I hath a dream (about hecklers)

“30 days hath September…”

I get that far with the old rhyme, then have to stop and think what comes next.  November rhymes with September so it hath 30… right?

Hmmm. A quick online perusal yields a website with 89 versions of the rhyme = not helpful when trying to unscrew a memory aid that I can’t remember!  This is what I can recall: November is NaNo is 50,000 words written in 30 days.  Got it.

November. In 2009 and 2010, November meant NaNoWriMo for me, an exhilarating ride of literary abandon, a seemingly impossible goal of verbal output.  What lovely irony that attempting the impossible is so freeing of fear of failure.  Liberating really, to be forced into writing for speed, which by necessity turns off the Inner Critic.  If the Heckler is on duty, there simply are not enough hours in the day, even if you feed your kids Eggo Waffles for dinner and forgo luxuries like sleeping.

But, alas, no NaNo for me this year, for a variety of reasons.  I have missed the experience off and on all month, but not more acutely than today, November 30th, when I can almost feel the exhilaration of rounding third, banging out 5000 words on the last day before skidding into home, face first, mouth full of dirt, submitting the manuscript by 11:07pm for the midnight deadline and holding my breath until the website confirmed that it indeed caught what I had just birthed as it hurdled through the ether.  (I always get that visual when I hit the send button on my work, which I am guessing would be disturbing for the recipients if they knew.)

In my memory of prior years, NaNo is perfect. It provides the deadline I require for adrenaline driven output. Any arbitrary nature of that deadline is inconsequential when I am in the middle of it.  It feels so good to just write without censorship, not bothered by little details like whether each paragraph actually makes sense.  That is all sorted out later, because in November each day is just words on the page, pushing harder to squeeze them out of some small place inside that I did not even know was full of ideas because I was too busy thinking.  Yes, 2012 NaNo?  I’ll be back.  (Luckily, the pain of NaNo is harder to remember…)

For now, I will embrace one aspect of the November NaNoWriMo experience into December and beyond:  gagging that Heckler.  You know the Heckler — the one that likes to curl up in a lumpy LazyBoy recliner in my mind, drooling with anticipation at each days’ spoils as she chews yesterday’s ideas, dribbling doubt onto every string of alphabet letters I dare to scrabble into sentences.

Yes, that Heckler.

Maybe you have met her brother or sister?

Yep, working my little word magic in peace without the sound of her breathing in the background — that is the dream for the days that come after the 30 days that November hath. Has. Whatever.

the Gift

I was given an unexpected gift.  I was able to turn back the clock, on a snowy day in January.  I was able to live an experience that I’ve regretted missing the first time, and thought was gone forever.  A writer can rewrite chapters, but who has that luxury in life?

I often feel a bittersweet-ness as my kids grow up — the wonder of seeing both boys become functioning future citizens, and the simultaneous mourning of the little boy days left behind.  The days of toys and picture books.  The days of trains.

The Professor was the one who lived and breathed trains, from age two until what we can now refer to as the Unfortunate Nascar Years.  Trains, every day– the first thing he talked about in the morning and last thing discussed at night.  When he first learned his dad was an engineer, his excitement surely stemmed from the belief that Dad drove the trains.

The Little One’s interest in trains seemed to stem more from the need to do whatever his older brother did, and then the thrill of systematically destroying his brother’s meticulously crafted layouts.  I remember little of the days we can now refer to as the The Dark Years, when each day seemingly ended in wailing and gnashing of teeth in biblical proportions.  Granted, this only lasted from approximately 2001 – 2006, which if you do the math is… well, many, many days where I knew I should feel grateful for the priceless opportunity to be a full-time mom, but I often didn’t.  I wished many of those days away.  If I published a memoir of journal entries from that time, the volume would serve as an excellent form of birth control.

It is entirely possible that I never played trains with The Little One for more than 10 minutes in all those years.  He was such a Pocket Nazi during his formative train-playing days that I would lose my temper with him often, and have to remove myself from the situation before I went all out and lost my mind.  I loved that kid fiercely, but let’s just say I frequently needed to count backwards from 100.  Thousand.  I’ll leave it at that.

I thought about the trains, and many of their old toys, just last week when we cleaned the entire house in preparation for guests.  As we piled toys onto basement shelves and closets, it became clear that a thorough sweep of the Basement Land of Misfit Toys is long overdue.  He kept saying “Ooooh, I remember THAT!” and wanting to take things out while I was putting them in.  He’s a tween, half demanding to be grown-up NOW, and half still a little boy.  Someday soon we will purge the toys that they have not played with in years, I thought to myself, with a twinge of… something, undefined.

Then, during yet another snow day home from school, The Little Man unexpectedly carried the impossibly heavy bin of wooden trains upstairs — the old, well-worn Thomas trains and bridges and tracks – and he looked at me.  Without a word, we went together into the den and we played trains on the floor.  Together.  I had so much fun, and he did too. We took a picture of the final creation.  I think I’ll frame it in a double frame, with an old picture I have of him, “Colezilla”, stomping through a huge train layout with a look of devilish glee.

In those old days, I never had the patience.  I was always too busy trying to find time to be me.  Now I was given the incredible gift of a do-over.  A mulligan of motherhood.  And I treasured every minute.

Becoming a writer was just a dream back then.  I saw many women were able to combine motherhood and writing very successfully;  I had not yet reached that chapter, in those years.  Today I have the space to write, and play, on a magical, snowglobe-y day.

the home stretch

… it’s the final kick, digging deep, rounding the bases and heading for home alone.

The school supplies are packed, the backpacks bulging with loose-leaf paper and expectations.  The boys have new clothes, new shoes (cue foreshadowing music here) and shaggy haircuts, but two out of three ain’t bad.  This has been the happiest summer I have ever spent with the boys, but it is time.  My master plan — to make the last couple weeks as painfully dull as possible — has produced the desired result: they are looking forward to school.

Inaction as action is one of my favorite strategies.

One is off to junior high, and one to the top of the elementary school food chain; already I can see that this year will have its share of life lessons.  I am steeling myself and hoping for minimal wailing and gnashing of teeth.  The Little One is kicking off the life lesson parade with his first major purchase, one he may regret, or love.  Time will tell.

That Little One, he is, well, let’s just say he is frugal with his own money.  He takes great pride in his sizeable savings of birthday money and holiday cash, his two previous sole sources of income.  (Other than those few years long ago when he agreed to pick up the dog poo for $0.25 per pile, which was a deal too good to last once he grew more wise to the ways of the world.  I am only slightly ashamed — that may go down as the greatest scam I ever pulled off as a parent.)

Recently, he came to me with an offer I could not refuse:  he volunteered to clean the litterbox and feed the cats every day in exchange for an allowance.  Now, both kids are expected to do regular chores around the house as part of being a family.  An allowance came recently for the Professor to give him both greater responsibility and freedom. The Little One would receive the same privilege at the same age.

But the cat box?  This offer showed great initiative I thought, and bravery.   Plus, in the grand division of labor that is Every Marriage, cleaning the litterbox was one of my tasks so I was more than happy to pawn it off.  The kid offered for goodness sake, who was I to crush his entrepreneurial spirit?

So he scooped and bagged and cleaned and fed, and collected his cash.

“Wow, I inspire hard work,” I thought to myself with satisfaction.

Not too many weeks later, The Little One came to me with a request for new shoes for school.  Keep in mind, we have taken great pride that neither boy has ever been the kind to beg for the latest toy or clothes or… shoes.  No ipad, or iphone, or other i-thingy, no cell phone, or PSP.  New, clean shoes for school — reasonable enough.  But this kid, this time, was not interested in regular ole’ shoes — this was the first ever request for Special Shoes, the kind that are advertised every seven minutes during every major televised sporting event, the ones with snazzy new features that are “like an energy drink for your feet”.

For the price of these shoes?  The energy drink should also wash those feet.

Hmmm, looked like a life lesson to me.  I told him I would pay the amount of a typical pair of school shoes, and he would have to pay for the rest.  Tightwad that he is, that would put an end to this nonsense.

I underestimated the fortitude of a tween.

So he bought these shoes — we had to order them online because no local store carried his size — and he handed me the wad of cash right after I pushed the “Submit Order” button on the website.  Now he waits for The Shoes to arrive.

Will the shoes even be comfortable?  Will he regret this purchase, and be filled with buyer’s remorse?  Will the shoes still fit pubescent feet three months from now?  These are not my problems, I have to keep reminding myself.  Will he wear them proudly with a new (highly energized) spring in his step?  I will soon find out.  I offered him my advice and guidance, and let him make the decision.  I figure a lesson in spending is worth the price.  And, I no longer needed to go the ATM that day.

One lesson that can’t be jammed into the backpack, and they have not even left home yet.  (Can anyone else hear the wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round?)

one word

“Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”   Marsha Norman

Can one little word provide some vision for a whole year?

I stumbled upon the idea of this ‘one word‘ while reading author Christina Katz’s new site.  She moved her “WriterMama Riffs” blog over to ChristinaKatz.com.     Christina chose her one word for 2010 — Prosperous.  That is a good word.  It has connotations of not only copious output, but also well-earned income to go with it, always a bonus when doing something you love to do.

Through Christina Katz’s word I found blogger Ali Edwards.  (One of the things I like best about these things is that one writer’s ideas lead to more ideas and on it goes and grows…)  In Ali’s blog, she shares  One Little Word 2010.  Here is her explanation:

“Essentially the idea is to choose a word (or let it choose you) that has the potential to make an impact on your life.

Maybe you want to invite something or maybe you are hoping to subtract something. Maybe your word will be practical or hopeful or creative or fanciful. Maybe you need a big word, something in-your-face that will challenge you everyday. Maybe you need something smaller and quieter that will whisper gentle tidings as you make your way throughout the year.

Whatever word you end up with, make sure it is your word (not your sister’s, mom’s, partner’s, child’s, etc). You can share it publicly or keep it close to your heart.”

Hundreds of her readers commented on their one word for 2010, and Ali published a list of her readers’ words. I find the list thought-provoking and inspiring.

I did not know what my word was a year ago, in the first month of 2009.  Forced to choose back then, I may have volunteered the word “Bewildered”.  Or “Ready To Step Off The Precipice Of The Known”.  Wait, that last one is way too many words.  Maybe “Embark”?

With the clearer view afforded by hindsight, I can now see that my word was “Exploration”.  I started the year with a plan to write children’s books (age 4-8), so I was learning all I could about that genre.  Then I received the exciting news that one of my short stories would be published in an anthology, so I also learned as much as I could about that genre.  Then I discovered blogging, and threw myself wholeheartedly into learning that bright new world.  Then I researched the options of freelancing for magazines and newspapers, writing humor essays and finally rounded out the year by writing a 50,000 word NaNoWriMo draft of a middle grade children’s novel.  So 2009 ended with a great deal of ground covered, a lot of information crammed into my head, and I softly landed somewhere between a lack of focus and a world of possibility.

I finish January, my first blogiversary, with many lessons learned…  The discipline required when granted the gift to do what I love to do but damn I don’t feel like doing it now but I have to do it anyway because it is important for me to write every day to reach my dreams.   Moving beyond the guilt inherent in that previous sentence.  Learning where I have a natural aptitude, and what will actually pay, and how to combine the two.  Sorting what currency in which I want to be paid — money, confidence, fulfillment — and how to combine all three.

A year ago, I read a blog post from a writer that I now cannot find.  In my memory, it was brilliant, and I want to quote it here because it completely describes in a humorous but honest way, how she made it through this same phase. It had the power to stick in my head for a year, in the way that words can do when they speak to your soul.

But I can’t find her.

Still obsessing Moving on, I’ll share the essence of her story: she wrote of ‘blind-dates’ with many genres of writing, and having each genre, time after time, not be “the one”.  She would fall feverishly in love with each one for a while, but then would see the foibles and faults and know she had to keep looking.  But if she had not given each one a try, she wouldn’t know what felt right when she found it.  Which she did.

Dang, the analogy was so much better than that.

Thinking about the next year, I am still on that path of searching and exploring.  But my choice for my one word in 2010?  Embrace.

Embrace the gift.  Embrace the challenges.  Embrace the unknown.  Embrace inevitable failure.  Embrace inevitable success.  Embrace the discipline I must muster.  Embrace the journey, even though I may not know the destination until I find it.

What’s your word?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Where are we going?  Good question.  I’ll know it when I see it.”   Anonymous

bangs or no bangs?

New year, new look.

Inspired by a recent post from Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest, I did a little cyber redecorating again. Her guest post, “5 Things That Make Me Stop Reading Websites and Blogs” appeared on the blog Writer Unboxed.  In it, she outlines a few easy blog fixes that can help ensure an online reader will stick around long enough to read the good content.  And I always trust her advice.  As she explains,

“I’ve been compiling best tweets for writers for half a year now, and have scanned tens of thousands of blog postings and homepages, all by following a Tweeted link.

Just as I have a sense about whether a manuscript will be any good in the first few minutes, now I have the same gut feel about blog posts. Only it takes seconds.”

Online or in print, there is just that moment to… at best, set that hook and at worst, make them turn away before they even see what is dangling there.

OK, good point.  I do want people to stick around long enough to hear what I have to say, at least when I am posting something other than ridiculous dog pictures.  Although I know my dear sister will always read to the end no matter what, I want to make these pages easy to read for everyone — even those with floaties, bifocals (oops, that’s me), web browsing smartphones, and yes, even those with illicit webpage access from your work computers (you know who you are).

Consider this bloggy change the equivalent of a new haircut — one that looks a little too much like my girlfriend’s haircut —  but if it suits us both, I’ll just wear a different barrette.

~~~~~~~~~~~

So, New Year, here we are.

What is out there that we have not paused to dream of yet?

peace on earth

I can’t tell you how unlikely this scenario would have been three months ago.

The dog and our dearly departed cat never had a fond relationship.  It was more akin to predator and prey.  Whatever undeciphered mixed breed of mutt we have, her DNA is hardwired to chase small furry animals.  So the new kittens must have looked like dog treats squeaky toys baby squirrels to the dog, and you can guess the delectability of small furry woodland animals, the same ones that taunt her in the backyard, just on the other side of her fence.

All of which makes these bedfellows all the more unlikely.

Admittedly, the dog has a “Just one little bite?  Pleeeease??” kind of look in her eyes.

Or perhaps it is really a look of “I hope none of the neighborhood dogs see this or I will be a laughingstock”.

“Perhaps if I feign disinterest, the cat will just leave.”

“No such luck.  Yawns are just contagious.”

Hmmmmm.

A Christmas miracle?  Just a warm spot on the couch?  My overactive anthropomorphizing imagination?

???

Whatever the reason, they remind me of a true sentiment of the season:

Peace on Earth

and goodwill among all.*

*even those who simply get along like cats and dogs

oh boy, tannenbaum

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,

Why is a cat on top of thee?

*

O Christmas tree, O Christmas Tree,

why do the ornaments go * “wheeeeee!” * ???

*

The top does sway, the star did fall,

That’s why it’s tied right to the wall…

*

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,

A kitten treehouse you will be.

*

Happy Holidays to all!

revenge of the pork belly

Thank goodness good friends still call to invite us out to dinner.  We used to be an active part of a fun dinner group;  just some couples that would gather, once a month on the third Saturday night, whoever could find a sitter, and go to a different restaurant each time.  After years of Saturday nights, it turns out one couple was the glue holding the whole group together, and when they moved away, the group slowly drifted apart, as groups sometimes do.

Now we don’t get out much, as they say.  No particular reason, really just a general feeling of comfortable satisfaction spending the weekends together with our kids, coupled with a marked lack of advance social planning.  But some good friends still call, pick a date, make the reservation and get us back out into the city.

So we found ourselves out and about last night in a fun, noisy, young, hoppin’ restaurant downtown.  We were somewhere close to the oldest people there, or maybe I only saw the youth, I’m not sure.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  Just that  it felt vaguely like crashing a party of cool kids, with a grateful feeling that they let me in to spend my money.

The concept was eclectic Mexican, with a menu where I could have ordered anything based on the tantalizing descriptions.  One dish jumped off the trendy page though, and when the (very young) waiter stopped by to inquire if we had any questions about the menu, I asked about the dish.  It was delicious, he said, very rich, and if I wanted something lighter, he recommended the mahi mahi tacos.

Fish tacos?  Hello?  I have had those many times, always good, but not splurge-worthy.  I was OUT, and I wanted the Crispy Pork Belly Tacos with guacamole diablo and pickled vegetables, thank you very much.

I must say, this dish was absolutely delicious.  I loved it.  The meat melted in my mouth but had a crispy caramelized crust that was reminiscent of bacon.  The spicy avocado melded perfectly with the richness and was balanced by the sourness of the vegetables.  It surpassed my expectations.

Walking back to the car, the Christmas lights twinkling around the tall buildings and an unusual amount of people all about, I felt full and warm in the drizzly sleety snow and did I mention full?

The night out was fun and refreshingly interesting for a Saturday night, time spent laughing and talking with good friends and good food.  Still, I was happy to arrive back home and change into my flannel pajamas (elastic waist – yeah!) and just be, well, home again.  It did not take long to drift off to sleep.

Around 3:00 am, I woke with an acute awareness that I had consumed the innards of a pig that had been garnished with guacamole diablo (Diablo?  Does that mean hot or devilish?) and those pickled vegetables of Beelzabub.  Really, what was I thinking?  Although I don’t drink, I had clearly been drunken with the out-ness of the evening.  The intoxication of friends and food and youth and twinkly lights was *poof* gone in the dark of the night, and I was left with a food hangover.  As I propped myself up on a pile of pillows to have gravity assist the contents of my stomach back down my esophagus, I recalled how often I heard the farm report in my youth, the one that played on the radio at noon on weekdays and would start the broadcast each day with the price of pork bellies.  I don’t think they were selling those pork bellies to Mexican restaurants back in Wisconsin.  As the long-ago-broadcasted words swirled around in my head, the radio announcer’s voice seemed to mock my culinary choices and asked if I also wanted to eat some feed corn or, perhaps, some silage as an appetizer.

The good news about a food hangover is that the morning still breaks bright and new, and for once I felt no temptation to eat any of the bacon I made for the kids’ breakfast.  Think of all the calories I saved by having nothing but my smoothie. Good thing friendship is a soothing tonic; and rich meals, like childbirth, are seldom remembered in full detail.

a tale of two kitties

How does the story go?  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?  At risk of Dickensian metaphorical hyperbole, the last couple weeks have had some ups and downs.  There was the loss of a beloved pet, but the adoption of two new ones.  There were the three trips to the vet when the cute little new pets became very sick, but nothing multiple medications given via syringe and squirted into the eyes twice a day couldn’t remedy.  There were the emails and calls about possible sightings of our lost pet, which raised our hopes but all of which turned out to be the wrong cat.  There was the shocking revelation that after ten weeks of hard, sweat-dripping, muscle-aching, don’t-fear-the-burn exercising at the gym with my nazi personal trainer, I officially lost one pound (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) and my thighs are one inch bigger.  *THEN* there was the family health scare, thankfully with a happy ending, that put all the other problems into perspective.  (Because, finally, we find something that actually is one of the big problems in life.)

I’m still mad about the thighs thing though.

Gym drama aside, I am happy to share some good pet news for a change:   we have two new little kittens at our house.  They do not fill the hole in our hearts, but there is nothing like kitten silliness to cheer the soul.  They are, frankly, ridiculous.

This is Mia.

Mia

She is not the kitten I specifically went in to the humane society to find, but she turned out to be The One.  After 17 hours in the kitten room at the shelter, when the volunteer carries in The One, you just know.  She is very sweet and quiet and a bit shy.  She likes to curl up under my chin to go to sleep.  It makes housework difficult to complete.

This is Cowboy.

howdy cowboy

He is not the brightest star in the dark prairie sky, but he purrs like a hemi engine (very impressive to the automotive experts around here) and is an extremely playful and affectionate little guy.  I went to the humane society five times in two weeks to find just the right kitten; he is SO not what I went in specifically to find either, but he told me he wanted to come live with us, so what could I do?  Plus, those clever marketing geniuses at the shelter offered me two-kittens-for-the-price-of-one, so he was the bonus, BOGO kitten.  (Turns out, two kittens come with twice the diseases and parasites that they can quickly share!  What a deal!)

So, things are looking up.

1.  The kittens are rounding the corner towards good health, which means they are getting into more and more mischief every day.  (They were so well behaved when they were just laying there…)

2.  The outpouring of help and concern and kind words from the community in the search for our cat has warmed my heart.

3.  The scale at the gym clearly has something wrong with it.  The decades-long pain in my back is much better, my lungs can take deeper breaths, my clothes fit better and I have more stamina when I walk the dog.

4.  The biggest health problem my family now has to face is how sick we feel when watching Brett Favre on the Vikings.

Packer fans

And the extra inch on each thigh?  It just means I can hold both kittens on my lap at once instead of doing the dishes.

goodbye kitty

The last two weeks, I’ve looked out the window what feels like 500 times, waiting and watching for the cat to come home.

She went out at night, like she had 500 times before.  Most every day, for six years, she went outside for a while then came back, a few hours or a maybe a day later, her little round white face popping back up by the patio door, her mouth opening in near silent meows that couldn’t be heard through the glass.

One day last spring, she did not come back for a day and a half, and I was worried.  I walked along the woods behind our neighborhood, calling her and watching the bushes for a sign of a rustle.  Then, just like that, she came trotting out from the brush, her tail in a happy question mark, ready to be scooped up into my arms and carried home.

She always loved to be outside.  It was where she was happiest, ever since she was a kitten.  She did not catch birds or chase mice — she just seemed to like the freedom, even long before we brought home the dog.  All our previous cats had been indoor only, because letting them outside seemed too dangerous.  But there was no question with this one; to keep her locked up would seem cruel.

We knew we took a chance that her life may be a shorter one, but wanted to make it a happier one.

She was always my garden companion all spring, summer and fall.  When I went out to plant or weed or prune, she would trot out of the woods and come wind around my ankles, waiting for a pet from muddy hands.  Then she would wonder about, and keep me company.  For years, I think we were both hiding outside from noisy children…  In the years I ran my outdoor children’s portrait business in my backyard, she would sometimes come “help” with the shot, and some families had portrait proofs with the cat in them.  Surprise!

She had a reluctant yet softening relationship with the dog.  She had an on-again, off-again relationship with Buster, a male stray that courted her so often we gave him a name.  Buster, the cowboy of stray tomcats.  Oddly, that first night she was missing, I saw Buster for the first time in three months — he startled me in the dark yard as I scanned the rainy night, walking with my flashlight.  He froze with that deer-in-the-headlights look, which I’ll probably now always think of as a cat-in-the-flashlight look.  I whispered “Do you know where she is?”, but he was no help at all, a cowboy cat of few words.

So, I have kept searching, walking not just the perimeter of the woods but all through the brush and branches and along the creek, looking for any sign of her.  I emailed neighbors with a photo, asking if anyone has seen her.  I put up flyers at the vet office and in surrounding neighborhoods, and knocked on doors of people I don’t know asking if I can search the woods behind their houses.  I know there are coyotes that roam the neighborhoods here.  I know that a Yorkshire Terrier disappeared from his nearby wooded backyard three nights after Kitty was last seen.  I know what I find in the woods may not be pleasant.   That is the image that haunts me most.  But I’ve thought for two weeks that if I could just find something, I could stop hoping and stop watching and stop listening for a tiny squeak of a meow at the door.  Since that has not happened, it is now time for me to just let go.

Some well-meaning friends have suggested that she might have always lived a double life, and has had a second “home” that she visited on a regular basis when she stayed out all night before.  Maybe That House just switched to the canned food she was always begging for, so she ditched us with our dry kibble.  Maybe They decided that she should be kept inside at their house from now on, because she is so beautiful and they did not want anything bad to happen to her.  That’s a happier story, and really all of life’s stories are up to us to write.

Someday, maybe I’ll be able to pen one of those heartwarming tales of the pet that disappeared for a long time, and against all odds found its way back home after many adventures and mishaps along the way.  That would be a fun story, but I am going to stop crafting that one in my head, at least for now.  It is time for me to say goodbye.