Random Neural Firings

the inner workings of a restless creative brain

Your Irish Eyes Were Always Smiling


My Aunt Bonny died today. She of the ever-present smile, the mischievous grin, the jolly attitude. You knew her, right? Many of us have that aunt, the fun one.

She was the last of the Chapman sisters. The middle child. The funny one. The majorette, the first one to marry, the second to have a child. She of the Snowman embellished Christmas towels. The ceramic studio in the basement. The husband who cooked. (Unusual back then.)

She gave birth to four children: two girls, and twin boys. Three out of four had red hair like my sister and I. When the twins came, the whole family celebrated: finally, we had boys!. Double trouble, indeed. Some would say she spoiled Mark and Todd. I will not disagree. They adored their mom and she doted on them.

Visits to her house were easy, relaxed, laid-back. Eat, don’t eat. Stay up late or go to bed early. Eat dessert for dinner. Just don’t burn the house down. You didn’t just take off your shoes when you entered her house. You left your cares and fears on the other side of that threshold.

Her oldest daughter still lives in that house. It’s been renovated many times since then. The cabinets and counters and wall colors have changed, but Christie has kept the welcoming spirit intact. Christie inherited her mother’s ease. Kelli inherited her mother’s humor. The boys, her sweetness.

Aunt Bonny had a stroke when she was my age, in her late 40s. She was wheelchair bound most of the last twenty years of her life. Her speech was slurred and her words difficult to follow. Still, she laughed and made us all laugh. She couldn’t walk and was hard to understand but she still made us laugh and feel warm and welcome.

She and Uncle Bill came to my wedding seven years ago. My mom had been dead for years, as had the oldest Chapman sister, Sue. Aunt Bonny was the matriarch. But – I don’t know how to explain this – she didn’t wear the crown. She was still the same. Exactly the same. Down-to-earth, sweet, kind, funny Aunt Bonny.

Aunt Bonny, smiling in her wheelchair

Aunt Bonny, smiling in her wheelchair

It’s impossible to talk about her without talking about Uncle Bill. A love story for the ages. As her health deteriorated, he took care of her, even going so far as to retire early to do so. He never left her side. He never complained. You never got the sense that taking care of her was a burden. To those of who watched with wonder (could I ever be that good?), Uncle Bill just loved her and did what love does.

Are tributes to the dead boring? Probably. But aren’t they also necessary for the living? Don’t answer that. I didn’t write this for you. I wrote it for me. And for my dear, sweet aunt. I’ll miss you and your merry eyes.

Smells Like Raw Talent


5th row, center aisle, 1994, Macauley Theater, Louisville, KY. Not long after Kurt Cobain’s death, I sat mesmerized as Tori Amos opened her concert first with a breathless, edge-of-your-seat rendition of “American Pie” and then sang a slow, agonizing ballad of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I looked at my friend, Terri, and whispered (cuz Tori at that moment, commanded whispers, not yells – yells would come later), “is that what I think it is?” It was so different from the loud, discordant original that it took me a moment (OK, more than a moment) to figure out what song she was singing. She would also sing some of my early favorites of hers – Little Earthquakes, Precious Things – but the way she wrapped her mouth and her body around her piano and  those first two songs is burned into my mind.

This was a time when radio still wouldn’t play two women back-to-back. (I know; I worked in radio at the time which is how I scored the awesome seats.) Tori Amos was/is maybe my generation’s Janis Joplin. Free, freaky at times, insanely talented and impossible to take your eyes off of. An original – even (or especially) – when she’s covering other’s songs. Do yourself a favor and listen to some of her covers.

A few months later. Not long after, I saw Courtney Love and her band Hole perform live at Phoenix Hill Tavern in Louisville, in support of their album Live Through This. Her husband had just committed suicide and she had to go on tour. I don’t have the talent to write about that night and what I saw. I witnessed bravery, despair, anger and power. I don’t care how fucked up she is. A lot of rock stars are and I think we are entirely too hard on her for behaving like a lot of her peers do. I remember her baby doll dress. I remember she brought her daughter on stage at some point wearing large headphones to protect her tiny ears. That album still gives me chills. And that concert was a true rock concert – daring, insane, loud, bad acoustics and one lead singer who begged, pleaded and stole my attention.

4th Birthday – Gymnastics Party (Wordless Wednesday)


gymnastics party ideas for a boy

As I mentioned before, it was NOT easy to find gymnastics-themed ideas for a boy. Our son loves his gymnastics class and wanted to have his party there. We did a dual party with a girlfriend of his who practically shares a birthday. We only had 15 minutes to set up the party room so I needed decorations with maximum impact, but that could be set up quickly.

Previously, I shared with you pics of what we ordered for decorations and favors. I thought you might like to see how it all turned out! The cake was made by Sweets to the Sweet here in Atlanta. How frickin’ cute is this cake???

gymnastics party cake

Sharing a GOLD MEDAL birthday kiss:


Looking for more great photos? Grab a cup of tea or coffee and check out these sites that host more Wordless Wednesday entries: SevenClownCircus5MinutesforMom, and WordlessWednesday.

Gymnastics Party for a Boy – Good Luck with That


My son takes a gymnastics class once a week – this is a “real” gymnastics class with a balance beam, rings, uneven bars, floor work, etc. It’s hilarious to watch these little 3 year olds bop around. We had him in a sports class last year which he did not like because he said the other kids were faster. Being the uber-competitive person I am, I told him that he needed to practice and he would get faster. Being the more astute person that she is, our nanny pointed out that he was the youngest and shortest, so you know, maybe that had something to do with it. Wow, I missed that one.

Anyhow, I digress. His birthday is coming up and I was hunting around for a theme. I figured race cars because he’s way into them and there are lots of cute (i.e. not Disney) race car ideas out there. But then I thought about how nice it would be to have his party somewhere that ISN’T MY HOUSE this year and he LOVES gymnastics, so we’re having his party there. The coaches take the kids through a whole circuit. I think it’ll be fun.

But decorating? A nightmare. Just like walking into a kid’s clothing store where 75% of it is for girls and we have one tiny corner of red and navy BORING clothes in the back – ALMOST ALL the gymnastics party stuff I found was for girls. Ugh. You can see some of the stuff I did find on this Pinterest board. (How did I plan parties before Pinterest? And where were you when we were building the house?)

So I really liked this cute cartwheel silhouette invitation but didn’t want to commit to a whole retro theme. Mostly because anything else I might buy (like favors) was likely to be red, white and blue. I decided to make my own invitation using Publisher. Here’s what I came up with:

And then I uploaded it onto Pingg, which is like Evite only you can upload your own design. I also printed it out (for the two people whose email addresses I dont’ have) and made some little “stamps” to put on the outside of the envelope. I used PicMonkey for that. I just uploaded two clip art images into a collage, saved it, uploaded it again as a single image and applied a ragged border to look like a stamp.

For favors, I ordered these sport bottles and I customized them with the “Jump Bounce Flip Play” words I used on the invitation. I also ordered these “gold” medals and will put those around the bottles. No favor bags or boxes needed this year!


For decorations, I found this personalized repositionable wall decal. Yeah, that’s a girl in the middle, but it’ll have to do. We only have 15 minutes to set up at the gym, so I’m hoping I can throw this up behind the cake and tie a few balloons to some chairs and voila! It’s a party – not quite Pinterest-worthy but we’ll see!

And for the cake? I found this idea and send it to Sweets for the Sweet; she made his awesome airplane cake last year.

She’s going to do something like this (but double layer) in primary colors for this year. And to make this even more fun, one of our good friend’s daughter is just 12 days older than our son. They hadn’t gotten around to figuring out what to do with her birthday, so we’re going to join forces. It’ll be one big gymnastics bash – and I’ll have an extra pair of arms to rush everything in and set it up!

I’ll post pics of how it all turns out.

Thank Heaven for Little Boys


You see arms; he sees wings.
I see heaven in the form of a little boy.


The Holidays are Over-Commercialized. No They’re Not.


Everybody says the holidays are over-commercialized. We buy too much stuff people don’t want or need. Our kids have ten times more toys and crap than we had. I really don’t need another scarf or pair of gloves.

And while it’s popular to say these things – and I agree in principle – I think we’re forgetting what is at the heart of all that gift giving: the desire to give. I want to know my in-laws better so I can surprise them with a gift that will make them smile and warm their hearts and remind them of their Atlanta relatives. I love my niece and nephews and want to express that with something that makes them smile. My son’s grandparents want to get something for my son that he will love, not because they are competitive gift-givers, but because they love my son. Gift-giving is one way we express our love for others.

Now, perhaps it would be better if we gave gifts all year round, or whenever we saw something that reminded us of someone we love. And many people do that. But we have this one time a year (and birthdays) where we all stop and think of others – quite a bit actually. What is my mother-in-law’s favorite color? Does she have everything she needs for her kitchen? Would she like some art for her renovated bathroom? Now, multiply that by all my family members and close friends and I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking of people I love.

I don’t see how that’s so bad.

p.s. – I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t do a myriad of other things to show people we love them, such as spending time with them, writing notes, cooking for them, etc. Just that gift-giving is one way we express our love.

Wise Words


My friend, Cara’s, Facebook post today:

“While wrangling my son to stand still in line at the store today, an older woman behind me said ‘You’re in the time of your life when a lot is asked of you and a lot is asked of him.’ So, so true. And yet, as parents, we often forget about the latter. A great reminder to be patient with our little ones even when they are not patient with us!”

Cara and her line-mate are right: we do ask a lot of our little ones. They are learning and growing and just as overwhelmed with everything at times as we are.

What About a Wall-E Party?


My son won’t turn 3 till November but I’m already starting to come up with ideas for his birthday. Originally, I thought we’d go with an airplane theme because he’s been sort of into them (his PopPop has a plane and is doing all he can to encourage Hunter’s fascination). We live near a small, private airport that has a great playground and “hangar” with tables for parties. I thought this could be a fun place for a 3-year old party (although I dread the thought of carting food and decorations any further than my kitchen).

That was my thinking until my son started wanting to watch “Wall-E” all the time. Literally, first thing in the morning, he wants to watch and begs for it all day long (even watching clips on the iPad when we let him).

So maybe I’ll go with a Wall-E theme instead (assuming he’s still into Wall-E in a few months). But will try to resist all the official Wall-E party supplies and do our own thing. How about some of these ideas:

  • Take some of his old shoes, fill with dirt, plant an herb – line ’em up as a centerpiece
  • Mini Rubiks cubes for party favors
  • A Coleman cooler filled with “treasures” for the kids to take home
  • Sporks as the lone utensil
  • Boiled eggs decorated to look like Eve  
  • Sandwiches cut out to look like Wall-E , like these from Anna The Red’s blog  
  • Boxes decorated like trash, stacked up and strewn about
  • Will try and find someone to make a 3-dimensional Wall-E cake (like the 3-D bus cake I had last year)    

So there you have it! My early, early, EARLY stage planning. Poor kid’s room still isn’t decorated (and we’ve lived in this house a year now so really, I have no excuse) but I’m planning his birthday party.

Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)


The first time I saw the video for “Losing my Religion,” I instantly thought the visuals reminded me of a Caravaggio painting. I took a few art appreciation courses in college and Caravaggio was one of my favorite artists. He was famous for his dramatic interplay of light and dark (chiaroscuro) and the way he used light to capture/memorialize a moment in time. His subjects freeze mid-sentence.

It seemed to me that this video used a similar palette (mostly browns, similar to Caravaggio) and created a series of moments frozen in time. And then there was the way Michael Stipe was lit “there in the corner.” It was visually daring and instantly memorable. Can’t you just see Stipe standing there, karate chopping the air, in that empty little room?

This is the song where I first fell in love with R.E.M. I knew some of their songs before but crushed hard after this. This is the song that made me go who are these guys again? Conversely, this is the period when my husband thinks the band sold out. Personally, I love them still and if you haven’t heard their album Accelerate which came out a few years ago, download the title track. You might just fall back in love with them. Even my husband begrudgingly admits that it’s a pretty good album.

You all know the lyrics and what they’re about. Michael Stipe calls it a “classic obsession pop song.” Have I said too much already? Y’all wanna just listen?

What am I missing on Facebook?


I love Facebook. It’s allowed me to reconnect with my best friend from high school (hi ya’, Mel!) and get to know some other women I didn’t know so well but am growing to know better and love. There’s a group of us that keep a group chat going, sharing our joys and sorrows. Literally. It’s been years since I’ve had a group of girls I could open up to so candidly. We all just vomit out whatever’s on our minds and the other four rush in to share their similar experiences. It’s amazing and has been a great sanity booster.

I don’t know who started it, but one day our conversation went from gossiping about people who annoy us to a deeply personal topic: depression. One after another, we all weighed in with our struggles with depression over the years. I had no idea. Cuz you know, on Facebook, we all celebrate our lives. Our status updates read like a Leave it to Beaver episode: “My kid got straight A’s!; My husband is so sweet and just cooked this great meal; My baby’s growing up!; Going to the beach next week!” Once in a while we’ll post that we’re tired, or overworked, but it’s still garden-variety “regular” life.

Reading about my girlfriends’ experiences was a like taking a bucket of cold water to the face. If the five of us have ALL suffered with depression – and we all come from different backgrounds – I wonder what is lying beneath the surface of the rest of my friends? You know, the ones I don’t have time to talk to any more? I’ve been so grateful for Facebook giving me an easy way to stay in touch with so many people, but I have to wonder: what am I missing? How are their lives, really? Are they OK?

I’m not suggesting we all start sharing our pain and discomfort on Facebook. But what I’m learning is that it is VERY helpful to have a group of people you CAN be open and honest with. Whether in real life or online. I used to have that but marriage and motherhood . . . well, you know the rest.

p.s. – the photo is from my 40th birthday when I celebrated in Florida with some girlfriends. Among other beautiful rituals, they each gave me rocks they decorated with wishes for my life. The rocks and the blue ceramic bowl pictured above sit on my shelves in the living room now as a reminder of the loving power of girlfriends.

Romeo and Juliet – The Song


Boy pines for girl who doesn’t even know he exists. She mocks him, she laughs at him, he mourns:

“All I do is miss you, and the way we used to be
All I do is keep the beat, and bad company
All I do is kiss you, through the bars of a rhyme
Julie, I’d do the stars with you, any time.”

It hurts my heart every time I hear “all I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme.” That lyric slays me every time. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) wrote it but I first heard the song a couple of years back when The Killers covered it. I’m sure the purists hate Brandon’s voice on the cover, but it’s the version I’m most familiar with and so it sounds “right” to my ears. It doesn’t really matter who sings it, though. It’s an exquisitely crafted song about heartbreak. Just listen.

I told you this blog was random!

U2 – Mysterious Ways


I’m a casual fan so I can’t tell you for certain that this is my all-time favorite U2 song, but it’s certainly one of my faves. And I love the video! I worked in television when “Mysterious Ways” came out. I used to keep a video cassette in the VCR (remember those?) and would rush to the TV to hit the record button for snippets of music videos, commercials, show opens – anything with an effect, a background, a type treatment even – that I thought I could copy in my work. This video had that magic. The distorted field, the way the video bends and moves in time with the music. It’s one of those rare instances (in my opinion) when a video really brought a song fully to life. You can see the notes.

And lyrically the song is just genius. Sing it with me: “Johnny take a ride with your sister, the moon; let her pale light in to fill up your room . . . if you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel, on your knees boy!” Oh yeah. Good stuff.

You Look GOOD Future Self! Writing Challenge Day 7


Day 7’s Challenge is:

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

(Author: Corbett Barr)

Hello Sherean Five Years Ago – I would tell that bride-to-be that being married is in most ways, easier than dating. It’s an exhalation, a relief, a joy. The so-called “work” of marriage is worthwhile and sure beats the work involved with being single. I’d tell her not to fear pregnancy and motherhood. She’ll do better than she thought.

I’d suggest she buy Google and Amazon stock, bank all her profits to weather the Great Recession (which I mostly did, but sure could have done some more), and keep working out with her trainer. I should have never stopped that! In fact, that is my biggest regret of the last 5 years. Between the pregnancies and miscarriages, the moves (two of them), the house building, the birth, my son’s therapy and my resulting malaise, I quit working out and I have the extra pounds to show for it.

And to the person in five years, I say: Good job! You did what you had to do, what you needed to do, and what you wanted to do. Keep it up. And holy crap, you look good for 51! 🙂

Here’s the back story on the 30-day challenge.


What’s Holding Me Back? Ha! Writing Challenge Day 6


I’m still catching up on the writing challenge. Here’s Day 6:

The idea of “being realistic” holds all of us back. From starting a business or quitting a job to dating someone who may not be our type or moving to a new place – getting “real” often means putting your dreams on hold.

Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down. Also write down the obstacles in your way of reaching your goal. Finally, write down a tangible plan to overcome each obstacle.

The only thing left is to, you know, actually go make it happen. What are you waiting for?

(Author: Matt Cheuvront)

N/A, as in Not Applicable. It’s not that I’m fearless, per se, but my fears run more towards extreme heights, bungee jumping, and bugs. Not the kind of fears that hold me back in life. The challenge asks of something you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to. I can think of literally nothing. This does not make me special, or especially unique. It’s a character trait (some would call it a “flaw”) of a serial entrepreneur.

I used to keep that Goethe* quote around:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

And I believed it. Want to start a business but don’t have money? Write a strong business plan, make a compelling case, and raise the money. Don’t know how to raise the money? Ask everyone you know. Somebody else does. Don’t know how to set up a company? Buy the “For Dummies” books. That’s how I figured out what type of corporation I needed to be. Have an idea you’d like to patent but don’t know where to start? Google it. In fact, these days, you can pretty much Google anything you need to know.

So I’ve done this a few times and am embarking on another business venture, right now, as we speak (so to speak). I have some ideas for mobile apps. I knew nothing about developing mobile apps so I started emailing tech folks I know and had a chance to meet with or talk to 4 different programmers and/or companies. I’ve never marketed a mobile app before but plenty of people have, so I Googled it, took notes, and wrote a marketing plan. I couldn’t afford the initial development out of pocket so I considered two options: 1) revenue share with the developers or 2) increase credit card limit and pay on credit. For a myriad of reasons, I chose #2. I figure my odds of actually breaking even are 1 in 10. Making money even less.

But you know what? The only way I’m going to learn and understand the app market is to dive in. I might fail with this first one, but I’ll bet you I’ll succeed somewhere.

If you want to know how it goes, follow me on Facebook. We should be launching this first one in a few weeks!

*I put an asterisk here because there is some debate as to whether or not Goethe actually wrote this.

Here’s the back story on the 30-day challenge.

Emerson Writing Challenge Days 4 and 5


Day 4’s Challenge:

If we live truly, we shall see truly. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

(Author: Chris Guillebeau)

Impossible to pick just one so I’ll give you two:

1) Barcelona, for many reasons: art, architecture, and food being some of the primary ones. And since my son is learning Spanish in an immersion program, my dream is to spend a month there next summer (or the one after) so he can REALLY get immersed. What am I doing to make this happen? Meeting as many people from Spain as I can, hoping that someone knows someone who can rent (or swap) houses with us.

2) Iran. I’ve been here before, so it’s not that I “need” to see it before I die, but it was many years ago, before the Revolution. I’d like to take my husband and son there to experience the ancient culture (would love to see the ruins at Persepolis) and to visit the relatives I have that still live there. There’s not a whole lot I can do on this one as much of it is dependent on the political climate and whether or not we feel it’s safe enough to travel there.

Day 5’s Challenge:

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

I thought this challenge was poorly worded. If I had one week to live, I’d do what everyone else would do: quit working, tell everyone who matters how much I love them, and spend every waking moment with my son and husband. It’s not a practical or instructive lesson because I can’t quit working now, and I already tell everyone who matters I love them and spend as much time as possible with my husband and son. Truly. I plan meetings around my son’s naps just so I can see him during my work day.

I have no idea what the rest of this challenge means so I – in resolving to do only that which makes me come alive – will not even attempt to answer that which makes me go “huh?”

Here’s the back story on the 30-day challenge.



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