Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"It's Only Just a Past That Remains"

My wise friend, S.F., once summed up friendship like this: some friends enter your life for a season, some for a reason, and some for a lifetime. Of course, she stated it much more eloquently, but you get the idea. I agree with her philosophy. But I was naive enough to believe that friendships moved through phases, always moving forward. If a friends was still around after a season, well, there must be a reason. And if the friend was still around when that reason was gone, well, then they solidified their position as a lifetime friend. No changebacks. No do overs. No backsliding.

But that's not true. I'm losing one of my forever friends. She came in the summer 15 years ago (season), pulled me through one of the darkest times of my life (reason), and was still there years later. And now, for whatever reason, she's leaving and I'm in mourning. I blame life more than anyone or anything, although that doesn't make my friend's absence any easier to accept. Stretches of awkward silence have replaced giggle-filled phone conversations.Our get-togethers have become fewer and farther between; more often than not, someone cancels at the last minute. One-page e-mails have dwindled to one line messages.

Over the past year, I have ridden the emotional roller coaster that people experience when they lose a loved one: shock, anger, denial, frustration, confusion and sadness. Now I just feel "done." There is nowhere left to go with this friendship.

I wish my friend well. I will always be thankful she was in my life, and I will always hold the memories we made together in my heart. But it's only just a past that remains.*

*From "Toast to the Lifelong Friends" by Duotang

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Redefining Hot Pants

One of the new experiences I've had this year is learning how to shoot a handgun and all the responsibilities that come with gun ownership. I don't get to the range as much as I would like, but when I do go, I enjoy myself. I always select the same paper target: The life-size bad guy. He's clad in a baseball cap, flannel shirt, and sun glasses, and he's pointing a handgun at me. I stretegically place neon-orange target circles in various places on the bad guy to track my aim. As I slide the magazine into the gun and squeeze the trigger, I picture myself as one of Charlie's Angels - Kelly, if you really want to know - complete with bellbottom pants. Cheesy? Yes. Effective? Let's just say, my aim is pretty accurate. Bring it on, bad dude.

I consider myself well-versed in the gun safety. Always make sure the safety is on if the gun isn't being fired. Always make sure the firearm is pointed down range. Never point a gun at anyone, unless of course, you mean to use it. But there is one side effect of shooting a gun that I wasn't prepared for and that I can't really control: the spent shell casing. When a gun is fired, the ejected shell casings morph into scalding brass projectiles with no set path. I learned this the hard way: twice.

The first time was several weeks ago. I went to the range wearing a shirt with a modest v-neck. During one round, a shell casing popped straight back and chose my v-neck as it's target. Straight in. It took a few seconds before I felt the searing pain of burning flesh, but once I did I couldn't get the casing out fast enough, especially after it lodged itself in my bra. I tossed my firearm on the ledge of the stall - barrell pointing down range - and reached up my shirt to save my burning boobs from the burning brass. My husband looks at me and says, "You forgot to put the safety on." I looked at him and said, "Apparently, you've never had a hot shell casing stuck in your bra." 'Nuff said.

The second time it happened was yesterday. I chose to wear a white long-sleeved crew neck shirt. Alas, my shirt was no match for one rebel shell casing. This time, it went down my shirt, bypassed the bra, and got stuck between by innie/outie belly button and the waist of my belted jeans. It was stuck for several seconds. You know those westerns where one cowboy says to the other cowboy, "Dance" and starts firing his gun at his enemy's feet? Well, I was the enemy, and I was dancing fast. My jeans are too big in the waist, and my flailing caused the shell casing to dislodged and travel down my right leg. I was finally able to shake it out, but not before it created an anvil-shaped burn mark right below my innie/outie belly button and two striped burn marks on my upper right thigh. Talk about hot pants.

Life lesson: Expect the unexpected and protect your goodies at all times.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Off the Wagon

I must confess ... I've fallen off of the writing wagon and I can't get up. This is only my second post this month, and I haven't done any other writing outside of the blog (unless you count reports for my graduate course, which I do not). I haven't even looked at the fast and furious fifteen-minutes-a-day writing I did last month. What's up with that? What happened to my motivation? My mojo?

I've let life take over again. I often wonder if perhaps I'm not as into writing and being a writer as I thought I was. Maybe I'm trying to force something to be "my thing" that really isn't "my thing" any longer. If that's the case, then I'm scared because I don't have a back up "thing." It just seems to me that if Iwas passionate about writing, then I wouldn't always let life get in the way. It seems to me that I would carve out that writing time if I really wanted it. Maybe it's just not the right time for me to be writing. Then again, if not now, when? Life is such a handy excuse for neglecting something or someone, isn't it?

No pledges to do better. No promises that I'll hop right back up on the wagon with a "Yippee-Ki-Yay" and a "Giddy-up." I'm just gonna keep on keepin' on. Who knows? Maybe this "life" excuse will wind up as my Great American novel ...

Monday, September 7, 2009

To the Land of Oz and Back Again

Ha ha ha
Ho ho ho
And a couple of tra la las
That's how we laugh the day away
In the merry old land of Oz
Maybe we didn't laugh the entire day away, but we did enjoy our time in the merry old land of Oz (aka rural Kansas). But there is something so authentic about rural America that makes this trip rate as one of my top journeys.
Every two years, on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, my mother's side of the family hosts a family reunion at the Rolling Prairie Senior Citizens Center in White City, Kansas. White City is somewhere south of Junction City. You take Skiddy Road due south, complete a bunch of loop-de-loops and, with any luck, wind up on MacKenzie St. (aka The Main Drag). Along the way, you encounter roadside dwellings that make you start humming the tune from the movie, "Deliverance." You know the one. You also pass dwellings that prompt your husband to utter, "I think the Texas Chainsaw Massacre guy lives there." As you continue driving, keeping your fingers and toes crossed that you are headed the right way, you find it necessary to concoct an exit strategy in case the car breaks down. Ours was to strap the peeps in their strollers and run as fast as we could the rest of the way to White City. The only assurances that you are indeed headed in the right direction are the randomly placed signs with "White City" and directional arrows. We made it to the reunion, and I had a great time catching up with aunts, uncles, and cousins and showing off my peeps.
Wamego, KS. We could have made it to White City and back home in one day, but Mark and I decided to create a mini-vacation and we left Saturday morning for Abilene, Kansas. As we drove west on I-70, we started noticing signs for the Oz Winery, located just off the interstate in Wamego, Kansas. The peeps are very much into "The Wizard of Oz" right now, and Mark and I are very much into wine, so a side trip was in order. Apparently, Wamego is considered by some to be the "Oz Capital of the World." Who knew? In addition to the winery (we picked up a bottle of "Run Toto Run") there is an Oz Museum that boasts an extensive collection of movie memorabilia. The chance to stretch our legs did everyone some good, and we hopped back into the car and headed farther west.
Abilene, KS. Abilene is my mother's hometown and it holds specific childhood memories for me, even though the time I spent there as a girl was limited. Abilene was, and in some ways, still is, a true cowboy town. It represents the end of the Chisholm Trail and once had Wild Bill Hickock as its sheriff. The school mascots are the Cowboys and Cowgirls. President Eisenhower was from Abilene, and the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is located there. As a young girl, I marveled at Old Abilene Town, a tourist attraction that offered Old West gun fights, Can Can girls dancing in a saloon, and authentic buildings from the 1800s that begged for exploration. Old Abilene Town still exists, though it's a shell of what I remember as a kid. We missed the Can Can girls, and the peeps didn't care for the crack of gunfire. But they did enjoy the C.W. Parker Carousel, a national landmark that features 24 hand-carved horses. The girls had the carousel all to themselves. Ruthie rode a black horse called "Dino Thunder." A Wurlitzer provided carnival music for their ride. The girls also enjoyed their time at Eisenhower Park. Before heading to White City Sunday morning, we stopped in at the Russell Stover Factory and Outlet store where we dropped $37 on discounted chocolate. My husband kept reminding me how much the actual cost of the chocolate would have been had we purchased it at full retail price.
Now that we're back, I can wax nostalgic about how perfect the trip was. But like most things in life, the trip was far from perfect. Meltdowns and squabbles - from adults and toddlers alike - are standard fare for any road trip taken in close quarters. The web site we relied upon for information was out of date, forcing us to move to Plan B, and sometimes Plan C more often that we would have liked. The spacious hotel room became a bit claustrophobic after the first hour. We were all happy to sleep in our beds last night.
Dorothy was right ... "There's no place like home."

Monday, August 31, 2009

I Got By With a Little Help From My Friends

Today marks the end of the "Write For Fifteen Minutes A Day" Challenge. August 31. I gave myself a pat on the back, a congratulatory handshake, and a hard High Five. I did it. I wrote every day this month for at least 15 minutes. I'm proud of some of my writing, but other days I coughed up something just so I could say I did it. On those days, I tried to keep some sage advice from my friend, Jennifer Brown, the author of Hate List, due to be released tomorrow. Her advice was something along the lines of, "As long as you realize and accept that most of what you write will be crap, then you'll be just fine." Gotta love Jen!

Laurie Halse Anderson gave us our last writing prompt this morning. She simply asked, "What worked for you this month?" What worked for me was that I committed myself to the challenge on August 1 with a determination to see this through to the end. But I didn't just commit to it mentally. I said it out loud to people. I wrote about it on my blog. I posted it on my Facebook page a few times. Surprisingly, a few people paid attention and held me accountable for my words, both spoken and written.

Jennifer Brown told me that she bookmarked my blog. Well, the pressure was on from the start! If Jen could pound out thousands of words daily and get a novel published, I could certainly write for 15 minutes each day. To not do so would make me, well, a weenie. Or a bigger weenie than I already am.

Kelly M. was my BFF in junior high and most of high school before she moved out of state. I hadn't talked to her in years, and we reconnected on Facebook. She isn't an FB crackhead, but when she did check in she took time to ask me how the writing was going. Wow.

I met Val T. when I taught middle school in Pennsylvania. She is one of the few people I've stayed in touch with since I've moved back. We understand each other well, especially when it comes to the topics of motherhood, struggling learners, books, and politics. She began reading my blog recently and has been encouraging me to keep it up.

Before taking on this challenge, I had forgotten how far a little spark of encouragement can take a person. I'm a little sad and a tad scared that the challenge is over. Laurie's quotes, advice, and prompts provided motivation, especially on days when I couldn't think of a thing to write about or when I didn't feel like writing. I feel somewhat like a painter who peers down from her scaffolding only to discover that it has collapsed beneath her. My choices are to hang on for dear life and hope for the best, or to fall far and fast.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WFMAD Day 26

I can't believe it's Day 26 already! Only five more days left in the month, and only five more days of the writing challenge. I've been reflecting on this journey and realized how heavily I relied on the prompts earlier in the month. Writing was so hard and felt so foreign. But I know I've grown and become more comfortable because for the past several days, I've been doing my own thing. Blogging. Creating new characters. Developing existing characters. Writing new scenes. Trying new ideas and genres.

My plan for September is to walk my writing path. This means going back through everything I've written in the past month and deciding what excites me enough to expand it, what needs to be shoved into the back of a drawer never again to see the light of day, and what needs major editing. I'm already looking forward to it. I haven't really reread anything I've written. My only goal was to write something every day.

I spent a great portion of this morning organizing items for a garage sale I'm planning for next month. It will be the third garage sale of my life. Most of the items for sale belong to the peeps. I thought nostalgia would strike as I dug through baby clothes and toys. While each object conjured a memory and served as a snapshot of a moment in their lives, they didn't make me sad. Instead I felt an overwhelming sense of amazement and accomplishment.

Some of the toys - the farm that plays "Old MacDonald" over and over and over and over and over and then oinks, quacks, and moos over and over and over and over and over or the roughed-up, diaper-clad Elmo that sings "Elmo loves to go up up. Up Up Elmo. Thanks for picking Elmo up. Hug Elmo today!" over and over and over and over and over - I'm not going to miss. Giddiness flowed through my body as I pasted a neon disk with a dollar sign on to those toys. And I couldn't help but grin with the thought of the next unwitting parent or grandparent who would take these devil toys home with them. But other toys made me realize how far the peeps have come intellectually and developmentally over the past year. The toys they cherish now are vastly different than the ones they loved just a few months ago. The peeps are into reading books with plots; building towers, castles, and the Yellow Brick Road; playing "Little Red Riding Hood" with a scrap of red fabric; and working intricate wooden puzzles. No. Their old toys didn't make me pine for the old days. They had the opposite effect: They made me excited about what the future holds for them.

I can say the same for myself. As the WFMAD Challenge winds down, I am filled with a sense of personal accomplishment and I am excited about what the future holds for this new part of my life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Game On: A Tale of Passive-Aggressive Competitiveness

Tonight is date night, so this will be quick, simple, and random. I have a glass of Boulevard Sixth Glass waiting for me upstairs and a movie queued in the DVD player ("Public Enemy" or "Public Enemies." One has Johnny Depp and is recent. The other stars a young James Cagney in the pre-code days. We're watching the latter. I get the titles criss-crossed).

We had a crazy day today, and I found myself mowing the backyard for the first time since we moved back to Missouri last year. In my bachelorette days, I mowed my own yard and really enjoyed it. When Mark and I got hitched almost eight years ago, he took over the mowing duties. I think it had something to do with the fact that the yard always looked like Mr. Magoo's Lawn Service had serviced our yard when I finished. I mow similar to how I vacuum. It drives Mark crazy. So, he pretty much always mows.

But today I found myself mowing the backyard and was pleased to discover that I still love it. For me, mowing means a stretch of solitude, time to think through problems, plan a schedule, work out aggressions. It's the good kind of sweaty exercise.

It also renewed a long-dormant spark in my spirit. When I offered to mow, Mark followed me into the garage so could start the mower. He said the machine was hard to start and that I wouldn't be able to do it.

ALERT! ALERT! The phrase, "You can't do it," puts me up a tree and has me pulling on my mental boxing gloves. The thought that someone thinks I'm incapable of something - anything - pulls my competitive streak front and center. By nature, I'm really not competitive. But when someone blatantly makes it a competition or slaps me with a challenge, watch out. You are toast. I love that about myself.

Some examples:

College, Freshman Year: My dorm mate and I made it through the first semester before we decided we really didn't like each other. She waltzed into our room one day (post-friendship) and bragged loudly about how many sit ups she did in PE. She fancied herself an athlete and knew that I didn't have a sporting bone in my body. When it came my turn for the sit up pre-test, my only goal was to beat her by one sit up. And I did. Actually I beat her by quite a few more than one. College algebra? She got a "D" and had to retake the class. I signed up for the same professor and eeked out a "C." SNAP. BURN. Is that toast I smell?

College Graduation: After my second year of college, I decided to ditch the idea of becoming a teacher (long story). Instead, I earned a B.A. in English. My parents fretted endlessly over my decision. I could tell by their casual comments and blatant criticisms that they thought I had morphed into their loser daughter who would live with them for the rest of their lives. After all, what can a person do with an English degree? Game on. I built a successful corporate career that brought opportunities I never thought I would experience. I've since traded that life in for one in the public sector - as a teacher.

Life in General: There is a downside to having a passive-aggressive competitive edge. The one downer that comes to mind involves alcohol. In my younger days, if someone tried to cut off the flow of adult beverages before I thought I was ready, all hell broke loose. It took many quite a few years and quite a few doozy hangovers before I listened to the little voice in my head that agreed with alcohol cutter-offer.

I hadn't felt that spark of confidence and competitiveness for quite awhile. It poked its head out today. I marched out to the garage in my orange Saucony perfect-for-yard-work sneakers, yanked on the cord, and sneered a sneer of satisfaction when the mower roared to life. Game over. Now move along. I have some mowing to do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Holding the Crystal Ball

I am 19 days into the Write Fifteen Minutes A Day challenge. Have I written everyday? YES!! I think I wrote in an earlier blog that I heard it takes 21 days to develop a habit. That seems pretty accurate to me. "Writing" is now a daily entry at the top of my "to do" list, and I find myself thinking about when I can grab 15 minutes (or more) and pondering what I'm going to write about. I'm proud of me.

This week I get to cradle a crystal ball and peer into one of my futures. I use the phrase "one of my futures" because I have many plans and dreams yet unfulfilled, and well, who knows what's going to happen, right? I'm playing the part of Reading Specialist at a local elementary school. My graduate program includes certification as Reading Specialist, which is something I've wanted for awhile now. I have six days to wear the job and to think about if it will fit down the road. Six days to make connections that might serve me well in one of my futures.

I work with K-5 students, quite a change from middle schoolers. Different strategies, different approaches. My favorite time of the day is from 2:40-3:00 p.m. For 20 minutes I work one-on-one with a kindergartner. It's just me and him. We have fantastic conversations about his life outside of school and his day. We talk about letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make. We explore words, cheer together, and draw stars with yellow and orange highlighters to celebrate a job well done. When our time together comes to an end, we stroll back to the main school building (I'm in a mobile). Along the way, we scour our path for signs, posters, license plates - anything that contains the letters we learned in our 20 minutes together. The little guy beams with pride and excitement. Love it. Love it. Love it.

After Monday, I'll have to return the crystal ball to its resting place. But for now, I'm savoring the experience of what could be, might be, one of my futures.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Of Princesses, Grapes, and Potty Training

This summer I've been focusing on reading young adult literature. I've been trying to read more of it 1)because there are fantastic ya lit books out there and 2) I teach middle school and like to recommend books to my students. I compile my reading lists from local librarians, friends, and the blogosphere. There are so many excellent blogs available that focus on this genre. The other day I came across Princess Bookie. Not only is the content great, but the image of the cupcakes is enough of a reason to visit. Check it out!

ALERT: The following is a story about my peeps. If you enjoy hilarious stories about other peoples' toddlers, potty training, and poop, please read on. If not, check out some of my earlier blogs or visit Princess Bookie.

The peeps are potty training. Well, sort of. When their mom and dad feel like putting some effort into it, they are potty training. Here's my philosophy: Almost every mom I have talked to said they pushed and pushed their kid to train until they gave up in frustration. It was only after they gave up that their child decided they wanted to pee-pee on the potty. I have never met an adult who was not potty trained. Some of those people have been complete idiots. My peeps are brilliant, so I'm pretty confident that they will get it figured out with only a little prompting from me. If they aren't potty trained by the time they hit kindergarten, then I'll worry.

About 50% of the time, Audrey will tell me she needs to sit on the big girl potty. I finally figured out that she tells me when she wants to try for the "special prize" - ice cream. (We've changed the "special prize" to stickers in the past few days). The other afternoon, I was running around the house like a crazed woman, trying to grill chicken thighs, boil carrots, and tend to Ruthie's digestive issues. In the middle of this, Audrey announces she needs to sit on the big girl potty. I tried to dissuade her, but my "mom voice" whispered that I had to embrace every potty training opportunity. So, I dragged the potty chair into the kitchen, got Audrey situated, and went about fixing dinner. I ducked outside for 15 seconds to turn the chicken. When I stepped back in, the girls were hovered over the potty chair, pointing to something inside.

The peeps (gesticulating wildly): What ith that, Mommy? What ith that?

I am only 2.5 years into mommyhood, but I know enough that when the peeps are pointing at something, gesturing, and dancing, then I should be concerned. I cautiously crossed the kitchen and peered down into the chamber. A lone poop nugget stared back at me.

Me: What do you think it is?
Ruthie (throwing her hands up in the air and grinning): It's a grape! Mommy, Audrey made a grape!
Me: Uh, not exactly. Let me ask you this: Where did it come from?
Audrey (pointing to herself): Audrey's hiney.
Me: OK. What usually comes out of Audrey's hiney?
Audrey: A grape!
Me: No, honey. It's not a grape. It's poop! You pooped in the potty!

At this point, Audrey becomes distraught and starts wailing. Apparently, she didn't realize she was supposed to poop in the potty. After several minutes, she calms down. About that time, Mark arrives home from work.

Audrey: Daddy! I made a grape!

And the ride on the poop coaster continues.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Giving Up, No Giving In

Today is Day 12 of the WFMAD Challenge, and I haven't missed a single writing session. I am so proud of myself for sticking to it. I've had quite a bit of fun with the daily prompts that Laurie provides. I've used them to develop a character and a story that I wasn't sure had strong legs. I've put my character in a situation with someone who brings out the worst in her, I've explored her fears, and I've put her in a situation in which she makes horrible choices with devastating consequences (that one was fun to write!). If the only thing I get out of this experience is that I create a new habit of writing everyday, then I'm ok with that. It just feels good to do it. It feels great to be back in the groove again. I feel alive for the first time in a long while.

I'm a tad bummed because I really wanted to try today's writing prompt, but the opportunity just didn't present itself. Our task was to eavesdrop on a conversation and write down what the participants said, with the goal of getting us to think about dialogue and it's role in a story. I spent the first half of my morning alone, painting the master bath trim. The second half of the day I spent prepping for my upcoming sub job. I worked with two teachers who provided much fodder for eavesdropping and dialogue. They work so well together that they don't even need to speak in complete sentences to communicate. Real life dialogue. But, I couldn't exactly whip out my writer's notebook and start taking notes. So, I'll have to save that experience for another day.

Yesterday, the girls started a new "school" (read: daycare), so I had the whole day to myself. The first in many months. A much needed break. I felt like a bachelorette again. I splurged on my first Starbuck's Mocha Frappuchino at Wal-mart and took my time strolling the aisles looking at everything and nothing. I bought an orange clipboard for $2. Not sure why, but it beckoned to me across the aisle, and I just had to have it. Lunch was an instant peanut noodle meal from A Taste of Asia (or something). Fill the carton with water, add powdered concoctions and noodles, nuke it, and wa-la: magic food. Reminded me so much of my days as a single gal.

I'm curious to see if I will be able to hold up my end of the WFMAD bargain with both classroom teaching and grad classes starting. I honestly don't know what will happen. I know I haven't been this excited about anything for awhile. Hopefully that excitement will be enough to keep me motivated.

Friday, August 7, 2009

WFMAD Days 6 & 7 - Putting Pink Pen to Paper

Just finished Day 7 of the WFMAD challenge. I hope I can keep this going when my subbing starts next week and my grad class kicks in the week after that. I find that I'm really enjoying this challenge. Laurie has put forth some tough prompts that have forced me/coaxed me into reaching a little farther with my writing.

For the past two days, I've decided to go old school with my writing. Maybe it has something to do with my 20-year high school reunion being this weekend (not going). In other words, pen and paper. I won Jennifer Brown's Love List Tuesday contest (have you entered yet?) during Week Four. One of the grab bag prizes was a package of Uniball Fusion pens. Pink. Purple. Blue. I used purple yesterday; pink today. These might be my new favorite pens. I absolutely adore writing with pen on paper. It just feels so authentic, so Dickensian to me. I've wanted to use that adjective for a long, long time. The colors just add a little extra flair.

Yesterday, I worked on a physical description for one of my characters in a WIP. That was challenging because I hadn't really thought too much about the characters yet. I've been developing scenes with the intention of fleshing out the characters later. It was an interesting trip, to say the least. I learned a lot about my protagonist that I didn't know.

Today I wrote a scene from the same WIP, but from the perspective of a rat. Yes, I said a rat. This was huge for me because I have a hard time writing from someone else's point of view, let alone an animal's. I wrote for 15 minutes straight. When I finished, I realized I was excited about what I had achieved if only because I tried something new.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Day 5 - Journal Writing

The writing challenge prompt today was to “riff” on two obscure words:
Dwale – heresy, madness
Shive – to cut (bread) into slices

Neither word really does anything for me. They make me think of medieval times. Chaucer. Old English. Loved that stuff in high school and college. But they don’t get my creative juices flowing. And since I technically don’t have a work in progress, I can’t incorporate them into my current project.

So, I’m going to step away from the prompt and do my own thing again today. My goal at this time and in this place isn’t to create a finished product. My only goal is to get back into the habit of writing. If that writing evolves into something bigger, so be it. The more words and thoughts I put out there, the more I ideas I have to pull from when I do decide to write the Great American novel … or short story … or poem … or paragraph … sentence.

Today’s topic: Journal Writing. I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. Journal writing isn’t something I do every day. When I was an angst-filled teenager, I wrote only when I was hormonal, angry, or sad. Ok, pretty much every day back then. As I grew older and began stuffing my life with experiences, I wrote only when I felt the need. Happy experiences. Life changing experiences. Sad experiences. Bad experiences. People I met, places I visited, events I didn’t want to forget. I pulled out my current journal the other day and realized how long it had been since I’d talked to this old friend. We hadn’t had a good chat since November of last year. That might be the longest I’ve gone without writing. I’m not sure why I let life get in the way of that friendship, but I’ve reconciled our differences and will be more aware of tending to that much needed relationship. I prefer a journal writing book over an electronic version. I treasure the experience of selecting a new journal when I finish one. Running my hands over the different types of binding, flipping through pages, noting if they are white, yellowish, or a color of the rainbow. Foregoing blank pages for ones with lines. Always lines. And after I record an entry, I always look back to see what I was doing around this time the previous year.

I’ve also started two other journals: one for each of my daughters. I don’t have many memories of my mother, who passed away when I was five years old. My father doesn’t seem to remember too many stories or any of my developmental milestones. I cherish one item of my mother’s above the others. One of her friends passed it along to me a few years ago. At some point in their friendship, my mother sent this friend a birthday card. It was a cheesy 1970s card, with a cheery cat on it or something. I don’t quite recall. Before sending the card, my mother unfolded it (quarter pages) and wrote her friend a letter. My mother’s handwriting. Her thoughts, feelings, and events for one day in time. I feel close to my mom just thinking about it. I decided some time last year to start journals for my girls so they would know my handwriting. So they would have their mother’s view of their achievements and their struggles. So they would know how very proud I am of them and how very much I love them. My hope is I will live a very long time and have as many journals filled for them as I do for myself. But if that isn’t the plan, at least they have something tangible from me to them. A little heart gift that I hope they will cherish as much as I cherish mine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 4 - No Good

Today’s writing challenge prompt encourages me to write about my writing space. To show, not tell. To use detail. I’m not in a detailed frame of mind today. My mind feels foggy, cloudy, dense, black. I envision a rectangular-shaped concrete block occupies the space where my brain is supposed to be. Today it’s just going to be about logging my 15 minutes of writing. That’s it. That’s all you’ll get. Just my fingers clicking away. Stream-of-consciousness. Crappy crap crap crap. Eleven more minutes. I can hear “Little Guy,” our ancient mantle clock ticking away the time. But his countdown doesn’t matter today because he is 20 minutes behind the times. Tick tock. Tick tock. His breathing is labored, like that of an old man who has spent his life smoking. Little Guy tries his hardest to keep up with “Sligh,” our majestic Grandfather clock, whose pendulum gracefully swings a steady beat. But it's nowhere near a true competition. Any minute now, the cuckoo clock will chime in. The chimney sweep will pop up from the chimney 12 times to record the hour. The wooden German will lift his beer stein 12 times in celebration. But wait. Someone forgot to pull the weights, lower the lever. The cuckoo clock sits silent. Corn cob weights in a clump on the hardwood floor. Six more minutes. Six more minutes. Six more minutes. A perfect writing space. Right now, I can’t imagine ever having one. A place where I can hide out, think, dream. I think I would like the attic room of an old Cape Cod on the coast. Eastern seaboard. Mid-Atlantic. I could peer out the windows, through glass wrinkled with time, and see the ocean. The waves. The rocks. The foam. Take a deep breath and snort the sea air like a dog with its head hanging out the car window. Or perhaps I could lock myself away at the tippy top of a stone tower. Rapunzel. Jo from “Little Women.” A place where it would take people so long to get to me that they wouldn't even bother to try. Ding Ding Ding. Session is over.

Monday, August 3, 2009

WFMAD - Day Three (aka Hot Dogs and Chambourcin)

Evalina scrutinized her appearance in the floor-length mirror. She ran her hands down her thighs to smooth out the wrinkles in her linen shorts, took a quarter turn, and crooked her neck.

“Not bad.”

Turning back, she pinched each side of her sleeveless V-neck sweater between her thumbs and index fingers and adjusted it upward ever so slightly. Sliding her feet into black flats, she sighed.

“This is as good as it’s going to get,” she whispered. Picking up her keys, she headed out the door, trying to ignore her gurgling stomach that signaled nervousness and excitement.

As she drove through the streets, she couldn’t shake the sense of déjà vu. She had been here before. Many times in fact. So many, that she didn’t have high hopes for this evening. Devon was handsome, kind, successful, independent, funny, and intelligent. It was easy to be with him. The early dates had gone well, and the couple had much in common. The enjoyed indie movies, walks at the lake, beer, wine, baseball games, and 80s video games.

But the last time they were together, everything changed.

“Let me cook you dinner next weekend,” Devon offered as they sat together in his car, knowing that it was late, but neither quite ready to say good night. “What’s your favorite meal?”

Panic threatened to choke her response. An offer for a homemade dinner was universal dating code for “I want to take this to the next level.” Was she ready for that? She liked Devon well enough, but …

“I don’t really have one,” Evalina blurted out. She cringed inside. She knew how odd that sounded, but it was the truth. And after her last relationship, she vowed to be herself, always. No more trying to change to please someone. Stick to your guns, she told herself.

“Everybody has a favorite meal,” Devon laughed in disbelief.

“Well, I’m not everyone and I really don’t have a favorite meal.” Evalina felt her defenses coming to her rescue, building a wall as quickly as they could. “I like most foods. Except mushrooms. Definitely not mushrooms. They smell like dirty feet.”

Devon laughed again and shook his head. “Ok. No mushrooms. Ever. And I still want to fix you dinner next weekend, even if you won’t give me any more to go on than that you don’t like mushrooms.”

“You’re a smart guy. You’ll figure something out.” Evalina smiled.

And now, here she was. About to enter Devon’s house for what could be a make it or break it meal.

She slowly stretched her right index finger out to ring the bell, but before she could make contact with the button, the door swung open.

“Hey! Right on time!” Devon beamed. “You look great! Come on in. Make yourself comfortable, and I’ll get you a glass of wine.”

Wine, Evalina thought to herself. Red=steak. White=pasta with alfredo sauce or chicken.
As she sat down on the leather sofa, Devon came out of the kitchen with a glass of red wine. Steak, she thought. Let me guess, asparagus and French dinner rolls. Why was she acting like this? Nerves. Fear. Keep it up, she told herself, and this most surely would be the last date she and Devon shared. Give the guy a chance.

“Hermanhoff 2001 Chambourcin. Have you had it before?”

“No, but I love Hermanhoff wine. Have you been to Herman for Octoberfest? It’s a fun time.”

“That’s one place I haven’t been yet, Hermann, Missouri. I’ve only heard great things about it. Maybe we could take a day trip this fall.”

“Maybe,” Evalina smiled and sniffed the wine in her glass. She could tell by that one whiff that she was going to enjoy this glass.

“I’ll be right back. Dinner’s just about ready.” Devon disappeared into the kitchen, and Evalina heard the outside door open and close.

She took a small sip of the Chambourcin, letting it rest for just a few seconds before swilling and swallowing. Not too dry; not too sweet, Perfect. Still, she found herself thinking how rude it was that Devon hadn’t asked her how she liked her steak. That means it’s either going to be mooing on the plate or as tough as leather.

She heard the door open and close again, and the clink of a plate on the kitchen counter. Oddly, she realized that the smell wafting from the kitchen wasn’t steak. But what was it? The odor seemed familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it.

“Dinner is served,” Devon grinned, peeking around the corner. “Come on in.”

Cautiously, Evalina rose from the sofa and prepared herself. Poker face, she told herself, whatever is in that kitchen, keep a poker face.

Turning the corner, she stopped.

Hot dogs, sauerkraut, horseradish, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Evalina looked at Devon, then back at the table.

What had she gotten herself into?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

WFMAD - Day Two

I've been looking forward to this time all day. The peeps are napping and Mark is washing his Ranger. No interruptions!

Random thoughts first. Mark and I watched a VH1 Countdown of the Top 100 Songs of the 80s last night. Of course, several Aerosmith songs made the cut. Joe Perry popped in his two cents about "Janie's Got a Gun, and then the VO gal mentioned that Joe Perry hawks his own brand of hot sauce. Or did at the time of the taping. Really? You are a member of one of the greatest bands of all time, and you sell hot sauce? Interesting. I would love to know the story behind that. I also discovered that in Pat Benatar's video "Love is a Battlefield," the main character (played by Pat) becomes a prostitute when she runs away from home. I always thought she ran away from home so she could be free to express herself in kooky clothes. Huh. Never put two and two together until last night. Naive, Table for One.

Today's challenge. Today's prompt is to find a photo that evokes an emotional response. A gut feeling. I chose a 3 x 5 black-and-white image of my mother in the 1950s. She's standing alone in front of elaborate, well-kept fir-tree landscaping that camouflages a brick building. A simple, white, capped-sleeved shift frames her slender body. Hands clasped behind her back, she smiles slightly at the camera. I know this smile because it's mine. It's a tight-lipped, hybrid smile, part grin/part smirk that shouts, "I am only barely tolerating this situation." Where was she and why? What was she thinking? What were her plans for the rest of that day? Who took the picture. Questions, always questions. This is what I'm thinking as I gingerly hold the picture up to the window light and peer into that forgotten world.

I chose this photo because it's probably my favorite image of my mother. A young woman, early 20s, with her whole life ahead of her. It feels strange to look at the photo and know what her life held after taking this snapshot was taken, when she had no idea. Yet, the photo conjures so many other feelings in me: sadness, anger, confusion, curiosity, pride, love, loneliness, happiness.

I lost my mother when I was five. The cancer worked swiftly. Diagnosed in July; gone October 31. I've wandered around with a black hole inside of me for 33 years. Fifty percent of my life gone, just like that. No goodbyes. No do-overs. No apologies. For a long while, many years, I couldn't name the reason for the overwhelming, unshakable emptiness that shaded even my most happiest of days. It took the wisdom that comes with age and experience to identify the source. When I became a mother a little more than two years ago, the craving to know her became stronger. I don't think I've ever missed my mother as much as I miss her now. I would give almost anything if I could see her, smell her, feel her, hug her and be hugged by her. Heck, I just want to have one valid memory of her. A memory that is mine alone, not something borrowed or created by other people's memories of her.

These things I know are true: She loved to read and travel. She had a sharp-tongue and a soft heart. She made people laugh. She was strict and impatient. She was adventurous. She was beautiful and intelligent. I am her in all those respects, and I cherish those traits.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

WFMAD - Day One

YA author Laurie Halse Anderson posted a writing challenge for the month of August. The Write Fifteen Minutes A Day Challenge. I noticed it on her FB post earlier this morning. Fate, I think. I can do this. Starting right now.

First some random thoughts. 1) I found out this morning that I love Tentation apples. I had never heard of them until I saw them in the grocery store earlier this week. They are truly beautiful apples. Golden in color with a blush of red. The glow attracted me, as did the way they were neatly arranged in stadium rows. I love aesthetic organization. I tried one this morning and am hooked. The problem is, I think they come from New Zealand. And since I've never seen them before, will I ever be able to find them again? A road trip to New Zealand might be in order. I knew from the first bite that this was my apple. Not too sweet; not too tart. Luscious fruit perfection. 2). One on my peeps knows how to pronounce the word "chinchilla" and can identify the animal in a book. But I must give the credit to Diego. Who said TV wasn't educational?

On to the prompt. One of the reasons I don't write often is because I have terrible, horrible, no good, overwhelming writer's block. When I'm not sitting at the computer or holding a pen in my hand, all sorts of topics flood my senses. But when I try to capture those thoughts on paper or screen, the words get stuck at the tippy tips of my fingers and refuse to flow. So, I'm glad that Laurie is providing prompts. Today's prompt has to do with dreams, and I had a strange one last night.

In the dream, my husband and I were walking down Second Creek Road with our dog, Molly. Molly, the perfect pet, our first child, died almost a year ago. I sensed that the peeps existed, but they were not with us on this walk. Second Creek Road is a country road that winds past our subdivision. Paved for subdivision dwellers, gravel the instant the houses end. I realized rather suddenly that we had forgotten something at the house. I don't know what. I decided to run back to our house to get it. As I walked back up the road, I passed two scruffy men. Older, gray hair. Flannel shirts and dirt-stained jeans. They were standing by the side of the road talking, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. When I passed by them, they both stopped and looked at me. For a split second, I was afraid and thought that I shouldn't leave Mark alone. But I noticed what I assumed was their car parked not too far away. An older model, what might be considered "a tank." Rusty in spots. Dusty from the local roads. I kept going.

I reached the house, got whatever it was that I needed, and turned to go. Mark and Molly were lumbering up the sidewalk. In his arms, Mark carried a dog. Long black with white accents. A little timid. A tad scruffy. Mark said the two men abandoned the dog and that he felt sorry for it so he brought it home. Molly was friendly toward the dog, but apprehensive. She never did like change, especially anything that would upset her position as top dog in the house. I think I was ok with keeping the dog.

But at some point, the dog morphed into a little girl. She looked almost exactly like my Ruthie. Round face. Sparkling gray eyes. Strawberry-blonde hair with wild curls. Cheery smile. She was wearing a sundress with flowers. The dress seemed dingy and contrasted greatly with the child's shining personality. She seemed to be the same age as my girls, 2 1/2, but she couldn't speak well. She knew a few words, but even those were unintelligible. I remember debating on whether we should keep her. "I think we should call Social Services." And I woke up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Slugs, Tomatoes, & Doodle Pros

In my ideal reality, I'm one of those people who catches every moment on camera. The person who makes the mundane look spectacular with the press of a camera button. The mom who visually documents every important moment in her daughters' lives. The mom who wears her digital camera in a holster around her waist, ready to pull it out and shoot when the unexpected occurs.
In real reality, I often forget my camera or am too overwhelmed by a situation to remember to grab it from my purse. Or, I have sprint up three flights of stairs to get the camera only to find that the photogenic moment had passed before I was halfway up the first flight.

Lately, though, I've had this urge to take photos of objects or situations that strike me as funny ha ha or funny strange. Maybe these random, disconnected photos have something to do with a situation I'm trying to deal with, maybe they don't. I'm peeling away layers of sadness/madness/confusion and trying sort out a situation that I just can't quite wrap my head around. I'm hoping for the best, but gut instinct tells me things are going to end sadly.
I found this slug on our deck this morning. He got the Morton treatment.

Audrey drew this picture of a volcano/tall mountain. Very detailed!

A woodland critter has found our tomato crop. It goes for the good stuff, too! Big Boys and Beefsteaks!

A cookie-baking disaster. At least they tasted ok.

These are remnants from Audrey's lunch. She picked the PB&J clean!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I'm in love with the idea of technology. The Kindle. iPods. Phones that do everything except flush the toilet. Cable service that skips commercials or allows me to freeze my show in one room and pick it up in another. That's cool stuff! I love to daydream about what my life would be like if I was teched-out to the max.

But truthfully, I'm old school. My cell phone only takes and makes calls, and very rarely at that. I watch possibly five of the 72 basic cable channels on my television. And while I can see the convenience of a Kindle, I prefer the touch, smell, and even the weight of good old-fashioned hard copy print. I don't think I could get cozy with a Kindle. Not like I can with a book. And the newspaper is meant to be shared with a loved one over a cup of black coffee on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Scrolling a computer screen in tandem involves a form of sharing and a level of patience I have yet to achieve. Besides, you can't swap sections very easily on a laptop. And magazines? Well, magazines are great for ripping and tearing recipes, decorating tips, and beauty advice.

So, it was with great sorrow that my husband and I decided against renewing our subscription to The Kansas City Star newspaper. We are regular Thursday-Sunday subscribers, but when the bill came late last week, we realized the publishers had finally priced themselves out of our value range. The Star, like most city newspapers, isn't what it used to be. Every week the news and feature items are fewer and far between. The National and Local News sections have been smushed into one section in such an odd way that it reminds me of roommates who have nothing anything in common trying to live together. The TV guide faded into oblivion months ago, as did The Northland News section. The publishers are trying to sell less for more, and I'm no longer buying.

But price isn't the only thing keeping us from renewing our script. Our life has changed. Before the peeps arrived, and even while they were itty bitty, my husband and I maintained our weekend morning ritual of coffee and paper in bed. We had our unspoken routine. He started with National News; I browsed the Local News. As we read our way through FYI, Arts & Entertainment, and Sports we organized the sections into two piles: a "both have read" pile and a "one person has read" pile. But over the past two months, our routine has been either disrupted completely or delayed by the peeps, who have yet to grasp the concept of sleeping in. The joy is gone. I guess it's time to join the legions of folks who read their news online.

So, I bid a fond farewell to my old friend, The Kansas City Star. I'm sorry to see you go, and may you rest in peace when your time arrives.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sounds of Silence

I'm at the point where I need about a week of silence and solitude to appreciate the nonstop hullabaloo and pandemonium of my life. Just one week to breathe a real breath, think a complete thought, sleep a deep sleep, savor a full meal, collect my thoughts, and miss my family.

I have required solitude for as long as I can remember. Regroup. Re-energize. Reflect. Decide. Prioritize. Plan. Dream. But these days quiet moments are few and far between. And in those few and far between moments, my mind swirls with thoughts about what I want to do, need to do, have to do, should be doing. My head feels like it is stuffed with cotton, and I can visualize my thoughts trying to wade through the fluffy tufts to catch my attention. On really good days, several of those thoughts push their way through, and I feel like I've made some headway in life. Other days, I slither into bed at the end of the day and realize I didn't make much progress in an aspect of my life.

I don't believe I am the only person in the world that feels this way. That feels if she just had a week of quiet she could rule the world again. That if she could just get a few moments of solitude, she could re-energize and in turn, be a better wife, mom, and friend. Yet, it's something no one ever talks about. We just paste on our best smiles and swear up and down that everything is, "Fine! Just fine! And how are you?" while inside we are longing for the sounds of silence.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm Lovin' the Love List

Today was one of those days. I've struggled to be cheery and positive since the alarm jolted me out of my warm snuggly sleep at 5:20 this morning. Grumpy. Lumpy. Cranky. GRRR. And then, I realized that today was Tuesday! Not just any Tuesday. Love List Tuesday!

In case you haven't read my previous entry (see "Runnin' Down a Dream"), my friend Jennifer Brown is eagerly anticipating the day in September when her first novel, Hate List, hits the bookstore shelves. The weekly Love List Tuesday contest (Get it? Hate List/Love List) is Jen's creative way to countdown the weeks and celebrate this major accomplishment in her writing career.

How can you spread the love? Just visit Jen's web site and tell her what you are lovin' on this week. You could be the lucky winner of the weekly Grab Bag O'Love or the ultimate Grand Prize Grab Bag, which includes an autographed copy of Hate List. After I posted my list this morning, I felt a little better. A smidgen less cranky. And after reading the Love Lists created by people from all over creation, I think I might have smiled. Maybe chuckled.

So ... what are you lovin' on right now? Tell Jen all about it!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Life Outside of Facebook Really Does Exist: My New Ideal Reality

In my ideal reality, social networking and blogging and tweeting are the means necessary to get me back to writing regularly. In my ideal reality I blog consistently and have legions of followers hanging on my every word. I post clever, mysterious, and humorous status updates that make all one billion people in the FB family want to be my friend. And I tweet, whatever that means. This is the reality I'm in love with.

In my true reality, I rarely blog. The life I'm supposed to be blogging about absorbs my writing time and more often that not, leaves me to exhausted to type. Or, I let writer's block get the best of me. Or I just don't feel like it. And those legions of followers? Uh, they number into the ... zeros. And Facebook? Addicted. To the point that this past Friday I put my foot down and banned myself for one week. I was checking my News Feed every few minutes to get the latest news from all my virtual friends. While I was ecstatic that they were having great days, enjoying the cool morning air, and planning busy days, I found myself thinking, "Who really cares?" When it gets to that point, you pretty much have to plan an intervention. And Twitter? Never been there, don't plan to do that.

So, what have I been doing with all of this extra time? I'm creating a new ideal reality that includes reading books to my girls, coloring with them in their ginormous ABC coloring book, playing Little Red Riding Hood with a scrap of red fabric we dug out from underneath the bathroom sink, introducing them to "The Wizard of Oz," engaging in some professional development, exploring a writing project that really rather excited about, cleaning and organizing, and finding my way back to the gal I was before Ruthie and Audrey exploded onto the scene. I really liked that gal.

Maybe I should Facebook her when I lift my ban on Friday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Runnin' Down A Dream

(Title credit to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

So, it's been awhile since I've blogged. Almost two months. Time flies, that's what folks say. In those two months, the girls have transitioned to big girl beds, which meant we had to revamp their room. "Had to " might a little strong. "Wanted to" is more appropriate. Pastel yellows and pinks intermingled with bright greens and brighter pinks. Flowers and butterflies. Spring and summer mushed into one. I get happy every time I walk into their room. I think they feel the same. We've also been to Omaha for vacation. A spectacular city when you are in need of a quick getaway.

I'm still plugging away at the master's degree and still hunting for the elusive teaching job. Stupid economy. As hard as it is not to take it personally, some days I still do. I get that "No one wants me" feeling that I'm sure millions of people have right now. I just try to keep it all in perspective. Right now, the plan is to sub three days a week, cherish my unexpected time with the peeps, work on my master's, and perhaps tackle some writing projects.

Speaking of writing, that brings us to the reason behind this blog's title. A friend of mine, Jennifer Brown, is on the verge of "runnin' down"one of her dreams: a published book! Her YA novel, "Hate List," will scream onto the store shelves in September. I cannot wait to get my hands on it! (Pre-order at Amazon.com. Shameless plug.) The early reviews have been positive. The rave for this book is on!

One of the reasons I am so excited about the arrival of "Hate List" (other than the fact that Jen is a good egg and all good eggs deserve good fortune) is that it represents a departure from the norm for her. She is known for her humorous writing. Wait. Strike that. Humorous is so not the right word. HILARIOUS writing. KNEE-SLAPPINGLY FUNNY writing. CHUCKLE CHUCKLE, GIGGLE GIGGLE, SNORT writing. Yeah, she's that good. She has this uncanny knack for shining a light on the most mundane of life's experiences. But "Hate List" isn't funny. It's a serious look at a serious situation. Jen took a risk. She jumped out of the box and followed her writer's instinct. To me, people who do that are the real deal.

Check out Jennifer's website. While you are there, join her weekly Love List Tuesday contest for chance to be a Grab Bag Winner.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Summertime: Old-School Style

My nephew and his wife and two boys came over on Friday to play with Ruthie and Audrey. We had a little picnic and then brought out the sprinkler. This was the girls' first experience with it. Surprisingly, Ruthie took to it immediately, while Audrey was hesitant at first until she observed the other kids playing. Usually, it's the other way around. After running through the sprinkler, we chowed on popsicles. Then we went inside and the kids played with puzzles and jumped on the bed in spare room. By 4 p.m. Ruthie and Audrey were done for the day!

Apologies to Aidan and Cale: I tried to upload some of the photos with you guys, but for whatever reason, I couldn't get 'er done. System error? Operator error?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our First Spring Craft

I'm not a crafty mom in the sense that I don't keep many art supplies on hand. I look at empty toilet paper rolls as trash, not something to keep for a rainy day project. I tried scrapbooking once and quickly discovered it wasn't for me. Too much time and expense and "stuff" for my liking. But sometimes I get a wild hair, and I cook up a project that the girls and I can do together. This week we made bird feeders out of toast, bird seed, and peanut butter.

Ruthie looks annoyed because this is the seventh picture I've taken of her. My camera wasn't working.

Ruthie studies her bunny-shaped bird feeder.

Audrey taste-tests her bird feeder.

Audrey shows off her Santa Claus-shaped bird feeder.

Audrey realizes the bird feeder really IS for the birds and not her morning snack.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Current Favorite Photo and Other Randomness

As of today at 12:17 p.m. CST, this is my favorite photo of the peeps. I took it April 4 during a celebration for my dad's birthday. I am simultaneously happy and sad that my baby girls are now little girls. Sigh.

I finished up my long-term sub job and my master's class on the same day. That was almost two weeks ago. I check the school district web sites and other related employment resources almost everyday. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. The only lead I have right now is a rumor that a teacher at the school in which I subbed is going to retire on June 1. Guess that means I will be contacting the principal of that school on June 2! I stopped in on my last day to thank him for the opportunity. He said he'd be sure to call if anything opened up over the summer. I won't hold my breath because I know how the world works, but you never know.

In the meantime, I'm hanging with the peeps. We're reading books, playing cars, playing house, throwing objects to the sky and watching them fall back to Earth, watering our garden and our flowers, taking field trips to the grocery store, and watching a little (maybe a lot) of TV. I've also been researching activities and crafts for toddlers. I have a couple of ideas that might use up, oh, about 15 minutes of our day.

When the peeps are napping, I try to work in some professional development. I have a list of new and/or award-winning YA lit books that I am plowing through. My goal is to read one a week. So far, so good. I've read two and started a third last night. There are so many talented writers! I found a site that lets people review the books. For every 15 reviews I submit, I can earn a free book. So, my goal is 15 reviews. I'm also reading my favorite professional journal, The Reading Teacher, and thinking of how I can put those ideas to work in my own classroom. And, of course, the master's program continues this summer with two classes. One is an eight-day, two-week workshop on teaching reading to linguistically diverse students. I'm really excited about that class! The other is an assessment and evaluation course. One night a week for eight weeks. Whoop De Doo.

That's about it from this corner of the world.
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Almost Did An "I Will NEVER ..."

A few weeks back, I took the girls to Target. They used to love riding around the store, but not so much now. Usually, as soon as we get inside, one of them says, "Go bye-bye car." So long shopping trip. This particular day both peeps were fairly content, not too squirmy. We passed the $5 DVD endcap, and Ruthie saw a Thomas the Train DVD. She wanted to "hold" it. No harm, no foul. I acquiesce, all the while knowing full well that she fixates/obsesses over objects to the point that I have resorted to forcefully prying them out of her sweaty hands so I can return them to their rightful owner (usually another child).

What was I thinking on this day?

We stroll into the checkout line, and I tell Ruthie that we are not taking Thomas home. In an effort to loosen her death grip on poor Thomas, I lift her fingers one by one off of the DVD. Ruthie doesn't cry or whine. She rarely does that. Instead, she starts obsessing and repeating "Thomas DVD" over and over until I absolutely can't stand it anymore. I bet she said those words at least 547 time in the two minutes that we had been standing in line. That's when I almost did it. I almost committed an "I will never ... " You know what I'm talking about. Those statements you make BEFORE you have kids. BEFORE you know the extent of the torture those small, yet powerful, people can inflict. One of my "I will never ..." statements was something along the lines of "I will never buy my kid something just to shut him/her up." And up to this point, I had stuck to it. But before I could stop myself, I heard a voice say, "Well, I guess I have to buy this for you now, huh?"

Thank goodness for the woman in front of me in line. At the precise moment I utter that stupid sentence, I notice her head twitch ever so slightly in my direction. It is as if I had just hit upon one her pet peeves (parents who cave?) and it bothered her so much that it took every bit of self-control she could muster to just twitch her head. She doesn't look at me. She doesn't do a 180 and give me a look that conveys the message, "That's exactly what's wrong with kids today." She just twitches.

In that split second, I realize what I have said and its implications for the future. So, while the shiny candy wrappers distract Ruthie, I hand the DVD to the cashier and tell her I don't want the movie. We go merrily on our way, and Ruthie never said another word about it. So, thanks to the anonymous twitching woman at Target. She held me accountable for my actions and got me back on track.

I'm on a roll ...tonight at dinner I told Audrey she couldn't have a brownie if she didn't finish her chicken fried rice. She refused to eat, and the brownie stayed put.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Official: I'm a Virtual Failure

One blog in March. Sporadic FB checks. No tweeting. A mommy social site drop out.

Yep, I'm the world's worst virtual communicator.

I seriously cannot figure out how other people get so much done. Do they sleep? Eat? Relax? Between the peeps, hubby, temp teaching job, house, grad school, social commitments, daycare stresses, IRS stresses, and they myriad other stresses that creep into my life (do I have the personality of a 'fridge decorator or a non-fridge decorator, and what does it mean if I'm in between?) ... most days I feel I am barely keeping my head above water. Maybe other folks are staying up until all hours of the night? (It's a strict 9:30 p.m. bedtime here) Stumbling out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to FB, Tweet, and Blog? (5:15 a.m.. Isn't that early enough?)

Who knows? Right now, I'm off to cozy up, yet again, with a good book. Maybe that explains my perceived failure in the virtual world. I'm too old school. And I like it that way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Catching Up and Checking In

I can't believe it's been almost a month since I've posted. Not long after my last post, I started subbing. Just a few days a week. I started my long-term sub job last Monday. The first week went well. We are on spring break this week. I'll sub full-time until May 11 or so. I've also interviewed for permanent positions at two districts. I was called for a second interview at one district and am in the process of getting that scheduled. In addition to teaching, I finished one grad class and will start a second one tomorrow night.

The girls are going gangbusters. Audrey can completely undress herself and will do so any chance she gets. Ruthie has turned into a bully, but she is the sweetest bully I have ever met. She relentlessly pesters Audrey using any method she can think of. Physically, that means hair pulling, shirt tugging, head slapping, or plain old sitting on her. Ruthie also knows that Audrey can't stand to have her food tray touched, so she derives great pleasure from doing just that. Certain words and phrases also set Audrey off, so Ruthie makes sure she injects those into conversations. Oh, and Ruthie appears to be fond of her class bully, Parker. Nice. Both girls think it is their God-given right to whine and fake cry about everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. It really grates on my nerves, but I have yet to develop the mommy-talent of ignoring it.

We are contemplating a daycare switch after I wrap up my long-term position. Not sure yet. I've just observed a few things that don't sit well with me. Nothing serious. The girls really loved their teacher, Ms. Jo. Unfortunately, she is no longer at the school. I hate the thought of making them start all over at a new place, but that might be the best choice in the long run.

I'm going to cut this short so I can go get cozy in my bed and read. I just started "The Paris Enigma" by Pablo De Santis. It is a murder mystery translated from Spanish. A most entertaining read.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Things Are Starting to Pick Up Around Here

Right before Christmas, I interviewed for a long-term sub position (7th grade reading) at a local middle school. The district interviewer thought I was a perfect fit for the job and passed my name along to the principal of the middle school. I waited and waited to hear from him. Finally, he called and I interviewed last week. I am set to start March 9 for 8 weeks. In the meantime, I will sub as much as my schedule allows so I can get an idea of how the school operates. My first day as a sub was last week ... 7/8 Spanish. Considering that the last time I took Spanish I was in 7th grade, the day went smoothly. It was good to be back in the classroom! I was a little nervous at first, but the butterflies left as soon as the first students sauntered through the door. The last minute early morning phone call threw Mark and I for a loop, but we got everyone ready and out the door. Unfortunately, I had class that night so I saw the girls just briefly in the morning. I missed them terribly, but they didn't seem any worse for the wear.

I have an interview with another district in a couple of weeks, this one for a possible permanent position. I keep trolling the school web sites for job openings. The hiring season should start to heat up within the next couple of months. I'm a little concerned about how this crappy economy may effect my search. I keep reading about district's who are under a hiring freeze or who are considering cutting positions. If worse comes to worse, I can always sub next school year.

My second grad class starts pretty much the same time as my long-term sub assignment. Normally, this double-load wouldn't concern me, but I've seen the syllabus for the class and it's appears to be a heavy workload, especially for a 3-credit, 8-week course. We'll see. I'm committed to earning my master's so I'll figure out a way to get it all done and done well.

Lastly, I had a sobering realization about the girls the other night. Audrey wakes up yelling in the middle of the night several nights a week. All it takes to calm her down is a hug and some gentle words of reassurance. She goes right back to sleep. If Ruthie wakes up crying, it's because she's pitched Larry and Bob, her loveys, overboard. She, too, goes right back to sleep after Larry and Bob are back in her hands. Simple solutions. But I realized the other night, that some day I won't be able to solve their problems by handing them a lovey or hugging them. That makes me sad.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Naked Running and Cassette Tape Obsessions

After the girls take a bath, we let them cruise "au naturel" through the house for a few minutes. They love, love, love it. I probably would, too, if I was bound up in a diaper all day. Which, I guess, is likely to happen as the years pass. But I doubt that, should I choose to run nekkid through the nursing home, I will be as endearing as little Ruthie was the other night. As she lapped the kitchen table for the fifth time, she yelled, "Naked running!" and took off down the hallway.

Speaking of Ruthie, she has a tendency to become obsessed with various objects. This week, it is a plastic cassette tape case. She is a fan of all things Larry the Cucumber of Veggie Tales fame. Her best friend, in fact, is a miniature version of Larry. For their second birthday, Aunt Kathy bought the girls Veggie Tale coloring books and T-shirts. With her purchase, she received a free cassette tape of Veggie Tales Backyard BBQ songs, which she passed along to the girls. Ruthie treasures this cassette case. She calls it her "set." She carries it tenderly, talks with us about the pictures on the cover, and is inconsolable if someone takes it from her or if she misplaces it. Her little face turns red and real teardrops pour relentlessly out of her blue eyes. She goes from happy to hysterical in a matter of seconds. My heart breaks for her. Yep, it is that sad. And when girl and cassette are reunited, the joy is palpable. For the past two nights, Mark and I have dreaded bed time because it meant one of us would have to take the cassette from her and then deal with the aftermath. Strangely, when it is time to go to bed, she kisses the cassette case, puts it into the entertainment center, says, "Goodnight, set," closes the door, and goes upstairs to bed.

My little sweet. Is it too much to hope that she always possesses such a sweet heart?

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Parent Trap

I fell into a classic parent trap yesterday morning, and I'm not talking about the 1961 movie starring Haley Mills (also a classic) or the 1998 Lindsay Lohan redo (haven't seen it, but can't imagine that it, too, is a classic). I'm talking about professional portraits. It's a parent trap. And this rookie parent fell right into it.

Yesterday morning, we took Ruthie and Audrey to get their two-year-old pictures taken. We do this once a year, around their birthday. Any other time, it's digital camera city. This year I had the added goal of getting a family portrait, too. One that didn't involve three smiling family members and one writhing, wiggling, screaming, miserable child. One that didn't have 50% of the members with their eyes closed, or looking off camera, or drooling, or picking their noses. Lofty goal, I know, but I was determined.

I set the appointment for 10:10 on Sunday morning. I was so proud of my strategy. No one else in the city would be going for pictures so early on a Sunday morning. Silly, mommy. The place was packed. Wall-to-wall parents and their dolled up children. And, of course, the appointments were running behind and the photographers were short staffed. Resigned to our fate, we joined the other parents who were trying to keep their neatly-pressed and beautifully coiffed offspring from wreaking havoc while they waited. Finally, it was our turn. The photo shoot went smoothly. The girls giggled, laughed, cringed, and posed on cue. Things were looking up.

But then, more waiting. We had to wait for a computer to open up so we could preview our pictures. We had to wait while our photos loaded. The girls were wilting. They were tired, bored, and hungry. Mark and I were tired, bored, and hungry. The bag packed full of snacks and toys was useless. Another 15 minutes later, it was our turn. The plan: Mark would entertain the girls while I selected photos.

And this where they get you. This is the parent trap. By this point, parents and children alike are so stressed out and tired that they will agree to buy almost anything just to get out of the store. The sales people know this, and they prey on it. But I had been forewarned. My mommy friends had given me a heads up. I had the inside scoop. I was going to be strong. And I was, for a little bit. I cut pictures right and left as if I were the demon spawn of Edward Scissorhands. I showed no mercy, no emotion. But finally, I just couldn't do it anymore. I wanted out. I wanted out so badly I was willing to buy pictures of other peoples' kids.

So, today I'm cleaning a drawer to store the 100 10 X13 "free" portraits, 400 8X 10s and 1 million wallets that I bought yesterday. No amount of friends or relatives could help me deplete my stash. But man, I have some cute kids! Oh, and the family portrait? PERFECT!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Peeps Turn 2!

Ruthie and Audrey celebrated their second birthday yesterday. Things didn't go quite as planned. I'm discovering that that is often the case once you have kids. We were hoping to check out a new kids play place in the afternoon (BOGO w/ Major Saver card. Score.). The girls love to run and jump around in inflatables, and supposedly this place has 'em, with a special area for toddlers. But Audrey woke up sick. Nothing serious. I think it's a cold. But she had a cough and ran a temp off and on. She would run crazy like a mad woman for awhile, then need to lie down. On top of that, Mark's 10:20 a.m. dr. appt. lasted until 2 p.m. (long story). So we'll delay the play place for another day.

We toyed with the idea of having a huge family party since the girls didn't get to have a blow out bash on their first birthday b/c we lived in PA. But that meant hosting 37 people in our house or renting a place, and well, it just started sounding like a whole bunch of no fun. So we decided on a little family party, just us four. As it turned out, Mark's sister, Mary, stopped over, and then there were five. We had an Elmo cake (I baked; Mark decorated), party hats/plates/tablecoth in a Sesame Street theme. The girls loved it. Mary bought the girls a bag of Cheeto Puffs (don't ask). We snacked on cake and Cheetos, then opened presents. Overall, very lovely. I think Ruthie finally picked up on the whole gift thing. After opening her last present, she made the sign for "more" and said, "More presents, please?" It broke my heart to tell her there were no more presents.

Both changed so much in their second year. I'm looking forward to the changes and challenges of year three.

(Note: I was going to upload more photos, but couldn't figure out how to arrange them. I didn't want to waste ALL of naptime trying to figure it out.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meet My New Friend: Walthur P22

A few months back, Mark and I started talking about buying a firearm. Mostly for a hobby, something new to do together, but also for home protection. (Side note: I really liked the idea after I saw Bree and Katherine taking target practice on "Desperate Housewives.") We decided to wait until after the holidays, but in the interim Mark did the research, including stopping into a local gun shop to inquire as to what all is involved. The store is owned by Jim and Sharon, a husband and wife team. Jim is a retired police officer who still trains officers, and Sharon is a tough pistol-packin' momma who makes novices feel comfortable and at ease. They suggested I come in to get a feel for the different types of firearms available. I did and knew as soon as I picked up the .22, it was the piece for me. We bought it last week.

Today, Mark took a 1/2 day comp from work, and we had ourselves a little date. Lunch at Chipotle, ammunition shopping at Wal-mart, and a firearm safety course at the gun shop. We had the opportunity to fire several rounds, and I must say, I rather enjoyed myself. It took me a few rounds to get my aim down, but by the end of our session, I was feeling pretty proud of myself and lovin' every minute of it (Sorry, Loverboy. I stole your lyrical line). At one point, I called "eyeball" on our "bad guy" target and actually nailed the dude in the left eye! A proud moment for me.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like it or not. Outside of a BB gun, I had never handled a firearm. I thought I would be nervous about shooting a gun, but the weird thing was it felt rather natural. Like I was meant to do it. It is also a strange feeling to know that when holding a loaded gun, you have the power and potential to fatally harm another human being. Something not to be taken lightly.

On another note, it's been a long time since I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried something new. It's a great feeling. Today, I felt a little bit of the old me peeking through. Yay!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mommy Who?

The girls had their first full day of Montessori today. The morning was going well until we got out of the car and reached the door of the center. Audrey surprised me. She waltzed right through the door and down the hall as if she were an old pro. Ruthie, uncharacteristically, hung back a bit and I had to coax her into the school. But by the time Ruthie and I rounded the corner, Audrey was back ... and bawling. Apparently, she suddenly realized this was one of those time when she stayed and mommy left. I put on my game face, got them settled, and high-tailed it out of there.

One oil change, Wal-mart browse, Home Depot paint stop, and home decor store stroll later, I returned. Ok, it was seven hours. Seven whole hours of solitude. Pure bliss. Don't get me wrong, I was ready to see the girls. You can't spend that much time with anyone and not wonder what they are up to when you are separated. During my absence, Ruthie and Audrey had discovered their versions of toddler heaven (Ruthie=live rabbit; Audrey = exercise trampoline). In fact, the girls who fretted over my leaving this morning weren't about to leave with me this afternoon.

The instant she saw me, Ruthie smiled. "Hi, Mommy!" she yelled across the room. She danced around, gesticulating wildly until she was able to shout, "BUNNY!" and toddled back over to check on Peter the Rabbit. No joke. That was his name. "JUMP! JUMP!" Audrey hollered, politely pushing away the poor chump who tried to take his turn on the great bouncing machine. It took a good 10 minutes to corral them and get their coats on.

And here I was worried they wouldn't like school. They barely remembered me when I popped back in this afternoon. That's how I know sending the girls to school was the perfect decision for my family.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Head Wounds ... Continued

The other day I wrote about Audrey falling down the stairs and the bruise she received. Well, this evening Ruthie fell down and knocked her head three times in one hour. The first time, she was very excited and came running over to me with the Dora and Boots transparencies for the Dora the Explorer Doodle Pro Santa brought Audrey. One of Ruthie's favorite activities is having me trace the transparencies. Right when she got to me, she tripped. Her forehead hit the wrought iron leg of the table. Immediately, a bruise began forming. I got her calmed down, we traced Dora, all was good ...

About 15 minutes later I went upstairs to look for Larry and Bob (VeggieTales characters, stuffed, lovies) as a pre-emptive strike against an ugly bedtime. Mark was chasing Ruthie when she tripped over a life-size (to her) Larry Boy (again VeggieTales). Her head hit the wall, and a goose egg formed on contact. Oh, I should mention that Ruthie is so fair skinned she might as well be translucent. So any injury, no matter how minor, shows up in a glaring way. Again, we got her calmed down by telling her it was bath night. All was good ...

After bath time, we let the girls run nekkid through the house for a few minutes. They love, love, love it, and it's hilarious to watch. There is just something endearing about watching little baby butts running wild and free. Mark set Ruthie down on the bathroom floor so she could run. I don't know if her feet were still wet, or there was water on the floor, or what. But her legs went out from under her, and she fell backward, hitting her head. For the third time, we got her calmed down.

So, Ruthie looks like she's been beaten about the head by careless parents. What's a parent to do? Mark and I sang "Frosty the Snowman," (or "Frosty the Man Man," as the girls call him,) to them and called it a night. Here's to an injury-free tomorrow.