The one about impersonating an officer

bffIt’s been 25 years since my first concert with this lady. We were 12 years old when my dad took my best friend and me to see Dwight Yoakam in San Benito, Texas. We stood behind a group of rowdy teenage boys who were drinking Miller Lite and swearing like sailors when my dad stepped in and posed as a TABC agent. That’s the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and I wouldn’t learn until a few years later that the acronym alone struck fear into the hearts of beer-drinking high-schoolers where I grew up. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for those boys to act right. We got to see Mr. Yoakam again recently – this time in Austin – and his inimitable twang took me right back to that show in 1992. If there’s a statute of limitations on impersonating an officer on behalf of your tween daughter and her BFF, I hope it’s run out by now.


When the courage and irony of parenting becomes loud and clear.

Sometimes it’s time to suck it up and do the thing that makes you uncomfortable. For me, it was writing this guest post for author Catia Holm on the irony of parenthood and drawing courage from unexpected places. Here’s a snippet:

For crying out loud

True confession: I hate loud noises.

I hate loud noises and I have twin stepsons. Naturally, loud is part of the package. “Loud” is in their bones. “Loud” is the very definition of who they are when they’re together. But the truth is that I seriously loathe loud. God’s honest truth is that anxiety shoots right up my spine at the first sounds of those inevitable screams between young brothers running through the house.

This so-called “noise sensitivity” is part of who I am as an adult child of an alcoholic, or an ACOA, as we call ‘em. Yeah, there’s an acronym for that. When unpredictable commotion is a regular part of your environment growing up, it can create a visceral reaction in pretty normal situations as an adult. So now I’m the grown-up. And my kids are the ones, well, being kids.

So I close my eyes when the disorder takes over. I take deep breaths. I talk myself down from that loud ledge of uneasiness when the twin tornado comes roaring through the living room. When the television is deafening. When it sounds like a herd of elephants are tap dancing upstairs. Sometimes it works. But sometimes it doesn’t.

The back patio provides some relief, although I can often hear the sibling rivalry from out there. And that’s when I ask myself, “Is it them? Or is it me?” It doesn’t take long to decide it’s me. I’m the adult after all. Or at least I’m supposed to be.

And then I pray for Patience to show herself. Thankfully, Wisdom is usually nearby to tap my shoulder with a gentle reminder that although our childhood experiences influence the present, they don’t have to dictate our reactions.

On one particular occasion, I sat on that patio in a panic of self-doubt, feeling angry and unfit to parent.

Read the rest of this post (including the cringe-worthy text message that slapped me with a dose of reality) at

One thing I know about marriage one year in.


A year ago, I stood patiently waiting out of sight to marry Mr. Wonderful when one of my best gals turned to me and said, “You’re the calmest bride I’ve ever seen.”

I was calm. I took a look at the people sitting there waiting for the ceremony to begin. MY people. OUR people. They’d come all the way to Mexico to celebrate the Neel Nuptials with well wishes and wine and The Wobble. I was in awe of this gesture of presence – both simple and grand at the same time. It was the kind of warmth that flooded my heart with enormous gratitude.

Even then I knew that evening’s purpose was so much bigger than a wedding. It reminded me to keep showing up for my husband. Keep showing up for my sons. For my people. For myself.

Read the rest of this post at Austin Mom’s Blog.


When travel reality bites

laundromatSAN SEBASTIAN, Spain – The reality of travel includes stomach bugs and laundry days. Even so, I was thankful for a partner who’s here for me in sickness and in health because last night I was racked with fever and chills that kept me from the dinner I so desired in a city dotted with Michelin-star restaurants. He ordered in. And I lay in the hotel bed praying for a reprieve. Today, we spent our last morning in San Sebastian at the local laundromat. Me, still not quite right. My head on his lap while he did a crossword puzzle. And that, folks, is real life.

When ‘qualified’ simply means willing and able to love.

reyna headshot

Does this pic make me look qualified to write about motherhood?

Earlier this year, a friend emailed me with a link to an open call for writers and a note:

“Thought of you. I think they could use a different mom and family perspective.”

The link took me to Austin Moms Blog. Say whaaaaaaat?

A mommy blogger? I smirked. I was skeptical to say the least. Mostly because as a stepmama, I struggle on the daily with feeling like a legit parent. Even though I’ve watched our twins grow from preschoolers to nearly third-graders, it’s still hard to believe I’m in charge of little people sometimes.

And then, when it sunk in that this friend actually thought of ME when she saw “mother” and “writer” in the same sentence, I was kind of flattered. As a bonus mama, it’s easy to feel vastly underqualified to raise not one, but two small humans you didn’t birth yourself. But then again, what makes one qualified, really? Compassion. Patience. A sense of humor. Intense adoration for their father. Not a bad place to start, eh?

After all, many women are made mothers by children who were borne not from their wombs, but from their hearts.

The more I thought about my friend’s suggestion, the more I felt confident that I could offer at least some skeptical stepmoms or frustrated bio moms a positive perspective on blended families.

So I waited two weeks. And then I gave myself a pep talk and I applied. I submitted writing samples like this one. And this one. And then two weeks later, I thought the blog’s co-founder had the wrong number when she called and asked to speak to me.

Friends, I’m totally honored (and intimidated) to have been chosen to share my adventures in parenthood with other mothers. And it doesn’t matter how you became one – because what I’ve come to understand is that we’re all just learning as we go.

So now you can find me at Austin Moms Blog! Weeeeeeeird. Will you humor me and read along?

Signs he might be your soulmate.

thumb war.JPG
The secret to a healthy marriage: Thumb War

The definition of a soulmate is subjective, of course, but I’m convinced we have many soulmates in our lifetimes – male and female alike. These are people who have left an indelible mark on our lives, passing along wisdom in some season when we needed it the most. And in my experience, these soulmates mostly show up in one of two forms: calm or chaotic. Some fleeting. Some enduring. My husband rides the calm and enduring train – with hilarity and harmony always one stop away. His telltale soulmate signs show up in all kinds of places. Here’s how I know:

1. He might be your soulmate if: He doesn’t bat an eyelash when you tell him he’s gonna have to dry off post-shower with one of the two flimsy beach towels we own because I donated all of our bath towels to the dog shelter. (Our wedding registry later solved that one.) Thankful.

2. He might be your soulmate if: He seeks out $5 toothpaste in an attempt to help you avoid a common ingredient known as sodium laurel sulfate because he knows it irritates your extra sensitive skin. I can only picture my sweet scientist reading the fine print on my behalf. Ditto on sunscreen, shampoo and soap. Salud.

3. He might be your soulmate if: You get stumped with hard parenthood questions, like “What’s a pimp?” and he fills in the gaps without missing a beat. (Hint: “I don’t know” is apparently an acceptable answer.)

4. He might be your soulmate if: He dutifully doles out your wiener dog’s meds when you are out of town. Bonus points if he admits it’s good practice for when you get old. Wait …

5. He might be your soulmate (and a damn fine gentleman) if: He still opens your car door. This is major and I still gawk incredulously every time he does it.

6. He might be your soulmate if: He puts his cologne on OUTSIDE because he knows the lingering smell inside the house is a migraine trigger. God bless him.

7. He might be your soulmate if: He can untangle your bird’s nest of necklaces.

8. He might be your soulmate if: He celebrates the mundane with champagne. Shout out to Living Room Dance Party and Pajama Battleship.

9. He might be your soulmate if: He lays the cooking compliments on thick, even when it ain’t so good. (I see you, Sugar-Free Muffins, and I WILL perfect you. Or not.)

10. He might be your soulmate if: He cleans the bathtub because he knows how much you hate to do it yourself. (Sing hallelujah.)

11. He might be your soulmate if: You catch him cradling your dachshund and singing nonsensical songs into her ear. (This goes for toddler nephews, too.)

12. He might be your soulmate if: He cooks. Even if only once in a blue moon. True love is waking up to the smell of breakfast. But true love at its very finest is finding your beloved standing over the stove, pan-searing a slice of watermelon in an attempt to surprise you with a bite of the delicious fruit you haven’t tasted in nearly eight years. (Background: You’ve picked up by now that my immune system struggle is real.) Melon is one of the many fruits that will not cooperate with me. After years of enjoying it hive-free, my body hit shuffle on food allergies and added the sweet summer staple to the already long list of raw foods I must avoid. The good news is that apparently cooking these jerks will break down the live enzymes that cause my allergic reaction. Enter Mr. Wonderful, who knows I miss melon the most. He wasted no time throwing a slice on the stove and serving it up for testing. Verdict: Soggy, but sweet. I’ll take it.

13. He might be your soulmate if: His gifts communicate he’s on board with who you are. Case in point: Jesus Feminist – a book I never mentioned was on my private Amazon wish list. After I unwrapped it one Christmas, it planted a mustard seed for what became a thought-provoking, Biblically focused book club with a round table of other “Jesus feminists.”  The moral of this story is: If he welcomes, supports and challenges some of your views on the world, you’re in good hands.

14. He might be your soulmate if: He surprises you with a mango Icee or a snickerdoodle cookie because he knows they are your foodie Kryptonite.

15. He might be your soulmate if: He utters sentences like, “It’s been a long time since we’ve done an 80s night.” Man after my own heart.

To be continued …

The red book.

mr wonderful
Photo by Dennis Berti

Three years ago today, Mr. Wonderful and I had our first date. Two weeks later, I invited him to join some friends and I to celebrate my 32nd birthday. Admittedly, I was a little bummed when he told me he’d be out of town during the festivities because I was eager to show off the “Hot Neighbor” I’d told my friends about. (That was our behind-his-back nickname for a solid two months.) But it was so early into our relationship that I kept my expectations for Hot Neighbor in check – and chalked up his apologetic decline to bad timing.

When Celebration Sunday came around, I spent the entire day in the company of good friends. A lovely brunch. Sangria. Late-night pizza. We even capped off the night with a little dancing on a school night. All my people were there and my heart was gorged with gratitude.

My best friend dropped me off at home around 11 p.m. and I walked the three flights of stairs up to my apartment – still smiling on the day’s events. That’s when I saw a brightly colored gift bag on my doorstep next to an enormous bag of M&Ms tied with a gold bow. I read the card attached:

“Happy birthday, beautiful. I’m positive I missed a good time.”

birthday surprise

I clutched my chest like I was having a heart attack.
Surely not.
It can’t be from him.

But it WAS from him. And inside that bag was a red leather journal. That’s when I knew this was a man after my own heart – presenting me with all those gorgeous blank pages after having known me a mere two weeks! I couldn’t believe it.

I turned to that journal regularly after that, and in it I wrote about our experiences together. I recounted our travels. I shared fears. I wrote a poem. I told him about all the ways I was grateful for him. I expressed insecurities about my new role as a bonus mama. I made a list of things I loved about him. I thanked him for pursuing me at my most skeptical. I documented every detail of his Christmas Day marriage proposal and  admitted that I could hardly wait to be his wife. In blue and black ink, I poured my heart onto those pages for nearly three years.

Love can sure bring out the 16-year-old girl in you.

Last month, I took that red leather journal to Mexico with me. On the morning of our wedding day, I wrapped it carefully in tissue paper and hid it in our Cabo San Lucas hotel room for my groom to find after I’d gone to get ready.

That old birthday present had become a leather-bound record of our romance. And that record of our romance became my wedding present to Hot Neighbor, Mr. Wonderful, my husband.