Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 40: You Know You're Addicted When...

I have a thing. I love Cranberry Sierra Mist pop. (Yes. Pop.) It only comes out around Thanksgiving and Christmas and I love it. Did I mention I love it? But, I have several smallish children in my house, and they also seem to have a thing for it. They can be across the house and still hear the siren call of that can opening and respond immediately with shrieks of “POP! POP! POOOOP!!!” Inevitably, after many cries for “Some!!! Some!!” I end up with an empty can.

Which is why I've taken to hiding it in the laundry room, on the dryer. So, when I need my fix, I sneak in there and rattle things around and start doing laundry. Try to make it seem like I'm doing chores. On instinct, they flee to the nether regions of our house. This allows me enough time to open the can. They somehow sense the sound and come to investigate. I shove the can behind the box of detergent and start to pour some cat food in her bowl by the time they arrive. They look at me suspiciously. I look at them with an innocent “What?” kind of expression. They walk away slowly. I steal another gulp. They come running at the sound of a satisfied “Ahhhh...” only to find me stain sticking baby poop out of a onesie. I pick up a basket of clothes and nonchalantly walk to one of their bedrooms to start putting the clothes back in the drawer. (Even if said clothes didn't exactly get washed yet.) They follow me, thinking maybe I have something good in the basket.

Soon I have two sets of eyes following me everywhere I go. If I disappear for more than a few seconds, I hear little calls of “Mama? Mama? Where are you?” Where is mama? She's in the laundry room again CHUGGING lukewarm Cranberry Sierra Mist so fast that her hair is curling in the hopes that she'll finish the can before you can find her. That's where.

It's a good thing the holiday season is almost over. So long, my cranberry nectar. Until next year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Day 39: Name game

Let's talk about character names. I always wonder how authors decided on the names for their characters. It's hard enough to name a single child, let alone name every character in a book. I'm even more fascinated by books like Daphne DeMaurier's Rebecca where the main character's name is never revealed at all. What's fun though, in naming characters, is that you can completely typecast, or you can throw people off by going the opposite direction, like having the hard-core businessman in New York City named Cody.

Here are some names. What kind of character do you picture when you hear these names? (Directly after the names, I wrote my first impression--the ones after the "/" were my husband's first impressions.)

Wyatt:a cowboy /Earp
Natalia: dark haired and pretty/some Russian ballerina
Eunice: puffy with small eyes/uptight old lady
Beau: tall with an accent and a dimple when he smiles/a teenager with no direction
Kevin: a perv/a normal guy
Constance: a nurse/someone who wants her name said the whole way
Butch: beer drinker that works in a factory/a Lesbian
Tiana: an undergraduate majoring in pre-law/Asian-American clubber

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day 38: Time Out.

Tonight I'm feeling, as my daughter puts it, like my heart is "very tiny and three sizes too small." It doesn't matter why. So instead of eating dinner with my family I took a long, scalding hot shower and painted my toenails.
I have a bottle of nail polish. It's called "Bright Future" and it's pink. Not baby pink or tramp pink, but "I'm feeling fabulous!" pink. I bought it in 2007. My husband was about to celebrate his 30th birthday, so we (I) had booked a trip to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. We chose a reputable company, and then went with their most inexpensive room at their most inexpensive resort. I looked forward to going on that trip more than I looked forward to anything since my wedding, I think.
A few days before we left, I bought myself this nail polish as well as some press-on French manicure nails. Taking these completely silly purchases home with me, I painted my toes and pressed on my nails and felt delightfully glamorous. We packed our bags, dropped our kids at a friend's house (thank you, Lisa!) and got on a non-stop flight. It was obvious that we were headed to a vacation destination because: A) half the people were wearing (obnoxious) bright colors and B) The other half of the people on the plane were roaring drunk and singing pirate songs by the time we touched down.
We were greeted at the airport with "Ja mon, no problem mon, do you have anything to declare, mon?" and happily got our complimentary herbal tea at the resort's welcome center right there in the terminal. One free transfer later and we checked into our room. We raced to change into our swimsuits and, before I knew it, I was standing waist deep in the most beautiful, warm, azure blue water I could've imagined. The Caribbean sea stretching out before me. Children happily playing at a good friend's house. Someone else making dinner and washing my dishes. At that moment, I looked down at my toes wiggling in the sand, and my Bright Future nails looked like shimmering pink jewels in the sand. Never has a color been so perfect for a place or a mood.
So, on nights like tonight, when everyone's grumpy because it's the "Off Season" here in the Carolina's and it's been a little foggy and gray for a couple days, I pull out my nail polish. I paint my toe nails. And for just one minute? I'm perfectly content.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 37: Souper!Salad!

I spent some time today working on my story from last night--I'm happy with 75% of it, but still working and reworking the ending. I'm beginning to wonder if it's beyond me... I feel like it's a puzzle that just has a couple pieces that I haven't quite figured out how to fit yet.

So, as a nice distraction, we had dinner at our favorite family restaurant Souper!Salad! My kids love it because they can have nutrition-free pizza, gooey mac n' cheese, grapes, and ice cream. I love it because where else can I get salad, banana pudding, a taco, AND a baked potato, if I choose? Plus, it's generally a treasure trove for people watching junkies like me. Among tonight's crowd...

Lady in a Green Dress: Now. I am not one to judge. I am much more of a "comfort" girl than a fashion guru, but I was quite amazed by the self-confidence displayed in the fashion choices adorning this very nice lady. She had on a tight kelly-green dress. Tight as in "I can see not only the LINES of your thong underwear, I can see the texture, the brand, and the size." This was topped with a black leather-type bolero, a big flashy necklace that looked like it was made of a plastic mirror, and--so help me--bright purple eyeshadow. Sparkly bright purple eyeshadow. The thing that truly warmed my heart was this kind woman *knew* she looked good. She was positively strutting. It brought me joy.

Couple with Lazy Eyes: At the table behind us was a lovely couple who, oddly enough, both had one lazy eye. I have a lazy eye, myself, but not the kind that wanders. These two, however, had every side of the restaurant covered. What was strangest was that I could never really tell if they were looking at me. Was the eye resting upon me the one that was focused, or not? I worried about it a bit as I dunked my hand into my extra-large red glass of ice water after I burned it on the steam from the soup pot. Did the lazy eyed couple think I was a weirdo, with my hand stuck in the water? Or did they really not notice at all?

Awkward Waiter: Alright, one of the strange things about Souper!Salad! is the "waiters." They bring you a drink. They clear your plates. And they wear Hawaiian shirts. (Do you leave a tip? Always a conundrum.) Well, tonight, our waiter was the epitomy of awkward. We'll call him Awkward Joe. When our drinks didn't have any flavor at all and we pointed it out? He was so busy apologizing, he didn't actually fix the problem and we got two brand new styrofoam cups of tasteless, sparkling water. When he would come to ask if he could take a plate away, he was always so rushed to get the plates off the table that he took the wrong ones. Was he distracted? New at his job? Exhausted? What??? What about our little family was so terrifyingly disconcerting???

Do you think that I could come up with a story in which Green Dress Lady is actually in love with Awkward Joe the Waiter, but ne'er the twain shall meet because Lazy Eye Couple keeps wanting refills of Sweet Tea????

Friday, December 26, 2008

Day 36: Father Christmas

Okay. So I wrote a children's story, and I really like it! (Joy!) But because I think it's one of the better stories I've done, I don't want to put it out there before I'm completely happy with it. So please excuse my secrecy, but I hope it will be worth it when it's done. *grin*

In the meantime, the picture of me in my Meanest Mom Sweater...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day 35: Creep Crawly Christmas

Merry Christmas.
I know I promised you the story of the Christmas slug, and I'm sure you're just dying for me to post it. But tonight, as I was (shoving stuff into the closet) putting away our new gifts, I saw a thin, wriggling tail disappear under the closet door. So I (screamed) calmly kept my composure, and told my husband to come take care of the SNAKE that was in our CLOSET.

Okay, it was not a large snake. It was a small snake. But, as I reminded the man of the house, baby copperhead snakes are just as venomous as adult copperhead snakes. He asked me how to know if it was a copperhead. (Oh, because the neighbor boys caught a copperhead in our yard a few weeks ago, so I know these things.) I told him that copperheads have triangle heads and move slowly. “Oh, good. They move slowly.” he said. Well. When he went to put the tupperware down to catch it, it moved like the devil, so maybe it wasn't a copperhead. And it's wee beady eyes looked round. So it probably wasn't poisonous.

In the meantime, my oldest daughter had come to see the snake. She retrieved the Boy, who was already in his room for bed. Both of them crouched over the tupperware, enthralled. The Girl so happily and wisely suggested “We could die it.” Yes, yes we could. But we already have it under the tupperware, you see. So the Man humanely slid a piece of paper under it and took the wriggling little beast out the door, down the block, to the pond.

After all this excitement, the kids were in no mood for bed. Their dad was a HERO and he had left CARRYING a snake. So, we (ordered) calmed and soothed them into bed. As I was helping the Boy say his prayers, I was trying to prompt him to be grateful for many things: his gifts, our family, Christmas. But what was he truly, emphatically, delightfully grateful for? “SNAKE!”
So that's why I'm in no mood to write about the Christmas slug. I've had far too much of creepy crawlies for the day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day 34: The Christmas Slug

Tonight, as I was carefully arranging and stacking the gifts under our tree, I noticed a gift labeled "MOM". (My oldest daughter has just learned to write my name and it still thrills me to bits.) The package was flat and square and rather... calendar looking. It has a large, smooshed red bow on it that, I think, was from last year's wreath. But my name scrawled on the front, and the lovely bow weren't the best parts of this gift. No. Upon it, trailing a gleaming ribbon of fairy dust, was the magical Christmas slug.

Oh, you've never heard of the Christmas slug? Well. How do you think Santa knows when the kids have gone to bed? Hm?

I feel a children's story coming on... with pictures...

Happy Christmas Eve!!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 33: Christmas letter

So, I got an e-mail today from Michelle Obama. The subject was "Happy Holidays" and she suggested that everyone give to their favorite charities this holiday, and if they didn't have a favorite charity, to donate to a food bank or send a care package to a soldier. (That woman has class, I tell you.) But I got wondering, if I was actually a family friend and was getting their annual Christmas letter--what would it say this year? Pretending, for a second, that it wouldn't be printed on gorgeous Crane stationery and hand written by paid calligraphers, but that it was printed on a home printer or on the back of a photocard from Walmart. Can you imagine???

"Dear Friends and Family,

It's been a great year for the Obama family!

We had a busy year with lots of travelling. In between it all, Malea got her braces off and Sasha learned to play duets on the piano. They're nervous but excited about their new school in January.

Barack got a new job, as you may have heard, that starts in January and will require us to relocate. We look forward to getting settled in our new house, and seeing the sights of a new city...."

I mean, seriously. I'd love to get my hands on a copy of their yearly rundown. Which begs the question--what did Hilary Clinton write on hers? Or John McCain? Hmmm...

Dear Friends,

It was a long, eventful year for the McCain family. Cindy looks as fabulous as ever (shout out to Dr. Ferrari!) and was excited to have some of her secret family recipes published on our blog. John kept busy with work, as usual, but we managed to do some traveling together and see some states we hadn't seen before as well as visit with some old friends. (So many friends have moved to Florida!) Of course, we made a lot of new friends along the way. We're both glad that John's work has slowed down, and are looking forward to grilling with lots of you and spending some quality time with our golf clubs sometime soon....

Or, printed in bulk...

Esteemed Colleagues,

At this season of festivity, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support over the past year. Although life does not always turn out like we would hope, we know that tomorrow is another day.

Best wishes,
Hilary Clinton

Hm.... I wonder... if anyone does know these people, and gets one of their Christmas cards, let me know what they actually say!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 32: Missing pieces


From The Playful Way to Serious Writing: Where are the missing spoons?

On the bottom shelf of our pantry growing up, there was a brown wooden box. Lined with pink satin, it held my mother's silverware. She had selected the pattern in 1969 at the age of 18 for her wedding to my dad. We used them for Sunday dinners, Thanksgiving, and their anniversary. They were beautiful. As the years passed, the spoons began to disappear, and I remember my mother saying in exasperation "Where did my spoons go?" Well.

There was one of the dessert spoons, with it's curling rose pattern, that I smouched to be my first "Barbie" doll; driving it around in one of my mother's high heeled shoes with a butter knife "Ken." Then there were the two that we left under the cottonwood tree in the backyard after using them as tools for our dinosaur excavation. (We hadn't found any dinosaurs, but we did chisel through a lot of roots to that tree in the attempt.) I'm pretty sure that one got tossed in the trash inside a Miracle Whip jar. and another one we left at the church after bringing a dish to a potluck. One by one, the spoons disappeared. Eventually, the only one left was the scalloped sour cream spoon. The last one left standing, to be used on Sundays, Thanksgiving, and their anniversary.

Now that I'm grown up and have some silverware of my own, I too watch it wander off in my kid's pudgy little paws. Some of them I've found--in the bathtub or in the dollhouse. I can only hope they're being used to dig up dinosaurs and that the lovely, fine dessert spoons will marry the tall, handsome butter knives.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 31: Happy Endings

Tonight's entry? One of those "but that's another story" stories, with a happy ending.

It has been nearly 8 years since I last saw him. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I stood to leave church early. I was visiting a special service for a friend who was about to leave on a mission, and he was there, too. When I got up to leave, he grabbed my hand and looked up at me. "Are you leaving? Are we going to talk?" he plead. "No. I'm leaving." I whispered, withdrawing my hand and turning away. That was the last time I saw him.

That may not sound like it, but it was one of the happiest endings any love story ever had.

It started off innocently. He was not prince charming, but I was no princess. It was obvious that he liked me, and I was flattered by his attention. So we met for our first date. He was open and physically affectionate. He opened the car door. He held my hand, and hung on my every word. We spent the rest of the summer driving in the canyon and going to concerts in the park. I was going to school for my junior year of college, and he was going to a university an hour north. We would date on weekend, staying at either his parent's house or my parent's house. I was planning to go on a study abroad in January, and wasn't planning on a lifetime. But then... I will never know if I fell in love with the person he was, or simply fell in love with the person that was in love with me. I think it's hard to tell the difference.

He proposed on an October night. I remember, most clearly, that when he asked me... I felt nothing. Nothing at all. I waited to feel some thrill of excitement, or surge of affection. But I was a blank canvas. He had said all the right words, and I said yes.

Somehow, in the time between that yes and the months that followed, something that had been good, turned sour. I cannot judge him. I hope he will never judge me. There was so much that went wrong, and--at the time--so hard to tell what was a red flag and what was cold feet.

It was a December night, as we talked on the phone, that I asked him if he even loved me. His reply was, "If I ever did, I don't remember now." He continued by saying, "But it's okay. We can still get married. Once you get married, the love goes away anyway." I believe I actually felt the space between heartbeats when he said that. The man that I had loved was gone, just as much as I was lost to him. It was beyond both of us.

So, how is this a love story with a happy ending? Well, for one thing, I learned something that has proved precious to me in the years since: be true to yourself. In the months afterward, I was amazed to piece together how many lies I'd told my own heart. How absurdly anxious I'd been to please everyone but my best self. Secondly, I learned that getting too physically involved too soon will utterly poison a relationship. At least, it did ours. Finally, it is a happy ending because it left me open to all the possibilities and the life ahead of me that I truly wanted to live. Within months of saying goodbye to that man, I was living in Switzerland--sharing my heart with the people I met there. I was living the life of my dreams. It also bought me something nothing else could: time. The man that was my matching heart--that I would one day fall in love with and marry, needed to do some learning and growing of his own. All of this was getting both he and I to just the right point in time.

So, wherever that man may be tonight, I hope he is happy. I hope he found his own true love. I hope he learned even half of what I did about how the happiest ending may not end with happily ever after.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day 30: Star, revised

Note: Here is the revised version of the shepherd story. I cut out at least 25% of the words, and changed the ending. I also moved from a first person narrative to a third person narrative. What do you think? Let me know!

There are days in the hillsides outside of Bethlehem where the clouds seem to hover just under the sky. The light takes on a golden hue, and everything, from the pebbles on the road to the birds soaring in the air, are distinct and beautiful.

It was on such an afternoon that Joseph wrapped his dinner in a cloth: salty goat cheese, a dried fig, and some good, flat bread. Holding it in one hand along with a small jug of cool water and taking his staff, which was light but strong, in the other hand, he set off for the hills.

Walking happily through the bustling, busy streets of Bethlehem, Joseph nodded at strangers. All these people had come to be taxed by the Romans, and the usually quiet homes bustled with movement. It was hard to find a place to step.

He saw men selling and buying. He saw women laughing in the market stalls, and children darting between people and animals. Pagan Roman soldiers struggled to walk in their armor in the crowds. The hated tax collectors sat at their tables, with their scrolls. The throngs parted hastily for a man passing with leprosy, calling out, "Unclean." A beggar with twisted legs leaned against a wall with his eyes closed, asleep. Joseph saw these people as he walked toward the city gates.

Then out into the clean, fresh air where the breeze reached him, and swung his cloaks about his legs as he walked. The bright, new grain swayed in the wind. His heart felt light as he rose up into the rocky hills above the city where he would find his family's flocks and tend them for the night.

All the sheep were known to Joseph. When they heard his voice, they came. It was lambing season, and so there were wobbling new lambs scampering amongst the rocks. The shepherds would spend much of their time counting to make sure that none of them had strayed because each of them were precious. They were Joseph's livelihood, but they were also under his care, for he was their shepherd.

Joseph joined his friends on the hill and they talked as they watched their sheep graze. They talked of the Romans, taxes, the Passover soon to come, their children, and their scripture. They talked of the promised Messiah, who would save them from the Romans, and they wondered what it would be like to be free.

As the sun drifted below the horizon in a blaze of light, the shepherds gathered their sheep and lit fires of sweet wood. Sitting down, they opened their bundles and ate. After supper, some of the shepherds lay down to rest. The night was deep and warm, and the stars glittered in the sky.

Tired but content, Joseph stood among his flock, and rested his cheek against his cool staff. He could see the lights of the town below, which didn't look so crowded and dirty from a distance. Slowly, the lights in the windows went out. All was quiet on the hill except for the occasional soft bleating of a sheep. He drifted slowly off to sleep, and he dreamed.

In his dream, the dark night began to grow lighter, as if the sun were rising. He could hear a soft, sweet lullaby. In his dream, the stars themselves were singing. Slowly, Joseph began to realize he wasn't dreaming.

Opening his eyes, he saw that he was surrounded by light and music. The entire hill was wrapped in it, and it seemed to move among them. Lifting his face to the warm night, he saw a man, beckoning to them to come and see. The man told them that their Savior had come at last to make them free. Could it be true?

Closing his eyes once again, Joseph wondered if he was still asleep. But the words of them music seemed to embrace him, "On earth--peace. Good will toward all men." The very rocks of the hills and grasses at his feet seemed to drink in the message of the song and respond and plead with him to believe.

As he opened his eyes once again, he saw that the light and the music were fading, shimmering, and slipping away. He was left in the rich, deep silence that followed. Everything in the hills was the same as before, except for a new star that had appeared in the sky. The shepherds picked up their staffs. Some turned back to their fire. Some turned back to their sheep. But some, including Joseph, took up their staffs and they moved down the hill, picking up speed, running to see. Running to know for themselves. While below them, the city slept.


Okay, I want your comments. For my post for Saturday (Day 30) I want to know, which entry would you like to see me revise, revisit, and re-post? If no one leaves me comments (please leave me a comment!) then I'll just choose one, but I thought it would be more fun to hear what stories you'd like to hear more of or you think are improveable.


Day 29: Stuff I Know

We should write what we know. Right? Our best writing--our most authentic voice--is about the things we've experienced and learned for ourselves. So. Here's a list of some stuff I know at least something, if not everything, about:

The 100 years war
expressive/receptive speech delay
natural childbirth
medicated childbirth
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Arab-Israeli Conflict
Why modern art really is good stuff
how to set up a tent
carbon monoxide poisoning
food poisoning from ranch dressing
Places: Idaho, Utah, Montana. San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, Charlotte, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.
all inclusive resort vacations vs. cruise vacations
genetic diseases
white trash
government and politics (two different things)
child development
Pre-Raphaelite painters and Victorian England

See--writing that down, I don't feel like it's a very interesting list. Of course, there are more things I could list. All of us could list for pages and pages if we sat down to think about our own life experience. What I want to figure out is how some of the pieces of that puzzle could fit together, and which of them would help me to create a good story.

All of this also makes me wonder how people like JR Tolkien and JK Rowling create these entire magical worlds, of which they have no first-hand experience. The introduce characters and settings that are so vibrant and alive that they become, in a way, real. I admire that a great deal. I'd love to exercise my imagination enough to do something like it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 28: Economy

Note: Okay, I've never attempted the kind of writing I did today, so what follows below isn't good writing. It needs a lot of revision and editing and could use several drafts. It needs better characters. It needs to just... be better. So don't pay attention to what isn't there--what do you think of the ideas that are?

It was Christmas day, and we were all sitting down to the table to eat. My mother had prepared a her best meal for us, and we were anxious to eat. My grandmother sat at one end of the table, looking at her plate and smiling slightly.

"Do you remember Christmases, back when you were a child?" she asked my mom.
"A little." mom replied, as she passed a dish of steaming white rice.

Grandmas eyes got a far-off look, and she continued, "We had more food than we knew what to do with, then. Turkey or ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, Jello, pie with Cool Whip...."

"I'd almost forgotten Cool Whip existed!" my mother exclaimed.

I shoveled a spoonful of rice into my mouth, ignoring them. I'd never tasted any of the things they were talking about, even though people had tried to describe them to me. The things from the old days. It was another world, completely foreign. Grandma talked about going to stores and spending over $100 on anything she felt like--toys for her kids, or clothing. She talked about going to the grocery store and filling a whole cart with food, just for their family. I secretly believed she was exaggerating, not that I would ever say that to her.

Still not touching her plate, she continued, "We just didn't think things could change as much as they did. We thought that we would always have enough to eat. New clothes to wear. We made fun of our grandparents who talked about the Great Depression and saved their tin foil and their plastic bags." As she said this, she glanced at me, and I ducked my head--eating a slice of cooked onion.

I had learned in my history classes about those years leading up to the Fall. Years when most people had no idea what it meant to be poor. They didn't realize how rich they were because everyone they knew had their own homes, two cars, and went on vacations every summer. They did not see poverty or hunger, and hardly dreamed that they could experience those things themselves. That was before everything had changed. The world's economies had lost their footing, and spiraled downward and downward, made worse by wars and natural disasters. They kept waiting to hit rock bottom, but--every time they thought they'd found it--it sank further

I was proud to say, like many people, that my grandparents had graduated from college. My parents and most of their generation never had that chance. There simply wasn't money, and many of the colleges and universities had closed. But my parents still talked about how fun it was--falling in love in those days, when every date they went on was free. When my parents got married, my grandmother gave my mother her own wedding band--gold and diamonds had become an almost extinct and, therefore, precious commodity. I don't know how my grandmother had managed to hang on to it that long. I didn't understand why she didn't sell it, when things got bad.

It think it took time for people to realize that the very nature of their world had changed. They kept waiting for things to go back to the way that they had been. Somehow it finally began to sink in--my history textbook said that it was when the Pandemic Influenza hit and killed millions in the same summer that two Category 4 hurricanes hit the east coast. Many people lost their minds, when they lost everything. Some people had killed themselves. Others turned to desperate crimes and even killed others to get the things that they wanted. "Our faith and our families were the only things we had left, and the only things we needed." my grandma would say.

I was in the first generation that had been born after the Fall. We had no hopes of college or travel. We laughed when we learned that people used to expect to get a car for the 16th birthday. Things had changed so much. Things were so much more simple. We were completely delighted by a Christmas dinner of white rice and cooked onion.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 27: Music

Can I admit to being in love with David Archuleta's single "Crush"? It makes me feel so happily seventeen years old and longing for the glory days of the boy-band. (Ah, 98 degrees, where did you go?)

Music is an incredibly powerful thing for me--I associate memories with it just as much, if not more, than other senses like sight or smell. I was lucky that I grew up in a home that had lots of music--the Carpenters, Roger Whitaker, Billy Joel. Either there was music on or my mother was singing. Maybe that's why my brain learned to hard wire those sounds to different memories. In the 5 years that we've been married, my (fabulous) husband has also made me yearly soundtracks to our life--songs that bring back the memories of that particular year. I LOVE that. Truthfully, if I ever do manage to write a book, be on the lookout for the soundtrack to it, because, for me at least, I know there will be one.

Tonight's sketch are songs that, for me, bring up memories. (I'd love to hear some of yours, if you have them.)

  • How to Save a Life by The Fray : 4 months of bed rest in 2006
  • You'll Think of Me ("Take your cat and leave my sweater") by Keith Urban: morning sickness (It still makes me queasy just to hear it. No joke.)
  • The Smoothie Song by Nickel Creek : driving in our Blue Altima through the canyons of eastern Utah/western Wyoming when we moved to North Carolina.
  • Hungry Eyes by Eric Carmen : Seven Peaks Water Park, 6th grade, on the lazy river
  • I Want it That Way by the Backstreet Boys : I think about trying to jump through the entire song as an Especially for Youth Counselor in 1999 and feeling cool and pretty for the first time in my life.
  • Lemon by U2: My introduction to U2 as a band, this song from high school puts me in the backseat of Marianne Power's old Nova as the cool girls in the front seat rocked out.
  • Ordinary Love by Rascall Flatts : This one reminds me of the fall that I got engaged to my first fiance, a whole different story, and driving to pick up my wedding dress.
  • Everything You Want by Vertical Horizon : a bend in an on ramp in Los Angeles on the I-5, late at night when it was empty. (This song is a good one for that whole period of my life.)
  • Make Me Lose Control (turn the radio up, for that sweet sound...) by Eric Carmen : All of a sudden, I'm 8 years old again and riding the incredibly thrilling roller-coaster "COLOSSUS" at Lagoon with my dad and feeling so proud of myself for being the only kid brave enough to go with him.
  • Jump for My Love by the Pointer Sisters : my 7th birthday and some girls in the street doing a clogging routine to this song.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 26: Running

From creativewritingfix.com: What do you think about when you can't sleep?

Confession: I do not like running. I have never been a jogger because I find it to be awkward, plodding, and painful. I can't think of any benefits that I get from jogging that I can't get from walking except, perhaps, destroyed knees and utter humility at my lack of jogging ability. However.

There was one morning when I was 20 years old that I woke up at 6:00 and laid there in my tiny bedroom. I stared at the ceiling, painted eggshell white. I was working as a nanny is West Los Angeles, California, about a mile of UCLA. I lived in a beautiful home that was built in 1929 and had a breakfast nook and a pool in the backyard. In this home, I worked for a truly incredible family who taught me many lessons and paid me well. This was my first true adventure--my first real money, my first real job, my first real "path less taken", and I was still wondering where it would lead. With my salary, I had recently bought myself a pair of truly good tennis shoes--navy blue Nike's with yellow and white trim that cost me $90.00. I had carried them home like they held the key to winning an olympic medal. Like I said, I wasn't a jogger, but something in me prompted me to swing my feet out of bed, get dressed, and open the heavy front door to go jogging. A part of me seemed to believe that these shoes deserved to go running. Just this once.

There were 18 slate steps from the home to the street. I had counted them many times as I carried groceries, children, and dry cleaning up these stairs. Bounding down them to the eucalyptus tree-lined street below, I turned right and I began to jog. It felt foreign and strange as I slowly propelled myself forward. Some people look beautiful when they run--light and airy. They bound or they glide. I always feel that I more closely resemble a rhinoceros that I once saw in a drive through safari--big and lumbering. So I took my first right into a side street, to be away from the stares of morning commuters, and started up into the hills just south and west of Bel Air.

I jogged for one mile, up and down the small roads near my nanny-home; the houses looking like they came straight out of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. They had beautiful gardens and were painted pale, inviting colors. So very different than the arid, predictable neighborhood where I'd grown up. I remember distinctly the the achingly delicious scent of grapefruit and orange blossoms after a rain. I remember the curled, fragile white gardenia petals against their shiny green leaves. Beneath me, my feet beat out a rhythm that, somehow, reminded me of the beat of a song from the 1950s, "Runaround Sue." And there was a tiny space of time that day, on that run, when the whole world seemed to be in focus. When suddenly even I felt light and airy as I ran.

When I wake up in the night and I can't sleep, and my mind wants to wander to worrying, that's what I think about. I try to catch the memory of grapefruit blossoms and the mist of soft rain in an approaching day. The sound of my own feet flying easily across pavement.

Day 25: Uptown

I know, I know. I missed a day. I sure have a cute reason, though. Here's a picture of my baby girl, all hooked up to her EEG dreadlocks and looking mighty snazzy. (She hates them, but seems to slowly be getting used to having them.) With the pink tape to keep everything on and together, she kind of looks like a Christmas present.

We're at one of the gigantic hospitals uptown, which has a really wonderful children's hospital. (My other two kids came to visit last night and could've stayed a good loooooong while.) I feel so blessed that we've never had reason to come to one of these places with a truly *sick* or hurt child. We've had our encounters, like now, but we've never had to become intimately acquainted.

One thing that always amazes me about places like this, whether it was Primary Children's Medical Center in the west, the NICU at our local hospital, or this big children's ward, is how good the people are around here. From the nurses to the doctors to the child life specialists that bring mobiles and rocking chairs and make sure that everyone is happy. I know it's their job, and they get paid for it. But no one paid our neonatologist to sing to his patients, which he often did with a beautiful baratone voice. And no one paid our NICU nurses to cuddle our little girl when she was feeling sick. I appreciate how many extra-miles these people go in a day, just because of who they are.

Christmas is an especially great time to be in a hospital like this because people are stopping by and visiting. Yesterday we had some hockey players from the Charlotte Checkers bring tickets and stuffed animals, then Santa Claus with goodies and a gift, followed some girls from Girls on the Run brought handmade Christmas cards and a soft, plush gorilla. Right after they left, some volunteers came with their service dogs. It made my day so much brighter and less lonely, even if my baby is too little to really appreciate it.

So that's why I didn't write yesterday. Because I was sitting in a children's hospital, rocking my baby, and basking in the goodness of people at Christmastime.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 24: Star

Joy! I'm actually posting before 11:00 pm! We'll see if my writing is better or worse if I write earlier. *grin*

Tonight, the story of a shepherd on a hill. (To clarify, I set the story of the Nativity in the spring for this piece, just so you aren't confused. Because why not?)

There are days in the springtime on the hillsides outside of Bethlehem where the clouds seem to hover just under the sky. Where everything is distinct and clear and bright. The light takes on almost a golden hue, and everything--from the pebbles on the road to the birds soaring the air, are distinct and beautiful.

It was on such an afternoon that I wrapped my small dinner in a bundle of cloth: salty goat cheese, a dried fig, and some good, flat bread. Holding it in one hand along with a small earthen jug of cool water and taking my staff, which was light but strong, in the other hand, I set off for the hills.

Walking happily through the bustling, busy streets of Bethlehem, I nodded at strangers coming and going. All these people had come to our small town to be taxed by the Romans, and our usually quiet homes buzzed and bustled with the movement. It was hard to find a place to step in the streets.

I saw men selling and men buying. I saw women laughing as they chose food at market stalls and children darting in and out between people and animals. Foreign Roman soldiers struggling to walk in their armor amongst the crowds. The hated tax collectors at their tables, with their scrolls. The throngs parting hastily for a man passing with leprosy, calling out, "Unclean." A beggar with twisted legs leaning against a wall with his eyes closed, asleep. All of these people I saw as I walked toward the city gates.

Then out into the clean, fresh air. The breeze could reach me here, and swung my cloaks about my legs as I walked. The bright, new grain swayed laughingly in the wind. My heart felt light as I rose up into the rocky hills above the city where I would find my family's flocks and help to tend them for the night.

All our sheep were known to me, by their black faces and simple eyes. When they heard my voice, they would come. It was lambing season, and so we had leaping, wobbling new lambs with their rough wooly coats scampering amongst the rocks. I would spend much of my time counting and re-counting to make sure that we had every one, that none of them had strayed. Each of them were precious to me. They were our livelyhood, and our way of living, but they were also under my care, for I was their shepherd and they trusted me to keep them safe.

I joined my friends on the hill and we talked as we watched our sheep graze. We talked of the Romans and their taxes. We talked of the Passover soon to come. We talked of our children, and of our scripture. As the sun drifted and sank below the horizon in a blaze of crimson light, we gathered our sheep and lit fires of sweet wood. Sitting down, we opened our bundles and ate.

After supper, some of the shepherds lay down to rest. The night was deep and warm, and the stars glittering in the sky. I stood among my flock, and rested my cheek against my cool staff. I could see the lights of the town below, which looked so clean and orderly from this distance. Slowly, the lights in the windows went out. All was quiet and still except for the soft bleating of a sheep every now and then.

Suddenly, without warning, there was a blaze of light. In an instant, I raised my hand to shield my eyes and crouched slightly. Without realizing it, my ears waited for a crack of thunder. But the light wasn't a flash--it was still there. Lowering my hand slowly, I raised my eyes. I took a violent step backwards and gave a small cry. The other shepherds on the hill all stood, like me, frozen in place. Some had fallen to their knees. Others hid their faces in their hands 0r with their heads turned like they were waiting for a blow.

There, above us in the air, was a person. A man. As radiant as the sun in the middle of the day, breathtaking and beautiful. He held out his hand slightly and said, in a firm deep voice, "Fear not, for I bring unto you glad tidings of great joy." His rich voice filled my ears and seemed to fill every fiber of my body. I clutched my staff tighter and leaned forward, just slightly, as he continued to speak. "For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord."

Tears were wet upon my face at these words. My hands released my staff and I fell slowly to my knees. A Savior. I could not breathe for joy. I tore my gaze away from the heavenly visitor and glanced at my fellow companions--I caught the eye of my brother and he suddenly beamed at me. The promised Messiah.

The angel told us that we were to seek the newborn infant, and that we would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. I felt that I could've flown over the hills and gates of the city in that instant. Suddenly, bursting with even greater light than I'd ever dreamed possible, an entire host of angels could not be restrained from our sight, singing, declaring with power "Glory to God in the highest! On earth, peace good will toward men." The very hills seemed to drink in their song and respond in an echo. Glory to God in the highest.

Fading, shimmering, and slipping away into the night, we were left in the rich, deep silence that followed. For one moment, we continued to gaze upward at the darkness, except for a new star that had appeared, filling the world with it's light. We picked up our staffs and we ran, while below us, the city slept.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 23: Christmas Card

Prompt: I came across a soggy, lost Christmas card in the gutter. It had a picture on the front of a woman, a man, and two children. At the bottom was scrawled, "Love you guys! Matthew, Jill, Micah, and Alyse". I think I will write a story about this Christmas card...

My head was buried deep in my daughter's closet, as I kept flinging shoes over my shoulder. She stood behind me, whining as she held up her choice for family Christmas pictures: Dora the Explorer pajama pants, a green shirt with a popsicle on it, and pink galoshes trimmed with purple. I had chosen an off-white turtleneck and jeans, not a sparkle or cartoon character to be found. To her four year old mind, this was ridiculous picture attire. Now I just needed to find her plain white sneakers. I had a suspicion that she'd hidden them somewhere. Maybe under her tap shoes....

Down the hall, I could hear my husband coaxing, negotiating, and all-out bribing our two year old. She, also, was supposed to put on an off-white turtleneck and jeans. She, too, thought this was ridiculous, but that's because she thought that clothes, in general, were ridiculous. "Oh look! I have your pants on my head! Do your pants go on my head?" I heard my husband tease. "Nooooo" my daughter laughed. "Where do pants go?" asked my husband. "DRAWER!" she laughed back. "One point for Alyse." I thought.

Back to the matter at hand, I still couldn't find those white sneakers. Glancing at my watch, I realized that we were running dangerously close to being late. Getting up off the floor, my daughter looked at me triumphantly. "Fine." I huffed at her, "You'll go barefoot for the picture."

Down the hall, things had gone up a notch. "I'm going to count to three, and then you need to come and get your shirt on. Oooonnnne.... twoooooo...." followed by a "THUD" follwed by "NO THROWING BOOKS AT DADDY'S HEAD." Dragging Micah by the hand as she tromped along in her pink boots, I slipped my feet into my own sneakers and grabbed the keys on the counter. We were definitely going to be late.

Down the stairs came my husband with a half naked Alyse and her clothes over his arm. Red faced and tight lipped, he handed her to me, and walked away without saying a word. I sat down on a chair and started pulling clothes on her wiggling two year old body. "Mom, I'm thirsty." said Micah. Maybe if I don't acknowledge her comment, she won't be thirsty anymore. "Mom, I need a drink." she asked again. Holding Alyse practically upside down as I shoved her shoes and socks on her feet I said "Get something to drink, then." Grabbing the nearest brush, I started yanking through the tangles on Alyse's head. I was vaguely aware of a cup being gotten out of a drawer and the fridge door opening before a crash, followed by a wail. Whirling around, I see Micah standing in a pool of orange juice that is seeping rapidly toward every corner of my kitchen. So much for her off-white turtleneck. Throwing the whole drawer of dish towels at the sticky, oozing mess on the floor, I dash upstairs and grab a new shirt and pair of jeans for Micah, who is a wailing, soggy mess in the front entry.

By this point, my husband is in the car with the engine running. I hurry both girls, in various states of dress, out the door and into the car. We race to the elementary school where the professional photographer has set-up shop for an afternoon. The family with an appointment after ours is already sitting in the metal folding chairs, waiting. Mr. Photographer quickly arranges the four of us in front of a fake fireplace background when I realize, with horror, that not only is Micah still wearing pink galoshes, but Alyse's hair is only half combed. And I forgot to put on my own makeup. "Say CHEESE!" says the photographer when, just at that moment, my husband tenses noticeably and says under his breath, "I forgot to put a diaper on Alyse." My mind screams "WHAT?!" as the photographer says, "One more!" and I feel something warm and wet on my lap. Merry Christmas.

Day 22: Late

It is 12:30, so technically it is another day already. But my daughter's monitor has gone off for a bradycardia episode, so sleep is going to be distant for awhile. *sigh* Time to write.

I wonder about people who are up this late, on purpose. There are people working at Walmart right now, in their blue vests. Maybe they're chatting with each other, stocking shelves, or straightening magazines on the magazine racks. Trying not to watch the clock too much. There are truck drivers who have further to go, listening to the radio, singing to themselves, and munching on twisty fries from Arby's. There are doctors and nurses who are rushing around, thinking that it's as normal a time to be at work as the middle of the day. (I know this because they always come bursting into your room at the hospital, wanting to chat, in the middle of the night. They forget that the rest of us would rather be asleep, I think.)

Then there are those, like me, that are mothers. Up because they're in labor. Up with sick children. Up waiting for teenagers to come home from dates. Worried, probably. I think most of us worry a lot. I think of all the mothers, laying there awake right now, praying their way through another night.

There is something so strange about the middle of the night, about being the only one awake. The sounds that are magnified, like the ticking of my clock. Small lights that shine brighter because everything else is dark. It's times like this that I like to turn on old movies--familiar friends to keep me company. Sometimes I'm awake just to savor the quiet. Sometimes I'm awake because I can't quiet my own mind. All of this writing is really just rambling from a worried mom who can't sleep. Hoping that I can get the thoughts out to make room for some peace and some faith. So, if you read this far, thank you for keeping me company during my long nights....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day 21: Death

For the record, this blog is now three weeks old. Which means that writing here should be a "habit" by now. (You know, the whole "It takes 21 days to form a habit" philosophy.) I could catalogue all the things I've done for 21 days that still didn't stick, and they would include: making my bed, writing in my journal, serving someone else, and not eating cheese. Although, I'm consoled a bit by the fact that now I'm a mom, so I'm pretty much "serving someone else" every second of every day. This blog being the big exception right now.

I opened up my writing prompts book tonight, flipped open a page, and pointed. And I managed, somehow, to flip open to the prompt that tells me to write about death. Wow. Not exactly what I was expecting somehow.

So I hmm-d and thought and was tempted to flip through and find a different exercise. Something cheerier--more Christmasy. Something a little less... deathish. But that would make me a pansy. Besides, I do have something to say on this subject. The problem is, it isn't easy to say it. And it certainly isn't something that you fling out there on the inter-tubes for the entire world to read. But then I think, maybe I should. Because, who knows? So here you go--another journal entry type post.

It's been a year and two months now since I had an experience that completely altered the shape of my heart. It has made me more compassionate, more fearful, and more caring in many ways. A year and two months ago, I had a miscarriage.

I wonder what your reaction was to that sentence. Did you cringe? Did you move your mouse to hit the "back" button? Did you feel nothing at all? Or, if you're a member of this club that no one wants to join, did you pause for just a second?

It's rare, I've found, for anyone to talk about past miscarriages--recent or more distant. Before I'd had my miscarriage, I'd heard people say that they'd had one in the same tone as a person might say "Oh, yeah--I've had apple pie before." Somehow, the way that I'd always heard it talked about, so lightly in passing, made it more difficult when I experienced it myself, because I wasn't prepared.

I wasn't prepared for the rawness. The power. The overwhelming, shaking, trembling anger at the universe. It stunned me and took my breath away. I had not expected that a miscarriage would cause me to collapse on a bed and sob myself to sleep as I cried out, over and over, that I wanted my baby back. I did not know that people felt that way, about this.

I hadn't expected that it would shatter my heart--the first time that I knew, with certainty, that I was broken inside. I experienced the burning of pure, undiluted sorrow. The rational, logical part of me stood aside and said, "You, my friend, have lost it. You have two beautiful children, a husband that loves you, and a wonderful life. Pull it together." I felt so guilty for feeling so sad.

I went for my follow-up appointment with my obstetrician. He is a good man, and a kind one. I sat there on the table with my hands clasped together as he told me that it was perfectly common and normal. That as many as 1/3 of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so--this was my third child, it was my turn. I could hardly see straight. I could hardly breathe. I was trying so desperately not to let my grief show. I felt like I had no right to be grieving.

It seemed to me, at the time, that grief was understandable for women who lost children, infants, or even babies later in pregnancy. But for those of us still in the first trimester, it wasn't allowed. Which is why, when my doctor handed me a pamphlet and encouraged me to join a support group, I recoiled. I wasn't about to compare my pathetic experience to others who had lost two year olds or had stillborns. They had a right to be devastated and grief stricken. I was simply weak.

But I was lost and drifting, and so I did seek a support group. I got online one night and went to babycenter.com and found their Miscarriage and Infant Loss message board. I found a thread for women who had all lost babies due the same month as mine, and I posted a message. A plea. I wanted to know that what I was feeling over the--dare I say it?--death of this baby, was not strange.

What I found has turned out to be one of the great blessings of my life. That is, really, a story for another day. But I did discover that we were having very common experiences--none of our doctors had warned us or told us what to expect physically or emotionally. We'd all been quickly ushered in and out, without a chance to ask questions. We grieved for the lack of space to grieve--for all the people who told us to get over it. We wanted a place to mourn and to be thoughtful. All of these things that women who miscarry aren't really allowed. The women I met there became my lifeline and my dear friends.

So, I can now say--this much later--that this tiny life, and this tiny death, truly did shape and mold my heart. I will never again tell a woman that it was for the best, it was meant to be, or that she'll get pregnant again soon. I know that the phrase "Well, they probably would've been handicapped" doesn't make a woman feel any better. I would've taken a handicapped child. I know that the only thing I can possibly say, at that moment, is that I'm sorry. The most powerful part of that, is that I won't just say I'm sorry for her, but that I truly will be. Deeply, sincerely, empathetically sorry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day 20: The Sweater and The Bus Lady

Ooooooh, I got The Sweater in the mail today. My wildest dreams couldn't have done it justice. But I think it still needs a little... something... so I will post a picture as soon as I get it *just right.* (I asked my 4 year old what she thought of it. Her response, "Ummm...it's nice. Yeah. Nice." I asked her if she wanted to try it on and she diplomatically replied, "Oh, well, um... my arms are kind of short.") Oh! I do have to say, my favorite feature?? It's a size Medium. Let's just say that whoever gave this thing it's size label was not only delusional, but is now my favorite person on the planet.

So, I don't really feel like writing anything today. No--that's not true. I just don't feel like putting forth any effort. So I thought I would, instead, do a character sketch/ponder aloud.

Every day, I drop my 4 year old off at her preschool at the local elementary school. At the same time, an ancient, ghetto, yellow bus with the words DEE'S AFTER SCHOOL spray painted on the side, comes and parks under some lovely oak trees across the street. And there it remains, with the driver inside, until school gets out.

So let's talk about this driver. What kind of person has a job that requires you to sit there, in a bus, for several hours? Breathing in bus smell. Sometimes I see her gazing out the window, but most of the time she appears to be asleep. She looks like the kind of person who should be named LaDeen. Donnette. Maybe Velma. She has a bad perm, and a fe-mullet. I have a hunch that, under her seat, she has a stash of good southern food like Moon Pies, Pork Rinds, and Cheerwine. Which also begs the question--where does she go when she needs to "go"?

This is someone's life. Someone gets up, every day, and climbs into that bus. I hope they pay her well, because she is certainly workin' hard for that money.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day 19: Money.

A writing prompt, tonight, from writersdigest.com:

You're cleaning out your garage and, hidden away in a back corner, you find an old shoebox. The box is heavier than it should be. When you open it up, you find cash—$40,000, to be exact. Where did the cash come from, who hid it there and why?


"My garage could only be cleaned out with a shovel" I think, standing in the middle of the chaos. We were getting our home ready to sell after 6 years of living, and the garage had, somehow, become the overflow for every homeless thing. I knew that it needed to be tackled, and yet my energy and ambition was seeping rapidly away as I looked around me. Besides, there might be spiders. Black widow spiders. And those were creepy.

With a sigh, I turned to the most benign objects first, loading the Goodwill bags of shoes, toys, and clothes into the car to drop off that afternoon. Throwing away deflated pink, plastic pool toys from last summer and non-working strings of lights from Christmas. Rearranging gardening tools on the utility shelf to make it look nice. Sweeping out corners where autumn leaves had collected. It felt useful. It felt exciting. Slowly, I was making progress.

Picking up a seldom used croquet set and placing it on the giveaway pile, I noticed a dusty, dented shoebox on the garage floor. Reaching for it, I wondered if it was another Christmas present, purchased early, hidden, and forgotten. The box was heavy. I inspected it to make sure that no spiders were going to go darting across my hand, then pulled off the black lid.

Gasping, I dropped the lid on the floor. The box was filled with money. Hundred dollar bills. Filled. My mind spun, whose could it be?! How much money was in here?! It was carefully divided into piles of 100. 40 piles of 100 bills. Forty thousand dollars.

I placed the lid back on the box, and sat down on the lawn mower. Resting my head on one hand, I felt a sudden fear. Had someone hidden it here, when we'd left the garage door open one day? How long had it been there, for goodness sake? I shook my head, trying to clear it. It was almost time to pick up the kids from school, so I shoved the box back against the wall where I'd found it. Turning suddenly and walking back inside the house, I leaned against the wall for a moment. One thing was certain: it was a lot of money, and it certainly wasn't mine.

For a brief moment, as I picked up the phone, I imagined what I could do with $40,000. I imagined a car that was less than 10 years old. I imagined graduate school. I imagined a dining room set that hadn't been purchased, on sale, from Salvation Army. Dialing, I held the phone to my ear and waited. I dreamed of sending my parents on their Alaskan dream cruise. I dreamed of getting all my siblings and their kids together at a house on the Outer Banks for a week.

The local deputy at the sheriff's office picked up the phone, and I sheepishly explained what I'd found. He said he'd be over. He arrived even faster than the paramedics when I'd delivered my third baby on the couch, and asked to see the money. I took him out to the garage and showed him the box. His eyes lit up slightly, and I felt a flash of irritation. It wasn't my money, but it wasn't his either.

After he drove away with the box, promising to keep me updated on the investigation of where it had come from and who it belonged to, I wondered if I would ever find out, if I would ever know, where it had come from and what became of it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Day 18: Idea

When I was a sophomore in college, I signed up for a class called The Arab-Israeli Conflict. I had no idea what to expect, but my roommates and I all signed up to take it. It sounded exotic, probably. On the first day, our small class was divided into two sides. One side was told that, for the duration of the semester, they were to take the view of Jewish-Israelis. The other side was assigned to view everything as Palestinians. We were to study both sides and come up with a proposal for a solution that we would put forward in a "Peace Summit" at the end of the semester. This summit would count as our final.

For the next four months, I read everything about Islam I could get my hands on. I was taking a class, in tandem, on the Humanities and arts of Islam. On the final day, our group went to class in full Palestinian dress. We had worked hard on our proposal, and it was quite extensive, addressing everything from water rights and infrastructure to what to do with displaced and expatriate Palestinians. We felt that it was fair and unbiased. To us, it made sense. Sitting at a conference table across from our "Israeli" classmates, we presented our solution. Their faces twitched. Some of them made audible protests. They presented their proposal to us. I remember clutching my hands under the table and shaking my head without even meaning to. Their "solution" infuriated me.

At the end of our final, our teacher stood and gazed at us. We all felt passionately about the causes we championed. This had become far more than a class. I will never forget our professor pointing out that in four months, we had come to feel so strongly about something that we were truly removed from. We began to understand, then, why this conflict was so very difficult for us as foreigners to understand, and how complex the solutions would have to be to solve it.

So, why am I writing about a class I took years ago? Because I had an idea while I was driving to the store tonight. It would be a Romeo and Juliet twist--using the story of a Palestinian girl and a Jewish-Israeli boy. I already have their names--Ezra Levin and Amira Khalidi. The setting would be Palestine, although I'm debating where and how I would have the story play out. The obstacles are not only obvious, but they're also very real. I can't think of a more appropriate modern-day version of this classic Shakespearean tale.

I'm so intrigued by this idea, that I wanted to start working on it right away, even if though it probably isn't interesting to anyone who happens across this entry. I'd be interested to know what you guys thing--would it be possible for an Israeli and a Palestinian to fall in love? Does the idea intrigue you at all? Leave me feedback, and let me know!

Note: Okay, the day AFTER I wrote this, the film preview for a movie about this exact subject appeared in the New York Times. *hmmph* The film, by the way, didn't get the best review, which brings up something I'd been thinking about--in order for a story like this to really work, it would need a LOT of research. (Maybe on the same level as that book The Historian, so--eight years or so.) This also got me wondering if I would have the story end tragically, like the true Romeo and Juliet, or if I could find a more creative and happy ending. Hmmm...

Day 17: Utah

Once upon a time there was a girl who grew up in a great, wide valley. On summer days, the girl would walk along a road--a long, straight road, that was 3 miles each way. The road was lined with wild sunflowers that grew along the banks of irrigation ditches, running with cold, clear water. From this road, you could look across the entire valley, from the mountains on the east to the peaks on the north, and the rolling hills to the west. It was all framed perfectly, like a picture. Driving in a car, it would take 45 minutes to get to the point of the mountain that she could see standing on this road. The world seemed to spread out at her feet, like a quilt.

The mountains surrounding her had always seemed, since her youngest memories, to be comfortable, friendly sleeping giants. There were patterns in the forests on their slopes that she had noticed when she was very young, and she still couldn't see anything but a great fox with a bushy tail on one mountain; clusters of trees that looked like sheep marching up another.

All of these things were woven in her and around her like breathing, like living, like time itself. But the girl grew up, and she left the valley. She moved to a high plain that was windswept and cold. She moved to a pulsing city that sprawled and clawed and choked over hills to the edge of a cloudy sea. She drove in a car over a rise and saw a city of diamonds on an island rise up in front of her, so beautiful she couldn't breathe.

But always in her heart was the smell of wild sunflowers and yellows of autumn on aspen groves. And no matter where she went, her feet never found a road quite as straight. She could never see quite so far.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Day 16: Inspiration

In one of the "writing" books that I've been reading, it asks "Where do you get your inspiration?" It further goes on to ask what kind of clothes you write best in, and what kind of setting. Well.

Apparently, I write best wearing my Nick and Nora pink "skiing bunny" pajama pants and one of my husband's sweatshirts. My bedhead hair taps the energy from the universe, but especially so if I went to bed with *wet* hair. Having my kids jumping on me, like they are right now, helps. Gets those creative juices flowing. If said children are in dire need of a nose wipe, that must just help me write faster, if not better. If another one of those children are screaming from the bathroom for a new roll of toilet paper (which we happen to be out of) all the better. Add to this Inspiration Soup the following visual:

Last Christmas, my sweet husband repaired a laptop computer of ours that had a broken hardrive. (May it rest in peace.) He ordered the new hardrive and put it all together for me. Keep in mind, this gift required enough forethought to order parts and enough time when I wasn't around to put the whole thing together. It was exceedingly thoughtful, and on Christmas morning, I was delighted by his homemade gift.

Fast forward a mere 4 or 5 hours. Christmas afternoon/evening. Someone (okay, we don't know who, but I'm not going to admit that it was probably me) left the computer on the floor. Sweet Husband goes toward to couch to give The Kitteh her once-a-year affectionate Christmas pet, and he hears a slight *crunch*. Upon moving the blanket that the computer was under and opening it for inspection, we see that the liquid crystal screen of the refurbished Lappy has shattered. But you can still see the screen. It's just cracked.

Now, fast forward slowly over the months and watch with me--like on of those PBS science shows that shows the petals of a flower unfolding--as the splinters in the screen slowly start spreading black patches. This march of death kind of starts at the top of the screen and spreads from the cracks. At first, it looks like a big squashed spider. By now, it looks like a "New York at Night" sattelite picture. In order for me to see any particular window that I want to work on or look at, it requires moving the window waaaaay down to the bottom. If I want to close the window, I just start clicking under the black parts of the screen until I find the "X" button that I can no longer see.

Oh, and my "L" key is gone, so I have to hit the little knobby thing where the key should be.

This, my friends, is the machine and the inspiration that is going to help me write The Great American Novel. But for now, I'd better go come up with some toilet paper....

The Meanest Mom Sweater

One of my favorite blogs is called The Meanest Mom. It is cleverly written, fun to read, and generally hilarious. Imagine my joy when I got up in the middle of the night last night to realize that I had won her first ever giveaway. Behold....


Dang skippy I'm going to be writing a creative entry about this beautiful number. If you haven't visited her blog, you really should www.themeanestmom.blogspot.com.

Thanks, Jana!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Day 15: Berlin

I dreamt I was in Berlin. Standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing dirty dishes and scrubbing dried on applesauce off the counter--I wondered, "Why Berlin?" It isn't one of the top choices of my Cities I'm Craving to See mental list. Prague, Venice, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Vienna, Rome. All of these I could understand. Of course, Zurich or Luzern would've been more obvious choices because they would've been memories. But it wasn't any of those places I dreamed about. It was Berlin.

A Berlin that had magnificent museums and parks. I was in raptures over a Michelangelo. I stood for hours in front of a Vermeer. I meandered along gold and green paths, and stopped to sit next to fountains as old as the Roman Empire. I could see the cobblestone under my feet as I crossed side alleys, and hear the whirring of trams as they passed in larger streets behind me. The smell of a street vendor making hot cinnamon sugar crepes. And libraries. In my dream, there was a library. Shelves of books, in every language, standing proudly on ornate shelves made from deep, rich woods that were polished and worn to a buttery sheen. People sat in stiff leather chairs, and at tables. Dignified reference librarians with stacks of papers and Special Collections editions in their arms. I hadn't taken a single book from the shelves, but walked slowly through the aisles, running my fingers over the gold leafed spines and covered bindings.

I wonder, standing here in my kitchen, with the light pouring in the east windows if the real Berlin bears any semblance to the vivid, brilliant life that my imagination bestowed on it last night. I wonder if I would be disappointed to visit it, now. If I would find the reality stale, in comparison. I would give much, just for the chance to find out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 14: Jingle.

Tonight is an incomplete entry. I had an idea for another children's book, and although I have the idea in my head, I just really can't seem to make it take form. I'm posting the little bit that I have below. I like what I have, but worry that it's prosiac. I've had various endings and plots for it in my mind the entire day today, but none of them have flowed or fit quite like I was hoping. So I may never finish this one, but I felt like it was a good, valid exercise just the same because it helped me to focus in on one of my greatest stumbling blocks on the road to becoming an honest-to-goodness writer. That stumbling block is this: I worry that I don't have any good stories to tell.

There, I said it. Let's face it, we have enough mediocre stories. I walk through the aisles of Barnes and Noble and think "Good grief! Someone poured their hearts and souls into all these books--who in the world is going to read them? Are they even worth the time?" I worry that my imagination is too rusty, or my style of writing inflated and annoying. And I very deeply, passionately DON'T want to write a forgettable, unimaginative story. If I only write one book in my lifetime, I want it to be a book that I am proud I wrote. Even if no one in the world ever reads it. Even if it ends up on the Clearance Clearance table. I want it to be a mirror of my true, best self.

That's what I'm thinking about tonight.


This is the story of a little bell. A very small, unimportant bell. But being very small and unimportant did not stop the bell from doing one very big, very important thing.

On the day that bell first opened his eyes and looked about at the great world around him, he saw many wonderful things. He saw sunshine sparkling on new fallen snow, a red bird high in the branch of a gray tree, and shiny green leaves on a holly bush. These things were magnificent and made him feel very big inside--as big as the whole world.

Looking down at himself, he thought "I am a very little bell compared to this great big world." Suddenly, he felt very small inside.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 13: Tag

Here's a challenge from my friend Chrysanthemom--can I turn a "Tag" into a creative writing experiment??? hmmm?

1. DID YOU DATE SOMEONE FROM YOUR SCHOOL? No. Because I was fat in high school. But I did have my share of hopeless, unrequited crushes on tall, gangly boys with huge Adam's apples who knew every lyric to that "Mmm, mm, mm, mmmm" song. Be still my beating heart.
2.WHAT KIND OF CAR DID YOU DRIVE? Oh my. A gold Dodge Colt that I inherited from my older brother. The true beauty of this car coming out late in my senior year when you would turn it off, take out the key, and it would start again. On it's own. Like Herbie.
3. DID YOU PASS YOUR DRIVER'S LICENSE TEST YOUR FIRST TRY? Yes. I should mention that I ran a stop sign, swerved into on-coming traffic, and failed both the u-turn and the parallel parking section. But, apparently, Mr. Gardner didn't have time to wait for perfection and passed me anyway, as well as my driving partner, who ran into a fence.
4. WERE YOU A PARTY ANIMAL? My parents never gave me a curfew. Why? Because they believed that if I was out until 4:00 in the morning, I was probably staring at the stars and pondering the eternities. Okay--and that was probably true. But there was the one time we went mooning instead.
5. WERE YOU CONSIDERED A FLIRT? No. Because I was fat. (See answer 1)
6. WERE YOU IN BAND, ORCHESTRA, OR CHOIR? Ah, the joy that is Acapella choir and Madrigals, led by Mr. Elmo Keck. (Not a pseudonym.) If not for choir, I'm fairly convinced that I would never have known the joy of having the lyrics to "Sweet Georgia Brown" in my head for days on end.
7. WERE YOU A NERD? Yes, but in a good way. We had a LOT of "in a good way" nerds at our school. The nerdiest kids got elected to Student Body and Class councils, and they were the coolest nerds I've ever laid eyes on.
8. WERE YOU ON ANY VARSITY TEAMs? Varsity teams? Does that include the varsity J-ello wrestling teams during lunch? The one man Oshi-Baba varsity squad? The varsity Harvest Ball Queen greased pig chase? Then, no.
9. DID YOU EVER GET SUSPENDED/EXPELLED? No, but I do remember that we got threatened with it in 9th grade when we all staged a sit-down protest in the hall because they were going to send us to Seven Peaks Water Park for our end-of-year field trip rather than Lagoon amusement park. No Vietnam protesters were ever more proud to exercise their right to free speech than we were over this worthy cause. I thought Mr. Robert's head was going to explode.
10. CAN YOU STILL SING THE FIGHT SONG? Ah, yes. All Hail Spanish High School, with the lyrics so cleverly changed to "To HELL Spanish High School." Sing with me.
11. WHO WERE YOUR FAVORITE TEACHERS? Mrs. Davis was my English teacher, and I was always completely inspired in her class. She had a little potpourri pot going and a papasan chair, so that we could be creative. My AP English teacher who, I'm convinced, was drunk a good portion of the time, but introduced me to JD Sallinger and the word juxtaposition and nuance. The above Mr. Elmo Keck and his choice "isms" which included "That's sick enough to puke a dog off a barf wagon." I don't have any idea what that means, but it generally got us to be quiet to ponder it.
12. WHERE DID YOU SIT FOR LUNCH? In the quad, on a bad day. In someone's car on the way to Hogi Yogi on a good day. Especially if that someone's car had bad brakes and you couldn't slow down.
13. WHAT IS YOUR SCHOOL'S FULL NAME? Well. What was it's full name, or what was the name that our rivals called it? Those are two very different questions.
14. WHAT IS YOUR SCHOOL'S MASCOT AND COLORS? Our mascot is a curious creature known as a "Don." When people would ask us what that was, I found it easiest to answer "A Mexican Cowboy." Some people have tried to convince me that this answer isn't accurate, but I've seen enough people at our high school to know that if it isn't the right answer, then it should be. Colors--red, silver, and black.
15. DID YOU GO TO HOMECOMING AND WITH WHO? Yes. My senior year, because I called a boy from out of town and begged him to take me. Bless him.
16. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND DO IT AGAIN WOULD YOU? Heck *no. (Oh wait, did I say that out loud???... *revised for my mom. *grin*)
17. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT GRADUATION? I remember passing around grape soda and Swedish fish candies in the choir section, and laughing at all the wrong parts of our principal's speech because we couldn't hear him. Good times.
18. WHERE DID YOU GO SENIOR SKIP DAY? I believe there was illegally jumping off Salem bridge involved.
19. WERE YOU IN ANY CLUBS? Thoreau Society (so distinctive and high-schticking), German Club, various seminary clubs, choir... that's all I remember. Because I couldn't sew, so FHA was out. My GPA was a 3.74 so I didn't qualify for National Honor Society. And I wasn't desperate enough for drama club.
20. HAVE YOU GAINED SOME WEIGHT SINCE THEN? Um. No. Well--yes. So, I lost it, had a baby and gained some, lost some, had a baby and gained some, lost some, had a baby and gained some (see a pattern here???).... But at least I have the consolation prize of knowing that if I ever do show up to a high school reunion (doubtful) and I'm fat, people will just say "You haven't changed a bit!"
21. WHO WAS YOUR PROM DATE? That's between me and my therapist.
22. ARE YOU PLANNING ON GOING TO YOUR 10 YEAR REUNION? No offense, but $40 to go to a public park that I could go to for free???? Uhhhhhhhh....
23. DID YOU HAVE A JOB IN HIGH SCHOOL? Burger Barn. I shall never forget when that hamburger bun fell on the floor, a mouse ran across it, and the cook still slapped a hamburger on it and served it. Didn't strike me as strange, at the time.

Note: BUG

I went through and did some revision on BUG. I took one suggestion to cut out a bunch of words, and took other suggestions to fill out the ending better. Take another look and let me know what you think! Thanks! *grin*

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Day 12: Teach for America

Tonight's writing prompt comes from Roberta Allen's book again. She has listed a bunch of places. I am supposed to choose the one that stands out to me, and write something about it.

an outdoor market
a public schoolyard
a crack house
a university classroom
a room in a transient motel
a base camp in the Himalayas
a war-torn country
an airport waiting room
a burning building
an attic or cellar


"This must've been the nice part of town, at some time." she thought to herself as she slowed down and pulled into the parking lot. Glancing down at the post-it note stuck to the back of her hand, she glanced up at the hotel. The sign, with it's faded letters, said "ECONOMY INN: EXTENDED STAY HOTEL". The doors were painted a bleak teal, with chipping paint. She stepped out of the small, black Honda Civic and locked the doors. She stepped forward hesitantly, checking the post-it note again for the room number. Four. She walked slowly toward the far end of the hotel, stepping over cigarette butts and last year's autumn leaves that had blown and collected in the corners of this delapidated hotel.

When she had signed up with Teach for America, it had sounded like such an adventure. Two years teaching inner city kids. She imagined herself in the slums of New York or Chicago. Glamorous, well-known slums. She imagined herself as John Keating in Dead Poet's Society--inspiring these youth who surely needed only a little attention to become brilliant Pulitzer Prize Winners who would mention her name in their acceptance speeches.

But she'd been assigned to Charlotte, North Carolina. Who knew it really existed, let alone that it had slums. But she had commited, and so she had packed her bags and come. She found herself in a classroom with tiles falling out of the ceiling. She had to buy her own chalk. She had to lend her students books. And she had discovered that most these youth weren't hungry for the knowledge she had to share. Most of them could care less about literature. Some of them, she believed, probably couldn't read at all. How they had gotten to the 11th grade she could never fathom.

But there had been one. One who, underneith the initial rolled eyes and the jeers, had shown a genuine interest. Who had approached her, a couple months in, and asked to borrow a book. From that moment on, she'd taken an interest in him. Maybe because he was the only one who'd ever shown the remotest interest at all. Maybe because he was her last hope for a Pulitzer Prize-winning student.

But it had been two weeks. No one else seemed to miss him. She felt frightened to bring it up on her own. She did better if she just stayed under the radar here--not drawing the attention of any other teachers or the students. But it had been two weeks. So she'd asked the guidance counselor for his address, and made up some lousy excuse about missing homework and failing grades. The counselor showed no interest, just pointed to a stack of files and told her to help herself.

But now she wondered what she was doing here. There was no one else around. Only an old Chevrolet Caprice in the parking lot. It seemed stupid suddenly. She felt incredibly young and awkward and out of place, standing there in front of the door--staring at the number 4. She could hear a television set inside. The clinking of a fork against a plate.

She raised her hand to knock. Let it fall. Then turned and walked away. Got hurriedly in her car. Pulled out of the parking lot, and hoped that no one had seen her.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Day 11: Tupperware.

I have a tupperware cupboard. The door is currently not attached to the hinges--compliments of my two year old son. So it sits there. Open. For the whole world (or anyone who happens to come into my kitchen) to see. I know that some intrepid souls have neatly organized tupperware cupboards and drawers. They have expensive plastic containers--maybe even name brand tupperware. The lids are probably stacked neatly. It is easy to find the match.

My tupperware cupboard is nothing like this. It is a helter-skelter affair, with the dishes shoved into a box and the lids tossed into a large metal bowl that says POPCORN on the side in red writing. (I don't know. You tell me.) The containers are of various makes--there are two official Tupperware containers that I got for my wedding. The rest consist of any and all of the following: large Yoplait yogurt containers, black takeout bowls from the local Chinese place, generic plastic containers bought at ShopKo my freshman year of college, Cool Whip containers, and some fancy "stain proof" ones that we picked up somewhere. Possibly at Big Lots. The matching lids, if you can find them, are generally warped from being overheated in the microwave. There's one particular gem of a lid that has it's little "easy open" tab broken off, making it nearly impossible to get it off the container once it's been jammed on.

Sitting here in my kitchen, at the end of the day, I find myself staring at this cupboard. The end of the line for stuff no one else would keep. Even to let macaroni and cheese go moldy in at the back of the fridge. I think "Maybe I should get one of those nifty AS SEEN ON TV plastic container sets. The kind that come on a little lazy susan and each lid fits each container." My mom would remind me that I should only be storing things in these containers--never heating things in them. Because I'm going to get cancer from the chemicals, that's why.

But this cupboard fits my life. It fits my marriage and my mothering style. Oh yeah, and my budget. So I'll probably just make it work, re-organizing and re-shuffling on occasion when my previously mentioned two year old pulls every single thing out to bang on with a spoon. Until then, maybe it'd be easier to just fix the cupboard door.