Susanna Shetley

Website URL: http://www.susannashetley.com Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last week my boys flew on an airplane for the first time without me. I was a nervous wreck to say the least. They went on a trip to Universal Studios with their dad and his girlfriend, so aside from already being sad about not being there to make memories with them, my stress was heightened by the fact they were in the air and I was on the ground. 

The hardest part about divorce is missing out on chunks of your children’s lives. As their mom, it feels disorienting to not be with my children all the time or for them to experience new adventures of which I’m not a part. 

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What is a New Year’s resolution anyway? Just a statement we make aloud while toasting friends and family with a flute of champagne? Apparently, over 30 percent of Americans make resolutions with every intention of seeing them through, but only 8 percent actually succeed. A while back I gave up the tried and true ritual of resolutions. I rarely achieved mine, which always left me feeling guilty and defeated. 

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I haven’t always known how to feel grateful or identify the feeling of joy. There are certain lessons in life only learned through experience. No matter how many books are read or classes taken, hard-fought living is our one true teacher. In this season of gratitude, I’m reminded that my ability to feel thankful and happy is a recent revelation. I’ve also realized that through loss, a person can gain everything.

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When the winds rage the sea, we look for an anchor. 

As my life continues to unfold, I’m learning there are things over which I have little control. Like any human, I at first try to manhandle situations. Every single time, I try to come up with a solution or fix the issue before I realize God and the universe have other plans. I’m working hard to stop this and rather, approach each day with curious expectation. 

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Funny how when you’re living in a moment, you don’t realize how truly special the moment is. Only later in life does the full onslaught of gratitude cover you like a warm nostalgic blanket. That’s how I feel when I reflect upon Thanksgiving days of the past. 

Every Thanksgiving morning, my sister and I would wake up and wander into the kitchen bleary-eyed and still wearing pajamas. As the Asheville Christmas Parade played on WLOS, my mom would be sipping coffee and have already cooked cornbread and biscuits, the beginning ingredients for my great-grandmother’s dressing recipe. 

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The night after my mom died, my dad stepped out on the front porch with my brother-in-law, whose father had passed away only a month earlier. As they looked up, two shooting stars, one after the other, flew through the night sky. We were convinced it was our two family members comforting us from afar.

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My mom was a librarian and my dad an English teacher so books were always stacked on the dining room table or tossed on the floor beside recliners. As a young girl, I carried a novel with me all the time. 

My very favorite book was The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remember hiding it on the shelf at my elementary school library so no one else could check it out. I think I read it at least 10 times in a three-year span. It’s funny I didn’t ask my parents to just buy it for me, but these were the days before Amazon and there was something magical about holding it in my possession for only a short period of time. 

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As a child, I wanted to grow up and plan a big fancy wedding with a ruffly white dress, then have two little girls and name them Veronica and Samantha. As one of two girls in a family of four, this is all I knew. My middle-class childhood wasn’t indulgent in any way, but it was happy and secure. My sister and I knew our parents loved us more than anything. Both my mom and dad worked multiple jobs to give us opportunities and experiences we couldn’t have otherwise had. I’m forever appreciative of that, and I 100 percent credit them for nurturing and encouraging my adventurous spirit. 

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Almost two years ago, I traveled to Iowa with a close friend of mine. We visited her hometown to see her family and attend a concert. One day, we shopped around at a popular store called RAYGUN. It’s one of those quirky stores with cards, magnets, T-shirts, pint glasses and other items adorned with sarcastic, political or satirical sayings and quips. 

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My name is Susanna and I am terribly unorganized. 

I’m not a messy person or a hoarder, just disorganized. My desk is a mess of papers and sticky notes. I always have a million tabs open on my laptop. My closets and cabinets and pantry are full of stuff with no thought to rhyme or reason. I have to dig in my purse for three minutes to find lip balm. My shoes are thrown into the bottom of my closet so it takes inordinate amounts of time to find a matching pair. 

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I took my first baton lesson when I was 3 years old. My sister had been twirling for a while, so baton practice and competitions were the norm for our family. Four of our baton teachers were Clemson Tiger majorettes and my parents grew up in Greenville, S.C. We frequented many a football game in Death Valley wearing purple and orange and hearing “Tiger Rag.” 

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Three of life’s top five stressors are death of a loved one, divorce and moving. Within the past two years, my mom passed away, I got a divorce and bought a house. I say this not for pity but as a fact that’s required for the rest of this column to unfold, and the anniversary of my mom’s death is this week so it’s hard to think of anything else.

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Growing up, my family had an abundance of cats running amok. These were the days before spaying and neutering were common occurrences. We all know what happens when there’s no protection against the passions of nature, so inevitably we had a feline family much bigger than our own. 

Each time a litter was born, we would keep a few kittens and give others away to neighbors or friends. I remember my sister and I feeding many a kitten with a medicine dropper, making cozy beds for them out of Avon boxes and towels, and nursing those with parasites back to health. She and I also created a pet cemetery in the woods behind our house where we would hold a memorial service and bury the cats or kittens that passed on. 

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Though my parents were both teachers and worked second jobs to give my sister and me all we needed, they never put travel on the back burner. Their mentality was “less stuff, more experiences.” We always had a used station wagon and a modest home but we never sat still very long, and for that I’m forever grateful. 

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Are you a lake person or a beach person? I always thought I was a beach person, but now I’m not so sure. 

I’ve written about my childhood beach trips before and with it being July Fourth week, nostalgia is more paramount than ever. As a little girl, Independence Days were always, always spent at Ocean Lakes Campground in Surfside Beach, just south of Myrtle. 

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During a divorce, one person is required to move out of the family home. After months of rigmarole and this and that, I decided that person would be me. No one particularly wants to leave the place where children grew up and memories were made but then again, it’s easier to cope with the emotions when you’re not constantly staring at wedding china or knick-knacks bought on summer vacations. 

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It’s high stakes testing week for students and educators in Haywood County. This is my 9-year old’s first year taking an End-of-Grade test and he is very nervous about it. When I was teaching, I remember this time of year looming ahead like an ugly, stressful punctuation mark to a well-constructed, creative sentence. 

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Watching my two little boys get excited about summer vacation makes me reflect upon my own childhood summers. Both my parents were teachers, so the countdown to that last day of school was a significant family event. 

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Last week, I went to a conference in L.A. with 800 other moms who tell their stories through creative outlets, whether it be blogging, writing, photography, video or social media. Flying out on Wednesday, I was feeling significant mom guilt about leaving my boys and indulging in a conference in sunny California. 

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Certain memories or events in life stand out as paramount, like a utopian experience that seems more like a movie than reality. This past weekend was one of those for me. Over 24 hours spent running in the backwoods of Western North Carolina bolstered my faith in humanity.

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When life turns upside down, we have options. We can sink into the darkness and find comfort in substances and risky behaviors. Or we can search for the light, wherever that may be. 

Coping with the death of my mom and divorce during the same time period was almost debilitating. My two little boys got me through the first stretch. I had no choice but to wake up every day and put on a smile. Some days I merely went through the motions of being a mom, and that was enough to stay afloat. 

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Growing up, we had a little blue and white camper at Ocean Lakes Campground in Surfside Beach, South Carolina. It was our go-to place for every vacation. 

My parents were teachers with second jobs, so we didn’t go on too many extravagant trips during my youngest years. When I got older, we traveled more extensively. We went to New York City a couple of times, took a three-week cross country trip, and went to Hawaii and Europe, among other things. 

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Recently, I spent time in the tri-cities of Rutherford County, N.C. Spindale, Forest City and Rutherfordton make up this trifecta of small towns nestled in the foothills.

Our first stop was Copper Penny restaurant in Forest City. While we were waiting on the rest of our group, I noticed the hardwood floors and tin ceiling and felt a familiar pang of nostalgia, a longing for something I never had and that’s now impossible to experience. 

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I didn’t go to church growing up, but my parents were the godliest people I knew. They were giving, compassionate, selfless, honest, humble and forgiving. They exemplified the true qualities of “people with faith.” 

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My life is starting to even out. And while I’m happy about this, a peaceful, comfortable life doesn’t offer as much column fodder as a melancholy, tragic one. 

Five years ago, my mom found out she had breast cancer. Then a year after that, when she was in remission, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. It was complications from multiple myeloma that ultimately took her life. 

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I’m not a snob. In fact, I’m more of a bleeding heart. But when it comes to beer and coffee, I’m admittedly a bit of an elitist. 

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There’s a road in Waynesville called the homeless highway. It runs from Frog Level to Hazelwood and during any given week, you’ll see folks walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The end points of this beaten path are The Open Door and Haywood Pathways Center, two establishments offering physical and spiritual nourishment to weary souls.

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While standing atop a black diamond run at Beech Mountain last weekend, several thoughts crossed my mind.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve done this.

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I have a tattoo on the inside of my right wrist that says, “Everything ahead of me.” I got it at a time when I felt so bogged down in an ever-present mire, life felt like quick sand. From my mom’s death to a marital separation, it was one traumatic thing after another.

The only way I could get through a day was to think of a happier, more optimistic future. Seeing the words printed on my body was a constant reminder.

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My dad called the other day and said he had a fun Christmas surprise for my boys. Knowing my dad this “surprise” could have been anything. This is the man who gave my older son a fake zippo lighter when he was 2 years old. When you popped open the top, it said, “Get ‘er done.”

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Growing up in Weaverville and living in Waynesville, I’m very comfortable with small town Christmases. I wouldn’t know how to do Christmas in a big city, although I love the thought of trying. Traditions are a big part of anyone’s holiday, but in small-town America where visions of Norman Rockwell permeate the psyche, traditions seem paramount.

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Holidays are all fun and games until death and divorce happen. Then they become an aching headache, if a person lets them. My goal is to ward off that headache by any means possible.

I’ve been throwing around ideas for this column over the past week. Thanksgiving is the obvious choice. It’s impossible to write about this day in the same manner as two or three years ago. I remember writing a column back then titled “Surviving Thanksgiving.” It was a light, humorous piece suggesting activities to entertain kids while the adults cooked, drank wine, watched football and conversed about holiday shopping.

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Over the past couple years, this column has been a sounding board for me. I’ve written about everything from coping with my mom’s death to getting a tattoo. But one major life woe I’ve kept mostly to myself is being separated from my husband.

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In less than a week, I’ll spend Tuesday evening traipsing the streets of Waynesville watching two little boys knock on doors and end the night with bags full of sugary candy and gum. I’m a bit of a health nut and try to keep yucky ingredients and coloring out of my children’s diets, but on Halloween, I push my additive/preservative paranoia aside to be a spirited parent and embrace the evening’s wicked vibe.

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Last night I read Harold and the Purple Crayon to my 5-year-old. He sat wide-eyed with an expression of intrigue as we learned about Harold drawing an imaginative world with his crayon.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crayon or a pen or a pencil and create a world that’s easier or happier? It certainly would. But that’s not the way real life works.

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I’ve always been prone to bouts of melancholy. I’m not sure if it’s a writer thing or a woman thing or just a thing with my own physiological make-up. These emotional phases once bothered me. I identified them as “depression” or “life stagnation.” But, in recent years, I’ve learned to settle into these moods of mine.

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Reuniting with my big sister never seems to be an easy jaunt. Whether she’s traveling to North Carolina or I’m visiting her in D.C., one of us must journey almost 500 miles to get to the other.

But despite distance and tight budgets, we’re good about making it happen.

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During the 1970s, my dad spent some time in prison. For over three years, he taught GED prep classes at the old Craggy Prison that still stands barricaded on Riverside Drive in Asheville. I’ve always known he taught inmates, but only recently have I become intrigued about this time in his life.

Something about losing my mom at a relatively young age has made me latch onto everything my dad says. Both my mom and dad lived tragically enchanting lives worthy of movie plots. I know bits and pieces of their many stories, but not enough.

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I’m entering a new phase of motherhood.

Since becoming a mom in 2009, one or both of my boys have been completely or quasi attached to my apron strings, so to speak. Whether learning the ins and outs of nursing, making homemade baby food, changing diapers, pushing a stroller, fastening a car seat, reading board books, managing colic, bandaging chubby knees, putting on tiny socks and shoes, or creatively potty training, I’ve been in full-blown mommy mode for over eight years.

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My mom loved fresh flowers. It was a fun routine for my dad, sister and I to pick up a bouquet from Ingles or Trader Joe’s or whatever supermarket we happen to be visiting. Her face would light up when we walked in the door holding a rainbow of petals. She would smile to herself while arranging the flowers just the way she liked.

Over the past year in the wake of my mom’s death, I’ve written a lot about her and my grief in this column. As I stumbled along, month by month, trying to remember and forget at the same time, life and work propelled me forward.

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Since my mom’s passing almost a year ago, my dad and I have become very close. Without her here as our anchor, we’ve relied on one another. I now talk to him about things once reserved for my mom or sister.

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I call myself an adventurer.

While I do love to travel, adventuring isn’t just about experiencing new places and seeing new things. In my mind, a true adventurer works to find novelty and excitement in the seemingly mundane, in her everyday surroundings.

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As I write this column, my two little boys are rummaging through LEGO bricks bickering about who needs which piece, KIDZ BOP Kids is playing on Pandora and eggs are boiling on the stove for egg salad sandwich lunches. 

This is my summertime work setting.

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When you’re a kid, there’s something magical about hotel pools. 

I’ve written before about growing up in a dance studio. Some of my fondest memories of dance competitions and conventions are the hours spent splashing and laughing in the hotel pool after all the formal events were over.

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It must have been a mom who coined the adage “time flies.” I swear it feels like last week when I was a seventh-grade teacher having contractions in the Waynesville Middle School cafeteria and barely making it to the hospital before my water broke.

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I’ve tried hard to keep grief out of my columns lately. There’s only so much melancholy and broken-heartedness readers can take when reading the weekly paper over a cup of coffee. But with this Sunday being Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but write a little about my own mom today.

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At 37, I’m still sorting out what I want to be when I grow up. 

When I was 8, I sent a children’s book to a publisher in Raleigh. Last Tuesday, I submitted a children’s book to several publishers. In between those two submission dates, I have been a waitress, sales associate, school psychologist, English teacher, essential oil distributor, instructional coach, social media manager and writer.

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Ever since I left for college and began talking to my dad on the phone regularly, he’s answered my call with “Hello, darlin’.” I’ll never tire of hearing his deep voice say those two words. Conway Twitty isn’t the only country singer I grew up knowing intimately. In my childhood home on Village Court in Weaverville, we had an antique RCA Victrola (floor model). You walked in the front door, up a flight of stairs and it was right there. I can still see it clearly in my mind.

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I’m severely under-acquainted with the Midwest. 

My older son has a game on his Kindle that asks him to identify certain states or place them in the correct location on a map, and it’s the Midwest that always stumps me. Is that Kansas or Nebraska? And is that one there Illinois or Iowa? What do Missouri and Minnesota even look like? Which ones borders Canada? Are the Dakotas considered “Midwestern”? You get the picture.

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It’s not my proudest accolade, but I spent a significant portion of my childhood in a pageant dress. 

The doctors told my parents they were infertile, so when they surprisingly had two little girls after 13 years of marriage, they were ecstatic to say the least. My mom was an only child and lived a rather sheltered childhood. My grandmother suffered from mental health issues, so my grandfather did the best he could to offer my mom opportunities, but he was protective of his daughter and also quite frugal, so her participation in extracurricular activities was minimal.

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