Thursday, October 30, 2014

Too Late

All her life, Sarah wanted people to take her seriously. To say, Hey, that's a great idea! or Wow! You're smart. That's exactly right. Even an I hear what you're saying would have been welcomed. But people never did, or if they did, she didn't hear it. Because she was too inwardly drawn, too concentrated on what people thought of her or what people might think of her. Sarah focused on the negative what could bes instead of the positive what ifs. And sadly, she never learned that governing oneself by what ifs wasn't really the best choice anyway. At this point, well into her life and probably onto the latter half of it, she'd never learned the lesson. But it wasn't too late, was it?

I grabbed onto that thought as I sat next to her in the heat of the car, my thighs stuck to the pleather seats, thoughts turning circles in my mind. I wasn't sure how to help this lady. She had no courage to face up to her fears, and because she lacked that quality, I knew there would be no way to make her understand my point of view. That if she just looked a single fear straight into the eyes and conquered it, she might be free. It was a simple statement, and of course easier said than done, but one in which I truly believed.

"You should do it." I turned my head to look out the dusty car window. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, just that I needed to set my gaze on something. Anything more stable than the woman sitting next to me.

Sarah continued to stare through the windshield as she answered me. "I can't. There's no way. I just can't."

With a tired breath, I blew up at the limp bangs that hung on my forehead and moved my body closer to her. Maybe if I invaded her space, she'd hear what I had to say this time. "What's the worst that can happen?"

"Don't say that!" Her hand slammed against the steering wheel and she shot a deathly look my way before puffing a bit of air out her nose. An image of an ornery bull took root in my mind and refused to budge.

"It's true. What's the worst that can happen?"

Sarah sat for a moment, pondering my words, probably imagining any number of horrific outcomes. I knew for a fact that none of what she could come up with would be good, positive. She wasn't built that way.

"The worst? You want me to tell you the worst thing that can happen?" Her voice shook and she was shouting at me. The shriek reverberated off the sides of the car and sailed directly into my ear. I didn't dare put my window down; she'd be furious and then I'd have to deal with the rage of this woman plus the influx of heat and humidity.

"Uh, yeah. Tell me." I leaned back in the seat and waited for the answer I anticipated. She did not disappoint.

"They can tell me that I have it. That I have the disease." Her voice was almost a whisper this time and she spat the word disease as if she could taste the bitterness of each individual letter.

"And?"

"And then, I'd go through life worrying about whether or not I would get it. Even if I don't have it right now."

"Aw shit, Sarah," I said as I hung my head, shaking it with sorrow. "That's not a good idea." There...I did the same thing she expected me to do, just like all the rest of the people in her life. But I had something else to say, too. "You already march through life like that. Half-living instead of full-on living. You hide your head at almost every opportunity and refuse to try new things. Because you're scared." Now, I was the one who yelled, the pulse in my forehead growing stronger and beating faster with every word. "That is not the worst that can happen!"

"Well what is? Tell me, Naomi, what is?" Sarah turned her bright blue eyes toward me, and they shimmered in the afternoon sun, the tears poised to spill at any moment. Had she really not thought this through? Or was she asking me to tell her as a way to help her stay accountable? I didn't know.

"That you don't get tested and that you pass on the disease to your daughters. YOUR FOUR DAUGHTERS. And then...then you've ruined not just one life, but five. FIVE. How about that for being a worst case scenario?" My skin felt as though an army of angry ants walked on top of it and I suppressed an overwhelming urge to escape the car; it was traveling at 60 miles per hour, and while I wasn't always the sunniest person, I certainly didn't harbor a death wish.

The silence that enveloped the car became deafening. What did I want Sarah to say? Did I hope that she would inform me that she'd call the doctor in the morning and go in to get tested? She might utter those words, in her mind truly meaning them, but I knew better. Even if Sarah said she'd do something, she wouldn't. She feared that doctor and making that call almost as much as she feared having the disease. Unless she could get past that feeling, she might as well be talking to the wall.

I shook my head again, sweat beading on my forehead. I sat there, speechless for the first time in my life. What could I say to convince her to do what I thought was the right thing? If the health and well-being of her own daughters didn't give her an incentive to vanquish the demon, then there was nothing. Absolutely nothing for me to say or do. For it wasn't my choice, it was hers. Her life, her genes, her DNA, her hesitations, her inability to see how selfish she was being. In protecting herself, she was hurting someone else.

But I knew she'd never see it that way. Sarah never had. I watched the sun begin to set on the horizon, the tangerine glow fading slowly to a burnt sienna. The farther we drove, the darker it became, and I knew that soon, sleep would claim me. Right before I shut my eyelids for the night, I realized what this trip signified. Sarah was running away, trying to flee a future that truthfully, was already one step ahead of her. I wiped a tear away as the truth hit me, full force: it was too late.

For her, but not for me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Leg Hair Follies

You had to know I'd show up here again, didn't you? That I couldn't possibly keep my mouth (or fingers) shut? But today, I've already cleaned most of the house and done two loads of laundry, plus taken care of some editing, so I'm treating myself to a blog post. Plus, I want to remember this time. What time is it, you ask?

Time to talk about and acknowledge that the twins are, indeed, almost teenagers.

Yep, they turn 13 in January, and while we've been pretty lucky to avoid the moodiness and angst that comes with being a tween, I know we'll be hit full force once their cycles start. (Don't worry, I WILL NOT post about that occurrence. If they want to tell you, I'll let them do so.) How do I know this? Because the environment is already changing.

Exhibit 1: Zoe could not find the "right" clothes to wear to a drawing class on Saturday. She stood in front of her closet, like a statue, for at least 30 minutes before selecting what had been on the floor the whole time. She almost missed her ride to the class. And she barely ate breakfast.

Exhibit 2: The girls barely eat breakfast anymore. I force them to eat something before school, but getting them to do so is a struggle.

Exhibit 3: The sheer number of those aforementioned clothes that litter their floor. Every day.

Exhibit 4: (And this is the one that has finally convinced me of where we are in the journey from childhood to adult.) The girls asked to shave their legs.

I know, many of you have daughters who might already shave their legs. The girls are, after all, in seventh grade. But they have blonde hair on their legs, and so far, we've gotten by without taking out the razor. But last week, the girls decided that it was time to take away the hair.

Why, in the middle of fall? I wondered. When their legs won't really see much daylight? I don't know. I think the twins are just at that age. But because the blonde leg hair is pretty thick and we'd just had the plumber out to snake the drain, I didn't want said hair spiraling down the pipes. Hence, I took out an old bottle of Nair.

"Nair?" one of them asked. "What is that?"

"It's lotion you put on your legs...then you wait...then you can take the hair off," I replied.

We went through the motions of applying the green (and probably horrible for you) cream to their legs, waiting the four minutes, and wiping the legs down.

"What's that?" Talia pointed to the sprinkles of something on the tissue as I wiped her leg.

"Hair," I said. "That's the hair!" I looked up at her, wondering if she was having a blonde moment. (I can say that, as I was born a blonde.) Weren't we supposed to be taking the hair off her legs. What did she think it was?

"Oh, wow!" Both girls leaned in and reveled at the bits of hair scattered across the tissue. "That's pretty cool!" one of them added.

I can't remember what else happened. I know that I suggested they rinse their legs in water, and that the next day, they wanted to do the back of their legs. ("I failed there, Mom," Zoe said. "Forgot about the back of my legs!") I shook my head, laughed, and let them have at it. I know that in the future I'll have more to worry about than the girls, their legs, and a bottle of Nair. The cucumber-melon scent that still lingers in the air reminds of that fact.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Little Bit of Failure

No one likes to fail. That's a fact of human nature. (And yes, I said I wouldn't be on here that much, but sometimes, like today, I just need put some thoughts into the atmosphere.) Much of the day, for much of the week, I think I'm pretty successful. No, I haven't published a book yet, so I guess I haven't succeeded in that realm, but I can identify that I'm making progress, and that my novel writing skills are getting better. So I'll count that among my little successes (they don't always have to be big, right?).

But this post isn't about writing. It's about the fact that yesterday, we sent Toby to a new home. And I feel like I failed the poor guy.

First off, let me say this: he should love this place. His new family consists of six, responsible college guys who will have so much more time to give to him than I do. Two of them visited Toby, twice, and played with him for a few hours at a time. They tugged with him, didn't mind his nipping, and were excited to try to get him to stop his errant behavior. And Toby loved having them come by, so I can't be too upset about where he went.

But truthfully, I feel a little bit like a failure. Like I could have done more to try and help this dog fit into the family. That I should have set aside an hour a day (that I really don't have) to train the dog and usher him into our lifestyle (you know, don't bite the hand that feeds you sort of thing). I couldn't do it, though. I just couldn't fit one more thing into my schedule, and so, I let it go. (Please don't cue the music.)

I hope it works out for Toby. I told Tim that if the new family can't make strides with him, I'll take him back. Because I can't see sending him somewhere that isn't good for him. He is a high-energy dog with a good soul...I truly believe that. He just didn't match up well with us--Shadow and Lucy in particular.

I'm going to choose not to focus on this perceived failure today. It could start off a week on a negative note, and by George, I don't need that. Instead, I'm going to look at Toby's absence as a blessing: less hair on the ground, and I don't need to worry that he'll eat the cat while I'm away. One less thing to worry about, right? Which should give me more time to be with the kids and write. It's a win-win, I guess.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hugs


Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.

~Jacques Prévert





Friday, October 24, 2014

Encouragement

Hi ho, just checking in. I'm still alive. And well (for the most part). Still crazy busy, but Melina and I have accomplished more in the way of math coverage in the last few days than we had for a while. Plus, I've gotten a ton of hugs and kisses from the crew. So I guess my spending more time being present is paying off.

But I thought I'd let you know that I received two new rejections yesterday for my novel entitled, After We've Fallen. Sure, rejections are hard to stomach, but these two...well...they gave me a little bit of hope. They showed me that perhaps, there really will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Exhibit 1:
Dear Christina,

Thank you for sending me After We've Fallen.

While I enjoyed reading your submission, which stood out from the many we receive, I'm afraid I didn't feel strongly enough about the material to take it further. I'm sorry not to be writing with better news. I hope another agent feels differently.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to consider your material and I wish you every success with your writing.

Best wishes,
Shelia
Well, yes, I wish you were writing with better news, too, but hey! My material stood out from others? I'll take that compliment and hope she meant it!

Exhibit 2:
Dear Christina,

Thank you for sharing your work with me, and for your kind note. You write well, but I'm afraid that I just didn't connect with this in the way that I'd hoped.

That said, I'd be happy to hear about any future projects you may have.

Whatever happens, I hope you will continue writing and sending out your work. Again, thank you for sharing this with me.

All the best wishes,
Jessica 
I write well? And you'd be happy to see something of mine in the future? I'll take those words and run with them, too.

And now, I'm back to caressing the keyboard...







Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 8

Because it's Wednesday, I felt the need to jump on here and give you my feelings. It can't be that hard to come up with a quick post, no? I mean, I usually have so much to say, and here it is at 5:49 in the morning. So far, no one is up; that means I should be able to write. (We'll see...I probably just jinxed myself.)

But I'm not sure what I'd like to say. I mean, I do have some things that probably could stand to get off my chest, but at this point, my ability to articulate them is shaky. I guess I'll try, but I apologize in advance for my lack of eloquence.

So what do I feel today? Well, lately, I've been thinking a lot about friends. I think it has to do with the fact that my very good buddy, Julie, who goes way back to 1991 (!?!), will be moving much closer in a few months (a 4-hour drive away instead of a 9-hour drive). I find that idea of having Julie only a small car ride away thrilling, and if I plan things right, I should be able to see her more often within the span of a year.

This post isn't about Julie, though. (Sorry, lady, maybe another time I can wax poetic about our friendship. You do actually show up in a novel I'm working on, but your name is Lauren, I think. Anyway...) This post is about the idea of friends and friendship. As an introvert, I'd much rather sit here at my keyboard and pound the keys, or go running, or read my book, because all of those are solitary activities. I can do them by myself, and I often prefer to be by myself. It's not that I don't enjoy my friends, it's more that I cannot handle being around people all the time. (You know, it's a classic case of it's not you, it's me. I think we've been through this before.)

I do value friendship, though. Very much. Having friends and a network of support is integral to good health and happiness, in my opinion. And when I think about my friends and friendships I've cultivated over the last decade or so, I've got to think about how and why we've interacted.  Lately, I've been very busy and so have they, and finding times to get together and chat has been hard. But when I reflect on the situation, I also feel that some of my friends call only when they need something. And that means, truthfully, that they aren't friends.

It's easy to discard a friend on Facebook. Easy. You click the the button and move on your way. But when you think about cleaning up your friend list in the real world, that's more difficult. What makes you keep a friend? What makes you toss a friend? And where is the line between keep and toss? Furthermore, what act makes you think that you should no longer be friends? It's too much for me to think about, and yet I do. And that thinking makes me close up further, and sit with my cup of tea, in  my house, by myself.

I guess you'll know where to find me. If you think the friendship is worth salvaging, give me a call.

And that's how I really feel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not a Goodbye

Over the past week or so, I've put forth a concerted effort to be more present for my children. Some of you might laugh at that statement, convinced that I had already done a pretty good job of that in the past. (And I do appreciate your confidence in me, really.) But to be honest, my dedication to the kids has been spotty as of late, and I don't want to miss this time in their lives. The girls will be 13 in January; Aaron turns 10 on November 1st. Melina is already one quarter into her first grade year. If I don't pull back now, I'll be 60 and wondering why my kids don't call me.

And since I've taken on more projects: teaching, editing, and writing books, I've got to give something up in order to find that time for the kids. Yes, you know where this is going. I don't watch TV, so that can't be it. I'm not even back to running. I enjoy the book writing too much, too. So since I can't give up laundry and cooking and cleaning (I've already let the cleaning go far too much), I'm choosing to let go of the blog.

Fear not--it's not a complete break here. I can't do that...I just have too much to say. But this past year especially, I've done a lot of blog writing. And in those minutes where I'm posting information here, I could have been doing something else so that when the kids are awake or home from school, I'm there. As in, not just with my body, but with my whole mind and soul.

Check in from time to time, because I'll still be managing a few posts a week (I hope). This is not a goodbye, at all.

Cheers!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday

"So. Monday. We meet again. We will never be friends—but maybe we can move past our mutual enmity toward a more-positive partnership."

~Julio Alexi Genao


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cold Issues

The nasty virus I had--the one that lingered for far too long--has made it's way to Melina. She has a runny nose and a cough, and while most people would say that her eyes are watering, she has a different way of telling me about that symptom.

Her words? I have water coming out of my eyes.

Yes, you do. I can't argue with that description.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Generating Interest

Here's a Twitter post I keyed in yesterday that generated some interest:
I thought Darth Vader had entered our house, but then I realized it was the dog. I should loan him out to George Lucas. #StarWars #dogslife
Not a lot of interest, mind you, like on the scale of something John Green or Jimmy Fallon would post, but it got a few favorites and a retweet.

Which got me thinking about Twitter itself and followers and all the other intricacies of that particular piece of social media (most of which I don't understand), and my head started to spin, and I packed it in for the night. And this morning, I still don't feel like trying to tackle anything with respect to understanding it all, or complaining about it, but I did feel like sharing what my house sounded like last night. At least to me.

So there.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Little Magic

She hadn't felt this down in a long time--years really--and for that, she was glad. For a while there, it was too often that she'd barely managed to make it out of the house with a dry set of eyes. But today, the crack in her chest ached with each breath, even though her physical self remained intact. As she reached for her cup of peppermint tea, she inhaled--once, twice--and willed the normally soothing aroma to work it's magic. With a rueful shake of her head, she realized that this time, it didn't.

Simply put, she was tired. Of so many things in her life. The drama that had become her family. (How many times could her brother-in-law possibly call complaining about that dick he worked for?) The lack of acknowledgment from her friends. (She scheduled several coffee dates, only to have them fall apart at the last minute.) The chest-puffing and name calling at work. (Weren't we past all of that, say, back in elementary school?) No, she didn't need any of those melodramatic moments in her life right now, and as much as she tried to ignore them (for her husband always said it's the easiest route to take), she found she couldn't. Not anymore. Something about the cluster of negativity seeped into her soul and had taken root. The more she surrounded herself with the everyday ordinary, the more depressed she became.

And then, the phone rang.

She shuffled into the kitchen, picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. The long cord (yes, they still had one of those in the house) tangled between her fingers and a slight buzz hit her ear. Her head recoiled a little at the noise.

"Hello?" she said, her voice a mere whisper. It was the best she could do in that moment.

"Hello, Mommy. I'm upstairs. I have your phone!" A large giggle erupted from her four-year-old daughter's mouth, and she imagined the huge smile that must have been dancing across the face of the youngster.

"Why hello there, little lady." The corners of her mouth turned up, for the first time in weeks, it seemed. Her back settled against the kitchen wall. "How did you get my phone?"

"It was on the table next to your bed."

She hadn't remembered leaving it there, but these days, she wasn't remembering much. "And what were you doing in my room?"

"Oh Mommy! I was making a pizza with Daddy!"

The insane guffaws of her husband--always the clown--filtered into her ear. She imagined his hands tickling her daughter's sides as she tumbled into a pile of laughter onto the bed. The loud plink of the phone as it hit the wood floor of her bedroom reverberated across the phone line.

For a moment, she just stood there, listening to the activity going on upstairs. She covered her mouth with her hands (to stop from laughing, which felt great) as she heard bits and pieces of the conversation going on between daddy and daughter: how the cheese should be sprinkled on the dough of the little girls' belly, how not to make the sauce so hot, how maybe they should make a burrito instead, and whether or not Mommy should be disturbed.

"Mommy's not well right now. She's a little sad," her husband said.

"I know." Over the line, the little girl's voice had changed from carefree and happy to downright serious. How had that happened? she thought, but craned her ear closer to the receiver, as if the action alone would help her hear better. "That's why I called her. I love her and I want her to be happy."

Her hands shook and tears poured forth from her eyes (happy tears, she realized) as she placed the phone back on the cradle. One simple sentiment--a little magic and love from her daughter--had helped begin to erase the demons. It would be a long road to getting back to a good place in her life, but by golly, she would do it. She had to do it. For her, and for her daughter.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dear Student

Dear Student:

This letter has been a long time coming. Here we are, nine weeks into the semester, and while I probably should have written sooner, I didn't. Because I thought maybe life in the classroom would get better. But it hasn't. (Hey, what are you doing? You're supposed to be paying attention. Look here. Over here--AT THE WORDS--not over there. Okay, thank you. Continue reading.) 

You still saunter into my classroom, exactly two minutes late everyday. You toss your grungy bangs out of your eyes as you drop into the chair, and then open up your tattered notebook and find that offensive clicky pen. (Click, click, clickity-click-click.) When I look at you, I see you writing something onto your paper, but what that something is, I can't be sure. I hope you are following the lecture on impulse propagation--perhaps you're making sure that you know what the difference is between a graded potential and an action potential--but judging by the scores of your last exam you are not. And by the way, Ginandtonic is not an acceptable answer to classifying a solution as isotonic, hypertonic, or hypotonic. Funny, yes, but not something for which you will get credit. This is, after all, Anatomy and Physiology. Not creative writing.

I have asked myself several times, What am I doing wrong? Am I teaching the material at a level that is too difficult? Did I neglect a fundamental topic back in Chapter 1 so that what I'm trying to teach now isn't being understood? Am I speaking Greek? (Sometimes, I'm speaking Latin, but rarely Greek.) Are you stupid? (Yes, that question traversed my mind several times over these last couple of dismal weeks, but since I don't like to use that word, I never actually said it aloud. Maybe I should have. Although had I done it, you'd likely have called the Chair on me. Chances are, though, the Chair would have taken my hand in hers and congratulated me on saying what she never dared to utter.) So that really only leaves one scenario, at least in my mind. What I've come to determine is that you might not be the brightest college student I've ever met, but you are--by far--the laziest.

Let's review: I give you a PowerPoint outline to follow. I give you that same information in outline format. I speak clearly and repeat important items (sometimes as many as five times). I arrive in the classroom 45 minutes early (every day that class is in session) and sit there, waiting for you to show up and ask me questions (which you've never done). I've adjusted my exam questions so that with each exam, they've gotten easier. And still you've scored between 40 and 50 percent. On. Every. Exam. Which means (and correct me if I am wrong) that I am not the problem. You are.

I didn't think that I'd have to tell you this, but I will. Because apparently no one else has. It's not enough to open a notebook and pretend to listen. It's not enough to watch me and nod your head at the words I'm saying. It's not enough to glance at the thick stack of notes an hour before a test and think, Wow, that sounds familiar. I hope I do okay on this one. It's not enough to even cram everything in the night before an exam. This course is tough, but you're making it tougher because you don't place studying as priority. (You mock my pain. Life is pain, Highness.)

I get it. You'd rather be hanging out with friends, playing Minecraft, taking your dog for a walk, or talking on your phone. Maybe you even like Bejeweled Blitz. Or prefer to watch movies while you sit, naked, on the couch. Hell if I know or care, really. There are plenty of other things I'd rather be doing than pounding my head against a concrete wall every time I walk in and have to lecture. But I'm there, showing up each day to try and get through to you and every other sorry ass in the class.

So let's learn from this experience and, over the next half of the semester, put our best feet forward. And by our, I really mean your. Because I'm doing all I can.

Sincerely,

Your teacher.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Having Fun with Fractions

Aaron's homework last time involved identifying fractions around our house. He had fun with the assignment and sent these pictures to his teacher:


This is 4/10 (or 2/5) of a pot of coffee.




1/5 of the people are not wearing helmets.




3/5 of the bikes have people on them.




One whole pair (2/2) of identical twins.


 

1/2 of a pair of identical twins.

The twins' pictures are my favorite. I think we should have dressed them in matching outfits.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hiding Things

Yesterday afternoon, when I reached up to put a roll of garbage bags into the cabinet, I noticed the digital camera sitting next to the China plates. You might wonder why garbage bags are housed in the same cupboard as China, but you have to remember that, even though we renovated our kitchen, we didn't change the size of said kitchen. And we have small closets.

Anyway, I looked at the camera and said to myself, "Huh, Tim must have put that there. Maybe so the dog won't eat it?" (By that time, Toby had returned to us. And with as much as he chews, it is conceivable that he would attack the digital camera.)

Well last night, I finally found out why the digital camera wasn't in its proper place. Earlier in the day, I had gotten frustrated with the twins because once again, they hadn't cleaned up their room. In fact, instead of putting their clothes away, they had merely shoved them into one of their large closets. So instead of going with me to the party supply store, I left the two of them at home to finish their work.

I knew the girls were angry when I left. But they hadn't listened, and going to the party supply store was a treat. They could miss out, as far as I was concerned. (In a case of good luck for them, the trip was a bust. The store had nothing that I was interested in.) Later on that day, when we were going through our religious education materials, we talked about getting angry with people and how, even when we are angry, we don't always say what is on our mind.

"Like when I get upset with you, girls, I don't always say what I'd like to say," I said to them. "And I'm sure you don't say everything that's in your head, either." The girls nodded their heads and smiled. I went on. "Today, I'm sure after I left you had a few choice things to say about me. Right?"

They piped right up. "Yep," Zoe said. "I yelled it down the hallway since no one was here!"

I laughed out loud at her. I couldn't fault Zoe, as I'd done the same thing so many times when the house was empty. And at least she possessed enough impulse control and respect to not yell to my face. We finished up our studies, and went on our way.

A little while later, Zoe came up to me. "Mom, I'm not sure I should tell you this, but I want to tell you."

"Okay," I said. "Go ahead."

She didn't hesitate. "I was mad at you, so I hid some things. I hid the camera..."

"Is that why it was in the cabinet? I wondered who had put it up there!"

"Yeah, and the dishsoap..."

"Interesting choice there, Zoe."

"And I was going to hide your laptop, but I thought that would be just mean."

Yes, yes that would be plain old mean. Because then I wouldn't be able to write down this little gem. I'm still wondering about the dish soap, though.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Truth

Toby ran out the front door this afternoon when Melina pulled it open.

"He ran across the street, Mom! I can't see him anymore," Melina shouted.

Too bad he has that license on, I thought to myself. They can trace him back to us.

(I never said you had to like me.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Quite the Life

I'd already been in the office for a few minutes when she rushed through the wooden doors with a flourish.

"I'm sorry," she said as she placed her purse on the chair and her youngster on her feet. "I got a ride from my mom. I don't have a car."

"No worries," I replied. "We're good here. Not much to do, yet." I looked at the sweet face of her daughter, who munched on a doughnut hole. "She's so precious...just a cutie."

"Thank you." She set about to take off her coat and then began straightening items on the desk.

Her name tag read Lillian. We'd both signed up to help clean out the office of the nearby school library as it got ready for renovation, and we had a three-hour shift ahead of us. Most of what we had to do was placing books into boxes and packing up files. Nothing that couldn't be done with a child in tow. Hence, the presence of her daughter, Gemma. She looked around the small space with the fluorescent lights and let out a slight shriek. I giggled as she ran from one end of the room to the other.

"How old is she?" I asked.

"Four," Lillian said. "She goes to the Presbyterian daycare over on Dillon Road, but they're closed today. Something special going on. I work there, which means I have the day off, too."

"It's my day off as well," I responded. "And we're spending it here." I thought for a moment how that sounded and then added, "I like helping out here, though, so I don't mind."

"Neither do I."

Lillian and I got to work. I showed her a few of the shortcuts I'd learned the last time I volunteered to help move library materials. She looked on with interest until a student walked in, asking to purchase a book that had been put on reserve from the book sale the week before.

"Actually, it's two books," he said, and pointed to the large volumes on the shelves above our heads. "Those right there." With his eyes still on the books, the student pulled out a wallet, two inches thick with cash. I felt my eyes widen and saw Lillian's explode. Who would allow their child to bring that much cash to school? It was doubtful the parents even knew about it.

"You might be careful with that cash, dear," Lillian said to the boy. "If kids knew you had that, they might try to take it."

The boy said he would and then paid the $60 we'd rung up as his sale. Two hard-cover books of facts and he was out that much money. I looked at Lillian.

"That's a lot of cash to spend on two books," I said. I'd just gotten the bills for the three kids and their braces the week before. Even with some insurance money, we'd be out quite a bit for some lovely smiles. We were willing to do it, but those were expenses I hadn't necessarily planned for, and was caught somewhat unawares at how steep the bills would be. And we still had one child to go.

"Sure is," Lillian said. "I only get $100 in food stamps each month. And that's got to last the whole month. Crazy, isn't it?"

I stopped what I was doing and looked at Lillian. She wasn't complaining, she was simply stating a fact. She needed food stamps, and the kid who bought the books spent a little over half of what she received from the government in one fell swoop. And here I was, thinking of my kids' braces? Something we were electing to do? How could I complain about a cost like that? I had two cars at home, plenty of food for groceries and bills, and the choice to work part-time instead of full-time, like Lillian. There was no way in hell that I could possibly whine about my blessed existence.

So I didn't. Instead, I moved on to dusting off some old books and placing a stack of withered papers in the recycling bin before I asked Gemma a few questions that made her laugh. Lillian and I had a wonderful morning, chatting about our kids and our jobs and everything in between--from sexual education to how to publish books. And at the end of our time together, I asked Lillian if she needed a ride. She knew I had other places to be, and she wasn't headed home--she needed to get to the mall (a good fifteen minutes away). She said thank you, but no. And due to my jam-packed schedule, I didn't push her. But once I got in my car and drove away, I thought to myself that I probably should have. 

A character of mine once said to his wife, "From where I'm standing, it looks to me like you've got quite the life." I could imagine Lillian saying the same thing to me, and I wouldn't blame her for doing it. I've got a lot to be thankful for, that I know. And I usually remember to say thank you for this life, but it never hurts to have someone else remind you to do so.

Thank you, Lillian.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dog Days, Part IV

You know how, once you have a child, you can't really take him or her back? You might threaten to do so, but truthfully, unless Child Protective Services gets involved, you're stuck with your progeny. (For most of us, that's a good thing, of course, and we don't look at it as being stuck.) Well, with a dog, that isn't the case.

I can find a new home for Toby if I am so inclined.

I can decide not to feel guilty about it.

Can you tell I'm trying to convince myself of the above statement?

What the trainer taught me has worked to some degree to curb Toby's impulse control problems. But , I'm not home enough (nor to I have the energy or inclination) to spend the loads of time this dog requires. He's a needy dog. I don't have needy children (at least in my opinion) so why do I want to saddle myself with a needy dog?

I don't.

But I can't find a home for him. We've had no hits on our Craigslist and Facebook postings, and one person who seemed interested hasn't found the time to come see him. If he can't do that, then he doesn't have time for this dog and his issues, either.

Where does that leave us? In the same spot we were last week: in a house with bite marks on the table legs, a cat who doesn't leave the upper level, and a dog who needs a swift kick in the pants.

Just wait, Toby, until Christmas break, when I have two weeks of uninterrupted time to deal with you and your so-called issues. Just wait. It's not an empty threat this time.

(Okay, don't get worried. I'm just teasing. But if the weather isn't too bad in December, I plan on having the kids help round up this rascal. Of course, I'll keep you posted.)


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 6

We don't have any details about what happened yesterday, so I can only tell you this: that a sixth grade student from one of the middle schools nearby hanged herself. At school. While it was in session.

I have so many things I'd like to say about this occurrence, but with no evidence to tell the true story, I can't. So what can I say? This could have happened anywhere, even the girls' school. That the hanging of a student is tragic and awful and I feel for her family, friends, and school community. That I wonder about the story behind it all--what made this child (child!!) decide to end her life in such a gruesome form in a public way? And that no matter what, her parents will never get over this.

Because when I think about what happened, as a parent, I know that if I were in their shoes, I'd always blame myself.

I've seen many people say, "Go hug your children," and "Take the time to tell them you love them today," as if the simple gestures will smooth over the situation. You and I both know they won't. So the first thing I'd suggest is to talk about what happened yesterday with the kids, honestly and openly. But you can't do that just one time and hope for the best. You must be present and open to communication at all times. You must love your child with fervor. And even when you think you can't listen to another word they have to say, you must. Because that one word might be the time you hear the call for help.

Like I said, I have no idea what happened, and I'm not judging the child's parents or the schools. Do I think they missed something? Yes, I do. Put down your phone, your computer, your book, whatever form of leisure activity takes you away from being a parent who is present, and pay attention to your child. Each day, and every day. And that's How I Really Feel.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Self-Doubt

I clicked on the mouse, which activated the next PowerPoint slide to open into view. It stated at the top: OHM'S LAW.

"This is not a physics course," I said to the 33 young minds in front of me, "but we do need to understand a few physics concepts in order to understand what happens at the plasma membrane." I felt my cheeks flush with heat and a smile turn the corners of my mouth upward. This was it: the chapter on neurons and how they work, one of my favorite chapters of the entire semester.

A few groans filled the classroom. "Don't worry," I continued. "It's not that bad."

And it isn't. But try telling those 33 young minds not to worry at 11 a.m. when they'd rather be doing anything besides sitting in a classroom, hearing a lecture on voltage, current, and resistance. But try, I did. I drew the plasma membrane of a cell, with positive charges on one side and negative charges on the other. I explained that we had a separation of charge and that, if we measured that separation of charge, we'd get a number, in volts (hence the term voltage). Then--and this is where it gets really exciting--I told these kids that if we open up a channel through that membrane and allowed ions to flow, then ZAP! We'd just caused an electrical current! IN THE BODY! How about that?!? (Come on, readers, let's get excited about this.)

I know you're wondering where I'm going with this. Well, I'll tell you. Once I started writing, I wondered if teaching Anatomy & Physiology was going to be enough for me. Would it be able to feed my soul as much as writing? I held onto the teaching because it pays more bills than my non-paying editing and writing gigs. And someday, I'll need to pay not only the orthodontist bills (as of November, we'll have three children in glasses and braces), but car payments, car insurance, and college tuition. But I didn't want to be teaching just as a means of garnering wages. I wanted to make sure I still had a passion for the subject. And I have to say, I had my doubts.

Until last week. I had a conversation with Tim, with the kids, with my mentor at work, and then again with those 33 young minds, a conversation that told me my fervor for science is alive and well. And I'm sorry I doubted myself. It happens, but I hope it will happen less and less as time goes by. Because doubting myself will not help me publish my novels.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Classy Writing

"Hey, Mom, can I read some of your blog?" Talia asked.

I tossed the recent titles around in my mind and scrambled to come up with an appropriate one. "Sure, you can read Computer Time," I said.

"What about Breakfast with the Billionaire?"

"Uh, I'm not sure. Just a sec."

I stepped around the corner of the living room and asked Tim if he thought it was okay for the girls to read that recent post (because whatever Talia does, Zoe is sure to follow and vice versa). He thought for a moment and then nodded his head in the affirmative.

So off they went, zipping through a few blog posts with smiles on their faces. As they came to the end of the Billionaire post, Talia says to me, "Did you write that? The story, I mean?"

"Yes," I said.

Talia's eyes widened and she shook her head. "You write weird stuff sometimes," she replied.

Yes, yes, I do. I'm betting she wasn't quite sure what to say about the story. And I'm also betting she had no clue about any sexual innuendo the story had in it. In fact, I used those terms--sexual innuendo--in the post, and I'm guessing that just reading the 's' word made her run for the hills. What I found so funny was that she wasn't sure who wrote the excerpt. So I stepped back around the corner of the living room again and told Tim what Talia had said.

His response? You're ready for this, I know: "You wrote that? I thought it was from the book you read."

I don't feel flattered, because that piece of crap was just that--sexually charged crap. But it just goes to show you that I can, indeed, write at least an excerpt from a book. And that someone believes my writing can be published. Of course, I'm hoping that what I do eventually publish is a little bit more classy than that Billionaire excerpt. Only time will tell.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hmm

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.
~Rumi

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Madness

Saturday morning, 7:38 a.m.
Melina: Mommy, I just put my foot up to my nostril, and it felt like pasta.
Me: . . .
Melina: I don't even know why it felt like pasta.
Me: . . . 
And I don't know why she was putting her foot to her nose.

She walked away then, to see what Toby was chewing. I sat there, shaking my head, still speechless and unsure what to say, besides the obvious. So I'm writing it down for a good laugh later on.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Computer Time

He sits at his computer desk, clothed only in green plaid underwear and the scruffy beard of two days growth. His right hand hovers over the mouse while the other one plays with the hair at the back of his head, hair that is in desperate need of a scrub. It has been four days since the game arrived (Diablo III!), and because his wife and kids are visiting her parents, he finds no need to do anything but tackle the game. It's intense, he thinks. INTENSE.

This sort of thing has happened before, in his mid-twenties, when his best friend (who is now a hot-shot Wall Street tycoon) lent him the first Diablo. He remembers pushing the button on the old PC and watching the game come alive for hours on end. He ate his breakfast, lunch, and dinner in front of that game and had the computer been a laptop, he'd have even taken a shit, too, with that new friend, Diablo. Those days are missed--when the world was his and his hours of free time outweighed his hours of responsibility. He shakes his head at the memory and smiles.

A knock at the door sounds, and he contemplates rising from his chair to greet the intruder, but thinks better of it. He's certain that a stale odor surrounds him and he's not sure whether it's him--he sniffs under one armpit and then the other--or the last dregs of the cereal he had for breakfast the morning before. The forlorn bowl sits next to the keyboard, bloated bits of Cheerios swimming in a sea of tepid, off-white milk. But the person at the door is insistent: a loud rap sounds again.

As he rounds the corner of the living room and peeks through the sidelights, he sees a tall man clothed in brown. Has he ordered something and forgotten? Or is his wife expecting something? Seems to him like he often comes home to find boxes from Amazon or Hanna Andersson but he's never really sure what's in them, and truthfully, he doesn't care. His wife's part-time gig as a receptionist at a local veterinary clinic gives her some pocket change. As long as she's not dipping into his beer money, he's cool.

The loud click of the door lock interrupts the peaceful morning silence and he opens the door. A warm blast of late summer air hits him directly in the face. The man who stands on the doorstep is young--probably 25 or so--with a hopeful look to his eyes.

"Mr. Cannon?" the youngster says and then taps something into his handheld device.

"Yep, that's me." He realizes too late (it's always too late) that he should have put on a shirt or something before coming to the door. Crumbs from his midnight snack of tortilla chips litter his chest hair and he can see a spot of dried salsa on his boxer shorts. He snorts, imaging the picture he makes to this squeaky-clean kid on his doorstep.

"I have delivery for you. Looks to me like someone loves you very much." The boy extends a package toward him, marked with a small tag that reads Counter-strike: Global Offensive.

His hands shake a little as he moves forward to take the package from the delivery person and his mind turns in circles. He certainly didn't order the game, but sure enough, his name is on the sticker. And it's Saturday. Despite the lawn that needs to be mowed and the laundry that's begging for attention, he's got nowhere to be but here, inside the house. With a new game. The corners of his mouth lift up as he continues to stand in the foyer, looking at the box, planning his day in his head.

"That's a great game you have there, sir." The sound of the boy's voice makes him look up. "My friends and I play it all the time. I think it's something about the first-person experience that reeled me in." The delivery person leans against the doorjamb and tucks his fingers into his pocket and then whispers, "My friend has hacked it, too. He's an accountant over at H&R block. Lucky bastard gets to spend more time at the computer than I do."

The boy's voice is wistful and the man looks out to the delivery truck that rests in front of his house. His driveway is long. If the boy pulls the mid-size brown truck all the way up to the garage, no one will notice it sitting there. And, his wife? She wouldn't be home until tomorrow. Plenty of time to complete the mission with his new friend. Perhaps they could even call the boy's buddy and ask him to come by sometime later that afternoon, help them customize the skins or something. He tears into the package with gusto and leaves the door open as he walks back toward the computer. The door lock latches back into place and soft footsteps follow him into the family room.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Breakfast with the Billionaire

WARNING: THIS POST IS NOT INTENDED FOR LITTLE EARS.

I love to tackle challenges. Okay, wait a minute, let me back up. I love to tackle some challenges. When I was running (I hate to use the past tense there, but no, I'm still not back at it. Slow to heal I am, I guess), I'd often charge up hills or I'd try to run just a little farther with each successive long run. With writing, I wasn't sure I'd be able to complete a story in the present tense, so I decided to write one, and I did it. Now, it just needs a home. (Anyone want to read about a fairy tale/science fiction mash-up? Sort of a Doctor Who meets Cinderella? Let me know. Or let your nearest literary agent know. What a poor attempt at self-promotion, no?)

So I've been thinking about what I can do next to challenge myself as I revise my other works-in-progress. Well last night, I figured it out.

You see, our tablet has the Kindle app on it, so I can download books if I'd like to do. I tend to only download the free ones, but so far, I've managed to snag a short story of Jodi Picoult's as well as an offering by local author, Sharon Short. What I've noticed, however, is the enormously large number of books (usually of the romance genre) that concern a well-muscled, dark-haired billionaire and a vapid female protagonist. (I have to be fair here and say that I'm not certain that all the female protagonists are vapid. Actually, I don't think they are. Sometimes, they are strong, independent women who for whatever reason, decide that a controlling, dominant billionaire is what they are secretly longing for. I must also be fair here and say that I haven't read more than one or two of these books, so maybe I am rushing to judgment.) And since I love well-muscled, dark-haired nerds, I thought that maybe I could make the leap.

Which gets me to my new challenge. Yes, that's right, I'm taking on a deliriously silly book and I'm going to call it Breakfast with the Billionaire. I figure with a title like that, it will fit in quite well with Bedding the Billionaire, Baby for the Billionaire, and The Billionaire's Make-Believe Fiancée. (I think you can find every one of those on the Amazon site, in case you're interested.)

So what's the plot? I'm sure you're dying to know. I'd probably have my brief synopsis look something like this:
Trevor Windsnap knew without a doubt that his restaurant's new chef, Chelsea Bartlett, was exactly the breath of fresh air he needed. Sure it might have had to do with the fact that getting her in his corner took more effort than usual, but he loved the hunt. Now, he just had to go in for the kill. So when a business trip takes him across the country, Trevor decides that Chelsea is just the person to go with him to help manage his new cafe. But taking her with him means she needs to understand his terms and conditions. No getting close. No talking. Just sex.

Chelsea Bartlett, middle child extraordinaire, has always been the sensible one, the peacemaker. She isn't the type to throw caution to the wind, especially when it comes to the subject of men. That is until she meets Trevor Windsnap. The billionaire restauranteur is domineering and controlling, and yet so damn sexy and alluring. And he wants her--no commands her--to accompany him on the trip cross country. She needs this job, so how can she say no? And does she really want to say no? But how to get across to this man that a simple fling will never be enough? Should she risk it all for a few hot nights with Trevor?

How's that for fantastic writing? Can't you just imagine a scene? (Can you hear me laughing, right now, at this post?!?)
Trevor pushed the door to the kitchen open and spied his new chef, Chelsea Bartlett. She was covered from head to toe in a light dusting of flour, and her finger touched her lips, as if she had just sampled a bit of the concoction in front of her. Trevor imagined himself taking a sample of her--she'd be warm, and wet, and absolutely delicious. He felt his pants grow tight across his crotch.

"Ahem," Trevor cleared his throat so as not to startle Chelsea. When he'd hired this sprite of a woman, he feared she might scare easily. But he'd been so taken in by her large doe eyes and sprinkling of freckles across her nose that he'd decided to give her a chance. She might be exactly what he was looking for. In more ways than one.

Chelsea's eyes opened wide as she accessed his form and then moved toward the sink to wash her hands. Trevor watched as her hips swayed back and forth, keeping time with the pop music that poured forth from the kitchen speakers. Clearly, Chelsea had no idea how good her tight ass looked under a simple pair of blue jeans; maybe he should tell her not to wear such items of clothing. In fact, he'd prefer for her to wear nothing at all.

"I'm just checking in," Trevor continued, his eyes trained on Chelsea. "How's it--"

"Oh, Mr. Windsnap, I had no idea you'd be in today. But we're doing fine here." Chelsea gestured to the lineup of breakfast goodies that spread across one of the stainless steel tables and over to her assistants, who were in the middle of chopping fresh vegetables for the omelet bar. "As you can see, I think I've got everything under control here."

"Interesting choice of words," Trevor uttered and stared at his new chef.

"Oh really?" her lips quirked as she spoke. She wondered exactly what was so interesting about her statement, but let it go. She wondered though...

Chelsea's eyes sparkled with mischief and Trevor realized, in that minute, that there was more to Chef Bartlett than just a pretty face and good cooking. And somehow, even though he didn't know much, he knew that he wanted to be in control of her. And soon.

"Show me what you've got." Trevor's voice sounded thick and charged, even to his own ears.

"Well, you told me that your clientele prefers sweets and breads, so I went ahead and made a large batch of my specialty pastries," Chelsea said as she picked up a sample in front of her. The flaky crust fell to the table as she fingered the pastry. "The dough is thick, and warm, and...extra sweet." Her eyes flashed with laughter, as well as want and need. "I thought maybe this recipe would be too hard to accomplish on such short notice," she said, a wicked gleam in her eye. "But I realized that I needed to challenge myself in the kitchen at times, so I pulled out my old recipe book and ta-da. A little taste of heaven, if I do say so myself." Her lips suggestively wrapped around the confection as she took a nibble, and then she turned away from him.

Trevor's breath hitched and a shiver of excitement passed through him. What the hell was that? He thought. He'd never had such a visceral response to someone like this before. Sure he'd conquered countless women over the last several years, but something was different this time. He quickly adjusted his pants and moved toward the refrigerator. Something needed to cool him down, and fast.
SMACK!

Did you just hear that loud noise? That was me, falling over in my chair from laughing too much. I have tears scattered across my cheeks right now. I can't finish this piece of shit, I just can't. Although with the help of Tim (who aspires to be a dirty old man), I could probably whip this literary garbage into some semblance of erotic writing. (And by help, I don't mean that sort of help--get your mind out of the gutter. I mean that I would ask him to help WRITE the book because he's so versed in sexual innuendo.)

Which means maybe my first published novel won't have anything to do with hippos or fairy tales or ALS. Stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 5

Holy crap, it's October 1. I can't believe that, can you? With these weekly sessions of telling you how I feel every Wednesday, the time is flying by. I'd swear it was just yesterday I started writing the first post. By next week, I'll be old and gray and won't remember who I am.

Today's post is easy: I need to tell you how I feel about a particular recipe. A recipe so easy, you'd think that no one could mess it up. But I did, and it still turned out pretty yummy. So I'm sharing this short list of ingredients and how to make Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark.

You can find this recipe in many different forms out there in cyberspace, but if you want some decent pictures, head to the above link (I'm no photographer, as you know).

So here we go. This is what you need:
2 sticks of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
12 ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 bag (8 ounces or so) mini-pretzels
9 X 13 pan
Aluminum foil
Course sea salt
This is what you're supposed to do:
  1. Set your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, line the 9 X 13 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray (I coated it with butter). 
  2. Spread a layer of pretzels on the foil. 
  3. Melt the butter over medium low heat. When the butter has melted and begins to bubble, add the sugar. 
  4. Stir the sugar and butter mixture to make sure it doesn't burn. The original recipe above says not to let the mixture boil, but you MUST let it simmer in order to thicken. So the secret is to stir it while it is lightly bubbling, but don't let it get to a rolling boil. Do this for about 3 minutes.
  5. Pour the butter/sugar mixture over the pretzels and place into the oven for 5 minutes.
  6. Take the pan out of the oven, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the caramel mixture, and put back into the oven for about 45 seconds.
  7. Pull out the pan and use a spatula to spread the chocolate from edge to edge.
  8. Sprinkle sea salt over the melted chocolate.
  9. Place pan into the refrigerator for at least an hour, then break the bark into pieces.
Why am I telling you how I really feel about this? Because I made this recipe twice, messing up in a different way each time, and the bark turned out the same: pretty tasty for a five minute treat. In fact, Tim said, "I'll try not to eat the whole batch this evening."

So I'm grateful there's a recipe out there that can adjust to my whims and moods, because apparently, I can't talk to anyone anymore when I cook. If I do, I skip steps or read things incorrectly, and with this recipe, it just didn't matter. I like recipes like that, forgiving ones. And forgiving is something I could stand to do more of.