Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Dessert with Friends

Some friends we used to know back in Ann Arbor contacted me last week to find out if we wanted to meet up sometime this week. They'd be coming up from Texas (where they now live) and heading to New York and would be driving right up I-75. What luck for us, and what a ride for them! I asked if they wanted to come to our house for dinner, as opposed to going out, since they'd likely be eating at restaurants a lot on the road.

I love having company, partly because--despite my introvert nature--I like people (at least a good number of them). I also like to have a reason to make dessert. And this summer, so far, we haven't made one of our favorites: Eclair Cake.

Craig, Tami, and their kids helped remedy that situation. I'm holding myself back from having it for breakfast.

Eclair Cake

Ingredients:

2 packages of instant vanilla pudding (3.5 oz variety)
1 container of whipped topping, previously thawed (8 oz variety)
3 cups milk (skim, lowfat, or whole)
Graham cracker squares (about 3/4 of a box)
Chocolate frosting (homemade or in the tub)

Steps:

1. In a large bowl, add the pudding mix to the milk and use a hand mixer to combine. Fold in the whipped topping, then make sure to mix until uniform in color/thickness.
2. Arrange one layer of graham cracker squares in the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch pan. Spread half of the pudding mixture over the graham crackers and then place another layer of crackers and the remaining pudding mixture. 
3. Top with a third layer of graham crackers.
4. Warm up the frosting in the microwave for a few seconds until thin and spread over the cake.
5. Cover, and chill at least 4 hours before serving.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In Too Deep

The day passed as it always did these days. With little fanfare and a plethora of tasks to perform. When had the mail stack risen so high? And how much laundry did he have yet to do? How in the world would he get it all done in a day? He didn't know, and he knew he'd find no sympathy from her. At this point, she'd convinced herself that she still took care of everything. Well, everything but the cooking. She knew she didn't do that anymore.

The only reason he knew any of her perspective was because he caught her on the phone with one of the girls. He heard her end of the conversation over the din of the kitchen television. The Hallmark Channel's most recent made-for-TV movie seemed to have the most hideous music.

"Oh, I still do all the housework," she'd said into the receiver.

He wished he could hear his daughter's reply, but as much as he craned his neck, the phone volume couldn't win against the noise from the TV. Not sticking around to hear anymore, he trudged down the stairs to the computer room. A bit of cool air and a round of Minesweeper and he knew he'd feel better.

But as he lowered himself into the chair, he knew that nothing would make him feel better, and he placed his head into his hands.



"What am I to do?" He asked the empty room, hoping that the silence held an answer for him. "What?"

"Who are you talking to?" Somehow his wife had snuck up on him and there she stood, leaning against the door jamb. "Who?"

Her eyes, wide and round, flared with fear and he remembered what the doctor had said. That paranoia could appear as if out of nowhere, and that he had to learn how to talk her down. But he didn't know how. He hadn't practiced. He watched as his wife strode across the room, checked the windows--making sure the latch was on--and then did the same with the door to the garage. Her hands shook and the look of her skin, pale and clammy, made him realize that he was in way too deep.

"What am I to do?" He asked the empty room again. And again, he heard nothing but silence.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Why?

I'm leaving for a writing conference in a few hours, and find myself running around the house like a chicken with its head cut off. Throw laundry in. Take laundry out. Make dinner and put in refrigerator. Be sure snacks are available for kids. Scoop cat litter.

I'll be gone one night. Maybe a little over 24 hours.

Tim will be here, with the kids. Four healthy and very capable kids. I have complete confidence in my husband and know he'll take good care of the wee beasts (who aren't so wee anymore). He won't do things the way I do, but he'll get those things done. Furthermore, those children are relatively self-sufficient.

And yet, I still feel like I need to leave the house in a state such that no one will really notice that I'm gone.



I don't have time to answer the question, only to ask it. And so, I'll leave that answer for another day.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Growing

I didn't expect much.
Just a small apology,
or a simple acknowledgment
that what she did
was wrong.
But when I looked into her eyes,
I realized how blank,
how vacant,
the space behind her eyelids seemed.

She didn't recognize that her actions,
or inactions (since that's what they really were)
caused profound repercussions
on those she called loved ones.
Were they really so loved? 
Did she hold these people close to her heart?
Based on how she spoke to them, 
I couldn't be sure.

So I waited and watched,
and wondered what or who
had made her the way she was.
And sadly, in those quiet moments,
I found the answer.

Because her parents scooted in and out
of her life and managed,
in one single instance,
to sweep away her independence.
Always the types to bail her out,
and make excuses for her,
I knew if I said anything at all
about this latest transgression,
they'd have a reason at the ready.

And I wondered,
as I always have,
when she'd extend her arms,
reach beyond them,
and sprout like a bean in the spring. 
But growing just isn't her thing.
 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Don't Ever Be Ashamed

I think you can find this over at Sweatpants & Coffee, but I didn't take the time to look for it. I did, however, find it over at The Coulour Yellow (and all across Facebook, of course).

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lessons Learned

If anyone had filled me in back in 2012 and told me how difficult and time consuming it would be to try and publish a novel, I don't think I would have believed them. But now, here we are past the middle of 2016 and I'm working on revising a novel I started on Father's Day of 2012.

I remember the exact day because the inciting incident of this particular novel actually stems from an encounter I had that weekend. I drove home from the grocery store, a story brewing in my head, and furiously pounded out a few sentences. For months I went back and added a few notes here and there, and then, sat back to let the story percolate. During that time, I wrote and revised a second novel, and finished up a third book that, to this day, has been spending time on my bookshelf, collecting dust.

The Father's Day novel, though, is special. It's been read by a published author, who gave loads of valuable feedback. It's been workshopped by my writing group partners, who gave even more feedback. And the story itself? It's a good one. I truly believe in this story.

But two years ago, well before the novel was really ready to go anywhere (but I thought I'd start querying anyway) I had an agent show some interest in it. "The ending is too sad," she said. At the time, I didn't care and figured that she was just giving me a silly reason for why she didn't want to take the story on. I clung to my original ending, and justified myself by saying, "So what if it's sad. I'm the writer. It's my work."

Last week, though, I took a trip to see a priest. Why might I have done so? Because my protagonist, Sadie, seeks guidance from her local priest and I needed to make sure that the scene in the novel screamed authenticity.

From the moment Father P opened his mouth, I knew I'd made the right decision. In the span of under 30 minutes, he not only gave me a couple of awesome phrases to use in my book (permission granted) but he made me realize that maybe, just maybe, my ending is wrong. Not because it's too sad, but because it is, quite simply, THE WRONG ENDING.

The moral of this story? Always be open to listening to what those around you have to say. And don't always think that you're right. You might be surprised at what you can learn.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Happy to be Me

We stumbled across this awesome shirt the other day...


Can you guess who we snatched it up for?

Yes, that would be Melina. The happiest kid I know. However, I'd like to think that all of my children are happy to be themselves. Each of them has a lot to be happy about. We're lucky. And blessed. And grateful. At least I am.

So here's to making sure you're happy to be yourself. It's a tall order, but something we should all strive for.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Little Things, II

Despite the high heat around these parts, my brood felt like a snack of hot chocolate yesterday afternoon. Warm milk, curled chocolate sprinkles (hand grated by me), and whipped cream rounded out the ensemble. A collective yum left my kids' mouths as I set the cups in front of them.


Along with an episode of Scooby-Doo, we managed to have a perfect summertime afternoon.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Into the Pensieve, VII

For as long as I can remember, Mom has always taken care of the dishes.

"Don't worry about them," she used to say when I lived at home. "Just concentrate on getting your homework done. It's more important."

And so I did.

But even after I moved away, I realized that Mom took care of more than just the dishes at her own home. She'd do them at my house, and I remember her taking care of them at my grandmother's house, too. Anywhere she went, Mom was good at helping out with dishes. In fact, she took control of those dishes, and--as kids like to say--she owned them. At least at my house, when Mom was done with the dishes, she left the kitchen looking better than when I'd started.


I often think of what's going to happen when Mom can no longer do the dishes. When she can't remember what the soap is for and the movements required by the actions are too much for her. I hope those days are a long way off because right now, I think doing dishes serves as a comfort to her. The chore itself represents something familiar in a world where everything is becoming unfamiliar. And unfamiliar is scary. I think we can all agree on that.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Horace Mann Says

Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.
~Horace Mann 


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Gone Kayaking

Like most other days since becoming an adult, Connie picked up the phone to call her parents. Dad answered the phone. She didn't know where Mom was and she didn't ask. Connie could anticipate the answers: weeding the garden beds, wandering the grocery store aisles, riding the stationary bike in the basement. It didn't really matter to Connie where her mom was. The call had become more of an obligation than a tried and true how-are-you-doing sort of thing. As usual, Connie would try to talk to Dad, but she didn't expect much besides a diatribe on the state of the political system or a musing on the weather.

"How's work going?" he asked.

Connie loved her job, but the stress of it she could do without. "I'm not going in today," she said. "I'm taking the day off."

Dad didn't miss a beat.  "Again? You had a few days off with the holiday and all of that."

Justifying herself to her father seemed to be a position she found herself in a lot lately, and while Connie hated doing it, she did anyway. "Uh, yeah. But I have a ton of leave, and I'm gonna take it. It's a beautiful day to go kayaking."

"But another day off? When I was working, I never took a day off. Okay, rarely. There's this thing called work ethic."

That was it. Connie was pretty much done with the conversation. She didn't know who he thought he was, or why he felt he could speak to her that way, but really, this was it.  "Listen, Dad, I work my ass off at that job. I think I can take a few days off here and there. I have the time."

She emphasized the word time, hoping he'd get it. Maybe if he'd taken a few more days off, he'd have a better relationship with his wife and kids. Okay, that was low. Breathe. Breathe. Why not take a few days when she needed them? Being outdoors, paddling a kayak. Shit, that was better therapy than anything else she'd ever tried. Connie needed to get into that boat, stat.

"Well..." Dad interrupted her thoughts. "You mustn't work that hard. You still have a lot of ass on you!"

Connie's first instinct involved an expletive she tried very hard not to say unless it was necessary. But this was her dad and truthfully, she didn't know how to respond. She held the phone to her ear, speechless and blinked back hot tears. "I gotta go. Talk later." She pressed the end button on her phone.

Had her father really just called her ass fat? Did he have no idea how much time and effort she'd put into her health as of late? When he saw her, what did he really think of her? Connie was at a point in her life where she was healthy and happy, with a bit of weight around the middle and some on her thighs and hips and butt. That's who she was. She'd tried the not-eating route; it hadn't been good to her. But now? She ate well and exercised and she was happy. Right?

"Damn him," she muttered. "Always making me question myself." After putting the phone on silent, she placed it in her waterproof bag, grabbed her keys, and hopped in the car. The kayak had already been strapped to the top and her insulated lunch bag sat in the passenger seat. Connie was going to make it a great day by placing her fat ass into a tiny kayak. And her Dad? He could just go perform an anatomical impossibility on himself. She smiled at her wittiness. It was going to be a great day.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Eight is Epic

Eight years ago this morning, at 1:09 a.m. I gave birth to a little girl named Melina. You all know this because Tim documented that day, and starting sometime in 2010, I began chronicling some of what she (we) went through on a regular basis. I hope that by now, those of you who only know Melina via cyberspace have an inkling of what she's about.

But like I said last year, it's actually difficult to say what Melina is about and I think of that on a daily basis, not just on her birthday. Because from day to day, what she says and does can vary.

Sometimes, she's writing a story on a Google document. Other times, she's coloring in a notebook. Last night, she was dressed as Tim--complete with baseball cap and plaid shorts--and this afternoon, she jumped on the trampoline like there was no tomorrow. I think of all the times she reads and pretends and looks up historical facts and I wonder how I came to be chosen for this extra special kid.

Sadly, I've been bogged down with so much lately that I'm finding myself pressed for time these days. I don't have the energy to write down what I'd like to for this post and I don't have time to make her birthday cake the way I'd like to. I would like to make her eighth birthday her best yet, and I'm not really sure I will.

But here's the thing. It won't matter that this post is short or that the cake is a bit off from what I envision. For Melina finds happiness and joy in just about anything. ANYTHING. So this birthday celebration of hers--regardless of what we do or what we eat--will be epic in her mind.


I don't know about you, but I think Melina's pretty epic.



Friday, July 8, 2016

Broken Hearts Indeed Do Crack

Caroline knew it was time for them to break up. The words had been written on the wall for months now. Okay, maybe not literally written on the walls, but when each interaction with a supposed loved one took more energy than anything else in your day, it made you stop and think about that relationship. The question she asked herself was, Could she live without him?

She knew what her mother would say, had she been alive. She'd turn that question around and ask Caroline, Could she live with him? Based on her daily life with Adam lately, she'd have to say no.

And that thought caused her stomach to clench and the breath to leave her body. She heaved and fell to the couch, doubling over her knees, with her head in her hands. Caroline didn't know how long she sat there, almost numb from the thought of having to let go of her love, but soon enough, a hand fell on her back.

"You okay, Caro?"

She looked up at Adam, not caring if he saw the tears that most likely stained her face. Her mouth opened and closed and opened again. She wanted to tell him everything. To rip apart the center of her chest and let all of what she'd been feeling out. But nothing came. She managed to shake her head, and held up a finger in a wait just a second gesture. She closed her eyes and a moment later, felt the edge of the couch depress as Adam sat down next to her. He continued to move his hand in slow circles against her shirt, the skin of her back warming to his touch.

The movement reminded her of the day she and Adam had met, at the door of her second floor Lakeshore View apartment. Her doorbell had rung, and she'd been expecting Leo, her on again/off again/sometimes booty call. So when she opened the door, clothed only in her pink bath towel and having just taken a bite of leftover chocolate cake, she'd been surprised, no shocked really, to see the stranger at her door. She was even more flabbergasted when he said, "Did you leave any cake for me?"

She'd inhaled sharply, aspirating cake crumbs, and dropped to the floor due to the coughing fit. She didn't worry about whether or not the towel had stayed in place. She simply needed to get air. Adam had calmly walked in, covered her naked body, and patted her on the back. Then, he'd moved onto the circles. Slow circles. Just like now.

"Come on Caro...tell me what's wrong." Adam leaned in and pulled her toward his body. She smelled his soap, deodorant, and laundry detergent--all the smells she associated with Adam. Her belly clenched again. But she knew she had to speak to him.

"I think you know what's wrong, Adam."

"No, I don't."

"Really? You have no idea?" She wiggled away from him, toward the other end of the couch. She couldn't be this close him and have this conversation. It was all too much for her. A hiccup escaped her mouth and she covered her lips with her hand.

"No idea."

"Well then, tell me why you're here."

"Great way to change the subject," he started, sighed, and then continued. "I came to see if you wanted to go get some dinner. I found this place over on River Street that I think..."

Caroline didn't listen to the rest of Adam's words. River Street was the area her friend had mentioned. The place where she'd seen Adam with that girl. The one Caroline suspected him of seeing behind her back. He'd been pushing the girl on a swing, her friend said. He'd been smiling. Could he really be so heartless as to take the woman he'd been seeing for three years to dinner close to a place he'd taken someone else, his new interest? What was he thinking?

She moved out of her thoughts to catch the last of Adam's words: "...surprise for you."

What had she missed while she'd been fuming about his actions? She wasn't sure she possessed the courage or the strength to ask him. She simply held out her hand, took his fingers in hers, and squeezed them against her palm.

To be continued...

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reaching for the Sun



It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.
 ~Joyce Maynard


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Coffee Cups

Back when Tim and I got married, we brought together a collection of eclectic dishes. Our cupboards housed green and white plates with blue flowers, chipped 1990s mugs, and Tim's set of Pfaltzgraff he'd purchased when he found his own place. For most meals, I didn't care what plate, bowl, or mug I used. Each vessel was as good as the next. But I found myself drawn to the Pfatzgraff teacup each time I wanted just a half cup of coffee.


On normal days, I drink almost an entire cup of part caffeinated/part decaf coffee in whatever mug I feel like at the moment. Sometimes, it's my blue mug with the large block M on it (Go Blue!); other times, it's the NaNoWriMo mug given to me my one of The Plot Sisters. That mug of coffee takes me from about 5:30 to 7 a.m. to drink, and then, I rinse it out and put it in the dishwasher.

But some days, I need an extra kick around 10:30 (at least on the days that I'm home) and I reach for a mug to house my small bit of fully caffeinated coffee with milk. The Pfaltzgraff mug worked perfectly for me. Every single time.


My fingers felt at home when I grasped the handle, and if I needed a bit of extra warmth, I could cradle the entire cup in my hand. I didn't realize, until the other day when I craved that little bit of extra coffee, just how much I missed my cup.

You see, several years ago, the last of the cups broke. I remember looking at the crack in the side of the only surviving mug for a very long time, knowing that within a few uses, the cup would be rendered useless. I wish, now, that I'd repurposed the mug in some way. But I'm no potter, and to be quite honest, I couldn't "see" what new product I'd come up with.

So instead, I'm writing about the little cup that could. It shall live in posterity via this post. (Today of all days, having woken up at 4:22 a.m., I wish I had that little cup.) Grab hold, people, figuratively and literally, to those tiny things that make you feel alive. It's not all about material goods, but sometimes the simplest and most mundane of objects can bring a peace to your soul that you never anticipated.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Letter to Dad, V

Dear Dad,

It's been a really long time since I've written a letter to you. In fact, it's been so long, I had to go back and search this blog for the last letter with your name on it. I can't believe it's been ten or so months. Those months have gone fast, though, and that's partly because you've stayed relatively healthy and you haven't had to call on us to come over and help you out. And that's a good thing, because with four active children and all the things we do here on a daily basis, I barely have time for helping myself, much less helping you guys out. But please know that, if you need it, I'll still put away my obligations and help you. I am your daughter, after all.

I have a question, though. It's been about a year since Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which means we have maybe eight, maybe ten years left with her. (Just stating a fact here, not trying to dwell on the negative.) And you're already sitting at 80 years of age...

So yes, I'm wondering what you're going to do about living at home. Over the past ten months, you've visited your daughters more, most likely because you're tired and need a break from all of the work you're doing at home. But we can't always give you that break. So why don't you just move? Why not pick up what you have and go somewhere smaller, somewhere that has amenities and services so that you won't have to "take care of everything," as you are prone to say.

I'm trying my best to accept you for the person you are. I'm trying to understand how hard it will be when I need to change my own venue sometime in the future. I'm really trying to walk in your shoes. But this past weekend, when you reiterated, again, that you "do all the cooking now" and uttered the phrase like you should get a medal of honor for your time, I just about wanted to walk away from the conversation.

Do you have any idea what's going on in Mom's head right now? I don't. But I can imagine that trying to find the right words is difficult and frustrating for her. That trying to remember what someone said three minutes ago makes her uptight. That being confused in a world where she didn't used to be confused might be downright maddening for her. And that truly, she'd rather be doing the cooking you seem to detest at this moment. Because yes, Dad, she'd rather she didn't have this disease either.

But news flash: she does. And as time goes on, you really need to come up with a plan. Because you won't be here forever, and Mom is going to need more help than I think you're going to be willing to give, even if you're still here when she needs it.

So later on this week, when you come to visit for Melina's birthday, let's come up with that plan. I've always been a good planner.

Love,
C


Friday, July 1, 2016

Persuasion

  Sophie couldn't sleep.
So begins Roald Dahl's, The BFG.
  A brilliant moon beam was slanting through a gap in the curtains. It was shining right onto her pillow.
  The other children in the dormitory had been asleep for hours.
  Sophie closed her eyes and lay quite still. She tried very hard to doze off.
How many times have I done the same thing?
  It was no good. The moon beam was like a silver blade slicing through the room onto her face. 
  The house was absolutely silent. No voices came up from downstairs. There were no footsteps on the floor above, either.
  The window behind the curtain was wide open, but nobody was walking on the sidewalk outside. No cars went by on the street. Not the tiniest sound could be heard anywhere. Sophie had never known such a silence.
  Perhaps, she told herself, this was what they called the witching hour.
Roped in yet?
  The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world to themselves.
Trust me. If you haven't read the book, go do so before you see the movie, which comes out today. This is one movie I'm really excited about seeing!