Sour grapes and pasta

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to dine upon this oddly-paired meal. I ask that the food is blessed to the nourishment of our bodies and that the Big Guy be with me as I lay my soul bare and purge pure evil from my heart whilst dining with friends. Oh…and bless the hands that prepared these tasty morsels (that one’s for you, Dad), amen.

Now that I’ve blessed the food, allow me to forewarn: What I’m likely to say past this point may be offensive and cause some to believe I was being wholly irreverent above. Not true. Only a higher power can help me move beyond my anger. And because you folks have become such great friends to me, I like to share my highs and my lows.

Today, I’m serving up sour grapes and spaghetti  straps.

To backtrack a little, please know there is no job I take more seriously than parenting my three cherubs, the oldest of which will be 20 soon. I say that to illustrate I’ve been at the mom thing for a good while. Some may argue whether or not I’ve been successful, but I can look myself in the mirror and know while missing perfect by miles, I’ve given (I’ll never be done) it my best.

And just when I thought I’d encountered it all…

Way back when, a fairly stringent junior high dress code was adopted for GCCISD. Not quite uniforms, but close.

I didn’t really like that dress code when my boys got to that age, but I liked the theory behind it of how those years were especially tough and the focus needed to be on education and not a fashion show.  Anyway, I managed to get two boys through those years with nary a wardrobe issue.

Someone(s) somewhere decided last spring to open up that dress code as the specificity of the color combinations was not uniform across the district and parents moving a child from one campus to another were unduly financially burdened by having to replace the child’s clothing.

OK. Got it. Made perfect sense.

So, starting this fall, junior high kids were once again open to explore fashion beyond a collared polo or school T-shirt coupled with appropriate pants.

But alas there are gray areas.

And dare I say personalities, interpretation and even what type of day someone may be having all factor in to what’s “acceptable”. 

Thinking back on how the old dress code in part sought to have students see each other as fellow classmates and human beings as opposed to fashion plates, I found it ironic that the dehumanizing was back already…only from a different source.

I’d complain to the powers that be, but the drill is for higher ups to get in line to support questionable decisions in the name of … I don’t know what. 

What I do know is that five weeks into the school year and on picture day my youngest wore a spaghetti-strapped ruffled top with a down-to-her-wrists cardigan sweater over it, full-length jeans (WITH NO HOLES) and silver rhinestone sandals. She looked beautiful in the outfit she’d already worn to school twice before and was ready to smile for the camera.

I must pause here and state for emphasis: The only skin showing on her was her face/neck, hands and part of her feet. 

No matter. I got a phone call within minutes of arriving home and needing to be at an appointment that she’d need alternate attire as the whole outfit was “inappropriate”. No spaghetti straps even if they’re covered by an outer garment and jeans with even the tiniest decorative “fray”… unacceptable.

 Her jeans were not frayed. And having her remove the cardigan to inspect what was underneath? Really? It’s infuriating and sad. 

I was unable to jump and run, but they’d lock her away in in-school-suspension where she’d miss valuable instructional time until I could get there.

 Angry does not begin to describe me.  Removing a child from class and threatening me into moving faster was petty and uncalled for. My daughter lost valuable learning time and I lost the last shred of respect I had remaining for administrators at that campus.

And I’ll go ahead and fess up: I hung up on the office lady I spoke to at the school after telling her it was “flipping ridiculous” out on the loud speaker for the whole school office to enjoy.  That was unlady-like, uncouth and most unbecoming of the person I strive to be. But this coupled with other issues was the last straw.

I apologized in person when I delivered replacement clothing.

No doubt my rant will be laughed off and labeled sour grapes by school folks. So be it.

I could provide a pasta feast for all of Baytown if I gathered up all the spaghetti strapped undershirts off GCCISD staff and students alike on any given day. Someone(s) decided they needed to wield their power and it hit me at a particularly bad moment.

Sour? You bet. But I’ll still bless the hands that prepared the grapes for me.

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

I just wanna fly

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

It’s that time! The hummingbirds are here! I could sit and watch them all day.

Listening to them is pretty nice, too. They have a sweet chirp that never fails to put a smile on my face.

Those tiny creatures coupled with the time of year —Halloween in the air—make me feel a tad whimsical. And for a first-born stick in the mud, that’s a pretty big deal.

I feel a certain kinship with the hummingbirds as they dart to and fro. Most days I feel like that’s how I move—quickly and in too many different directions.

Folks observing would swear I was merely flitting about, but that’s not the case as I’ve lived long enough to learn it’s far easier to be hard at work than to give off only the appearance. That said: My physical movement is a slow-poke compared to what’s going on up in the old noggin.

 And the sounds I make, somehow I’m pretty certain a lot of my chirping (some close to me might call it carping) doesn’t induce smiles. I should work on that.

But what I’d really like to be able to do is fly like those little hummingbirds —as in actually sprout wings and soar through the clouds without being encapsulated in an airplane. If I could be shimmery and iridescent like a hummingbird, all the better.

Seems like life would be so much simpler if I could rise above the fray and make a beeline so fast all distractions besides the prized nectar became a blur.

I could probably use some lessons on how to get through prolonged life or death flight—like flying across the entire Gulf of Mexico without stopping—as well.  Or maybe I just need to learn to save the stamina for the things that are most important.

If only the tiny hummingbird could speak and tell me all its secrets. Who knows, maybe I could tell them a thing or two as well.

Not to mention I’d really like an answer straight from the birds’ mouths regarding those cute little feeders we put out: nectar dyed red or not? Silly details like that sometimes keep me awake.

But as much as I’d love to flutter some real wings, pretty sure I’ll have to settle for the seat of my britches variety of flying. Sadly, I’m not good at that…which causes the carping, which leads to me being called a flyer all right.

I won’t even need to hunt down a Halloween costume, but maybe I’ll get a new, iridescent and shimmering first-born broomstick in the mud!

I wanna think in the box

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

As we near October, my inner child screams to come out and play. With last weekend’s cooler snap her demands were deafening. I did the only sensible thing: put sneakers on her feet and ran after her. She’d have driven me crazy otherwise.

We had a splendid time taking in the morning sights and sounds of such a beautiful day, but one snapshot in particular took the adult me way back.

Thinking “outside the box” has become modern-business cliché, and I’d wager most of us even find ourselves using such creative strategies to navigate even the most mundane details of our personal lives.

I don’t know about you, but I have to create sophisticated diversions to deal with distractions. How crazy is that?

Anyway, while sashaying through the neighborhood little Natalie—disguised in her grown-up body—came upon two little (4-5 years old) boys playing in/with an empty clothes-washing-machine box.  

Her attention was initially captured by a special belly-rolling laugh – the kind strictly produced by the tickling of somersaulting innards. What fun they were having.

With a man-I’d-sure-like-to-join-them gleam in her eyes, she watched as they took turns rolling each other over after carefully closing the box-flap lid and giggling out, “ready?”

Inevitably, the box contents would spill out in rather carefree but dramatic, wiggly, and comedic fashion.

A broad smile overtook my grown-up face just before little me forced an out-loud laugh. I was trying to remain unnoticed by the players, but that kind of laughter is contagious.

I was momentarily transported to a simpler time when a box was a fortress impenetrable by anything save for the desire to crawl out, travel for snacks and return with the magic markers that would bring some musings to life.

A rocket ship became a boat, which became a castle and then . . . the possibilities were endless, and so it seemed was time.

With a blank slate, yet closed in, novelty and utility came together in so many ways they couldn’t “outside the box”. And dare I say because I spent time inside I was more prepared for exploring the outside.

So many times simple, close, and right-in-front-our face trumps far-out and complicated.  Things are easier when you know a little versus knowing a lot. That whole paradox of choice –too many options leading to paralysis—comes into play. Not having much wiggle room is oddly liberating.

For all the time I now spend coming up with ways to navigate all that entails life, I’d like to spend some time thinking inside the box.

Please come and flip me over so that I may fall out all giggly with nary a care. Then you can climb in and I’ll return the favor. Ready?

2012 Natalie Whatley


Looking dumber aleady

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

After ample wailing, gnashing of teeth and being dragged kicking and screaming into the current decade, I bought a Smartphone.

Yes, technologically-challenged me went from a very basic flip phone, which had become downright embarrassing to have out in public, to the Apple iPhone.  It’s sort of amazing I’m not in traction and suffering from a serious case of whiplash after such a drastic change.

As of this writing I’ve had it 4 days . . . long enough to feel stupidly confident in my ability to operate said piece of modern miracles. Why I’m talking, texting and wasting ti . . . no, playing all sorts of habit-forming games and shopping for ultra-useful apps.

It was a move a long time coming, but when my parents got iPhones and made fun of my stone-and-chisel way it was past time.

The move was mostly painless save for the bit of sticker shock as I upgraded kids’ phones at the same time (I’m presently enjoying surely short-lived, coolest-mom-ever status), but I was sold one that’s “user friendly” and a “good starter Smartphone”.  

Picture me with cellular training wheels, pigtails, and popsicle juice dripping down my arm. I’m trying to take it all in quickly, but I know a little is melting away.

Verizon’s ever-patient Ronnie Chaidez walked me through it all and made what I was sure would be akin to Garth Road traffic at lunchtime or maybe the lesser pain of a root canal, pleasant.

My only complaint, really, is that I can’t plug the thing directly into my own cranium. I mean, there are entire books written on how to fully use the capabilities. Much like my brain usage, I’ll only use a mere fraction of what the hand-held cell phone/computer can do.  

I have issues being totally dependent on a machine – mostly because I know they die and otherwise malfunction. I don’t like being up that proverbial creek without a paddle as I have nearly drowned in it before when precious work and information was forever lost.

And I know all you geeks out there are screaming “back that stuff up, woman!” . . . I know, I know. But I don’t always follow instruction well. I’m stubborn and get in a hurry.

                Besides, a girl needs something to whine about and be rescued from —makes the menfolk in her life feel needed and important.

It really is the highest form of adoration when I hand over my electronics, smile ever-so-sweetly and say “fix it”. And the peacock strutting after said repair is pretty cute, too.

Besides learning how to use the most basic of functions on my new gadget, I’ve also learned that as smart as it is, it can make me look plenty foolish when it attempts to read my mind. (As if . . .  it’s often a mess in there and even I can’t make sense of the contents at times.)

That said, I learned a new word: smartphOWNED. That’s when your Smartphone auto-corrects what’s said in a text message with what it thinks you’re trying to say. It can have some funny and embarrassing implications. You know in 4 short days I have already been a hapless victim and provided a few chuckles.

The phone’s smartness is making me look dumber already.

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

An update

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

Every once in a great while, I feel the need to give updates, or life isn’t dishing out anything terribly exciting enough for newspaper fodder. Then there are the things that are maybe a little too exciting to share with the masses. It’s a delicate balance I aim to strike.

That said, recall last week I had been mysteriously cut off from outside communication as my phone and internet service went kaput. That outage suspiciously occurred after I penned words regarding my displeasure over incessant election-time phone calls. Someone wanted to get my attention. It hurt, but I’m still standing.

Verizon showed up after a one-week wait and I’m happy to report the Whatley Household is back in hooked-up-to-the-universe business. Funny, I was just getting used to —and starting to enjoy— being unhooked.

The cold-turkey withdrawal was initially painful, but we all got over it much easier than I anticipated.  The kids even drug out board games, or maybe it was “bored” games.

However, the outage still remains a mystery (still believe there’s a conspiracy involved), even though Verizon workers offered up an explanation: A wire was cut during old-fence destruction and new-fence construction at the Whatley Estate.

I have no problem admitting it may have been our fault, but I’m still puzzled over how that fence project which caused us all aching backs in March caused outage in August.  It’s a mystery—one that will remain unsolved to my demise I believe.

On another front, I left you all hanging on the edge of your seats some weeks ago regarding a slithering uninvited visitor (hey . . . my political phone callers were slithering and uninvited too!) in the Highlands home of Ms. Gladys “Granny” Adcox.

I heard from Gladys via real, handwritten letter (what a treat!) regarding the sneaky snake. To date he, or I suppose it could be a she, has not been located. 

I’ll reiterate my previous statement: Gladys is tough as nails. I’m afraid I’d have to vacate the premises forever, or at the very least until said serpent was located . . . preferably dead, but I’d live with alive and relocated.

And switching gears yet again, Jeremy, the middle child, is still truck shopping. It’s going to be a mighty happy day when that process ends, which I’m thinking may be never.  He keeps working and saving . . . and upgrading what he wants to buy for himself. I’m proud of him, but oh-so weary from being on the constant lookout for potential wheels meeting all of his specifications.


Last but not least, I have somewhat loosened  my stance on being dragged into using new technology kicking and screaming. I now own a Kindle Fire — tablet computer and e-reader rolled into one. I said I’d never go there because I truly love the feel of a book in my hands, but I’m adjusting. Shoot, I might even delve into a smartphone. What’s happening to me? Apparently not much this week.  

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

Citizen Police Academy class forming

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

From time to time you hear from me regarding the Baytown Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy. Usually it’s along the lines of officers trying to train me to do what they do, sort of a “walk in my shoes” demonstration. I always have loads of fun and it provides plenty of fodder for folks to laugh at my expense. 

I’m happy to announce a new session is starting and you’re invited to have some fun, learn about the inner workings of the Baytown Police Department and get to know the men and women behind Baytown’s badges.

On March 7, the ten-week course begins running each week with a different law-enforcement topic from 6:30-9 p.m.

The program, guided by Academy Coordinator Officer Stewart Beasley, is designed to give citizens a better understanding of the operations and mission of the department.

The course begins with an introduction to the police department and an overview of police terminology. Remaining weeks bring officers sharing specialized areas of expertise and equipment. Topics typically cover crime prevention, K-9 units, terrorism, crime-scene investigation, use of force, gangs, hostage negotiations, building search, narcotics, traffic stops, and a tour of the city jail. Classes vary some due to instructor availability.

I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite because they’re all interesting.

Everyone enjoys the K-9 units for obvious reasons, but you’ll be amazed watching the dogs perform what they’re trained to do while learning how they acquire and maintain those skills.

Terrorism: It’s perpetrated on many different fronts and for a variety of reasons; law enforcement must remain vigilant and keep track of many tentacles. 

Building search tests my mental fortitude—basically I have none when it comes to looking for bad guys in dark places.

Crime scene investigation has a few grisly moments, but nothing any modern member of TV-viewing society couldn’t handle. 

And the tour of the jail: I suppose it’s a nice facility as far as jails go, but I’ll do what’s necessary to remain on the outside.

After the fifth week of instruction, students are eligible for an eye-opening ride-along in a patrol car. If you’ve ever called and requested an officer for a non-life-threatening reason and wondered what took them so long . . . this is for you. The “action” is non-stop.  This portion of the program is voluntary and not a requirement for graduation.

Upon completion of the academy, there will be a graduation ceremony and banquet. Students are also invited to join the Baytown Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association, which brings together graduates to enhance relations between the community and the police force and to improve the efficiency of law enforcement in neighborhoods through shared responsibilities and resources.

With additional training, graduates also have the opportunity to become involved in Citizens on Patrol. This program focuses on handicap parking enforcement and assisting patrol officers by being extra eyes and ears watching for suspicious activity.

If you would like to attend, the cost is $25 and applications can be obtained at  or at BPD’s Community Services office located at 220 W. Defee. Applicants are screened for criminal history to maintain the integrity of the class.  For additional information contact Academy Coordinator, Stewart Beasley, at [email protected] or 281-420-6662.  

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

I’ll be seeing you, Miss Lavon

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

Please bear with me. Each and every time I sat down and tried to get through this I started bawling.

The Big Guy, for reasons we are not privy to, sees fit to have us bump into each other. Some hit harder than others leaving deeper indentations. On fortunate occasions friendships are formed and gifts money can’t buy are received.

I’ve lived long enough to recognize it, hold onto it, and feel the pain when it’s time to let it go.

And this past week I had to let go of at least my Earthly friendship with one Lavon Heintschel.

Having been born in Baytown in 1925 and remaining here all her life, many of you knew her, too, and for far longer.

I met Miss Lavon (that’s what I always called her) in the summer of 2009 when I began the Baytown Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy. Each week she stood impeccably dressed behind a table full of sugary delights, and since I tend to linger at such places, sampling one of everything, we got to know one another.

She had witnessed me running my mouth through my fingers here and began commenting on columns. I found a kindred spirit and enjoyed cutting up with her.

Little did I know, she was scouting and recruiting for a little job she had a class member perform at the Citizens Police Academy graduation banquet. Unbeknownst to yours truly, she had her eagle eye on me.

A few weeks passed, and after she had me adequately buttered and sugared up, she sprung my “duty” on me. I had been selected . . . to stand up and speak. Publicly. In front of people.

Anger drove me to such drastic behavior in the past, but I was a woman with a bee in her bonnet and was thusly driven.  And I still broke out in hives, felt as if my heart would surely pound out of my chest, shook like I was having an all-over body spasm and I’d have sworn I didn’t have any bones in my rubbery legs. How I managed not to stutter during such occasions remains a mystery.

Anyway, I pleaded my case to Miss Lavon. She wasn’t having it. She waved her little hand, smiled and chirped, “Oh! You’ll be great!”

Well, I wasn’t about to have it, either. And when I said no, I meant it. Bribing me with cookies wasn’t going to work. She had no idea how far I could dig in my heels.

Next class rolled around. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Miss Lavon skipped the pleasantries and went right to, “So have thought about what you’ll say? I’m giving you plenty of time to get your thoughts together.”

Spiked heels were in order. And I was going to have to drive them all the way down.

That little lady dragged me kicking and screaming through the thick mud in my own mind about what I was and was not capable of doing.

Under great personal duress and darn-near needing oxygen, I performed.  I faced my fear and secretly loved her for pushing me through that barrier.   

We stayed in touch regularly and she even came to know my children through her involvement at the schools’ Crime Stoppers programs where the kids participated in fundraisers.

Last Tuesday, just as her graveside service began, dark clouds poured heavy rain over the ground holding my shaky body. I had on the same spike-heeled shoes I wore that night I spoke.

The ground softened to mud and the only way to remain standing was to sink those heels all the way down.

Walking back to my car, I looked down at my mud-caked feet and realized my shoes would never be the same, and neither would I.

Good-bye for now, Miss Lavon. I’ll forever see your face every time I try to refuse even the gentlest of persuasion.

 © 2012 Natalie Whatley

Lavon Heintschel

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

 I see lots of folks are “hitting” my site searching for Lavon Heintschel, probably in search of her obituary. She was a wonderful friend, and I regret not knowing her for many more years than I did. May she rest in peace. Click on the link below if you’re looking for service information:

Find a love that won’t escape

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

When I saw this past week that The Baytown Sun was teaming up with Baytown Animal Services for a new “Pets of the Week” feature aiming to showcase adoptable pets, I knew I needed to share how good fortune and maybe fate had a hand (or maybe a paw) in an unlikely pairing of souls. Yes, it was that dramatic and then some.

In the fall of 2001 I was a young(er) mom with three children aged 2, 4, and 8 a shift-working husband who was also attending college classes. To say my plate was full and that I did not need anything else to take care of would be an understatement.

And yet, my then 4-year-old Jeremy wanted a pet.  He had discussed it with me many times and I was getting nowhere with my explanations about why pet ownership just wasn’t in the cards. He had no frame of reference for time, energy or monetary constraints. I didn’t stop taking care of him when baby sister came along, so what was one more?

Smart little devil that he was, he “adopted” a plastic fishing worm from his dad’s tackle box. It wasn’t even a complete specimen – had somehow lost a third of its body. No matter, Jeremy loved it, carried it around and told anybody who would listen all about his “pet”.

At first, I was elated. He had a “pet” he could take care of and he was thrilled. That was the best cared-for plastic worm in the history of mankind. For weeks Jeremy “fed” it and made sure it had a comfortable place to sleep. Thorny parenting issue averted and potentially forever bypassed . . . until the guilt set in.

Owning a real, live, breathing animal is a rite of childhood passage right? So, in November 2001 Jeff and I decided a dog would be great for the kids. Nothing fancy and cheap would be good, too.

We made our way over to “the pound”, which I know is probably no longer the politically correct term to use for what’s now Baytown Animal Services located at 705 Robert Lanier. If you’d like to visit they are open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and can be reached at 281-422-7600.

Anyway, out of I can’t remember how many pooches, one immediately garnered our attention. He was on Doggie Death Row and while looking sweet as all get out had been dubbed an “escape artist”.

According to workers he had been bailed out a couple of times before and the courts finally ordered he go live somewhere else or . . . 

He looked smallish – I have described him here before as being about the size of a Bassett Hound but spitting image of a long-haired Dachshund – standing in his prison cell, but as we loaded him in my lap for home transport we realized he was biggish. And that was right before he barfed in my lap.

In the days following I became even more ambivalent about my new charge as we went through the pains of acclimating him to our home.  At that time there was a “return policy” and I secretly suspected I might utilize it.

But something strange happened and that doggie, Scooter, figured out just who he needed to win over.

While I admit to being a tough nut to crack sometimes, that mutt dug his way into my heart and has not ever in over ten years tried to escape. He’s “my” dog and everyone knows he’s “Momma’s boy”.  He has been a great friend and companion.

At all times I positively know there is soul out there who would follow me to the ends of the Earth and off a cliff. We should all be so fortunate.

Check out the “Pets of the Week” on Tuesdays. Maybe you’ll find a love that will never escape, too.  

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

A fond farewell

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

Last week was a sad one, and the world lost one of the gentlest souls it’s ever had.

Mr. Clint Prothro passed away on Tuesday, September 19 after a short, yet courageous battle with cancer.

The evening prior I was surprised to hear he had taken a turn for the worse. Last I’d heard he was down a little from his “fighting weight” but holding his own.

I can’t even imagine Mr. Prothro taking a swing at anyone, but I envisioned some fancy gold boxing trunks and matching gloves clobbering cancer. I was even going to tell him about it when I saw him next. He’d blush, flash an aw-shucks grin and play it off like fighting for his life was no big deal. 

That day will never come.

There is a poem by an unknown author that begins, “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” 

Mr. Prothro came into my life for a season. And while I wish the season could have been longer, I know they must change for time must march on.

I met him four years ago as a newly-elected member of the Chambers County Appraisal District Board of Directors.

NON-EDITORS NOTE: If the mere mention of “Appraisal District” makes you want to jump in the ring and tussle over property values, know that this particular board has no say in those matters.  Spare me the hate mail . . . on this point, at least. All other malevolent love letters will be addressed in the order in which they are received. Thanks for your cooperation, and have a nice day.

From the beginning of my tenure on The Board I was seated just opposite Secretary Prothro.

Most times we saw eye-to-eye on the business at hand and on those rare occasions we didn’t, well, we still had to look straight at each other.

Being the absolute gentleman he was, he always kept his long legs curled up over on his side of the table. Invariably, we’d kick each other from time-to-time.

 So kind and soft spoken, he’d start apologizing before I could. Now that was a feat because where he was wise and thoughtful —slow to pick just the right words before speaking—my mouth runs at light speed, often unaided by my brain.

Anyway, the kicking was never his fault.

He was the still, dignified elder forced by nameplates to sit across from a rambunctious young’un who squirms in her seat.  He was far more patient than I can ever hope to be.

He loved his family and church family—always had plenty of tales on their adventures to tell.

I also had the privilege of hearing about some of his childhood antics. It was hard to picture such a genteel man having ever been a mischievous little boy.

He listened to the escapades of my boys and reassured me they’d be just fine in spite of themselves.

And sometimes after meetings we’d talk national politics.

It wasn’t until then that I really learned of Mr. Prothro’s sense of humor.  He was one of those folks who spoke gently and even in mimicking a yell remained quiet about it, but he’d slip a zinger in.

I learned to catch it by the twinkle in his eye as he anticipated those listening to “get it”.  As soon as we did, a broad, toothy smile would span his face.  I’ll miss that the most.

Farewell, my friend.  I’m a better person for having had my feet planted close to yours, if only for a season.

© 2011 Natalie Whatley