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Goodbye, 2016. Hello, 2017.

On the face of it, 2016 stunk it up, and so many of us are happy to see it go. 2016 brought a torrent of cultural and political pain from which the country is still reeling. On a personal level, it wasn’t exactly a banner year, either. As I reflected on the past year over the past week, I found myself scowling and angry, and frightened for what’s to come.

The year dealt multiple blows; we lost: Harper Lee, Bowie, Prince, George, Rickman, Wiesel, Cohen, Wilder, Ifill, Frey, Glenn, Ali, and more. The year dropped trou with a flourish by taking Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds back-to-back at the end, an enormous hand gesture to America that’s too crude to type here. The political scene was chaos and pandemonium, and most of us sat horrified and watched it unroll before our eyes, not believing that what was happening was actually happening. I don’t know whom to blame for that. The media? Nah. Russia? Naw. I think we have only ourselves to blame. And I think recovery is impossible until we admit that.

Personally, this year brought turmoil, too. A lung cancer diagnosis for my father sent my family into a tailspin. In addition to the fear for his health, we were forced to face some hard truths about what it takes to care for my mother, whose posterior cortical atrophy/Alzheimer’s continues to wreak havoc. His recovery was hard and scary, and everyone was pushed to the limits in multiple ways.

The foundation of our three-year-old home cracked and water poured into our finished basement. We ripped out drywall and baseboards and the front porch and, eventually, the entire front yard. Jury is still out on whether it’s completely fixed, but needless to say this wasn’t something we expected to have to do in a three-year-old home.

A dear friend at work learned that instead of launching into a new and exciting academic year he had to instead start fighting leukemia three days before the school year began.

A beloved family member on M’s side was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

We lost our parish, a huge blow from which I’m not sure I will ever fully recover. Thankfully we did not lose the community we’ve built there.

2016 gave me, at the end, the awful cold/flu crud that’s been going around. I was down for almost three weeks and had fought my way back to 99% when it slammed in again two nights before Zoe’s already-much-delayed birthday party. I self-medicated with caffeine and DayQuil, and forged ahead. A visit to the ENT the morning of New Year’s Eve confirmed that I needed antibiotics, nasal spray, rest, and quarantine from everyone. This made me crabby and hate 2016 even more.

Clearly, I was happy to see 2016 come to a close. Even with the uncertainty 2017 promises, I was just ready for the year to end. I spent the last six months praying that nothing happens to Tom Petty before he gets to St. Louis on tour again, because even though he’s been here a thousand times I’ve always had a conflict. He’s coming May 12. Hold on, Tom!

While sleeping half the day on NYE and grousing that I felt so crummy when I was conscious, I realized that I needed to flip my thinking. 2016 wasn’t all terrible, despite the fact that with little prompting I can reel off a litany of crap. So I made myself find 16 things that didn’t suck in 2016. Here we go.

  1. Zoe applied to, was accepted, and started at a new school that is challenging her in so many ways that we are continually reminded that we made a good, if tough, decision. She transitioned beautifully, made new friends easily, and is excelling academically. I cry when I think of the new worlds opened to her with this move. We made new friends through her new school, too. Our horizons are widened by these unique experiences and backgrounds, and the perspective gained is invaluable.
  2. I launched a new book project, a non-fiction work that I am still so excited about even while feeling bummed that life got in the way this year. It’s still there, waiting for me, which gives me hope and motivation. I hope to re-tackle in 2017 and get it moving again.
  3. The three of us enjoyed a mega-vacation that involved sleeping multiple nights on a train (one of Zoe’s most ardent desires) and experiencing San Francisco and Seattle. It was an amazing trip that gave us time together and memories I will cherish forever. M did an incredible amount of work planning this trip (mad props to him), and we all had a wonderful time.
  4. I got off my butt and started walking. I walked and walked and walked – almost 300 miles starting in the fall – and left nearly 30 pounds behind. I feel better and have retired a significant part of my wardrobe (significant both in size and in quantity). Better health led me to sign up for two fun runs late this year: the Girl Scouts Run for the Cookies and the Hot Chocolate 5K. We ran these as a family, creating more memories.
  5. I became more active in a private Facebook group for writers. This amazing group of people from all around the world is inspiring and motivating and supportive. We are collaborating on an anthology and I committed to writing a piece. It was hard, but I wrote it and gave it to two friends to beta read and edited it and submitted it and am so glad I did. Now I have to work on my bio, which I think may actually be harder to write than the original piece. I’m toying with, “Amy Zlatic lives, writes, photographs, mothers, wifes, plays and works in St. Louis, Missouri. She owns a cat that sneezes constantly. She likes pickles.”
  6. Because M retired the Christmas display, we were able to do the fun runs and more together. We decorated our tree as a family. We spent a Saturday in St. Charles to support a friend’s book launch and enjoyed the kick-off for the holiday season on Main Street. We’ve done Wild Lights at the Zoo and Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows. Never in my marriage have I had so much access to my husband before and even during the holidays. When people ask if I miss the display I am honest. No, I do not miss it. I spent too many years missing my husband. I’ve fallen in love all over again, with him and with the season.
  7. I won my second NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this time finishing the middle grade novel I began last year. I haven’t brought myself to print the entire thing out yet to start editing (and oh boy does it need editing) but that’s on the 2017 to-do list. Word says it’s 323 pages. Not sure I’m ready to kill a tree yet, but I know it’s inevitable. It’s too hard to edit properly on-screen. I need hard copy and a red pen. And lots of coffee.
  8. I grew closer to two wonderful women who support me and love me and accept me and make me feel not so crazy. These women inspire me and motivate me every single day to try to be a better person. I love them and their families, and feel so grateful they have fully embraced me and my family. One of them actually happens to be extended family, which is just icing on the cake. (She can’t get rid of me, ever!) They taught me patience and the insanely valuable lesson of “Always respond in love.”
  9. We road-tripped to Cincinnati and enjoyed a jam-packed weekend full of fun and family. I don’t think we could have crammed more into that weekend, which included a Cardinals-Reds game, a big family bike ride, shopping, and a Labor Day party complete with fireworks and Boom! I love our Cincy family so much my heart hurts when I think about how much I miss them.
  10. Zoe participated in two piano competitions and earned highest marks in each. She continues to stun us with her talent, and I continue to marvel at the fact that I get to regularly cook dinner and clean the house to live piano music. At the second competition, she exited in tears, convinced that her errors had tanked her score. There was a lot of snuggling and reassurances and discussion over what to do to not feel that way ever again (more practice!). She was shocked to later learn she had received highest marks, and her teacher told her, “It’s not about the mistakes. It’s about how you recover, how you keep going.” What a great lesson for us all.
  11. I read so many good books. So, so many, including two books by writers of color which reshaped my world view. The last book I read in 2016 was “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ll be chewing on that one for a long, long time. I highly recommend, but offer this caveat if you are not a reader of color: you absolutely must go into it with an openness to accept that your point of view can be – and should be – challenged.
  12. My dad recovered from lung cancer and surgery. My colleague is in the final stages of chemo and has beaten leukemia. Our cousin had successful surgery and appears to be doing remarkably well. For all of this, I am grateful and relieved. They’re all staying on the daily prayer list, though. Just to be sure.
  13. For the first time in my life, I voted for a president who looks like me. Even though she didn’t win, I have a new sense of purpose and resolve. I never again want to feel like I felt on November 9, when I was overwhelmed with feelings of, “I could have done more.” I am now exploring involvement with She Should Run and EMILY’S List.
  14. When my work friend was diagnosed with leukemia, I volunteered to take his advisory until he recovered. I had no idea what I was getting into, taking on nine boys freshman through senior. It’s way more work than I anticipated, but the rewards far outstrip the work. I was also asked tasked with the position of faculty moderator for the yearbook, overseeing four seniors who are the editors. I have grown very fond of all of these students, and find myself worrying about them and championing them like a mother hen. It has been my privilege to take all of this on, and I’ve received far more than I’ve given. They make me laugh every day, and they challenge me in the best possible way. This has injected a new passion into my professional life.
  15. I rode a camel. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  16. When I couldn’t attend the big NYE family bash, I sent my family on without me. My husband, who shall be henceforth known as The Greatest Husband in the World, came back home to check on me and bring me food from the party. He sat and watched Parenthood with me while I sniffled and wheezed on the couch. When he was at the party, he texted and called me, so I didn’t feel quite so alone. And right before midnight, he and Zoe returned and made Sprite and orange juice mocktails so we could ring in the new year together. It was pretty damn special.

Come to think of it, there are a helluva lot more than 16 things to be grateful for last year. Happy New Year, my friends. Hang on, because I think 2017 will be a wild ride.

Pop Goes The Small Town

We drove to Cincinnati for Labor Day weekend, and on the way home we drove through Brazil, Indiana, population 7,912, seat of Clay County. And no longer, unfortunately, Home of the Popcorn Festival. That slogan, emblazoned upon the tallest structure in all the land (a water tower), is now tragically outdated. We saw the water tower, and in a quirky mood to find fun, new places to visit, I googled it. “Maybe we can come back for the Popcorn Festival,” I chirped, as Zoe dozed in the backseat and M concentrated on not running into the idiots on the highway who camp out in the left lane going 15 mph slower than everyone else.

The first site that popped up is an article from the Brazil Times: “End of a tradition: No more Popcorn Festival.” I sighed and read the headline to M. “Why don’t they do it anymore?” he asked. “I dunno. Lemme read the article.”

There is a rich history of the Popcorn Festival in Brazil, Indiana. Turns out that the popcorn king of the world, Orville Redenbacher, was from Clay County, and a few enterprising Brazil volunteers thought it’d be great to honor him with a fun festival in a local park. The article goes on to explain that after a decade, the volunteers went to the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board with a request. “Hey, like, we thought it’d be cool if we could serve beer at the Popcorn Festival. Wouldn’t that be delicious?” And the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board said, “Yeah. NO. No beer. This is a family event and if there’s beer there people might have a good time and God knows we don’t want that.” And so the fine, beer-loving volunteers went, “Fine. Then we’re taking our Popcorn Festival and going home. NO POPCORN FOR YOU.”

This festival wasn’t just some random dude in an Orville Redenbacher costume poppin’ some corn in one of those fancy moveable popcorn carts. This was a serious festival. It was even, “after some legwork,” a member of the Indiana State Festival Association. These people weren’t messing around. That’s some serious gravitas, being a member of ISFA. They don’t let just anyone into ISFA. You’ve gotta do some serious legwork. They also got ConAgra Foods, which makes Orville Redenbacher products, to donate $10,000 to start the festival. 10k is a lot of popcorn. It grew to a four-day event, drawing around 20,000 visitors. Local and regional talent provided performances and food. There was even a carnival for the children.

And then the killjoys at the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board ruined everything.

I related all of this to M, which wasn’t really newsworthy but helped pass the time as we drove through the oblivion of mid-western Indiana.

And then…and then I clicked on the comments link.

The Popcorn Festival debacle has engendered much debate in the sleepy community of Brazil. Some people support the Board’s decision because alcohol is evil and should be banned from the earth and those thoughtless and selfish festival volunteers were endangering children with their reckless suggestion. Other people point out that a golf course that neighbors the park serves alcohol all the time and there doesn’t seem to be a problem. The more I read, the more I laughed. I shared with M, and he stopped cursing at the slow drivers and started laughing, too. Here are some of my favorite comments offered by the citizens, present and past, of Brazil, with my comments following in italics (I left the comments unedited to retain the…ah…colloquial voice of Brazil, Indiana):

I have come to really dislike the annual rotary festival. It has gotten so lame over the years. I really looked forward to the popcorn festival.

Slamming the rotary festival won’t bring back the popcorn festival, dude. Plus, those party cats at the rotary probably serve beer, so maybe tie one on and you’ll have a good time.

Somehow Orville Redenbacher does not strike me as a beer drinker. Besides, We have enough idiots in this town without allowing them to get drunk at our park.

I think Orville Redenbacher loved beer. I mean, c’mon. He’s German.

the reason to not allow alcohol sales is bunk.the city lost their ***** with the forth of july due to rain,and when you figure in the expense of the new skate park and the expense of the new nature trail at craig park and the upcoming expense of the ALLEDGED four million for street repairs which will never happen,city hall forced the popcorn fest out.personally id rather see fourth of july fest gone,but the city hall knows better than take on rotary

Again with the Rotary. I’m starting to wonder if those party cats at the Rotary weren’t behind this whole thing.

[T]he decision to dissolve was for other reasons than the beer/wine tent. We knew the board would say NO. It was what happened after that which showed the ugly side of Clay County. Trust me, you can call any member and get facts of what happened about many scary and threatening calls and the actions of disgruntled festival members who left.

Okay, some serious shit was going down in Clay County. Scary and threatening calls? Damn. These people take their Popcorn Festival seriously. Someone might want to check into whether the Rotarians are into burner phones.

I cannot really believe in the backwardness of this city and its officials for letting this to come to happen, I for one believe that mayor was just like our governor and the only causes he believes in is his own and what he can gain for his own agenda,,,, this is just another step in local dictatorship and to hell with everyone elses ideas to foster new ideas in our community,,, also for all of you church goers throwing out all those scary and threatening calls I am sure our lord is looking upon you in disgust,,,, for those of you who forgot jesus did make wine and hand it out to everyone…..also stop worrying about everyone else and take care of your meth head kids and mulletheads as you described them in other posts because the real problems lie in your own home and so called virtues,,,,,, this is my vent to you all that know all but know nothing

“Meth head kids and mulletheads” is now my favorite phrase.

I believe they should paint on the tower BRAZIL HOME OF BACKWARDNESS DON’T STOP HERE

But that won’t attract 20,000 people to Brazil, so you’re totally losing a four-day boost to the local economy. No, better to paint something like, “Brazil: Don’t mess with the Rotarians.”

There should not be alcohol where are kids and grandkids are present. There is not enough in brazil for families to do, and yet you do away with one of the functions everyone enjoys. It is to bad we have to go out of town to eat, shop and enjoy ourselves, I guess people can go to the corn festival in Sullivan, and give our money to Sullivan.

Great news, there’s always the Corn Festival in Sullivan! A great alternative to the drunken, evil Rotary Festival. Woot!

I live very close to the park and the last thing I want to see is drunk people on my lawn or driving cars.

I live close to a park, which has a bar right on the other side of it, and I’ve never seen drunk people on my lawn. Well, I’ve never seen drunk people I don’t know on my lawn. Just sayin’. Also, no one wants to see drunk people driving, regardless of where they’re coming from. The Popcorn Festival doesn’t corner the market on people behaving badly.

I don’t believe, as stated in some of the posts, we would have seen people walking around with beers, drunk. It would have been a beer garden just like at Terre Haute’s Octoberfest or the Little Italy Festival in Clinton. Yes, there are some small minded people in Brazil who don’t like change, but please don’t tar all the people here with that brush.

Oh, now we’re throwing around even more festival names. That’s right, give the people more places to spend their money outside of Brazil. Keep screwing those blasted Rotarians. And I’m sorry, but ya’all tarred yourselves with this awesome comment section.

I vote to eliminate all of the park board members and start from scratch!!

Great idea! I nominate the cool people from the Popcorn Festival. They’ve got loads of spare time now.

I know others will disagree, but in all the years I went to the popcorn festival I never got free popcorn. I was always charged.

Perhaps my most favorite comment. In the midst of a fervent debate involving drunken debauchery, volunteers, popcorn, politics, and meth head kids, this guy is whining that he didn’t get free popcorn, dammit.

All because of no alcohol? What a major cop out!!! That’s okay, I will go to the REAL popcorn fest in Valparaiso, Indiana where the ORVILLE REDENBACHER factory is located, that one is SOOOOOOOOO much better then this little cheesy festival anyway!!!! I HATE BRAZIL more and more each day!!! It has become the armpit of Clay County!

Dude, there is no reason on God’s green earth you have to stay in Brazil. Move already. Move out of the armpit. I hear Valparaiso is nice. Also, if Brazil is the armpit now, where was the armpit before? And how did they dig out of that? My guess? Popcorn and Beer Festival.

I can’t wait untill my house is sold so we can move out of this rat hole town…This town will NEVER amount to anything…

Good luck selling that craphole with all this negative publicity. Who in the hell wants to move to the town that drove out the Popcorn Festival but kept the meth and the mullets?

Wow! It looks like the decision to end the Popcorn Festival is having some unintended ripple effects. According to a tweet I got from one of the TribStar’s writers, it looks like there is already a Twitter campaign to come up with a new slogan for Brazil’s water towers. The Twitter account for the campaign is @BrazilH20Tower (Brazil Water Tower)

Okay, there is a lot to work with here. First of all, what should be an O in the handle is a 0, which isn’t right. It’s O for oxygen, people. Water is two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. H20 is twenty atoms of hydrogen. Which, last time I checked, isn’t water. But of course you know I went out to Twitter to find this. Last post was in February 2015. The Brazil Water Tower hates Tom Brady and redneck hunters. My favorite tweet is, “Thought I’d take a moment this evening to remind you all that I still have something about that old popcorn festival tattooed on my ass.” The tower has also taken credit for several water main leaks, demanding action in the form of a repaint in exchange for stopping the chaos. Genius.

I am sorry this has happened. The popcorn festival is a whole lot cleaner then the 4th of July festival. Since Johnny United left we have crappy festivals. My daughter said she is gonna start taking her kids to the Terre Haute festivals they are cleaner and cheaper. At least the popcorn festival was a clean one to go to. But that is the Brazil way, sorry folks Brazil does not know how to grow it is just a welfare town.

Everyone gets a festival…except Brazil. I’m feeling more and more sorry for the bloke trying to sell his home in Brazil.

I was raised there and am very glad I no longer “exist” in that backward area of a meth lab.

Seriously, real estate values have got to be plummeting here. Might be a good investment, though, if you’re still into mullets. Or meth.

I’ll just go to the park with my own popcorn.

Yes! Finally! A real go-getter! Way to show initiative! Watch out for the meth head kids and the drunks from the neighboring golf course, though.

This town is slowly dying, and I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for that news. We long ago stopped going to the Rotary Celebration, and quite frankly, Forest Park altogether. And the other parks(Wheeler, Craig) are populated by punks and questionable adults. You would have to let me drink a beer to tolerate some of the behavior I’ve witnessed in this town! Even on a trip to McDonalds, we hear foul language and see disrespect. We just take our $ and spend it elsewhere, as I suspect others do also. BRAZIL IS DYING(slow but sure)

I hate to break it to you, but the world right now is full of foul language and disrespect. Brazil isn’t anything special in that regard. Also, ya’all gotta quit piling on the poor Rotarians. Seriously. This is starting to look like you’re eating your young. The town isn’t that big, so how many innocent Rotarians have you upset with your boycotts and your Doomsday predictions? Those people are old. Cut them some slack.

Let me ad, we do have grandchildren and we know that the town pride we felt growing up will never be shared by them. We take them out of town for shopping, eating out, swimming, playgrounds, movies, etc. etc. the list goes on and on. We recently needed a wrench for a plumbing job, and had to go to Terre Haute to buy one. (Couldn’t find one in town)

No Popcorn Festival and no wrenches?! To hell with this piece of shit town!

what good things are in our town,none that I see of a police force that cant solve crimes unless they have a traffic stop a mayor that keeps adding on tax hikes and rate increases and hasn’t done anything for a good job in this town, a park where if you have a family gathering you have to pay thru the nose,,,,by the way my brazil city tax dollars help pay for it and I still have to pay streets and storm sewers and even city sewers flood and a mayor that doesn’t even consider hiring in house help, did you even know when he got in office he let the past administration help go

I’m beginning to think Brazil has way bigger problems than the Popcorn Festival. Call me crazy.

Top 10 slogans to put on the water tower

  1. Welcome to Brazil: Home of 4th of July Carnival. Where teeth, shirts, and deodorants are optional, but we don’t like beer.
  2. Welcome to Brazil: Come to Jesusfest in the Forest Park. He may actually show up.
  3. Ahh Brazil…disagreeing with evolution since 1913.
  4. Brazil, Indiana. Where prohibition never died.
  5. Brazil Indiana: where the park board supervisor can make 105 by adding 103+2+1.
  6. Brazil: Where the Park superintendent can be a citizen, then an official, then a citizen, then an official.
  7. Brazil: If you’re gonna murder a teenage girl, this is the place. We haven’t solved a murder in years.
  8. Brazil: Where we believe in Jesus, but even the cows sleep with one eye open.
  9. Brazil, Indiana: we’re nowhere near as open-minded as that country in Europe or wherever it is.
  10. Brazil, Indiana: Where we spell “park”: C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N!!!

No comment necessary.

And to the “citizen” that states that Brazil can’t solve murders…I suggest you go back and do some simple research. I can only think of a couple that have yet to be, and know of many that were resolved.

Um. How many murders are there in a town of 7,912?

The only threat those golfers pose is having to look at those stupid pants they wear. As long as they keep their booze in that building that no one worth their salt goes into anyway, I am good! If I see someone drinking booze in the main park area, I WILL report them. I hate liquor and I do not want my kids around it. It does not belong in the park. If you want to drink, go to one of the many stupid bars in town. That is what they are there for.

So, to be clear, in this comment section we’ve insulted the Popcorn Festival volunteers, the Parks and Recreation Board, citizens of Brazil, the mayor, the police force, bar owners, and golfers.

As for the water tower…my question is, how did it get painted the way it is to begin with? Who made that call? I don’t remember any public input or public meetings where this would have been discussed.

Okay, now we’re really getting to the heart of the matter. Forget the threatening calls, the unsolved murders, the wandering drunken golfers in bad pants. WHO APPROVED THE WATER TOWER PAINTING ANYWAY? WHO?

I don’t understand what the big deal is about the Water Tower, Why do you think it should be painted at this time..just leave it alone. It will be alright.

Finally, a voice of reason.

Why can’t we have fun sober?

This here article and comment section is undeniable proof that we can indeed have fun sober.


Thank you, Brazil Water Tower, and the citizens who live in its shadow. You are awesome. All of you. Even the Rotarians.