Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nothing to Laugh About

I recently hurt myself. Not bad, but enough that I went to see an orthopedist. I knew what he'd say: that I had an issue with my pubic symphysis and possibly my IT band. Sure enough, that's what he said. Now, I need to do stretches every day. Plus, I need to ice my hip after my long run.

I don't have time for this nonsense. Part of the reason I run is that I can strap my shoes on and be out the door in no time at all. I get my therapy session in and over with and then move on to whatever else my day will bring. Now, I'm slowed down a bit. Which I guess just means I'm getting older.

Well, I was at the pool today, and I found myself recounting this little story about how I injured myself and what parts of me are hurting. To my surprise and delight, a new friend of mine (yes, I'm looking at you, Nikki) giggled after I spoke.

"You just said pubic," she said, a huge smile pasted to her face. And then another giggle.

Apparently, not everyone is getting older.

P.S. I must be truthful and say that I like that she giggled at the word pubic. It reminded me of so many other times in my life when the mention of just one word sent me into a laughing fit. So thank you, Nikki. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Diamond in the Rough

Death isn't a subject that we avoid around here, but we don't always bring it up, either. And when we do approach the subject, it's usually because one of the little ones has asked about death and dying, or they've mentioned how much they don't want to die. My standard response is to tell my child that usually, people don't want to die, but that everyone will at some point. Which of course, takes us to talking about Doctor Who and the power of regeneration and then, the deep moment has passed and we're on to the awesomeness that is science fiction.

However, after a trip to a small town in southern Illinois for a family reunion, my mind wandered to memories of my grandparents, who are buried there, and to my parents, who want to be buried there. All sorts of questions popped into my head: Where do I want to be buried? Do I want to be buried? Is cremation a better option? Or should I donate my body to science, like Tim wants to?

"I think I'll be buried around X," I said to Tim. "It's the kids' hometown, after all."

"Whatever you want," he answered. "Just don't expect something fancy. Maybe a cardboard box that they can all color on."

By they, he meant the kids. And clearly, Tim knows his kids, because a cardboard box is a fantastic idea. I mulled the thought over in my head, envisioning a medium cardboard coffin with crayon and marker drawings all over it. A smile spread across my face. A serious smile. Because even though we were talking about death, the concept of the cardboard box felt so right.

"Or, you could be made into a diamond, you know," Tim went on.

"Do they do that?" I asked.

"Yeah, haven't you read about that?"

"No, but how big of a diamond could I become?" I said.

Truly, I wondered how much carbon was in my body, and knowing that I'm on the small side, how big could the resulting diamond be? Could all four kids have a piece of diamond as a keepsake? Would they want me lurking for eternity around their necks?

Tim didn't miss a beat. NOT ONE BEAT, before he stated, "I don't know. Big enough for my next girlfriend."

I snorted, laughing until a tear ran down my cheek, and realized, once again, what a gem of a man I had chosen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Bean Effect

I bought three cans of black beans at the grocery store today. I'm sure that's not very interesting to you, at all. And I agree, that in and of itself, the simple act of placing three cans of black (not even seasoned) beans into my grocery cart holds nothing of interest. What I find so interesting (or not), is why I did it and what will happen because I chose to do so.

We eat beans around here several times a week. But usually, I buy dried beans, soak said legumes, and then cook them. I do this because dried beans are cheaper, I like their consistency better, and they have less sodium, something I'm aware of because of Tim's predilection toward migraines. Today, though, something was different. I decided on a whim to buy canned beans (gasp!).

And I still haven't answered why I did what I did. I bought the canned beans so that my afternoon would be easier. So that I didn't have to check on beans when I was having a few free hours to myself. (Brooke was scheduled to spend time with the kids.) And so that I didn't have to worry about whether or not the beans were cooked, considering our late afternoon will be spent at piano and singing lessons. (There's nothing worse than undercooked beans.) I simply needed to take the easy way out today, and so I did.

But that diversion down a different path makes me think of something much deeper, of course. It makes me wonder what other times in life I've decided to take the easier road and whether or not it was the right decision. Of course, I can't remember all the times I've been presented with two or more choices and I've chosen the one that makes life easier. Which also means I wouldn't be able to remember if my choice had a bearing on my future. I know the big decisions -- graduate school instead of medical school, deciding not to stay on the contraceptive pill, signing up for my first structured writing class outside of college -- those decisions have had a huge impact on my life. They've essentially placed me in the spot I am today. And, as you know, that's a spot for which I am grateful.

Yet I also have to wonder how the bean decision will impact my life, my future, if it does at all. Will something happen today, tomorrow, next week, because of my choice of canned beans over dried? Should I be worried that I might have opened up a crack in my otherwise staid life? Is choosing canned beans instead of dried akin to my own personal butterfly effect? Furthermore, does anyone else think about such things as this?

My guess is no. And I won't really be able to tell you what sort of impact the choice to have canned beans has on my life. Unless we all come down with a nasty case of botulism. Stay tuned.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Sad, But True

I took the kids shoe shopping today. And on the way back to the exit doors of the mall, the girls asked about bras.

"Can we stop at Justice and get some more bras?" Talia asked.

(She's okay with me posting about this. She knows that you all know she'll be thirteen in January and that normal female development has started. And with the things I discuss about myself, she's not embarrassed. Just thought I'd tell you.)

"Do you need more?" I said.

"One or two will do it," Zoe replied.

So into Justice we went. And when I touched their soft bras, I thought to myself, Heck, I should try these.

Sure enough, I bought two bras for myself. From Justice. My least favorite tween store.

At least they're a step-up from Band-aids.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Amusements

I have a new fascination -- with the loris.

If you're not sure what a loris is, look it up on the computer (or keep reading, of course). This weekend, at the St. Louis Science Center, I viewed the skeleton of a loris, and since then, I've been enamored.

And if you don't know why, then let me show you something. I mean, look at this picture of the slow loris (borrowed from Parade):


It's the eyes, people. THE EYES! And imagine those eyes without all the fur and skin. If you do, the slow loris skeleton looks a little like this (courtesy Flickr and Kevin Walsh):


Which, to a woman who loves skeletons, is a dream come true. Plus, I can't help giggling about those orbital bones.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wearing Down

My kids, the twins especially, are on a quest to acquire something. Of course, that something is something specific, and our conversations usually go like this:
Kid 1: Mom, can we get a kitten?
Me: A kitten? Are you kidding? I said no more cats.
Kid 2: Not a cat. A kitten.
Me: Same thing.
Kid 1: Well, how about a puppy?
Me: I'm all for another dog, but I'd like to get one that's already house-trained.
Kid 2: How about a puppy that's house-trained?
Me: That might be difficult to find, you know.
Kid 1: All right...another baby?
Kid 2: Two babies?
Me: No, and no. I'm done.
Kid 1: How do you know you're done?
Kid 2: We'll help with the babies!
Me: No, it's not happening. And isn't it time for bed?
Kid 1: Okay. I love you, Mommy.
Kid 2: I love you, Mommy.
Me: I love you both, very much.
Kids 1 and 2: What about an iPhone?
They leave the room with a wicked gleam in their eyes and a spring in their steps. They're smart and cunning, all right. Trying to wear me down, thinking that if they start with the items I completely don't want to give in to, that the last one, the most innocuous in their minds, might actually come to fruition.

Except it won't. Because at least for now, I'm still stronger than they are. For now.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Three Steps to Scrumptious

I'm getting to be very predictable. How so, you ask? In terms of recipes. I've begun (if you haven't noticed) to post my very favorite ones. Lest you think it is simply because I love to share the wealth, I am here to correct you. It's not. I'm forgetful and dare I say, lazy? If I have the recipes here, then I have my own personal cookbook.

In honor of Ruthann's birthday, I'm making Raspberry-Lemon Shortbread Tart. This is a fantastic summer recipe that I found years ago in one of my MIL's Rachael Ray magazines, which can be found here. I've tried it with frozen or fresh berries -- both work wonderfully.

The best part? It's another easy dessert to whip up. Okay, here we go!

Raspberry-Lemon Shortbread Tart

1 pound raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 stick + 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into pieces
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
Zest and juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup juice)
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Step 1: Wash and drain the raspberries in a colander over a bowl. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine butter, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and 1 1/2 cups of the flour in a bowl. Use your fingers to blend until coarse crumbs from and the butter is mixed throughout. Place the mixture into an ungreased springform pan (or 9 inch cake pan) and press down to form a crust. Bake the crust about 20 minutes, until lightly golden.

Step 2: Remove the crust from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Placed the drained raspberries evenly over the crust (this is easier with fresh fruit).

Step 3: Beat the eggs with the rest of the sugar (3/4 cup) until thick and pale yellow. Whisk or beat in the lemon juice, zest, and remaining 1/4 cup of flour. Pour the mixture over the raspberries and bake until the custard is set, or about 30 minutes. After the shortbread tart has cooled, dust with powdered sugar.

This recipe has been a hit with many. I've never tried to use blueberries, but I imagine the result would be divine. We have tried chocolate in place of the raspberries, and to be honest, I liked the fruit tart better. Now chocolate + raspberries? That might be the right ticket!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Buzzfeed Fail

I'm sorry, Buzzfeed, but you got it wrong. Really wrong.

I know you readers aren't surprised by that statement. All those quizzes you take each day really are just for fun. I mean, how can answering a question about how long it takes you to get ready in the morning indicate which color hair you have?

But this wasn't a quiz. This morning, I sat down to read 22 Thoughts You Have While You're Ovulating: The most fertile week of the month can also be the most miserable. It took me 30 seconds to read the article and call it rubbish. Sorry, Tracy Clayton and the Buzzfeed Staff. I'll say it again: you got it wrong. And you could have gotten it so right.

It wouldn't take much. The female body is ripe with symptoms that indicate a woman is ovulating or has just ovulated. You had 22 opportunities to enlighten and amuse everyone. Instead, you repeated your reasons, giving us only a few original thoughts. For example, reasons 1-3 were sex, reasons 5-7 had to do with "doing someone" (again, sex, for those of who don't understand contemporary vernacular), 11-13 placed food as a priority, and reason 14 combined sex and food. But not in a new thought. Simply in an I need to have them scenario, which you'd already said before. Multiple times.

Here's what I would do to rewrite the article. I'd call up some friends or do a little research on the internet and find out what happens when a woman is nearing ovulation. Then, I'd make sure that each statement is separate from the others by way of thought and meaning.
  1. I need to have sex. Now. Honey, I know it's two in the morning, but what do you think?
  2. Is that men's cologne I smell on you? What? You don't wear cologne, but your office mate does? Boy, that's some sniffer I have.
  3. I could eat a brownie. No, make that an entire pan of brownies.
  4. Ah, that baby is so cute, and wow, yesterday, I didn't really like babies.
  5. It's amazing that I could very well create a life right about now. Inside my body. It's all too much to take in.
  6. Doggone it, I'm cranky. Get out of my way! I thought this behavior only went along with PMS.
  7. Whoever described vaginal discharge at the time of ovulation as similar to egg whites really knew what they were talking about. They should have specified how many egg whites. I think I just passed four eggs worth.
  8. Ouch. That hurt. I must be ovulating on the right side this month.
  9. I need a blanket because I'm cold. Oh wait, no, I don't need a blanket because now, for some unexplained reason, I feel warmer. 
  10. My boobs are so sore. WTH? Again, I thought these things happened with PMS, not ovulation. (Sorry to be repetitive on the second half of that sentiment.)
  11. I just checked how my cervix is doing and someone must have moved it.
See? You don't need to have 22 reasons. Sure it's a shorter list, and I don't have any redundant pictures for your amusement. But a smaller list of different descriptive reasons is sufficient in getting the point across, don't you think?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Time Wasted

1 hour.

60 minutes.

3600 seconds.

It took that long (despite the fact that I had the letter, synopsis, AND chapters ready and at hand) to put together a query file for an agent who will, most likely, take less than a second to say no. (Or not, because many agents don't even bother to send a form rejection. Their rule? If you don't hear from us, then it's a no. Why thank you, agent. I wish I could use that one in class. Sorry, students, if you don't hear back from me, well, I guess you're shit out of luck. Here's to hoping someone else answers that question for you!)

I can't blame anyone other than Microsoft for the time I wasted, considering the formatting issues took up the largest chunk of my time. I could have been reading. Or better yet, writing. I could have decided not to bother sending the letter at all.

And yet, I HAD to send it. Because if I just spent that long putting together the file, you can darn well bet I was going to at least send it out. I'd rather have another no (or the lack of a no) in my life than a what if?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What's In a Name?

It's been so long since I've taken a Buzzfeed quiz (I guess that's a perk of being on hiatus from Facebook) that when I saw the latest one that a friend took, What is Your Old Person Name? I knew I had to do it. Had to. Simply because I wanted to waste the two minutes it took to answer the questions and click on the buttons? I don't know, really. I just felt compelled. It might be because a few friends of mine and I talk about this topic often -- the name we'll take when we're old and rocking on the porch of the old folks' home.

With great anticipation I took the quiz. I thought I answered each question to the best of my ability, and that maybe this time, I'd find out something about myself that I never knew. (Yeah, right. Best way to do that is with a Buzzfeed quiz?!? Didn't I already say this same thing in some other post?) So when the result popped up on the screen, I squinted at the words with excitement. Gladys, the quiz told me. Gladys. Huh. Nice, but what does the name Gladys mean? So I looked around the internet and found a lovely description at Behind the Name:
From the old Welsh name Gwladus, possibly derived from gwlad "country." It has historically been used as a Welsh form of CLAUDIA. This name became popular outside of Wales after it was used in Ouida's novel 'Puck' (1870).
Oh great. (Insert sarcasm here. And here.) Gladys is a form of Claudia? How am I not surprised? I should have known, I tell you! Should. Have. Known.

And now, I've lost you. I know that. Well, let me fill you in on something you may not know. Once upon a time and quite possibly long ago (depending on your perspective), my mom revealed to me something very interesting. That she had wanted to name me Claudia, but "just couldn't" she said. And why couldn't she? Because she didn't like the meaning. That's right, Mom decided not to name me Claudia because, when she looked it up, she discovered two things. 1. That Claudia is  the feminine form of Claudius (she knew this already), which is not a favorite of hers . And 2. That Claudia means "lame, or crippled." Yep, my mother didn't want to possibly curse her second-born daughter with a name that held a negative connotation. Something about a self-fulfilling prophecy and all that jazz.

Instead, Mom chose Christina, a decision for which I am eternally grateful. (No offense to any Claudias out there, but I much prefer my given name.) But I think I'll call my mom tomorrow and tell her the big news. I'll let her know that really, she should have just gone ahead with her first choice of moniker, because down the line, I'll be Claudia anyway, by way of Gladys. Which, according to Buzzfeed, is one really awesome name.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Twelve Year Olds Can Be A**holes, Too

Back in February, Sarah Fader wrote a post for Huff Post Parents entitled, 3-Year-Olds Are A**holes. Why am I just getting to read this post? I'm not sure, although it was only brought to my attention yesterday, by a FB friend with a set of three-year-old twins. My first thought? That twelve-year-olds can be a**holes, too, and I've got two of them. My second thought? Age three wasn't that bad. My third thought? That most likely twelve won't look so bad at some point in the near future.

To catch anyone up that might be reading, I have four children: a set of twelve-year old identical twin girls, a hot-headed, red-haired son, who is nine, and a just-turned-six little lady. Before I had children, people warned me about everything: colic, then weaning, then sleep issues, then the terrible twos, threes, and fours. "Just wait until they're teenagers," they all said. So many people mentioned issues they had with different stages of childhood and adolescence, it's a wonder I ever consented to have children, and four at that.

But I digress (of course, I do, because I always do). The point here, and unlike that of Sarah Fader, is not to tell you that everyone else was wrong. I'm here to tell you that they were right. That children should come with a large red flag of warning, a crimson newborn blanket instead of the ones with blue and pink stripes or colorful feet on them. The bright color would wake new moms and dad from their stupors and be a reminder that, at any age, a child will have issues. That the child might, indeed, be an a**hole.

I chuckled at Sarah's post, because early on she said, "After dealing with two 3-year-olds in my house, I can tell you from experience that they are undeniably the hardest humans on the face of the planet to negotiate with. The reason? They don't give a f*ck!"

But let me say this, dear Sarah. Even at twelve, and maybe moreso, these still-fledgling humans don't give a f*ck! "Go pick up the things in your room, please," is met with complete resistance. "When was the last time you actually took a shower and washed your hair, much less all the bits that get sweaty in the summer?" is met with a scowl, a stomp, and a slamming of the door. And "Have you practiced your viola?" is met with a sarcastic eye-roll and a quick, "You asked me that already!"

Let me tell you more. You think pink pants are a problem? How about pants at all? Those lovely articles of clothing that are made to cover the rear end? Many times I have said to the twins, "Please wear a shirt that covers your bum. Leggings are fine, but you need to cover your rump." And while no shouting ensues, another giant eyeroll is shot across the room, and no attempt to cover up said rump is made. Until I take out the big guns: Tim. Somehow, his booming voice can make most things happen.

And cups? I can only hope that my kids would put their cups in the toilet because then, they wouldn't litter my tables, counters, bookshelves, and floor. You'd think by twelve, these kids would understand the need to put dirty cups and other dishes in the sink. It happens sometimes, but not all the time. And there are mornings where I go around collecting cups, washing them, and waiting for the cycle to continue. (I'm done with that, by the way, because they are twelve. They can wash their own doggone cups if they need them.)

Like Sarah, I wondered if my kids were "challenging me" or if I was, indeed, a subpar parent. My in-laws and parents don't think that is the case. They say, for the most part, that the kids are good, and well-mannered, and full of respect. And they are. Plus, the other two don't behave like the twins. The other two rarely roll their eyes or stomp away and, in the case of the six-year-old, can be relied on to clear any dishes and put anything away, even if she didn't take it out.

So really, call it hormones or almost-teen behavior, call it anything you want. Three-year-olds might be considered a**holes, but I have to stand by my claim that twelve-year-olds can be, too. Which means that I'm going to have to let Sarah down easy and inform her that while the age of four might be a bit better in her household (fewer M&Ms being thrown at the cat, perhaps?), she will most likely be in for many more a**hole moments. Because as far as I can tell, every age has them. (Oh joy.)

You can take as many deep breaths as you want. The only thing those breaths are going to get you is some time to calm down and gather strength because, while the three-year-old a**hole phase will pass, it's followed by a large number of more vibrant a**hole phases.

Just remember this: karma is a bitch. Many of those a**hole kids will someday, have kids of their own.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Follow Through

I hesitate to take on the subject of today's post because I'm afraid you loyal readers might think I'm talking about you. And maybe I am, but not a single one of you is the inspiration for this post, just so you know. Seriously.

Not that the subject is bad, either. What I'm talking about is follow through. You know, the ability to make sure you see something to completion. Finding the time to do what you say you will. Showing up when you have an appointment or sending out the mail when you say you will. I could go on, but I won't, because each and every one of us has a list of items scrolling through our heads, right now, of the things we haven't followed through on.

Like the fact that I have thank yous sitting on the desk that the kids wrote for their fundraiser. Or that I said I'd go through Aaron's dresser and find out what clothes he doesn't need. Or that I was supposed to call about a possible swim lesson for Melina. If you want me to go on, just so you can feel better about yourselves, please let me know.

But that list, when I think about it, is trivial, and for that, I'm grateful. Because it means that I'm placing the big things -- like my kids' integral needs -- before the little things. I'm following through on everything that needs to be done for them, or for Tim, or for myself and my well-being, and placing the less important items onto the back-burner of life. Queries step to the forefront, as do doctors appointments and grocery shopping. Hugs and smooches and games of Sorry and shopping for Legos come front and center. Cleaning out the back of my closet? Not even close. I won't be following through on that one anytime soon.

And I'm okay with that. At least for now. When the time comes that cleaning out the back of my closet needs to morph from idea to reality, I'll place it at the top of the priority list. And hope that my ability to follow through is still intact.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Places

"Sometimes you step through a door thinking it'll take you one place, and then find yourself somewhere completely different -- and yet, that's the right place to be."
~ Susan Fox, Yours, Unexpectedly

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Be Specific

Dear Agent:

With as many rejections as I've gotten now (and it could be so many more...I realize this), I wanted to tell you a few things, in case you didn't know these tidbits already. I know you know that rejections are always going to hurt, even if you word them kindly. So even if you say something akin to, Your writing is unique and you have a fresh perspective on a classic story... (no one has said that to me, but the sentence sounds so amicable, doesn't it?), the rejection still feels like tiny knives pricking the skin -- every time the writer goes back and reads the offending email. I'm just reminding you of that fact: Rejection hurts.

So what doesn't hurt as much? How could you make our lives, as writers, just a little bit easier? Shoot, we're not asking for much. One idea, and wow, I have to say, I'm going out on a limb here because if I want my kids to change something about their behavior I'd never even think about this (wink, wink, nudge nudge). What about giving us a morsel of feedback? Good and useful feedback. That would be a gift from the Gods, if you ask me.

But I understand that you probably don't have the time to do that -- giving actual thought and feedback to each and every author that queries you. I get that. I have four kids, a part-time job, and I'm trying to publish a novel. Really, I get it. But I have another solution for you, and you better step back for this one, because it's a doozy.

Be proactive about the whole submission process. It would be so easy (so easy!) for you to simply be specific with what you're looking for. For example, on your website, don't say I'm interested in woman's fiction. Because when I get the rejection letter that says my piece doesn't fit in with your list of what you're looking for, I'm going to roll my eyes, pound my fist against the table, and curse you six ways to Sunday.

Because hell, I sent you women's fiction. If all you're looking for is women's fiction, why doesn't my piece fit the list?  (It's a good question, I know, and one that you will have to think about time and time again when you say that a project isn't what you're looking for. So there.) Had you taken a moment to jot a specific wish list on a crumpled drink napkin, waved it at your intern or even the IT guy who's playing Diablo in the corner of his office, you'd have wasted so much less time of mine. And yours. Because if I had known that you were looking for an LGBTQ novel that involved time travel between Victorian and Roman times, I would not have sent a novel in which a woman living in the 21st century grapples with thoughts of infidelity. I just wouldn't have done that. (And that didn't really happen, but it could have, you know.)

So Agent, please, please consider this plea. You want me to do so many things right before I submit my writing to you. I need to read your guidelines, format my piece correctly, submit to the correct agent, and wait (sometimes for an undetermined length of time). I need to make certain you are even open to queries and that I'm using the correct method for submission (email versus snail mail). And you? All you need to do is open the email and decide Yes or No.

If you want to have a better day, with the hopes of saying Yes more often than No (as many of you dear Agents purport to loathe doing) then be kind, rewind, and rewrite your list. I promise not to send something that's not appropriate. I'm a glutton for punishment, but even I have a limit to the number of rejections I'm willing to use for toilet paper. Either you do that, or I'll need to have more children. They tend to use more toilet paper than anyone I know.

Sincerely,

CMC

Monday, July 14, 2014

It Has to Start Somewhere

As I've gotten older, I've learned to listen to myself and what my inner me is saying. However, way back when, even during college and slightly beyond, I didn't know how to heed the call within me. I spent more time worrying about what other people would think of my decisions, instead of concentrating on what the decision was and how it would affect me. Had I actually listened to the voices in my head, my path today might be very different. Then again, it might not. I have no way of knowing.

A friend sent this lovely little throwback from 1995 (I think). She found it in our college yearbook, and yes, there's me, on the far right, in the front row. (I must be in the front row! Thanks, Bob Uecker!)


I remember that sweater well...it was a perfect mix of neutrals, blues, and reds, but the thread was quite scratchy, and the fit? It didn't fit well. At all. Of course, nothing in college fit me well. It was a time of wearing too-big clothing and hiding every curve of my body. And to top it all off, I think I look like I need to be resuscitated.

But back to the issue. In this stunning picture, I'm pushed together with a group of individuals who made up the English Composition Board Peer Tutors: students who helped others make their writing better. Huh. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Don't The Plot Sisters and I do that every two weeks? Don't I work with writers to do the same over at Literary Mama? Why yes, yes I do.

So don't you wonder what happened between 1995 and 2012, when I decided to turn my life around and get back to writing? What made me veer off course?

The answer is simple: I listened to everyone else. I decided that being able to support myself with a career in science was a better idea than having a career that I was passionate about. I thought that the ability to write was not worthy of a career, in fact, and that it would be far nobler to become a scientist. I thought that my parents would be much more proud of a daughter who added MD or PhD to her name than one that put MFA at the end of it.

But I can't blame anyone but myself. No one held a gun to my head and said, Apply to medical and graduate school, or else. Only I can take the blame for where I've ended up.

And even though, as I look at this picture, I'm reminded again of all the goals I had with respect to writing, I realize that because I took a more convoluted path to get where I am, I've enriched my writing background. I've added so many more experiences to the mix. I've met more people from different circumstances and sprinkled in more spice and variety. It's something I'd do again, if I had the chance (I think I've said this before). But it is good to be reminded that the path we've chosen started somewhere.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Giving It Up

There was a point in my life, almost twenty years ago now, where I felt that I was no longer in control of my life. I didn't feel as though someone else was running it, but I veered toward the notion that no matter what I did, I couldn't quite come up with a way to keep my life on the path I'd chosen. I kicked, I yelled, I groaned, and I complained. Nothing helped. Until I realized, that sometimes, you need to relax and become peaceful before you can move forward. That until you're willing to shut up and listen, you hear nothing. That sometimes, you can't do anything about what's happening to you and your life EXCEPT choose which reaction you're going to have.

That's where I'm at with this writing gig. I can only do so much: write what I think is the best piece I can write; query the agents that I think might like said piece; attend the proper workshops to meet people and learn the craft. After that, there's nothing I can do.

So, I'm giving it up this weekend. No, I'm not giving up my writing, I'm just giving the idea of publishing up to someone other than myself. If you choose to believe in God, then I guess I'm giving it up to Him. Or Budda. Or the Universe. Or whatever higher power is out there. I'm confident in what I can do to get to where I need to be, but I also know that the probability of actually publishing is slim. Whatever happens, happens. And I'll be okay with it.

In the meantime, I'll print up a copy of each of my books, formatted and bound just like a book, so that someday, my kids and grand kids can read the manuscripts and know that no matter what, I didn't actually give up. Sometimes like just has different plans that we do.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Six Years Ago

Six years ago today, I was in my hospital room, holding onto a little peanut of a baby, all while wondering if Tim had gotten the three older children to dinosaur class at the rec center. I remember thinking how easy it all was (aside from a good dose of fatigue): to push out my fourth child, to look at her sweet face, to put her to my breast, to be a mother.

It's not that mothering is easy (parenting is by far the most difficult job I've encountered). It's that Melina makes mothering easy. She's the sort of child who accepts what is thrown at her, who is happy with sloppy seconds if need be, and who loves life to the fullest and simply wants to have fun. How she has that fun, she sometimes doesn't care. Melina is also one of the most outgoing of any child that I know. She makes friends at the pool, at the grocery store, and at the bank. She pushes me to be more outgoing, to accept the challenges life hands me, and to roll with the punches. She is a course in being happy with yourself and finding the beauty within us. She's a marvel, this fourth child, in so many different ways than her siblings.

There's so much going on here today, that I don't really have the time to be sentimental. To think about the fact that Melina now needs to use two hands to say how old she is, that she will be headed to school all day come mid-August, that she will mature and grow and blossom over the next year so that by the time she's seven, she might have given up words like skabetti, and eksimo and tenically. And to be honest, I'm glad about not having time. Because I have a very good imagination, and can easily leap from thinking about a soon-to-be first grader to her first day of college (sob).

Happy Birthday, Melina!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Story Prompt

I'm not sure what to say about these sandals, other than this -- there is a story prompt in this picture somewhere.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Important Business

Eating gluten-free can be a life changing event for some. While we aren't gluten-free in this house, we do have friends and family who have taken on the challenge of eating gluten-free not because of some fad, but because their health and livelihood depend on it. And when said family comes to visit and wants to take part in a birthday celebration (of a little girl who will turn six this Thursday), I want to make sure that family member can eat cake.

But life has been so busy around here, I didn't find a good homemade gluten-free recipe that I was willing to try. Enter Hodgson Mill. They've been around forever and make a ton of offbeat healthier (or not) items as well as sell oodles of oddball grains and flours that no one (until now) has heard of. I plucked a gluten-free chocolate cake mix off the shelf and hoped for the best.

Of course, if you know me, I can't use a cake mix without adding something to it. But I didn't know how gluten-free mixes worked with additions, so I only added about a tablespoon of brewed coffee to the already mixed up other bits. And, I made my own whipped cream chocolate frosting.

I'll cut to the chase: it was good. The texture was dense and even though I could tell that the flours were different from a regular cake, I would make it again. And that's a great thing, because my gluten-free family member comes out every July. Perhaps next year I'll add something a little adventurous to the mix.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Invasion

Two days without posting, and I'm sure you missed me. (Go ahead and admit it, I know you did. Except for FRN, because I was actually in the same state that she was, having fun at her wedding shower. And probably not Ben, either, who I have found out is just as loyal as FRN or LRN, and so I must -- I MUST -- find another acronym for him. But we had fun at his house, too, so I know he wasn't missing us. In fact, he was probably trying to find ways to get six people out of his house a little sooner. How's that for what was supposed to be ONE parenthetical phrase??)

Well sadly, the time has come (as it has for a few summers now), where my ability to post and write dwindles because of the invasion. I might have a lot to say, but little time to write it down. Or, I might be so busy because of the invasion, that I won't even have anything to say. What invasion, you ask? The invasion of my house. By my sister and her kids.

I probably shouldn't use the word invasion, because that dredges up images of an army of unwanted intruders breaking into my home, and while Tim might feel that way (actually, he doesn't...I ask him every year if it is okay for the girls to come down), I do not. I don't mind this change in routine, from going to Chaos Level 1 to Chaos Level 2, because I prepare for it. I don't bother trying to get anything done besides laundry, cooking, keeping people happy, and during this week, making Melina's birthday cake (she will turn six on Thursday, by the way). I welcome having my big sister here because -- news flash -- I like her. And this year, we're especially lucky: Tara and her daughter are here for a few days as well (and I like them, too). Which means we're in for a real treat with all this family around. (Aaron is really excited. He can't get over how many girls are in one house at one time. Cue sarcasm and an extra large eye-roll here.)

So I'll try to post all the gems that come out of our time together or I won't. You'll have to be patient with me. I'll see you here sometime, but maybe not tomorrow.

Friday, July 4, 2014

From the Inside

Just in case you were wondering what's happening in my Catholic life lately, I have news. No, I'm not switching to the conservative side or asking Tim to reverse his vasectomy. I'm contemplating joining the Parish Council.

SCREECH.

I know, I know. The lady who claims to want more (or less, depending on the day) from Catholicism is contemplating becoming a part of the team? Let me briefly explain.

A friend asked if I'd be a part of the council. I like said friend and so I said I'd consider it.

Now since the meetings conflict with my writing group, I won't be considering it that strongly, but I found it somewhat laughable when he asked if I would have interest in becoming a member of the council.

"You don't want me," I said. "I don't even get to church each week."

"Yes, we do. You're exactly the demographic we need."

Hmm. Interesting. It could be a case of the blind leading the blind. Or the moral minority taking over. I could stem a revolt from the inside. Make the parish what I want and make the congregation think if was all their idea! Ah, the possibilities...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Keep Believing

DISCLAIMER: BARBARA H. STOP READING NOW. YES, THAT MEANS YOU, OR THE STORY WILL BE SPOILED. UNLESS YOU WANT IT TO BE SPOILED. AND THANKS FOR READING, BARBARA, BECAUSE REALLY, IT MEANS SO MUCH TO ME. I SHOULD ALSO SAY THAT ANYONE ELSE WHO'D LIKE TO READ THIS MANUSCRIPT (KELSEY -- IF YOU HAVE TIME, BECAUSE I APPRECIATE YOU, TOO) AND LET ME KNOW WHAT THEY THINK, THEY SHOULD STOP NOW AS WELL. WAIT, THAT MIGHT BE MY WHOLE READERSHIP. AH SHOOT, GO AHEAD, IF YOU DARE.

An author once told me that "publishing is a capricious business" and when she made the statement, I thought to myself, Then why in the hell am I even trying? Will I be a success? And by success, I simply mean will I ever get published, traditionally, so that I can see my book on a store shelf? Who knows -- the business changes with the tides, and one agent's idea of what they are looking for is different from the agent in the next cubicle.

Yet, I keep trying. Three novels finished (two of which are polished), three works-in-progress, and what keeps me from throwing in the towel? I don't know. FRN says I haven't yet stopped because writing is what "I was born to do," and maybe she's correct. I sure seem to have a lot to say.

But forging a way through the writing world is so arduous and rarely life-affirming. Doors are constantly slammed in your face, until the day that they aren't. And we can only hope that they aren't. Aside from writing a good story and a great query letter, there isn't much we can do about getting that book published.

Speaking of good stories, I have one. (Actually, I think that the two polished novels I have AND the works-in-progress are good stories. Of course I do -- I'm biased. It remains to be seen if the story will stay in the category of good in my hands. There have been several stories I've read where I said to myself, If only Author X had thought of this, then it would have been fantastic.) And this past week, it looked like an agent might think so, too. But after sending a letter, then the first three chapters, and then a partial manuscript (in this case, 100 pages), the email came back with another resounding NO.

To be quite truthful, the agent's assistant was the one with whom I corresponded the entire time, and she was very kind throughout the process. Thankfully, her rejection was just as kind; I didn't even shed a tear.
Dear Ms. C:

Thank you for the opportunity to read your work. Unfortunately, AWF is not right for our list at this time. If you'd like some feedback, here is my main concern. I'm afraid it might be a little too said that both men die at the end. This book is already dealing with some heavy issues so ending with two tragedies was a concern for me. I hope that helps.

I would invite you to keep us in mind whenever you have another manuscript available, and best of luck to you in the future.

Warm Regards,
LW
Editorial Assistant
At this point, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this post. (Actually, so am I.) When I read the email, I felt dejected (despite the lack of tears) and thought seriously about deleting my entire file folder of writing. (Just kidding, I'm not stupid.) I said to myself Well, that's it. I guess I better tell the few people I informed about the agent that it's a no. Which is exactly what I said in the subject of my email to my sisters and husband.

The thing I need to say right here is that I thought, as I was writing the book, that the ending might be too much. But the story that came to me is the story I had to write. I also must say that I have the best sisters and husband. And the most supportive. Because not more than five minutes after I sent my email, Timmy, the guy who isn't always at his desk and rarely speaks to us during the day because he's so busy, sent a quick reply:
Dickens's original ending to Great Expectations didn't have Pip & Estella wind up with each other.
One sentence, that's it. One sentence that said so much more than I ever would have thought. One sentence that told me he'd still be there, supporting me in my quest, and that if Dickens could stand to make a change, maybe I could, too. And even if I didn't make a change, it had no relevance to whether or not I am a good writer. One sentence.

So I thought, maybe, that one sentence wouldn't be enough to make a change to my story, but that a slight difference, the removal of one sentence at the end of Chapter 59 and some tweaking to Chapter 60 and voila! I could have an ending that might sit better with the masses. 

I'm okay with the change. I have two versions of my story, and I need to figure out exactly which one I plan on passing on to the next agent in line. I feel fine about the rejection, and know that someday, the doggone story will be in someone's hands other than my own.

We just need to keep believing.






Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pancake Personality

Like many things in life, I prefer my pancakes a certain way. I've talked about this before, long ago, on a Saturday morning when I ran by a house that smelled just like Saturday morning did at my house as a kid. I told you then about the pancakes my dad made almost every weekend. Because I run on Saturdays, I tend to cook pancakes during the week. And because we consume far healthier fare now than we did when I was a child, I don't load them with butter, like my dad did. Instead, I prefer to have a tender pancake, not too dry, not too sweet. One that hits the spot in terms of carbohydrates, but doesn't induce a sugar coma. Have I actually achieved that goal? Not when I use a pre-made mix. But in a pinch, my pancakes pass muster.

And of course, as I am wont to do, thinking of pancakes and how I prefer them made me think of so many other things -- more profound things (if the word thing can be thought of as profound). Is the way I prefer my pancakes indicative of who I am? If I want chocolate chips in them one day, does that mean I need a little spice in my life? If I throw in some banana, am I craving fruit or something more exotic to happen? What, indeed, do my pancakes say about me? Is there a Buzzfeed quiz for that? I bet there will be, and soon.

I won't go into all the ways I can make my pancakes different or what they might mean to me. But think about this post the next time you step up to the griddle or the next time someone serves you pancakes they think are fantastic. Do the pancakes match up to the personality? I'd be curious to know.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Not To Say

Speaking of the body -- and I love that I can do this with you all, just continue the conversation as if you're hanging on every word -- I've recently picked up a trashy book (well, actually, it's a trilogy). Don't gasp. I've read quite a bit of trash over the years, and I think I've said before that I learn just as much from the bad as I do the good. As long as I balance what I read, I'm a happy camper.

Back to the body, though -- of the characters in this book. The bodies showcase themselves in this trashy novel I'm reading. I don't want to say what the book is called because truly, I've read worse. (Of course, I've read better, much better, but I digress.) And I know how difficult it is to actually write a novel. But I think, if I had any guts, I'd write to the author with an honest critique. I'd tell her several items that come up repeatedly on my list of annoyances as I read her work. Namely:
  • It is okay to mention the first few times how well the male lead, someone I'll call Logan, looks in his business suit and wool coat. But when the chest is mentioned, repeatedly, and then again, not only in book one but also book two, you know it needs to take a rest.
  • It is also acceptable to talk about a woman's legs, but again, find something else to focus on, or better yet, let's have some character development! Those legs won't change over the course of the book, but her outlook on life, love, and her pursuit of happiness just might. (Oh wait a minute, her legs do change! She's in an accident and her thigh is left with an ugly scar, one that of course, Logan presses his lips to and undoes her.)
  • The attraction of two bodies will only get a story so far, and in my opinion, the story should be over. With book two. Even though there is another book on the way. Stop having the bodies of these characters lust over one another, yell at one another, be confused at the fact that loving someone is scary but can actually be a good thing. Acknowledge the feelings and then move on or don't. That's all.
Of course, if I do find the time and the guts to write to this author, I'd make my letter sound much nicer and more professional. I don't want to burn any bridges...she might be a friend of a friend of a friend of an agent or something like that. I guess I could only hope.