Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Truth Be Told...

A dear friend came to me recently with a problem.  Someone she loved - someone she trusted implicitly - had lied to her.  Not a white lie, mind you.  Not a "keep a secret so she'll be surprised" kind of lie.  This was a doozy.  The issue isn't whether she can forgive and forget.  It's: should she?  When we are faced with a reality that is so far apart than what we believed, is it possible to trust again?  And not just that specific person, but anyone for that matter?

I think sometimes it's healthy to hold a grudge.  I think we need to hold on to a bit of the anger, so that we don't make that same mistake again.  How do we get past the lie?  And if we forgive, do we ever really forget?

On the other hand, doesn't everyone deserve a second chance?  How do we know if the person truly just made a terrible error in judgement...or if we misjudged their character?

This is the advice I gave to my dear friend:  First of all, take time.  Time to be angry.  And sad.  Time to realize that the way one person treats you does not define you.  And then, and only then, when you're feeling stronger, you can begin to forgive.  But, forget?  I don't think so.  Better to remember.  Let it strengthen your resolve.  And remind you never to go against your own morals and values.

And if the person apologizes, profusely, and truly seems sincere, then go ahead and accept the apology.  And explain that you're working on forgiveness.  But don't forget.  And remember this: Actions speak louder than words.  If the words belie the actions, then it's time to move on.

Got any of your own advice to share?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Holidays are Here! OR The Mall is My True Hell This Time of Year

Christmas is only 6 days away.  I've got shopping to do, but here I sit at my beloved Mac, staring at a snow, white screen, the blinking cursor mocking me.  Whaddya got, hmmm? Nothin'?  I thought so.

Yeah, pretty much.  Nothin'.  But these things happen, right?  My well is dry.  I'm immersed in so much logistics and industry speak and corporate meetings, that, first chance I get to sit down and write for me, what do I do?  I shun my beautiful Mac...and head to the mall.  Where, suffice it to say, nary a word is found.  But people...oh the people!  This isn't Walmart, mind you.  But the people are out in droves.  And today (sing along with me, won't you?)

These are the people in my neighborhood
in my neighborhood
in my neighborhood
OH, these are the people in my neighborhood, 
the people that I meet each day...

The Professional Shopper...On a Mission (from God)
This gal takes no mall prisoners.  She walks with purpose, cutting a swath through the throng of holiday shoppers that would impress Moses.  She checks off the items neatly listed in her iPhone notes page one by one, heads to the check out where she whips out that debit card (not a credit card for this pro, no, she's got her budget down to a science) like she's ten paces out in an old western.

The Stressed Mom
Not only has she lost the napkin on which was scribbled her list of gifts to buy, but she can't find the damn coupons she's been saving for just this day...this ONE day that she was able to escape without the kids.  She's got exactly 2 hours and 14 minutes left to get ALL of her shopping done.  Her husband just called to ask her where the number for Pizza Hut is, and she can hear screaming in the background.  She starts grabbing things - any things - off shelves in an effort to buy something - anything.  She fishes in her purse for a credit card - any credit card - and pulls out used tissues, a pacifier and a half-eaten sucker in the process.

The Lost Husband
He knows he hasn't bought a single gift yet, but he's so enjoying himself at the Apple store.  When he finally realizes the mall closes in 45 minutes, he gets nervous and heads straight for the only place he knows he'll find something his wife will like...the jewelry store.  There he stands, hands leaning on the glass, eyes peering into the long wall of cases.  A diamond heart necklace is on sale - especially for the holidays - the ad says every woman wants one.  He is about to do something he'll later regret, but right now, the game is still on, and he could use a beer.  So he buys two; one for his wife, one for his mother.  Poor bastard.

The Hungry/Tired/Bored Toddler (aka "Screaming Kid")
There's one in every mall, isn't there?  Poor thing.  She's been dragged around for hours, had a lunch of dry cheerios and a seventeen minute nap in the car, and is made to walk right past all the shiny toys, beautiful dolls and cozy stuffed animals.  No, her mama tells her, you must wait until Christmas.  Here come the tears.  The kicking.  The screaming.  The making-my-whole-body-like-wet-spaghetti-so-you-can't-pick-me-up-and-drag-me-out-of-here.  What this child needs is a babysitter.  And an hour of fresh air.

Don'tcha just love the holidays!?  Got any mall war stories to share?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hey! Look Out for That Curve Ball! Or...I'm Still Thankful

Sometimes, life throws curve balls.  Knocks ya down.  Just when you thought you'd been through the worst of it, and made it out the other side.  I've been preoccupied lately, so much so that I didn't even have the inclination to write a Thanksgiving blog.

Then I realized, that curve balls and all, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger.  I should be quite strong enough by now, God, thanks very much.

All of us have stress in our lives - career, kids, significant others, family members, friends, health, bills.  Even our futures don't seem as certain as they once did.  When I was a kid, they greatest responsibilities I had were school, homework, getting home by the time the street lamps cast their light on the blacktop.  I had chores, sure, but I never worried about my future.  I had a lifetime to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I didn't question whether or not I'd finish school, start a career, get married and start a family.  It was a given.

Now that I'm "here" in grown up land...well, it's a heck of a lot more stressful than I ever anticipated.  In fact, some days, it's down right miserable.  How I long for those days of skipping rocks across the creek, throwing rocks at my neighbor's window, playing Kickball and Ghost in the Graveyard in the cul-de-sac.

But I digress, hope everyone's Thanksgiving was happy.  And (full)filling.  It's a little belated, but hey, being thankful isn't just for turkey day, right?

I am thankful for my childhood.  For those innocent memories.  I am thankful that, while my kids' childhoods are different, they are still innocent.  They are busy making memories, spending time with friends, figuring out what they'd like to be when they grow up.

I'm thankful for all that I've learned in the past 39 years, too, because it makes me a better mom, a more compassionate person.  And, hey, if nothing else, at least I've got some good writing material.

I'm thankful for Connor.  For his awesome, dry sense of humor.  His strength getting through surgeries, his patience with his little sister, his understanding of his brother.  For being child #1, because somebody had to come first, so I could practice.

I'm thankful for Jack.  For his smile that lights up a room, for his ability to know just what to say when I'm feeling down, and for his yummy pancakes. For being the middle child, because that is no easy position to be in, and it takes a strong personality to stand out in the crowd.  He certainly does.

I'm thankful for Ella-Bella.  For her great, big hugs.  For showing me that I can parent a girl, and really love it.  For being #3, because after her two brothers, she's not gonna get away with a damn thing (Although, I do believe that she loves being the baby).

I'm thankful that I can, occasionally put together a string of words to create a coherent, and sometimes, if I'm lucky, entertaining sentence or two.  I'm thankful for a supportive family and wonderful friends, which includes a writing group of really fantastic women who push me, make me think, and never fail to make me laugh so hard I pee a little.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On this day, 1999

My middle child, Jack, is twelve today.  12!  Hard to believe.

From the moment he came into this world, very late (or early, as it were) on a Saturday, I had a feeling he'd be a whirlwind. I was 37 weeks along when I felt a contraction while getting ready for bed.  It was about 11:15 at night.  Back labor is not pretty.  By 2am, I was 8 centimeters and barely had time for that sweet, sweet epidural.  He was born just 27 minutes later. Fast and furious, he didn't waste his time being born.  The only thing he slowed down for was sleep.  From just 3 weeks old, he was sleeping through the night.  He played hard, and crashed hard.  That was a blessing. To this day, he never has a problem falling asleep.

He was also born with a confidence, a self-assuredness that continues to surprise me.  We always have a "Jack story" to tell at holidays and get-togethers.

Like the time when Jack was two, and heard me on the phone.  I was in the middle of a conversation, saying "Can you believe that son of a ..." I stopped short of saying a bad word when I saw him toddle into the room.  He stopped, looked up at me, and said "bitch, mama.  Son of a bitch."  And continued on his way.

Or the time when he was five.  His older brother was at his friend Nick's house.  Nick's mom and I were making plans to all meet up for dinner.  It was a well known fact that Jack had a crush on his mom (Kris).  So when our phone rang, and her name came up on the caller ID, I handed the phone to Jack.  He said, "Hi Krissy!"  "Hi Jack!" she said, "Hey, buddy, I'm gonna get Nick and Connor and we're all gonna meet down at Wings for dinner, okay?"
Jack responded, "Okay, but why don't you leave that husband of yours at home."

Or the time when he was six, and I took him to get a haircut.  The hairdresser was young and pretty.  Jack was talking her ear off.  "We're just about done," she said to him.  "Okay," he answered.  "What time do you get off work?"  She smiled, "eight o'clock.  Why?"
"Do you like Sponge Bob?" Jack asked her.  "Sure!" she played along.
"Well, you wanna come over and watch some Sponge Bob with me?"

Or when he was in the third grade, and one of the girls in his class was getting picked on at recess.  She was surrounded by a group of girls, frightened.  Jack stepped in, took her hand, told those girls to deal with him next time, and walked her out of there.  When he got home from school, I asked how his day had been.  "Fine." was all he said.

Later, I got two calls.  The first was from the Principal telling me that Jack was called in to tell his side of the story.  She told me what a fine young man I was raising.  The second call came from the girl's father. He called to thank me for raising a brave, young gentleman.  He was grateful that Jack had been there that day.  Jack thought nothing of it.  He saw someone getting picked on, and he stepped in to help out.

Jack has a compassion for others who can't stand up for themselves.  He is a protector by nature and won't accept anyone making fun of kids who are different, and won't let their differences stop him from sitting with them at lunch, or helping them with school work.

There are certain people who just light up a room.  That's Jack.  He has a way of making everyone around him feel special.  His energy, confidence, charisma and charm are unmatched.

Happy Birthday Jack.  You are so special.  I have no doubt that you are going to make something very big of yourself.  We butt heads, we argue, I get thoroughly exhausted - mentally and physically.  And some days are just a pure challenge, I'll give you that.  But you are the child of my heart.  

When I was growing up, my mom used to say to me, "Just you wait!  You're going to grow up and have a child just like you!"  Back then, I just rolled my eyes.  Now I know exactly what she meant.  That's my Jack.  Creative, passionate, energetic, and sometimes, just not fully understood.

What a huge responsibility I have ahead of me - to mold you into the very best of all that you are.  I am so lucky to be the one who gets the pleasure of watching you grow into the amazingly talented, confident, compassionate man I know you will become.  And then, maybe, helping you get through those years of raising one of your own...; )

Thursday, November 10, 2011

1 + 3 + 4 = Glutony, or "Gimme a G!"

 The Luscious 4-Berry Martini @ Charlie Gitto's
 Scrumptious Banana Cream Pie
Death...By Chocolate ; )

I've been famished lately.  I don't know what to attribute this to...I have teenage and pre-teen boys in the house who routinely make their way through the fridge and pantry, but lately I've been right there with 'em.  Could be the sheer amount of hours I've been working lately.  In the office, at home, early mornings, late nights, and still trying to pursue the NaNoWriMo project (oh please, I'm rolling my eyes as I write this.)  Although, my oldest is having surgery next week, so I'm hoping I'll have ample "hurry up and wait" time to write a few thousand words.

But I digress, I was speaking of Glutony.  It all started last Saturday night.  One bar + three girls + (who knows how many) four-berry martinis = a LOT of laughs, a few turned heads and funny looks, a few conversations with other bar flies, and some fantastic food.  And lots of it.  I think this is what I needed to de-stress my mind and re-energize my soul after a week's worth of work, work, work.

Thanks, girls, for the friendship, the laughs, and the fun (not to mention the s&p shakers and that mini-gourd)!  See, girls' night really is good for your health!  And it helped to make up for the fact that I missed my Wednesday night WWWP group.

Speaking of girls' night old high school classmate of mine recently posted on facebook about desperately needing one of these nights.  Jo - I hope you lose the mom-guilt (or catholic guilt...the combo is fierce, I know!) and plan that trip back to the Lou just for You (hey, I'm a poet...).

So tell me, what helps you de-stress your mind and re-energize your soul?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Writer's Advice Taken - OR - My NaNoWriMo Quest

On his website, in answer to the question "Do you have any advice for writers?" Chris Cleave (author of the phenomenal "Little Bee") writes, in part, "...think of yourself as a storyteller, rather than a capital-W Writer or a capital-N Novelist."

I've been working on an idea for months now.  I've jotted notes, written paragraphs, organized chapters, even created an outline.  Thought I had it all figured out.  So last night, as I continued my NaNoWriMo quest (National Novel Writing Month - check it out here), I remembered Chris' words, and decided to give it a try.

Stilled my fingers.  Closed my eyes.  Pictured myself sitting in a cozy chair, telling a story to a good friend.  And began typing.  400 words later I hit on something.  And realized that it had worked.  I actually had butterflies in my stomach.  This is exciting.  If you ever find yourself stuck, try this technique.  Sometimes, we find ourselves trying to mold our story/essay/book/poem into a pre-created mold.  That doesn't always work.  Instead, clear your mind of rules and expectations, and just...tell your story.

I am now at 2,900 words and still telling my story ; )

Got any good tricks for writing or writer's block?  What's your secret to getting an idea down on paper?

The Best Is Yet To Come, and 44 other Life Lessons

I've received this email a few times, most recently this morning.  Many of you may have already read it, but I think it's worth reposting.   

Written by Regina Brett, 90 years old, of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland , Ohio. "To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

42. The best is yet to come...

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift."

I wondered for a moment if, had I received this at age 20, would it have made a difference in my choices, in my life's path?  I don't think so, no.  At 20, I would have rolled my eyes, and deleted it as quickly as I'd scanned it.  Today, I nod in agreement to each and every line.  I think I'll print it out and stick it on the fridge.  Maybe my own kids will be more open to these life lessons...

What's your favorite lesson?  Got any of your own to share?

Monday, October 31, 2011

These are a few of my scariest things - OR - "Ma'am those calls are coming from inside the house."

Happy Halloween! I enjoy this day, through the eyes of my kids.  Dressing up, carving pumpkins, mug of hot cocoa (with a splash of peppermint schnapps) to keep me warm as I stroll the neighborhood with my trick-or-treaters.  But, I'll admit.  I'm not much for the truly scary stuff.  Here are a few things that have scared me so terribly that I'll never read or watch them again.  In fact, typing them here is giving me a chill...

Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” (the book). 
Amityville Horror (“get out – get out!”) 
Silence of the Lambs 
The Shining ("Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”)
The Exorcist (truly terrifying)

Those are the ones that had me hiding under covers, looking over my shoulder, and sleeping with the lights on.

But, I'll be honest.  In my daily life, what scares me more is not doing everything well.  Raising my kids, my career, my writing... I am a fairly confident person, but there are times when I question my own capabilities.

What makes me think I know what I'm doing?  Am I just fooling everyone? Do I really know how to (fill in the blank) better than someone else?  Do I really think I can raise these kids and pay these bills, and write these articles, and present to these clients, and manage these national projects, and handle this volunteer project?

It's daunting.  Overwhelming even.  I am my own worst critic.  But maybe, what's scarier still is letting that fear - that worry, that little voice inside my head - get in the way of my own success.

Remember that movie where the girl calls the phone company to trace the "crank" calls she's been getting, and the phone company tells her "Ma'am the calls are coming from inside the house."  UGH.  That's me.  The fear and doubt are coming from inside my own head.  Enough already.  I'm disconnecting the line.

But I digress, have a safe and Happy Halloween!  And may all that scares you today (and every day) be Hollywood movies and Stephen King titles.

By the way, what's your scariest movie and/or book?  And what scares you most?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Am So Proud

My son's high school held a "Mother Son Mass and Brunch" today.  During mass, the priest spoke about how the first two commandments are God's greatest commandments to us.  The first being to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul," and the second being to "love your neighbor as yourself."  It's hard to imagine a love so deep, so powerful, so unconditional.

Not for moms.  We know the power of that love from the moment our children are born, and in many cases from the moment we know we are carrying our child.

The priest spoke then about how at the very core of this love is letting go.  From the moment we become parents we are faced with having to let go.  Day by day, little by little, as they grow into independent, capable adults.  If you are a parent, regardless of whether you're religious, spiritual or neither of these, you can probably agree with this.  The letting go is the hardest, most painful part of love.  But it's also the most important.

I can apply this to more than just my kids.  Maybe you can, too.  Letting go, in many forms is painful.  But when done with love, it's the greatest gift of all.  But I digress...

Later, we all had brunch together.  Four of the seniors each gave a short speech on why their moms mean so much to them.  It was very touching.  There were hundreds of boys in attendance with their moms.  And each one, from the seniors down to the youngest freshmen were polite, kind, and gracious.  I am so very glad that I am able to provide this education for my son.  More than just academics, he's part of a brotherhood that leads by example, with respect.  I am so proud of the young man he is, the considerate, intelligent, respectful man he is becoming right before my eyes.

On another note, I met with my second son, Jack's, teachers on Friday.  They told me how incredible my son is with an autistic boy in his classroom.  On more than one occasion, Jack has picked up his tray at lunch to go sit with this boy when he was alone at a table.  He offers a kind word and help with school work.  With no prompting, Jack has become this boy's unspoken protector.  I am so very proud.  

My daughter is learning to read.  Everywhere we go, she calls out to me, "mama, what does (insert letters here) spell?"  She's beginning to recognize simple words, and is both surprised and proud when she recognizes a word ("Hey, that spells STOP!").  I am so proud.

I write this with all three of my kids tucked into their respective beds.  And I feel truly blessed.  Blessed to have them all home, safe and sound.  Blessed to have three kids whom I truly like as people.  Each so different, all so incredible.


Friday, October 21, 2011

A Day in the Life of Matilda OR Um, you've got a thing there...

This is a little story about a friend of mine.  Let's call her Matilda.  Yea, Matilda.  That's her name.

Now Matilda has a full life.  Lately, maybe it's a little too full.  She working full time, she's got a little freelance gig on the side filling in some extra hours, and she's rarely seen sitting down, what with all the kids running around, and that shoe she lives in to keep clean.  How does a busy mom, do it?

Anyway, she's somehow figured out how to keep it all together.  So she wakes up one morning during this crazy week, and checks her calendar.  A meeting at a client's office, followed by two phone interviews and a face-to-face (she's looking to hire some help at the full time job).  She's also volunteered to head up an auction at one child's school and needs to make some related calls, work on a client project, and finish up a company blog post.

A busy day.  But first...what to wear?  Matilda feels good when she looks good - don't we all?  So she goes through the morning routine and chooses a great outfit.  Great skirt, white tailored blouse, tall boots and tops it off with a great new shawl she bought a few weeks ago but hasn't worn yet.

But I digress.  Matilda gets all those kids out the shoe and to their respective schools, and heads to the client's office.  Arrives five minutes early (great start!) and hops out of her car, grabs her briefcase and struts, heels clicking importantly, towards the front door.  She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirrored walls of the building and smiles (not bad!), before throwing the door wide and heading inside.  She's greeted warmly by the receptionist and notices two gentlemen in the lobby, who glance her way.  One of them does a double take, his eyes lingering.  Matilda ignores this, of course, signs in at the front desk and turns to take a seat.
"Excuse me," the man with the eyes says to her.
She stops and turns, smiling.
He gestures with his right hand behind his neck, "you've got a, ah, a thing..." he trails off.
A thing?
"Oh?" she says, unsure.
"Um, a price tag," he explains, tapping his neck again, "um, it's hanging out."

Now, Matilda's self-importance comes to a screeching halt as she reaches behind her neck and feels the tag, with the sale sticker, hanging proudly in full view.
The receptionist smiles and offers scissors.

As it turns out, these two gentlemen are there for the same meeting.  Matilda can't quite remember what she said to them once the tag was removed, but it was, of course, very clever.

As it turns out, this was one of the best moments of this very busy, sometimes difficult, oftentimes stressful week.  For Matilda, that is.

Ever had a moment like Matilda's?  Go ahead...share it, it'll make me, um, I mean her, feel better.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Velva Jean: A Book Review

Let me begin by saying I love to read.  I could list all those reasons you’ve heard before, but I will boil it down to this: I read for that one book.  That book that holds my attention, sparks my imagination, makes me feel.  I read for that one protagonist I fall madly in love with, the one I can see parts of myself in, and other parts that I wish I could see in myself. 

I have a short list of these protagonists: Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Sara Gruen’s Jacob Jankowski.  And without a doubt, Jennifer Niven’s Velva Jean.

Jennifer Niven reminds me why I write.  In the hopes that one day I might be able to develop a character so real that my readers nod “yes, that’s it exactly.”  In the hopes that my words – just my words - might move someone to tears.

I devoured Velva Jean Learns to Fly a few weeks ago.  To the detriment of my children who had no clean clothes for the piles of dirty laundry, and no real dinner, because I quite simply could not put it down.

Velva Jean is an old friend of mine.  Before she learned to fly, she learned to drive, and I was along for that ride last year.  Before I happened upon Velva Jean Learns to Drive in the bookstore, I'd never heard of Jennifer Niven.  But I liked the title (yes, sometimes I do judge a book by its first).  In the simplest of terms, this is the story of a young girl coming of age and finding her way.  If you've ever felt that there was something inside of you yet to be discovered, you can relate to Velva Jean.  It is a story that weaves its way into your soul.  A story worth reading.

But I digress, this is not about Velva Jean learning to's about her learning to fly. It's about a young woman who leaves everything she knows and loves to make a way for herself, despite being unsure and alone.  It's about a young woman who chooses to follow her dreams, even when those dreams at first can't be realized.  

Singing at the Opry is Velva Jean's life's dream.  The story opens as she sets out in her old yellow truck towards Nashville - towards her future – on a dream and a promise: to “earn her leaving home.”

Velva Jean may come from extremely modest beginnings, but she is grounded in her convictions and not afraid to take chances. And as she begins to experience the world "out there" she realizes singing might not be her only dream.  The setting is 1940s America.  As news of Pearl Harbor spreads throughout the country, and young men are signing up in droves to fight, Velva Jean decides her new dream is to join the Air Force.   

We sit shotgun with Velva Jean on her journey, and all the while she lets us in to her innermost thoughts, and floors us with her simple, profound observations.

To wit: Growing up, her older brother Beach was always wandering off, leaving messages carved into tree trunks wherever he went. When he joins the war, he becomes a hero, risking his life to save countless others.  Velva Jean reads the newspaper articles about him and muses:  “I thought this was just another way of carving his messages.”

When she is faced with a task she is dreading, she tells herself that this is just “one of those things that couldn’t be helped but that you wished you could get out of – like … telling your mama good-bye forever.”

Velva Jean uses her own experiences as insight into other people.  She sees another couple while at dinner with her husband and wonders, “If they were as happy as they seemed or if maybe one of them didn’t like the other all the time and wanted to get in a truck and drive away and never look back.”

We see her determination when she fills out the divorce form, and seeing that there is no space on the form for “Wife’s job” she fills it in herself… “Pilot.”

In just one line from a secondary character, we understand what an incredibly talented singer she is: “Behind me I heard Janie say, ‘Good grief, Velva Jean.  Sally wasn’t lying.’”

Secondary characters take on important roles for us readers.  They give us insight into Velva Jean that even she cannot divulge. Velva Jean tells her friend, Butch Dawkins, that she doesn’t think she can write music any more.  She admits that all she can think about is airplanes.  Butch replies, “Maybe you’re still learning to fly.”  It’s a powerful statement, and one that allows us to see something in Velva Jean that she doesn’t yet see in herself.

With little formal education, Velva Jean relies on her gut instincts to get her through.  And not only does she survive, she thrives.  Her real world analogies prove to be far more insightful than even she realizes:

The more things that happened to me, the more I thought it was like carrying a suitcase – you kept adding things to it like your mama dying or your daddy going away, heartbreak…you just started adding these things to your suitcase until the case got heavier.  You still had to carry it around wherever you went.”

Velva Jean shows us that most life lessons aren’t learned in a classroom.  Her inquisitive, kind nature endears us.  Her strength and determination inspire us.  We grieve with her losses, and cheer with each small victory. Velva Jean is wise beyond her years, beyond her education.  She excels at everything she puts her mind to, whether that’s singing, writing lyrics or flying.  She’s modest, but also proud.  Maybe that’s why we love her. 

Jennifer Niven takes the reader deep inside the heart and soul of Velva Jean.  It’s what makes us feel so tied to her.  We feel as though we know her on a deeply intimate level.  We see pieces of ourselves in her.  And if not, we wish we did.  We root for her, cry with her, laugh with her and hold our collective breaths while she takes on the world, one dream at a time.

Velva Jean set out in that old yellow truck on a single dream and a promise.  I could tell you what happens to her, if she realizes her dream, if she “earns her leaving home.”  But then you wouldn’t have the distinct pleasure of reading the book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Memory of Steve Jobs

I remember getting my first mac as a young professional, back in 1996.  I had moved from the corporate side of marketing, to the agency side as an Account Coordinator.  And my new, plush cubicle came equipped with a Macintosh.  I was hooked from the first time I turned it on and saw that little square smiley face.

I had never been a huge computer wiz.  My older brother, Eric, on the other hand, lived for computers.  He got his first Commodore 64 at 14 and began programming almost immediately.  I could never figure the damn things out.  But I "got" the Mac.  And it "got" me.  It was easy to use, it could do things I dreamed up in my head - layouts, designs, fonts, graphics, that were visually appealing.  It made me feel so much more computer literate.  Of course, back in the mid 90s, telling people you worked on a Mac did not make you appear computer-literate.  In fact, back then, the standard response was "oh, you must work in advertising or something."  I heard a lot of "you have to work on a Mac, huh?"

Eric teased me constantly about it, and we'd have wars during family gatherings.  Each of us setting up camp on our respective sides of the computer world.  My father in the middle, keeping the peace.  "Right," he'd say to my brother, "if you want the latest software and games, ya gotta go with a PC." I'd roll my eyes, and just as quickly he'd add, turning to me, "but Apple has done a brilliant job marketing themselves.  They're pretty cool computers."

Eric was a computer programmer by trade.  A die-hard PC user.  Until one day about two years ago.  My dad called me and broke the news: "Did you hear? Your brother just bought a MacBook Air."
Huh?  I called him immediately.  Are you kidding me?  Mister PC?  With a Mac?  I never thought I'd see the day.  I promptly checked the skies for flying pigs, perked my ears to hear the fat lady singing.

But I digress. If Steve Jobs could convert my brother, well then, he could change the world.  And change it he did.  He changed the way we work, the way we listen to music, communicate, organize and function.  He changed the way we live.

I write this on my latest MacBook Pro, looking at notes I jotted on my iPhone 3Gs.  Suffice it to say, I am still a huge fan of Apple.

I was so sad to hear the news of his passing last night.  He was a true visionary, and he will be sorely missed.

Have a Mac/Apple/Steve Jobs memory of your own?  I'd love to hear it...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Join the Conversation, or Get Moving Turtle!

I've been experimenting with social media and gathering analytics.  In all my research, I've found that the best way (so far) to garner more activity, attention, views to your site, blog, etc. is to be active in the social media community.  Commenting on other blogs increases traffic.

Take this example...a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Niven ("Velva Jean Learns to Drive"), whom I follow on twitter, tweeted a link to L.A. Magazine's review of her new book ("Velva Jean Learns to Fly").  Several months ago, I had recommended her book in my blog, so I replied to her tweet, saying that while I was no L.A. Mag, I, too, highly recommended her...and included a link to my old blog post.  Not only did she reply to my tweet, but she went to my blog, and left a comment.  Her 100+ twitter followers saw her comment to me, as well as my link.  In one day, views on my blog spiked 25%.

There is another lesson in this example.  Don't assume that just because you posted a blog, everyone saw it already.  Older posts can and should be recycled.  Think about your blog posts having a longer shelf life, and write on topics that will still be relevant six months from now.  You can repost them on your blog, but also tweet links to older posts when it makes sense to do so.  Case in Point:

By day, I work for a marketing agency.  One of my tasks is managing our social media presence.  One of the people we follow on Twitter has 40,000+ followers. He tweeted a comment about how to find the right Social Media Manager.  I had written a post several months ago about how to train your new Social Media Manager.  So...I replied to his tweet, agreeing about how important finding the right person is, and then added "...and when you do find the right fit, here's how to get him started on the right track" with a link to my old blog post.  Activity on our agency blog spiked 20% in one day.

Stay tuned to what your followers (and those you follow) are posting, tweeting and talking about.  And look for opportunities to join the conversation.  If you are dipping a toe into the vast social media pool and are not sure where to start, remember that it's a slow moving snow ball, but each post, comment, tweet makes a ripple, and those ripples will begin to add up.  Keep a slow and steady pace, and you'll slowly add followers, and learn much along the way.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Value of a (Critique) Group or How Big Did You Say It Was?

I like the idea of groups.  Google+ calls them Circles.  Facebook calls them Friends.  There is value in connecting with peers, family, friends, like-minded individuals (you get the idea).

I have been lucky enough to be included in a new Writers' Critique Group (thanks Linda!)  Five women from various backgrounds, ages and stages of life, who bring their own unique writing styles and personalities to our little cluster of soft-backed, sturdy chairs (if you read Sioux's recent post, you know why this group of ours requires a certain functionality in our seating).

I am honored to be a part of this group.  I talk a lot.  But then, I can't help it.  Their writing excites me.  It excites me to read it, it excites me to think about all the ideas and the possibilities, to be exposed to different genres and styles.  And because I come from a Marketing background, I am all about the concepting, the group ideation, especially when it involves chocolate cake (thanks again, Lynn!).

If you find yourself in the enviable position to join such a group.  If you decide you'd like to start one, or be a part of one, or just check out what all the fuss is about, you should definitely do so.  I personally guarantee that it will help your writing, and increase your confidence in what you bring to the (coffee) table, but you just may find a group of people that you enjoy being around. You'll certainly spend a few hours a week (or month) honing your craft. If you're lucky, you'll laugh a little (thanks Tammy!), and you just might stretch beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone and try a new genre or two.

A few pointers for joining (or starting) a critique group of your own:

1. Surround yourself with writers who are at or near your level of writing.  Some might be stronger, some might not have as much experience, and each of them might write for a different genre (fiction, no-fiction, memoir, etc.). This way, you can learn from each other.

2. Come prepared.  Bring a copy of your piece for each person in the group.  Double space to allow room for group members to write comments.

3. Have a game plan.  Set aside the first few minutes of your first meeting to go over the plan.  Will you each read aloud from your work?  Will everyone read your work silently?  Who should start the critique? Should you work your way around the circle so that each person has a dedicated time to speak, or just speak out when you have a thought?  Is the person being critiqued allowed to speak - or only listen?

4.  Create limits.  On the size of the piece you are bringing: I way overstepped mine last night and brought 5 pages.  My apologies, girls.  I think 2-3 pages is quite enough, and I promise to follow this rule in the future! And also on the time you meet: approx. two hours should do it. One hour just isn't enough, and 3 hours...well, who has 3 hours?

5. Use the sandwich approach.  It's helpful to sandwich your critique of someone's work between two positive comments (i.e. "love your writing style!  Your dialogue isn't really working for me, it doesn't sound "real," but your ending is great).  Having been through several college writing courses, I've developed a fairly thick skin, and personally, I don't need niceties (unless of course they are truly sincere and worthy) and really believe I am in this group to learn something - I want my work torn apart so I can put it back together stronger and hopefully ready to shop out.  That said, it's always nice to get a compliment, and if you're just starting out, it can be very helpful.

Ever been in a great writing group? If you've got ideas, thoughts or advice from your own experiences, I'd love for you to share in the comments below...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Something's In the Air

I'm looking forward to this week of autumn-like weather.  "I can feel it coming in the air tonight..." sang Phil Collins.  I can feel it, too.  The winds are picking up, the leaves will be changing soon, school is in full swing.  And the ideas in my head are coming faster than I can write each one down.  I can feel it.  Can you?  There is excitement in the cool breeze.  Open windows, clear days, cool nights.  Soon the leaves will be changing to crisp orange, fiery red, and brilliant yellow.  Shorts will make way for jeans, cozy boots will replace flip flops and cardigans and hoodies will be pulled out from the back of the closet.  I am looking forward to the changes.  Inside and out. The great Sam Cooke's soulful "A change is Gonna Come" is playing in my mind.  I wonder what's in store for me and mine in the coming months.  What's in store for you?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Let's Hear it for the Dolls! or From Nicole Elise to...Emma?

If you are of the female persuasion and you grew up sometime in the early 70's to mid 80s, you will recognize the name "Xavier Roberts."  Yeah, you know it.  Creator of the beloved Cabbage Patch Doll.

Remember when they first came out in the stores?  Packaged in the box with the clear front, each doll was soft, with dimpled knees and elbows just like a "real" baby.  And each came with  adoption papers, which we excitedly filled out and mailed in, and then a few weeks later we received in the mail our formal adoption certificate.  Each doll came with a given first and middle name.  This was unique to our times, too.  I'm sure our mothers were thinking "What happened to asking kids to use their imagination? To naming their own doll?"  But us girls, we loved the idea that our baby already had a name.  It made the adoption that much more real to us.  Although, speaking of names...where in the world did they come up with some of these names?  My baby's name was "Nicole Elise" - not a name I would have chosen, but nevertheless, I stated it proudly whenever I was asked (probably garnered some strange looks in the process).

My best friend, Katie, and I both had CPK dolls (her baby's name was Lynette - see what I mean?).  Anyway, we used to bike to each other's house with our doll in the basket attached to the handlebars.  And then we'd ride up to the 7-11 together to buy baby food and diapers for our dolls.  Really.  We still get a good laugh out of this memory.

But I digress.  A few days ago, my daughter came across a picture of me with my Cabbage Patch Doll...

We found the baby for her, matted hair and all, and it now resides happily - albeit uncomfortably crowded - in my old doll crib with a half dozen other dolls.  They're a close knit group.

Well, those were the days.  Everyone had a Cabbage Patch Kid.

But I digress, it's a new day.  My daughter is 6 years old today, and her big birthday wish this year (well, really for the last three years) is for an American Girl Doll.  Julie Albright, to be exact.  Long, long, straight blond hair, hippie braid down the side, bell bottoms and a rope belt.

 Ella has finally gotten her wish.
(picture removed)

She is thinking of naming her "Emma."

What was your favorite baby doll's name? And if you had one, can you remember your Cabbage Patch Kid's given name?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On this night, 2005...

Allow me to take you back to this night, August 25th, in the year 2005.  I am fat, with a capital HUGE.  Nine months pregnant, I have been to the hospital three times already with "false" labor.  Let me tell you something about "false" labor.  It doesn't FEEL "false."  And having been through childbirth twice before, I do know what it feels like.  But this little girl...she is a stubborn one (she comes by it quite naturally).

So, my due date is 2 days away.  Having had my first child 3 days early, and my second child 3 WEEKS early, this feels miserably late to me.  I am tired.  I am round.  My boobs are hitting me in the chin, and my bladder is dragging the ground like an orangutan's knuckles.

My husband has just arrived home from work, and taking pity on his poor, bloated wife (or realizing that any attempt to ask me for dinner could result in his losing a testicle), he offered to take me and our boys out for pizza.  Pizza!  I feel instantly better.   We gather the boys and head off to Fortel's.  Not yet out of the subdivision, my stomach cramps up.  Not again, I think.  I'll just ignore it.

I ignore it all the way to Fortel's Pizza Den.  My husband stops at an ATM down the street from the restaurant for cash.  While he punches at the buttons on the machine, I groan out loud at the pain that has tightened my bulging belly.  "Mom?" my oldest son asks from the backseat, "are you okay?"
My husband turns his head to look at me, and I simultaneously grunt "ummm, yeah, I'm good," and give him a wide-eyed look.  He urges me to go ahead and call the doctor.  I do.

"Dr. Pearse?" I say between breaths, "I'm having some labor pains again."  He asks me a few questions, as my husband pulls the car into the lot and parks in front of Fortel's.  The boys, 8 and 5, wait patiently, listening to my end of the conversation.  "Go ahead and head into the hospital," he says.
"Yeah, right." I hear myself bark at him, "so you can send me home a fourth time?  I don't thinks so."

He's determined by the way I'm talking and breathing that this pain is real, but I'm having no part of it.
He urges me one last time, "Beth.  Really, you need to go.  How far away are you?"
I give in a little with the next crushing pain, my hand squeezing the blood out of my husband's forearm.

"Okay, damn it," I tell him, "but I am leaving that hospital with a baby - I don't care if I have to steal it from the damn nursery!"

Gratefully, he ignored my threat and told me he'd see me soon.  I didn't get Fortel's pizza that night.  But at exactly 1am on August 26th, Ella Lee was born.  She was beautiful.  And quite bald.

I'd always wanted to have three kids.  And was convinced that I'd be happy with three boys.  In fact, I was terrified of having a girl.  All of my friends with boys shuddered at the thought of raising a girl.  If you're one of us, you know why.  We can be a bit...difficult at times (okay, if you're not one of us, chances are you've had a scary encounter or two.  We feel ya.).

But I digress.  The moment the doctor placed that baby girl in my arms, I was so in love.  She has brought so much joy and happiness, so much laughter and love into all of our lives.  I'm thankful every day for her.

Happy birthday baby girl.  Can not believe you are 6 years old!

                 Time flies!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bus Drivers...a ride down memory lane

My Ella is preparing for Kindgerten. Last week, she attended "bus safety" at her new school.

It brought back some memories.

Back when I was growing up, the Catholic school had busses. I rode that damn bus from the time we moved to St. Louis (I was in the first grade) all the way through the end of 8th grade.

Let me give you a little history about my school bus. It was yellow, of course. This is a given. No seatbelts (please!), we had two bus drivers throughout all those years. Don, who was also the school maintenance man. A nice hippie of a guy with long hair, kind eyes and an easy manner. And Mr. Thomas, an older gentleman (and the grandfather of two of my good friends; twins MaryAnn and Michelle). Other than his grandkids, Mr. Thomas loved one thing...his cigars. He used to smoke 'em while he'd wait for that bell to ring at the end of the school day. And during the coldest months, those little rectangular windows would be all the way up, save for one, which he cracked to let the smoke out. Needless to say, it was not an effective outlet for all that carbon monoxide.

Back then, the Catholic schools separated boys and girls for everything - not just the bathroom breaks. We ate lunch at different tables, had separate gym classes, separate lines in which to walk to and from music class, rows in church...

But I digress. We even had a "boys' side" and "girls' side" on the bus. St. Joseph's elementary was damn sure not going to risk the potentially sinful outcome of the two sexes coming together in any way, shape or form (we saved that for high school).

A quick walk down memory lane to share with you the (rather innocent) story of how we used to torture poor Mr. Thomas...

Now, the way busses work (if you aren't privy to this knowledge already), is that the older kids sit in the back. So, Kg little ones sit in the very front of the bus, and we work our way back to the 8th grade hoods in the very back. In about the 5th grade, my friend Angie, and I decide that we don't much care for being relegated to the girls' side. The boys' side sure looked a lot more fun. So, here we are, about halfway back, on the right (girls') side, sharing a bench seat.
Above the driver's seat was a long, rectangular mirror, which Mr. Thomas took full use of to glance back at his charges every few minutes - just to make sure we were all behaving as good, Catholic schoolchildren should.

So, much like detainees will wait until the guard has just crossed their path before making a run for it, we wait for him to glance back at us. When he does, we are sitting politely, smiling angelically, hands folded in our jumper-clad laps. As soon as his eyes move back to the road....

We dash to the boys' side. "Hey! Move over! Whadaya think you're doin'?"

SHhhhhh! We say.

Then, just as angelically, we pop our heads up, sit quietly, smile politely straight ahead.

Mr. Thomas takes another quick glance in his mirror, looks back at the road, and...

We dash back to the girls' side.

He does a double take. Glaring at us now, sitting properly on the girls' side.

We do this several more times, before he realizes that he's not losing his mind, and that these two little girls might just be trouble makers.

We are sent to the Principal's office.

Good times.

Truly, this is about as "bad" as I behaved (at school, anyway).

Ella will be riding the school bus for the first time next Tuesday. And while there will be no boys' side/girls' side on her bus, I'm sure she'll make just as many memories. Meanwhile, I'll be trying to keep my eyes dry as I load her onto the bus for the first time. I may still be standing in the same spot - just waiting - when she is returned to me at the end of the day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

To Andre Dubus: Happy Birthday. And Thanks...

Today is the late Andre Dubus' birthday. I acknowledge this because Dubus was the first author whose short fiction I read, and loved, and felt I understood. I'd read short stories before his. In fact, let me take you back to 2004. Creative Writing (Fiction) class with Prof. Steve Lattimore. I'm a 32 year old writing major. I love to write, I love to read, but I am just now learning to study a work of fiction, to think about it, to take it apart and piece it back together.

Ours was a small class; about 10 students sitting around a big table, in a 2nd floor classroom in an old, white house that had been converted to house the English Department. Each class, we'd assemble to discuss the previous week's assigned story. And each week, I sat quietly, listening to my peers (many of whom were 10 years younger than I was) dissect and discuss the story. How are they getting that out of this story? I would think to myself. I either liked it or I didn't. It either held my attention or brought on a case of ADD whereby I'd have to reread full paragraphs.

But several weeks into the class, Lattimore assigned "The Fat Girl."

I got it. Finally. Not because I could relate to the main character (those of you who know me will laugh at that thought), but because Dubus had a gift. He created characters who were neither all good, nor all bad. His protagonists were regular people with regular problems, real emotions. They screwed up, they made mistakes, but they each had a fair shot at redemption. Dubus made us like them even more for their humanity.

After Dubus, Prof. Lattimore fed us Raymond Carver ("Cathedral), Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried) and Graham Greene ("The Quiet American"). Smart man. Really great stuff from truly talented writers.

But I digress, Dubus did so eloquently what I can only hope to do someday. And that is to tell a fantastic story in short form (a very difficult task, I assure you) that makes us feel, think, hope, cringe, gasp, smile...even cry. And most importantly, to remember.

I am grateful to Prof. Lattimore for introducing me to such talent (or am I? These are big shoes for any writer), and grateful to Andre Dubus for helping me, finally, to get it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Lazy Days of Summer

As another summer comes to an end (speaking strictly of school starting...the weather sure as hell isn't cooperating), I've been reminiscing about my own childhood summers. Remember those days? We'd spend the entire day outside. We'd swim at the pool, skip rocks down in the creek, climb over fallen tree trunks, catch fireflies, roast marshmallows...okay, every night was not a Disney camp show, but you know what I mean.

My family bought a lake house at Innsbrook this past October. It is a beautiful home on a big, still lake.

The lakehouse has brought back lazy, summer memories for me, and shown my kids a different way to relax this summer. We've spent lazy days (no computers, no playstation, and very little tv, save for the occasional movie just before bedtime) fishing off the dock and the boat...

swimming and jumping into the lake...

horse back riding...

Climbing across and balancing on fallen logs and hunting for treasures in the woods. Taking walks...

and playing at the beach...

We play board games, team up for foosball and shuffleboard and just...relax.

On a recent weekend there, all 3 of my kids were found kneeling in front of a box of legos, each absorbed in their own creations, but talking together as they built (if you are a parent to more than one child, you can appreciate this).

Late night s'mores over an open fire, star gazing...It's just what summer was intended to be. These are the times I want my kids to look back on and remember. I know I will.

What's your favorite summertime memory?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Give This Bookworm a Hand, Won't You?

I need a good book. Now, come on readers, I've recommended a few for you. Return the favor, won't you? My oldest son is heading to high school in less than two weeks (I'm quite sure I'll blog on this very soon as I can't quite believe it). Over the summer he was charged with reading three novels for his forthcoming Honors English class. The books were (in no particular order)...

The Illustrated Man (Bradbury)
All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque)
Frankenstein (Shelly)

With just 12 days to go, and having finished the first two, he is currently about 1/4 of the way through Frankenstein (and by the look on his face, it's no Ender's Game).

I thought it would be a good idea to read these three as well, so that, ya know, we could talk about them. And seeing as I have that whole B.A. in English going for me, I figured I could probably help him understand the stories. Give him an intelligent thought or two, right?

I did read All Quiet... (I know, I know, I can't believe I've never read it before either!), and enjoyed it. However, I don't agree wholeheartedly that it is the "greatest book on war ever written." Hang on, maybe it was the greatest book on war ever written at that time. That I can believe. It was a touching, honest story. Although my favorite is still The Things They Carried. Tim O'Brien is fantastic.

I did not read The Illustrated Man. The agony on Connor's face the whole way through that book was enough to scare me away from it.

I did start Frankenstein, but hell, I saw the movie more than once. That counts, right? I was slogging through when, thank God, Connor finished book #2 and was ready for it. Who am I to stand in the way of my son's continuing education?

So I've read some lazy, summer books. All fine and good. But I dare say that I'm ready for some substance! So, please, if you wouldn't mind recommending a few for me, that'd be swell. As a reminder, these are the ones I recommended to you back in February.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Er, Sorry...Or, Could I Feel Any Smaller?

I have a rule in our home. Okay, there are several. But the one I'm referring to is the "No Locked Doors" Rule (One caveat: bathroom doors). We respect each other's privacy by knocking first, so there is no reason to lock your bedroom door (One caveat: my door).

But I digress...

It was a typical Monday night (other than being the last day of my 38th year). One child playing with her legos, one sprawled across the couch, and one (middle) child who had a friend over. I ran down to the Office/Laundry Room/PS3 Room to let the boys know their dinner was ready. I grabbed the handle and turned...locked. "Jack?!" I called, "open this door."


The friend opened the door to my best stern mom face. "We have a rule in this house," I said to him as he slinked back to his chair in front of the tv, "No locked doors."


I let it go - I don't believe in scolding/lecturing/beating (ha) kids in front of their friends.

After his friend went home, I found Jack in front of the PS3. I sat down next to him. "Jack?" "I know mom," he said, "I'm sorry."

I was feeling very in control. Pleased with my ability to stay in charge and on top of the House Rules I had imposed. "What were you doing in here that you needed to lock the door?"

"Mom..." Jack sneaked a peak at me out of the corner of his eye before turning back to the TV to shoot another bad guy.


"Do I have to tell you?"

I was smug. "I'd like to know, yes."

He reached behind his chair and pulled out a stack of little square sheets of paper.
"It's your birthday present."

Each square was a coupon; for cutting the lawn, babysitting his sister, folding the laundry, washing the car. A free hug.

Ugh. My turn to apologize. For thinking...what? That they were building a weapon of mass destruction? Leafing through a magazine found on the sidewalk? Sometimes my imagination gets the best of me. Better to be on my toes, I guess. I'm not naive. Sure, I turned 39 last Tuesday, but I remember quite clearly the trouble I caused (and got away with) back in the day.

This year for my birthday, Jack gave me two gifts. One being the stack of coupons (how great is that!?), the other being a healthy dose of humility.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What Was Your First Concert?

Remember your very first concert? I do. It was 1980. I was 8 years old. We went with our neighbors, in their station wagon, to see the Osmond Family. Donny sang Puppy Love. It was groovy.

Okay, I don't know if that really counts...the next concert I went to was Dan Folgerberg at the Fox Theatre. I was 15. Went with my best friend, my dad and step mom. Not sure if this one really counts either, as it was the Fox, we were seated the entire time (although I do remember we had great seats), and there were no waving lighters, no screaming.

I saw Rick Springfield in concert at Six Flags (I'm guessing he sang "Jessie's Girl over and over again...what else was there?). Then went to a few shows in my late teens...ZZ Top, Scorpions, Billly Squier (how I loved Billy Squier, hot pink leather pants and all).
Oh, yeah... and U2. My brother and I stood in line for hours to get crappy seats to see Bono and The Edge at the old Busch Stadium. It was awesome.
Since then I've seen Carlos Santana a couple times, then Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and Trace Adkins (guess I went through a country phase).
I saw RUSH for the first time in 2007, Van Halen (with David Lee Roth and a teenage, pimply-faced, albeit talented, Wolfgang accompanying his dad on guitar) in 2008 and RUSH (again) in 2009 (this time around was a little better, speaking strictly of set list and sound quality).

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing U2 again. I took my oldest son, Connor.
At 14, it was time he experienced his first rock concert. And I really want to be the one to take all of my kids their first time. Connor and I have music (and writing, and books) in common, so it seemed fitting. I think he enjoyed it. The sheer size and sound of it all. 50,000 fans singing I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Very cool.

My favorites off last night's set list were (in order of performance):
I Will Follow
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Many Rivers To Cross (I know he only did the first few lines, but I love this song - especially Annie Lenox's version)
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Hallellujah (Again, only the first verse here, and I know it's not his, but I love this song, and I loved his voice singing it)
Where the Streets Have No Name
With or Without You
New Year's Day (which I heard as we were walking to the car...Damn! We left too early!)

I would have loved to hear "40" if only so that we (the audience) could sing along with Bono ("Sing this with me, this is 40!" If you have the album, you know what I'm talking about).
Would have loved to hear a few off Rattle & Hum (God Part II, Desire, Bullet the Blue Sky), and although they did play three off Joshua Tree, I would have loved to hear Trip Through Your Wires (love that harmonica) or In God's Country.

(And, No, Joe, they did not play Lemon. However, they did play Elevation, and I read that in early concerts on the Tour they did, in fact, play Lemon, as well as one of my favorites - Party Girl - sorry to have missed that one).

All in all, it was a GREAT show.

But I digress..."What was your first concert?" is a common question. And I love that Connor's answer will be "U2" (it sure as hell beats Donny Osmond!) And whether or not he chooses to let people know that he went with his mom, we'll always share that memory. I've got the photo (above), and the ticket stub to prove it.

What was your first concert? How about your favorite (so far)?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Serenity...Just $13.99

Sometimes it's just not worth the battle.

My middle child (you remember him?  Willful, loving, Jack) hurt his elbow during goalie training last night.  They were practicing diving for the soccer ball (it's your third hand, you love the ball!) and he landed on it, his elbow slamming into hard ground.  Nothing broken (I'm not a doctor, but we've had 5 in our house - none Jack's), no heinous swelling or bruising.  But Jack was hurting last night.  I coaxed him into a warm bath, got him settled on the couch with a fluffy pillow, soft blanket and tv and he fell right to sleep.  This morning he was a hornet's nest.  
Couldn't move his arm (he said), couldn't do anything, refused to go to summer camp because he was afraid to take the field trip to the in-link skating rink.  He was bored, restless, and then got it in his head that he needed to have his arm in a sling. 
I tried telling him I don't have a sling.  I tried telling him I was working (from home today, mind you) and he needed to relax (read: be quiet!) and keep ice on it.  

Nothing worked.  Once he got the idea of a sling into his head, nothing else was going to do.  "Mom, pulleeeese!" he whined, "it hurts!"  Dragging out the words as though stretching the syllables would impress upon me his dire circumstances.  It simply stretched that nerve ending to near breaking.  You know the one...the LAST SENSITIVE NERVE?  Yep.  That one.

I heard about it from 8am this morning through 1pm when I had to run out for a doctor's appointment.  Then I read about it via text.  Gosh, I do love technology. 

On the way home, it hit me.  I had spent the past 5+ hours listening to this whining, complaining misery.  And suddenly an infomercial began playing in my head:  

Are you in need of peace?  Do you need a few moments of serenity?  How long have you had to put up with the whining?  Well, folks, have we got just the thing for you!
Peace!  Serenity! A temporarily content 11 year-old boy!  That's right!  All this can be yours for the low, low price of $13.99.  Just one payment of $13.99 can buy you a few moments of whinelessness (is that even a word? It is now...)!  All you have to do is stop at Walgreens on your way home and purchase that cotton, adjustable sling.  $13.99.  Operators are standing by...

Now, I normally do not fall victim to these sales pitches, but this was one I absolutely could not argue with.  I simply could not refuse.  I swerved into that Walgreens parking lot and ran in like I was on fire.  And when I got home and presented Jack with the sling...

Well, let's just say I'm writing this in complete silence...


Thursday, July 7, 2011

As I Close Out My Fourth (a look back through the decades)

Next Tuesday, July 19th, I will turn 39.

The last year of my thirties.

It doesn't scare me, but I'm certainly in a reflective mode. It makes me think about each of the decades I've lived through so far...

Ages 0-9.
As the famous line goes "Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten." True, to a point. All the major necessities were covered. We're born...check. Learn to sit, stand, walk....check. check. check. Get the talking thing down... Heck, we even learned to read and write. Loads of learning. Well done!

10 - 19.
A rough ten years. Pre-teen to teen, to college student all in such a short span. No wonder it's so fraught with angst and confusion.
Let's see if my second decade sounds anything like yours ... from 10 to 19, I learned...a different set of skills. How to talk back, wear makeup, not burn myself on a curling iron, empty a can of Aqua Net on just my bangs. All checks. I started and graduated highschool, went on my first date, had my first "serious" relationship. I don't know if I learned as much during these years as I tried, tested, pushed, ignored and fought against. Yep, that sounds more like it.

20 - 29.
Major changes here. The first and biggest being the coveted "legal drinking age." Maybe that's why the first couple years in this decade is a little hazy... I do recall moving into my first apartment. For many, this decade saw a college degree, maybe two. First "real, grown up" jobs, engagements, weddings, pregnancy, babies, and first homes. This 10-year span for me held great joy (becoming a mom), missed opportunities (travel), both bad (dropping out of college) and good (going back to college) decisions. This was a decade for learning how to be a "grown up," a wife, a mother, a home owner. This is when I learned to take care of others. To put others first. And to put myself last.

30 - 39.
This has been a decade of discovery. This was when I learned about me. My passions, my dreams, my hopes, what is most important. It has also held some very difficult years. Years that I'm grateful for nonetheless, because they shaped who I am today. If we could go back carrying all the knowledge we've gathered over time...wouldn't that make things so much easier? But really, who wants to do it over again? Not I. I'm thrilled to have gotten through it, and excited about what's to come. I refuse to think about the fact that my life may very well be half over (or worse). I have dreams! Big dreams! Promises I've made to myself. I've had my work published - seven times so far! And I'm finally working on that novel I've always wanted to write.

But I digress, I'm going to enjoy this last year of my thirties. And realize that every year has brought me closer to the best years of my life. I truly believe they are still in front of me.

What's your favorite decade so far (and why)?

Monday, July 4, 2011

What Is Patriotism?

I wrote this essay for a writing contest hosted by Hot Psychology magazine back in 2007. It took 2nd place.
My views have changed just a little bit since then, but since I just returned from vacation (a fantastic, long weekend in Ft. Myers), I thought it'd be okay to cheat a little, and repost this today, in honor of Independence Day. Happy 4th everyone!

I was working on my writing degree in 2001, teaching preschool at “Love ‘N Laugher” in the morning for extra income. It was a small school, 60 families in an 80-year old home that the owner had converted into a preschool. White brick with little red awnings, sidewalk chalk up and down the driveway, clapboard fence surrounding a happy playground filled with swings, slides and running toddlers. It was quaint. Cozy. Safe. One of a million little schoolhouses all over the world.

Once the children were down for their nap, the afternoon teacher would relieve me, and I’d head to my own classes. Universities tend to lean left, politically, and at the time, I was married to a right-wing Republican. I never had much opinion on political matters. Instead I tended to let my husband sway me, just as our parents’ beliefs sway us in our youth. Once I went back to school for my bachelor’s though, I became a little more opinionated. Maybe it was the University environment, maybe it was the strain on my marriage, maybe I was finally finding my voice, and over time, confidence in that voice. Whatever it was, I felt more and more compassion for the soldiers, and less and less for the government – ours or anyone else’s.

July 4 was always a favorite of the preschoolers at Love N Laughter. The kids celebrated by waving little American flags, singing “patriotic” songs and creating “firework” art by throwing paint-drenched Koosh balls at black construction paper. I can remember walking into the little school house the morning of September 11, 2001, a weary eye on the sky, half expecting to see fighter jets flying overhead. I can remember wondering if there were preschool teachers walking into little schoolhouse in Iraq, or Cuba, or Vietnam that morning. What makes us different from any of them? Surely they were familiar with the fear of the unknown, as I was for the first time that morning.

I can’t imagine anyone talking or writing about Patriotism without mentioning 9/11 in some way. Pre-9/11 America and Post-9/11 America. Of course, most would say that, as a country, we are much more “patriotic” now.

But what does that mean? Because our country was attacked in such a massive, public, horrifying way, that we suddenly became more proud of our country? Willing to fight back? We got flag happy, I think. We rallied around the troops, the government, and the “war on terror." These aren’t bad things, of course, but it did feel very “Republican."

If patriotism is this simple, why does it always seem to be a political issue? If we are against the “war on terror” then we’re not patriotic. If we’re all for it – we’re murdering, war lovers. What if patriotism is just about having that sense of peace within us that somehow things will be okay? What if it’s just about waving that little flag and smiling as you walk past a stranger – sharing a common bond – even for just that day.
It’s our right as Americans – born in a free country – to choose our politics. Are we Republican or Democrat? Do we back the president, or back away? Whichever way we lean politically – we should be proud that we have that right. We should be grateful for the opportunity to choose and speak out without fear. Why fight with the leftist next door because you’re right wing? Be glad that both of you have respect and love enough for your country to use your rights. Be patriotic – and smile at the opposing team – just for today.

That first 4th of July – 2002 – was a big one for our country. But things at Love ‘N Laughter were exactly as they’d been for the past 19 July 4th celebrations. Same little flags, same paint-smattered little hands, same smiles, giggles, shouts.

That little school house hasn’t changed in the last six years. There is still no lock on the front door. No iron gates at the end of the driveway. No metal detectors or rent-a-cops.
It is still the same, peaceful, cozy place it was pre-9/11. One small sign that maybe we really our patriotic – we really do believe in our peace. Is it na├»ve? Maybe. But it’s American. How patriotic is that?