Friday, December 30, 2016

Today was My Mother's Birthday

There are pictures of me with my children, an unusual thing since it's mothers who take the pictures of their children and are seldom seen in the frame. The only reason I have a record of me learning how to mother these babies of mine, is because my mother was there to photograph it.

She would push me into the picture, "Get in, get in, or you will never see yourself with them." And with her 110 instamatic, she would click away, taking no less than three in case I had my eyes closed, or was looking away, or didn't like one of them.

I never knew what she was doing, but she did. She was freezing time. She knew then how fleeting our days are with our children being small. I didn't know that yet, I was drowning in two children less than two years apart, to even catch sight of shore.

But she knew, and she knew that one day, I would look at these photos of me, beaming while holding my baby up to the camera, and I would relive that time of uncertainty mixed with joy.

I miss my mother. She passed away three years ago, and when I look at pictures of me with my babies from then, both mother and child just starting with new lives, I know that I have these photos because of her.

I don't think I can make that point enough, that any pictures I have of me with my children when they were fresh, so young, are because of my mother.

Of course, I miss her voice, it grew tougher toward the end of her hospice care, but there was a rhythm to it when she said my name, that even writing about it now is impossible without a lump in my throat.

I miss her voice, I miss the way she knew me longer than anyone, I miss how to her, my children were the most beautiful creatures she had ever seen.

I took this photo here, calling out to my son and my mother, three weeks before she passed away. "Mama," I waved to her, "get in closer to Auggie." But she kept waving back to me instead. "Mi'ja," I remember her saying, "take a picture, so we have it."

I took three, in case there was one she didn't like.

The thing is, each one turned out just as beautiful as the other.

Happy birthday, mama, I miss you. 

Happy birthday always.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

One Last Look: Top Posts of 2016

It's good to see where you've been, so you know you can find your way back there again.

This year has left me tired. So tried, worn out, fatigued, and for awhile after November 8, I was beginning to get scared I wouldn't be able to find how to be creative again.

I was listening to the radio one morning, a show on Truman Capote, and the host casually dropped how Capote had "lost the art." I stopped what I was doing, and stood still. Without looking in the mirror, I knew my face said what I thought: the fear that this was happening to me too. That I couldn't write the way I used to.

I came downstairs, and sat down. I was going to try, after six weeks of doubt that was growing more powerful and convincing, I was going to try to write. The first post in almost wo months slowly began to take shape. It didn't pour out, there was labor, but also eventual delivery.

That post was "When the Mirror Isn't You" and it received over 20,000 views.

I didn't lose the art, whew, but I came close. Scared enough to learn that nothing begets nothing.
I have to write now, I will always have to write, and to turn to my old posts to witness evidence that I can do what I once did before.

It's good to see what you've done so you know you can do it again.

Thank you for your friendship now, and in the past. Thank you for reading and sharing your time with me.

And thank you for making these posts the top viewed posts of 2016.

1.) When The Mirror Isn't You
I wrote this as I thought of what kept me going after the election this year. It was the love that my preschool children have for me.

"But they can't tell because they don't see me with the tired eyes of time, of so many years spent on this earth. Their eyes, barely over a thousand days old.

I look from where I am, standing feet above them. I see eyes as clear as a winter night looking up to me. They shout over each other.

"Did you have marshmallows in your oatmeal today?"

"Did you remember to wear the same color socks again?"

"I hope your mom packed you a brownie today, like mine."

2.) Why Old Moms Tell New Moms To Enjoy Them While You Can
When I noticed how often I had to stop myself from telling the new moms I know to enjoy this challenging, crazy-making season of life known as early parenthood, I knew I had to write about what I was trying to say: it's not permanent even though it feels like it is.

M"y son and I lived a co-existence, one rightly filled with highs and lows. It was hard to tell where I left off and he began. At three years old, when I would ask him what he wanted for lunch, he'd answer, “What mama have!” I was submerged in motherhood during those days - loving him so, and at the same time, falling apart with the fear that things would always be this consuming."

3.) That One Time I Was Nature Mom
Don't lie. I know you tried it to: to be dye free, preservative free, plastic free, oh the heck with it, I just had to put their sandwich in a baggie once in a while.

"All natural, all chemical free, all healthy and wise and 100 percent in earnest.

Souvenirs of when I was Natural Mom. Natural mom , the one who wouldn't buy anything unless it had the word natural written all over the natural container in soybean-based ink at least five times. Seven if you count the back."

4.) To Remind Yourself To Breathe
When my second child graduated from high school, I hadn't had the time to steel myself, I was still reeling from the first child that had left for college the year before. With this one, I almost forgot to breathe the last day he walked out of the high school doors.

"You know what would help me with today? A new language. One that isn't slowed by the clumsy work of taking that which leaves us breathless and us, trying to give it volume."

5.) When Language is a Piece of You
What's happened, what is happening across our land? Why do we feel the things we value disappearing? I am devastated by it, but I can't give in to despair. I have to keep on voicing my protest, and so do you. It's the only way that we keep from disappearing.

"We can't lie about what we feel in our hearts. Our language is more than what we speak with our tongues. It's what we say from our souls. And I will forever have Spanish at the core, as the heat and the spark, as the bridge across the distance of where I came from."

6.) If Only Cher Had My Son
When I am blessed by the stars to see my children's hearts in action, I think about the things I did right along the way. The way my youngest has shown me patience, love, encouragement, you know, he listened to me somewhere in the time we've had together.

"Cher can't do math. It's hard for her when people give her a phone number and they go too fast. Our house number has eight digits in it, I keep it written down on a piece of paper in my purse inside pocket so when I go to the post office to pick up my mail, I can give the clerk the first two numbers in the right order."

7.) It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
This post was part of a blog hop, and the stories here from my friends are exactly the kind that leave you breathless from laughter. If you get the chance, click over and read a few.

"I like money. My desire for money was solid by the time I was five years old. I think it was then that I began with my first thoughts of the day being how could I make some money today. I didn't want a pile of hundred dollar bills to swim through, I just wanted two dimes and a nickel: enough for a candy shopping spree at the corner grocery store. I would think about money at breakfast, during school, at lunch, and again back home from school. At age 10-11-12, my chances of any money were slim. But then one day, a woman asked me if I could ever babysit."

8.) 7 Date Night Ideas That Failed Us
I fell for it. The magazines that promised they'd deliver on ways to spice up my life. All they left us with was tired, and falling asleep in front of Ancient Aliens.

"We have been married 20 years, and we are so due for a date night that we'd need six months at a monk's retreat to silence these buzzing brains from trying to balance life. With this not-dating guilt in mind, I decided to give Date Night a try after an article I saw as I flipped through a magazine while waiting to get my prescription for dry eye syndrome."

9.) Hello It's Me I Was Wondering If You Could Keep Adele From Being Happy
I am happy for Adele's successes, I am. But I'm not gonna lie: I could use a cathartic mournful ballad or two. I had no choice but to write her physician a letter, requesting cooperation.

"Have you seen Adele’s blog posts of late? Her most recent entry contains complete sentences ending with two and sometimes three exclamation points. Gone are the mournful, longing ellipses fragment of posts from 2011."

10.) I Never Make Decorating Mistakes
This one's easy, because I don't decorate. But when I saw a kitchen table that reached out to me, filling my heart and mind with visions of all five of us carving pumpkins around the table, I had to beg borrow find a way, to get that table into our kitchen.

"How hard can it be to not spend money?
Well, four minutes into the store visit and I was already love sick. My first furniture heartbreak and it was over not being able to think about leaving the store without what was in the first showroom. A dark, rich, reclaimed barn wood kitchen table with two black benches (how freakin' Laura Ingalls cute) alongside instead of clumsy chairs that were too hard for kids to push in. I wanted that table so much my neck was starting to itch."

I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I found life through writing them.

Here's to 2017, please know that together, we're going to make it.

Happy New Year, friends.

* * *

Sunday, December 25, 2016

If You Were Here Right Now

Do you know Lisa of Smacksy?

You need to, if you want to remember to focus on what life is about, or if you need to be taken daily to a place where you see that the things you wish for are sometimes right there, follow Smacksy. We're lucky enough that she posts every day. She's been my treasure for six years now.

This post is based on her delightful post from yesterday, "If You Were Here Right Now."

Happy Christmas!


If you were here right now...

I'd ask you to sit, criss cross applesauce on the front room carpet, while I showed you my favorite gifts from my children. If you looked at my feet, you'd see one of them.

We'd share each others' favorite Christmas songs. I'd go first: O Holy Night. Then I'd side whisper to you, "But never any jazz rendition."

See this "hope" ornament here? I'd tell you the story about it, who it came from, Vikki, and why she means so much to me.

Then, I'd tell you what happened the day the ornament came in the mail, and you'd get chills as I would retell again and again just how my friend Rochelle and I know that life has breathtaking moments.

I'd show you the place where I have my mother's photo and candle. It's next to the Christmas tree so she is always with us. I have her in a sparkling cut glass frame with the votive behind because the light it casts, it's from another plane, where she exists now.

I'd offer you some *special* coffee. The *special* coming in the form of Bailey's Irish Cream, a story I tell here.

You could share some of the chocolate covered cherries I keep hidden from everyone else.

I'd tell you how Christmas is a day where the only words come from tears spilling over and onto the heads of those who come around me and fall into my lap.

I would be honest with you and tell you that I could not give you any of the chocolate cherry almond bark my friend makes me. I only get just enough for me.

We would have to take a walk, because one cannot live in pajama pants for the rest of December. I have snow pants for the both of us.

I would ask you your favorite memory of Christmas, a question that Kim Bongiorno asked us. I would listen to your entire story, and ask you about details I need. And I would pre-apologize for my interruptions, but I can't help it, stories from people's lives excite me.

I would offer you another cup of late night coffee, and I'd how you don't understand, how I can take caffeine in all day and sleep just fine.

We could watch the kids play their new game Just Dance and then show them the dance floor hits from our youth, even when they thank us politely and tell us they've seen enough. "We'll tell you when it's enough, kids."  *about three minutes into it is what my cardiac state would say

And I know that eventually, you'd tell me you'd have to go now, and my eyes would get watery and fill up, because I loved having you with me so much.

I wish you were here.
* * *

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Another Year, Another Step Down in the Height Ranking

Here we are. Me and a photo of a household where in August of this year, I officially became the shortest member.

Can't say that I didn't see it coming, I just thought I had a much longer time to enjoy towering over people.

Ah, well, two decades is aplenty of exercising might and height. But it's all good, we adjust, and some welcome changes come along the way, like fixing my eyes to look upward with a lot less of glowering down.

As this year comes to a close, we send you wishes for a wonderful holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Peace, Shalom, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa greetings, and Joy to you as we say goodbye to 2016.

You've been a light in my life, and I am ever so grateful to have found you.



* * *

Monday, December 19, 2016

Remember Your Teachers

When my father died, two months into my year in the first grade, my mother was left with six children. The oldest barely 18, the youngest, a two month old newborn. Where I fell in that mix, was somewhere in the lost middle.

I have no bad feelings, no blame for anyone, I can't imagine what that time was like for my mother, a 39 year old widow, only six years in this country. She had to keep from losing her mind, and that is something I will always understand.

But, that is not to say, that within the space of the four children that fell between the youngest and the oldest, that my place in there didn't feel cavernous. There was no bottom to how we disappeared along with my father. My mother had to work, three jobs, and my Abuela, my Spanish grandmother, lived with us. While my grandmother of course had to tend to the newborn, the rest of us had what we needed. We were fed well, dressed warm enough, and slept under the roof of a home where we knew no cold.

My mother was stretched in every direction possible, and through no small miracle for a woman living her life as a new widow, she was able to take care of us.

What I craved, though, was not more of any of the things you think a child would wish for: toys, more fashionable clothes, fancier shoes. What I wanted, was someone to see me by looking at me, and to know me, by understanding I needed someone like that.

At the start of second grade, that person who would look at me, was my teacher, Miss Quill. Decades later, I still know that her eyes were yellow green. That's a visual you don't lose when someone spends time looking into your own eyes.

Miss Quill somehow knew just what to do for an eight year old girl, one not sure of where she belonged in a world that no longer had her father in it. And God above also knew, because he moved Miss Quill into the house next door as our new neighbor. She came with a houseful of roommates, all education majors, and all eager to try out their homework assignments on an eager to learn grade schooler. There was an art major, a music major, a reading specialist, and Miss Quill, a grade school teacher.

On Saturday afternoons, I knew where to go: next door. And the women there knew what to do in return: set out newsprint, printing blocks, tempera paints, new books, coloring pencils, and sliced apples as a snack. Miss Quill would hover behind, watching while I learned, complimenting me on my work, telling me how glad she and her friends were to have someone to test out their ideas.

She told me this, leaning in and eye to eye, in a voice that had me thinking that I was needed in their house. That without me, they could never see if their ideas were good ones.

Miss Quill knew what to do. She knew to be kind, gentle, attentive, to look at me when I would on some days find the confidence to have something to say. I remember the white table in the middle of her rented flat's dining room. The plastic green and yellow flowered tablecloth she'd set out for me so I could work without worry. I remember it, and I remember it today, with a lump in my throat.

Miss Quill is why I work with young children. It's why when they say my name, I look up from anything I'm doing, and into their eyes, so there is no doubt that I am listening.

And there would be no greater honor in my life, then to have these children one day say, "I had a teacher once, and for some reason, I can never forget the color of her eyes. They were brown."
* * *

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Local Woman Hopes to Trim Tree in Time for Holiday

Every year Facebook shows me the memory of the day. And every year I get to see how my holiday game is slipping. So this "see your memory" is more "taunt you with memory" for me.

This time last year, Facebook showed me how my house was decorated by now.
This time last year, I was sitting, leaning back with my feet up on the coffee table, sipping hot cocoa that was more Redi-Whip than beverage.
This time last year, I was enjoying the fruit of an intense two day decorating frenzy.

Not this year, though. This photo above is what I'm looking at. There are no feet up on the coffee table enjoying a twinkling view and there is no mug of sedating hot cocoa. Instead, I've got a chilled Starbucks coffee in a bottle in one hand and as string of white lights in the other.
Everyone is counting on me to get things done, if not done, then at least started. And true to their pure hearted kindness, they have not asked once what is going on with everything that is still in the boxes instead of on the tree. A feat on their part that just catapulted them to the all star top of the nice list, if you ask me, Santa.

I am known for my love of decking the halls, with thousands of white twinkling lights. I like it more than my family does because everything looks like an instant fairy tale when you throw Made in China lights on it. I know I want to do this, and I know that when these lights are up, I'll like how my house makes me feel: like it's someone else's for awhile, neat, clean, a sparkly place to live.

If these unfestooned walls could talk, they'd tell you they miss me. They'd tell you they want me up and at 'em. I hear it, especially when I try to sleep at night. Hey, lady, the naked walls coldly whisper, don't you want us to shine FOR YOU? We want to shine FOR YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.

So, I pledge that I am going to get started on this as soon as I hit publish on this post. And have a chicken pot pie with some blue moon ice cream afterward. But I will do nothing else after that. I will open the red plastic tubs marked "lights" and falalalalalala until my fingers are so laden with the lead I'm sure the Made in China cords are dusted with that I'll be able to use my finger as a pencil to write another name on the top of the Nice List.

It will be my name entered. And making this house be what I want it to be for me is more nice than anything else I can think of in 2016.

Oh, from 5PM on today,  I will be receiving Starbuck coffee drop off donations or lead-cleansing hand wipes. Please use the back door, the front one is blocked with Holiday Cheer in a box.

* * *

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tell Your Teen This When They Start Their First Job

I've gotten older. I get that. But hey, what's this unfair stuff about my babies growing up too? You can stomp your feet while dabbing your eyes with tissue and sneak into their bedrooms to press down their heads as they sleep (just me? ok, never mind) to keep them from gaining inches, but you can't stop the job that hormones are programmed to do: make them grow.
And since we're speaking of jobs, do you have anyone in your house starting their first one? You do?? Well, I can only say that I wish someone had told me when I was 15 what I have learned about jobs since then. The things your boss needs from you can be a mystery when you start working.
I had my first job at 15, it was in a nursing home as a dining room assistant. I liked it, it was fun, and on the nights that the red-headed woman worked, she would set aside a slice of cherry pie for me. My boss, on the other hand was awful, but I liked the pie-lady, and ever since then I've worked part time, full time, 3/4 time, only on weekends time, but I've always worked. Not only because money is a necessity but also because there have been jobs, like my first one, that I've either really liked or the people I worked with were the reason I stayed.

Thinking about the jobs I’ve had and the things I did while in those jobs sometimes stops me in my tracks. Did I really do that? Why did I think that was going to work? Maybe I should have tried harder. Maybe I should have left after that first five minutes. Like after they asked me to open up the store BY MYSELF at 5:20 a.m.
Did I know better, or had I known better, would anything have been different? 
Bottom line is there are some basic work skills that your boss or clients expect you to have. Surprise, right? Well, it might be to your teens. So, let them know what they are. You can't prevent all schooling learned from hard lessons, but you can take the sharp edge off of at least one or two experiences:

First, the obvious things:
Clean appearance, appropriate clothing, teachable attitude, decent and respectful toward others, no gossip. Right up there with these traits are: plays well with others, respect for the chain of command. Throw in not pilfering and minding your own business and you’re a good catch.*(Imp note added: see below)

Second, don’t be a pot stirrer.
Show up and do your work, ears away from the gossip telephone game. If you end up working for someone you really can’t believe is in management, still do the same. Go to work, do your job, if there is no request to violate your morals, values, safety, then do your job.

Third, do not make up answers.
When someone asks you a question, if you aren't sure about the answer, say so. You don’t have to say, “I don’t know,” but you can say, “Let me find that out for you.” You don't want to be the one responsible for paying for a family of eight's meal when they came in and wanted to know if kids eat free on Tuesday and your 'Uh, sure' is Uh. Wrong. Ask your manager, they're the one who knows about free fries with every 23rd burger, and what not.

Fourth, learn to manage your time.
Oh lordy lordy lordy, learn to manage your time. Decide how many minutes you need to get the job done that you're asked to do while there. You don't want to come in at 1:00, laugh play chat and then look up at the clock at 2:20 and go Holy Cr*p running to the point of your deodorant quitting on you, to stock the shelves your boss needed you to do over four hours, not two. Nose to the grindstone.

Fifth, your time belongs to your boss.
Remember that your employer is paying you for your time. This means that while on their clock, you will do their work. Nothing else. No turning yourself into a baby deer on Snapchat. I know it's fun, but it has to wait. *why is this one in italics? because my keyboard isn't cooperating. bad job, keyboard*

Sixth, learn something new every day.
This makes you look really good. It also makes work more interesting if you ask questions. You don't have to sound like a parrot paraphrasing everything your boss says, but ask about it. People like to talk 'shop.' That's what old folks call work. Just this little feather in your cap called 'interest' will make your boss big puffy heart you.

Seventh, let positive be your cheer!
No matter what is going on, pesky friend problems, an English class that just won't quit, save the grumbling for later. Bring a positive attitude to work. You're not a Kardashian, you have to earn a living. Try and smile, even if you don’t love your job–because it’s your job.

Eighth, look like you're revved and ready to go.
Roll up your sleeves (that's an expression from the ages) and walk in straight spined, with energy, and on each day you work even if you have to knock off a Starbucks to do it. Try to not let anyone hear you complain or whine, either, because honestly, who likes to be around that?

Ninth, keep dissatisfaction to yourself and don't tell it to a customer.
When dealing with difficult co-workers or supervisors, let your lips say “yes” but your mind whisper “pumpkin head!” At review time, let your supervisor know of any changes you'd like to see them consider. NO guarantees but that is the appropriate place for something like this to be brought up.

Tenth, be a young adult.
You will be a legal adult in a few years: don't wait until then to think on your own. Be self disciplined, self motivated, and self directed. Work without supervision, I mean, come on, how old are we now? Even if mama still calls you her baby, your boss won't see you through those same eyes.
I've got to leave for my own job in a few hours so let's wrap this up,

What I want to tell you is to Behave. What employers truly hope for is to get their money's worth: your time, and they're paying for it. You are known by the quality of your work, and one day, on a college application or for a job application while away at school, you're going to have to put down the name of someone who's worked with you as a reference. Your boss at your first job may just be that person whose name you fill in on that line. You want their words about you to be the ones that make the reader say, "Hey, we want this kid."

This list might just help you keep on collecting that biweekly check. It would be awesome to maybe stick to two or seven of these, right?
So, dear teens, make good use of time while at your job. And don't think I don't see you now, so I'm going to suggest you turn off your phone and get to work.
* * *
*ETA: A friend of mine, whose opinion I respect, has these important words to add. I feel what she contributes here is far more important than the tongue-in-cheek tone I've set this post to. *Thank you, Rebecca Weinberger:
"Rebecca Weinberger It would be great if this included things like how to respond to sexual harassment and exploitation and wage theft. What to do when your boss does ask you to violate your morals or safety. How to document this and support unions and know how to use HR while knowing they are always there to protect management. We rarely talk about the realities of what work really looks like in this system and this article looks like it's setting people - especially young women - up for victim blaming when these things do happen, as if being well dressed with a good attitude is enough."

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dear Child: You Might Want to Live With Them First

I was raised with a long list of conservative Dos and Don’ts of life.

I abided by most, that's who I am. The ones that made sense were easy to follow:

"Don’t let your lips touch the spigot when drinking from a public water fountain,”

The questionable ones, “Stay away from that girl/boy that always gets into trouble,” were a bit more challenging  because who doesn't love a spark of life from those around them once in awhile.

Then there was the no negotiating from my mother ones, that was, if you wanted to remain recognized by the family: "DO NOT LIVE WITH SOMEONE IF YOU’RE NOT MARRIED."

Most often spoken aloud at weddings, and just as often as a ferocious aside when she would relay her friends' domestic situations.

I never did live with anyone I wasn't married to. Not that I wasn’t asked.

The fear and the thought of the headache of deception kept me as a common law wife to many a roommate post college. Imagining being dead to my family kept me from co-signing any co-lease for cohabitating.

But, as is the case with most insights arrived at on our own in our lives, I am now of a different mindset due to the emotional and psychological duress that could have been avoided, nice girls do or don't, had I lived with my husband before marriage.

Today, I make the case for cohabitation before marriage certificate, based on our first married night at home together. The night when I dumped out the laundry basket full of our first shared comingled his and hers clothing, and I caught a flying shock of a view, fleeting, of something that had me hoping that what I was seeing, was a mistake.

“Mark, did you forget to empty out tissues from your pants pocket before throwing them in the laundry?” I asked while seeing before me what appeared to be shreds of tissue that had gone through the dryer.

“Nope,” he said without any thought.

And just like that, what could have been an arms entwined google eyed experience of what a metaphor of our coupling this laundry was; turned out, instead, to be a whispered shameful conversation at lunch with my best friend at work the next day.

“Oh my god, I just don't know," I tried to take a bite of my sandwich. I checked over both shoulders to make sure no one else was listening, “It's his underwear…” I stuttered. “It looked like a lace doily. Like the first ones ever made. I swear, the Smithsonian called asking for it.”

“Get.Out.,” my friend mouthed back, “like, how old do you think it was? ‘Cuz that’s just gross.”

“I know, I know,” I kept whispering. "I just couldn’t get the holey Swiss cheese memory of the backside of his boxers out of my mind, not even, you know, later…”

“You gotta tell him it’s just not right, and that you can afford new underwear. Like, make it fun, go shopping for new stuff together. He'll like that.”

“But what can I do in the meantime? What is seen, cannot be unseen. I brought it up… and he, he was almost proud of how old his boxers were. He bragged, ‘yup, had those babies since my fraternity days. Do you think it's memories?"

My single friend looked down before answering. "Maybe. Maybe you should have lived together first."

Ach. Straight to my Catholic upbringing soul. Why is life so difficult?

With her reaction in mind, I decided to keep what happened next, to myself.

When I saw my new husband lovingly double fold his tissue thin underwear, and as though delivering the golden tablets to Joseph Smith himself, place them on his side of our shared dresser drawer, right next to my honeymoon trousseau of days old satin underthings.

The man was neat, orderly, and folding his own laundry.

Sometimes you hit the jackpot, but if I had lived with him before, I would have come to value this, sooner.

Cohabitation, ask me 20 years later and I'll tell you: It's worth every risk of family disownment. And 15 Hail Marys said at bedtime.
* * *

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Help! I Don't Know What To Do With My Kids on Winter Break!

Buy them each a dog bed from PetSmart. Call it Cozy Craft Center. They'll never know.

I understand. I remember the same feeling when I brought home Baby #2 when Baby #1 was still a baby. How will I know what to do all day long with these children?

Your kids have been gone since September, haven't they? The day has been yours, pretty much. Even if you don't spend it with a calendar filled with major spa time, you have been able to run errands without towing your mini daycare center along.

But, come next week, the Children Will Be Home.

How many? All of them.

Your kids, the ones that again belong to you during the day hours, will be home for Christmas. They will be joyful, singing Alleluia as they descend the stairs at 5:15 a.m. because for some reason now waking up with the 5:15 a.m. sunrise doesn't make them inert mass as it does on a school day. It is winter break, and they have been brought back to life.

Joy to the world! they sing while pajama-clad they greet you, ready to squeeze every second of this being home that stretches out before them.

I know some of us will be going away on vacation. And the rest like me, are homebound. On blustery days, with the sun setting at 4:30 p.m. every day. But let's not think about that. And let's also not think about all the bodies that are not ours now being warmed by the hot Aztec sun as they lay on sizzling sandy beaches. Mai Tai in hand. Served by bronze strangers. (pick your fantasy) No, don't think about this, because you have to think of tricks to having fun at home!

We'll, the trick to tricking your children into a good time is much like serving red sauce on a bone white plate so it doesn't look like an episode of Grey's Anatomy: it's all about presentation.

Fun is what you tell your kids it is. To make things survivable for you and yours the next few weeks, I've got a Monday through Friday calendar for you. Borrow heavily.

Let's begin with Monday:

Monday will be Treasure Hunting Day.
You can quibble, maybe call it basement cleaning. But in my mind, it's treasure hunting. You never know what you will find down in the subterranean levels.

Tuesday is Rule The World For A Day-Day.
Yes, absolutely right that's what it is. The kids get to do whatever they want to within the square feet of this house. What could be better? Not much, my friend, I know I'd kill for a day like that.

Wednesday is Get To Know Your Family Really Well Day.
This exhilarating day will be spent in close face to face and highly interactive conversational one on one with each other, as we spend our time indoors today: the day severe storms have been forecast.

Thursday is Get Your Wish Day.
As all the kids get to play on their screens till the cows come home. Or till their eyes cross. Or they look like Einstein. Whichever comes first.

Friday is Are You Smarter Than Your Mom Day.
As each of your kids take Mama on in any games of their choice. They're truly looking forward to this one since they know I only have a few more good years left in this sleep deprived brain and the sooner they beat me, the sooner they can move on. Bite the bullet and survive the rounds of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, the eternal Monopoly, because after today, you will be one day down!

Saturday is Let's See Who Can Sleep In The Longest Day.
What a way to bring our exciting best stay at home vacation ever to a close! The winner gets to sit in front of mama's S.A.D. box for 20 minutes. 

Happy Winter Break, everyone! Enjoy these days, really. It's all in how you present it to yourself.
* * *

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Am I in Fashion?

Before this picture has you shouting OMG YES ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING?? SOOOO in fashion! let me slow you down.

While I may be your friend and therefore you want to uplift me with kindness, let's not kid. If you're reading this, you find something about me that is like you, someone who still pages through May 2012 magazines in their gynecologist's office to check if bump toe boots are still in. So let's reframe the question:

Am I in fashion for this season in America.

By this season, I mean Trumpocalypse*.

I don't just want to survive the next four years of a Trump presidency, I want to thrive. And that means hunkering down with what I'll need: purpose, community, solidarity. Needing to see who's with me and me calling back to you in a nod from my water resistant warm yet multi purpose scarf. My fashion choices will now say to you, you are beautiful and yeah I see you over there with your straight back, reminding yourself to breathe breathe breathe. 

I'll say it without the Tshirt:

It's not over yet.
Keep trying
#Resist (although I'm not scratching off the #Resist Tshirt idea. I like it)

I will look like the ever prepared Girl Scout, only older and more awesome. I will be the one dressing in the words until I begin to believe them: It's not meaningless, it's not too late, you won't stay in bed forever.

The call out of my efficient use of corduroy. The sturdy nod of my canvas black jeans. The boots with a heel, square and durable, that mean business. A belt that is not military grade weave is no belt at all. This Trump age is going to be polarized politics. There is no way we can deny what we hear and see. Ya can't gaslight me is what I'm saying. Some are dressing in flower-splashed celebration. I'm going ready-for-action wear.

I used to know that patterns could be repeated when you hinted at them in another accessory.

I followed hem line lengths and could spot a two season out of date toe style from across the street. I could discern a $15 dry bar blowout from a $300 keratin treatment. Now, it's what are you up for that will have my eyes following you as you pass me on the street. I will recognize you without knowing you.

-Can you do with a sensible heel you found at a thrift store?

-Are you able to smooth dry your hair on your own and be fine on the days that the frizz is your only option?

-Can another household members socks pinch hit when you have to evacuate within seconds?

If so, you're my people.

So, continue on with your fashion choices, whether in style or in preparedness. But make it easy for me and others: identify yourself so I can find you.

Your corduroy pants and unisex V-necks will be the SOS I'll pick up.

See, I have no worries, because in this new age of Trump, we're finding that good-to-go is the only Vogue we need.

Who would have guessed, it turns out I've been using fashion wrong my entire life.

*Entire wardrobe above from local Goodwill: truth.


*trumpocalypse: lifted from a PM with my friend, Vikki Reich.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Dear Child: You'd Like a Christmas Countdown Calendar? Here You Go

December 1:  Get a head start and begin thinking of what you're going to lovingly gift your mother with for Christmas.

December 2:  Practice saying this: "Happy Christmas morning, most beautiful of mothers!"

December 3:  Welcome me home when I get home from work today with an I LOVE YOU MAMA! and inform me of all your good acts of housecleaning performed in my absence.

December 4:  Smile back, no matter what I say to you. Unload the dishwasher. SMILE. Please take out the recycling. SMILE. Time to brush your teeth for early bedtime. S-M-I-L-E .

December 5:  Thank me for all the things I give you.

December 6:  Let the kindness of your words roll off your tongue like silk: May I help you with dinner, please dear mother? Would you like me to set the table, queen of my heart? Oh, I forgot to put away the groceries for you, loveliest of the mothers.

December 7:  Tell us how deeply satisfied and content you are with our pristine knowledge in knowing just what you need to be happy and no more.

December 8:  Be grateful for the instant oatmeal breakfasts and microwave cheeseburger lunches.

December 9:  Seek me out and then lead me to the sofa, offering a pillow to prop up my tired legs. Coming to find me with slippers in hand is bonus points.

December 10:  Sit and let me read the books to you that you loved when you were three. Offer me a tissue when my eyes well with soppy nostalgia of how we once shared in both adoring Piglet.

December 11:  Be patient today. Take note that I did not begin this sentence with the word "Try."

December 12:  Love me when you don't like me.

December 13:  Buy chocolate in secret and leave it around the house like puppy treats.

December 14:  Say "Yes" to everything I say today and then add "Because you are in charge."

December 15:  Eat my carrot salad and tell me you wish we had a bigger bowl in the house so I could make more!

December 16:  Take me for a walk, like a favorite old pet that needs exercising.

December 17:  Look at me with affection, like you do a favorite old pet.

December 18:  When I pass your bedroom tonight, let me hear your fervent prayer to God above to bless me, keep me safe, and grant me a long life.

December 19:  Your project today is to learn to use the coffeemaker. That's fine if it takes all day because this is a lifelong skill that will win you friends and help you find your people. 

December 20: You have 24 hours to give me 5 kisses: one each for the days left on this awesome Christmas Countdown Calendar made Just For You.

December 21: Today is not too early to deliver a love poem written in dreamy eyed love for your mom.

December 22:  I like my toast buttered to the edges on barely browned bread. Thank you.

December 23:  Day off. You earned it. But don't let your guard down.

December 24: Back to work. Get your dad to the store to buy his wife her Christmas present.

December 25: You Have Made it.

Thank you for asking for this. I know it will enrich this holiday season for you as it will for me. In fact, I don't think I ever remember a more wonderful countdown to Christmas.

Merry Christmas, my child. I love you.
* * *

Thursday, December 1, 2016

When The Mirror Isn't You

I leave the house by 7 a.m. every day. I need to be at work where I spend my mornings with three and four year olds. This means that I'm getting ready in a rush. Sure, I set things up the night before, but even with the breakfast bowl I leave out for my oatmeal and the coffee pre-measured into the coffeemaker, I still end up sliding through the house because we all know that time bends on the short side with mornings. I look for my boots. I shout out for my gloves. I call out to my purse. I hunt down my car keys that like to hide on me.

Just before I open the back door and head into the garage, I stop for three seconds to check myself in the mirror. Any yogurt drips on my chin? Any hairs that need to be pressed down? How about that top I'm wearing, does it maybe dip down a little bit too much when I bend over to help them cut their papers?

I don't spend much time looking at my face. I've stared at it for decades and know just what there is to see: circles under my eyes, stubborn grey hairs that won't stay spit-down, and lips begging for some moisturizing care. I give myself a once over, and even though I look like I need two more hours of sleep, I'll just have to do.

I am at work by the time I am supposed to be, and when I walk in, my kids are waiting for me.

Beautiful three and four year olds who rush up to ask me their important questions.

"Do you drive?"

"Did you go trick or treating?"

"Do you dance in the shower?"

"Have you ever been a mom?"

This is what they want to know, and when they ask me, it's with eyes set to my face, with eyes that don't blink until they hear me answer.

"Yes, I do drive. It's how I got here to take care of you."

"Trick or treating? I do it inside my house, WITH MY SON'S CANDY!"

"I do not dance in the shower. Because I am careful. Like you should be too. So never dance in the shower!"

"I have been a mom. Three times!"

I used to wonder why they asked me the things they did, until a moment of white hot illumination where I could see just what it was that they really wanted to know.

"Are you old or young, teacher, are you old or young? We can't tell."

I laugh, but want to ask my own questions back. "You can't tell?" I can't help but giggle because I think how I certainly can, and I remember my reflection from just this morning as I passed through my back hallway.

But they can't tell because they don't see me with the tired eyes of time, of so many years spent on this earth. Their eyes, barely over a thousand days old.

I look from where I am, standing feet above them. I see eyes as clear as a winter night looking up to me. They shout over each other.

"Did you have marshmallows in your oatmeal today?"

"Did you remember to wear the same color socks again?"

"I hope your mom packed you a brownie today, like mine."

I tell them that yes and how did they know, that I did have marshmallows in my oatmeal, and my socks are the same color but two different kinds, and that sadly-though it's taken me awhile but on some days I'm almost OK about it-but I don't have a mom to pack me a brownie anymore.

My last answer brings up a gasp from all of them.

They are young, they love me, and I cave into their love for me.

I am the woman who takes care of them, and in our mornings together, I forget about the mirror by the back door at home.

The mirror that forgets to ask if I danced in the shower that morning.
* * *

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016

I Don't Know What Kind of Free Range Chicken '70s Childhood People Remember But Mine Was Survival

See this nice playset? The chains are plastic encased, like a latex wrap, around each link so that there are no pinched fingers, no accidental scrape from a rusty spot that will develop into tetanus while your precious angel sleeps.

The tire has rubber brackets sealing the rivets that fasten the chain so that your child's thighs don't come into contact with a nasty metal edge. Farther over, to the right of this photo, is a 'horsey' swing, but it's minus the metal horsey head that sometimes became jagged along the mane from exposure to the elements.

Of extreme note is the soft and supple swing seat, the kind of bottom-hugging provided so different from the flat slats that see-sawed you off if you sat in them too quickly.

This is a safe playset. I'm sure there was some sort of play-lab situation where clip boards and white-lab coated researchers were called in to take note of possible injurious situations. This is my kids' playset and this is their life in the 2000s.

Now, my childhood, the one from the early '70s, was a different one from the things that have been written about with regard to growing up before so much child injury and safety obsession.

I read what people remember from this time, the afternoons spent uncaged and unsupervised, and the words are cast with undeniable wistfulness for the free range days of the past.

I don't think that was a good thing. Because when I sit back and place myself in the days before needing deodorant and Clearasil, it's not with the same sighs of nostalgia of these '70s remembers. I sigh, loud and in disbelief, for the number of times we were in the emergency room. Stitches, casts, ace bandage wraps, and being woken every two hours in the night after a head injury. I don't recall free range but I do recall the free fall of those days.

You'd think my question would be Why would my mother buy us plastic guns that shot out corks, bows that did indeed shoot arrows--rubber tips do nothing to tone down the sting of a target hit, bouncy balls the circumference of an electric car and that sent you face down into coffee tables, and rusty gougey untethered unsafe, backyard play sets? Why? Maybe with that last one, I might be able to understand: dirt cheap light weight cash and carry aluminum.

I was talking to a friend this morning, and as conversation goes with good friends, we went from hello how was your coffee to "OMG Do you remember the dangerous toys we had?" in three texts.

Did you have the kid coffee percolator?
OMG Yes.
How about the lawn jarts?
Sweet Baby Jesus we had them too.
How about that dangerous red bouncy ball you rode?
And the clackers that your brothers had that could crack a skull from across the street?
Yes. Both. The clackers and the brother that almost took my eye out.

I look at the safe and reassuring playset above, and think of my children on the day this structure went up. They watched from the kitchen windows while three workers hammered things into place, and after 10 questions of Can we go out yet? Is it done yet? It'll be done today, right? I gave the go ahead and my kids shoved their way out the kitchen door and had at it, not a worry in the world.

That was 15 years ago, and the playset is as safe now as it was that first day. We've had no reason to take it down either.

Contrast what my children's playset memories will be to the playset of my childhood, a metal seat and rod delight that lasted from Friday night to Saturday evening.

It was a saddle-like looking pumping station, made up of four seats. Each seat radiated out from the center and in front of the seat was a handle. You pumped, all four of you, as hard and as fast as you could and the seats would twirl around and now we know why the box was marked with a name I know I will never forget, Twirly Bird.

The first Friday afternoon, we set out to pump. Young, cautious, by Saturday afternoon we had become careless. I'll bet you thought I was going to say braver, maybe confident. Nope, we didn't respect the power of the spin, so careless is what we were. All four of us set to pumping, spinning, pumping, spinning faster, pumping, twirling, going going going spin spin spin! Until the pull became too much for a 42 pound weight of a little girl temporarily mad with spinning power and I (was there any doubt who that little girl was) went careening off my saddle seat and my small pinhead barely missed the cement block foundation of the basement of our house. I landed four feet away, on my back, staring as much as I was able, into the blue summer sky, cumulus clouds overhead, so serene and in juxtaposition to the terror I was unable to voice as I gripped the blades of grass with my fingers, desperate for them to hold me to the ground and keep me from falling in the sky above or below. I was as befuddled as a pilot in a pitch black night flying over an ocean. I could no longer discern up from down.

Next to drop like a shooting star was my brother. My little sister was tossed off like one of those white haired dummies on the shelf at a carnival. We were dropping like flies and after my brother threw up the green Kool-Aid we had had for lunch as he was sent projectile to the other side of the yard, my mother was done. She had the tenant from the floor below dismantle the Twirly Bird and she didn't tell him to take care with it, as I recall.

The Sears purchase was placed curbside, not even donated to a thrift center. My mother did not want any other child plucked into the atmosphere against their will again.

I tried to find a picture of the Twirly Bird for this post. I googled "World's most dangerous toys." I tried "World's most irresponsible toys." I searched "class action lawsuit toys." I tried "vintage but deadly toys."


The thing is, I know the Twirly Bird was real. The memory I have of complete disorientation is one no one forgets.

That Twirly Bird was real, as real as I'm sure the days of the '70s that others remember as free wheelin' exploratory fun.

Free wheelin' for them, but free hurling through space, for me.

Hurling, definition: the act of throwing or casting, usually with great force or strength. See: Twirly Bird.
* * *

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Casting Today's NaBloPoMo for Hillary

During the second presidential debate, I watched Hillary Clinton's patient mode of interaction. Her direct and metered speech had me at the edge of my chair, I could feel how much she knew. But she was aware that she had to pace her information. I sat, transfixed, why did Hillary's face look so familiar?

I recognized the look from somewhere. The pulled back and reserved delivery. Slow and confident, there was no spitting out of bite-back barbs nor revved up reckless toss of empty phrases. Everything she said was worth gold per second. She never slunk down, and no matter what question came around the corner, she was at the ready.

There was no stopping her. I watched, I didn't wince at what she said, unlike my reaction to her candidate. Hillary came to slay, and there was a serenity, not a slinking away, to her presence.

And I had seen it before. I closed my eyes, concentrating only on why I knew this tilt upward of the chin, this direct gaze along with no presence of doubt.

What I was looking at, was my mother's face.

Hillary was my mother.

Hillary was all women who have had to fight against a lifetime of growing up where they were held back by those thinking they knew more, because they were male. My mother, in her lifespan, never censored or kowtowed to anyone. No one and nothing stood in my mother's way when she set her course. Most of that time, that meant her work, and her children. You could not describe either women, my mother or Hillary, without the word fearless. She was a force of nature, as Hillary has shown us she is.

I choose the word fearless, but I know the other words my mother heard when others spoke of her. She told me what they were, and they are much the same words we now hear about Hillary Clinton: annoying, frustrating, bull headed, stubborn. "She just doesn't know when to stop." This is what happens when you've been told your entire life how to be, who to be, because of your gender.
I often felt those same words about my mother. It's uncomfortable to confess, but especially as a young woman, there was no battle that I won when I went up against my mother. I didn’t love growing up under her rules, but I learned a lot from it. With every year that I live in the form of a woman, I have come to an appreciation for what my mother’s life was, as a female working in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and on through the 80s.

Like Hillary, my mother was a qualified woman. When you were on her radar, you felt the heat. My mother, too, like Hillary, did what she had to do, never saying no to work when she felt that she was needed. She struggled to provide as a widowed mother of six children. Of all the jobs that my mother worked, sometimes three at a time to support us, none was more important to her than that of mother. I saw that same thing in the way that I've seen Hillary raise her daughter, Chelsea.

My mother lived without apology. Whether you liked her or not, was secondary to her. Doing the right thing, was of first concern. She did what she had to do, without a worry about fitting in with the women of our 1960s neighborhood. She began working full time in the 1940s, a time and in a country when women didn’t and in the ‘60s, when in the city of Milwaukee women needed their husband’s signature to get a credit card. My mother talked the bank manager into allowing her a card, for the necessity of her children. Never take no for an answer, if my mother would have sat long enough, and cross stitched, that is what she'd have on her pillow.

There is an intuition that Hillary has, the same my mother often referenced, about themselves. A bravery about who they are, resilient when life did as life does — it was as if any adversity that came their way just made them that much more sure of themselves. They spoke first, and then took full responsibility for any fall out, not ever seeking out a scapegoat. Both women were serious in their work and lived by a work ethic that was there seven days a week. My mother was aware, too, that she had a brilliant sense of humor. I was aware of people laughing at the things my mother said, but it wasn't until we had made our peace as mother/daughter, that she astounded me with her comebacks and the way she would press her lips together right before she was about to deliver a sharp-tongued gem... as if to say I can’t stop myself, I have to.

To my mother, there was no such thing as a man’s world, even while she was plunked right in the middle of it. It was just the world, and she didn't give in to it or accept it. She fought for her place because she knew no one else would for her.

Of women like this, we hear "ahead of her time," but what does that say about us? That we merely need to wait and equal opportunity and treatment for women will arrive on our doorstep? My mother  didn't wait for chance to come her way, she showed us to say yes first, and then make damn sure you delivered. She would watch the news during the ‘70s with the rise of ERA, chewing on her thumbnail, she would tell me, “These women, it's good they're saying something, but if they don't do something, nothing will happen."
I grew to love and admire my mother for the same reason that I do Hillary Clinton. And I know I can say the same for the way Chelsea Clinton evolved to see her mother through the softening heart of maturity; as strong, beautiful women, and needing no one’s approval. Though there were plenty of times that I cringed from my mother’s brazenness and intentional lack of restraint, underneath everything I couldn’t help but admire her courage and her belief in women's worth.
My mother has been gone three years now. She is the brilliant stars I see in the night sky when I look up. When I remember her perfect moments, when she would unleash and let go when sexism would butt its way into her life at work with a boss who would take Friday afternoons off for pleasure but make my mother work through lunch to make up hours when she had to take one of her children to the doctor, to dealing with a plumber who quoted an outrageous amount to repair our bathroom because she was a woman, I felt proud to be a woman, not burdened.
I lost my mother three years ago, and I miss seeing a powerful, unstoppable woman in action. 
My mother was what Hillary is now being called, "such a nasty woman." A nasty woman is a woman who is a pain in your ass, because she knows things by living through what she has. A nasty woman is a capable woman, someone not scared to call you on your lack of knowledge and your delinquency in learning what you should have come prepared to know.
Nasty women can't be brought down, they know only one plane of existence: that of the work to elevate. My mother is gone, but during this election decision, she will have cast her vote for the first woman president.

I know because I brought a picture of my mother along with me, the one of her working her first job when she was 14 years old.
I set it down on the ballot, and together, we both voted for Hillary.
* * *

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why Write for 30 Days: Making the case for NaBloPoMo

Writing for 30 days through National Blog Posting Month forces me to accept that what you don't use, you lose.

I haven't written here for awhile, my energy sapped, going the way of too much anxiety and stomach dropping concern, for the state of our country.

I'm hoping to start breathing again come November 8 but I know that I've got to make steps to return to what I love. I can't let uncertainty and fear keep me frozen out of everything else.

NaBloPoMo has come in my emergency. I'm using these 30 days of blog posting to warm up the engines and learn how to get behind the wheel of my life again.

Why post here for 30 days? Why say yes to National Blog Posting Month when all I've been able to do is what is only required for daily living: work, slight house upkeep, a shower every few days, a walk and talking with the people I live with.

I've got to tell you, something has hurt me over this election. Pain that is physically close to home. I'm hearing words from people I know and I'm seeing people I thought I knew, act in ways that wound. There are signs on their lawns, houses away from mine, showing the man who is their choice for our President. It's left me speechless. Wordless. Blogless. A gut punch will take your breath away like that.

But after not posting for a month, I believed that NaBloPoMo would blow its warm wind back into my life, letting me shed the frozen fear from these intense last weeks. Two days into November, and I'm right. I've put two posts up, one for each day of November thus far. I am accountable to this space. I have committed to 30 days of writing through NaBloPoMo and just as in the past, NaBloPoMo was flint striking together again. Only this year, it seems much more.

And that's why I'm back, that's my case for returning again to National Blog Posting Month. I've got people's blogs to visit, those who are committing to write daily for the next 30 days, knowing the good that always magically appears after four weeks of writing. We are creating community by this act.

I'm not worrying that I may not have something to write tomorrow, or the 28 days after that. Because National Blog Posting Month will get me through November, through the writing of others and through the writing that I'm going to do here. I already feel the spark of ideas of what could be.

NaBloPoMo says we are here, and that we believe that reaching the end of 30 days of writing will help us find our way back home: back to the reason we first posted on our blogs. Because we came looking, and what we found then, we can find again.

No matter how lost this world might make us feel right now.

Here's to National Blog Posting Month. Thank you for being here, and for lighting the way with the lantern of your words.

Need a little help to get your writing going? Click here for BlogHer and their list of November 2016 NaBloPoMo Writing Prompts
* * *

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

NaBloPoMo Yourself Back To Life

It's November 1, the start of National Blog Posting Month: where you post every day in November.

If you find it harder than it's ever been to write because of the weight of this election, as I do, then let's fight it together.

Get back on the horse and let NaBloPoMo be the resuscitation you need. Just a few puffs of the right kind of inspirational air back into your writing lungs and soon, you'll be breathing creativity again.

I'm going to believe it, and I hope you can believe it along with me.

Here's to coming back to life, no matter what November 8 brings us.

Still coming up dry? Here's some stops for blogging prompts:

BlogHer Writing Community (pick up a NaBloPoMo badge here)

30 Days, 30 Posts via Wordpress

The Daily Post with daily inspiration

How to Write Every Day in November Without Losing Your Mind via Mom2.0

Promise me I'll see you, on your blog, tomorrow.

* * *

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Speak Minivan to Me

Creamer was on special today. And I could stock up on it because I have a minivan. You think driving in a navy blue minivan says that I gave up. You don't see what I see, me zipping through our town's roundabouts knowing I'm in a castle on wheels. So, cast your eyes of envy my way because I know what owning a minivan means: room.

Car manufacturers may think they'll fool new parents into showing up at car dealerships with their commercials of rap songs, heavy metal songs, images of hipster couples with their hipster babies on their hipster hips. Or the promise of kids subdued into open mouthed states of sedation with a drop-down DVD player six inches in front of their faces. But I never needed any of that: I fell in love with the minivan with the first time I drove home from the grocery store in it.

I didn't need to be brainwashed into thinking that cranking Alex Clare at barely legal ear-bleeding decibels as I whizzed through cul-de-sacs at carpooling time, that a minivan is the car for me.

And I have no idea who exactly out there thinks they don't need a minivan. Who needs to be convinced? Do the ad teams believe that the words “swagger wagon” will wipe our minds free of the minivan’s other names, like dumpster on wheels, mommy mobile, soccer mom wagon, Eberhard eraser, rummage sale raider? I've heard them all, and they don't touch me.

Why does the minivan need to be cool? Who drives one to be cool? Not me. I know what it’s for and that’s exactly why I have it. No one shows up at the car dealership, and when the salesman one handedly and with a wink, slides away the stow-n-go backseat, thinks, Ooooh, hooo hooo! Saturday night sin bin! No, I think of all the Gatorade that goes on special that I can pack in there!

You could drop in a Shelby V-8 engine, rim the car with Pirelli tires, smoke the windows, apply an alien family decal, clean up the cheerios and juice boxes, you could all of that, and it still wouldn't change why I buy a minivan.

As I said, no one buys it to be cool or to deny the wheels of time grinding closer every day. The truth is that minivans are not cool. They are not. What they are is efficient, contriveable, bottomless, mess forgiving. That's why I've been behind the wheel of one for over 15 years.

If you want cool, think back to high school. The coolest people were the ones that didn’t care what other people thought.

You know I'm right. The one with no effs left to give is the one behind the wheel of a minivan.

I don’t have to rap along to Swagger Wagon to pretend that the steering wheel I'm sitting behind is not that of a minivan.

Because I know that it's not our car that makes us. It's us, that make the car. What’s in the seat, makes it hot. And there is no one more on fire than me flipping back my hair, folding down those stow-n-go seats when Gatorade is two packs for $5.99.
And there's no limit of two per customer.
* * *

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

On This Day

More than two decades ago, I was unaware that the man I had been dating for nine months was going to be the man I would marry.

We hadn't yet spoken of marriage, which suited us both fine. It did me, anyway. He had made no promises nor given any hints regarding a possible future together, so I couldn't claim to be misled or disappointed.

He was content with dating, as was I. He was an affable enough fellow that I continued to see him. He was employed, respected the practice of personal hygiene, and had no addictions. Given all that, continued dating with no end in sight would fit into my schedule.

It was my birthday and he had called to ask me out to dinner. At the time, he was traveling internationally, and our times, when together, were spent doing nice things at nice places with nice food.

I knew he would have a special dinner planned since he was home for just a few days. I was anticipating romance, attention, and perhaps a gift from abroad. He was coming to pick me up at 6:30 p.m. As I waited for him, I thought of how I was ready to sit, talk, be wined and dined, celebrated and toasted to.

He arrives, 6:50 p.m., and his face has a look of grief and concern, as if he's lost something. He is also unusually quiet. I ask if everything is all right, he answers yes, that it is, but nothing more. He is twenty minutes late, which is not like the punctual man he has been for over a year. But I don't want to start the night off on the wrong foot, so I say nothing. But, things feel odd and tense and he doesn't smile to see me. We go in his car, and I promise to not bring up being late unless it happens a second time. If there is a second time.

While he is driving, he looks straight ahead and makes no mention of his trip to Germany, though he was gone for ten days. I attempt conversation, but I feel as if I'm in the car with a coyote; all I hear is "yup. yup. yup." to any question I ask.

Well, perhaps he has jet lag, I think to myself. We drive along, but I don't know about this night, which is starting to feel like a duty he's fulfilling since it's my birthday. I'm hungry, I have to go to work the next day, and I've got a new dress that I've bought for tonight on. But he doesn't notice that red is my color, nor how the gold button earrings play up my dark hair. I decide I will enjoy this meal, be just as affable back, and celebrate being with someone on my birthday.

We arrive at the restaurant, he parks, and then asks me to wait--sitting in the car. He always hops over to my side of the car and opens the door. Now I know, this is the farewell wrong place, wrong time speech we're leading up to.

I oblige, count to sixty seconds, then step out of the car. I see him in the vestibule of the restaurant, fingers jostling in his front pockets and well, you don't want to know what this looks like to me.

He then steps toward me and I see him, with his lips pressed tight. He walks as stiff as a robot, and together with the furrowed brow leftover from when he first picked me up, I can't read a thing about him. Is it agitation? Is it avoidance? I let him catch up to me and we walk alongside. I slide my arm into his, and he jumps twenty feet in the air.

I withdraw and drop his arm like an electric wire. I take a deep breath. I do not want to bicker in a parking lot on my birthday with a new dress and a growling stomach. I can make it through this dinner, I'll order something light, like whitefish since anything else will sink like a rock. We enter the restaurant, and the hostess seems to know him. She places her mouth inches from his ear and I imagine her whispering, "Tonight. Dump her. Got it?"

His tone back to her is a nodding rushed yes. They are in deep communion. He turns to me and asks me AGAIN to wait a bit, this time in the front hallway. He and the hostess whisper back and forth again and we're shown to a table. He keeps his hand in his pocket, I attempt to reach for the one he has resting on the table, and he pulls back as if I've extended a lobster claw.

Without warning, he stands from his chair and says he needs to check something in the car. I have now entered "whatever" land. I can no longer enjoy my meal, and think, OK. nice guy and all, but I just can't see what is going on between us... I know I should try and read between the lines but there's a lot of lines to read here.

A few minutes pass and he returns, his hand still in the front pocket. We eat a silent dinner. I say it's time for me to get home early, I have to be at work at 7:30, and I saintly offer him an excuse of how he must have jet lag.

He looks at me, his eyes wide with shock. I think, This can't be good. I can't believe he is HAVING A GOOD TIME??? You're kidding, right? This is SOOOOOO not a good sign. All I can see is red flags. Red flags all over the place.

He tells me he wants to take a drive to the lakefront. I agree, thinking maybe we'll talk and he can come clean about the hostess taking my place. And it's the least I can do, because I already know this is the last time for me too.

We drive there, and I see a white horse and carriage waiting. I am jealous of the couple that will be celebrating their love to the romantic clip clop of horse's hooves, because I know it won't be us. Then, turning his body in an awkward broken movement, he takes my hand and walks toward the carriage. His other hand won't leave the front pants pocket. Now I'm the one with the furrowed brow, but mine is out of confusion. We climb into the white cab, I move to sit closer to him. I make the mistake of having hope and I reach for the dang hand in his pocket. But he's not having any of it and digs it back in deeper.

In one last moment of dreaming out loud, I convince myself his madness is jet lag or traveler's fever. I make up that last one because, how can I explain all that is going on like a poorly written screenplay. No continuity of thought! I want to shout.

But if he was protective of the hidden hand before, he's grown thrice that level now. I mentally steel myself for the coming weekend of me and two quarts of Ben & Jerry's Death by Chocolate. It's not like I haven't had practice with those kinds of weekends before. I know I'll be sad, but as always, like a phoenix I will rise.

We're sitting in a beautiful red velvet interior of a fairy tale carriage, and I can't immerse myself in any of it because he continues with his pocket patting fetish. I am ready to jump out of the horse cab by now, but it's moving too fast. It's also getting cold outside, dark... and I've got new black T-straps that match this new red dress. And so I sit.

I will finish this night, and I will cherish this buggy ride. I close my eyes, and I relish the sound of the horse's hooves on the quiet street.

And this is where it gets strange.

There is a five star hotel up ahead and the driver is pulling the horse to enter the circle drive. My date jerks his hand out of his pocket, I check it to see if he's been hiding a bandaged injury all night but instead of gauze and stay clips I see a small, white box.

My date's face is set like stone, locked and looking straight ahead with a determination for what, I don't know. He licks his lips and I wonder why he feels he needs to give me a goodbye present as he leaves me for the hostess. I take the little white box he offers and snap it open it to see what I'm Sorry jewelry looks like. But there is no consolation gift inside.

In the darkness of the cab, with the streetlight hitting it just right from behind, there is a miniature firework of sparkles sitting inside black velvet. A breathtaking diamond solitaire shoots light from the middle of a gold band. It is an engagement ring, where a pair of modestly priced gold earrings should be.

My mouth crowns open as everything begins to make sense. I begin to laugh, then cry, then I apologize for the way I was never going to see him again but he asks me to wait. I say, "pocket petting, scared, worried." I think of all the perverted pocket padding this poor man did to ensure the ring hadn't fallen out, all the up and down and walking ahead so he could check to be sure the ring was still in the pocket. The poor sweet man.

The rest of the evening splits into a surreal memory. I remember staring at the ring in the moonlight (really ... it was a full moonlit night) and being so very surprised. I marvel at the planning he did from abroad and the secrecy of the night and the chance that he took. We had never discussed marriage, I could have said no.

Later that night, as I finally held his long sought after hand, I asked him to tell me the reason he had decided to propose in that way, with me not suspecting a thing. He answered, "If you knew it was coming, where's the romance in that? I wanted you to remember, always, whether you said yes or no, I wanted you to be remember."

Which I do, in more than just receiving the ring, but in him, and who he was, and how he made this plan of marriage more than a proposal, but a gesture of showing what I meant to him.

And his reason is why the picture above exists, that shows me as a Mrs., when just hours earlier that birthday evening, I thought that he would be returning me home, vowing to stay a Ms.

*I post this annually. Because it's good to remember, and reflect. Happy birthday marriage day proposal to me.
* * *

Monday, September 19, 2016

8 Ways To Get Started on That Online Writing

You know the feeling. I know you do. If you're reading this, it's probably because you read blogs because you also write for blogs. And that means you've had this moment seen here: when you've got to write something and you can no longer ignore what has to be done.

Some writing. 

The deadline looms but instead you get busy dusting the keyboard and watering the plants. You run to the sofa and pound on your forehead, think think think. We know this isn't going to push the minutes away of when you have to hit submit, but we do it anyway. It's time to get serious about the writing that you have DUE.

When it's hard to get the faucet of prose flowing and meet that promise of copy delivered, there is only one road to take: BDIC, get yer butt down in chair. But the butt part isn't enough: we've got to leave our editor swooning over what we've submitted and have them clanging their chime-balls in hope that they reverberate to the writing heavens above and we can provide more than just the basic asked for. 

That's a nice scene, I know, I daydream about it often. But I can’t promise you that. I can tell you how to get a blog post in on time and cleaned up like nobody's business, though.

I offer you a Monday gift (surprise!), because I believe we all find ourselves in the writing trenches. I know we do:

A Guide for the online writer who needs to BDIC and then some:

1.You must tell yourself exactly what to do and how to do it.
 Like this:
 #1.) Sit down, Alexandra
 #2.) Put fingers on keys, Alexandra
 #3.) Type out what you’re saying out loud
#4.)  No bathroom breaks no eating lemon poppy seed cake until you have a rough draft down

2.Get some fresh air from a walk or a drive after you've got the bones down. Stepping inside a computer to live is too much like a Twilight Zone episode. Have a life off the internet so you have something to talk about when you do try to stick your head into that little blue screen again.

3.Keep a notebook, papers, voice recorders, pens, pencils, anything handy so you can write down notes of anything in your day that might make a story. In the grocery store this morning, I saw an adorable older gentleman with the healthiest makings on the conveyor belt for a salad. It was wonderful, but it was just enough for only one, and it broke my heart a little. A story started in my head, and when I got to my car, I wrote down just the beginnings of something I can flesh out later. My notebooks stashed all over the places of my life may be a sight, but you know what it really says: I can use this outline later. (and my notebooks have saved me many a dry well of a time)

4.Commit your own writer’s mantra to memory and begin your day with it. Writers write, is what works for me.

5.Go write. You can't wait for the opportune time, it never comes. Write, if it's 10 minutes, it's 10 minutes. And a start.

6.Sit down and before you start at the keys, breathe. Then nod your head like you’re a conductor ready to direct your orchestra. Look up at the screen, hovering your hands over. Ready? And... now get up and go to the bathroom, have a snack, drink some soda, look out the window, pull out your phone and look at it, go to the bathroom, then come back and sit down for two minutes. Breathe in deep a few times… Repeat until you decide to kick yourself in the ass and start already!

7.Next time you sit and write, don't think of it as work. Feel how you are doing what you've been drawn to do every since you can remember. You like to write, it takes you to your Zen place and time disappears. Get lost in it. Realize you love writing for a reason. Remember we're lucky.

8. Scare the shit out of yourself when you realize that to be a writer, you have to write. Promise--this will make you pound out the fastest blog post in history.

Now get busy and get down with some choice words: it’s what writers do.
"The hardest part, is always the start."
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