The Rockwood Files: Refrigerator shame

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My refrigerator made a fool of me today. This morning when I came downstairs to the kitchen, it was croaking – loudly. It sounded like an elderly frog was frog in rocking chairinside it, sitting in a creaky rocking chair that got louder each time he rocked back. I could hear it across the room.

So I did what most of us do when a complex piece of machinery starts to make a weird noise we don’t understand: I smacked it. But it went right on croaking at regular intervals, completely undeterred.

Having exhausted all my repair expertise with that unsuccessful smack on the side of the fridge, I called our appliance repair guy, Steve. I told him about the loud croaking noise and asked if he could swing by to check it out. With an out-of-town trip on the horizon, I wanted to make sure we didn’t come home to a dead fridge full of spoiled food.

A few hours later, Steve showed up at the door holding his appliance doctor bag, ready to inspect the refrigerator that sounded like it was croaking, both literally and figuratively. He followed me into the kitchen and we both sidled up to the refrigerator and listened – to nothing.

It had gone completely silent. All we could hear was the occasional clink of an ice cube falling into the freezer tray below.

“Just give it a minute. It was definitely croaking this morning, and it was loud. Tom heard it, too,” I said, hoping that an ear witness would make me seem less crazy.

So we waited. And waited, enveloped by the sound of silence. Embarrassed that I’d made a big deal out of what was turning into nothing, I did the only thing that can make this kind of situation even more awkward – I did my best impression of the croaking sound and asked what might make that kind of noise.

Steve did some official-looking diagnostic things, hoping to prove I wasn’t as nuts as I sounded. He laid down on the kitchen floor with his flashlight and peered underneath the fridge. Then he took a long screwdriver and scraped something out from under it which turned out to be the largest grey dust bunny I’ve ever seen. It was more like a dust bear. I think I even saw it move once.

With no croaking and no answers in sight, Steve pulled the refrigerator out from the wall so he could get a look behind it. That’s when I learned something I’m guessing is universally true, no matter how clean you think your kitchen is. Behind the refrigerator, we’re all slobs. All of us. It’s a nightmare back there. I’ve seen things I can’t ever un-see.

“Steve, is it this bad behind most people’s refrigerators?” I asked, ashamed of the dead dust bear at his feet and the wasteland of dust balls, crumbs, bread twist ties, and unidentifiable food fragments under the fridge.

“Oh, sure,” he said in the most non-judgmental way. (And that’s how you know you’ve got a good repair guy because he will reassure you that you’re not disgusting even when it’s obvious that you are.)

Steve let me clean a few things behind the fridge before pushing it back toward the wall, where it will likely gather another nine years’ worth of God-knows-what. He packed up his bag and said the loud croaking could possibly be the refrigerator’s fan on the fritz. It’s hard to know for sure because the fridge played a game of “quiet mouse” as soon as Steve showed up, so we’ll have to wait it out.

When it starts croaking again – and you know it will – I’m going to record it so I’ll have proof. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and I’m getting a new fridge.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

Life with Ladybug: Back to life. Back to reality.

shan at the beach

On our way back from Panama City Beach in Florida, we stopped by my parents’ house to spend the night – and to pick up a chicken.

No, not KFC. Against my better judgment, we were bringing home one of the chickens from my mom’s flock to join our lone chicken survivor, Tessa (we lost our other two chickens recently).

That morning, as we visited over my mother’s homemade waffles, she commented, “Well, vacation is over. Back to reality.”

I groaned at her words, but as I took another sip of my hot tea, I realized that the thought didn’t actually make me sad. I pondered over why that was and came to the conclusion that I love my work, my community, my life.

My reality doesn’t bite. So heading back wasn’t a bad thing.

Sure, there are plenty of things I’ll miss about vacation. Things like:

The food. No cooking! No clean-up! One of my favorite meals was at Great Southern Café (my daughter also gave this restaurant the Best Lemonade Award from along all the places we ate along the Panhandle). We also had fun seeing the alligators and eating crab legs at Bayou Bill’s Crab House. I’m not typically a sushi fan, but we also had a great experience at the restaurant FireFly. Our waiter was amazing and had actually lived in NWA for a time a few years back. I tried my husband’s Bubba Roll and it was gooooood. It was cooked, so I didn’t get all ooged out about raw fish. I also loved my Caesar salad with blue crab.

Great Southern Cafe salad

Great Southern Cafe salad

The sunsets. Wow, those Florida sunsets. Gorgeous.


The ocean sounds. I love the sounds of waves lapping against the shore. I even have a sound machine so I can hear the beach anytime, right here in Northwest Arkansas. Granted, it doesn’t sound exactly the same, but it still has a calming effect.

view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

Endless fun without the interruption of work. I didn’t say “Hang on! Just let me answer this one last email” even once. My daughter noticed.

The awesome pillows. Seriously, I miss my Holiday Inn Resort bed pillow. That was a first.

Riding bikes at Rosemary Beach. We had a great time riding around the little town. It’s so pretty!

That eclectic book store. We loved visiting Sun Dog books while we were visiting Seaside. It’s so adorable and we bought a few new beach reads (as if we didn’t already have a stack to mow through).

Sun Dog Books, Seaside

Sun Dog Books, Seaside

But, truthfully?

I’m glad to be back home where reality is doing laundry from the trip, jumping with both feet back into my work groove, setting up lunches with friends and enjoying Game of Thrones marathons with my husband (where I can mostly be found with my eyes shut tight, my fingers in my ears and humming so I can’t see or hear what’s on the screen).

That said, I do believe vacations – or even staycations where the whole family is out of their routine together – is a balm for the soul. It’s nice to be pampered and to experience the bonding that naturally happens when you have fun together as a family unit. And the beach is my happy place (my husband’s, too).

As I took my dishes to my mother’s sink after breakfast, I remembered that the day before we left Florida, my daughter expressed regret at having to come back home.

And I told her: “It is better to have vacationed and departed than to never have vacationed before.”

Au revoir, Panama City Beach. Hello, realistic {lovely} life.

shan, blue dress, circleShannon Magsam is mama to Ladybug (a salty/sweet tween girl who still likes things like superheroes and unicorns, thank goodness) is wife to newspaperman/entrepreneur John and is co-founder of

The Rockwood Files: Are you crazy busy?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a friend and, as soon as I said hello, she said, almost apologetically, “Hey! It’s me. I hate to even call you because I know you’re extremely busy so I’ll make this fast…”

It was a light bulb moment that woke me up. Sure, I was busy. But was I so busy that I’d begun to miss out on the things I want most? Like conversations with good friends? Non-hurried time with family? A sense of calm? Because if I was, I needed to get a lot less busy – and fast.

Since that phone call, I’m more careful about how I answer the question, “How have you been?” Before, I might have rattled off a list of projects I was working on or how many loads of laundry I had piled up or how many times a week I drive the kids from here to there. I thought being busy was a sign that you were not only a productive member of society but also important, goal-oriented – necessary.

We Americans wear “busy” as a badge of honor. We mention how few hours of sleep we’re surviving on lately. We’re bone-tired but also confident that the constant flurry of activity is proof that our lives are not only full but meaningful.

But “busy” can become a beast – one that grows bigger and hungrier before we notice how much it’s eating us up. The beast cons us into thinking we’ll have time to slow down later – when things aren’t so busy. But the beast lies.

crazy busyI just finished reading an insightful book about busyness, which I spotted during a rushed trip to the store. It jumped out at me because there on the book’s green cover were two simple words that describe so many of the people I know: “Crazy Busy.”

As a recovering busy-aholic, I knew I should read it. (If you’re often slave to a beastly “to do” list, you might want to read it, too. It’s a short book, so it won’t become one more thing you’re “busy” doing.)

The author, Kevin DeYoung, admits he might be “the worst possible person to write this book.” As a minister, husband, father of five, author, speaker and blogger, the guy is about as busy as they come and struggles to not let his own busyness become crazy.

One of my favorite parts of the book is a passage about how much our own sense of pride factors into our busyness. Maybe we don’t always have to run in a zillion different directions, but we choose to because we’re afraid of missing out on something. Maybe we sacrifice the kind of life that’s important to us so we can keep up with the hustle and bustle of a life that just seems important. The author also points out how we often use technology to ensure that we’re never truly un-busy.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m so busy because I’ve come to believe the lie that busyness is the point,” he writes. “And nothing allows you to be busy – all the time, with anyone anywhere – like having the whole world in a little black rectangle in your pocket.”

He doesn’t recommend ditching your iPhone and sitting on a yoga mat all day, and he’s careful not to make work sound like a bad thing. We’re supposed to be busy but not at the expense of things (and people) that make life truly worthwhile.

I don’t think busy is always bad. It’s a way of life for most of us. But it’s not the meaning of our lives. It’s not the whole point. And it would be a shame to miss out on life’s blessings just to keep feeding the beast we call “busy.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: What are you afraid of?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Last night I let our Beagle Charlie out into the backyard for his usual “last call” potty break before going to bed for the night. I walked away from the door and soon after heard him start barking furiously.

Afraid he’d wake the neighbors, I rushed back to the door and turned on the outside lights so I could see if he’d treed a squirrel or spotted a rabbit. Instead, I saw our fearsome “guard dog” barking his fool head off at a large bag of garden topsoil that Tom had left in the yard earlier that day.

Charlie bwEven though Charlie’s bark sounded threatening, I could tell that the bag of topsoil was winning the fight. Charlie slowly circled it, leaving at least a 10-foot perimeter between him and the bag. Every now and then he’d flatten his belly to the ground and cower, as if the bag might sprout legs and chase after him at any second.

I stood there, wondering how long it would take before he figured out that the bag was a non-threatening, inanimate object. I wish I could tell you he realized it quickly. He didn’t. Even after he got close enough for an investigative sniff, he still ran away from it skittishly, afraid of just how much he did not know about the hulking yellow bag.

Of course, it’s easy for me to mock our scaredy-dog for being afraid of a bag of dirt. But the truth is, Charlie and I are not all that different. I worry about the “what if’s” as much or more than anybody.

When the kids were little, I, like many new moms, worried about strangers jumping out of bushes and kidnapping them. I couldn’t help myself. I kept a protective hand on them almost constantly and was always scanning crowds for anyone looking suspicious. It felt like it was hard-wired into my maternal DNA.

One day I was reading a news article about crime rates and was surprised when I read a statistic that said child abduction rates have actually gone down over the years and that the chances of a child being abducted by a stranger are actually less than the risk of a child being hit by lightning. I told Tom about it, and he said, “See? That means you can stop worrying so much. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

A rational person would have said “Yes, it does,” but instead I said, “I had no idea that lightning was such a threat!” And from that point on, I was afraid of kidnappers AND thunderstorms. Tom just shook his head and muttered something about me being ridiculous which, I admit, was fairly accurate.

What I’m realizing lately is that we all have something that scares us that probably shouldn’t. For me, it’s the beginning of a novel I started writing months ago and have been too afraid to continue writing because, well, it might be really bad. Or even terrible. What if I finish it only to find that it’s an embarrassment, a 50,000-word failure? That unfinished novel is a big bag of the scary unknown – just like Charlie’s bag of topsoil. So I bark my excuses at it and keep skittishly avoiding it even though part of me wants to take it on just to see if I can.

I guess the real trick in life is knowing the difference between a healthy fear that keeps you safe as opposed to an intimidating fear that keeps you stuck. The former will keep you alive and the latter will keep you from truly living.

For Charlie, for me and perhaps for you, too? It’s time to stop barking at bags.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

Life with Ladybug: Backyard chickens, rest in peace

Dot, ready for her close-up

By Shannon Magsam, co-founder of and mama to 1 little lady(bug)

I won’t ever look at a Saltine cracker again without thinking about our backyard chickens.

They liked a little wheat bread tossed out the back door from time to time, but Saltines? Oh yeah. They’d fight mightily over those.

I’m writing in past tense, but we do have one left: Tessa. She reminds me of the Little Red Hen from one of my favorite children’s books and, as of this morning, she’s all alone in the backyard.

Her buddy Shawnna, a black and white checkered beauty, died three weeks ago and my husband found Dot, the feistiest of them all, dead in their coop this morning when he went out to let them loose into the backyard. (That’s a close-up of Dot in the picture above. Ladybug took it last spring.)

I told my husband through hot, bitter tears this morning: “I don’t think I’m cut out to be a backyard chicken farmer.”

When you have a huge flock it might be easier to lose a few. But when you start out with the three amigos and you’re down to the lone survivor it’s a sad sight. The little red hen has been searching all morning for her friend. She calls out, loudly, but there’s no answer.

With Shawnna, we had tried valiantly for weeks to keep her alive, even taking her to a vet. I had thought at the time it would be better if she had just died quickly. But then this morning. With Dot. I felt like I hadn’t really had a chance to say goodbye, which I did with her sister.

When my husband dug the grave out back, it was a lot of work to cut through all the rocks and roots. It was a fairly large box we buried Dot in. While he worked, flashes of panic gripped me. What if I woke up one morning and found that he had died?

Death reminds us of death. Deaths of those who have gone before, deaths that will come later, our future deaths. All uncertain. I do have hope, though, for the afterlife. I cling to that hope.

If I managed one smile this morning, from the time my husband woke me up to tell me the bad news to the time I had to tell our daughter the same, it was when I pictured Shawnna running up to Dot as she reached heaven, calling her over to the best spot for scratching out bugs.

And the spot where a nice heavenly host tosses them the occasional manna – or maybe even a Saltine cracker.

Chicken collage

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