My Red Shoe Diary

Viv Dangling Her Red Mila Boots

Do you have a favorite pair of shoes you love? I do. Right now, they are a pair of red Mila boots from Allen’s Boots in Austin, Texas. I have always been drawn to the color red. I think I inherited that trait from my Grandma Schmidt (my mom’s mom). As far back as I can remember, she wore red. Red clothes and shoes, red lipstick, red fingernails, and for many years, she even dyed her hair red. I always admired her boldness and loved that she was so flashy.

Vivian Cumins Childhood Red ShoesI got my first pair of red shoes when I was five. My mom purchased them from the Goodwill store in Chickasha, Oklahoma. They were made of shiny patent leather and had a little chunk heel. A small strap crossed the top of my foot and joined a buckle on the side, and if you looked closely, you could see tiny hearts on the sides too. They were beautiful, and I felt like a princess when I wore them. And I wore them, literally, every day.

At five years old, my sense of style was questionable to say the least, as I paired those fancy red shoes with everything. Dresses, pants, shorts—it didn’t matter to me. I had a “no sock” rule that accompanied my fashion statement, and with that rule came severe consequences. My feet would sweat from hours of outdoor play and by the time I came in for dinner and a bath, my feet were filthy from a mixture of sweat and red Oklahoma dirt. Dare I even mention the smell? It was horrendous. My sweet mom knew how much I loved those shoes. I suspect she wanted to just throw the nasty little things into the garbage, but she did her best to eliminate the odor by pouring baby powder in them in the hopes it would soak up the stench. It never worked.

I wore those red patent leather shoes until the day I could no longer squeeze my growing feet into them. It was a sad day to have to say goodbye. Well, sad for me—my mom was probably overjoyed. Forty-three years later, I am happy to report I have a new favorite pair of red shoes. However, the old saying holds true … a girl never really forgets her first love. Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes!


Little Miss Perfect

Colorful Roped Throw Rug

Nobody’s perfect. Things happen. We make mistakes. So, what makes a five-year-old little girl strive so hard for perfection? One would think a five-year-old’s life would be full of imagination, baby dolls, and Barbies—not anxiety, worry, and the need for everything to be “just so.” But for me, everything had to be perfect. I had to be perfect.

MemoryBlogger Vivian Cumins, Age 5, KindergartenMy first memory regarding this notion of perfection took place at West Elementary School in Ms. Clayton’s kindergarten class during naptime.

The carpeted area in the corner of the classroom was reserved for watching Sesame Street in the mornings and taking short naps in the afternoons. Each of us kids brought either a small blanket or a large beach towel to lie on. Those who were serious about naptime also had pillows. Not me, though. I recall my bedding looking different from the others. Mine resembled a roped throw rug but was softer and more flexible. I thought the thick woven threads of bright red, green, yellow, and purple were pretty. The texture was unusual, but I didn’t care.

I was always the last one down. One by one, the other kids would toss their bedding to the floor, curl up, and drift off to sleep … but not me. While everyone else was enjoying a siesta, I was busy fanning my throw rug. I needed it to lay flat and straight before I could lie on it. Most days, it took many attempts to get it right, but every now and then, I would get it right the first time. This was my daily ritual.

Ms. Clayton exercised great patience with me, so the day she snapped came as a total shock. Perhaps I had fanned my rug one too many times or maybe she was just having a bad day. Regardless, her tone that day suggested she was in no mood to put up with me or my ritual. From across the room, Ms. Clayton called out my name and said, “You do that one more time, and you are going to get a spanking!”

What?? Spanking? What had I done wrong? Embarrassed and confused, I let the rug fall to the floor and climbed on top of it. I tried to straighten it with my arms and legs, but it was difficult to do from a horizontal position. Less than satisfied, I felt my embarrassment and confusion quickly turning to anger toward Ms. Clayton—not because she yelled at me in front of the other kids but because she forced me to accept mediocrity.

Did you know perfectionism in children is common? According to child development researcher Katie Rasmussen, as many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists. The good news is there is a plethora of resources available to parents nowadays. For instance, check out this article on How to Help Your Perfectionist Kid. It is a good, easy read.

For those of you who may be wondering … no, that incident did not stop my ritual. I just worked harder at getting my rug to lay flat the first time. And yes, I still struggle with perfectionism, but I have learned a lot over the years. I am a work in progress. In fact, I only rewrote this story three times instead of four!


Hi, I’m a Military Spouse

Eddy and Vivian Cumins

I became a military spouse when I was only 19 years old. I remember feeling both nervous and excited the day we gave our lives to Uncle Sam. I say “our” lives because a military lifestyle affects the entire family, which is something the Air Force recruiter failed to mention during his sales pitch. Instead, he boasted how the Air Force was going to take great care of us. The service, he said, would pay for college, give us a housing allowance, provide free medical and dental, and fit the bill for worldwide travel.

Eddy Cumins with Vivian at Military RetirementAll true. Every bit of it. He had us eating out of the palm of his hand in minutes. Looking back now, I suspect his failure to highlight the challenges we would face—I would face—was more intentional than accidental. After all, he was a recruiter with monthly quotas to meet.

Nevertheless, I embraced my new role, and, for 20 years, I proudly served as an Air Force spouse. Here are a handful of observations and lessons learned from my journey:

  1. When your spouse signs the dotted line to serve our country, the whole family begins a life of service before self. The needs of the country will come before yours.
  2. Finances are tight in the beginning. The resources offered to military families regarding financial planning are invaluable.
  3. Getting involved in a military spouse group ensures you are never alone, despite living away from home or in foreign lands.
  4. Family Readiness Centers are situated in every military branch to promote self-sufficiency, mission-readiness, and overall adaptation to the military lifestyle.
  5. The service member is on the clock 24/7. This means they will be late to evening meals; miss dance recitals and birthday parties; and frequently cancel date night. Expressing forgiveness and understanding toward the service member is honorable and appreciated.
  6. The first deployment is terrifying. No amount of preparation or briefings prepare you for the experience. Relying on faith and leaning on your military family, family, and friends helps you to get through it.
  7. Subsequent deployments are just as terrifying and never get easier—they simply provide additional tools to equip you for the next one.
  8. Practicing good OPSEC (operational security) during deployments keeps your service member and our country safe. This include being mindful of what is said to family members and what is posted in email and on social media regarding the deployed location.
  9. Every moment counts when your service member contacts you while deployed downrange. This is not the time to argue, complain, or fuss with your spouse. The reasons why this is so important go without saying.
  10. Never be afraid to ask others for help.
  11. Learning the customs and courtesies surrounding the National Anthem, Retreat, and Reveille—and adhering to them—is respectful and expected.
  12. A military spouse is considered a dependent, and their actions affect the service member. My husband was counseled many times regarding my speeding tickets on base and overdue library books!
  13. It is imperative to keep children’s routines as normal as possible while your service member is gone.
  14. Kids are resilient and typically bounce back quickly; however, changing schools, friends, and scenery every two to four years is not easy for them. Seeking resources to assist with the moves will help them cope.
  15. Having the conversation about funeral arrangements, living wills, and military death benefits stinks but is necessary.
  16. Taking care of yourself benefits not only you but those you care about as well. Nurturing your spiritual well-being and ensuring you eat nutritious foods, drink plenty of water, get some exercise, and sleep at least eight hours will give you strength to be present for others.
  17. Allow time for transition after a deployment. Patience, understanding, communication, and prayer go a long way toward helping you settle back into your normal routine.
  18. Flexibility is paramount. Nothing goes as planned—ever, but the sacrifices are worth it.
  19. Not everyone gets to travel the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. Making the most out of every assignment ensures you have a great military experience.
  20. Purchasing a few formal outfits to have on hand for formal dinners, dining-ins, and military balls saves you the trouble of last-minute shopping. Nowadays, there are places you can rent formal attire for such occasions. Check Rent the Runway, an online service that provides designer dresses and accessory rentals.
  21. People who are not military will not understand anything about the lifestyle. Leaning on your new military family for support will help you avoid frustration and disappointment.
  22. Once a military spouse, always a military spouse. Sharing stories, becoming a mentor, writing a blog, and donating time or resources are ways to keep serving long after retirement.

God bless our current, separated, and retired service members … and a special thank-you to those who bravely love, honor, and support them—my sister and brother, you rock!


Grandma Schmidt’s Green Stuff

Green Stuff

My Grandma Schmidt was the best cook in the universe. I could go on for days telling you about all her yummy homemade creations, but today’s story is set aside for my favorite dessert—Green Stuff.

Because my family lived in Oklahoma and Grandma and Grandpa Schmidt lived in Iowa, we didn’t get to see them as much as any of us would have liked. But when we did get to visit, Grandma would spend hours preparing a variety of special treats for us. She would make coffee cakes, bars, cookies, gooey pull-apart monkey bread, and Green Stuff.

Its official name was Watergate Salad, but when you are three, you tend to call it like you see it, and the pistachio pudding mix used as the main ingredient turned the sweet, fluffy dessert green. I think Grandma put extra marshmallows in there for my benefit because every bite spilled over with them. She also served it up for breakfast (also for my benefit), although it really wasn’t a breakfast item. She would display the pretty dessert in a large bowl smack dab in the middle of the table amid the sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, grapefruit, toast, homemade jam, and cinnamon rolls. My mom knew she was outnumbered and lacked control over what Grandma chose to serve her guests, but that didn’t stop her from shooting me a stern look for diving right into the Green Stuff before even nibbling any meat or eggs.

My entire life, Grandma always had a batch of Green Stuff waiting for me when I came to visit. Every bite would immediately take me back to when I was three. Even though I had grown into an adult, she never let up on the marshmallows—it still overflowed with them, and I never minded. She eventually gave me the recipe, and I began making it for my own daughter. She is now 28 years old with a family of her own, and when I ask her what special treat she wants when they come to visit, without skipping a beat, she says, “Green Stuff!”

What food items take you back to your childhood? Below is the recipe for Watergate Salad, a.k.a. Grandma Schmidt’s Green Stuff.


Grandma Schmidt’s Green Stuff

1 box of pistachio Jell-O instant pudding mix
1 can of crushed pineapple (in juice; do not drain!)
1 jar of maraschino cherries (drained)
1 bag of miniature marshmallows
1 cup of chopped walnuts
1 tub of Cool Whip

Combine ingredients, fold in Cool Whip. Chill for an hour, then enjoy!

Backseat Vacations

Vintage Car Steering Wheel and Dashboard

My family never took exotic summer vacations when I was growing up. There were no trips to the beach or weeklong voyages to Disneyland. We never boarded an airplane or stayed in a hotel. Instead, we road-tripped to Iowa, the land of endless cornfields, grain bins, and silos—and home to Melvin and Opal Schmidt, a.k.a. Grandma and Grandpa. I loved going to Grandma’s house, but even more, I loved the journey to Grandma’s house. For my parents and older sister, Vicki, our vacation started once we reached our destination. For me, vacation began in the backseat.

Made it to Grandma's House (Family Vacay, Iowa, 1977)
Made it to Grandma’s house (family vacation, Iowa, 1977)

Backseat vacations meant my mom would take me to TG&Y to pick out a few boredom busters for the trip. I would thoroughly examine the shelves stocked with toys, books, and trinkets and then selectively choose either a deck of Old Maid cards or an activity book. I loved activity books! They were full of coloring pages, connect-the-dots, and word-find puzzles. Sometimes I talked my mom into buying me a new box of crayons, too. As I got older, my mom still took me to the store prior to our trip, but my choices evolved over time. Instead of activity books and crayons, I chose TigerBeat magazines filled with pictures of teen heartthrobs such as Scott Baio and Shaun Cassidy.

The night before our nine-hour journey, I watched my dad map out our trip with the help of his oversized Atlas. For those of you unfamiliar with an Atlas, it is a book of printed maps that lists every highway, byway, road, and street within the United States. There was no such thing as GPS back then—the Atlas was our GPS. And my dad was a professional at reading them.

While my dad figured out the logistics, my mom prepared lunches and snacks for our mobile picnic. The main course included three types of sandwiches: peanut butter, ham, and bologna with mustard—all on white Wonder bread. Paired with the sandwiches was a large bag of Ruffles potato chips. For snacks, she stocked up on pretzels, crackers, and cookies. Drinks were a variety of Shasta pop—I always called dibs on the root beer. Mom neatly wrapped each pop can in aluminum foil before placing in the cooler. She said the foil kept them colder longer.

The backseat belonged exclusively to Vicki and me; it was our domain. Shoe removal, though not mandatory, was the first order of business, followed by pillow placement. The left side belonged to Vicki, and the right belonged to me. The space between us was reserved for our store-bought activities, which we would get to later—the first few hours were spent giggling and playing “Slug-bug,” “Rock-Paper-Scissors,” and “I-Spy.”

Naps ultimately followed, and, luckily for us, the backseat was long enough for Vicki and me to stretch out. Since seatbelts were simply a suggestion back then, my dad shoved the buckles into the seat cracks so they wouldn’t poke us while we slept. The humming sound of tires rolling down the highway lulled me to sleep in a matter of seconds. I slept like a rock in the backseat. I recall times when my mom had to shake me awake for a bathroom break.

Pitstops took place at either the Sinclair or Texaco gas station. As a little girl, I didn’t like the Sinclair station because it had a big, green brontosaurus statue out front. I knew the dinosaur wasn’t real, but it freaked me out. I still don’t like the Sinclair dinosaur.

Except for gas stops, my dad always drove straight through, which made my fidgety body uncomfortable. I loved backseat vacations, but leg stretches were few, and that made me cranky. Whiny inquiries of whether we were there yet would begin to invade the car after approximately seven hours. The whiny inquires came from me. My mom’s responses were always “no”—until fields of corn stalks came into full view. Only then would she tell us to put our shoes on. We were almost there!

From the front porch, Grandma and Grandpa waved as we pulled into the drive. Big hugs and lipstick kisses smothered us before they escorted us inside, where Grandma’s delicious food was waiting for us at the kitchen table. Before going in, I would take one look back at the car. My backseat vacation was officially over, but I wasn’t sad. I would get to go on another in two weeks when we headed back home.


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