Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

100 Word Song: Me Too

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
            I’m linking up with The 100 Word Song Prompt over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. Our musical inspiration for the week was Lacuna Coil’s “Within Me”.  The song opens with the line, “Something about you/That makes me feel bad/I wasn't there when a thin line/Destroyed your soul”. It was such a perfect fit into Karen’s story, there were a number of moments in her life I could have written about. But I decided to pick up where I left off in the last few posts. If you’d like to read more of Karen, click here.

Me Too

            Karen tucked the woolen afghan around her mother’s legs. “I’ll get you a cup of tea,” she said. Peggy nodded dimly. She hadn’t spoken since she came home.  Karen tried to be upbeat. Tried not to ask questions. The doctors said Peggy would talk about it when she was ready. If she was ready.
            “I’m ready to talk about it,” Karen whispered, putting the teapot down a little too hard. “Was it an accident? Were you trying to hurt yourself? We’re both a little broken inside.”
            She wiped the tears that streamed down her face and finished making the tea.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Waking Up

            For the first time in eighteen years, Karen didn’t wake up in the brass bed with the pink chenille bedspread. She turned her head to see Henry’s sleeping face. His head rested on the arm of the worn blue velvet sofa. She didn’t want to disturb him, but needed to use the bathroom.
            Karen slipped out of his arms without disturbing him. “You don’t look any different this morning,” she said to her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Well, what did you expect? A red A to appear on your chest?”  She had been unsure what to do the night before, but instinct guided her body. In the light of the morning she had nothing to direct her.
Henry was still asleep when Karen went back into the living room. She sat in her grandmother’s maple rocker and looked around the room. The furniture was dated and the lace curtains were hopelessly out of fashion. At least she and Peggy kept it clean.
Karen was afraid of the moment he woke. What if he saw her as the girl he found crying in a phone booth outside the hospital? What if he only saw the girl so desperate for comfort she begged him to take her? What if he saw the tired furnishings of poor white trash family?
Henry stirred, stretched, and nearly fell off the narrow sofa. Karen rushed over and knelt at his side.
“I was afraid to wake up,” he said. “I thought I was dreaming.”

I’m linking up with Write on Edge. This week’s prompt was to “use setting to deepen the development of your story.  You can use it to give insight into a character or a conflict or simply to evoke an emotional mood from your reader.” This picks up where I last left Karen. You can read that segment here. My complete series about Karen can be found here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Homework Momster

Mama’s Losin’ It

Today I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. The prompt, “What about school do you miss the least?” might have meant for us to discuss what we didn’t miss from our own school days. But what came to mind for me (in large block letters) was what I won’t miss when my kids are done with school in June.

            Monday through Thursday from 4:00 to 5:00 are the worst four hours of the week. We stagger into the house tired and hungry from work and school. There is nothing more I want than to make a cup of tea for myself and a snack for the boys. I want to put my feet up and hear about their day. I want to listen while Owen gets outraged about the Cherokee being forced off their land. I want James to tell me about the reptile guy who came to the school today.
            But there isn’t time. There is too much homework. They’ve been in school since 9:00 and they each have at least another hour of work ahead of them. For a while I tried sending them outside to run off some of their energy before they settle down. I worry that they don’t get enough time outdoors and it’s usually dark by the time homework is finished. Instead of being more focused and relaxed they would run back inside every fifteen minutes to see if their time was up. They just want the homework over with. They know that getting to play beforehand just puts off the inevitable. Homework stretches beyond the dinner hour if they play first. From their perspective, it makes bedtime come that much sooner.
            So while they’re doing their homework, I’m usually emptying the dishwasher and trying to get dinner made. They ask me questions about homework, which I do my best to answer. Sometimes they get distracted and tell me about something that happened in school. I want to hear, but I want them to focus on their work so they’ll get it over with. I tell them to tell me while we’re eating dinner. They’ll bicker with each other; I’ll get irritable and tell them to get back to work. Dinner takes twice as long as it should to make because I spend so much time telling them to stay focused.
Of course they aren’t the only ones who are distracted. Most days we need to be somewhere right after dinner—Cub Scouts, soccer, baseball, rehearsal. So I’m keeping my eye on the clock while I’m juggling their questions and my other tasks. I hate the person I become when my kids do homework. She’s short tempered and mean. She doesn’t have time to listen to the things her kids need to tell her. My fondest wish for this summer is to replace the phrases “hurry up” and “stay focused” with “tell me more about that” and “slow down Pal, we’re in no hurry.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Lego Command Center

            Way back during April vacation, my sons and I took on an enormous task. It was a task that required ingenuity, patience, and stamina. We organized the Legos. Toys come and go, but the obsession with Legos never dies. Over the years, I had tried a number of bins, boxes, and shelves but nothing seemed to work for long. Legos would be scattered all over the place. The kids wouldn’t want to clean up because they hated the idea of disrupting a battle or scene they were creating. I needed to get the boys input (and labor). The ideal system would be one that I would help them devise, but they would maintain.
Image obtained from Ikea's website.
            So I compared various storage systems at my local Ikea*. I decided to use their Antonius system and add a Vika tabletop to it. I struck gold when I went shopping for my pieces. I found the Antonius frames in the clearance section for two dollars apiece. Normally they go for about ten dollars. It addition to being reasonably priced, the Antonius frames have leveling screws. Our play area is a little pitched, so anything with wheels will roll off a table. Being able to level the play area was a bonus.
Less fun than playing, more fun than homework.
The boys organized the Legos themselves.  They chose to organize by color, rather than type (such as Star Wars or Lego City) since they usually build a set once and then turn it into something else later. They also created separate spaces for specialty pieces like Lego Ninjago, Hero Factory/Bionicle, and mini figures. There is even a place to store the directions!
           The Antonius system allows you to use plastic drawers in two sizes as well as wire baskets. I used mostly the six-inch tall drawers ($8.00 each) because they were shallow enough for the kids to find individual pieces and large enough to store creations they had built. If you’ve spent all morning building the coolest space station in the world, you don’t want to take it apart to put it away. For smaller items, we used wire baskets ($2.50) with divided inserts ($3.00).
Projects like this make me feel like MacGyver.
            The Vika able top ($26.00) is predrilled with holes to attach legs. I was able to fit screw eyes into the holes and attach the table top to the frames with zip ties. The tabletop is just the right height for both boys to play while standing. Because this is a “dedicated” Lego play space, they can leave their projects set up when they’re called away for dinner, homework or any other boring thing a mother can think of.
Our Lego Command Center has been in use for over a month. Because the boys did much of the work themselves, they've  done an excellent job maintaining it. As for me, I’m just thrilled to cut down on the number of times I’ve stepped on Legos while barefoot.

This baby can hold approximately 84 gallons of Legos!

            In accordance with FTC regulation, I am required to disclose that I work for Ikea. However, I am posting this as a private person and was in no way compensated for writing this post.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

100 Word Song: Revolution

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

            Today I’m adding my one hundred words to the fun over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. This week’s inspiration was provided by the classic Beatles song “Revolution”. This story picks up where I last left off with Karen. If you missed it, check it out here.


            “Thank you again Henry.”
            “Please stop Karen,” he whispered as he brushed the damp curls out of her eyes. “I would do anything for you.”
            She leaned her head on his chest.
            “I need you to do something for me though,” he said.
            She pulled away, suddenly wary.
            “Get dressed,” he said. “It isn’t easy to be a gentleman with only a thin cotton bathrobe separating us.”
            Sister Mary Michael’s lectures about virtue and her mother’s dire warnings about men thundered in her ears. Without looking away from Henry, Karen stepped back and let her robe fall to the floor.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Phone Call

            Karen stumbled down the white tiled hallway. The smell of disinfectant burned her eyes. She opened the glass doors and stepped into the fresh air. It had been just after sunset when Karen brought her mother to the hospital. Now she squinted in the noontime glare.
            Last night’s clothes clung to her body. Feeling wrinkled and stale, she craved sinking into a bath. But first she had to get home. She had walked miles every day for her entire life. Today the walk home was too much. Karen found a bench and buried her face in her hands, too exhausted to cry. Peggy was going to be okay, but Karen couldn’t get the image out of her mind of her mother, ghostly white, lying on the bathroom floor.
            Karen took a deep breath to muster the strength to walk home when she noticed the telephone booth across the street. Henry would help her. All she had to do was call. But asking for help was not something Karen did.
            She looked down the street. It was probably two miles to her house and only fifty yards to the phone booth. More than a ride home, she needed a friend. She swallowed her pride, forced it down like bitter medicine and crossed the street.
            It took Henry’s fraternity brothers a few minutes to find him.
            “Henry, it’s me. It’s Karen.”
            “Karen, what’s wrong? You never call.”
            “I had to take Mum to the hospital last night. I need…”
            She trailed off, not knowing how to ask for what she needed. How could she tell him what she needed, when she didn’t know herself?
            “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I need.”
            “I’ll be there in ten minutes. We’ll figure it out.”
            “Thank you.”
            Karen sank to the bottom of the phone booth. She hadn’t cried when her dad left town. She hadn’t cried when her friends all left for college and she took a job waiting tables in a greasy diner. She hadn’t cried when her dreams of secretarial school began to fade when Mum started drinking. She hadn’t cried when she begged Mr. Weitz to call an ambulance for Peggy. Now years of disappointment tumbled down her face.
            “Please God,” she whispered. “This is as much as I can take.”

            For this week’s prompt from Write on Edge, we were asked to write a story or memoir which relates to choices and/or consequences. I found myself a little stymied by this week’s prompt, maybe because most of Karen’s life is about choices and consequences so I didn’t know where to begin. If you’re interested in reading more about Karen, click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

100 Word Song: The Space Between

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
            I’m linking up with the 100 Word Song Prompt over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog today. Our muse for this week was Tracey Chapman with her song Telling Stories. This picks up where I left off after the story "City of Champions". You can find that, and more of Karen's history here.

The Space Between
            “Well that didn’t go too badly,” Henry said.
            “Your mother was in tears before they served dessert. How can you say that didn’t go badly?” Karen asked.
            “She wasn’t crying over anything you or I did. So, I’d have to say it was a success.”
            “Do you know why she was so upset?”
            “She just gets emotional sometimes. Dad says we should just let her be.”
            “So your mother cries at dinner and you pretend it isn’t happening?”
            “Karen, it was a nice dinner. Don’t spoil it.”
            “Henry, I don’t think you and I were at the same dinner tonight.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Moonlight Stroll

Two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. Edmond cursed to himself. They had already seen him. It was too late to walk away. Edmond had planned to visit Big Mike earlier today. He only had some of the money he owed and hoped Big Mike would go easy on him if he was upfront about it. But things got too busy at work. Now he was meeting Big Mike in an alley with his younger cousin Little Mickey.
Big Mike was the brains of the operation and the ironically named Little Mickey was the muscle. Both had the same thick black Irish hair and pale skin that was quick to flush with anger. Unlike Big Mike, there was no spark of intelligence in Little Mickey’s blue eyes. A heavyweight boxer in his youth, the years in the ring had taken their toll. He was loyal to Big Mike and followed orders without asking questions.
“I was hoping to run into you gentlemen tonight,” Edmond bluffed. “It’s a fine night for a stroll.”
“It’ll be a fine night for a swim in the Quincy quarry if you don’t have the money you owe me.”
“Indeed,” he reached into his pocket for the cash he had scrounged that day.
Mistaking his intentions, Little Mickey pushed Edmond against a wall. His forearm pressed into Edmond’s windpipe.
“Easy now Little Mickey. I’m sure our friend wasn’t going to do anything stupid. Were you Eddie?”
“No! No!” He said, barely able to speak. “Pocket!”
 “Check his pocket Little Mickey.”
The big man loosened his hold on Edmond long enough to pat him down. He found the envelope in his inside pocket and tossed it to Big Mike.
 “I still owe you the interest,” he explained as he gasped for air. “I was just coming to see you.”
“Were you?” Mickey asked as he counted the money.
“Of course. Why else would I be walking around with that much dough in this part of town?”
Mickey shrugged and waited for Edmond to continue.
“I’ll have the rest in a couple of days. I swear it.”
“Eddie don’t be stupid. It don’t work like that. The longer it takes, the more interest you owe. It doubles every day that passes.”
“I know. I’ll have it. I will.”
“You better. Or that pretty wife of yours will be collecting life insurance. Little Mickey, give Eddie something to help him remember.”
            Edmond heard the nauseating crunch of his nose breaking just before the searing pain shot through his face. He slumped against the wall, too stunned to think straight, but desperate for an idea. There was no way he could scrape up the rest of the money. And next time, Mickey would break more than his nose. Edmond fumbled for his shoe and pulled out the cash he had hidden there. He had no choice. There was just enough left for a bus ticket and a pack of cigarettes.

This week’s Write on Edge prompt asked us to start a story with the opening line from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.” This is more background for the story of Karen. Edmond is her father. She won’t be seeing much of him after this. You can read more of her story here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Milestones

We celebrated James' First Communion this past weekend...

...funny, it seems like yesterday we had him Baptized.

Monday, May 7, 2012

100 Word Song: The Reason

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

             I’m linking up this week with The 100 Word Song Prompt from Lance over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. The song for this week’s inspiration was Deadman’s Gun from Ashtar Command. Enjoy!

The Reason
           “Sticks and stones, Karen,” she whispered to herself as she walked away from their taunts. “A lady doesn’t rise.”
            The girls following her home teased her about her fraying uniform, about her wild curly hair, about living in a tenement instead of a “real house”. Karen breathed in the words Sister Mary Michael had taught her. She let go of the anger and offered it up to Jesus.
            “She doesn’t even have a dad,” the blond one said. “He ran away because she’s so ugly.”
            Karen stopped walking, turned and clenched her fist. They gave her a reason to fight.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Rent

            His crossed arms answered her question before he spoke.
            “Please Mr. Weitz,” Karen begged before he could refuse. “I know Mum is behind on the rent. I have most of it now. I’ll get you the rest after my shift on Saturday. I’ll even give you a deposit on next month’s rent. Please don’t evict us.”
            She pushed the crumpled pile of small bills into his hands. Mr. Weitz’s expression softened.
            “Karen, you’ve always been a good girl. But you’re mother is becoming a problem. The other tenants complain about her and now she’s drinking the rent money.”
            She pressed the money tighter into his hands.
            “It’s just this once, Mr. Weitz. You know how hard Mum works at the laundry. She hit a rough patch. I’m earning enough at the diner to pay the rent.”
            “Karen, you’ve talked about saving for secretarial school since you graduated. How are you going to do that when you’re paying the rent, too?”
            “What choice do I have Mr. Weitz? She’s my only family. We’ve been through hard times before. We’ll make it.”
            He touched the side of her head and patted her coal black curls admiring her spirit.
            “You’re father always brought you with him when he came to pay the rent. You danced around my office in your pretty little dresses.”
            “You used to give me lemon drops.”
            “I remember. I’ll make you a deal. If your mother to apologizes for what she said, I’ll give you another chance.”
            “She’ll agree,” Karen said. “She has too much pride to be down for long. We’ll be back on track with the rent in no time.”
            “I don’t need an apology for being late with the rent. Anyone can get behind. It’s the things she said when I came to collect. She isn’t the only one with pride around here.”
            “Mr. Weitz? What did she say?”
            His eyes were glassy and he looked away.
            “What did say?”
            He straightened his back and looked her straight in the eye.
            “She called me a kyke and a shylock.”
            Karen shook her head. She didn’t want to believe her mother would say something so vile to this kind man.
            “You don’t believe me?”
            “It isn’t that. I know you’d never lie Mr. Weitz. I can’t imagine why else she’d say such awful things. She must have been drinking.”
            “You’re a smart girl Karen. Didn’t the nuns teach you Latin at that school?”
            She nodded.
            “Your mother wasn’t being cruel because she was drunk. She was telling me what she really thought. Don’t you know what in vino veritas means?”
            “In wine there is truth,” she whispered to his back as he walked away.

            I’m really excited this week to link up with Write On Edge this week. We were asked to focus on dialogue and body language to move the story along and begin our piece with the sentence, His crossed arms answered her question before he spoke. I was very flattered to be featured as an example of the use of dialogue when this prompt was published. I’ve always been very comfortable writing dialogue. I attribute this to my background in theatre and my belonging to a family of marathon talkers. My characters tend to get very clumsy when they stop talking and start acting. If you enjoy reading about Karen, click here for more.