Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Twilight of my Career as a Romantic Novelist

Having endured one book of the Twilight series and meandered around the local book store looking at scores and scores of Vampire and Werewolf and Zombie romances designed to quench the thirst for netherworld relationships in tweens and teens and people who should know better, I have come to a few conclusions about the modern literary world at least with respect to this sort of purchase.  Forgive me if you love the stuff, my internal snark needed some exercise.

10) Readers want an other worldly romance.  Whether the mysterious man is from New Zealand, Bermuda or the third dimension, the male must carry with him in the very air, a whiff of the unknown, the powerful, the culturally greater that comes from anywhere but here.  With the world wide web, the wide world is no longer as exotic as it once was.  Hence, writers must craft a whole host of new places and cultures to create that spicy otherness so necessary for the romance novella of today.

9) Sex, whether desired or achieved, is passionate, defining, all consuming and beyond.  Like the Greek myths of yore, the sparkling experience of those singular moments whether in Wicked or in Bridges of Madison County, have permanent marks on the women who experience them.  Every sacrifice, gift, memory, joy and act of devotion by any other human, man, woman or child pales in comparison and nothing that comes afterwards compares either.  It's sort of a one shot deal.  But apparently, what a one shot. 

8)  Money is never an issue.  Even if it was before, it isn't now.  Careers are reworked to be dashing and more viable and important as a result of the defining relationship. (Bridget Jones)  Cars that were troublesome and difficult become a source of humor and intimacy and then eventually get replaced by the largess of the lover either anonymously or as a farewell romantic gesture sort of thing.  I broke up with a guy once.  I got a good bye and I know we'll still be friends letter.  No car, not even a hot wheel. Maybe you have to be undead to do that sort of stuff.

7) Girls don't actually have to do anything, they can just emote across the page and the men apparently find this irresistible.   I knew women like this in graduate school.  They seem perpetually puzzled when men weren't sniffing at them like felines under the spell of catnip.  Speaking as a grown woman, ewwwwww. 

6) School like money and work serves only as a backdrop for painting in character traits about the feme fatale and the prospective hottie hunky.  The formula works similar to a Bond movie.  If the woman likes science, the audience or reader thinks "Oh, she is smart."  If the woman is painting, the reader/audience understands, she is a talented artist on the cusp of being something great.   If the lady quotes Shakespeare or plays a cello, her gifts speak to the hero's soul, piercing his carefully protected psyche with her earnest love of beauty.   No actual tests of scholarship, study, craft or art need be created, it's simply implied.  Once the eyes meet and everything that was empty suddenly isn't, the environment becomes empathetic with the protagonist heroine.  The weather and the moors collaborate to become a physical mood ring for the reader just in case anyone was unclear on what was happening internally.  

5) Every romance needs a subplot and usually it's a threat to the romance itself.  A protective father, a jealous ex, a needy family, Dr. Van Helsig, whathaveyou, has to prevent the defining moment of passion from happening too soon. That something will be framed somewhere between misguided and out and out diabolical.  Evil vampires and angry Capulets are cut from the same cloth.  The hero and heroine will prove their worth to each other via triumphing over these exterior obstacles while revealing internal desirable traits to each other in momentary spurts of creativity, courage, pluck and determination.  Of course the persuing enemies of the romance will eventually wind up thwarted by a combination of the couple's skills.

4) Guys have companions, fellow friends and an understanding family.  The girl usually comes alone or with a family with issues which squelch her true beauty and being.  The man and his family become her world, her dowry, her source of all meaning.  The girlfriends that were once inseparable, become backdrop to be given short shrift.  The family receives her pink slip from the indentured servitude she suffered under their demands.  Sure these characters may complain and even wind up conspiring with angry mobs or vampires ratting out the romantic duo in a fit of peevish revenge or mistaken parental protectiveness, but their secondary status is a permanent consequence of the relationship.

3)  The Rule of Three: one girl, two guys.  One she is fated to marry, one she loves or one she should love and another who compels her beyond her brain's capacity to reason to ignore everyone and everything else.  The guys verbally spar, one up in courtship and eventually physically fight.  The outcome is only in doubt in the dim bulbed heroine's brain. After all, she only emotes, she doesn't actually think.   Team Jacob Team Edward....Guys....Bella?  She's not all that.  

2) Romantic fight. You knew this was coming right? I mean, it can't be pure lovey dovey all the time. To have passion, one must have conflict that simmers, smolders, sparks and smokes. So we have the opposites attract scenario and the great philosophical exposition of opposing values that must be reconciled for the couple to endure. It's very dramatic and usually involves prejudices that must be torn down and misperceptions that can be easily explained away if one or the other would simply listen and the fateful final decision that sends one suitor packing unless they come back to exact revenge in which case packing takes on a whole new meaning. It is usually consummated in either the ground breaking sex or the ground breaking break up or ground breaking tragic death like in Titanic.

1) And the number one truth I've uncovered from thumbing through the various tomes available for your reading pleasure this summer:  I'm doomed as a romantic novelist.

Friday, July 30, 2010

7 Quick Takes

1. Eats, Shoots and Leaves

I'm reading this wonderfully witty book by Lynne Truss right now.  Why?  I know I get sloppy with my punctuation.  I know I suffer from excessive commaitis and the desire to use dashes like salt on popcorn.  The AP manual is excellent if you have a specific question but if you don't see your own mistakes, it's hard to use as a reference.  At least this way, I'm laughing while I'm going through a quick refresher on all that stuff I considered utterly boring back in grade school.   Even the slogan is wonderful, "Sticklers unite, you have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion, and arguably you didn't have a lot of that to begin with."  I could nit pick and point out she ended a sentence with a preposition. That's a no-no.  However, it's still a very fun read. 

2. 20 Year Tape

This year is our 20 year anniversary. The video of our wedding needs to be transferred to a more permanent medium. I think I know what I'm giving us for our anniversary. Every year we sit and watch the tape; though sometimes separately because we've had to tag team for the kids --two universaries when we were watching kiddos at the hospital, such that while we both saw the tape, it was at opposite ends of the day and alone. I remember our first walk, our first kiss, our first words, our first impressions of each other, and look forward to celebrating many many more decades.

3. Is it just me?

This year I've seen more butterflies than ever before.  I wonder if I just was not seeing them or if in fact for some reason there are more.  Wondering if anyone else has noticed this phenomena.

4.  Why is it?

My brother comes over and cooks a sauce; the same stuff I cook all the time.  The kids devour it.  I cook the sauce.  The kids want anything but what I'm serving.  Think I'll tell them different people came over and fixed dinner when they weren't looking from now on and see if packaging and the right sponsorship makes a difference in appetites.  I'm willing to be a ghost chef if they actually eat.  

 5. Driving me Nuts

I've lost one day's worth of mail.  I don't know what it was.  I don't know if there were any bills. I can't find any missing but I also just don't know what came.  My daughter brought up the stack and put it on the table and no one has seen it since.  Prayers to Saint Anthony would be appreciated.  On the bright side, it has helped me clean out a lot of junk from my cubbies full of stuff. 

6.  Fixing his little red wagon

It's not a joke or a threat, it's a fact.  For three days, my son has been on me to build his radio flyer and for three days, I've put it off in part because of timing, lack of the proper tools and the rest of the day taking over, and because I'm engineering impaired.  Today, I put down the laptop and pick up the pliers and screwdriver.  That poor boy does not know how mechanic free my fingers are; but he will learn soon enough.  Here's hoping the thing is operationally functional when I get done.  

7. The Next Food Network Star

My kids and I love the show except for the gratuitous swearing that seems to be constant; I've had to limit who can watch.  We have a beef however with the creators who ran a contest where the would be cooks had to create dinner in 20 minutes using cereals to simulate the stress of busy moms.  The problem with the concept was what the chefs cooked.  The meals they presented would be rejected by virtually every child in America.  Two examples of the cuisine were tuna encrusted with rice krispies and Quinoa All Bran.  I'm thinking "Oh yeah. My six year old can't wait to dig in to that one."  Here's what a busy mom would do folks if all they had was breakfast stuff.  They'd take the cereal, put it in a bowl and add milk.  If they wanted extra nutrition, they might cut up banana.  Dinner in five minutes.  Tadah! 


Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Tenth Time Around

When I was pregnant with my first, I swore up and down that I intended to work after he was born.  After all, I'd pressed hard to get my master's and these students needed me.  The daycare was just adjacent to my school which was catty corner from our apartment and next to the gym and the bank.  What could be more perfect?  I'd teach from 7:30 to 3 and pick him up by 4 and spend the afternoon with him and everything would be fine.  

Then I went to visit the daycare.  It was run out of a Church, like a little school for babies.  I was taken to see each of the rooms. They were clean and quiet.  I watched as two women with buttery soft hands picked up two of the crying 1 year old children, changed them and rocked them into peaceful sleep.  The director showed me the toddler room with happy kiddos finger painting and giggling and the fours room where they were listening to a story.  There was a fenced in playground with newfangled cork instead of mulch for a floor and a pet bunny in a hutch near the 0-6 months room.  It seemed perfect. Then we walked into the room where my son would spend his first few months.

There was a four month old baby boy.  I don't know the kid's name but he was dressed in baby blue and in a bouncer.  When he saw me, his bright blue eyes lit up and he smiled and squirmed and kicked with pleasure as if nothing would ever please him more than for me to have walked into that room.  Those smiles burned into my brain.  I didn't want someone else seeing my kid's smiles, they were my smiles to see.  I felt like a thief capturing this kid's smiles that belonged to some other mommy not seeing them. 

I know it was the hormones but I immediately found a payphone.  (It was 1993, no cells.)   Sobbing hysterically to my very perplexed husband on the phone I announced, "I sob...don't care..sob sob sob...if we can't..sob sob sob sob....afford it....sob sob sob....I'm staying home!"  To which my beloved could only respond, "Okay honey. Okay...calm down....that's fine. You can do that.  I love you."

I'd love to tell you I made my peace with being a SAHM right then and there but it wouldn't be true.  The dreams of ambitious alternatives crept back into my head almost as soon as I was six weeks post-partum.  It wasn't that I didn't love my son; but that sitting at home felt like standing still when the rest of the world was spinning forward at breakneck speed. 

Walking the neighborhood pushing a stroller, desperate for company, I became friends with the dry cleaner, the pharmacist, the receptionist at our apartment complex and the woman who worked the 1 hour photo place.  Unable to manage the long hours that felt like nothing was happening, I threw myself into a project and spent the second half of my son's first year trying to get into graduate school.  After six months of pure madness in a PhD program, we moved to Maryland because of work and I had to start over.

The isolation I'd felt when I first came home with a baby returned as I now was a stranger in a strange state with no family, no friends and no idea of where anyone or anything was.  I tried graduate school again but it faltered even as I started.  I became pregnant with my first daughter.  I pressed on trying to weld my new home, my new role and my dreamed life and ambitions together.  It was doomed. My graduate program was a fight in every class.  I pressed on but tried switching advisors and then programs and got stuck with an advisor that really didn't get me or I him. 

When I got pregnant with my third child, he asked if I was serious about my doctorate.   The feminist in me flared a bit.  "If I want to have ten children and a Ph.D. what does it matter?"   He asked me if I was going to have ten children.  I said "I don't know."  and we sort of agreed not to bring it up again but it was a break in my drive because he and I knew I meant that if it happened, it happened.    

That Christmas, after struggling to finish two papers, things came to a critical mass.  While waiting for an epidural, I struggled to provide a critique over the phone to a member of a team assessment for a class. It was too much and I threw in the towel.  But I told myself, it will happen one day, even if I have to go across using a walker, when that happens, I'll have one heck of a cheering section.   Don't quote me the a dream deferred bit because I look at the life I have and it is a greater dream than I'd imagined; and I haven't despaired that God doesn't have still more for me to do than I can imagine.

With three, I sort of settled into the role but I've had flare ups of ambition and ego and desire and drive as we faced more and more and more.  It's resulted in taking on more than I can chew on more than one occasion, it started me once upon a time working from home for the school, it started me writing, it started me doing grants and working on a book and running the carnival at the school.

Part of me sometimes chafed at year12, 15, 17 of still changing diapers and asked when do I get a crack at things or has that already passed?  When the laundry and the dishes and the beds and the toys seem to cascade out of every pore of the house and I've done shoes and haircuts and dinner at the fast food restaurant of choice and still the first thing when we get home is, "You didn't....."  I've felt like bleah.  Why am I pushing this rock up the hill yet again? The world ran by and I didn't catch it and once upon a time, I could have. It isn't often, but it isn't absent.  We always long to be more, and some of that longing is for being closer to God, and some of it isn't.  We always long to be loved; we don't always long to be loving.

But God knows that even those little dark spots are just my stubbornness and He's very very good at wearing away any stony attempts by my heart to say yes to something other than Him.  Every child has been different, they all demand different more of me; some of them know more than me; some of them love more easily than me; some of them have natural reverence and others have natural gifts of simple obedience or humility, and still others, natural understanding of how to limit one's appetites without limiting drive or desire to do well; and others, default set themselves to joyful.  They all have these virtues that reflect back at me how I'm supposed to be and they all require constant study, constant review and constant love.   So I'm facing year 18 and a newborn. 

Cleaning out the library --one of the pits of stacks of stuff included old journals.  My words with one and with three and with four and with five and seven all echoed each other.  I knew I had the same thoughts with the other ones too, I just didn't always write it down or in the same journal.  With every one of these children, my first response has been to be fearful; how can I manage?  How will I manage?  The I of course was part of the problem, also the idea that I had to manage when what I was called to do was love.  

But now we are expecting our tenth, and the sublime experience of this tenth, is what I suspect less stubborn (more wise) other mothers experience much sooner; it is perhaps why I needed this tenth child.

I know I will have one in diapers and one in college.  It's a reality.  But for the first time, my first response was not fear or how will I manage or there goes three more years I have to wait for me, it was Okay.  This is good.  This little girl (my guts say a girl and thus far, they are 9 for 9 right on the money), she's awesome.   I really can't wait.  I'm impatient for Christmas and this pregnancy is one long Advent.

I hope I can hold onto this wisdom the whole pregnancy, so many times I'll get a snatch from the mass or the readings of the day or from reading or listening to friends and family and then some part of reality, the news, errands, unexpected chores or fight or extra pounds or telemarketers irritate and I lose hold of it.  The wisdom just floats out of my brain with respect to application as I chatter and flail and bluster and worry.    That's why I'm writing it down and sharing it, so others will remind me when I feel overwhelmed or overtired or overtaxed that the long journey across the desert to the stable began long before the night Christ was born, and to stay staring at that star and be as constant as the kings. 

Small Success Thursday

It's Thursday so we do the weekly wrap up.  This hasn't been a boastful week but we've had some minor victories.

1) Three days of the week I exercised.  That's up from zero so it's a big deal.

2) After three weeks of writer's block, I've been able to craft a few pieces.  This has been driving me nuts. I've been reading, standing on my head, deliberately listening to music I don't like, tried eating fish, getting extra sleep and writing prompts.  It seems the muse took a vacation but has just as mysteriously returned.  

3) I worked on Helen.  She's languished on my computer and it's because I have a few sticky places where I don't like what's there but I've been unwilling to pull things out to rework.  Time to rewrite and rework and weed wack the daylights out of the second half of chapter 4 and then I'll hit the chapter that's been sitting in my head. 

It's a delicate scene of reconciliation between Helen and Menelaus at the sacking of Troy.  The myth has that Menelaus comes into her room in full battle rage.  She reveals her breasts and he drops his sword.   I've got that, but with a twist, because I don't think the mere sight even of the most beautiful woman in the world's chest, could erase 10 years of waste, infidelity, war and the past few hours of rage and violence.  But I want to have this flawed couple in that moment of odd quiet when the whole world is crashing down around (Literally, Troy is burning), become a moment that reseals them to each other and I've got some ideas so I'm going to try writing it tonight.  Maybe my muse saw what I was planning, got a headache and took the time off to be ready for this scene. 

4) Not my triumph but I'm proud none the less.  My son has been asked to be a student leader with a campus kitchen program at his school.  It's a volunteer job, but it's a job and I think he's finding it surprisingly pleasant to do this extra. 

5) The crack down on homework is helping.  

6) Week three of assigning weekly chores and daughter created check boxes on the memo board.  Mental note, second son is awesome at keeping the kitchen floor restaurant worthy clean.  Regrettably, we do have to rotate chores, but it is helping.  

7) Worked on Fall Carnival, it is coming together.  I have eight weeks to get it ready.

8) I finally learned how to write one thing and have the link embedded.  It's a small victory for a technophobe like me. 

Got a success to share?  Go to Family and Faith Live!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

House Minority Whip

Attention children! 

There are four weeks left of summer.  If you have more than one book left to read, more than two weeks of math sheets to finish or more than one paper or project to complete, put down the comic, unplug the TV and stop viewing Dragonball Z and Phineas and Ferb on the computer.  Those 28 days will come quickly and there will be interruptions for things like hair cuts, school supplies, doctor's appointments, swimming, movies, little camping or vacation trips and baseball games. 

You do not want to miss out on going to the pool because you have to read Rebecca. 

You do not want to have to forgo the movies to finish a Charlotte's Web diorama.

The 12 pages of math may be possible to be finished in a 12 hour period but it will be a miserable 12 hours.  

I know I am Cassandra; I'm like the powerless minority opposition.  In many cases I speak the truth and no one listens because they value their own position more than anything forthcoming.  Even the ones who may follow my sage advice won't be actually grateful.  Top that with the fact that I hate nagging even if I know it's for their own good.

But I'm a Mom and so it's part of the job.  I have to make sure they do this.   However I know from years of experience and watching Congress, you put no stick without the carrot.   So here's today's get your homework done deal.  

"Finish two pages of math each and we're going to the pool for the evening.  Anyone who doesn't do two pages gets left behind and will have to endure an educational historical documentary." 

Tomorrow, we'll employ movie tickets; those staying behind get to sort socks.  I'll keep providing suitable bribes and less savory alternatives until the homework job is done; at which point I should be sufficiently experienced in graft enough to run for Congress. 

Wish someone would use this method with me to get the laundry and the paperwork done.  Where are my lobbyists?  Won't someone please try to buy my influence by doing the dishes? 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm Going to Have to Do This Ten Times?

My poor son has two choices for practicing driving; the little car --the Suburban, and the Mastodon, our 12 passenger van.   His course work was with Honda Civic that seated five.  As a result, there have been adjustments.   For example, his instructor said to pull halfway into the road, which if you do that with the van, you are all the way blocking.  So we've had to quarter the counsel he learned.   Breaking distance is the car length+seconds for your car's length, not the one in front of you.  It's a pain and an ongoing process for both of us.

I don't know if anyone else sucks in as if putting on tight jeans when their child hugs the curb and those mail boxes and trees look ever so closer than is comfortable; it's not like I'm going to make the van suck in and slenderize as it glides by the curb anymore than I'm going to become skinnier by exhaling hard while sucking in my stomach.  The reality is he has to drive this tank and so he must maneuver this tank.  It still stinks.

To his credit, he's a very careful driver.  Far more disciplined than I was at 15.  (Yes 15, I am probably the single reason that experiment died so quickly in Texas but that's another story).

The idea of trying to carve out 60 hours of drive time for ten separate children all of whom have their own personality quirks which will be exaggerated by the addition of a 3-4 ton (this) vehicle makes me reconsider whether or not  we really want to own a car or have drivers period.  Walking regardless of the weather suddenly has new found appeal.  

Then one of my friends faced with her own teenage driver talked about buying a third car.  I know we had one when I was a teen.  I know it would make teaching driving easier, but there are realities which one knows, once one embraces, have permanent consequences.  Paying for college, having a baby, buying a house, these are all moments of definition that will shape everything that follows.  Buying a third car. This would be one of those rubicons. 

I thought about the expense.  I thought about insurance.  I thought about parking on our drive way and manuevering out.  I thought about how it takes a Herculean effort to get the vehicles we have now serviced and one of them gets those sorts of things for free!  As I consider the hassle versus benefits calculation of even thinking about the idea, my mind gropes for an escape hatch, for something, anything other than this.  I can only think of one bribe possibly sufficient.

Hey son!  You know how you always wanted a dog?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Street Rules for Skateboards

This past Friday, my son turned eleven.  We temporarily suspended our over protective natures and bought him a coming of age present, a skateboard.  It's pretty cool. It's red and steel and sparks when you lift up the front.  We'd souped him up with elbow, knee and wrist pads and a helmet and I'd given strict rules about not being unafraid to fall, to not go near the street and to take it easy.

After an hour of willingly wilting in the heat,  I felt I'd chaperoned enough and allowed him to continue sans my presence.  Within fifteen minutes, my four year old came in and announced, "My brother is going to die."  I asked why.   "He's on a skateboard, it's dangerous true but I don't think..."  She shook her head, "He's going to fly down into the street and be hit by a car." I looked out and saw my son, his face glowing with pleasure, skating around the flat safe part of our driveway.  "It's really nice that you're so concerned about your brother." I started.

"If he goes to the hospital, we won't get cake." 

"Well, we'd bring him cake if he got hurt but I don't think you need to worry about that." My son came into the house and poured himself some ice water, his eyes were alight with the triumph of being the boy with the birthday having received his heart's desire.  "You know what's really fun Mom?"

"No, what?"  I was enjoying this experience of a happy eleven year old child.
"Riding down the hill face first."
Okay, so maybe my four year old wasn't exaggerating after all. I made a mental note to give her an extra big slice of cake.

Now I know rules often get drowned out so I employed the Socratic method.  "If you had to stop, what would hit the street first?" I asked. 

"My face?"
I nodded.

I told him I'd get him a mouth guard tomorrow and he added a new skateboarding rule. No Skeleton runs.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tools of the Trade

At what point in my life did my brain transfer to the hidden confines of a blank spiral bound notepad? Last week, my toddler daughters found my notebook and scribbled into it such that while I could still make a list on any given page, it just wasn't the same.  I tried bravely for three days to cope with the decorated pad but my list kept blurring with the artwork.  It just wasn't happening.

At the same time, I also noticed that all the pens and pencils had simultaneously evaporated from my purse, car and home.  There were still crayons and dry erase markers, (mostly green), but no normal adult writing utensils to speak of; I decided this was an errand that required top priority. 

The problem was, I had no place to write 1) Buy pens and notepad, and 2) nothing to write with if I decided to be a trooper and use the back of an opened envelope from the day's mail.   So the notepad slipped from my mind as I groped about the next day trying to remember to go to the drycleaner's, the play date at the cool park at 9:30, the tutor at 12 that had been moved to the next day and how many days it was until my son's birthday.  We missed one scheduled appointment for the Dentist and barely made it to another.  I forgot about getting the car serviced entirely.The week was coming apart at the seams, all for want of a pad and pencil. 

It was then I realized, I also lacked the desire to move.  I didn't want to patrol the bedrooms like I normally did, to scoop up clothes and turn off lights.  Absent my two tools for organization, I slipped into freefall chaos. With horror, the adult in me recognized that not only did I not have a clue what I needed to be doing because I didn't have a list, I lacked the will to do anything because I hadn't written it down.   It seemed all my thinking required documentation and all my spirit and enthusiasm to do something required a to-do list.  The paper held my brain and the pen held my will.  What was left in me was a compliant capable shell that needed marching orders.

After two more days of barely treading water with remembering the therapist came at 10, my oldest needed to get his picture taken at 5, to manage, I began using my children like human post-it notes.  "You! Remind me today that two of your sisters need hair cuts!"   "You!  Make sure you remind me to call your friend's mom because I need her to help with the fall festival."  "You! Dinner tonight is pasta shells and a spinach salad.  Remember that!" It worked pretty well for the older ones, but the messages got distorted, forgotten or deliberately altered the younger down the line the child doing the memory recall was.  "We can have ice cream for dinner right?"  "NO Editing the message!"  I warned.  Things were getting serious.  

Pity and possibly the very real desire to escape having to remember Mom's list in addition to her own, my oldest daughter typed up a list of things to do for me on the computer and printed it up.  It was admittedly  self serving, with little extras like "Stop at Borders" and "Buy milkshakes at Chick Fillet." and "Despicable Me is supposed to be a good movie. Maybe we could go see it since it is so hot and then you could relax."  I smiled and asked her to reprint the list but add one more thing.  "Buy a notepad and pen." 

I felt sanity and serenity pour into me as I snatched the sheet still wet from the printer.  Ahhhhh!  Mommy's back in business. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Small Success Thursday

For the past few Thursdays, I've been slumming.  Why?  I'd been suffering from writer's block and the list felt like a bit of a crutch, and I've been on vacation.  Between those two excuses, I just fell out of the habit.  However, I return again; because the weekly celebration helps me take stock of the past week and reminds me that these works in progress are in fact, progressing.  This week I:

1) Helped get my oldest two ready for high school by ordering their books.  Next week I'll take on shoes.

2) Going on vacation, I did get reminded that it's a disservice to my children if I let myself go to pot; but I've been struggling with when I can surrender time to exercise.  "Taking time for me" only comes at the expense of 9 other people, and I just can't do that to them.  It was a wrestling problem in my heart and head when I went to bed.  But the Holy Spirit whispers ideas when we allow ourselves to listen and yesterday morning when I woke, the thought was fully formed before I got out of bed.  If I walked the driveway with each of my children one on one, I would get all the exercise I needed and each of them would claim a bit of precious private time in the process.  Of course there was a giant fight over who would get to go first.  (I chose none of the above), but it's a start in the right direction for all of us. 

3) I got to see all my family last week.  It was a celebration of ordinary time.  Usually, we get together because...because so and so is graduating, because so and so is getting married, so and so had a baby;  this time, it was so we could be together. 

4) Tomorrow is my middle son's birthday.  While we were on vacation, one of his uncles commented that if he married, he had to bring his potential bride to meet my brother for approval.  My son responded, "Not me, I'm going to be a priest."  I know he's young but it doesn't mean my brain and heart didn't give a "Whoop!" at the idea.  

5)  There will be one more source of inspiration come January.   So far, she looks very healthy and good from the Ultrasounds.  Yes, we will now have a whole decade of children.  

Have a great day!  Happy Summer!

Monday, July 19, 2010

You Really Do Need What You Learn in Pre-K

“You are making that up.” I said as I kept serving dinner.

But my daughter insisted, “I saw it!” as she dug through the backpacks and bags that were supposed to be neatly stashed in the cubbies.

“You’re telling me she sneezed.” I repeated incredulously.

My four year old daughter (the sneezer) nodded her head violently in agreement. “And the meatball went flying.” She drew a rainbow arc in the air with her finger. My older daughter cut in, “and it landed but we don’t know where. So now I’m looking for it so we won’t find ants.”

“You’re saying that after being served a plate of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, she lost her poor meatball because she sneezed?”

I wasn’t buying. There was just no way. No way this happened. I ordered them to the table.

“But the ants.” My daughter protested.

I looked at the decidedly meatball and sauce free floor. “If there are ants attracted to a meatball and it’s on the floor, if they find it, we’ll be able to follow them to find it.” I explained, “Now sit.”

Dinner proceeded as planned, with the occasional requests for seconds, requests for something else, and complaints that the meal included a vegetable. When we were finished, Paul (the almost 2 year old) was all covered in sauce. Whisking him to the showers, I asked the oldest three to clean up.

They cleared the table and pulled back the chairs and under Paul’s highchair, was the meatball gone awol. My daughter brought the saucy thing to me as evidence, in truthful triumph. What could I say except….”If you eat spaghetti….all covered in cheese…..hold onto your meatballs….and don’t ever sneeze.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Between Writer's Block, Summer and Vacation, Nothing Got Done

Lately, if you've noticed a dearth of postings and a lot of reruns, it's my brain's fault.  It went on summer vacation and neglected to tell me.  The daily consumption of diet coke doesn't seem to have the same caffeine inducing powers it holds in the winter. Summer just slows me down all the way around.  I like floating in the pool rather than swimming laps; and strolling rather than jogging, running or even brisk power walking.   I'm a nert gradually becoming more "in"nert as the dog days of summer progress.  

Still, it's not that I'm not thinking or doing or thinking of doing, it's just never the list of what needs to be done that takes priority.  If someone says, "Hey let's go to a movie, library, hike, go-carts, insert fun thing here," I'm there and I'll even help get it going; it's just the self initiating part of me seems to have hung up a semi-permanent sign at least for the three months the kids are off school, "Gone Fishing."   

There was a time when I would have understood the wisdom of storing up experience, rather than wanting to perpetually pour it all onto a page, but that was before I discovered my brain was in reality, lost in the 100 acre woods.

My writing ego whines and demands that I respond with Tigger like reflexes to the temptation to become Pooh.   And I realize, at least part of my brain is as neurotic as Rabbit while sounding as pompous as Owl.  Having never been passive about anything, the instant I start slowing up on even generating material, the nervous writer part of me starts worrying, "Why?" Did I use up all my reserves? Will I ever be funny again? Have I lost it? Did I ever have it? And she nags as I go about the day, wanting me to eat more fish and drink acai juice and do Sudoku and crosswords to reanimate that part of my head that spins a tale and won't let go until I sit down and write, but sitting down to read, I find the words keep spilling off the page before they ever make it to my eyes. I sit down, I fall asleep. After about a week of a dry spell, the writer part of me got anxious.

Quick Sherry, start organizing something: a party, a trip, an event. Go outside. Organize the inside. Do Something! Read a really hard book from that list of "good" books you haven't read yet. Watch a serious movie that other people consider important. Listen to classical music while exercising. Go! Go! Go! Do! Do! Do!

Until she has me tied up in knots worrying that I will never write good stuff again. "Probably a good thing." says my Eeyore. 

And  every action that I do that doesn't then result in inspiration makes the writer part more irritated.  "Well that didn't work, try something else."  Until I got fed up and turned off the computer and said, "Enough.  I'm going to go eat some cherry chocolate chip ice cream."  "For inspiration?" My writer self asks nervously.  "No." I answered, "Because it will taste good."

And somewhere, later, when I'm not trying, the writing returns and the saner part of me like Christopher Robin shakes his head at the rest of us running about, searching for a thing to say and a reason and at how all that bluster and activity was time better spent swimming or making a pie or just allowing the ideas to drift along the way leaves scattered on a sluggish little stream flow.   "This is a good thing." the writer brain says as it allows the ice cream to drip a bit.  "However, you should have thought of this first."  

The rest of me knows better than to respond "Silly old bear."  

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gratuity of 15% please

Back when we only had six, we took a long journey across half the country wherein we stopped at Niagara Falls, watched Fireworks over the river in Pittsburgh from our hotel room, visited the horse shoe turn and train museum, the Kellogg's factory, the dunes in Michigan and the Chicago Cubs.   Staying in hotels every night, I packed a backpack for bed time with everyone's pj's and a bag for each night with color coordinated outfits. 

We also stayed in places that provided free breakfast to cut expenses.  One morning, it was red day, so all of us, self included were wearing bright red shirts.  I had all six at the table as I brought bagels, cereal, milk and OJ to the masses.  My husband was packing and loading the car.   Bustling about, I got called by an elderly woman who had watched me bringing butter and an extra knife and napkins.  "I'll take a cup of coffee with a bit of cream and sugar." she asked. 

I wish I'd just said, "Coming right up."  instead of "I don't work here."  

It's On...Temporarily

Nothing motivates or at least chafes like envy.   My siblings have all entered a high exercise healthy phase that forces me to at least acknowledge my couch potato type existence and subsequent couch potato type form.  Hearing that one sibling is training for a Triathlon while another family member is running four miles a day and a third is into weights and cardio, I feel guilt and shame at my own bodily sloth, at least enough to do a few sit ups while watching Burn Notice or push ups during commercials.  My slug like brain reasons, "Hey, it counts."  But my hips say otherwise.

My daughter is taking karate, my other children are doing swimming lessons twice a week.  In both scenarios, I get to act as home base; the car that gets them from point a to point b on time, and central supply for towels, snacks and the hawk supervisor to ensure the long term viability of the non swimming set at the pool.  It's not that I want to be a stationary slug, but home life is usually punctuated by the domestic chores of the day and laundry no matter what you do, involves a good deal of sitting; writing requires a BIC (bottom in chair), and stopping fights requires more brains and lungs than any muscle mass.  Going outside lately has been a non breathable event with temps hovering in the low hundreds; and I honestly don't like saddling my older kids with non necessary babysitting detail.  They're my kids, not theirs; so I want them to be teens, not junior mes.  Hence, I do not say, "Watch them, I'm going to work out."

Sin always requires rationalization and my brain is certainly up to the task of explaining my physical fitness neglect.  Nagging kids to do their summer work books, read, turn off the TV, pick up their toys, go outside, clear the table, etc. etc. etc. uses up all of my iron woman discipline such that at the end of the day when they're all in bed or at least no longer requiring direct supervision, I don't have any metal will left much less energy to engage in a serious work out.  But I know that's a cop out and that if I were serious, I could work out in the morning before they get up or use exercise TV or a video and or keep a food diary to make better choices and that I simply haven't gathered enough will to make this happen. 

But I'm going to spend a week with people I love, all of whom are on a better track physically with me.  I'm hoping to be humble enough to follow their lead and take the hint rather than drag them back towards my side of the scale by poor example.  I'm hoping to gather some extra will from being around all this family that seems to have their acts together.  But I'll have to stop swallowing bad food and swallow my pride instead.  Who knew getting fit was akin to seeking to stay free from sin?

No wonder weight loss is so hard.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Crisis Management

I have a theory as to why the current administration and government is struggling with the economy, the oil crisis clean up in the Gulf of Mexico, problems of trespassing and bullying in Arizona, unpleasant political dialogues and demagoguery, spins of the news right, left and out and out wrong, the absence of jobs, the misbehavior of Washington and Wallstreet and a dearth of movies that anyone other than uber fanboys and fangirls want to see.   The political and pundit class severely under represents Moms of many.  Lest you think I'm merely advocating for my own small subset within the population, understand Moms of many are used to dealing with many of the crisis's facing America today. 

Consider that Moms of three or more often are called upon to 1) stretch an existing budget to fit more and more people's needs.  They are also experts on explaining, It doesn't matter how much YOU want it, the answer is No.

 2) We spend much of our day resolving property disputes that are sometimes aggressive and unpleasant; that's my hairbrush! No it's NOT!  That's my seat, I was sitting there.  MOMMMMMM!  Expert moms know the answer to this is nobody wins, no one gets the hair brush and no one gets the seat.  

3) We specialize in anonymous clean ups of messes no one else deems tolerable or possible to fix.  You --get those scrubbers out there.  You, stop sweeping sand over the oil and clean the thing up properly or I'll make you stay here until it's done.   You, quit tattle-tailing  on everyone else and get to work cleaning.   No one is getting to do anything else, no BBQ's, no swimming, no parties, no golfing no nothing until this mess is cleaned up.

4) We always have work that can be assigned if people are disagreeable.  Who doesn't think Congress could use an extra chore or two (Peace through work) or at least a time out? Also, we don't let our kids get away with half measures.  You have to read the book before you can write the report.  Congress, you have to read the damn bill before you may start counting your votes.

5) We don't have to know what exactly happened to know what is wrong and who done it; Perfect knowledge of the facts is not necessary for us to act, perfect knowledge of the characters involved, that we have.   I can look at my children in the kitchen and know who snuck my birthday chocolate.  

So, for the good of my country, I humbly suggest the next commission formed by the President be front loaded not with political hacks or professorial theorists but Moms of four or more; practical pragmatist experienced seasoned Moms.  We'll reign in Congress.  We'll sure it's fair.  And as an added bonus, we'll even help Michelle with getting people to eat their fruits and veggies.  We can do it.  

Wonder if I could be appointed the Mother Czar?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Turning 44

Today I'm 44.  Every year I have the good fortune of having my birthday associated with a long weekend or at least a few stray fire crackers.  Every year, I make goals for the coming year.  I don't have a set pattern or number, but this year, I've decided to adopt 44 just for the artistic sense of the thing. Some of them might even happen with a fierce bit of doing.  So here are my birthday wishes for the next 365 days.

44) Exercise every day for 30 minutes doing something!
43) Learn to appreciate wine such that I can have a marginal knowledge of it.
42) Finish learning Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
41) Make jam. (I don't know how).
40) Read a book a month.
39) Plow through the writing of the rest of Helen.
38) Pray for  my family and friends more.
37) Get the back basement the way it is supposed to be.
36) Paint or draw more often.
35) Call my friends and family on a weekly basis. (I can be pretty spacy).
34) Play with my children instead of getting caught up on everything that doesn't matter.
33) See a Whale in the wild.
32) Visit some new states.
31) Catch a ball at a baseball game.
30) Float down a river.
29) Learn to play the guitar.
28) Become a lecture or Eucharistic Minister at mass.
27) Improve my writing/grammar/technical knowledge of the craft.
26) Lose 20 pounds.
25) Get more involved in community doing something. (Don't know what yet).
24) Publish more.
23) Tour the White House (I've never done it).
22) Go to Politics and Prose (bookstore with live readings, I've always wanted to go).
21) See a concert at Wolftrap.
20) Go to the Sugarloaf Craft festival (I've never been).
19) Be able to sink a ball with my break shot (right now it stinks royally).
18) Date night once every two weeks.
17) Make a habit of weekly adoration.
16) Use the good crystal and good china more often because every day is a special occasion.
15) Become syndicated. (Note to self, begin process of applying for syndication doofus).
14) Dance, sing and laugh more.
13) Take kids tubing --winter.
12) Fish this summer at least until I catch a fish. 
11) Send Birthday cards and gifts out on time.
10) Ride a horse.
9) Learn how to do some basic home repair/decor work.
8) Finish a half marathon.
7) Go to an Opera so I can experience it.
6) Learn to walk on my hands. (Not everything I want to do is meaningful).
5) Learn to write with my left hand.  (Not everything I want to learn is important either).
4) Collect my family's stories (Both sides and as many generational ones as possible).
3) Waste less time and want for less time.
2)  Discipline myself about reading news and politics on the internet and about writing, so that it does not trump the rest of life.
1) Tell everyone I love them more often, and show it daily. 

Now I'm going to blow out my candles and eat some cake.  The exercise bit?  I'm going to go out for a date night tonight and we're going to walk three miles. 

Friday, July 2, 2010


When you walk into the kitchen and find five snips three inches long of brown hair, it only takes a survey of the heads about you to know who done it.  Getting them to fess up is another matter. 

Me: This is your hair.  It's your color.  Why didn't you come to me to get the pony tail out?

Child with oddly shaped hair: I didn't cut it.

Fear strikes my heart as I envision another child being perhaps involved in this process.  Me: Then who did?

Child with bad hair cut: My hair isn't cut.

I take the pieces and show how they fit exactly where her ponytail that I fixed for her this morning complete with a bow to prove that her hair is in fact no longer attached to her head. 

Child shuts eyes and screams louder.  Stop bothering me!

I hold up small plastic scissors also left at the scene of the crime.  "These are yours." 

She stomps off into a corner.

Bad cop is not working, switching to good cop.  "Did your ponytail bother you?"

She nods sorrowfully. 

"Why didn't you come see me?"

"I couldn't find you."

Now I was in the living room or my bedroom with the obnoxious task of laundry so it is likely that she simply avoided where I might be for fear of being coopted into service or she simply had a problem and decided to solve it herself --most likely.  

"Why didn't you find your sisters or brothers?  They could have helped you."

"I know. But I had the scissors.  It was fun."

New rule for child: Cutting is only for paper.  New rule for me:  Hide the scissors and she's never getting ponytails again. 

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!