Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A New Best Friend?

Many years ago now, Tim fell in love.

Well, I'm not sure it was love, but it certainly was like. And I'm not talking about me. Although I can't remember exactly when this incident happened, I'm pretty sure we were already married. Or maybe not. Either way, love wasn't an issue of ours at that time. (Hold on there, that sentence makes it sound like love is an issue now. It's not! I mean, we still love one another and we have no plans for ditching each other. Okay, back to the real story.)

No, Tim fell for a dog named Jake. He was a rather enormous Great Dane we met at a booth outside a St. Louis pet store -- the sort of booth the local shelter sets up with the hope that people will come and adopt a dog. Tim would have adopted that dog in a heart beat, but we lived in an apartment, we were gone all day, and oh yeah, we did not live in St. Louis. We were in Ann Arbor at the time. Getting that dog back home would have been uncomfortable, to say the least.

From time to time, though, Tim will reminisce and say, "Remember that dog Jake? The Great Dane?" Tim doesn't even need to add Great Dane to his words, but he does. Every time. Because of course I remember that dog. How can I forget a dog that put his front paws up on Timmy the moment he met him? How can I forget a dog that was taller than I was, but seemed just as gentle. We didn't get the chance to know him, but in my mind, he was Marmaduke in the flesh.

Our neighborhood has been graced by the presence of a lovely Great Dane, and each time I see him, I think of Jake. I mentioned him to Tim this morning, who until now, hasn't seen him. The whole conversation got me thinking of Great Danes, and dog adoption, and how really, I'd like another dog to come along before our wonderful Shadow moves on to the Great Beyond (he's fine, really, but he does turn 10 this year!). And soon enough, I found myself keying in Great Dane Rescue.

What did I find?  This:


That's a picture of Ivy and she needs a home. My kids think she needs our home, and I just might agree with them.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Movement

The weather was nice enough today that I didn't need to wear layer after layer when I ran. And of course, with fewer layers, I felt lighter, stronger, and faster. At my water stop, my stopwatch confirmed that I had, indeed, run faster. So I thought, I run faster now that I've shed winter layers. Does the same principle hold for writing? 
 
My new hashtag?

#writingnaked

Monday, April 28, 2014

Yes!!!

Sometimes the most obvious of answers are right in front of you. Right. In. Front. Of. You.

Well, me, not you.

Thanks. I love the background.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tell A Story Day

In recognition of Tell A Story Day, a few of my favorite quotes:

If the story is in you, it has got to come out.
~ William Faulkner

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
~ Maya Angelou

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
~ Benjamin Franklin

A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
~ Unknown

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
~ Sylvia Plath


Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Pedestal

"Take me down, please," I said. "I'm really not a fan of heights. And I shouldn't be up here anyway. What were you thinking?"

"No," she replied. "You belong up there."

"I don't."

"You do."

"I don't. But I can see that arguing with you will get me nowhere. Can I please come down?" I looked down at my feet, which stood square on the small patch of ceramic. My knees knocked together, most likely due to nervousness, and my hands shook. Even my teeth began to chatter. Then, my eyes met hers.

"It's like this." She adjusted the hem of her shirt and the strap of her purse against her shoulder, and then crossed her arms over her chest. I could see the furrow between her brows grow bigger. Was she trying to figure out what to say? "You are who you are. You're a great person. You have a life I'd love to have: a partner, great kids, a job, and a passion. You have a supportive family and fantastic siblings. You go about your business with joy. I want that."

"And putting me up here then, does what?" I looked around at the sky, which seemed to grow gray over the last couple of minutes. I pulled my jacket closer to my body.

"It reminds me of what I want. That's what."

"But again, what purpose does that serve?"

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and looked away, toward the distant hills. The wind picked up even more and the grass bent against the arms of the strong breeze. Bags and papers rolled down the street like suburban tumbleweeds. When she moved her eyes back to meet mine, they were the color of the storm.

"I don't know," she said. "I just know that I want what you have and so I ruminate on it. Maybe I live vicariously through you."

"But don't you see?" The emotion that charged my voice pushed me off balance and I fought to regain my posture on the small square. "You can have this. Stop looking at everyone else and what they have. Concentrate on your life, not mine. If you spent as much time analyzing yourself as you have my life, I think you'd have found your answer. You'd know what to do to make yourself happy."

She nodded her head but said nothing.

"And I've fought hard to get here. Well there --" I pointed to where she was, the square of grass upon which I would have preferred to stand. Solid ground beneath my feet. "Don't you think I've had my own share of tribulations in my life? Don't you think I'd look at other people and say, What do they have that I don't, and why? It's all how you look at it, girl. It's perspective. If I'm happy and content, it's because I choose to be that way, regardless of what life throws at me. Now please, can I get down?"

She hesitated for a moment, and I wasn't quite sure what to think. But as the wind whipped my hair around my shoulders and threatened to topple me, an action which would only cause irreparable damage for us all, a spark lit up behind her eyes. Had I gotten through to her? Would she be able to change?

"I'll go get the ladder."

There was hope.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Help Wanted

I'm the sort of person who likes change. I prefer to move my furniture around, just to have a different perspective on things. I move knick-knacks, and books, and toys, and whole rooms (only every once in a while). So sticking with one blog background doesn't happen. It CAN'T happen.

And this is where you come in. I need advice. Send me your ideas, a link to a suggestion, whatever. I need a new blog template and so far, I can't find one with which I'm happy. (I just tried a Rockstar template and my eyes burned for at least five minutes after I loaded it up. Hence, I reverted to a boring one.)

I'll be  sure to consider everything and anything, and I'll be indebted to you, forever.

And Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Living Tall

My driver's license states that I am five feet one inch tall. I told the BMV that number back when I moved here, because to be truthful, I didn't know how tall I was. Despite having gone to the doctor regularly for check-ups my entire life, it had been years since someone measured me, and sometimes, the nurse just asked. I always replied what I thought: five foot one.

But I always felt taller. Seriously. (And I realize that tall here is really relative.)

Last week, my friend told me that her doctor had informed her that she was just taller than five feet -- three-quarters of an inch over that, to be exact.

"If you're that tall, and I'm taller than you, then I must be taller than what I think I am." I turned to my other friend. "You're taller than me. How tall are you?"

"I think I'm five foot three, or I used to be," she said.

I looked back and forth from one face to another and realized that maybe I had felt taller than five foot one because I was taller than that! Oh could it be?

So last night, I had Tim measure me. I figured the guy who can design a laser and explain physics to a baby (and the baby will understand it) can measure how tall his wife is. And sure enough, in the company of witnesses, Tim said, "It looks like you're five feet two and a half inches, almost."

I've been trying to live tall my entire adult life and by golly, I already was tall.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Falsies

What Zoe asked me yesterday: Mom, why do you have fake grass?

What I thought she asked me yesterday: Mom, why do you have fake breasts?

Now anyone that has met me knows that I don't have fake breasts. In fact, that is one area of my body I would never enhance if  I had the chance because I am so fine with being small-chested. I have the ability to go bra-less the entire winter and really only put on a bra when I go for a run. Shirts fit easy, although dresses are difficult to fill out. However, on the whole, I'm good with small girls.

So why would I even think that Zoe would ask me if I have fake breasts? I have no idea. Maybe it's all the chicken I've been preparing for the kids lately. If you can think of something, let me know. I'm beginning to think I'm going just a bit crazy here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I'm In Love With You

This passage comes from John Green's, The Fault in Our Stars.
“I'm in love with you," he said quietly.

"Augustus," I said.

"I am," he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
I remember the first time I read that passage. I loved the entire thing, along with all the other almost 66,000 words in that book. I loved how quirky Augustus sounded as he spoke to Hazel. I loved that he blurted the words out, all in one breath practically. I loved that Augustus had the courage to speak what was on his mind.

I remember the second time I read the passage. I still loved it.

By the third time I read it, I'd gotten far more into writing (as opposed to just reading) and so I'd learned how to critique an author's writing, their characters, and whether or not the dialogue feels real. So when I read that quote, again, not only did I still love it, but I could appreciate it as a reader and a writer.

And what I found was this. In the hands of anyone else besides John Green, the way Augustus spoke would have been laughable. No one speaks that way, one might have said. Or, Augustus should have taken a breath while he poured his heart out. Or he should have at least seemed as though he was thinking about what he had to say while he was saying it. Perhaps Augustus should have stammered?

But no. The way Augustus launched into those words was pure Augustus Waters. It wasn't odd for him to speak that way because Green did a fantastic job characterizing the boy. He wrote an odd, quirky, intelligent, funny, lovable character who speaks in a mature, complex, and utterly enthralling way. As a reader, that speech was, in effect, expected. And as a writer, it is something I can strive to write.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cinnamon Rolls

I've got this thing about cinnamon rolls. We all like them here in this house, but I don't like the sort that are overly sweet. And many times, the pre-made, store-bought rolls can be just that: sweet to the point of sickening. Plus, the number of preservatives that can go into an item that doesn't come from my kitchen can sometimes scare me. (I've even given up the thought of ever drinking Mountain Dew again. The brominated vegetable oil on the label and the green color of the drink really make me think about the purity of such a beverage. And yet, I still eat gummy worms. Hmmm...)

Anyway, a while back, I wanted to make cinnamon rolls -- from scratch. And I didn't want a long and involved recipe. Thankfully, I found this one, over at Sally's Baking Addiction. They're good, easy, and can be made the night before you want to eat them. Furthermore, they're just the right amount of sweet.

To make it easy on you, I printed the recipe below:

Rolls
  • 2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package instant yeast (1 packet = 2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup milk 
  • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
Filling
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon (or more)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Glaze
  • 1 cup powdered (confectioners') sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons milk or cream (or coffee, if you want a coffee glaze)
Directions:
  1. For the dough: Set aside 1/2 cup of flour. In a large bowl, mix the remaining 2 and 1/4 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast until evenly dispersed and set aside.
  2. Place the water, butter, and milk together in a microwavable bowl and heat (in microwave) until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot to touch. (This should be about 115-120 degrees F, but I didn't check). Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture, add the egg, and stir. Then add some of the reserved flour to make a soft dough. Sally only needed 1/3 cup, but I didn't even need that much at first. Once I started kneading, I could tell I needed more and you may need the entire 1/2 cup. Dough will be ready when it gently pulls away from the side of the bowl and has an elastic consistency (Sally says that. It was a nice sentence, so I left it that way!)
  3. Knead the dough for 3-4 minutes on a lightly floured surface and place in a greased bowl. Let rest for about 10 minutes.
  4. For the filling: After the 10 minutes are up, roll the dough out into a 14x8 inch rectangle. (This was harder than I thought, but still manageable.) Spread the softened butter all over the top of the dough. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle it all over the flattened dough. (You can add more cinnamon/ sugar if you like.)
  5. Roll up the dough as tightly as you can, being careful not to work too quickly. Cut into 11 evenish pieces and place in a lightly greased 9-inch round pan; pie or cake pan will work. I put three pieces in the center and arranged the other 8 around those three.
  6. Loosely cover the rolls with aluminum foil and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 60-90 minutes. Here is what Sally recommends, and I've done it as well: heat the oven to 100-200 degrees F and turn the oven off. Place rolls inside the warm oven and allow to rise.
  7. After the rolls have doubled in size or are about to burst out of the pan, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly browned, but be sure to cover the rolls with foil after 15 minutes, and check often to see if they are done. My rolls have never taken as long as 30 minutes.
  8. The glaze: Just before serving, cover the cinnamon rolls with glaze. Mix the powdered sugar and milk (cream or coffee) together until smooth and drizzle over the rolls. If you like a glaze that is thick, add more powdered sugar (this might need a touch of salt to cut the sweetness). 
You can make these ahead of time, up through step 5. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator. The next morning, let rise and then bake.

Yum!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Lamp

I have a lamp.
Of course, we have several lamps.
But this one, it's special,
and holds a tight place in my heart.
It sits now, in the basement,
on top of the filing cabinet that Tim acquired from an old job.
The lamp isn't plugged in.
It simply rests, bulb in hand,
waiting for us to turn it on,
to use it once again,
to see its light burn bright.
This lamp used to be on often,
every night in fact.
Because it was the lamp that we passed on from child to child.
It saw the twins when they were two days old:
itty-bitty identical cherubs
who barely weighed as much as a sack of flour each.
It welcomed the fiery redhead
and eased him through some rough patches
in the wee hours of stormy nights.
It said Hello, and, Aren't you a surprise?
to the little princess that took up the guest room,
but who, clearly, is no longer a guest
(and never was).
It is a lamp with Noah and his animals,
in an ark, on top of a swirl of blue water.
It has no place in my home now,
as the kids have moved on
to aqua blue and flower lamps, and sleek green modern lamps
that sit atop dressers adorned with Legos and ear buds and perfume.
I do not have a baby that needs it,
or a toddler that wants to sit and look at the animals.
Instead, we have a child who dresses it up with paper and pretends
that the lamp is her sister.
And another child who says, Didn't I have that lamp when I was little?
And two more who look at the lamp with dampness in their eyes,
saying, I love that lamp. That was a good lamp.
It is a good lamp.
And even if it stays on top of that cabinet in the basement,
It is clear that the lamp actually does have a place in our home.
Forever.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Give and Take

I have plans today to get:

  1. Grass seed
  2. Grass killer 

Which means I'll be giving life and taking it away this weekend.

If I think metaphorically, and not literally, about that statement, it is disturbing to realize how often we, as humans, give and take away life.

Happy Weekend.





Friday, April 18, 2014

Breathers

Do you ever wonder what keeps me from posting on certain days? Why am I able to consistently post day after day, and then, out of the blue, I skip a day? Did I take a breather? Did something incredibly life-building and exciting happen? Did I take off with the dehumidifier man?

If you actually do wonder about any of those scenarios, please go find something better to do with your life (which you should have no trouble doing, considering how full all of your lives are...no joke). Actually, no, don't do that. If you wonder about my posting habits, it means you read this sack of artfully crafted (yeah, right) melodrama. And knowing you are out there keeps me going.

In case you're chomping at the bit for why I was silent yesterday, I'll let you know.

I was busy.

Sorry, that's it. I had volunteer responsibilities, parental responsibilities, and a book club to get to. Plus, I had to get my body off to writing group in the evening. I had a post started (not this one), but never got around to finishing it. Hence, I had no time to write the drivel that has become my life.

Lucky you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mawwiage

When I think of the word marriage, I always go back to the Mawwiage scene from The Princess Bride. It's tough not to do that; it's one of the best scenes of the movie. But all humor aside, marriage is hard work. Anyone who's married can tell you that, and I'm certain (although I haven't looked) that there would be a bazillion quotes on the internet saying as much. But as someone who has been married 14.5 years (mere minutes to some long-lasting marriages and eons to brief marriages), I can attest that marriage requires work. A lot of work. On the part of both spouses.

But this morning (when I was running, of course), I thought about why some marriages work and others don't. I'm no therapist, so I can't really tell you why some marriages fail while others succeed, but when I think about my own marriage, part of the reason it thrives is because of the support system I have. It's not just Tim, it's everyone that surrounds us. My parents. His parents. My sisters, friends, and families. His sisters, friends, and families. That network of people believes that we can make it. They believe in us. Which helps me believe in us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Communication

I cannot tell you how important communication is. Then why write this, right? Because with an introductory sentence like that, aren't I really going to launch into trying to talk about the importance of communication? Why yes, yes, I am. And I know that most of you know that communication is important. But even though we all know how important it is, does that mean that we communicate effectively? Do people know what I am trying to say?

(I'd like to think that my readership does know what I'm trying to say and that even if it takes me 1500 words to say something, I eventually comunicate effectively. Feel free to tell me otherwise.)

But here's why communication is important:

Exhibit 1: You tell your daughters to come home after school. They say they will. Then, after school, they run into a friend of theirs who says that the plan for them isn't to go home after school, it is to go to the library. If you've communicated effectively in the morning to your daughters, they will do one of two things. One, they will call you and confirm the plan. Or two, they will listen to what you said and just come home. Either one is fine, and the choice might depend on whether or not your daughters have a cell phone. Because pay phones are non-existent these days and kids don't tend to think to call from the front of office of the school. Had communication not been dealt with effectively, your daughters might have gone to the library and you might not have known where they were. Not good, right?

Exhibit 2: You tell your husband that you have to work in the evening and he needs to be home to take care of the kids. In your haste, you assume that your husband understands that taking care of the kids means feeding the kids. After all, you do work in the evening. Dinnertime is in the evening. If you've communicated effectively, your husband not only gives the kids dinner, but also a bath, a snack, and tucks them into bed. If you haven't mastered the concept of communication, you tease your husband mercilessly about the time he forgot to give the kids dinner. But really, the only bad thing was, the kids didn't eat.

Exhibit 3: You tell your coworker when the project is due, and that you both need to work on it, independently and together, in order to get it done on time. If you've communicated effectively, then you both schedule a time to work on said project, and most likely, you find time during your own day to get some of the project done as well. The project gets accomplished, with very little fanfare and few tantrums, and your boss is happy. If, however, communication is a problem, your co-worker says, Yes! Let's do it! but then never follows up on your attempts to meet. You end up doing the work, and your boss, thinking it was a group project, beams at your ability to work together.

Exhibit 4: You tell your husband that you're headed up to bed and ask if he wants the light to stay on, or if you should shut it off. He says that the light can stay on. You head up to bed, wait for him, fall asleep before he gets there, and wake up the next morning. Had you communicated effectively, you might have hinted to him that "I'm heading up to bed" means, "the kids are all asleep and it's the one day of the month that I'm not tired." Even thick-headed men should understand the meaning behind something like that. But had you communicated even more effectively, you'd have shut the light off, grabbed your husband by the hand, and led him upstairs. Or even better, jumped him in the family room.

(These examples, as always, are not completely rooted in my life. I am a writer [yes, I just called myself that!] and take creative liberties when I think they are needed. Plus, I have a bad cold, and I have no desire to have anyone in my personal space at the moment, nor do I have the energy to for any extracurricular activities. Did I communicate that effectively?)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Facts for the Kids

My friend posted this fact yesterday, but because I'm somewhat behind the times these days, I do things a day later than I should. And while I have plenty of snarky comments and other things to say, those will have to wait. I'd rather start off the week with a small, but interesting, fact.

Every day this week (starting with yesterday), can be read the same forward or backward:

4/13/14
4/14/14
4/15/14
4/16/14
4/17/14
4/18/14
4/19/14


Of course, this isn't one of those things that never happens. But in the past, I didn't remember to mention it to the kids. I'm sure Aaron, especially, will love the idea.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Oh, What a Feeling!

Yesterday, out in the yard, Tim said, "When you get your book advance, we can hire a full-time landscaper."

Now, a book advance certainly won't cover a full-time landscaper, but I wasn't worried about that. Despite the fact that my husband doesn't read what I write (except for my synopses, which he has been helpful in shaping), I get the feeling he just might believe that I can do it.

That's quite a feeling.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spring

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.
~W. Earl Hall

(I thought, after the last post, that we needed to find a topic not quite so negative.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lessons from a Cute Kid

Dear Moms of Cute Kids:

I didn't see you yesterday, but I thought of you. You, with your pearl earrings and sparkling wedding rings. You could be like me, with striped hair and Goodwill jeans, or like some of my friends, who scrape the bottom of the barrel at the end of the month. Or you could be like some of my other friends, refined and well-off. Whatever your situation, I'll still say hello to you because I know you. You're a nice person, a giving community member, and a good role model, as far as I can tell. You have a Smartphone and mostly-straight teeth and fine skin. In fact, I've often wondered how your face can be so youthful still, after kids, and marriage, and years of sun and winter wind. Not a fine line or wrinkle to be found.

And I realized it's because you have nothing to worry about--at all. You are the mother of a Cute Kid. The sort that gets away with anything and everything because, after all, the kid is cute. The kid has a cute button nose and cute facial expressions. The kid is smarter than a whip and doesn't hesitate to enchant everyone with words. Except that the words are always tucked away within a monologue. Notice the word there, though. Monologue. That's right, your kid doesn't hold a dialogue. There is no give and take to the conversation. It's all about your kid. Every day. All the time.

In fact, yesterday, when I asked your kid to be quiet for a moment (one moment, mind you), when I needed to hear what another student was saying, your kid had the gall to tell me that what the other child was saying didn't matter. That other kids (including yours) can tell me the same thing, just faster. Well okay then. Clearly, your kid missed the point. I didn't want your kid to tell me the answer; I wanted the other child to do it. So I told your kid that it would have been nice to hear the other child's voice, not your kid's. And your kid laughed. Like what I said was completely absurd and, dare I say it, wrong. Like I was telling your kid something no one else had mentioned before.

My guess is that no one has told your kid to keep the mouth closed, shut the trap, or in a much stronger manner, SHUTUP. But that's what I wanted to say yesterday. However, I am an adult and thankfully, I'd woken up and put my filter on that day. I knew better than to say anything quite so daring, to a Cute Kid. (After all, I might get sent to the principal's office for not modeling good behavior. Or even worse, they might fire me. [I'd like to see them try to fire a volunteer.])

But the fact that your child never stays quiet and always thinks a fact or opinion from within your kid's head needs to be shared is just the tip of the ice berg. For later that day, when I was back in the school, working again with some other children (one of whom happened to be your child--how lucky am I?) your Cute Kid asked me a question.

"Did I get this right?" your kid asked.

"Well, yes. Look, it's right there," I tapped the white board. "We discussed that problem already. Please try to listen to me. If you'd been listening, you would know that you got the answer right." What I didn't say was that this was the second or third time already that day that I'd had to point out that your kid wasn't listening to me.

Your Cute Kid looked up at me, and with deep, expressive eyes, plainly stated, "Well, I have a problem listening to people who aren't as smart as me."

My jaw dropped. My heart raced. My hands shook. It took me a second to register what had happened, and then, I kicked your kid out of my room. That's right. I kicked your kid out.

Listen, I don't have anything against Cute Kids. In fact, I think my own kids are pretty cute. But you are the mother of the kid that everyone says is "so cute." In fact, everyone utters that phrase often. Along with  "so bright," and "so special." So often are these words used, I take it, that your kid thinks it's okay to treat people the way your kid treated me today. After all, with a simple smile or showing of the dimples, maybe a quick cock of the head, most people laugh at what comes out of your Cute Kid's mouth. It doesn't matter what's being said, there's something about the way your kid says it that causes people to shake their head a couple of times and then chuckle.

But I'm not most people. I am the one that will tell your kid that what just happened is not right. That what you say to people, no matter how cute you are when you say it, does matter. Because you cannot have a kid walking around, disrespecting people. You cannot have your child believing that they are better than anyone and everyone because they have a cute face and an impressive brain. You cannot have your child assuming that the world will adjust to what they do and say. That is not how life works and as long as I'm in this world, there will be one person out there willing to call out your kid's nasty behavior.

And that behavior is nasty. I told my kids that if any one of them had done what your kid did to me in that classroom, I'd have kicked them out, too. It doesn't matter that we're related by blood. The behavior I saw was wrong, plain and simple.

So please, do me a favor sometime. In the minute you might have while your kid is not talking (maybe it will only be 30 seconds of silence you find, so make every second count), try to get a good parenting moment in there. Try to talk to your Cute Kid about the value of respect, and explain that while your kid is human and might make mistakes like the rest of us, that your kid should strive to be generous and kind and respectful. Tell them about choices and doing the right thing. I'd do that soon, mind you. Have that conversation now, before your Cute Kid grows up to be Hell-in-a-pair-of-Converse and you've become, instead, a Mom of the Kid Everyone Detests.

If nothing else, don't say I didn't warn you. And, while I know it hurts (or you just don't give a hoot about anything I've written here), you're welcome.

Sincerely,

Me

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Close Encounters, Part II

I had the pleasure recently of attending a writer's conference at which Annie Bomke spoke. Crap. That sentence sounds very familiar, doesn't it? Gosh, I need some coffee. Or a drink. Or a swift kick in the bum. Anyway, as with the subject of my last close encounters post, you might not know who Annie Bomke is, and again, I won't fault you. But I will give you a few guesses.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Are you done yet?

If you guessed that Annie Bomke is part of the writing world, I would say you get to take home a small prize. What might it be? Who knows. If you guessed that Annie is a literary agent, I would say that you get to take home an even bigger prize, if I had a bigger prize to give you. Unless you clicked on the link above, in which case I'd say that you cheated.

Anyway, Annie Bomke is the owner of Annie Bomke Literary Agency, and one of the agents who revealed all to a large group of wanna-be writers at that recent conference. I learned about what to send in to an agent if you write fiction, what she's looking for in terms of non-fiction, and a bit about marketing ourselves. I learned that agents are not to be feared and that this one in particular cared about her job, her clients, and how they are treated. But what I learned most from her, though, is that I can be a nervous wreck, anywhere, anytime.

Why do I say that? Because after I sat through a wonderful session with Annie, I had a pitch scheduled. What is a pitch? According to About.com, it's "a writer's description of a potential story to an editor." Of course, that story can be pitched to an agent, or a publisher, or even anyone you know that might be interested. Basically, I wanted to tell my story to Annie so that she might say, "Yes, I want to represent you." And I had less than ten minutes to do so.

Oh my.

So there I was, waiting outside the room in which Annie was seated with another writer, practically ripping the skin off of my thumbs (remember, I have that picking problem). And then, when it was time to go in, what did I do? First, I mentioned how cold it was in the room with the wind gusting through the window (way to state the obvious, lady) and then, I fell into my chair. Let me say that again. I fell into my chair. Annie, a stoic look on her face, simply asked, "Are you okay?"

Well no, I wasn't okay. I was mortified. But the band must play on, and so I did. I mumbled and bumbled through my pitch, veering off script and grabbing at my pen so that I had something concrete in my hands--a place to channel my nervousness, if you will. I answered her questions and asked more of my own. And in a flash, my ten minutes were up.

And that's when I felt like I could again come away with something valuable from the conference. I'd already been given a good dose of enthusiasm. This time, I held onto HOPE as I made my way out the door.

The hope to finish up the revisions of my current novel. The hope to continue with the few words I have of a new story. The hope to try to make Beyond the Trees better, and to also haul out Drops of Jupiter from the shelf and rework it until it shines. Quite simply, my interaction with Annie Bomke has given me the hope to continue my quest to become a bonafide writer. And man, as the rain continues to pour (and remember, it's a cold rain), I need all the hope I can get.

So let's help out Annie Bomke, too. Follow her on Twitter, 'like' her on Facebook. Does she need help with her brand? She's an agent, not a writer, but her reputation is at stake. A reputation that, after having done some research on it, is great and well-earned. Many writers who have submitted their manuscripts to her have said, "Dealings with her were very nice," and "Annie was a sweetheart when I dealt with her." But despite her many years in the industry, her own agency is only a few years old. And a reputation must be sustained. It takes a village to raise a child, you know. I think the same can be said for your own business. (Or your own book.)

Three things for you to know:
  1. After the conference was over, I encountered Annie in the women's restroom, where instead of fawning over her, I simply said, "Have a safe flight home." I didn't trip that time.
  2. She did not pay me (nor did she even ask me) to write this.
  3. This post holds the record for the second greatest number of links within any of my posts, EVER.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Medicate Me Now

I'm taking a brand new writing class this month. One of the topics we covered on Monday night was the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist.

Come on, you say. Don't you already know the difference? Shouldn't you know the difference, if you claim to be a writer?

Well, yes and no. Most of us know what those terms mean. Protagonist = the main character of the story, the one involved in the conflict. Antagonist = the character who opposes the protagonist.

But here's the thing. Knowing the definitions of the terms is different from being able to identify who the protagonist and antagonist are, which is also different from being able to clearly write an unforgettable protagonist and antagonist.

"A good antagonist," the teacher said, "will try to block the actions of the protagonist. So in The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch tried to block Dorothy from getting home with many actions, including the flying monkeys." I nodded my head as I wrote the notes down. That was an easy, but clear, example.

"Other examples are harder to identify," the teacher went on. "But here's what you need to know." My ears pricked up. "The antagonist is the one that shapes the protagonist's choices." I put a star by those words in my notes; they seemed very important.

On the drive home from class, my mind wandered back to those words. I thought of my stories, my characters, and the characters I love to read. And then, my mind jumped, and I gasped.

For I started to think about the people in my life and the roles they play. It is very apparent, when we are teens, that everyone is against us (wink-wink), especially our parents, and that therefore, they act as very powerful antagonists. At some point, if you're lucky enough, you don't feel as though your parents are blocking every move you try to make. Instead, your parents shift into a more supportive role, perhaps even something akin to a sidekick.

But this is where I, and maybe a few other women I know, diverge from that scenario. This is where I, in a moment of complete clarity, almost ran a red light. For I have a fine relationship with my parents. We don't go to battle with each conversation. We don't yell or argue over the phone or in person. We speak about the weather, the kids, my job, my dreams, their political beliefs (which are the only ones that matter), and all the other mundane, drama-full and drama-free topics that flit in and out of our lives. Lives that are spaced by 245 miles and four hours.

And yet. AND YET, these two people shape my choices every day. EVERY DAY. Good or bad, I muddle my way through life with their voices and actions at the back of my head. And therefore, good or bad, my parents must be, and have always been, antagonists in my life.

That is a concept I never considered. It is a concept I will never share with my parents (they really won't understand). That is a concept which seems so simple and understated and one that, when I was in my teens, I would have completely agreed with. But now, that concept floors me. It really does.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Close Encounters, Part I

I had the pleasure recently of attending a writer's conference at which Brian Klems spoke. If you don't know who Brian Klems is, I won't fault you, but go get your Writer's Digest on, or check out his blog. He's funny. He's approachable. He's a writer. And his daughter and I have the same bathrobe. (I kid you not. Tara, don't look at it. Your eyes will burn. And I want to keep my bathrobe, thank you.)

Anyway, as I sat through his session (I make that sound like it was painful to listen to him, which, by the way, it was not. Quite the opposite, in fact.), I realized that if nothing else that day went well, I would come away from a writing conference with something valuable: ENTHUSIASM.

You see, we just dug out of a very cold winter and have, so far, been experiencing the lovely (not so much) spring rain that naturally comes with the month of April. I was tired of the cold, and I'm already tired of the rain. Especially the cold rain. (Hmm. I'm sensing a pattern here.) It's the kind of precipitation that bites at your skin as you try to run through it. The kind that keeps everyone inside. The kind that makes me crabby and unable to find the energy to write.

But seeing Brian speak--about publishing, marketing, agents, blurbs, and his own book--caused something quite extraordinary to happen. I got excited again about writing. I sat in the squeaky chair of that drafty seminar room and thought that even though he started out one step ahead (he is, after all, a Writer's Digest editor and a journalism school graduate), if Brian could make it, then so could I. Brian Klems effectively gave me back my mojo.

I didn't sign up for a manuscript evaluation with him because, frankly, I'd just paid someone else to read my piece. But I would have him evaluate a manuscript of mine, in a heart beat. I'd probably even have him babysit my four children, although he'd be hesitant to do that, considering he already has three daughters of his own (although maybe we could swap some dress-up clothes, tiaras, or jewelry). And those of you who know me realize that if I'm willing to let you watch my children, I must trust you.

The thing I'm trying to say here, and quite badly, I might add, is that if one session of Brian Klems can inspire me, than he can do the same for you. Help the man out by spreading the word and buying his book. Follow him on Twitter, see if you can friend him on Facebook. Help him with his brand (he hates that word, by the way) even though he doesn't need the help. And after you've done so, you might just say thank you to me for introducing you.

Three things for you to know:
  1. I never even had the chance to go up and introduce myself to Brian, even though I had plans to do so.
  2. Therefore he did not pay me (nor did he even ask me) to write this.
  3. This post holds the record for the greatest number of links within any of my posts, EVER.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Better Than

Sometimes, I imagine how conversations will go in our house. This is one of them.
Me: Girls, come here. I want to talk to you.
Them: Okay.
Me: You're bright kids, you know that, right?
Them: Well, yes.
Me: And not that being bright is everything. It's really about working hard, and learning, and doing the right thing.
Them: Yeah, we know.
Me: And some things, you're going to need to really work hard on them in order to do well in them.
Them: Yeah, we know.
Me: And we also do some things better than others, and other people do some things better than us, right?
Them: Yeah, we know. Like Daddy can do math better than you can.
Me: Yes, that's right. But I worked very hard at learning my math, and now, I'm still pretty good at helping you.
Them: So Daddy can do math better than you can.
Me: Yes.
Them: But you can write better than Daddy.
Me: Um, no. Actually, Daddy is a very good writer. Our writing is very different, but I probably don't write better than Daddy.
Them: Well, how about music? Can you play the piano better than Daddy?
Me: No.
Them: Running? Are you a better runner?
Me: No. Again, we're different. I can run further but Daddy can run faster.
Them: And Daddy's stronger, funnier, louder, and can stay up later.
Me: Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Them: Yeah, we know.
Me: But I have my strengths. I have more common sense and can multitask far better than Daddy can.
Them: Huh. Okay. I'd rather be strong and funny.
Me: It's time for bed.
I had planned on talking to the girls today about math, and how they needed to work hard, and all of the rest of that, but then the above conversation played out in my head. Now, I'm ditching that plan. To hell with my being a cheerleader for my kids. I have better things to worry about. Things like taking down my husband on something that matters.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Twitterpated (Not)

I signed up for Twitter a while back. I wanted to stay more informed about the elementary school, plus, I thought I better try to immerse myself in other forms of social media if I want to be a writer. A real writer, one who has authored novels and such.

But I remembered recently why I don't check Twitter that often. Here's why:
  1. Some people tweet often, meaning too often. I don't need to have my list clogged by mundane items of their lives. Don't you have writing or something else to do?
  2. Some people actually tout that they are the "most followed X" and therefore, I should listen to them. Um, no.
  3. The whole setup makes me realize that Twitter really is another "look at me, I'm so special, this is my life, and it's all about me." It's not all about you! It's about FRN. Get with the program.
I'll be there on Twitter, but not that often.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lessons by Melina

Yesterday, Melina asked if we still had her Hello Kitty rain boots. I was pretty sure we'd given them away because, if I remembered correctly, they were a size 10 and her foot is a size 12. But I said we'd check. Sure enough, the boots were nowhere to be found.

Melina sniffled a little, and asked if we might get a new pair someday, to which I replied, "Maybe."

"Okay, mommy," Melina said. "Will you help me print something, then?"

"Sure. What do you need?"

"I need a picture of some Hello Kitty rain boots."

So we sat down at the computer and Melina quickly found exactly the picture she wanted.

"Can you print this, please?" she said.

I printed two copies and went into the kitchen to check on my pizza dough.

In the dining room, I could hear the scissors at work. Melina cut out the boots and proudly came to ask me for help in making tape loops (when you cut off a piece of tape and fold it over on itself so that you have stickiness on all sides).

"What are you going to do with the tape loops?" I asked.

Melina said nothing. She took the tape loops and placed them on the backside of the paper boots, which she then affixed to her ankles. She happily wore those paper boots from late afternoon until well past dinner.

"I love my rain boots, mommy! Thank you!" Melina warbled, with a huge smile on her face.

We could all stand to learn something from this five-year-old, I think.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The One in Which I Wrestle the Mustache

I have this one, tiny, white-blond hair sticking out of my upper lip. It's on the right side of my face, just above the corner of my mouth. It's been bothering me for days, no weeks, but because it's so light in color, it's very difficult to find. Unless you're in the right light. Or smack up against the mirror with a flashlight at just the right angle and you have your tongue pushing out your upper lip from within your mouth. (You can tell I've tried, quite earnestly, to get this sucker, can't you?)

So today, even though good light is hard to find, I said to myself, I'm going in and it's going down. I cannot stand to pick at this hair anymore. And with a good pair of tweezers in hand, I lined myself up in front of the mirror, ready to wrestle.

However, it was a vain attempt to get that son-of-a-gun. I stood there, for minutes I tell you, grasping the hair and then letting go of it. And repeating those same actions, again and again. It got to be such a futile attempt that I removed my glasses--so that I could really hone in on the hair itself. (I'm getting old, as you can see, and I might just need bifocals soon.) Once I did that, I could see the reason why the wrestling match was taking place.

What I thought was one hair was actually two, poking out of the same follicle. And much like Zoe and Talia do when they're together and angry (at me, not each other), those hairs reveled in their stubbornness and stuck up for one another (literally). No amount of pulling (and by pulling I mean that I had tears in my eyes from the pain) would allow for the nasty twin hairs to be removed.

What to do? Nair them? Shave them? Pretend they don't exist? I didn't have time to worry too much about the situation, as Melina was due to arrive home in the following few minutes. So I moved away from the mirror, turned out the bathroom light, and went to fix Melina's grilled cheese. (You can see what I did. . . reverse psychology at work here, of course.) And then, once her sandwich was done, I sauntered back into the bathroom, pretending that my hands needed washing. I quickly grabbed the tweezers and took the opportunity for a sneak attack.

The hairs didn't have time to think. They're in my trash now.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Poor Dears

This post has been a long time coming. I'm not sure why, except that I think I don't know how to articulate exactly what I'd like to say on this subject, and so even though I want to talk about it, the post sits in the draft folder. Plus, I've been hesitant to write about it because really, who wants to write about something that they can't find words for? (I'm going to leave the preposition where it is.) However, just yesterday, the term I'm going to write about came up, again, and I had to let the words flow.

What term? The word poor. As in, Please give to the poor. Or, I'm so poor I had to live off of food stamps for a while. Or (and this is where I get annoyed), When I was in graduate school, we were so poor we had to have a DIY wedding.

I'm not disputing the fact that many people in their lives, me included, have had to watch their pennies. With four kids, a mortgage, a home equity loan, and the fact that we aren't independently wealthy nor are are we supported by our parents, Tim and I still are very careful to watch most of our pennies. But when we were graduate students, with two children and one income (a stipend at that) I still would not have called us poor. When I was a kid and was forced to eat hamburger for the third night in a row (just in a different form) because it was the cheapest piece of meat at the market, I still would not have called us poor. When I was single and living in my own apartment and making next to nothing, I would not have called myself poor. Frugal? Yes. But if there is money in the bank (at least a little) and the ability to pay mostly everything and furthermore, the hope to get past that way of life, I would not call you poor.

The thing is, the wrong people are calling themselves poor. It's not the people on food stamps or the folks that line up at the unemployment office. It isn't the people who come in and need bags of food from the elementary school. It's the people who, when you really look at what they have, still have far more than many do. And I want to say this to those people:
  1. You are in college, getting an education that is being paid for by your parents, or one that is funded by a scholarship of some sort. You have clothes in your closet and a cell phone in your hand and food in front of you at least three times a day. You are far from poor.
  2. You are in graduate school, getting an education that is funded by the school, and yes, you need to pay for your own wedding, but you actually have money to do that. You have flowers and a dress and tuxes and food. You are not poor.
  3. You drive an SUV, all over the state. You go home to a house, with heat. You buy organic vegetables and prepackaged foods. And you have your daily cup of fresh brewed Starbucks, from the local shop up the street. You are not poor.
I glanced quickly at the federal poverty guidelines, more out of curiosity than a plan to paste any numbers in here. At any time, over the course of my life, have I been near the threshold for poverty? I thought. I don't know what my parents made during those years of eating far too much hamburger and canned vegetables, and I'm guessing they don't remember anyway. But based on the fact that we had a house, and two cars, and clothes on our backs, I'm going to say that while my parents might not have always paid off the credit card each month, we weren't in a dire situation.

I do know what my life was like the year the girls were born. Tim and I were both graduate students. I was blessed to be in a program that paid tuition and gave a very generous stipend ($20,000 that year). Now, that was Ann Arbor, and during that time, we paid $885 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, plus we had twin baby expenses, car insurance, renter's insurance, and groceries to buy. But based on that stipend number alone, if Tim hadn't been paid anything, my little family was already above the federal poverty guidelines of $18,100. Close, but no cigar. And as I said above, I still would not have called us poor.

Some people will balk at this post. I'm okay with that. And to be honest, I don't want to know what you make or how you make it or what you want to make or what you think of me. I just want people to be careful of what they say. If you're poor, there's nothing wrong with it. At all. You're in an unfortunate situation, one in which I'll do my best to help you, as much as I can. But let's all use the correct terminology here, people.

Funny how quick people are to call themselves poor. They're never so quick to call themselves rich.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Neighborhood Vigilante II


Dear Man in the White Escalade:

In case you don't remember, I'm the lady you saw this morning at the corner of R Road and C Drive, sometime just after nine o'clock this morning. At that point, you came barreling down our quiet residential road, at a speed I'm willing to bet was higher than the posted 25 mph. I saw you out of the corner of my eye, as I approached that particular corner. I wondered if you would give me the right of way, considering you had a yield sign and I did not. I glanced again to my left and realized that you were traveling far too quickly to yield, and yet, I had no intention of letting you go forth.

Hence, we both had to apply our brakes and thankfully, we both stopped. You looked at me and I looked at you. My window was up, but I pointed to the yield sign you so easily dismissed and mouthed, "You have a yield." Twice, I pointed. Twice you looked at me. And instead of a shrug of apology or a gesture with your hands admitting you were wrong, you simply waved me on.

Well, duh, I was going to go ahead anyway. I didn't stop to let you go, I stopped so that we would not have a collision. I've had that happen already in this neighborhood (a crash that was not my fault), and I'm done with all of that.  Besides, I had the right to go. You had the yield. But I'm guessing that maybe you don't understand what that means. So let me educate you.

According to SafeMotorist.com, a YIELD sign "calls on the driver to do the following: Slow down, defer to oncoming or intersecting traffic, stop when necessary, proceed when safe, and remain aware of oncoming vehicles." A yield sign looks like this:



While we're at it, let me remind you of another sign we have here in the neighborhood, because I would hazard to say you might disregard that, too. It's called a STOP sign. Again, the SafeMotorist site can help you with that definition. "The stop sign calls on the driver to make a mandatory stop and proceed when safe."

Furthermore, at a stop sign, "the purpose of the limit line is to prevent the driver from entering the crosswalk or intersection inadvertently or at an excessive speed and shows the driver where to make the stop before proceeding through."

And in case you need a refresher, "Rolling stops are not acceptable." The stop sign looks like this:


Be careful, Man in the White Escalade. I now have my eye on you. While I did not have the time to get your license number, I have been known to track down prey before. I will find you, and when I do, I will plaster that SUV with as many yield stickers as it takes to make you remember to obey the traffic rules. Or, I might not. But I bet you're scared now.