Friday, January 23, 2015

Sweet dreams sweet Delaney

Delaney (our cat in the hat). 

A few years back we re-inherited a cat Brad had owned in a previous life. 

Delaney arrived, a ball of long hair and nerves, and holed up in the basement. We thought her self-imposed quarantine would end at some point. That one day, she'd get bored of the dark basement and venture up the stairs to explore the rest of the house. As far as we know, she never made it much farther than the top of the basement steps, always retreating as Snacks came clattering to the steps to greet her. 

For some unexplained reason, Snacks won't go down the basement steps. This is actually great, because we're pretty sure he'd be one to feast on any goodies left in the litter box. 

The dog's reservations about the basement and Delaney's agoraphobia worked out for the delicate ecosystem of our household. Each pet to his or her own habitat. 

But Brad and I wished she'd visit more. Especially after we lost Bart last year, who was always seeking a lap to commandeer. 

Our other cat, Peanut Butter, is a mercurial calico who will tolerate only a few minutes of petting before nipping at your fingers and swiping our hands. 

Delaney, on the other hand, soaked up any affection she could get when we'd go downstairs -- jumping into our laps and purring. Ramming her head into our arms if we stopped petting her. 

The girls were more than happy to lavish attention on Delaney, who was so patient with them. I'd often find the three of them tucked into the tiny bathroom in our basement with the door closed (to prevent the cat's escape). The girls would play next to her and tell her stories and periodically carry her around like a rag doll. When Delaney would tire of their affection, she'd hide out under the futon. Unlike Bart who'd bite the girls for the slightest offense, I didn't have to worry about Delaney. She was tolerant and sweet. 

Which makes the next part so hard.  

"Girls, I need to talk to you about something," I said to Lily and Jovie yesterday. We sat down at the kitchen table, Jovie still red-cheeked and wild-haired from her nap.

"What is it mom?" Lily asked. "What is it?" Her tone said she thinks something good is coming. 

But she was wrong. 

I had to tell them that 14-year-old Delaney -- this cat they adore and seek out every day -- is very sick and that tomorrow (today) dad will take her to the vet and we won't see her anymore because she'll be in heaven with Bart. 

Lily says goodbye.
And Lily got it right away. Right away her mouth turned upside down into the deepest frown and her eyes filled with tears.

"No mom!" she pleaded. "I don't want Delaney to go to heaven. I want her to stay here."

And I agree. We'll miss her so much. But she's just so sick. Half the size she was last summer. Tumors growing in at least three different spots.

Lily wanted to know who's going to pick her up from the vet and take her to heaven. For some reason I didn't have an answer at the tip of my tongue. Shouldn't that be a softball question? 

So I said Poppy, her great-grandfather who doesn't even like cats all that much. But I needed an answer. 

"Does Poppy love Delaney?" Lily asked.

I forced a smile. Poppy will take good care of Delaney because Poppy loves us, I told her as tears started pouring out of my eyes. Jovie buried her head in my shoulder. Lily paused her crying to stare at me, like she was solving a puzzle. 

"Mom, what are you doing?" she said in the voice she uses when I dance at inappropriate times (though anytime is inappropriate in Lily's mind). Then she crawled in front of me and started wiping the tears out of my eyes with both palms over and over. She could hardly keep up with how fast they were falling.

"It's OK mom. I'll take care of you." This only made the crying worse. This time not for the cat or Poppy, but for how fast it's all happening. My curly-headed girl so little and big-hearted. So young, and so wise. 

She loves that cat. And I love that cat because she let my girls love her.

When Brad came home from the vet today with another empty carrier, I gave him a hug.

"I'm trying to figure out why I'm so sad," he said. "I think it's because I'm realizing that I'm getting older." 

I know exactly what he means. I tell him it's OK to be sad and that we're all getting older and that he has plenty of great years left. That we can't see the future so we have to just enjoy our lives right now. Each day that we have.

Exactly as our pets do. So happy for the moment you scratch their belly or lend them a lap to settle in. I'm so grateful for these lessons our pets teach us. We're all better for having loved them, even after we lose them.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Preparing for rejection and praying for success

It's the start of a new year and rather than feeling the hope that accompanies the endless promise of a blank slate, I have this undercurrent of terror that accompanies a blinking cursor on a blank page. 

In 2014 without really intending to, I reached a goal I didn't really think was reachable -- finishing the first draft of my novel. Given the number of people I now know who have done this over and over and over, I suppose it really wasn't all that unreachable the whole time. But given my long history of half-finished projects, well, it really did feel like a long shot.

And now that impossible task is done. More or less. Aside from rewrites and edits suggested by the kind people reading drafts right now, it's time to start looking at the next step. 

Getting it published.

I won't pretend that the whole time I was writing the thing that I was doing it solely for the joy of creation. That the art of stringing words into sentences into narrative was a high-minded artistic pursuit. 

Of course, I imagined how it would look on a bookstore shelf -- face out, of course -- with a really smart sounding title and a dramatic cover art. All wannabe novelists have these fantasies. 

And through the years of picking away at this project, I've found myself balancing on a hair when it comes to managing great expectations and tuning them out so I can barrel forward without fear and self-conscious.

As much as I want writing to be about art and connection, I sometimes find myself sinking into this ugly place of trying to prove myself to a sea of real and imagined skeptics. Feeling stuck, doubting myself, or worse, making choices about what I wrote based on how it would be perceived by others. 

On This American Life the other day Jon Ronson shared about going to his high school reunion and trying to figure out why some of his classmates had pushed him into a lake back when they were 16. Decades later he finds himself still angry about the incident and he reaches out to the people who did it to ask why, but then also reminds them that he's now a best-selling author and makes more money than they do. 

I didn't like that I identified with this feeling he had. Not so much about being bullied -- I was never bullied really -- or that I care about being wealthy or well-known, necessarily. I think more sinister than those things is wanting approval or validation from the people or entities in your life that wouldn't have the first clue that you even still cared. It kind of feels like the definition of pathetic. I'm grateful to Jon Ronson for sharing his story. Given what social, neurotic little beasts we are, I imagine we've all been there at one time or another.

I'm also grateful for Amy Poehler. I'm reading her new book, "Yes Please"* and I'm pretty sure I want to be her best friend. I'm also pretty sure she would not want to be my best friend as she's made it abundantly clear that she doesn't really like strangers and she also has lots of best friends already (friggin' Tina Fey. JK, I want to be her best friend, too). 

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, validation. In one chapter Amy Pohler is writing about the intersection of creativity and her career and she shares this super-relevant gem:

"Ambivalence is key. You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look." 

And lest you think she avoids all the petty, self-absorption the rest of us suffer with, she went on to say she's not great at being ambivalent.

"Most people I know struggle with that complicated soup of feeling slighted on one hand and like a total fraud on the other. Our ego is a monster that loves to sit at the head of the table and I have learned that my ego is just as rude and loud and hungry as everyone else's. It doesn't matter how much you get; you are left wanting more.

"Success is filled with MSG."

I still kind of want some MSG.

If you'll allow me to take a slight detour into Obvioustown, admitting that I'd like to have my book published and then pursuing publication is terrifying. I'm slowly lining up my ducks as we speak (read?) to head down this road -- compiling names of potential agents, drafting query letters, making sure we have large stocks of tissue, wine and ice cream in order to survive the journey. 

I'm also steeled by a long history of rejection, which has numbed me enough to the disappointment that I can charge like the Hulk through the plate glass window of denial. 

Highlights include:

  • The time I was told I could no longer sit at a certain lunch table in seventh grade because I wasn't cool enough (to be fair, I definitely wasn't cool enough)
  • Or the other time in seventh grade when my best friend from sixth invited my sister (but not me) to her birthday party because I wasn't cool enough (I'm pretty sure this had something to do with the "Animaniacs" T-shirt I wore almost daily and the rubber frog named Newton I frequently pulled out of my pocket and had long conversations with.)
  • Being turned down for a staff position at my high school literary magazine. This, as it turns out, seems to be one of those major life events because I ended up joining the newspaper staff instead where I decided I should become a journalist instead of some weirdo, artsy kid with lots of feelings. The literary magazine later accepted a very avant-garde poem I wrote about a Kit Kat bar. 
  • Telling my prom date (in the middle of the high school cafeteria**) that he didn't have to go with me anymore when, after he surprised me with an invitation, he stopped talking to me and avoided all means of communications, indicating to me that clearly, he was no longer interested. In his defense, I was and continue to be an erratic dancer who makes questionable fashion choices -- this evidenced by the fact that at the time I owned more than one pair of corduroy overalls. Then again, he used to try to saw my arm off with a pencil in AP history class and farted on me on more than one occasion. It was probably a win-win that we didn't end up going together.
  • Being turned down for a big job opportunity that I thought I really, really wanted, but in retrospect am way better off not having gotten. And that's not sour grapes. OK, maybe a little sour grapes.
My point is, I can handle rejection. In fact, rejection is the stuff of artistic pursuit. I'm thinking of that scene from "Little Miss Sunshine" where Steve Carell tells Paul Dano that he should sleep until he's 18 because high school is prime suffering years and he'll learn more about himself through suffering than happiness. I believe that -- I am who I am today because I wasn't allowed a seat at that table in seventh grade. I know there's always room for one more.

I'm just not sure I'm ready to handle large quantities of rejection in the middle of Winter Suckfest

For now, I think I'll just embrace my blinking cursor. I have a short story I'm excited to write and another longer ... whatever ... that I want to map out and dig into. So while I'm in the waiting room, I'll revel in the tortuous bliss of filling that blank page. 

One more from Amy: 

"Creativity is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you live. That small voice that tells you, 'I like this. Do this again. You are good at it. Keep going.' That is the juicy stuff that lubricates our lives and helps us feel less alone in the world. Your creativity is not a bad boyfriend. It is a really warm older Hispanic lady who has a beautiful laugh and loves to hug. If you are even a little nice to her she will make you feel great and maybe cook you delicious food." 

So come on in sweet muse, mi casa es su casa.

* I could go on and on about how awesome "Yes Please" is. If you are a creative sort, a mom and/or a woman -- read it. Also, I've decided to invite Amy Poehler on my celebrity cruise. She could teach an improv class and a seminar on how to stop apologizing for your existence.

** I feel like I should round out the trifecta of awesome school cafeteria experiences. So I'll share about the time in fourth grade when I spilled a carton of chocolate milk on my pants and had to go to the nurses office for new clothes and overheard the school nurse tell my mother over the phone that even though I said I'd spilled milk on my pants, she thought I'd peed my pants. Needless to say, I didn't care too much for that nurse. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How to have the best Christmas ever

Lily watches Santa's Marching Band. 
It's like having a miniature bell choir in the convenience of your living room. Delightful.

 Here it is, just two days before Christmas.

The girls are bursting with Christmas spirit. Have been for a month and a half. 

They've scoured the toy inserts in the newspaper, shouting as if they've just unearthed the sarcophagus of Cleopatra, "It's Belle! It's Frozen! It's My Little Pony! It's Elsa from Frozen! It's Batman! Look Mom! More Frozen!!" Such characters.

We've watched "Frosty," "Rudolph" and "Elf" repeatedly (the latter of which inspired Lily to "burp" for extended periods of time at the dinner table, I quickly put a stop to that. And, in an effort to stay ahead of any other learned behaviors from Buddy, cautioned her that she should never, ever eat gum off the street. "Why, Mom?" she asked. "Because it's gross. And you'll catch a horrible disease. Obvies.")

We've sung "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to our neighbors with the volume (if not the pitch) of a thousand Carolers. 

We've relocated ornaments on the tree -- moving Minnie Mouse to a "safe spot" toward the back after her leg fell off and putting the blue bird into a better "nest" on the side and clustering Buddy the Elf, Rudolph and the yarn angel into a yule gang that taxes the branches of our already drooping tree.

We've listened to Santa's Marching Band daily. Rushed outside barefoot to straighten the drunken Santa and listing tree on our inherited lawn inflatable. Ripped open Christmas cards.

Made and decorated sugar cookies, sneaking clumps of dough from the bowl, tasting icing from the icing spreaders and, on at least one occasion, licking the sprinkles off the kitchen table (the dog cleaned up the rest of the mess -- I wouldn't recommend eating anything directly off our table ... the cookies won't be passing any health inspections either).

Last night as I kissed Lily on her head she told me she was going to dream about Santa. 

They are ready.

So fueled by hot cocoa, cookies, candy canes and anticipation that recent playdates inevitably dissolve into packs of little girls screaming at high decibels and running around the house in circles. 

Their raw emotions haven't always been happy. 

Yesterday Jovie came running to me in tears because Lily had taken her trophy. A trophy that, as far as I could tell, was totally imaginary. I pantomimed a trophy ceremony, giving Jovie another "trophy," which Lily promptly stole. More tears. 

Every day they beg to go to Grandma and Grandpa's, and are devastated when I tell them we don't go until after Christmas. They really, really want to walk down the toy aisle at Target, just one more time. 

It seems the only way they can move around the house these days is by running or hopping or spinning in circles. 

Yes, their Christmas spirit is so overflowing that at the end of the day, after the girls are nestled all snug in their beds, I find myself wanting a glass of Christmas spirits myself. Maybe, two.

I've spent a lot of time complaining about the forced materialism and the rush of the holidays. The endless promotion of All The Stuff you must buy in order to show everyone that you love and/or appreciate them. This year, I've attempted to put blinders on to all the commercial hype. The cars in bows. The iPads. The 24-hour sales. 

I've felt like a honey bee, flying through December, making sure only to land on the moments that I am sure will offer the best sustenance, then sipping the joy until my soul is full.

Lily and Dasher at Central Market. 

Lily and I went shopping in downtown York on Small Business Saturday. We stopped in Central Market for lunch and shared macaroni and cheese, she marveled at all the people and stared shyly at the guy in a reindeer suit, eventually gathering courage to meet him. Sort of.

I skipped though Longwood Gardens with my giggling niece Penelope under a rainbow of twinkling Christmas lights. 

Listened to my dad read a Christmas story in a room crowded full of siblings and nieces and nephews while Lily and Penelope sat on my lap licking me, glaring at my brother-in-law Lukas as he suppressed snorts from across the room. 

Watched as Lily refused to make eye contact with Santa when he made an appearance at the end of her preschool Christmas show. (And I agree with her, he is more magical at a distance.)

Snacks is not amused.
Delaney is less even less amused.
Giggled conspiratorially while forcing the dog (and a cat) to dress up like Santa. 

Enjoyed the easy conversation and laughter of coffee with great friends while our kids chased each other (screaming of course) to the tune of "Deck the Halls." 

Lily, Jovie and Francis the sheep.
Fed the barn animals Ginger Snaps and wished them all a Merry Christmas.

Snuggled with Brad for the annual viewings of "Love Actually" and "Christmas Vacation." 

I can hear the sound of someone throwing up a little in their mouth right now. 

Here's the thing, I'm not trying to suggest I've solved the problem of high holiday expectations. And I certainly haven't found a solution to holiday stress. 

Right now, I should be editing interviews about CAD software and personal finance and retirement planning and all the other blogging assignments that are piling up in my inbox. I don't know when they'll all get done what with the cookies to bake and pie to make and wrapping to finish and packing and ... and ... and ... There's always so much more to do. But I miss writing for me. So I'm cramming this in. Because they'll never be enough time anyway. 

I've been on the verge of multiple mom-splosions (and by on the verge, I mean I've all out Mount Vesuviused) for the dumbest things. 


The eruptions are more trouble than they're worth though, because of actually solving any problems, I just make Lily cry in the most pitiful way. And then I feel like an asshole. I mean, I feel like an asshole while I'm yelling, but especially so afterward. When their big, tear-filled eyes are looking at me with a mixture of horror and concern. Like this is the Big One. Mom's lost her shit and Santa isn't coming and that basically means the world is over. 

So, no. It's not been a perfect month. 

It's nice to have figured out that it will never be the perfect month. But all those moments of perfection are there for you to grab if you just pay attention. Really. Just go ahead and take them.
Gratuitous rosy cheek shot.

Sunday, the day of the Winter Solstice, was brisk, but sunny. The girls were, once again, behaving like baby goats, clattering around the house, braying and generally making a mess of things. So I bundled them up, put a leash on the dog and headed to the park. They ran and ran and ran. When they stopped, I suggested they run some more. 

When they were sufficiently tired out, we headed toward home. We stopped to chat with a woman walking her dachshund, Charlie. Her face split into a grin when she saw the girls, admiring how pretty they were with their rosy cheeks and asking if they were excited to see Santa. She was so earnest. 

"It's so fun at this age," she said, wistfully. "All my kids are grown. Even my grandchildren are teenagers. Enjoy them." 

I know what she means. For awhile there, you forget about how magical this season can be. But then with the kids, it's all glittery and mysterious and wonderful all over again. Like an unopened present.

The girls scratched Charlie and wished our neighbor a merry christmas in their tiny, bell-like voices.

Here it is, two days before Christmas. We haven't opened any of the presents under our tree yet, but I've already unwrapped the Big One. 

Best. Christmas. Ever.

(OK, fine, commence more mouth vomiting. Wash it down with a cookie. Yummmm.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wishing it were summer here today

I've seen the sun exactly twice in the past two weeks. And briefly at that. 

I feel it's safe to say that most residents of the East Coast are already tired of winter, which is pretty disheartening considering the solstice isn't even for another 10 days.

Conversation among my fellow stay-at-home moms has revolved around how we're trying to soak in as much of the Christmas spirit with its cheery lights and cozy smells before we hit the post-Holiday season suckfest that is the remainder of winter.

I was amused to find out today that general annoyance about the frigid, overcast days has reached my Syracuse relatives. 

My overall impression of the 'Cuse was that residents spend September to April buried under (roughly) 80 feet of snow, and, just like the Eskimos they're born with certain Polar skills. They know how to navigate treacherous terrain, just like the ice road truckers, straight out of the womb. They have more than 100 different words in their vocabulary for the word "grey" because that describes the sky 98 percent of the year. They're the Frank Lloyd Wrights of innovative snow construction.

So I was shocked to find out that my Aunt Maureen, a lifelong Syracuse resident, hated winter. Earlier today, Mom sent this email to my siblings and me:
"So yesterday Maureen and I were texting and she was talking about the bad weather in Syracuse so I suggested she write a poem or compose a song that would make us all laugh and smile-- here is her creation for your Thursday afternoon entertainment."
Winter Wonderland
 (Aunt Maureen's version is to the right) 

It seems cruel, really, that anyone living in the tundra of Upstate New York would dislike their cloudy climes.

I love mom's challenge to write your way out of the winter blues and Aunt Mo's willingness to play along with her special brand of wit. 

And, on a slightly unrelated note, Aunt Maureen doesn't know this, but one of the main characters (oh how I love this character) in my novel is named for her, so it seemed strangely fitting that her creative spirit wafted south today on an Arctic breeze. 

And in case you're wondering about that black hole of a project, my assignment this week is to write a synopsis of the novel and a query letter (thanks Beth). I'll make sure to post what I come up with soon ... cuz many of you have asked what it's about and I haven't had a succinct answer. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stub story: The Football Game

I'm in a bit of a funk these days. I don't know if it's because I'm in between projects or the impending winter or what, but I haven't really felt much like writing. 

But I still feel like I should be writing. And I guess there's no better way to de-funkify yourself than by (begrudgingly) doing the thing you feel like you're supposed to be doing even when you don't really feel much like doing it. 

So tonight I thought I'd dust off my box of ticket stubs and tackle a story I meant to write more than a year ago. For my own amusement (and maybe yours as well), I included photo illustrations. 

For those of you who know me and my family, I feel the need to point out that while there might be some familiar themes in this story, it is a work of fiction. No adorable cars were harmed in the real life.

So without further ado ...

The Stub:

The Story:

Brandon grabbed the phone vibrating on the nightstand, praying the almost soundless disturbance would not startle the baby nestled between Gemma and him. 

It was 4 in the morning. Those two must have just fallen asleep. Brandon vaguely remembered hearing the baby whimpering at midnight and then again around 2 or 3. The twilight creaking of the floor as Gemma did laps around the room hoping to soothe the fussy 7 month old stirred him slightly. 

He slipped out of bed. The dog stretched out lengthwise at Gemma's feet lifted his head halfway, confused. "Not yet buddy," he whispered and the dog yawned and lay back down. Somehow relieved that the internal clock that dictated meal times was not, in fact, broken.

Like a spider slinking across a ceiling, he slipped down the hallway, holding his breath as he passed Azalea's room. With any luck, she'd sleep another couple hours before demanding Corn Pops and cartoons at the top of her strong, 3-year-old lungs. But given the last couple days, he wasn't feeling all too lucky where the kids were concerned. 

He relaxed slightly once he made it downstairs. In the kitchen, he changed out of his pajamas, layering jeans over a pair of long johns, then a short-sleeved shirt, followed by a long-sleeved shirt, topped with his favorite jersey. He put on two pairs of socks then his shoes. Re-checked the backpack for the sweatshirt, hat, gloves and Pepto. After brushing his teeth in the powder room he headed into the garage where he flung the backpack and coat on the front seat of Gemma's beloved car and wedged a cooler filled with Miller Lites into the back, cursing the shoebox-sized trunk before slamming down the hatchback. 

The engine rasped as he turned the key. He ignored its blustering and backed out of the driveway.

He fucking hated this car. 

When they learned they were going to have a baby they decided they'd trade in Brandon's red two-door, for a more carseat-friendly SUV. Gemma never did get the hang of driving stick, plus she put on those big eyes of hers when he brought up possibly getting rid of her car. 

"But I love my car," she said. All faux frowny faced, rubbing his leg. "It's so cute."


Of course, the real weight of that decision wasn't measured until after the baby was born. And after Gemma left her job to stay at home. 

It wasn't until Brandon was the one driving the Ms. Pac-Man yellow VW Beetle to work every day, sharing the road with bearded men on Harleys and flanneled truckers in 18-wheelers that he came to terms with the full castration of parenthood. 

He wasn't looking forward to all the shit he'd hear from the guys when he pulled the thing into the parking lot at the tailgate either. But fuck that, anyway. At least he was going to the game. He hadn't been to one since before Azalea.

And after last night, he needed the game. 

He needed to talk about something other than the contents of that last diaper or the merits of Queen Elsa versus Princess Belle. He needed giddy, pre-9 a.m. inebriation and a belly full of every grilled meat imaginable. He needed to cheer for his team playing his game with tens of thousands of other fans who were just as thrilled as he was to be standing face-numbing temperatures watching the greatest show ever. People who knew how important a third-down conversion was and who would never, ever ask, "so who's winning the match?"

Most importantly, he needed to get away from That Face.

The worn, disappointed, you-really-don't-give-a-shit-about-us face that Gemma always seemed to be wearing as he walked into the house and right before he left. 

As he merged on to the deserted highway, Brandon started humming a Wham! song unconsciously. An image of the Azalea galloping around the kitchen in some strange interpretive dance tugged his lips upward for the briefest of seconds before he began punching buttons on the car stereo and turning up Public Enemy jamming through the speakers. 

With one hand drumming the steering wheel, he ate the breakfast sandwich he'd picked up at the gas station. Chugged the ice tea. 

God it was great to eat a meal in peace. Like, to be able to chew and swallow an entire bite of something without having to ask someone to get their feet off the table. Or tell them they have to eat a second green bean. Or, race for a roll of paper towels to sop up an entire glass of milk that was toppled by the 3 year old who's now screaming as if she's been doused with flaming oil. 

What was it about dinner time that made everyone lose their shit? 

Last night's dinner had ended in an unusually dramatic fashion, when, after being told that she could not have dessert unless she ate three carrots, Azalea lay down in the middle of the kitchen table screaming. Her complementary flailing sent plates of food and cups of water sailing to the floor. Not to be left out of the dramatics, the baby had given herself a pureed green-bean facial, throwing the remains of her meal on the floor as well. The only resident who seemed to be enjoying the action was the dog, who happily lapped up the smorgasbord, until the half of stick of butter he gulped down decided to make an encore appearance all over the living room rug.

Gemma looked as if she was prepared to roll up the entirety of her life in that moment like a dead mobster in a carpet.

He'd never seen her look both so defeated and so homicidal at the same time. 

So while she gave the baby a bath, he calmed Azalea, scrubbed the carpet, cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes. 

It's just like pre-gaming he'd told her after both kids were in bed. Hoping to coax that laugh he missed. She'd feigned the smallest of smiles. 

Then resumed The Face.

And he got it. Mostly. He knew it wasn't easy at home for her. Sometimes, he found himself almost looking forward to Mondays after punishing weekends at home. 

Though it wasn't all that fun at work either. The ceaseless drumming of email. The problems left in his cubicles that his bosses expected him to solve within the day, but only after he attended eight hours of meetings first. The initiatives started by corporate that he was left to implement right away without any of the right tools or resources. 

He loved the kids. God they could be so sweet -- especially when Azalea told one of her stories or the baby giggled at him. And he loved Gemma -- the way she took care of all of them. Though the way he loved her had changed, too. Since the kids.

They both tried. Really tried to hear each other out. Be the same empathetic, supportive couple they were before kids. But now their worlds seemed so foreign to each other. Like a zookeeper trying to explain the challenges of corralling a runaway lemur to an accountant.  

Speeding down the open highway, a thread of light just starting to glow on the horizon, Brandon tried not to think about The Face. He knew he'd be seeing it for sure again that night, but for now. For now he was free. 

And the sweet release of freedom flowed through his body, loosening his bungeed shoulders, relaxing his grinding jaw. Today was gonna be great.

He was almost across the bridge over the river when he felt the car jerk. The gasping from earlier became more pronounced. Brandon smelled something burning.

He turned the hazard lights on and pulled over to the side of the road.

He popped the hood and smoke billowed off the engine. 


He tried to start the car again. Nothing.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

He kicked the tire. That felt good so he kicked it again.

He could call AAA. They could come and tow the car. Take him back to the house. 

He watched his whole day -- the tailgate, the game, all of it, speed away across the bridge. 

He sat down next to the car. Not wanting to make the call just yet. 

A pair of headlights came toward him and slowed as it got closer. The big SVU had an Eagles license plate and two Eagles flags flanking the driver's and passenger-side doors. It pulled over in front of Brandon.

A stocky man with jet black hair and a kelly green sweatshirt hoped out of the car. 

"Hey man, you need a hand?"

"Nah. Nah. I just need to call AAA. You going to the game?" He stood up and pointed at the man's sweatshirt.

"Yeah! Never miss one. That where you're headed?"

"Yup. Well. Probably not now. Not with this POS." Brandon kicked the tire again, Though not has hard as earlier. "It's my wife's."

He always made sure to clarify.

"Bummer. Well, can I give you a lift somewhere or something?" 

"No. Thanks, but no. I'm not far from home. My wife can come and get me and we'll get someone to tow the car. You should get going."

"Alright. You sure? It's gonna be a hell of a game."

"Yeah. Thanks again." Brandon now knew exactly how Azalea felt on that dinner table last night. He pulled out his phone as the man lumbered back to his car. Dialed home. Gemma would be annoyed he was calling so early. He could almost hear her voice. Picture The Face. 

"Wait! Hold on a second!" he yelled at the man who'd just gotten back in his car. He jogged over to the SUV. "Hey ... you think you could give me a lift to the game?" 

"Sure man! But uh ... what are you going to do about that thing?" He motioned back to Ms. Pac-Man. 

"I'll figure something out. Just give me a minute. If it's not too much trouble." 

"No trouble man. Do what you need to do."

"Do what I need to do," Brandon thought to himself. Savoring the advice. 

With that he went back to the Beetle. unloaded the cooler, his backpack, coat, CDs, umbrella and the Eagles seat covers his wife had given him last Christmas. Then he put the car in neutral and started pushing. For once he appreciated how little the car weighed. At the end of the bridge, there was a steep embankment that led down to the river blocked only by a small, tired-looking fence. Brandon stopped pushing and turned the wheel to the right. Then he got behind the car and gave it a shove. It inched forward slowly at first. Then gained speed, easily dispensing of the fence before bumbling down the hill onto an outcrop of rocks and landing in the river with a satisfying plop. 

Brandon trudged up the embankment. And looked over the side of the bridge. In the dim light he could barely see the car bobbing in the water.

The man -- Butch he soon learned -- helped him load his stuff into the back of the SUV.

"You found a good place to park your car? Don't think it will get towed do you?"

Brandon watched the bridge in the side mirror as the sun began heaving over the horizon.

"Nah. It's all good."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How our starter home became home

Earlier this week the community manager at real estate platform Urban Compass contacted me about writing a post on my starter home. 

Now, there's only been a handful of times (and by handful I'm mean, like, two times*) that a business has reached out to me asking if I could help promote their product on my site. I never know how to respond to such requests, because, well, I'm just small potatoes here and product promotion or reviews seems the stuff of much larger potatoes. 

But, if you hadn't already noticed, I'm a total sucker for sentimental walks down memory lane. And, since I just wrote about my 10th anniversary living in York, it only makes sense to reflect on the five year, eight month anniversary of moving into my first house, right? 

I love this house. In fact, I tell that to Brad on a regular basis. I imagine to the rest of the world, it's just a nondescript brick rancher.

Here it is when we moved in back in 2009.
We've since added more shrubbery and flowers to the front
(many of which I run over on a regular basis while backing out of the garage). 
... In fact, it's so nondescript that even people who have been to our house multiple times often drive right past it, which is why this past spring we painted the front door:

People often assume that our 4 year old picked the color.
Brad's a big fan of purple and he made a strong case for Grapelicious. 
To be fair to our visitors, we live in a neighborhood full of cozy little 1950s-era brick ranchers and cape cods. A place where families get their start and retirees go to downsize. 

When Brad and I were house hunting, we knew we wanted to stay relatively close to the interstate -- neither of us are from York and we frequently travel to visit family and friends in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and northeastern Pa. I wanted a yard for a dog and Brad wanted a garage. We were both wary of having a major fixer-upper, but figured we could handle some basic home improvement. 

We'd looked at some pretty rough houses before our real estate agent took us to see this house, which I didn't want to fall in love with because it was at the top end of our budget.

But there it was on this street lined with huge, old sycamores. Convenient to everything, in a great school district, with its garage and fenced-in yard just waiting for a dog to run around in it.

We were still determined not to fall in love with it. 

Here's is just one of the 11 (11!) closets in our house.
This does not count the giant pantry and
amazing built-in storage cabinets throughout the basement.
I still giggle thinking about the person
who wanted to ensure each shelf was amply lit.
We barely said a word to each other as we toured the house. Made no comment about the awesome sunroom; the hardwood floors; the bright, cheerful living room with its huge picture window; the endless basement that featured an entire hall of well-lit closets; or the towering oak tree in the back that I was already imagining hanging a tire swing in. 

When we left the house, we both sighed. What a beautiful house, but we probably shouldn't. Newlyweds on a pair of journalist's salaries should probably play it safe.

We thought we might put an offer on another smaller house we'd just looked at. It was within our price range, probably a more responsible choice. But we both knew our hearts weren't in it. 

So we decided to put an offer in. This totally shocked our agent who didn't even think we liked the house at all given how quiet we were while walking through it. 

I'd like to say we drove a hard bargain and got the price down to a number we felt comfortable with, but we didn't. We probably overpaid (OK, we definitely overpaid -- a fact that became abundantly clear when I started following the deeds listings and watched as the home prices in our neighborhood plummeted. It didn't help, either that we were both furloughed for a week within a month of moving in. Stupid recession. Anyway, we made good use of that week off by painting a 70s-era wood-paneled basement bedroom). 

All that seems like a distant memory now though. I have no regrets about buying the house we wanted. I knew it was the place for us the minute we stepped through the door. And over the years we've tackled projects both major and minor to make it our own.

The first, what we still jokingly refer to as our "Weekend Tiling Project" (it ended up taking us more than three weeks ... ahh how naive we were), was to tile the sunroom. 

I feel this picture doesn't really do this massive expanse of floor justice.
It was a big undertaking. My knees and wrists still ache thinking about it. And I was even responsible and wore knee pads:

I can tell this was a before picture because I
 still look blindly optimistic about the whole thing.
Also, the lack of tile on the floor.
We didn't own a truck or SUV, so when we needed to rent a tile saw, we rolled up to the Home Depot in the vehicle best suited for hauling heavy equipment:

I still pine for you Lime Green Beetle.
The final result was feline-approved.

Peanut Butter takes a load off after a long day of trying
to walk on wet grout, escape to the back yard and knock over water glasses.
If I remember correctly, after the weekend tiling project, we avoided projects for awhile. We probably painted a little. Maybe hired someone to install carpet in part of the basement. Added some insulation to the attic. Planted a few flowers that I promptly killed.

When I left work to stay at home with Lily three years ago, I became fixated on what would be our next major project. Transforming our kitchen and its dated, dark wood cabinets and bile-colored countertops. I'm not being overdramatic here, see:

How much more crap can they fit on their counters? You're no doubt asking yourself.  So much more stuff! 
After I found out I was pregnant with Jovie, I figured, what better time to start renovating? So without exactly asking Brad about what timeframe he had in mind for updating the kitchen, I started patching the cabinets which were covered in worm holes (somewhere, some worm hole enthusiast is sending murderous thoughts my way). The worm hole patching took months. Next, we painted the cabinets ... which also seemed to take forever. 

Then, just a month or two before Jovie was due, we buckled down. Brad's parents came down for a weekend and we finished painting the cabinets, had the new solid surface counters installed, and Brad and his dad tackled the glass tile backsplash. We also put new hardware on the cabinets and painted the rest of the kitchen. It was glorious.

No, the counters are not normally this empty. Also, don't look to closely at the floor.
Or the throw rug for that matter. Just do me a solid and don't zoom in .
I love our kitchen. It's brighter, cheerier and so much more us.

Our house isn't perfect. The pipes are prone to backups. The basement gets damp when it's monsooning. The wood floors are newborn-waking creaky and in desperate need of refinishing. The layout of our bathroom is infuriating, especially when tired parents are attempting to wrangle slippery, spazzy children post-bath. Our home is quickly being overtaken by large, plastic playthings. 

But even with two adults, two kids, two cats, an obnoxious hound and a hefty colony of house centipedes, I don't feel like we've outgrown the place. In fact, I kind of like the idea of allowing our little brick rancher to dictate the amount of stuff we actually need. I think life might be simpler that way.

It's not just the house itself either. I love watching the girls chase the dog around the oak tree in the back yard. I have big plans for the little garden shed out back that needs a new coat of paint. Same goes for the bathroom. I love anticipating the noise and silliness that comes when my siblings and parents and nieces and nephews crowd into my sunroom-turned-banquet hall for Thanksgiving. I love our neighbors and our neighborhood and all its quirky residentsI love that we have the perfect spot to watch the day go by ...

... And a place to hang our stockings (with care) ...

I suppose that technically it's our starter home because its where my family started. I prefer to just call it home because I can't imagine us anywhere else. 

The folks at Urban Compass specialize in helping New Yorkers who are apartment hunting find their ideal neighborhood. I'm no expert in New York real estate, but I can say that you won't love your house if you don't love where it's located. It does't matter how many well-lit closets there are or how many new appliances it has, you'll never truly feel at home if you don't open your heart to the people and experiences around you. 

*Back in October, a PR sort from a company called MorphSuits asked me if I was going to be posting anything about Halloween costumes, and if so, if I was interested in having them send me a costume. Here's what a MorphSuit looks like:

The world isn't ready for me (or anyone in my family, for that matter) to don a MorphSuit. Though, come to think of it, I have I have at least one nephew who, given the opportunity, might wear one of these on a daily basis. Anyway, I declined the offer.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Here's why you need to do your One Thing

When I finished the first draft of my novel, I basked in the warm glow of that success for, oh, a week or two, before I realized it was hardly finished. Not by a long shot. I mean, even as I typed the "The End" at the end, I knew it wasn't what I wanted it to be. But you ignore the prospect of editing and revisions just for a minute. You look down and admire the view on the portion of Everest that you did climb, so as to not be beaten down by the dizzying heights of the summit. Still so far, far away.

In case you think I sunk into another depressed, "why bother?" stupor, I didn't. As I've learned with this project, when there's momentum, you have to keep going. Otherwise. Well, otherwise, you'll be stuck at base camp forever.

And luckily, I've found some amazing sherpas who helped guide me through the next phase. The advice and feedback from the first two readers has been invaluable. So I'm still out here climbing. Sentence by sentence. 

Thus concludes the extended metaphor portion of this post. 

Throughout this process I've been both amused and flattered by the people who look at the mere act of finishing the extremely rough first draft of my manuscript as an amazing feat. 

Amused, because for all they know it could by 70,000+ words of drivel that Snacks could've written by accidentally pawing the keyboard while trying to lick the insides of my nasal passages (which, coincidentally, he tried to do while I typed this).

He was unusually clingy this afternoon.
Or maybe he was just looking for errant chin hairs...
And flattered, of course, because for me it was an enormous feat. But I recognize that I'm just unremarkable me in my little speck of the world who set out on this undoable project because I needed this One Thing that was just mine and mine alone. It seems strange to be complimented for such a selfish act.

But there it is. 

Anyway, for those of you who desperately crave that One Thing. Who have that persistent voice in them urging them to just do the One Thing already (you know who you are, and you know what the One Thing is), then just do it already, will you?

Seriously. There's nothing inherently "special" about me. These things don't happen by magic. You'll never be visited by an ethereal muse who whispers the words or paints the strokes or plants the garden or bakes the cake or composes the music. Never. That part is all on you. Sure, you might have the briefest of flashes of inspired phrases that seem to materialize out of the nothingness, but even that isn't magic. That's all part of the work. The seeds you planted way back when you first set out on the journey to accomplish the One Thing finally ready to be harvested at the right moment. In the right paragraph in the right chapter in the right book.

And here's the other thing, unless you're Amy Poehler or The President or you're kidnapped and held captive by fundamentalist drifters, nobody is going to ask you to do the One Thing. Not ever. Frankly, a majority of the world probably won't even care about the One Thing. And that's just fine. 

What you do is you find the people close to you who will care about the One Thing because you care about the One Thing and you whine to them about it. A lot. And then they pat you on the head and tell you to keep going. And you do. Then you whine some more. And they roll their eyes and placate you some more. Just enough so that you keep going. And you keep going.

You should also find some people who are pursuing their own Thing successfully for inspiration. They don't have to be famous, celebrity sorts. In fact, it's better if you know them, that they're like you, because then it will make the One Thing seem more possible. 

If you're really lucky, you'll find yourself a Brad who not only listens to your endless self-doubt and grousing, but also tolerates the fact that you spend most nights chained to your computer instead of doing other things, like watching sports or talking about life or doing the dishes.

Never do the One Thing in the hopes that it will get you noticed by someone else. That you'll make your millions from it. The only person who really needs to care about it is you. 

And don't wait, either. Because there's never a perfect time for One Thing doing. Never. They'll always be more work to do. Kids to raise. Floors to wash. Dogs to walk. Dinner to make. Friends to catch up with. Oil to change. Seasons and seasons and seasons of shows on Netflix to binge watch. There will always be the next thing that needs to get done until your very last breath. 

You're the only one who can make all the breaths before it count a little more. 

Do the One Thing already.

In an interview with EW about her book "Yes, Please" Amy Poehler offers this fantastic little note on artistic process:
"I always had the fantasy that I would rent a cabin in Big Sur and that I would dress for writing and I would talk to magazines about how I'd like to turn off the phone and wear comfortable sneakers! The reality is, when you have little kids, and when you're shooting a TV show, you hack away. I wrote it when I could. I had to let go of the idea that creativity comes out of stillness. I find creativity usually comes out of chaos."

This guy, when asked by a photographer from Humans of New York what he felt most guilty about, said not finishing his novel.
"I've already built the room where I'm going to write it at my house in Sag Harbor. The walls of the room are painted Venetian red. It has shelves filled with every book I ever read. There's a scallop striped Victorian chair. A little pine desk - two feet by three feet, with all my pens lined up, and an 18th Century sang de bouef vase lamp. And there's a French door with a step that goes out onto the roof so I can look at the clouds. I have everything I need. Except the time."
If you picked out paint and furnishings and lined up the pens, well, you have time to write the novel. 

And after I write all this motivational blather,
Brad pointed this out to me. Touche sign.
Both awesome and appropriate.
You can buy it here
Don't wait for your sang de boeuf vase lamp or your little pine desk. You do the One Thing with the tools you have (in my case, a laptop, kitchen table and modestly sized brain … nary a sang de boeuf vase lamp to be found!) and with the time you squirrel away from all the other nothing activities that fill a day.

I say all this with no pretenses that I'm an expert on life or art or anything really (except for maybe yelling at the kids to, for the love of god, stop screaming at each other over  whether we'll read bedtime stories on the bed versus the couch. I'm pretty good at that). If the frumpy, fur-covered, stinky-talking* stay-at-home mom from York, Pa. can finish her One Thing, well, then you can, too. 

All you have to do is stop telling yourself that it's pointless, dumb, silly or selfish to do it. Ignore your inner Stewies. Ignore all the people you imagine rolling their eyes at you. It's not for them. It's for you. Don't worry about how long it will take you to do or whether it's any good while you're doing it. You're the only person setting a deadline. You're the only critic. 

Drown all the naysaying voices out.

You only get one life in which to do your One Thing.

So just do it already.

*Lily has taken to guarding herself each morning from what is, apparently, terribly offensive morning breath. She's told me that I'm making her nose stinky and that she doesn't want to listen to my "stinky talk." So. That felt pretty good.