Life Stories and Beyond

Our Bodies. Our Families. Our Lives. We all have stories we should share. We're more alike than we know.


July 5, 2018


Shelling Out Wisdom From the Beach: Hints for writers, parents, or anyone who enjoys playing


By Lisa Batten Kunkleman


As a writer and parent, I know the importance of inspiration for new ideas. For me, nature and especially the beach are where my five senses heighten like hair standing up in gooseflesh. Thoughts flow in faster than I can put them into long-term memory. Taking photos helps me save those treasured tidbits until I can jot them down.

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We realize you kids know everything but right now you just sit there and listen to older and wiser heads.


My latest thoughts whirled around how much the shoreline is filled with diversity. Various colors, shapes, conditions, sizes, and ages of shells, serve as perfect analogies of human lives. On my latest beach trip, I filled an empty trail mix bag with sand and brought it home to use as a backdrop to my seashell wisdom ideas. It was too darn hot for straight thinking, playing in the hot sand in a heat wave, so I opted to play in our air conditioning instead.


Nothing like a little grit with your sweet and salty.


I collected shells of all descriptions. Nearly perfect and broken, old and not so old, plain and colorful. A cross-section of mankind.


Back in the cool air, playtime began with a cookie sheet full of sand, the perfect sandbox for shell play. Believe it or not, this sandbox kept my husband and me occupied for quite a while arranging and rearranging our pretend humans in the form of shells. I didn’t tell him it felt like playing with our kids again, making up stories for their dolls or GI Joe’s to act out. Only this time it was with my idea man of a husband.


No sass needed. Come under the umbrella before you have a heat stroke.


I’d arrange the shell people and ask what he thought was happening. Our ideas were often very different which suggests this activity may serve as good prompts for writers or parents. These photos and captions represent only a few of the scenarios we developed.


I like your natural gray. I wish I had the nerve to go natural. Ready to play Bunco?



Okay you can go in the water but only an inch deep. And you girls hang onto the twins.

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Why do we have to put on more sunscreen?


For parents and writers who need to get in out of the heat or stimulate some new ideas, setting up an indoor sandbox is simple and effective. It’s also easy enough to sweep up the wayward sand, so no need to fear a big old mess.

On my morning beach walk, I met a delightful new friend who shared her own shell analogy. She said,”I’ve noticed how even the beautiful, complete shells still have grit inside. I rinse them and it reminds me of how baptism can make us grit free.”


Morning shelling is relaxation at its best.


I’d love for you to share additional caption ideas for these photos or let me know if this spurs your own creativity.


Seeing our similarities shouldn’t be so hard. We’re all solid citizens and live on the same beach.


June 29, 2018


Dead Fish or Brunch?

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

An imperfect circle of dead fish littered the beach near the water’s edge. How sad. I asked another morning walker, “Do you think they were discarded by a surf-fisherman who was using them as bait?”


He lifted his brows while widening his eyes and said, “Either that or some sharks were out there having a good time.”


“I’ll go with my theory, but thanks for that,” I said as I smiled, turned, and continued my stroll. Beach walkers are such fun folks.   IMG_1302

On my return trek toward my shady umbrella site, I could see from a distance, three seagulls enjoying a fish bait buffet. My smile flattened, as I witnessed a photographer get too close and off they flew. He took his camera and left. That’s what your zoom lens is for, Buddy.


I stayed back a ways and watched as one little white gull returned and snagged a bite, only to be scared away by a pack of runners pounding the sand. Poor little gull waded about eight feet away to wait out the traffic.

My mom would say, “Somebody left the gate open,” meaning traffic was heavy. Each time he got up the courage to move in for a taste, another runner zipped by. He retreated again to his safe spot in the shallow water.


I wanted to toss him a couple of slimy morsels but he would have flown for sure if I strode that close. The tide was going out but one rogue wave fell just barely far enough to pull back a few tiny, iridescent fish for him to snag and munch on. Nature ruled once again. The fish didn’t die in vain and the little gull had a lovely brunch. I wonder if his buddies were watching.


June 26, 2018


Distractibility at Its Finest: If You Give a Writer An Idea


By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

Distracted as usual from my to do list, I spend far too much time on line reading other people’s blogs and enjoying chats with some of those bloggers. Those conversations, often spur me on to write more blog posts, which is a good thing. I figure I should do so while the ideas are on top of my memory file. Was that clever or confusing?  Blogging would be a good way to spend my time now, except I’m hibernating at the beach for a few days, to work toward finishing my ever-pending book within this decade. Actually, I’ll finish sometime this year if I learn to concentrate.


“Hey Squirrel, what’s in that feeder?”


There is a constant influx of captivating topics that swirl around in my head like clippings under a lawnmower, flinging toward the chute. They have to escape or the machinery becomes clogged. I have to launch that idea out into the grass. I mean the world. Hopefully you get that I’m attempting to make an analogy. Here’s an example of how my blogging mind works.


If you give a writer an idea

She’ll need to chew on it

If she chews on it

She’ll need to write it

If she writes it

She’ll need to edit it

If she edits it

She’ll need to share it

If she shares it

She’ll need to monitor it

If she monitors it

She’ll need to respond to responses

If she responds to responses

She’ll get another idea

If she gets another idea

She’ll need to chew on it


Now that I got that out of my head, I’ll get to work on the book. Until the next idea takes hold and distractibility wins over.  Then there’s that crowded beach beneath my tenth floor window.  I see one good empty spot near the water where my chair and umbrella would fit between the sea of umbrellas like a puzzle piece.

June 25, 2018


What Does Your Eighty Year Old You Want From You Now?

A blogger friend wrote this very thought provoking piece. I must share. The list her 80-year-old self shares with her is right on target for me. I wonder who else it will touch.

Head to Head, Heart to Heart

Imagine you’ve got to eighty years old and you’re as fit as can be expected for your age, with a good mind still intact, and you’re reflecting back on your life. Now I’ve listened to elderly people tell stories of their pasts which function as a kind of celebration of their lives which privilege the listener, with a sense of that person facing the end of their life with equanimity and peace. It’s as if they are ready to face a ‘good death’ and the journey ahead, whatever that may be, with no regrets and a free spirit, along with the conviction that they did the very best they possibly could for themselves and the people they cared about.

And this is the way I want to feel when, or if, I reach this point, because I have also listened to people around this age ruminate on their pasts in…

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June 18, 2018


Hershey Nuggets: A surprising Memory Aid

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

My mother’s memory technique would never work in our house. She uses a kitchen table candy dish filled with dark chocolate Hershey Nuggets for more than maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. If she wants to remind herself to take the trash out to the street, she sets one nugget on the table. Since it’s out of place, in her ultra-organized house, she’ll see it and remember.

There’s no way a wandering piece of candy would work in our house. When our family visits Mom, we’ve ruined her system more than once by putting the candy back in the dish. Well, ok, fine. Sometimes we eat it. So we forget to remember her memory device.

Once when she was trying to remember the exterminator was coming, she said, “You just ate the bug man.” Then she flipped a coaster across the room to leave on the floor as her backup memory plan.

Back when I wore rings, before my menopausal, salt-sensitive fingers started swelling, I used to add my right-hand ring onto my left-hand wedding ring finger. The three ring circles were so annoying, I remembered unwritten items on my to-do list.


When I’m too lazy write a sticky-note, I use Mom’s method and put an item in a weird place as a memory nudge. For example, I might wonder, Why’s that nasty sneaker on my dresser? Oh, yeah. So I’ll take a walk. It has to be odd to stand out amidst the other out-of-place objects in our house.

I send myself an e-mail reminder, now and then. The problem with that is, my email in-box has 547 unopened emails so the hints the rest of the world already sent smother my reminders. Maybe I should use that reminder app on my phone. I forget to do that.

On a recent visit with Mom, when I spotted a drink coaster on the white carpet between her unoccupied, trendy leather recliner and the kitchen, I bent over to pick it up.   A voice from the adjoining sunroom, said, “Don’t you move my coaster. Remember, tomorrow’s trash day.”

Looking up from her homemade drop-biscuit-strawberry shortcake, she grinned.

“Of course it is. Silly me. Maybe I’ll have a nugget since you’ve switched to coasters.”




May 8, 2018

1 comment

Pre Speech Aphasia Comedy Storytelling: Daddy Was a Talker and Would be 93 Years old Today

Speech aphasia slowed Daddy’s storytelling but here’s a good one from before that happened. Happy 93rd birthday in the great beyond.

Life Stories and Beyond

Goldilocks and the Seven Dwarfs Meet Rudolph With the Big Red Snout

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

Before strokes and who-knows-what caused speech aphasia leaving Daddy (Papa Carl) with only about twenty-one words, he was a funny fellow. Downright embarrassing to his wife and kids at times with his humor. He liked to watch us squirm.


A salesman with a women’s apparel and shoe business, and a talker, he was energized by an audience, especially when it included his grandchildren. This video treasure from 1995 popped up from my archives and I just had to share it. I’ll call it:

Goldilocks and the Seven Dwarfs Meet Rudolph With the Big Red Snout

I say, “While you’re standing there, tell Danielle the story of Snow White.”

Papa Carl begins, “Did you know about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? There was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and they went down the…

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April 24, 2018


Sadie Hound the Celebrity

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

Who knew a hound dog named Sadie would become such a celebrity? Almost losing her to severe kidney cancer and her surviving the surgery is pretty miraculous and her thriving is incredible. My friends and family enjoy keeping up with her progress since her massive, cancerous left kidney was removed. This isn’t surprising as they love the goofy girl. Then there are the bloggers and social media friends who keep tabs on this funny hound they’ve never met. Thanks so much for your interest and concern.


At Sadie’s checkups with the surgeon or the oncologist, I feel like the bodyguard for a rock star. She marches in like she’s on a red carpet and announces her presence with a hound dog howl and a whipping black tail. In the suburbs of Charlotte, a howling, long-legged hunting dog, that doesn’t hunt by the way, is quite a novelty. A head-turner. Especially when she begins barking at the checkout desk, announcing it’s 3:30 and therefore is her Lupper time. (That’s an early meal between lunch and suppertime.) Her internal clock is never wrong. She’s like a barking dinner bell.


The miracle dog’s blood work looks great. There’s a little protein in her urine but chemo can cause that. A week and a half of taking chemo pills is not diminishing her appetite even a little bit. She’s hungry around the clock and gaining a few pounds. Our other dogs get treats when she does and hopefully they don’t fill out too much as we try to fatten Sadie up. We love having her home romping around like her old self. And she smells good thanks to her daddy Dan giving her a bath. You can rub her slick black fur and not worry about how bad your hand will smell. Thanks for asking for updates. Here’s a video of Her Royal Highness, Sadie, after the latest checkup.



April 2, 2018


Sadie Hound’s Miracle

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman


I’m about to share what some would consider a First World Problem, yet in our household like many others, pets are family. Sadie, a walking, fur skeleton of a dog, wandered up to us at my mother’s lake house the summer of 2012. We assume she was lost or even abandoned in the nearby, alligator-infested swamp, likely due to poor hunting skills. Sadie’s appetite is insatiable, which is understandable, having gone through starvation. The day we met, she asked for a turkey sandwich and my son-in-law gave her one. The rest of the story is one of love at first sight. She’s been making people smile ever since and is a special part of our family.



It’s amazing how quickly life can change, and for us, simple blood work and ultrasound testing led us down a rocky path. Our goofy coonhound, Sadie, who brings smiles to the grumpiest face, received a horrible diagnosis. Our vet discovered a huge tumor on her kidney and it was attached to the Vena Cava, a vital blood vessel. Surgery to remove Sadie’s kidney and an adjacent nasty mass would be extremely risky as the chance of hemorrhaging was almost certain.


We had to make the decision to take a happy chowhound that looked skinny but completely healthy and put her through a horrible surgery, which might not work and could require the vet to euthanize her while on the table. The veterinary oncologist and the surgeon were very kind but frank about the slim chance of success. Yet doing nothing would mean the tumor would rupture and cause a horrible death for Sadie and a ghastly experience for all of us.

I try to find some purpose or lesson in tough situations and I didn’t have to search far for this one. This experience has made me freshly aware of how many people must make horrendous decisions for themselves and their loved ones, putting them at risk of death or worse in an attempt at saving their lives or making their lives better.

I realize there’s a difference between saving a person and saving a pet. However, we made the decision to do the best we could to save Sadie and hopefully at the same time, provide additional experience and knowledge to the arsenal of expertise of the surgeon and other medical personnel participating in the surgery. We saw it as our small way of helping move toward understanding and curing this dreadful disease, along the lines of donating a body to science.


The two days before surgery were some of Sadie’s best ever. Friends and family came to wish her luck and hopefully not say a final goodbye. She was treated like a queen and ate all the scrambled eggs and treats she wanted. She even ate ice cream before checking in to spend the night on IV fluids and a blood thickener preparing for surgery the next morning.


Sadie bounded into the car and strutted into the hospital with head high and tail whipping like a whirligig. I wondered if it would have been easier to leave her if she looked sick. I don’t know the answer but I think it would.IMG_0994


Prayers and good thoughts flowed freely for our beloved hound known as Single Stare Sadie, because she can stare and never blink once she’s laid eyes on someone. I could make a photo album of pictures of Sadie staring at someone’s food, and she can lay on guilt even better than most mothers.


The morning of surgery was a long one. I thought no news might mean good news but was afraid to get my hopes up. After a three hour procedure and an hour of recovery, the surgeon called and said, “Your girl did great. This was probably the worst kidney tumor I’ve ever seen. It had spread and encased not just the kidney but the vena cava vessel and very carefully separating it meant she hemorrhaged heavily but she made it. She’s one tough girl.”


Shock and awe. That’s what I felt and I could never thank her enough. The surgeon told me she’d do everything she could and she did. It was our miracle.


Fast-forward to the next day and me taking Sadie some turkey since she wouldn’t eat canned dog food for them. I couldn’t imagine her refusing food even if she were comatose and was relieved to watch her scarf down the turkey, and beg for more, tail and whole body wagging. I knew she would be okay. She spent two nights in recovery and observation and came home with a massive cone and a bag of drugs.IMG_8858


IMG_8871So far, so good. I’m thrilled to share her survival story and the miracle surgical procedure that kept her around to entertain us. She’s happy to be home and the other pets treat her like a delicate flower that needs tending. Maybe that’s because her huge cone makes her look like a tulip. One dog, Mandy sleeps on Sadie’s bed to watch over her. Funny how animals have such a sense about things.IMG_8912

March 26, 2018


The Puppy Chewed up What?

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

You’re kidding me. That’s my new gazillion dollars heartburn medicine scattered all over the entry hall rug! So this is a slight cost exaggeration but those Dexilant pills cost about ten dollars apiece until our deductible is met and are my last resort in my relentless reflux battle.


So what happened is, I’m a sucker for a sweet face. Full of kibble, chilling out after we played fetch for about “forever,” I decide to leave our grand dog Tucker, looking exhausted and angelic, lying in the living room with our three older dogs while I run an errand. Surely, at almost a year old, he’ll be fine out of his crate for a short time. Yeah right.

An hour later, I enter the front door to the sound of happy barks, ready for my big welcome home. Unconditional love times four. This is why people have dogs. For the smiley-faced greetings. All four dash outside for potty time and I look down at the mess on the rug. A crushed medicine bottle and some chewed up blue capsules scattered among a few intact ones.

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Tucker is the culprit of course. The other three are long past chewing things. My thoughts bounce between aggravation, to concern for the puppy, to concern for my brand new bottle of meds. After childproofing for our four kids, you’d think I’d know better that to leave meds unsecured, but no. Empty nesting has made me soft and careless. I set the bottle temporarily on an office counter; never thinking it would be a hazard. Either the tall puppy stood up on his hind feet and got the bottle or Daisy Cat must have helped him, batting the bottle around on the counter and onto the floor. Teamwork.  And yet another not-so-gentle reminder of childproofing skills for future two-legged grandbabies.

I crawl all over the entry rug retrieving every squished capsule and the microscopic white ball innards that dot the rug like dollhouse sleet, collecting them in the unchewed bottle cap. Inside the crushed pill bottle I squeeze out a few untouched blue capsules. Praise be. Maybe Tucker will live after all.

Crawling from the hall to the living room floor, I find more whole and partial pills in the sofa seams. I use my newly manicured fingernails to dig out and capture all those tiny medicine marbles, along with other sofa-seam crud, as well as scraping up more from my office rug. The grand total of accounted-for capsules comes to twenty-nine. Hallelujah. The bottle holds thirty, so at worst Tucker may be heartburn-free for about twenty-four hours but Poison Control isn’t necessary this time.


He is happily alive. Just sleeping with his tongue out. 

Would it gross everybody out to know I plan to ingest the white balls from the chewed up capsules? If I toss them out, I’ll waste about fifty dollars worth of reflux-free days. Heck no. You know what they say, “God made dirt, so dirt won’t hurt.” I’ll sprinkle those anti-reflux dots on my eggs like salt and never know the difference.

I should mention a couple of other things: there is also a crunched up blue ink pen mixed in with the meds by the front door. And there’s a new loaf of bread, pulled off the kitchen countertop and devoured except for a few pieces lying on the kitchen floor. Did my arrival interrupt that snack?


Hoping for the best, I leave town to visit my mom thinking I’ll relax a bit, finally off pet duty. Fat chance. I get daily Tucker reports from my husband.

Here are the exact texts, and photos included: “Here’s some more of the bad news. While I was out enjoying the weather, Tucker was destroying a few more items. Nothing is safe on that first low file cabinet in your office. He also pulled your very nice mouse pad off your desk and destroyed it. Your mouse was on the floor undamaged. A glasses case was damaged but the glasses inside are fine. What you see in this picture is partly the pad and partly a small package of tissues and used ink cartridges. I hope you can replace the nice mouse pad. Nothing else of real value was lost today but I can’t explain his resurgence of interest in destroying things. Enjoy your stay and say hi to your mother for me.”

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Yep. I can totally relax after that report. Not to label any breed as more destructive than others but we’ve had several dogs with lab bloodlines. Maybe it’s just ours but they seem to chew and dig and proudly present gifts they’ve stolen more than any of the other breeds we’ve loved.

Tucker, likely a lab-boxer mix may settle down in another year or so. In the meantime, I plan to buy stock in chew toys in order to save our belongings when he visits. Let’s just say, puppy parenting isn’t for sissies and neither is grand parenting. Whether it’s four legs or two, hyper-vigilance is vital and I assume it’s good for the old brain cells keeping us on our toes. It sure is a hoot between incidents, looking into those sweet faces and big eyes that sucker us in every time. That is, until we spot the latest item chewed to confetti.







Sometimes Ugly is Good for You or My Ugly Smoothies By Lisa Kunkleman

Since posting this in 2016, while I feel much better from the outside in, my cholesterol levels budged only a little. After my miracle worker doctor finally convinced BCBS I was a great candidate for Repatha self-injections twice a month, I’m seeing nearly normal numbers for the first time in about two decades. Hereditary cholesterol issues are a bear to fight but the Repatha is working like magic. And no side effects for the girl who hates drugs due to the side effects. If you have lipid issues and have tried everything to fix them, you might consider asking about this. And by the way, nobody is paying me to say this. I wish they were.

Life Stories and Beyond

Dang that’s a good one. Not long ago, while chewing my first smoothie I knew something wasn’t quite right. In a valiant attempt to regulate my cholesterol and triglycerides, I added a cartload of new foods to my diet. New, to me at least. Being southern born and fed, I enjoy eating all kinds of greens, like collards, turnips, and kale which lots of folks wouldn’t touch for fifty bucks. Our family even grew them in our garden for a couple of decades. That was before new neighborhoods popped up, the deer became pretty much landlocked on our farm and began munching on our bounty and bushes.

Several months ago, on a nutritionist’s suggestion, I took to drinking my kale. I’ve allotted lots of fridge space to fresh fruits and veggies through the years but it often involved cooking and serving them on a plate or in a bowl. Now…

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