Saturday, December 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Indiana (And to me!)

Here's a story about a little girl born in Indiana on the anniversary day that Indiana became a state, December 11th.

The day started out as a blizzard, that day on December 11th, Indiana's birthday. Her dad was a long haul trucker and had to work. He was "on the road." Her mom had to make it to the hospital slip-sliding on treacherous roads in Noblesville, Indiana, but she made it in time. The snow stopped.

The doc went outside to hunt rabbits while the young mother, who had lost 5 previous babies, labored and worried. The doctor told the nurse to "hollar out the window" when it was time. The state, Indiana, was celebrating its birthday, too.

The dad finally made it home, came to the hospital, and the baby was already there. The mom, drugged by some drug called "twilight" (awake, but feeling little pain by that point,) cried and said, "I'm sorry, it's a giiiiiiirrrrrl."

The dad grinned and said, "We'll keep her, anyway."

Missing both of them on my birthday, and yes, I'm still a Hoosier Girl.



Wow, that's fascinating
Fascinating Fingers in Indiana



Crystal around 4 years old Noblesville house
Back in the "old" days since the camera mom had didn't have a flash, photos had to be taken outside. Yes, it was cold! It was December in Indiana, c'mon.


Crystal at 5
5th Birthday in Noblesville, Indiana (note the milk box behind the little brother)
Hey, You! This is my doll.
Hey, you!
Chickens are almost too close
I still look like this in the morning!
 



_MG_3926_edited-1
Crystal, still in Indiana on her birthday (and yes, it's cold and snowy)

Happy Birthday, Indiana!
December 11, 1816
(And no, I'm not telling you what year I was born.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Paperdoll

As you can see, I have spent time as a paperdoll

I want to admit some things as I'm aging fast this week (I'll go up a whole year in one day!)

  • I've been a paperdoll. True that. I wanted nothing more than to lie flat and look good forever. Oh, yeah, and to have a fabulous paper wardrobe with matching purses and earrings.
  • Real life made me get off the paper and scrape my shins and bleed, and sometimes I cry too much.
  • Four boys in my life made me worry to the point of graying my hair and wrinkling that skin between my eyeballs.
  • I have been more than angry on occasions. What is it when you go beyond being angry? (The boys call it "Momma-Meltdown.")
  • I hate sweating, but it comes even more with age, I found out.
  • My mouth gets me into trouble when I take it out of the smile-mode. Pasting on a smile sometimes is a good thing.
  • Sometimes all I want to hear from you is, "I'm sorry. You're right."
  • Dogs can be the best things in my world. (Except when they pee and poop on my floor and nearly knock me out.) 
  • Cats are the next best thing except they get hair all over the place. I'm not sure I could stomach a bald cat, though.
  • It's time to focus and find regular times to write since I'm not getting any younger. (Are you with me?)
Peace Out,
Crystal

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant EverThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When my boys were young, I read this book to them and fell in love with the story. It's one of my favorite stories EVER. I read it to my boys every year until they simply got too old to sit night-after-night approaching Christmas to sit and listen (Four boys are quite busy.) I hope that we all can approach the Christmas story with the fresh eyes of someone hearing the story for the first time.Robinson captures it perfectly with endearing characters and humor.

If you haven't read this story, no matter if you have children in your life or not, you must read it, is my advice.




View all my reviews


Crystal Laine Miller

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spring Girl: Sarah Sumpolec

Author Sarah Sumpolec
Going back to the color issues, I have a poster girl for spring, I think. What do you think? That strawberry blonde hair and youthful outlook is so Sarah. She has this great series for teens and was a wonderful Kid interview on my blog, When I Was Just a Kid.

Even her web sites go with her "spring" vibe. She's a writer with a dark past who came to the true light of Christ. Do check out her Becoming Beka books and blog and various other hang outs like Twitter and Facebook and her blog, Girls, God and the Good Life.

It's hard to find springs but they are clear, light and warm. If you think you're a spring, try looking at Lora Alexander's Pretty Your World.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Break 'Em All

You know that old saying if you don't aim at anything, you won't hit anything? (Something like that.) I really understand this as I used to compete in trapshooting. Making analogies between shooting and writing became so easy for me.


Let me tell you just a little about trapshooting. In trapshooting it is tricky because a clay target is thrown out of a traphouse by this machine that only has so many angles, but you never know which way it will come out. You stand on one of five stations, and each time you change stations, the picture changes. There are things like wind, heat (that gun can get hot!) and distance to contend with your shot.

A shooter looks down the sight of her shotgun, and even the recoil can mess with your shot. (Especially if it hits you in the face and you begin to "flinch" when you shoot. Kind of like getting bad reviews or rejections.)You get someone beside you or even behind you saying or doing something annoying, and that can also play with your shot (and play with your mind.)

So many things. You pull the gun in tight, place your face against the stock, and look into an area above your gun. You call for the target, and expect to see it rise up above your gun. Once it comes into your sight ("touching" the end of your gun in the sight) you pull the trigger. If you are behind the target, it's a miss. ("Loss!") If it has gotten out too far before you pull the trigger, you miss. Sometimes you shoot too quick. Sometimes you shoot too slow. (Just like reading the market!)

Over the years everything I do seems to come down to what I learned in shooting. I found I could apply the lessons I learned from my coach, Kay Ohye (an amazing mens' champion) to most of my life. I could hear his voice in my head as I would shoot. ("Don't get too quick! Patience!"--My biggest problem was shooting too fast.) No matter how I shot on one trap, I had hope when I moved to the next station. The point was to move on. You didn't quit just because you missed every target on the first station. (Five shots, but if you hit the rest of them, you get a 95!)You didn't let down and relax just because you hit 99 straight shots and just had "one more." (There are a 100 shots/targets total--4 traps/25 shots per trap/5 shots per station.)

So over the course of writing this blog, I'll probably refer to trapshooting now. If you just "throw" the end of your gun toward the target, you will not hit your target. Focus. Focus on the target. This is the word I wrote down in my "goals" folder I started.

Think about what kinds of goals you have. Here's a template I use. You might want to try it.

Words for the Year: Crystal: Look/Focus/Act


Spiritual Goals:

* Read the English Standard Version of the Bible
* Continue study with the Messianic Jews on the Torah
* Pray specifically for someone other than my immediate family or self each day.

Personal Goals:
(I've actually met some of these so far this year, so I'm adjusting these.)

Overall Professional Goals:



Professional Goals for the Year:




(This is me in Savannah, GA competing in a Southern regional shoot.)


Those of us in shooting have a saying to encourage our fellow shooters--"Break 'em all!"

Let me know some of your goals and I'd love to hear what your current "word" is that will help you with your goals. 

~Crystal Laine Miller

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's Your Best Colors to Wear? Winter

Sometimes I have gone shopping with friends to find a special outfit for an event. They want to look their best. They ask for my input on something that is important to them. I take that role seriously if someone asks me. Some of my best memories are shopping with my mother for school clothes and it brings a bit of warmth to me to remember that, so if I'm asked to help someone pick out clothes, I like to do that. I am not so good at shopping for myself. Maybe I keep expecting my mom to swoop in and find just the right cut and color for my clothes?

I have a past in art and know that certain colors convey certain "messages" to those who see them. For example, most of you have heard of the red "power" tie. Red is a bold color, but it can be blue red or orange red. It can be dark red, clear red or light red. Can you successfully wear red? Specialists in color theory say yes--if it's the right red. I like a cherry red, but usually only in accessories. It's not usually a color I choose for a sweater or sweatshirt--even though it's my alma mater's color--Cardinal Red! (Ball State University.)

That's just one color example. Tell me the color you most likely will pick to wear in say, a blouse, sweater, sweatshirt? I do think that is a bit telling about you. Many times we're drawn to colors that do suit us. For example, as I type this, I'm wearing a periwinkle blue sweatshirt. I also have a purple sweatshirt that I never fail to get compliments on even though I bought it probably 20 years ago in Seattle! I adore another sweatshirt that is a yellow green moss color that I go to when I need comfort. (It's from Mackinac.) There are times that I will throw one outfit after another into a pile and it just seems so wasteful! If I can't decide what to wear, I pick black to appear neutral and fade into the wall. I wish to pick colors that just make me look slimmer and healthier. :)

Let's Look at Winter

N.J. Lindquist, an author and writing teacher, is someone I've known online for years. She always looks so put-together at events and on her web page, but I've never met her in person. When I look at her photos, to me, it seems obvious that she is a winter. Her writing even seems to go with her coloring and how she presents herself. (She writes novels--mystery.) I interviewed her on When I Was Just a Kid and you can see that here. Even her web site reflects her best colors and she just looks so polished. If you are a professional speaker, teacher, writer like she is, you can see how her audience will trust her in giving information or telling stories because she knows who she is.
Author N.J. Lindquist looks stunning in black--a color for winters
Another author friend (right here in Indiana) who is a winter is Colleen Coble. Colleen is CEO of the American Christian Fiction Writers and also writes award-winning romantic suspense and historical romantic suspense for Thomas Nelson. She has a mentoring and warm personality, never meeting a stranger. Recently she lost some weight and while I never have seen her look frumpy but always polished, she really shines now with the health and vibrancy of feeling good. Her smile glows and she has a lot of confidence. Can you see how well winter colors would work on her?

Colleen Coble looks beautiful and brilliant in her winter's red

Finally, another author friend who also teaches at conferences, writes articles as well as books, and does editing is Candy Neely Arrington. Candy has leadership roles, as well as speaking and appearing on TV for her articles and books on dealing in the aftermath of suicide and also caring for your parents, and music performances. She always looks beautiful in her winter palette for her clothing.


Candy is bold and beautiful in her blue that sparkles on winters

You can see how wearing the right colors can enhance the message you are bringing. Even though each of these women are writers, they need to make public appearances often. They need to be perceived as approachable, but also authoritative in their field. Your accessories and earrings, even your shoes and purse can pull your look together--but what colors should you be wearing?

Are you a winter? Go to my poll and check what you think your season might be or check the links below first to determine your best colors. And be sure to stop by Lora Alexander's web site to take her quiz if you're not sure. If you still are not sure, you can always purchase Lora's book or ask her to do an evaluation that she offers for purchase on the site. Lora breaks the four seasons into more refined palettes, which helps to narrow down your best colors, even within your season. She has Cool Winter, Clear Winter and Deep Winter.  I appreciate her art work (all the drawings are her own) to give you a better idea of the coloring of each season.

What's your favorite color to wear? What color that you wear gives you the most compliments or even gives you comments of "you look great!" What color do you wear that you always get an "are you feeling ok?"

One more comment for writers--if you are describing your heroine or hero in the story, be sure you look over the eye color/hair color and the signature color that person wears. Even if you put that character in a hideous color for her, it can be important to your story. Can you imagine any of these authors in mustard yellow? (I don't think so. And they'd probably tell you they wouldn't be caught in that color, too.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Help? Color Analysis Part 1

Crystal wearing her uniform of jeans and black

About 6 months ago I had a color analysis, trying to get my best colors to wear so I would quit wearing black and making mistakes in buying clothes. It seems I would buy something and wear it once, and never wear it again (which was nice for the clothing charities I give to, but terrible for my budget, my morale and my wardrobe.) I just don't want to waste any more time and money, plus, I'd like not to look dumpy.

I won't tell you what I was analyzed as, because I'd like to get some input from those of you who might be able to be objective, who like color and looking your best and are my friends. I've worn these colors all summer and some are nice. I don't think I gave enough input in my analysis, and am thinking some of my palette I've been using is too light and powdery. Some of the colors do not fit into this palette are colors I'm going back to, but I get frustrated and most of my wardrobe is still black.  I have felt "washed out" and like I have my hair color too light now, too. I need to head back to my hair color of my youth, I think, so I had to dig up some photos from the past just to see my coloring.

Here's the book I used which I really like. I'm leaning toward a couple palettes and probably need to be draped. On Lora Alexander's web site she gives a lot of examples and she has a really nice Facebook page, too. I can't seem to get a good hair-off-the-face photo, so I haven't been able to try the Taaz.com Try It On site that she sometimes uses to analyze you.


By Lora Alexander


  

Let's start with photos from my youth. I was born blonde, but always seemed to have a tinge of red gold in my hair. My cousin Mary Beth could wear pink really well and I wanted to wear it, as well, but I looked pretty hideous in pink. My mother would steer me away from pinks, reds and try to get me to wear rust, navy blue and dark green. She was an obvious tall, cool, beautiful blonde--summer, but somehow she was always putting me (her best colors were light powdery blue and powdery pink) in warm colors. I distinctly remember her choosing two dresses that I adored in 6th grade--one was a lime green and the other was an orange plaid. I remember looking good in those dresses! I love wearing lipstick and I'm wearing a lot of browns right now. I don't think red to wear or red for lipstick is good on me. Pink is hideous, I think. (Unless it's a coral pink.)

Here are some photos from my youth:
Crystal as a paper doll (photo about 4th grade and my hair was trimmed off to make a doll)
Crystal, age 13, in my favorite dark green outfit with light green blouse
On the horse in my fav Tennessee Vols tee, age 18 (my best friend Linda is the other gal and we were in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Someone said Linda is a spring.)
I was in 7th grade and this is Thanksgiving in Fairmount (Mom and brother and yummy turkey)
So, you can see somewhat my coloring as a younger person. Now let's move on to my early 20s and 30s. See if you can discern whether I'm warm or cool, light or deep, soft or clear. Keying in on words that describe my coloring will help. 

Age 21 while I was in college. This was my senior photo at Ball State University. The cowl neck is rust and the suit is dark brown.
Early 30s. This is with no makeup and that baby is my youngest son of 4 sons, Max!
Do you have descriptive words for me? 

1. Cool or warm?
2. Deep or light?
3. Soft or clear?

Pick a word from each point and let me know if you think one word is more applicable than the others. 

Tomorrow I'll have photos more current and will put an example from the categories that you've picked here for comparison. 

Thanks for helping out! 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

True Joy. True Grit. True Story.

“Each one of us has story—an adventure of life that plays out in the mind. It’s up to you to find that story in the people you meet. Now, get out there and meet them and get those stories!” My professor of journalism challenged us to fulfill an assignment, and he had sent us on a quest. Not long after that, I changed my major and took elementary education with a special interest in history.

I thought by doing so I would avoid having to dig out these individual, face-to-face stories from people. In history, you don’t have to actually know the people or talk to them face-to-face. And, I thought I could bury my own story in the process. I didn’t want to admit in class that day that while it was ok for me to know the big picture of people, it was not ok with me to hold the individual’s hand, praying with her, wiping the blood off with my other a hand, comforting, and hurting alongside her, because I already had a lifetime of my own hurts to bury deep.

The Complete Works of Josephus tells a story of a people, but it is through the eyes of one man and how he feels about it all. The Holy Bible tells many of the same stories, but it is told through many individuals, highly personal, full of angst and with one passionate purpose: to draw close to the God who created us. I’ve spent most of my life tucking away portions of my own quest while trying to be as close to God as possible. It’s been a delicate dance of life, coming intimately close to Him, but when things got too intense; I’d stuff those feelings deep inside and waltz to the edge of the dance floor--alone. All the while I was dancing far away; He was a whisper away from my heart, the heart with many rooms locked up tight.

It took only one summer for Him to woo me in close, but it would take half a lifetime further to unlock all of the rooms to my heart, giving them to Him. Here is where I share my story, thus releasing the final door, and finally turning me around to face Him, totally vulnerable, cheek-to-cheek.

What I know to be true is that each one of us has this story to tell. Eventually, death comes to us all. But it's not the end of it all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mama and Daddy

When I was just a baby kid, I felt alone and confused because the people I depended on gave me back to my mom and dad after living with them for as long as I could remember.  My mom was in the
TB hospital all those years, and I had to get used to her again, and also not having my grandparents and Aunt Linda there all the time. My grandparents lived in Tennessee and my parents were in Indiana. I felt alone and I threatened my mom everyday, testing to see if she really wanted me.

I called my grandparents, "Mama and Daddy" and my mother was "Mama Lin." This is what I had been told to call my mother. I don't remember what I called my Dad because he was home only on weekends, being a long haul trucker hauling automobile parts. Every single day I faced off my poor mother who had lived for the day to get me back. I constantly tested the parameters of our relationship, testing if she loved me enough.
Bringing me back to Mom
Giving Me Back to My Mother--Jubilant Mother; Sad Grandparents 
She was very brave, however, and one day I was threatening her, telling her I was going back to MY Mama and MY Daddy if she wouldn't let me take another bath that day (I liked to play in water.) I dug my toe into the sand and dared her.

So, Mama Lin walked into my bedroom, throwing a suitcase on the bed and said, "All right. Let's pack up your things and I'll drive you back to Tennessee right now. You can go live with your Mama and Daddy, if that is what you really want.I love you. I love you enough to give you back to them."
She proceeded to carefully fold and put clothes into the suitcase.

I watched her with growing alarm and panic--she wasn't going to let me have another bath, she was going to take me back to them! And in my 4-year-old mind I was thinking, I have waited my whole life to be with this woman they told me so much about and now I'm going to really lose her! And while I loved them, I wanted to be with my own mother and daddy more.

I took out some of the clothes, and earnestly tried to convince her that she had gone mad,"Mama Lin, you can't drive."
mothersday 002

How I came up with that and knew that was that, I don't remember. But I sure didn't bring up going back to live with MY Mama and My Daddy, anymore. I finally was with the woman who was My very own Mama, and I somehow knew I wanted to stay. I  could tell she loved me more deeply than anyone else on earth, even if my family in Tennessee loved me, too. I never again brought up going back to "mama and daddy's" for good.

It wasn't long after that where I asked why I had two mamas and two daddies, and she explained that the people I called Mama and Daddy were actually my grandparents. She never pushed me, but allowed me to make my own decisions about this.

When I addressed my grandfather as "Granddaddy," after that, he wouldn't speak to me for two days. It was hard, but I was persistent because I loved my Granddaddy more than anyone else on earth outside of my parents. I pursued him constantly, dogging his every step, talking incessantly to him. He couldn't resist me. I was the child he carried with him to chop wood, taking with us my diapers and bottles back when I lived with them.He adored me, no matter what I called him and finally gave in.

 Roy Lee Warren and Crystal Warren about 1959

So, at a young age I knew what it was like to have people to desperately love me, and to sacrifice for me, too. It was easy for me to see at a young age how God could love me and want me, too, but I had to love Him back and pursue Him, and call out to Him. I not only accepted the love, but I had to want a relationship and love back, just as I did with my mother and my granddaddy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How Many Pounds to Go?

This was my first blog post ever back in 2006. How is it that I still struggle with the very same things today? I still fight the weight battle. I still struggle to work out. I still have an aversion to the scale and to doctors and nurses. I still look to God everyday for it all. I still slip up on these things and beat myself up about it.

Tell me if you can relate.

How Many Pounds to Go?

Back in January I had to go to the doctor. Now, I can face major surgery, or minor surgery, or even needles with barely a blink of an eyeball. The doctor can be named Frankenstein, and I probably would ask how his grandpa is doing. But take me down that long, dark corridor to the scales, and you might as well just cut an artery for me.

"9-1-1? We got an emergency here at Dr. Darkkillme's office. Yeah, bring your heavy duty gurney and the ambulance with heavy shocks. She's out cold. On the floor. Bleeding and stuff. Fat."

I have had four kids, fer crying out loud. Don't weigh me! What for?? I avoided the doctor's office for five years merely because I didn't want to get on the scales.


Anyway, in January I had to go to the doctor. It wasn't any big deal. In a month I was over the surgery and back to whatever setting of normal I can manage. On the way home from my follow up check, I pulled into a local gym and walked in. I think I was crying and mumbling, because immediately this kid, who looked to be the age of one of my boys, walked up and asked if he could help me. (Yeah, buddy. Help me pull the plug.) His name is Josh.

I mumbled some more about weighing on scales and about weighing the most I had ever weighed in my life, and something about how I used to be a P.E. teacher, and could run circles around Mary Lou Retton. He smiled and bobbed his curly head and pulled out contracts, saying something about,"I've seen worse. You're not so bad."

Soon I was figuring out what a transporter was and flirting with the old guys who worked out on the weight machines ahead of me. Josh would smile big and bright and ask me how I was doing.

"How do ya think I'm doing? I hate working out!"

And he would smile and say, "Hey, you're looking great! (for an old lady.)" I could hear the parenthetic phrase in my ears.

I counted out popcorn for my snack. I ate one square of chocolate and ate salad until I had nightmares of being chased by a Giant Spinach Leaf with Tomato. (And I used to like tomatoes.) Doing a low glycemic diet, I was told my cravings would go away. Yeah, they go away. When you finally are so thin, you don't need a coffin for your funeral. Just put me in an envelope and mail me to God.

(Potato chips call me every night at 10 p.m. just in case I have forgotten them.)

Well, believe it or not, I lost 20 lbs. I look at myself in that mirror that lies to me and think I need to lose 20 more. My boys tell me maybe 5 more. I'm not sure what motivates them to suggest that number. Probably they are as tired of my diet and exercise routine as I am. They whisper to each other about white bread and chips and real Coke, casting me sidelong looks.

As far as I can tell, being thinner, like I used to be, just makes me more easily depressed. And what is more important than losing the weight, is keeping it off until I go back to the doctor in January of 2007,so I can show a nurse ,who probably wasn't even there before, that I'm lighter on that scale.

One thing dieting and exercise has taught me: I hate it. Forever. Stick a carrot in your ear, because I'm really grumpy now.

2010 Note to this post:

I need to re-lose those pounds. Do you think maybe this is my natural weight and it's unnatural for me to be super thin? I am old now. Surely age counts as a pass.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Try On the Jacket




When I got up this morning, I knew it was going to be "one of those days" where I have a bad attitude. I went to bed last night with a split little toenail (I barely have a toenail on that toe, anyway) that started to bleed and I had to bandage it, sticking it out from the covers because even the sheet hurt, and my feet were cold to boot, which put me in a bad state of mind going to sleep. (ha, "to boot.") It could be worse, but I'd like it better.

So I pray my usual short prayer to get started in the morning, all in bad attitude, step out of my bed, and limp to get dressed.

I take the dog out after putting my coffee on. It smells "funny" out. I live in the boonies, so I'm not used to "funny" smells. Almost a chemical smell. I can't figure it out, which gets me to thinking negative thoughts. It's not skunk, cows, horses or even my dog smelling.Not the usual organic smells that I have learned are the "norm." It's something else I don't recognize. I come back in the house. I forgot to put in the thing that holds the coffee filter, so my coffee pot is a mess and what did go through is weak and crummy, full of grounds. I drink it anyway, and read my paper, crunching my coffee. Maybe the smell outside will go away.

My youngest son is a senior in HS this year. He awakened with a sore throat this morning and barely was speaking. I made him some tea and honey and dosed him up with meds and sent the poor kid to school. I'll be thinking of him all day. He is taking an EMS course this year and will learn something else new to rescue someone. Who takes care of those who take care of the world? Now you know. A woman at home with a bad attitude( and a chemical smell outside) who is randomly writing in her blog as she crunches her coffee.

I have four boys who each have a great sense of humor. They can make me laugh when I'm standing on the cliff's edge. This morning in my bad attitude jacket I got to thinking about them and missing how they were always here to drop funny lines and jolt me out of bad attitudes. Now they are in the world talking others out of having bad days. I was just starting to think I had done nothing for the world in my lifetime and that I was wasting away in this "place" (which I have a bad attitude about this "place," too.) But as I watched my youngest slip out the door to make his classmates and teachers laugh another day, even though he felt not-so-good, I realized I'm not in the grave yet and I've got four guys out there brightening their own corners.

That's when I saw this photo. It's of my two youngest boys at my soon-to-be 93-year-old Grandmother's house in Tennessee back several years ago(when she lived at home, not in the nursing home.) Max thought it was funny when my Grandmother gave him this jacket. Instead of getting all out of whack about it, he was laughing. And he always had this attitude that he would "grow into it." So, I suppose I need to try on the jacket of good attitude, laugh that it's too big for me today, but I'll "grow into it." Just accept it.

And with that thought I'm ready to write some more today, me, in my too-big for-me Good Attitude Jacket,which I'm trying to grow into.


I wrote this post on another one of my blogs in August 2008. Funny how times rarely change. I feel the same today, still trying to "grow into that good attitude jacket." I'll keep working on it and hope that you do, too.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fitting In

I have never felt like I fit into my environment in most places I have lived. I often have felt as if I'm out of place either by my coloring (genetic makeup,) my views/opinions, my religious outlook, my interests, my clothing, or other factors. I think people like me and respect me—I just don’t always feel as if I belong somehow. Out of place.

The summer before I entered sixth grade, my family moved from the city to a rural home set on an acre of God’s Green Earth in Indiana. I was so excited to be in the country, and loved it from the first time I saw it. The little Indiana-mined-limestone house sat on a small tract of land between a creek (a ditch, actually, but it had every form of natural creek creatures you could find,) a rural road, a state road and surrounded by the crop of the summer (whatever Comers decided to plant that year—corn or soybeans.) I felt I was truly “home.” In the city I had spent five years in a denominational Christian school—2 rooms housing 8 grades, and I can tell you dozens of reasons I didn’t fit in there. But that means going back to that time.

Across the road from us in our new domicile was a country church and a brick house with four kids—two older ones, one girl was my age, and the youngest boy at the time was my only sibling brother’s age (they ended up having one more boy a few years later—the mom didn’t jump off the bridge, like she felt like doing, as she had one son in college when this happened.) Their dad was funny, had a few missing teeth, was a brick mason, and kept a meticulously groomed yard. He whistled while he worked. Not just any whistling, but mostly school fight songs and “Charge!” He was a huge Argyll fan (our school mascot was a Scottish warrior and we were called the Argylls. Yes. In Indiana. In the middle of a cornfield. It can happen. ) He built a tree house, a baseball diamond and a chicken-wire backstop in the church yard next door and gave us all the boards we could carry to build rafts and bridges on the crick. (Remember, we call it a “crick,” not a creek.)

There were other houses around with friendly, but reserved-we’ll-mind-our-own-business Quaker-rooted people. Good, solid people, for the most part. Huge work ethic, like us. Just up the road, within half-a-mile, was my new public school with the prophetic name of Liberty. I didn’t fit in the first day. I was wearing the wrong kind of socks.

Now, you would think these kinds of fashion faux pas were nonexistent amongst a handful of 11-12-year-old country girls, but I was immediately pulled aside by a very outgoing and popular girl named Lorrie (who later was my best friend and we were in each other's weddings) and told, “We don’t wear white bobby socks here. Get yourself some knee socks.” Man, did I ever feel like I’d dropped into a Dr. Seuss book without a star on my belly.

So, I went home, cried a lot (I was, after all, an 11-year-old girl) and my mom loaded me up for the long trek to the city to buy a pack of knee socks. It was an easy fix. That simple pair of knee socks let me blend in enough to not be "too weird." I was kind and friendly to everyone in the class and I changed my name. “Call me Chris,” I told my teacher, Mr. Rosen.

I always hated my real name--I didn't know any other Crystals, just Lindas, Marys and Debbies,Lorries, Melodys and Carolyns. My family called me Cris or Crissy. The new neighbor boy, who treated me like one of his sisters, called me “Cristy!!!” said this hissed out between clenched teeth about 10 times a day.) I did not want to be called “Crystal,” like at my old school, but going by the spelling C-R-I-S like my family used, seemed too intimate. Plus, I thought Chris sounded and looked “cool.” I easily adjusted into my name. I became Chris Warren.

I could play with anyone I chose to at recess, and even though we girls had to wear dresses, I knew I fit in on a baseball diamond. I lived and breathed baseball everyday. When they saw I could hit, they let me play whenever I wanted. Maybe it was the way I was brought up, but I was never afraid of anyone, so I went up to the boys and said, "Can I play?" and since no one verbally objected, probably because their mamas taught them manners, I took my place in the line up. With a dress. Back then girls were required to wear dresses.

The girls stood around in groups. My teacher referred to these groups as cliques. The boys, even boys from other grades, could play together, but not the girls. I never asked if I could stand there with the girls. You don't ask girls this or you are dead. I at least knew this much. I let them get used to me, but I also let them know I was one of them. (I had the knee socks now.)

So, I had my knee socks, I was playing baseball whenever I wanted to, and I talked to a different group of girls each recess. Plus, when I’d go home, I had a crick to catch crawdads, swing a rope over or build a bridge over, and a real baseball diamond to play on. Over the state road on the fly was a home run. Over the road on a roll was a ground-rule double. For the first time in my life I felt like I was “home,” even if I didn’t quite fit any one group at school.

Most of the girls in my class had lived in this area their whole lives. In fact some of their families went back for several generations. Some of those girls still live here and are now raising their children and grandchildren here. (My now family returned to this area after being away for something like 15 years or so.)While immigration brought people to the “new world,” Indiana was the “new West” at one point in history. Some people to this day think that Indiana is the end of the world. (They are the ones who are town historians and "belong" here.)You can take that anyway you like. People continue coming to this area to visit from all over the world, but only because they think that Jimmy Dean’s ghost walks around here. (Or maybe little James Dean clones. But then, that would make this blog science fiction. )

But what made our 6th grade class distinctive was that here we were in the bread basket of rural Indiana, and we blessed our bread with mostly Quaker prayers, a Baptist prayer or maybe the open-minded United Methodist prayers (only to be chastised by the Wesleyans’ prayers,) and our teacher was part Jewish with an artist sister who lived in New York. He was different.

I can’t remember anyone really mentioning this bit of background, except maybe like describing where something was located to someone from out of town. "Yup, yup, you go to the corner of First and Sycamore, and turn left at that Jewish teacher's house." It's not meant to be a judgment or a criticism. It's just some way to distinguish each person and that alone made him "different." Otherwise, we all looked the same. No one was staring or gawking or whispering about his worldview. And he really did bring a different perspective to our lives. We all liked him. He was tall. (Don't miss this--we were very basketball crazy back in those days in Indiana.) He had curly, kind of springy black hair, and now that I remember him I could easily see him blending in on the streets of Israel.

I don’t recall exactly the moment when I realized he was Jewish. I knew he smoked like a chimney because while our little rural school only had about 9 or 10 (small) rooms, the teacher’s lounge was always filled with blue smoke and he definitely was the culprit. It was a very small school. We knew everything about everyone, or so we thought.

What really made him stand out was that besides Mr. Milton James, the janitor, who I think was a farmer, he was the only male in the building most of the time. And he didn’t quite fit the profile of even the teachers. Our principal was a petite, older woman of an obvious ultra-conservative Christian religious persuasion and whose mean streak included showing kindergarteners her iodine-soaked-to-look-like-blood paddle. Kept us all in line, and she was the reason girls had to wear dresses, even though culottes, which looked like skirts, had hit our Cornfield Corner fashion page. But yet, he fit in perfectly.

And maybe because of this, I knew someday I would fit in out here in the sticks, somehow, some way. He knew all about me and apparently didn’t blink an eyeball about it. He didn’t teach us conventional stuff, either. He had this passion for Edgar Allen Poe and would turn off the lights and read a little Edgar every day. That was my favorite thing. Beating hearts behind walls. Eueew, scary. He made us write, and oh, he also had an art contest one time.

His sister was an artist and was visiting him from New York, so he had this art contest and he had her judge them that evening at home. First prize went to my (now) good friend Linda Leckron. She was a straight-A student, who later was a cheerleader and graduated 2nd in our class. She always did everything perfect (that’s why she picked me to be her roommate in college and why we were in each other’s weddings.) Who could beat someone like that? And frankly, you liked her so much, you were glad she won everything.

I can even remember that her picture was of a clown. It was very good. It later would remind me of the clowns Red Skelton used to paint. (He was another Hoosier.) Anyway, I cannot for the life of me remember who got 2nd place or what the picture was, but, I got 3rd place.

Now, you’d think everything would be hunky-dory, but for some reason, though I was quiet and never uttered much of anything, so I didn’t complain, Mr. Rosen felt like explaining to me how I got 3rd place. Here his sister was some artist and apparently quite good, according to her brother, but he and she (as siblings are wont to do) argued strongly over my picture and whether it should have a prize at all. It seems she thought I should get first place (yay! An artist thought I was good) and he thought anyone could go out and take a photograph of my picture, so it wasn’t really art. I think he meant that he thought I should have last place, even though there wasn't such a place. At least this is how my 11-year-old-I'm-new-here mind took this info.

Well, at this point in his explanation, I sort of felt like an artist and wanted to slit my wrists. I didn't know his artist sister, would never see her, and all I cared about was whether I was going to get a "F" in art. But he gave into his sister a little bit and gave me a prize--third place. Only three places were given prizes.

I am not sure why he wanted to explain all this to my 11-year-old precarious ego new to a school and way of life. I just wanted to blend in and I could have lived the rest of my life without knowing that my picture had caused this major argument between adult siblings—one of them my teacher. Or that said teacher hated my picture and thought anyone could do what I had done. I think I got a box of cough drops, so what was the big deal? Linda got this big chocolate something—maybe one of those Russell Stover boxes. We all envied her with our stomachs. Cough drops, however, were legal to eat in class and you didn't have to share. All you had to do was "cough' a little and it was then acceptable.

I took my picture home after it had been displayed appropriately as a prize winner, but I did not enjoy my status. I was thinking I never wanted to express my own personality again. Who wanted to be in a stupid art contest, anyway? I would’ve been perfectly happy to have just been one of the “losers” and gone happily and obliviously(I love adverbs) along, blending in.

But my picture, as my life seems to always do, caused controversy among my classmates, who looked at my picture with new eyes--"is that really art??"--like a sixth grader cares, and more importantly, between adults. And everyone in the class knew it.

We were surrounded by cornfields, and though John F. Kennedy had one time driven by our school on the state highway while campaigning to be president (I heard about it,everyone went out and waved,) no one would notice us even being on the map. I wasn't going to be the next Hoosier Picasso. And who cared if my picture could be taken by a camera? I made the whole thing up in my mind. I had never seen this place before. It was a mere longing in my heart and it didn't look like Indiana. Ol' Edgar could've showed up at that point, bricked me up behind a wall, and I would've yelled, "Thanks, Ed!"

I didn't eat those cough drops. I let them melt in my bottom drawer.


"Chris Warren" in the limestone house with her knee socks.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Take Me on a Journey

Like many other writers, I come from a long line of storytellers on both sides of my family. My mother told stories to me while she did chores in the kitchen, while I sat and imagined the lives of her brave father, her adventuresome grandfather and her mother who sacrificed her life for her child.

I read books, but the stories I heard from my mother, my father who ran away from home when he was sixteen, and any number of other relatives flowed into my veins and soon as I was able, I put them down into my own journals and with my own spins. To me life was a romantic adventure and writing helped me to process my complicated life.

That's what storytellers do. They wrap you into their blanket of comfort and rock you into a deep meditation of what life is. The fact that I'm a Christian only emphasizes this legacy of storytellers. It was God Himself who began with "The Word" and the Word flourished in grace and gave life to me so many years ago.

When my journey on earth is done, maybe I will have left my own storytelling legacy behind, as I weave new stories in my heavenly home filled with praise of He who saves the world.

As I write here about my own journey, I hope you share your own journeys with me. Let's go together.


~~Crystal Laine Miller