Life Stories and Beyond

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



And Then There’s Remodeling, Pt. 1



By Lisa Batten Kunkleman (Written near the beginning of the process 12 11 2016)


And so it begins


The wall’s really coming down


Wall’s almost gone


Gotta remove the Lazy Susan


Until you’ve tried it, it’s difficult to fully understand the revelry awaiting your senses. Remodeling is a life-changing experience, for occupants and for the house.


The clean aroma of fresh-cut lumber inside the house says, After all these years spent talking about this job, we’re finally doing it.


The tinny scream of power saws, whining from high notes to low, starts out as music to the ears. And though it soon pricks both human and canine ears, driving us to the far side of the house or even outside, the sound means, It’s really happening.


A layer of white sheetrock dust settles on every possible surface in the house. Even those in rooms far from the plastic curtains hung to hamper the in-home dust bowl. Truly dust so thick you can write in it with your finger.


The guest room bed holds most of the contents of unloaded bookshelves as well as household items left temporarily homeless. The dishes, pots, and spices displaced by cabinet construction are visual mountains of mess, cluttering table and countertops. But we do have to cook at least a little bit and eat once in a while, regardless of the mess.


Then there’s the question of taste, both the buds on the tongue and the ideas in the head. It’s the latter that worries me. Is the granite top for the new island the right color? When I texted my husband two photos of granite to choose from, he texted back, “The first one.” I liked both, so I ordered the motley one with what I call little bird feet throughout. Once home I showed him the picture and he said, “That was the second one. I said the first.”


After comparing our texts, of course the photos were in reverse order on his phone. His first one was the beautiful swirly pattern that I originally liked best until he picked what I thought was the motley pattern. I hope this miscommunication led to the best choice for the island top we are meant to look at for the rest of our mortal lives. That’s only another half century at the most. I’m sure it will be fine. Won’t it?




Mammogram: Making the Most of it

Lisa Batten Kunkleman

Once again, it’s time to check off all things medically necessary before the new insurance year begins. For me, that includes a mammogram. No problem. A simple phone call and a quick trip to the imaging center hardly takes any time and it’s time worth spending.

After checking in and a brief wait, hardly enough time to learn the latest about Brad and Angelina in the current People magazine, my name is called. A woman takes me back to the familiar little changing room closet with instructions to remove deodorant (wipes provided, of course), put on the pretty blue paper top with the snaps in front and bring my purse with me to the private waiting room, where I may have coffee and snacks if I so desire. I follow all the directions, including getting my cup of coffee. I also snap a couple of pictures of two bras on hangers decorated by some really crafty soul to increase breast cancer awareness and the need for mammograms. One says, “Don’t gamble with your life-Screening saves” and is decorated with playing cards, a roulette table and lottery tickets. The other says, “Nip breast cancer in the bud” and is decorated with silk flowers. Some people are so cleaver.

It’s not my first encounter with that cold hard machine and the technician’s relaxed “I’ve seen more ta-tas than a Playboy photographer” attitude. “They’re just another body part in a day’s work.”

She jokes around while placing my “body parts” in just the right position on the chilly tray for flattening. She might as well be imaging feet. We chat about life and the weather before she tells me, “You should get results in the mail in about two weeks. If you don’t hear from us by Christmas, your letter’s lost so give us a call.”

No problem. I’ll be done for another year unless I get a recheck call, which has happened a couple of times. It’s a little scary, but dense tissue and calcification can do that. Also, at the recheck appointment, they provide blue half gowns made of cloth instead of paper. Fancy and a little more comforting.

The technician tells me I’m getting the new 3-D imaging. A woman on the phone when I made the appointment told me it costs an additional seventy-five dollars, not covered by my insurance. So worth it. Merry Christmas to me. I prefer no surprises from this office. I want to know everything.

Once imaging is complete I step back into the little closet where my shirt and bra await and I close the louvered door. I spot the deodorant provided and spray my right armpit. A familiar smell hits my nose, causing me to read the bottle in my hand. Yep. Hairspray. Of course it is. Looking down I see a second spray bottle and pick it up. Yep. Antiperspirant. Of course it is.

I reach for a wipe and see there’s not one sticking out of the box top. Of course not! I pick up the plastic container, dig down into the box and hit moisture. Yes! There are more wipes. I retrieve one and wipe my sticky underarm before the hairspray sets. Before I spray with the real antiperspirant, I read the bottle again for reassurance.
And then, I use the hair spray… on my hair this time.

Deodorized and dressed, I take pictures of my tiny dressing room closet to remind me in the future to look before spraying. I fold my paper shirt and roll it up tight before stuffing it into my purse. I used to bring them to my kids to play dress-up but now, I use them for an occasional messy job or to protect my good clothes from a spaghetti meal. Don’t judge. I’m not the first person to swipe a blue apron/bib/fashion statement and use free hairspray even if I don’t need it. After all, I may as well get the most I can out of the mammogram experience.


Of Course I’m Wearing an Immobilizing Boot. Isn’t Everybody?

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

11 29 2016

Of course I need an Orthopedist and an immobilizing boot. It’s the thing to do these days, at least at our house. We injure bones and joints, causing limps and groans. We get X-rays and MRI’s that lead to steroids and physical therapy. We elevate and ice, heat and wrap.

We support our local bone doctors and staff, and we’re not alone. Exercise and sports injuries are everywhere.  Torn ACL’s. Knee replacements. Bunion-ectomies. Hip replacements. These days, so many people wear immobilizing boots, they’re almost a fashion statement. They certainly cost enough to be fashionable and serve as instant conversation starters. I’m now good friends with the guy in front of me at the grocery store.

“Oh, look! We’re twins.” The stranger in the grocery line looked up and smiled as I pointed at his big black boot.

“So how’d you get yours?”

“Chasing my dog around to get my new running shoe out of his mouth. I tripped in one of his holes in the yard. He’s a digger. How about you?”

“It’s a nerve injury called Morton’s Neuroma, from twisting my foot and ankle two months ago stepping off a curb. I ignored the pain until all day cooking for Thanksgiving did me in. I could hardly walk the next morning. I thought it was Plantar Fasciitis in my heels and Metatarsalgia in the balls of my feet like I’ve had before. It feels like walking on pebbles.”

The stranger nodded. “Oh, I’ve had that heel issue too. My PT had me freezing ice in a Styrofoam cup, and then tearing the bottom off the cup to rub the ice on my aching heels. What a cold, drippy mess. This time it’s a real fracture.”

“Wait a sec. I’ve got a picture of how huge and colorful it was at first. Check this out,” he said.

I looked at his pictures before pulling up my own. “Your swollen, purple mass looks a lot like mine, doesn’t it,” I said.

“Yep. Twins,” he said, pocketing his phone and handing his milk and eggs to the checkout clerk.

“Nothing like listening to all these Velcro straps crack and the boot clunk. But I don’t have to tell you how annoying all that Velcro can be,” I said, pushing my cart forward.

“Nope. I’m a boot expert now,” the stranger said as he picked up his bagged groceries to leave. “Good luck.”

“You too. Nice chatting with you.”

There I was talking with a stranger when I had four friends in boots. Maybe we should get together and discuss life in the latest foot fashion. I’ve only seen black immobilizers. Someone should invest in other colors. Red would be snazzy for Christmas and Valentine’s, too. It’s a pricey boot but with our track record, I’m sure I won’t be the last one to wear it.


Mom, Where Should The Ambulance Take Me?

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

I answered my cell and heard, “Mom, I kinda dislocated my knee. Which hospital should the ambulance take me to?”

If only our son Sam’s kneecap were simply dislocated and not shattered into six pieces when he fell while doing pull-ups, that would have been almost delightful. This event was the latest straw added to our camel named Life.

We all experience times when overlapping stressful events threaten to send us over the edge of patience and composure. I try to silence the voice inside that’s saying, “Give up, curl up, and have a good cry since there’s little you can do anyway.”

I say, “Phooey” to that kind of thinking. In fact, I often feel energized as if from above when calamity strikes or attention is needed. Like endorphins kick into overdrive. “Let’s do this,” says the other voice in my head.

The past month falls into an overload category, with a touch of calamity mixed in. Here are a few of our endorphin-raising events:

#1 Hurricane Matthew flooded the eastern part of our state, which included my hometown, stranding my home-loving mom with us, one hundred and sixty miles inland. She came with lots of my begging just for the weekend to ride out the hurricane. Instead, she was stuck at our busy house for two weeks when the main road and many alternate roads back to her peaceful home were still in flood stage or washed away. Two weeks is a long visit for a woman who believes that after three days both fish and company smell. She headed home as soon as possible to survey her property damage.

#2 Following a long year of dreadful feline cancer we had to put our sixteen-year-old cat to sleep. Her cancer may have won but she sure hung in there as our lap cat eating like a horse until the end.

#3 I had a sensitive temporary crown checked out and dang if it didn’t require a root canal. The endodontist (that’s a dental surgeon) sang along to seventies rock the whole time, warning me, “My singing will be the most painful part of the procedure.” Maybe, but his bill was plenty painful.
A few days later, I relaxed into my regular dentist’s chair as he installed a new crown on the tooth that had the root canal. Finally, my sensitive mouth could be pain free.

#4 Our hound dog, Sadie, who had been having huge lake-like accidents in the dining room, got an ultrasound of her bladder. Sure enough, she had bladder stones. The plan was to flush them out or remove them surgically while also removing three skin cancers. In her sedated state, the cancers were removed and the vet stood her up on hind legs and squeezed her bladder. Five bladder stones washed out. As a bonus, she got her nails done while sleeping. If only they had cleaned her teeth and given her a bath.

#5 One daughter, Sarah, who is one of our triplets, dislocated her shoulder while driving her car. Now she receives physical therapy twice a week.

#6 Another of the triplets, our son Joe, at college across the state, also has a shoulder that pops out and needs surgery over the Christmas holidays. The last time it popped out, he was doing pull-ups. That’s crazy. Both our sons do risky sports. They do flips, climb rocks and trees five stories up, and both of them ended up hurting themselves doing pull-ups. What a wild coincidence.

#7 Now back to the ambulance call. Our son Sam crashed down onto his knees when his pull-up bar came off the dorm doorframe. He crushed his kneecap on the concrete floor then took a ride in an ambulance to an Emergency Room near our house. I tried to meet him there and was told repeatedly at the front desk, “He’s not in the computer so he hasn’t arrived yet. Maybe he’s at a different hospital.”

Fortunately, a woman from the back hall came out and heard my dilemma. She said, ”We have a young man back there with a knee injury. I can take you to him.”

Sam’s knee looked like a pointy bird beak, folded up to his chest. Tears filled my eyes after I saw the glisten in his. Sam, our child with the extra high pain tolerance, was suffering indescribable pain.

Fast forward to late afternoon with all of our family, his nurse, and the ER doc in disbelief that Sam would go home and surgery would be postponed for ten days so swelling and inflammation could go down.

The first hurdle to jump toward home was to straighten the rigid knee that caused horrible pain with the slightest move, let alone stretching it out.

With Sam on all the IV narcotics and nausea drugs legally permissible without it being euthanasia, the orthopedic doctor, blond, and looking about eighteen, worked with Sam’s male nurse to gently pull the leg out straight. Unbelievable. Our disbelief and frustration turned to relief as Sam said his pain level was about a six instead of a nine. He was saving level ten for after the surgery.

Nursing our son through the excruciating pain from surgery, which was more like a level fifteen than a ten when the nerve blocks wore off, we’re counting our blessings. Sam’s pain will pass and he will eventually walk on his own again.

We’re no longer tending our very sick cat and our Sadie dog had good biopsy reports and stopped having accidents in the house. My mouth has no sensitivity now. Our daughter’s shoulder is improving and we know more about dealing with surgery and pain management. Hopefully we will be better prepared for our son Joe’s shoulder surgery and recovery. We should be experts by then.

Oh, did I mention we are in the middle of remodeling our kitchen right here at the holidays?


Awkwardness and Comedy in the Early Voting Line


By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

We did it. We voted early. My husband and I, plus dozens of other Americans absorbed an hour of Vitamin D  in a line spanning an entire wall outside of the library. After finally entering the door, the actual voting on one of the ten machines took no time at all.


Driving to a library less popular than the ones near home saved us a three or four hour wait time. What a stroke of genius! The voters there were congenial; laughing and chatting like fellow citizens, not party rivals.


The antics of a volunteer pollster lady helped pass time.  In her high-water britches, teeny pastel Sketchers, and sporting a Democratic Grandmother sticker, she strolled up and down the line telling silly jokes and laughing at herself. I’ll bet she’s told those same jokes repeatedly since early voting began. Good for her for keeping it light.


In addition to the stand up comedian, there were smiling workers providing handicapped parking-curbside service for folks who couldn’t make it inside to vote. Quite a few senior citizens and their caregivers received assistance that way.  Such thoughtful planning. With age often comes wisdom so we need some wise elders about now.


There was one super odd moment worth mentioning as we waited in line. The chatterbox guy two people behind us tried his hand at comedy but it fell flat. In his first attempt he yelled, “Gesundheit,” to a person who sneezed way ahead of us in line. That was okay but then he shouted, “You better try it again cause the windows didn’t shatter.”


Silence. Nobody got it. Nobody laughed. Awkward. His next attempt was a bigger flop.


He said to the lady behind us and in front of him, “I want to tell you something about yourself, but sometimes people don’t want anybody bringing up their habits.”


He rambled on, repeating himself. “You see, you have a habit I’ve noticed and I want to tell you about it but I’m not sure you’ll like it if I do. Anyway, I can tell you don’t want to be here and somebody is twisting your arm to make you vote.”


The lady, obviously taken aback by this odd comment looked confused and said,“I don’t understand. What do you mean?”


He said, “Well, I’ve been watching you and notice you keep twisting your arm behind your back. It’s like you’re twisting your own arm to make you stay here and vote. You keep twisting it. It’s a habit.”


She stood silent before saying, “Well it’s my habit. I’m sorry it bothers you.”


Then he continued, “Oh it doesn’t bother me. It’s entertaining and I like it. I enjoy watching you twist it.”


My husband and I stared at each other,  big eyes and raised brows, wondering what would come out of his mouth next.


The lady said in a controlled voice, “Whatever makes you happy or whatever floats your boat.”


What were the rest of us to do? The awkwardness hung loudly in the silence. I wanted to make small-talk with her but couldn’t think of a thing to say. My husband wanted to ask him what in the heck he was talking about and tell him to leave the lady alone. We did neither. We simply changed the subject between ourselves and talked about something trivial.


Other than a few bad jokes, and a super odd, socially awkward moment, the voting experience was a positive one.  Chipper people waiting in line and chipper people guiding us through the process made it all painless. We’re done. A biggie checked off the to-do list. The chatterbox man went back to talking with his companions. Or were they? Who knows.




Walnuts and My Tom Sawyer Moment

October 23, 2016


By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

My twenty-year old son Sam walks barefoot in our backyard picking up walnuts with his long, thin, size thirteen toes. It’s a special talent I passed down to him with my own sizable hoof.

When the nuts fall off the black walnut tree, the nearly baseball sized hard green outer shell is a threat to an uncovered head. As the green shell dries to black and falls off the actual nut deep inside, the black shells become a nasty nuisance. It takes gloves and rakes to remove the staining shells then. It’s much smarter to remove them in the early hard stage instead of waiting till they dye your hands and shoes black.

A light bulb flickers in my head. I’m not Mark Twain and this is not really Tom Sawyer tricking folks into whitewashing his fence, but I can’t help thinking this seems like a good way to get the walnuts picked out of the yard.

I say to Sam, “Think you could hit that sweet gum tree with a walnut?”

“Which one?” he asks.

“That big one in that leafy natural area. The squirrels haul the nuts over there to chomp into the hard shells anyway. Never let a squirrel bite you. They must have teeth of steel.”

“Mama, I got bad aim,” Sam says after pitching the first nut to the right of the tree.

“Yeah and you also “got” bad grammar,” I tell my six-foot three baby boy who actually has impeccable grammar.

“Naw, my grammar’s all right.”

He throws one walnut after the other, hitting the tree and splattering the green outer shell about every third throw.

Next thing I know, here comes his daddy, saying, “Want me to show you how to hit that tree?”

This is working out even better than I expected. His father is not a bystander.

“There we go,” says Daddy Dan when he hits the tree. And I hear, “All right! Did you see that one, Sam? Did you see that nut explode when it hit the tree? Maybe that sweet gum tree will feel the pain and stop dropping spikey sweet gum balls.

“Hey! I want to play,” says our oldest daughter flouncing down the deck steps to join the competition. Perfect. Many hands make light work, as they say. And like Tom Sawyer’s friends, my family never even knows they’re working.



Hurricane Matthew Pictures: Show, Don’t Tell

By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They also say writers should use their words to show, not tell. These pictures of our family’s house at Lake Waccamaw, NC  and all the Facebook photos and videos, plus news reports speak volumes about the unpredictability of flood waters. Lumberton, my hometown of Whiteville, and many other areas of North Carolina struggle to wade out of the flooding even as some rivers haven’t crested yet. After the fierce winds and fallen trees left trails of destruction, even now, days later, rivers continue to rise. After the hurricane passed, the sun shone brightly and it seemed the worst was over. Property appeared fine one day, flooded the next, then fine, then flooded. The same applies to the roads so many people are using to get home to see how their lives will change. Or not. Others attempt to get to events they’ve been planning to attend for months. Like weddings or family reunions only to be blocked on road after road that is either flooded, washed out, or unsafe to use. Some need to get through quickly due to sudden events like sickness or death. The storm is long gone but the remnants of Matthew will be worked through for months to come.

Special thanks to all the super heroes who take time out to assist and keep disaster areas as safe as possible.

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Squabble, Tiff, or Spat: Just Fix It

Life Stories and Beyond

Squabble, Tiff, or Spat: Just Fix It

It’s amazing how a small thing can turn into a large, loud, ridiculous argument in a flippin’ fuschia minute. (That’s a play on red-hot minute) Mere seconds before, life is coasting along fine and suddenly, one person’s mouth opens and says something without knowing it will be taken the wrong way by the other party and BAM! The peace is split wide open. Torn and ripped with a zillion jagged edges and it all started because one person is either insensitive or the other is overly sensitive or perhaps it’s both. And a spat is born.

Maybe it doesn’t even matter what was said or who was testy or touchy. What matters is where this event takes those squabbling people. If the relationship is an unhealthy one, where the event takes them may be to dissolve the relationship. Sometimes, that is for the…

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My News Addiction

My News Addiction

IMG_4689By Lisa Batten Kunkleman

Okay. It’s confession time. I need to explain why my housework is more Oscar than Felix, my fridge contains six-day-old rotisserie chicken carcasses, and supper may be breakfast food again. I need to admit the reason I haven’t published a book isn’t lack of fodder or writer’s block. It’s my news addiction. Morning, noon, evening and bedtime news is available, just like medication timelines might say to take one pill at mealtimes and bedtime. That’s how often I need my news fix. Like a nosy person afraid to miss a thing, most times I am rewarded with interesting news on TV, online, or on my smartphone. Sometimes it’s the same old thing but more often, it’s breaking news. Between the craziness of the presidential campaign, terror threats, unsettled weather, and local updates, there’s never a dull moment.


When I hear folks say they don’t know about the latest terror attack or a sudden gas shortage, I can feel my eyes widen in disbelief. Although I can understand not wanting to hear all the bad things happening in the world, there are certain things we should all be aware of. Such as, an impending severe storm warning, so you can prepare your yard for high winds; the gas shortage caused by a ruptured pipeline in the southeastern US. These seem like important things for people to know about before their furniture blows into their window or they’re stranded beside the road with no gas.


As a teenager, my dad always wanted me to watch the news with him. I politely declined. He also enjoyed reading the newspaper to our family, trying to keep us all aware of important events. We were less than attentive, I’m sure. The only news I remember watching with him involved famous people dying, marrying, or being memorialized. I wonder if my current fascination with world affairs came from him or if age and wisdom has anything to do with it. A curiosity that I certainly didn’t have as a high school student is almost a passion in middle age. Perhaps it has to do with my interest in non-fiction stories, whether my own or someone else’s. I love life stories. The world and all its stories is my current school, my continuing education.


My addiction to news likely started with 9/11 where I trusted Peter Jennings to keep us informed of all that happened and possibilities of what might happen next. Whether fear, disbelief, or anger fueled my “need to know” I have no clue. However, with the convenience of VCR recordings at that time, and now keeping my DVR set to record Good Morning America and the Nightly News, I’m rarely out of the loop. And if that’s not enough information, there’s always CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and don’t forget social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more.


It seems to me that it’s much harder to be out of the loop than in it. It takes purposeful unplugging, a power outage, or a vacation away from it all to be in the dark about current affairs. Everywhere in daily life there are banks, restaurants, and many other work places with TVs playing news channels, perhaps even with a scroll on the bottom if the sound is turned down. It seems like too much work to avoid the news. I’d better close now. The six o’clock news is about to start.


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Not my post. One I shared by a college student friend and neighbor from Charlotte. Her sentiments speak for so many. “I am afraid.”  — Finding My Happy

I am afraid for my hometown. I am not afraid for this place because there are riots. I am not afraid of the people whose skin is a different color than my own. I am not afraid of nighttime in a bad area. I am not afraid of an emergency. I am not afraid of […]

via I am afraid.  — Finding My Happy

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