couldn’t function. I couldn’t tell you the number the times I thought of suicide. I felt so alone. So lost. At the darkest moment, I found Linkin Park’s music. Suddenly, there was a voice and words to describe exactly how I felt. I was no longer alone. Your music was an oasis when everything felt so hard.

Depression lies, but music heals. I firmly believe that God gave mankind music because it has such a powerful effect on us. The right song, the right time can mean the difference between life and death. There have been so many times where music has given me words when I felt like I had no voice. I quickly put you on the list of my all-time favorite singers. Linkin Park was not the kind of music I’d normally listen to, but I listened over and over again.

While your music wasn’t the only thing that pulled me out of my depression, it helped more than I could ever say. Your pain eased mine.

Over 12 years later and Linkin Park became a back burner thought. I had no idea there was a new album. I was wrapped up in my own life. When news came of your suicide I cried. I had no idea the struggles you had gone through. Tender strings were severed so very early for you. Very few things can repair that damage.

I still have some bouts with depression. Days where staying in bed is the only thing I can do. Other days where the only feeling I can feel is not caring. I don’t know your pain, but I know how pain works. It’s not easy.

One of those new songs, “One More Light” has the following lyrics:

Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars,
It flickers, flickers.
Who cares when someone’s time runs out,
If a moment is all we are?
We’re quicker, quicker.
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do.

I cared. You helped me and I cared. I’m sorry your light went out. I hope you know it meant something while it was burning.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Sunday Sensations: On Chickens

Forgive me, chickens, for I have sinned. It’s been about two minutes since I last fed you and now you follow me like some kind of modern-day Moses. Please, don’t believe in me, I will only let you down. I have no more of life-giving substance. You’ll probably starve.

In my defense, I didn’t want you in my life. You see your adopted father, my dearest husband, is the country-farm-wanting one. I live in a world that’s entirely gray and cement. I pine for skyscrapers while he just pines for the sky. City girl isn’t just a cute nickname, it’s my way of living.

Despite all this, you peep peep’d into my heart. While you were boxed in our bathroom for three months I learned that your tiny chick bodies so fragile. I nursed and cradled each of you as tenderly as if you were my own. I wept for the ones who didn’t make it. Chickens-by-Tabitha-Grace-Challis

You went through an awkward stage after the fuzzy little chicks. Your body and feathers didn’t quite match. Yet, still I loved you. We’d bonded. Well, I bonded. You mostly just still wanted me for food.

Now, fully grown, we’re counting down the days for you to lay eggs. Meanwhile, you still follow me about the yard as if I, and I alone, am here to save you. Yet, I know you do it for anyone. You hop over the fence at the sound of a human voice. I lie to myself and say it’s unique to me.

Truth is, my dear chickens, you’re not the smartest animals I’ve owned. I know BBC Earth says chickens are smart, even empathetic, but I have yet to see this displayed in you. Your first spot for looking for food was a three large plastic fertilizer bags. While I gave you the benefit of the doubt, thinking there must be a plethora of bugs on said fertilizer, I walked over to find none.

There was also the time where, instead of going into your coop, you fluttered up to roost on the roof. This may have been permissible if one of your number hadn’t been brutally murdered the day before. You really need to learn about protecting yourselves.

My favorite is, upon escaping your run, one of your number just ran around and around the outside of it, begging for the food inside. The fact being, the door to the run was wide open. You just chose not to go inside.

There are over 19 billion of you on the planet – a fact that staggers me. How you flew into my heart staggers me even more. I look forward to seeing you every day. Much like a happy mother, I stare down at you in your coop every night. Watching you in your run is as soothing as a fish tank. You peck, hunt, peck again on the search for your one true love — food. There’s little more to your life than that and a lot less to worry about.

I like the little noises you make. I had no idea that they could be so different from each other. There’s a near-growling sound you make when our dogs run up to you. A happy little trill that our blue ameraucana makes (though, with the puffy face she has, she looks more like a stereotypical British Col. Mustard). There’s the happy calls you make to each other as you roam the yard every afternoon. Chicken-02-by-Tabitha-Grace-Challis

It’s weird to think that I’m so close to something that usually winds up on my dinner plate. I know it’s odd to label some animals “friend” and others “food,” but it’s the way of the world, especially for a city girl. Yet, you’re so hilarious and fun to watch. Plus, I bonded. Much like you did with food.

So, forgive me chickens, for not providing for you in the way you’d like to be accustomed, but I’ll try better tomorrow. Backyard farming may not have been my thing, but I’m a little more convinced now about this pining for the open sky thing. As long as there’s a Starbucks within driving distance.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Sunday Sensations: An Introduction

Even before a lyric is spoken there’s a visible reaction in my friends. The opening song of Hamilton ekes out of the worst sound system possible, my friend’s iPhone flipped up on the table between the three of us. Suddenly the random nothingness that we were engaged with stops. Despite the terrible, slightly tinny sound there’s power in those opening notes. It compels us to stop and then invites us to sing along.

The sensation of that moment was palpable. Relegate it as a fad or passing fancy if you must, but that opening two seconds of music siren-called us into another world. What writer can’t admit to wanting that ability to, with a single piece of work, command that much power?

Over 25 years ago I decided to become a writer. Books have always been important to me. The idea that writers could make black marks on white pieces of paper and it would have an emotional, intellectual, and physical sway over their reader was fascinating to me. When I became serious about my writing, I embarked on a journey of truly understanding sensations. It seemed appropriate to me then to entitle my Sunday column “Sunday Sensations” as a tribute not only to my journey in writing, but a reminder to myself of the nine-year-old girl tucked up in the corner of a room thoroughly wrapped up in a book.

“Show. Don’t tell.” This is a mantra countless writing teachers droned at me throughout the years. Yet, sensations squirm away from me, unwilling to be pinned down. Often, I think it’s sheer desperation that allows me to hit on how to describe something in a way that will impact a reader. Writing sensations require much thought and the ability to see outside oneself. This is the task of the writer.

cavilar king charles spaniel

So, there I sit trying to compel the magic that has entranced me for years. There’s the soft scratch of my puppy’s nails on our wood floor, but that’s not something everyone has heard. How do you describe that? Where would you start? Cliches come to the front of the mind first, but must be systematically rejected. Next, you try to think of new cliches. Those seem even worse than the tried and true cliches. At this point, you’re wishing that there was never a puppy to describe at all, much less the problem of the sound of its nails.

You turn to music, poetry, art (or possibly watch three hours of infomercials) just to find the right words. Two or three times you think you get there, but reject all attempts ultimately. There’s a vexing frustration that roils and boils. Yet, you press on, determined to describe that sound in a way that invokes emotion in the part of your reader whether they like it or not. The thesaurus and dictionary are consulted and come up dry. You spend more time than you’d like to admit on Facebook. Every life decision that has lead you to this point is reconsidered.

And then, inspiration strikes. The words flow, the description is made and all is peace, joy and harmony once more.

Until the next scene.

That’s the funny thing about the things we often call magic. Movie magic, book magic, or even the magic of the way your favorite shampoo makes your hair feel — they are actually a lot of hard work wrapped into a single, effortless-looking package. So maybe that’s where the magic comes in, where us music-makers and dreamers of the dream make all that work looks so easy. From a musical like Hamilton to my next blog post, we’re all searching for that ever-elusive sensation that will thrill and delight our audience. Here’s to hard work and here’s to finding it.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

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