Friday, December 30, 2011

Keepable Resolutions


            I felt like I spent the second half of 2011 playing “catch up” both on my blog and in my real life. I never managed to write a nostalgic look back at summer in August and I never wrote about going back to school in September. Over the past few weeks I kept finding myself saying, “I can’t believe it’s Christmas. I haven’t even gone back to school shopping”. But now that the New Year is approaching I’m beginning to feel like I’ve gotten the hang of things.
            Being behind schedule isn’t a surprise. Juggling work, children’s activities,  writing, getting dinner on the table, cajoling the kids into doing their homework, exercising, rehearsing, sleeping, and all the other little details is no small feat. But I really feel like I never caught my breath this fall. And that is my main goal for the year—to take time to breath amidst the chaos.
            I’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. The idea of going on a diet or giving up some favorite vice when the days are short and the nights are dark and cold seems like setting yourself up for failure. If my goal is to lose weight, I’d rather do it when the weather makes me want to get outside and run and the local produce is in season. I could probably stand to lose ten pounds or so, but I figure it’s insulation for the winter weather.
            But resolving to stop and breath, to enjoy my kids, to take time to play all of their new games with them, to share some quiet time with my husband, to taste the food I prepare and not just inhale it on my way to the next thing, to be present in the things I do. Those are the resolutions my soul needs me to make. And on those dark and cold January nights, they are achievable.
            My boys and I have the day off today. We’re going to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwreked” with their grandmother. I’m not going to lie—this wouldn’t be my choice of a movie. The charm of the chipmunks is lost on me. But my kids are thrilled to be going. So I’ll enjoy the time with my boys. I’ll bask in the warmth of their manic laughter. We’ll share popcorn and Swedish Fish. On the ride home, they’ll tell me the jokes from the movie over and over. And I’ll listen. I’ll breath in their childhood. Because each day, those boys of mine become less little and I don’t want to miss a moment.

            One more thought as we approach 2012. Thank you, dear readers for taking the time out of your own chaos to read my blog. This morning, I looked at my stats to find I just rolled over 10,000 page views. I can’t tell you how excited I am that people find my writing worthy of their time. I never anticipated “meeting” so many wonderful people on this adventure in blogging. I am truly grateful. May you make your goals, dreams and resolutions for 2012 come true.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Year in Blogging

Mama’s Losin’ It
Happy New Year! I hope you had a lovely holiday. We had a wonderful Christmas this year. As usual the kids had a great time playing with all their new games and Legos and by last night they were playing with cardboard boxes. Next year I’m going to save my money and see if my local appliance store can hook me up with a refrigerator crate. This week I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop with a year in blog posts. Below is a favorite post from each month of 2011. There's a little fiction, a little memoir, and some parenting stuff. If this blog were a sitcom, today's post would be one of those year-end clip shows. Enjoy!

January 7th Red Writing Hood I participated in my very first Red Writing Hood prompt with The Red Dress Club (now known as Write on Edge). Getting involved with this group was probably the single best thing I ever did for my writing. Linking up has introduced me to a wonderful community of writers. We all start our blogs for a variety of reasons—to capture memories of a particular time in our lives, to share ideas, or to practice writing. I never thought blogging would create friendships with people I’ve never met. What a lovely accident.

February 9th Young Love I talked about my introduction to the thorny topic of elementary school romance. Back in my day, little boys thought little girls were icky. Apparently, kids today are a little more aware of the opposite sex.

March 4th Yes Mam and March 5th Wham Bam Thank You Mam This blog wouldn’t be much of a chronicle about the journey into the forties without a talk about my first mammogram and the brief rollercoaster that followed.

April 29th Fighting Words There is a character in my work in progress named Laverne who started out as a fairly minor character. As I was writing in November she made it clear that she was going to have a major impact on the story. Every time she enters a scene something wonderful happens with my writing. This was the first time I introduced Laverne to the world.

May 13th My Midnight Glutton  As I looked through my blog posts, I realize that my best writing comes from moments that are close to my heart. It is particularly true of this short post about a midnight nursing session with my youngest.

June 19th WWDD When I count my blessings (which takes a while since they are so numerous) one of my greatest blessings is my parents. I don’t just love my parents—I like them and respect them as well. This post was a tribute to my Dad on Father’s Day.

July 23rd Cheap Therapy I must confess that the more I blog, the less I exercise. This post reminds me why I need to find time for both.

September 1st The Motorcycle That’s right. I skipped August. I’m putting in two for September instead. August was a rough month for me. September was no picnic either, but it produced much better posts. I couldn’t leave this story from my childhood off the list.

September 11th Loss and Hope The date and the title say it all. My thoughts ten years later.

October 14th Permanent Another page from Michaela’s story, a Write on Edge prompt about tattoos written by an inkless woman.

November 1st NaNoWriMo Moi? I’m including this post, not because it is a great piece of writing, but because it was the beginning of a really great experience for me. In one month I managed to crank a 50,000 word novel. Even if nothing ever comes of those words, it’s a huge accomplishment.

December 9th Auld Lang Syne I introduced a new character named Karen. She really struck a chord with some folks so I hope you’ll be hearing more from her soon.
    

Friday, December 23, 2011

Proof


            Last year I was contacted by a woman who was starting a new website for mothers and wanted me to contribute some of my writing. She was enthusiastic and excited about the project and I was flattered to be a part of it. Unfortunately, she left the project and the website never launched. This is a piece that would have been published after Christmas. I hope you enjoy it.

             A couple of weeks before Christmas, my son James noticed a box wrapped in bright green and pink snowman on the dining room table. “Mommy, who is that present for?” The tag was printed with the words: Isaiah, aged 5, Toy Story toy.
            “It’s for the giving tree program at Daddy’s work. We picked out a present for a little boy who might not get one this year.” I explained.
            “Why wouldn’t Santa give him something?” My older son chimed in. Owen is an eight-years old man of science and has been asking for proof of Santa’s existence lately. He even asked if we could set up a video camera to tape Santa on Christmas Eve. I could see the wheels turning in his head—perhaps this line of questioning could lead him to the truth.
            I fumbled for an answer. It had occurred to me that sooner or later the charitable giving that is so visible at Christmas time doesn’t quite resonate with the image of Santa. Doesn’t he bring toys to all the good girls and boys? Why is he leaving the poor ones off his list? Why are there giving trees at the Y, and school, and church? Why are there Toys for Tots boxes at Toys R Us and coat collection boxes at the mall?
            My husband managed an answer, “Some of these kids don’t have regular homes—they live in shelters or foster homes. So it’s hard for Santa to find them.”
            James was satisfied with the answer and went back to watching Saturday morning cartoons. Owen looked at me like he had more questions but uncharacteristically, he decided not to ask them. I think deep down he knows the truth. But he’s bright enough to know that fantasy can be a lot more fun than reality sometimes.
            Most of the time he has the courtesy to ask his questions out of earshot of his little brother. My employer hosted a holiday party for the children of employees in early December. “Santa” had made an appearance. Owen leaned forward and whispered to me, “I don’t think that is the real Santa. His beard isn’t real.” I looked over at the good sport dressed in a red velvet suit and silky white beard. One of the department managers dresses up as Santa every year. He is a big guy with a wonderful booming, “Ho Ho Ho!” Owen was right though—the beard was a fake. We have been coming to this party for four years and it was the first time Owen had noticed.
“Oh, sure.” I said. “Santa is much too busy to leave the North Pole this time of year. He has lots of helpers to come to the parties and go to the mall so kids can get their pictures taken. Thanks for asking quietly so James didn’t hear.”
Owen gave me a look like we were in on a secret together. So maybe there really is a Santa Claus—it just isn’t this guy.
He still believes strongly enough to have written a letter to Santa this year. Along with the usual assurances to Santa that he has been good and requests for Beyblades, Legos, and Star Wars action figures, he requested that Santa send a picture of himself. On Christmas morning, there was a little gift box resting on the banister that contained a jingle bell like the one Santa gives to the boy in The Polar Express and this letter:

Dear Owen,
            Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I love getting letters from boys and girls. I do not send out pictures of myself because I like to take vacations during the summer and I prefer it if no one recognizes me. You can imagine how many autographs I would have to sign! Who knows, maybe my next vacation will take me to New England. I hear the beaches there are really nice.
Merry Christmas, Owen. Keep up the good work!
                        Your friend,
                        Santa

            Owen was delighted with his letter. More importantly, he was satisfied with Santa’s explanation—for now. I know I only have another year or two of my children believing in Santa Claus. I certainly don’t expect them to be babies forever. I love watching them grow and change with the years. It is fascinating to see toddling turn into walking and babbling turn into talking. Watching belief in Santa fade makes me a little sad though. The word “magic” gets over-used at Christmas time, but I can’t think of a better word to describe children’s reactions to all the wonderful once-a-year details: candy canes, houses lit up like Clark Griswold’s, Christmas music, making gingerbread men with way too much frosting, and of course, Santa Claus. Each year my boys continue to believe in jolly old St. Nick is a Merry Christmas at my house.


            This year, Owen knows there is no Santa and it’s really okay. We had a chat before we were too far into the Christmas season. He’s agreed to keep the secret from his little brother and in some ways he is my co-conspirator. Owen even gets annoyed at kids at school who loudly declare there is no Santa. He may not believe, but he understands how magical it is for those who do.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Short History Lesson & White Chocolate Pumpkin Bread


            Many years ago, NestlĂ© ran a television commercial that dramatized the moment the Toll House (or chocolate chip) cookie was invented. They were first created here in Massachusetts at the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman by a woman named Ruth Wakefield (or as I like to call her, Saint Ruth). In the commercial, Mrs. Wakefield adds broken pieces of a semi-sweet chocolate bar to her cookie dough with the expectation that they will melt into the dough and create chocolate cookies. Much to her surprise and delight, the chocolate chips remained in tact and the chocolate chip cookie was born.
The commercial always bothered my mother who was convinced there was more mythology than fact in NestlĂ©’s dramatization of this historical moment. Like Mrs. Wakefield, my mother has a degree in Home Economics from Framingham State College. A person with her background would have known that simply stirring unmelted chocolate into vanilla cookie dough would never create chocolate cookies. She felt that the invention of the chocolate chip cookie was not merely the happy accident of a distracted housewife, but a deliberate experiment made by someone who understood the art and science of baking.
So why the history lesson? Like a lot of people this week, I’ve been doing a lot of baking in preparation for Christmas and I made an accidental discovery myself. I had baked several loaves of Chocolate Chip Pumpkin bread from the King Arthur Flour Company's recipe for my kids’ teachers. It’s delicious and simple. After the first couple of loaves, I came up with the idea of using white chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet. My husband loves white chocolate and it’s I thought it would be fantastic with the pumpkin and nutmeg flavors. Much to my surprise, the white chocolate chips melted into the batter. There were no noticeable chips, just little pockets of deliciousness. The breads were more like cake and were difficult to get out of the pans but the taste was heavenly. If you try this at home, line the bottoms of your pans with parchment.

White Chocolate Pumpkin Bread


Ingredients

3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
One15-ounce can of pumpkin
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips

Directions

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly  grease two 9" x 5" loaf pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2) In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, pumpkin, and water.

3) Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and vanilla, stirring to combine.

4) Mix in the chips.

5) Spoon the batter into the prepared pans.

6) Bake the bread for 60 to 80 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean; and that same tester inserted about 1/2" into the top of the loaf doesn't encounter any totally unbaked batter.

7) Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack. When it's completely cool, wrap it well in plastic wrap, and store it overnight before serving.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Goodbye Old Friend


I had to read the Facebook message from my college friend at least ten times before I understood what it said. It was only ten words long, but I couldn’t comprehend it and I didn’t want to believe it. But I knew the sender would never make a joke like this.

            Sad to hear that Terry W passed away from a heart attack on 12/1.

            Passed away. At forty two. I’ve lost an old friend and my heart’s a little sore tonight. I can’t picture Terry without a smile on his face. He never said anything negative about anything or anyone. We met in college when he wrote a play called “Vows” that became a student production.  I wanted to be a part of the production team, but there was already a Director, an Assistant Director, a Producer, and an Assistant Producer. Terry and Jim, the Director, said I could be “The Literary Consultant”. Mostly it meant I got to hang out with the cast and crew and get my name on the poster—and that a big deal for me.
            Terry and I got to know each other. We talked about writing a lot. That’s all I did in those days with my writing—talk about it. But he would always ask me if I had been writing and encourage me to actually put pen to paper. Even after he graduated and was in the Army he would send letters asking if I had been writing. I always had an excuse. It’s hard to get fired up about writing for pleasure when you’re an English major and there is so much required writing.
            When I was a sophomore, both of my parents found out they might not have jobs the following September. I was concerned about where my tuition check would come from and considered joining ROTC. Terry was in ROTC and did our country a great service by talking me out of joining. I think he knew I would make Private Benjamin look like General Macarthur. He said to me, “You know there’s no drama club in the Army, Right?”
            Like a lot of friends we fell out of touch after a while. But thanks to Facebook we reconnected a couple of years ago. I was glad to hear he had a job he loved and a wife he adored. He never talked about his wife without calling her “my beautiful wife Marie”.

            I could wish nothing more for my friend to have a life filled with friends, career success, and a wonderful marriage. Except more time.





Friday, December 9, 2011

Fiction Friday: Auld Lang Syne


The doorbell rang. Karen lifted herself off of the threadbare sofa. She hated moving. Her joints reminded her she wasn’t young any more.
Colleen carried a glittery green and white box decorated with a gold bow. No wonder she couldn’t open the door, Karen thought to herself. Usually they exchanged presents from the dollar store. It was probably a prank gift.
“Merry Christmas!”  Colleen shouted.
“Come in,” Karen muttered. “Take off your coat. The food just got here.”
Karen had set the kitchen table with her grandmother’s good china. There was no silver anymore. It had been sold long ago.
The women ate their Christmas Eve feast in silence. Neither had any family nearby. They had become friends out of convenience, living across the hall from each other.
“Time for presents!” Colleen announced.
“Let’s just scrape the plates first,” said Karen. “I don’t want to have to chisel egg foo young off these plates in the morning.”
“I’ll wash them when we’re done. It’s Christmas. We should enjoy ourselves a little. You sit. I’ll make us a drink.” 
“That may be the only way I can put up with your relentless cheerfulness.”
Colleen poured grocery store eggnog and a substantial dash of rum into mugs.
“This ought to take the edge off your grumpiness,” she said.
“Well, it’s a start,” Karen said. “You open your present first.”
Colleen reached into the candy striped gift bag and pulled out three paperback romance novels.
“Oh Karen! They’re wonderful. You spent too much!”
“My turn now. You looked like the cat that swallowed the canary when you brought that box in.”
She lifted the lid from the box. Below a pile of crumpled tissue paper, was an envelope taped to the bottom.
“It’s silly, but I couldn’t resist using that pretty box,” said Colleen.
Karen withdrew two large lottery scratch tickets from the envelope.
“Wow. These are the ten dollar tickets,” she said.
“I know you’d never spend that much on tickets yourself. But they say the payoff is bigger so I thought it would be fun for Christmas.”
Karen pulled out her lucky quarter. She savored scratching off each square.  Karen finished the first worthless ticket and moved on to the next. When she was done, there was no pay off.
“Oh Karen,” Colleen said. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Karen said counting the years of disappointing Christmases she had lived through. She looked out the window at the stars. But she couldn’t see them. The snow began to fall.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood
Today I’m linking up with Write on Edge. This week’s prompt was to write a story that begins with the phrase, “The doorbell rang” and ends with the phrase, “The snow began to fall”. We had a limit of 300 words. I didn’t manage to stick to the word limit, but I did succeed in cutting it down from over 600 words to 419. Karen is another character who has been floating around in my brain for some time. She was inspired by a strange experience I had with a customer. Karen has a lot to say. You’ll be hearing more from her in upcoming stories. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not Yet


            Something disturbing has been happening in my home lately. I am powerless to stop it. My children are getting older. I know you’re going to tell me that it’s inevitable. But why? I’m not getting any older, why do they have to? I know, I know, denial isn’t a river in Egypt.
            My older son has a cell phone. He wants to walk home from the bus stop by himself. He watches “ICarly” because he has a crush on the blond girl. He calls me Mom and not Mommy. He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but works very hard to keep that from his little brother. When I want to kiss him on the top of his head, I have to stand on my toes. How did this happen? It was only ten minutes ago that I snapped this picture to use as a Christmas card:

2005. Really? It seems like ten minutes ago.

            A few weeks back, Owen and I were talking after school. He was throwing his jacket and backpack on the floor neatly hanging up his jacket and backpack and he said to me, “You know what’s a funny word Mom? Puberty.”
            “Did you talk about puberty in health class,” I asked him as I resisted the urge to put my hands over my ears and yell, “La la la I can’t hear you!”
            “No. I just think it’s fun to say… puberty, puberty, puberty, puberty,” he sang to a catchy little tune.
            “Do you know what that word means?” I asked.
            “No.”
            “It’s when your body starts to change from being a kid into an adult.”
            “Oh,” he said, clearly understanding the gravity of such a transition. “I guess I shouldn’t sing that song in school any more.”
           
I remember having a conversation with my mother when I was a little girl. I told her that I liked kittens, but I didn’t like full grown cats. She said something along the lines of, “You wouldn’t want to stay a baby forever, would you?” She was right of course. And of course I don’t want my kids to stay kids forever. I want them to have jobs they love and go to work on time. I want them to vote and do the right thing when nobody is looking. I want them to grow up and have families of their own.

            But not yet.

My "babies" 2011


Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Fiction: Circling the Drain

            The swirling water going down the drain was purple, not brown as I expected. “Please God,” I whispered, “Don’t let me go from Marilyn Monroe to Violet Beauregard.”  When I looked in the mirror I saw that my hair was now a dull brown. It might be my natural color. I’ve been “check me out” platinum for so long I can’t remember. I don’t want to be checked out for a while. I just want to blend in.
Maybe Joey won’t follow me. Maybe he’ll just move one of his little chippies in for a while. She can play house with him and I’ll be safe. Maybe he’ll be relieved that I didn’t clean out the bank accounts and leave me alone.
            I put up with his shit for six years and Friday was it—the chippy that broke wifey’s back. I demanded to know where he was and what he was doing. I wasn’t going to let him buy me off with another trinket. “Who the hell do you think you are?” he asked before he hit me. Joey didn’t stick around long enough to hear the answer. He just left me on the floor. The sting on my face smelled like whiskey and cheap women.
            I put up with him sleeping around and coming home late. I got used to the nice house and the fancy car and the housekeeper. I liked getting my nails done and working out and shopping. But when I stood up and looked at my face—the back of his hand imprinted on my cheek I realized I was no better than one of his whores. I looked the other way while he screwed strippers so I could drive a nice car and live in a big house.
            I traded in all of his shiny tokens of apology for a handful of cash. I left the Lexus at the pawn shop and took a cab to the train station. I paid for a ticket to Chicago with my credit card. Then I walked four miles to the bus station and paid cash for a Grey Hound headed South. If he tries to follow me it won’t be easy.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood
  
This week we’d like you to write a piece about hair. It can be about you or one of your characters where hair figures prominently. Don’t just describe it. Use it as a vehicle to tell us something about your character, a situation, you and your life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December First

            I’ve been involved with theatre since I was in the sixth grade. I turned 39 for the second time this year, so that’s a lot of plays. The only thing that every single one of those shows have in common is the feeling you get when it’s over. I call it post show blues—sort of post partum depression for actors and techies. No matter how good or bad a show is, no matter how difficult your director or fellow actors were, no matter how many challenges an actor faces in a production, he or she ends up being a hot mess the morning after a show closes. Some times we don’t even wait until the next morning. When I directed The Secret Garden last spring, I was a tower of Jell-O when my actors took their curtain call on our closing performance. The better the experience, the bluer the blues.
            I wondered if I would have the same feeling when I completed NaNoWriMo this week. I’m happy to say that this doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe part of it is that theatre is a collaboration of many people that we miss when a show is over. While I have gotten to know some of my NaNoWriMo participants, most of the people I collaborated with on this product are a product of my imagination. And they’re still tumbling around my brain. Besides, I feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Even if the material I’ve written is far from being the great American novel. It is a complete story from beginning to end. It needs a lot of work. There are some major inconsistencies that must be dealt with. Most of the story takes place in the fall—except when characters are doing spring planting and making lambs out of cotton balls at preschool. Ahem. And of course, several of the characters changed their names midstream—sneaky bunch!
            In Stephen King’s marvelous book On Writing, he recommends letting a  manuscript sit for eight weeks before starting in on the editing process. All I can say is, Mr. King must have a much greater sense of self-control than I do. I’m itching to take a machete to my manuscript—or maybe just a red pencil. But I will try to let my novel rest for at least a couple of weeks. For now, I’ll catch up on my blog reading and writing, memorize my lines for The Odd Couple, and get my house ready for Christmas. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Soundtrack



This week at Write on Edge, we were challenged to imagine our novel being made into a movie and to envision the song that would be playing during a pivotal scene of the movie. So here is a little snippet from my NaNoWriMo work in progress along with U2’s song “Walk On”. This scene would follow a piece I published  on the blog in June. You can read it here.

An Excerpt from Lost and Found
Michaela came to the door wearing pajama pants and a tank top with no bra. Her pony tail was coming undone. She looked sleepy and vulnerable.   
“Adam,” she said. “I’m sorry. I was such a jerk yesterday.”
            “You were?”
            “I was. I tried to call you after I cooled off but you didn’t answer. Then Brian got sick at school and Paige was sick by the time she got home as well. That’s why I look like this. It was coming out of both ends all night. I’m sorry. That’s gross. Too much information. They’re still sleeping. They never sleep this late.  Anyway, I’m sorry. You were just doing something nice for me and I was a bitch.”
            She finally took a breath.
            “Michaela?”
            “Yes.”
            “I brought you coffee.”
            “God bless you Adam,” she said with a laugh.
            “Can I come in?”
            “Of course.”
            The house smelled like disinfectant and there were dishes piled in the sink. Empty Gatorade containers and saltine crumbs littered the kitchen table
            “I need to apologize too,” I said.
            “No you don’t. You were just being nice.”
            “I’m not apologizing for mowing the lawn. I’m apologizing for overreacting and storming off. I wrecked my last relationship by buying things for my girlfriend instead of showing her I cared. I vowed I wouldn’t make same mistake again. So after the other night I wanted to do something for you to show you how I felt. Then it didn’t go the way I planned and I didn’t handle it well. I’m sorry for that.”  
            “Adam,” she said. “Peter was my first love. He was my best friend. I didn’t know how to be a parent without him. I thought I wouldn’t survive his death. It took me a year to just begin to function like a normal person. Being in a relationship with someone new never crossed my mind. And now I think about you at random times of the day and it distracts me from everything else. I’m falling for you and it scares me as much as it excites me. I know I’m making mistakes.”
            I kissed her gently on the lips.
            “You’re doing just fine.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

RemembeRED: Early


It isn’t a place on a map;
it’s a place in time.

It is dark at five AM;
my family is still asleep

It’s too cold to get out of my bed,
but I do anyway.

There is coffee in my quiet place,
and room for my thoughts to wander.

The old cat keeps me company,
he nudges my hands.

Sometimes the words come hard and fast;
sometimes they are slow and labored.

But they are mine;
in my quiet place.



Write on Edge: RemembeREDThis week's RemembeRED prompt from Write on Edge was to write "Where is your quiet place? What does it look like? What happens there?" My quiet place isn't a place at all. It's the early morning hours I spend with my cat and my laptop. I've been writing so many words lately for NaNoWriMo that today's writing came out as a poem. At least I think that's what it is. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NaNoWriMo Week Three: Halfway There!


            It’s official. I’ve made it past the first half of my National Novel Writing Month challenge. Sometime early this week I turned the half-way mark in my 50,000 word novel. If I don’t write one more word, this will be a huge accomplishment for me. I’ve never written anything longer than a twenty page term paper in college. And even that was double spaced with slightly larger than average font size.
            Now that I’ve gotten this far, I am even more inspired to write. I’m still getting up early in the mornings to write—yesterday I actually woke two minutes before my alarm went off at 5:15. I want to write—all the time. I steal moments here and there. Yesterday, I wrote before the kids were awake, before my shift started,  and on my 30 minute lunch break. I planned to close my eyes in the parking lot at James’ school while I waited for the bell to ring. Car pick up is not unlike the 8th circle of hell if you don’t arrive half an hour before school gets out. I had pounded out enough words that day. My wrists were sore and my eyes were dry. It was time for a break. Then, without thinking about it I pulled out my computer and skipped the nap. I’m obsessed.
            Is it pure literary bliss? No. Plenty of what I’m writing is  pure 100% grade A garbage. Fortunately there are bright spots that I really like. I was flipping through earlier parts of the book to try to remind myself what I named one of the minor characters and I came across a little jewel. The scene is in a bar. Michaela’s close circle of friends have arranged for a babysitter and “kidnapped” her so she can have a night out. At the bar, she sees Adam who she met for the first time earlier that day when he found and returned her lost purse. Michaela’s friend Laverne says this to her:

“You should ask the waitress to send him a beer. Beer is one of the best ways to a man’s heart—beer, bacon and sex. And do it quick. You know that man isn’t sticking around to watch karaoke.”

            Laverne is one of the minor characters in the book. But I love writing her. She is a great friend to Michaela. She has plenty of baggage, but instead of letting it drag her down, it moves her to help her friends with their burdens. Laverne’s language is colorful and honest. When I’m writing her dialogue, my fingers fly on the key board. She’s going to need her own story told at some point.
            Several of the characters have had their names changed. Peter, Michaela’s late husband started off as Barry. Michaela’s children went from Johnny and Brianna to Brian and Paige. But I chose the name Laverne almost like a place marker. I had no intention of keeping it but the more I write her the more she becomes Laverne.
            I’ve thrown a little curve into my writing schedule this week. While attending a local production of Lend Me a Tenor, a friend told me the group was still in need of two actresses for their upcoming production of The Odd Couple. I agreed to show up on Tuesday night and read for the part. I got the part of Cecily Pigeon—a flighty English Divorcee and one of only two female characters in the play. I’m really excited to get back on stage. I haven’t been in a play since the kids were born and it will be interesting to see how I balance it with NaNoWriMo. How hard could it be? Right?



Friday, November 11, 2011

Write on Edge: Dialogue from Lost and Found

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

I'm linking up with my friends at Write on Edge who challenged us this week to "Use surroundings, body language, visual cues and blocking, in addition to the spoken words, show us who they are and what their relationship is without coming out and telling us!" 
 So here is a little snippet from my current work in progress for NaNoWriMo. You can read more of the story by clicking here. I broke some NaNoWriMo "rules" by going back and editing this section. It is a conversation between my main character Michaela and her five year old daughter Paige. By the way, the child's name used to be Brianna. The more I've been writing, the more characters are telling me who they are and what they should be named. I am deeply grateful for the global replace function on my computer.

An Excerpt from Lost and Found

The kindergarteners have been trained to stand with their backs to the “waiting wall” until their adult takes them by the hand. They are a mosaic of super hero lunch boxes, princess back packs, and light up shoes. Paige anxiously scans the forest of grown ups. When her root beer colored eyes finally land on me she races forward.
“Mommy! Mommy!” she yells. I look at the teacher waiting for the reprimand than never comes. I’ve heard Mrs. Jones say “Backs to the wall! Wait for mum or dad to take your hand”  countless times. She goes easy on us. I appreciate the kindness but Paige has to learn to follow the rules sooner or later.
“I missed you too,” I tell Paige. “But you have to stay at the wall until I take your hand.”
“Okay Mommy. I made a wam!” she says.
“A what?”
“A wam! For Easter.”
“Oh! A lamb?”
“Yes. It has fuzzy cotton balls on it. Can I show you?”
“Sure baby. You can show me in the car. Can you buckle yourself?”
“Uh huh!”
She fumbles with the buckle. I remind myself to be patient and let her do it herself. As I get in to my own seat I noticed the other parents giving envelopes to the school’s Director. It’s the first Friday of the month and I’d completely forgotten that tuition is due.
“I’ll be right back honey,” I tell Paige. I walk over to the Director.
“Excuse me, Mrs. O’Connell. I’m so sorry. I forgot that today is tuition day. I’ll have it for you on Monday.”
“Oh, don’t worry Mrs. Russell. I know you have a lot on your mind.” she says.
“Thanks. Have a great weekend Mrs. O’Connell.”
            “You too Mrs. Russell.”
My face feels hot. She’s right of course. But every parent has a lot on her mind. We were never late with bills when Peter was alive. I’m angry with myself but I try to put it out of my head.
I don’t remember everything. But we could be doing worse. In the back seat, Paige is singing to her lamb and making it dance. She has shoes on her feet, clean clothes on her back and a smile on her face.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo Week 2 Update: Inspiration


            It’s week two of NaNoWriMo. So far so good. The kids have been getting fed regularly, they have clean clothes on their backs and I have not yet begun to question my sanity. I suspect that will come in week three. I been getting up between five and six am each day to write. Several days I’ve toted my trusty lap top along and written while waiting in the car pick up line at my son’s school. I’ve been referring to my CR-V as my “mobile writing studio”. It has become just as messy as the room I work in at home.
By Thursday afternoon last week, keeping up with my own ambitions was beginning to catch up with me. I set the alarm on my phone and grabbed a twenty minute nap in the elementary school parking lot instead of writing. So now all the other moms think I drink. Silly ladies. I only drink AFTER I’ve gotten my writing done.
Fortunately I had a big dose of inspiration Thursday night. Not an idea about what to write next, but hanging out with people who are living their dreams. A friend from college is playing Daniela in the touring company of the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights. I can’t describe the thrill of seeing someone I’ve shared a stage with acting “for real”. She’s making a living doing what I do for fun. When I was in my twenties I would have been green with envy. Now I watched that show with a feeling of joy and pride. It’s good to be a grown-up.
There was inspiration all around me Thursday night. Not only for my friend living her theatrical dream, but for another friend who went with me to the show. She has cast her lot in the field of academia and is succeeding as well. Having finished her doctorate, she’s not only working in the field she loves, now she’s being promoted. She said, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do”. What could be better than that?
I got to bed around 1:00 Thursday night certain I’d never get up when my alarm went off at 5:00. I was wrong. I got out of bed and banged out another 900 words before the kids woke up. They may not be the greatest words, but I pushed through. I figure I can make it look pretty later. Right now, I just need to keep on writing.
I got another dose of inspiration on Saturday. I had the chance to meet up with more college friends. This time at a signing for Unleashed by Sara Humphreys another friend from school. Unleashed is the first in the series of five books about a secret society of shape shifters. That’s right, she has a five book deal for this series, plus a deal for an additional series about vampires. I can’t complain about not having time to write when I see what Sara has accomplished. She has twice as many sons as I do and runs her own business! No time to write? Really Vic? It’s time to make time.
          By Sunday I had passed the 10,000 word mark. I was thrilled. I had originally planned to reward myself with one of these when I reached 10k:

I’ve wanted a ceramic travel mug for  a while because I am a sometime coffee drinker and a sometime tea drinker. The flavor never completely washes out of plastic lined travel mugs. My coffee tastes like tea and my tea tastes like coffee. When I saw this on the NaNoWriMo website, I knew it was mine. But I’ve decided to set the bar higher. When I get to the half-way point, I’ll place my order. Besides, I just discovered they’re out of stock for now. Apparently, I’m not the only writer with a caffeine addiction. Who knew?
Today is day eight and as of this morning I’ve written over 14,000 words. I’ve never written this many words in a single piece before. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment and I’m still fired-up to keep going. Daily I battle with the urge to go back and fix things and make changes. Last week I mentioned the advice my friend Nikki gave me about getting 2000 words written a day in the first week. It’s definitely working out well for me. Her second piece of advice was to add Ninjas when things begin to slow down in the story. I foresee Ninjas in the future for Michaela and Adam. Not literal ninjas, of course. But the chick-lit equivalent of ninjas—a fight, a betrayal, perhaps a car crash. It’s week two. Time to shake things up.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update and Post Halloween Wrap Up



            Happy day after Halloween! If you’re like me there is all kinds of stray candy calling your name. Oh, go ahead indulge a little. We’re heading into bulky sweater season anyway. Who’s going to know?  The kids slept in this morning—a rare treat! I was up before the sun and had the chance to write undisturbed for an hour or so. I kicked off my first day of NaNoWriMo with 1,900 words and I’m hoping to knock out a few more before the day is over. A former classmate gave me the advice to try to accomplish high word counts the first week or two so there is a chance to slack when I start to tire out later in the month. Seems like sound advice and I’m taking it. Thanks Nikki!
            We had a snowstorm the night before Halloween. A lot of communities around here are without power. We were spared the worst of the weather but there was enough snow for the boys to make snowmen and a snow jack-o-lantern on Sunday.
            But by Monday there wasn’t much left and the kids were ready to hit the town. The boys were ninjas—not just any ninjas but Kai and Jay from the Lego Ninjago series. At the last minute they wanted my husband Dan to accompany them trick or treating—in costume. Fortunately my husband used to assist in a kids karate class at the Y. So he wore his gi plus a black hoodie and my running balaclava—instant ninja. Or should I say Instant Ninjago Cole?


            All this dressing up has me nostalgic for costumes from Halloween past.  So please bear with me as I walk down memory lane.

2010 Photographic evidence that I am the world's best sport.
2009 Clone Commander Cody...

...and his little brother the monkey. I never managed to get the boys in the same picture.


2008 I drove myself crazy trying to make a dragon costume, then found this at KMart for $14.00. We can't all be Martha Stewart.

2007 Optimus Prime and my little Cowboy.

2006 Batman & Robin. Have you ever seen such cute super heroes?

2005 One of my favorites. Every store sold out of Yoda costumes. I made this one out of a piece of green polar fleece and a big white hoodie.

2004 First Halloween as brothers.



2003 Baby bear and Papa bear.



2002 No costume. I remember taking this picture thinking I ought to get him a costume for his first Halloween. But I'm too frugal and I can't imagine he could have gotten any cuter.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: "Unleashed" by Sara Humphreys


            In her debut novel, Unleashed, paranormal romance author Sara Humphreys introduces us to the world of the Amoveo. The Amoveo are an ancient race of telepathic, dream-walking shape shifters. Unleashed is the first in a series of five books and begins with the story of Samantha Logan who is unaware that she is one of these fantastic beings. We meet Samantha just as she is rudely awakened from a vividly erotic dream. “Talk about a buzz kill,” she said to the empty room. “Typical. I can’t even get good sex in my dreams.” Her character is instantly likeable and relatable. You’ll want to meet Samantha for martinis and tell her she’ll meet a great guy some day. She’s had her share of disappointments in life and now she’s ready to make a change.
Discouraged by her lack of success in the New York art scene, Samantha moves back to her childhood home by the sea with her grandmother, Nonie. There she meets her handsome and mysterious neighbor Malcolm. As their interest in one another grows, we (and Samantha) learn about the Amoveo. Samantha’s father was a shape shifter who fell in love with a human. Such a thing was unknown in the Amoveo world. Each Amoveo has one true soul mate. If an Amoveo does not find and mate with his soul mate, his powers weaken and he eventually dies. Samantha is the first of her kind, an Amoveo born to a human mother.
Malcolm helps Samantha realize her true identity, not only that she is a powerful Amoveo, but also that she and Malcolm are soul mates. Reading about Malcolm’s ability to touch Samantha's mind as well as her body will keep you warm this winter. But there is more to romance in Unleashed. There is suspense, mystery and danger as well.
The Amoveo have long been hunted by the Caedo who believe them to be an abomination. When the Caedo learn of the existence of an Amoveo-human hybrid they put Samantha in their sites. Malcolm must act swiftly to save Samantha from a malignant fanatic you will love to hate. Plot twists abound in the ending of Unleashed and you will be hanging on every word.
Intrigued? Unleashed is available from Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com Sara will be signing is currently on tour promoting Unleashed. She’ll be at the Barnes and Noble in Walpole, MA on November 5th from 1:00-3:00. Check out her website for additional dates. If you find yourself hooked on The Amoveo, you won't have long to wait. Book two, Untouched will be available in April, 2012.
 Full disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this review. However, Sara and I attended Marist College together and shared the stage in a number of theatrical productions. There may even have been a few beers consumed in our past.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NaNoWriMo, Moi?

 
            Thursday night after a couple of glasses of wine some serious consideration, I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo. I have pledged to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. That’s a little over 1,600 words per day. I wrote a post on Facebook questioning my sanity as I considered signing up and an old friend replied, “Not insane. Projects without deadlines never get finished. Do it.”  That sounded like wisdom to me.
I’ve had these characters tumbling around in my brain for quite some time now. I know how they meet. I know their flaws and their strengths. But I haven’t given them the time to tell their story. When signing up for NaNoWriMo, there is a section to tell a little something about the novel you’ll be writing. One of the boxes to fill in was genre. I realized I’m not sure if this book will be chick lit, romance, or literary fiction. The last one is a bit of a long shot, I’ll admit.
Between now and November first I have a lot of preparation to do. I’m thinking of this as a triathlon for my mind and I have about ten days to train. So here’s my training plan:

1.) Cleaning out this rats’ nest I call a workroom. It used to be the nursery (note the soothing blue and yellow paint). Now it’s my workroom, craft room, store room, and a place where stuff that has no home collects. It’s time to throw some stuff away!

2.) I’ll be scaling back on my blogging. I’ve been in a rut lately and the posts I’ve written haven’t been on par with some of my earlier entries like Mankie and this Sleepy Time. I’m not giving up blogging entirely. I’ll be publishing NaNoWriMo updates and occasional blog posts. Blogging has motivated me to write down some wonderful moments about boys as well as some of my own childhood memories. So I won’t stop entirely, but I won’t feel compelled to post something just because I haven’t done it in a while. If I don’t have anything to say, I won’t scrounge for something.

3.) NaNoWriMo has published Thirty Question Character Survey. I’ll be filling these in over the coming days to help flesh out my characters.

4.) This novel-writing thing is going to require me to spend a lot of time sitting on my butt. If I’m not careful, I’m going to pack on a ton while pounding away on my laptop. If I’m going to do this, I want to look triumphant not mountainous when I’m finished. Besides, my best ideas usually come when I’m running or doing yoga. I intend to keep get back to exercising regularly.

5.) I’m stocking up on coffee and coffee filters. I can’t risk skipping a day of writing simply because there is no java in the house.

6.) Finally, I’m going to set up a system for backing up my writing regularly. Losing thousands of words to a computer crash would definitely send me over the edge.

            So that’s my plan. How about you? Have you ever considered NaNoWriMo? Are you doing it this year? Any preparations? If you’ve participated, do you have any advice?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Hanging in There

Over the weekend, we went to a Pumpkin Fest sponsored by the local Cub Scout Chapter. One of the highlights of the day was a rock-climbing wall. I signed up my boys for scouting for all of the things they could learn and experience. I've learned something along the way myself. My kids are capable of so much and sometimes the best thing I can do is stay out of their way and let them do it.


Monday, October 17, 2011

What Did One Casket Say to the Other?

...Is that you coffin?
 
            This morning the boys and ate breakfast while I worked on my “to do” list for Thursday. Thursday is my day off this week and therefore my day to get anything done without the kids. Then I checked the calendar and realized today was my day off. I was glad to discover that before trying to punch in at work.
            Unfortunately the first thing on my to do list was to get over to the lab to have my annual blood work done. I was already halfway through my oatmeal and the blood work requires fasting. Alas, the blood work would have to wait until my next day off. I’ve already put it off for a month so another week shouldn’t matter too much.
            So I got dressed, got the boys on the bus and set off to cross a few things off my to do list. I went to the post office, returned some sweatpants to Wal-Mart, called the heating company to schedule a boiler clean out and brought our books back to the library—all by 10:30. I was feeling very virtuous and planning my next move over a cup of coffee. Writing? Nah, feeling too restless. Housework? I wasn’t feeling that virtuous. I could color my hair. No, I decided. What if the school nurse calls? I didn’t want to be elbow-deep in toxic chemicals and needing to run out of the house. So I decided to head to the Sprint store to look into upgrading my phone. I’ve been coveting an IPhone and I’m thinking of passing my old phone along to my son. After that, I’d hit the grocery store. I had just enough time to conquer both tasks before I needed to get in the horrible car pick-up line at James’ school.
            And then the phone rang. Guess who it was. Yup. The school nurse. James has been battling a mysterious cough at school. He went through it last year in December and we finally were able to get it under control with antihistimines and the occasional inhaler. This year he’s on Zyrtec and Flonase every morning. When he has an episode at school he gets Albuterol. They try breathing exercises and sips of water and cough drops. Then they call me.
            Last week I left a training class on Wednesday to pick him up at school. I took him home and made him Ramen Noodles. He hardly coughed after that. I kept him home on Thursday. It was my day off. He didn’t cough. At all. I sent him to school on Friday. The nurse called. There were only two hours left in the day. We decided to send him back to class. He was lasted for the rest of the day.
            So today when she called, his class had just gone into lunch. We decided to send him into lunch. I skipped the Sprint store and picked up groceries. If she called, I’d have the more urgent errand done. She called just as I was bringing the groceries into the house. He finished lunch but didn’t stop coughing.
            During my phone call with the nurse, three people came into the nurse’s office to offer him water. “As if I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. Apparently the staff seem to think she and I are neglecting him. When I picked him up I could feel the eyes on me. There’s the mother who doesn’t drop everything to bring her sick kid home. Even the principal was in the office listening to him cough. He’s attracting a lot of attention. He likes attention. But he isn’t sick. He doesn’t have a virus. He doesn’t need antibiotics. He isn’t asthmatic. At home and outside he is completely cough-free. He spent the weekend playing soccer and running around the woods with Cub Scouts. He even helped me clean on Sunday—and I have a serious dust issue at my house. Something at that school is making him cough.
            Is it possible he’s faking? Maybe. If so, he’s an enormously dedicated and gifted actor. It has to be unpleasant coughing for hours—even if it’s fake. And this nurse is no rookie—I’m sure she can spot a kid who just wants to go home a mile away.
            And what if he is faking? What then? What does that mean? Why is he doing it? He swears it’s real and it certainly sounds real. He isn’t allowed to go to Cub Scouts or soccer practice if he doesn’t spend the day in school. I make him do his homework and then it’s reading or some other “quiet” activity. No video games, no computer, and very little television (sometimes I let him watch it just to preserve my sanity). If we don’t find a solution, I’m going to have him change schools. I hate to do it. He loves his school and his teacher is fantastic. His older brother goes to a different elementary school across town where his TAG program is housed. They also have traditional classrooms and I could send him there. The building is newer. Maybe their air-carrying system is better. I’ve mentioned this as a possible solution and he didn’t look happy. If he is faking, maybe this subtle threat will help. Maybe that makes me a horrible mother, but I’m getting desperate. Now I’m going to go color my hair. I think I earned a few more gray hairs silver highlights this week.