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


            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,

            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


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


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.
            “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.