Taken over the past week…
Zoe had a big day today.
She has been messing with two loose teeth on the bottom for about a week now. Wiggle wiggle wiggle. She’s been late losing her teeth and her mouth is already over-crowded, so I’m big on the “Wiggle it a ton and get it out” mantra. This afternoon she came home and showed me a small plastic box shaped like a tooth. Inside was her tooth, which she pulled out herself in art class after a friend told her, “Just twist and pull!” She was happy it was out, because it had been hurting for over a day and she just wanted it gone. The nurse keeps a supply of the little boxes so the kids have a safe place to put their lost teeth so they don’t get lost all over again before they get home.
Then, because she’s on break from piano and got her homework done in after care, we had no obligations and were able to start her on the long-awaited Star Wars saga tonight. M and I have been stoked about this for awhile, and he finally pulled the trigger over the weekend and ordered the first six on Blu-Ray. They came yesterday, and have been shouting their siren call from the counter ever since he unwrapped them. He wanted to start her on I, and I wanted to start her on IV. He had a good case: it makes total sense chronologically to start from the beginning. You can take in the full story that way, no interruptions. I get it. But I also remembered the huge plot twists in the original three, the reveals that make you gasp for air and fit another piece into the puzzle. “Luke, I am your faaaather” won’t be powerful if you already know the results of the paternity test. I wanted her to experience those moments just like we did, just as George Lucas intended when he made IV, V and VI not knowing if he’d ever do I, II and III. Besides, it’s just not fair to start her off with Jar Jar Binks. She needs to have the history so she, too, can hate him as much as we do.
She loved the movie, of course. What’s not to love? Lucas is an epic story teller. I have so much respect for that man’s ability to craft a tale. Star Wars has everything: tension, resolution, cliff-hangers, loyalty, sacrifice, good vs. evil, love (both platonic and otherwise), comradeship, a sense of mission and greater purpose, and heroes. Lots and lots of heroes. Boy heroes and girl heroes and droid heroes. I almost burst into tears when wise Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrificed himself to Darth Vader’s light saber tonight, committing himself fully to The Force and enabling himself to be with Luke Skywalker through all his adventures. Everyone needs an Obi-Wan in their life. It was so much fun to watch with Zoe, and see her reactions to big scenes and funny asides. She loves Chewbacca. She thinks R2-D2 sounds like her guinea pig. She is now part of The Force.
As she was getting ready for bed, she showed up in my bathroom clutching a tissue and begging me to pull out the other tooth, the one on the left side of her mouth. Being in the middle of brushing my own teeth, I sent her back to her bathroom and told her to keep trying. I found her in there a few minutes later, melting down. I tried to reason with her. “You pulled out your own tooth in school today, right? Just do the same thing here.” She shook her head and wailed, “But I didn’t expect it to come out when I did that today!” So I took the tissue and gave it a try, only she wouldn’t open her mouth very wide and as soon as I got within a quarter inch of it she started wailing again. I pried her hands away from her mouth and tried to calm her down. That wasn’t working, so I moved to distraction. “Go ask Dad to pull it out.” That made both of us crack up laughing because he gets completely skeeved out just looking at an already-pulled tooth and darn near hurls if he sees her wiggling a loose one. When she started laughing she stopped crying, and then I pulled an old trick out of my dad’s bag: Let me just see how loose it is. I fell for that every darn time he pulled it on me, and she has fallen for it every time I have tried it on her. The man’s a genius. She didn’t think I was going to pull it so she relaxed and opened wide. I had the tooth out in two seconds and she didn’t even know it, just like I never knew it when Daddy pulled mine. M showed up a moment later, turned green, and made faces that caused us to laugh all over again.
Star Wars bookended by losing two teeth. What a day.
We celebrated M’s grandmother’s (Zoe’s great-grandmother’s) 90th birthday tonight. I sat across a big table made up of a bunch of smaller tables from her and watched as her family here in St. Louis surrounded her both physically and emotionally with love, and saw how her family scattered across the country celebrated on Facebook. The woman is beloved.
Now, I think I have a fairly keen grasp of Mary Zlatic. And my opinion is totally unbiased because I married into this huge, crazy family. I’ve known her for a tiny bit over 23 years now, which is a good chunk of time to get to know someone. Here’s what I know about her.
She is kind. I have never heard this woman utter anything negative about anyone else, even when they deserve it. Well, except for stupid politicians, who especially deserve it and besides she’s always been correct.
She is generous. It doesn’t matter what time you show up at her house, she pushes food (and by “food” I mean “mostly treats”) and drink on you. She also doles out hugs upon demand and love constantly.
She has a great sense of humor. She laughs a lot, and gets a kick out of her kids, her grandkids, and her great-grandkids. She also gets a kick out of those little alcoholic chocolates and giggles even more when her coffee is spiked with Kahlua, but those are stories for another time.
She has the patience of a saint. She raised seven children. Enough said.
She has the most wicked sweet tooth I have ever seen, except for the sweet teeth she passed down to her oldest grandson and his daughter. M swears that his love of chocolate is all her fault, and that it gets stronger with each generation. I tell him to stop blaming his sweet grandmother for his inability to pass up a bowl of M&Ms but he won’t listen.
She is loyal. She’s had friends since kindergarten and they still get together regularly for brunch. Except for Evelyn. Oh, she died. (That’s an inside-joke between Grandma and me.)
She is brilliant. The clearest evidence of this is in her kitchen. She has a whole drawer devoted to goodies, and it’s always stocked. And if you can’t find something in there (or rather, after you’ve made your way through the Goody Drawer), you move on to the Goody Annex, also known as the freezer, which is also always stocked with, well, goodies. Further proof is in this anecdote: she once told us that she figured she could get around the whole fasting between meals during Lent thing by simply staying at the kitchen table all day, from which, I’d like to point out, she can reach both the Goody Drawer and the Goody Annex. “It’s like all one loooong meal that way,” she laughed.
So, my totally unbiased opinion is that Grandma is amazing and ranks above Wonder Woman, and I want to be just like her when I grow up.
Except for the seven kids thing. I can’t handle that.
I’ve been seeing more and more to photograph again, on top of writing. Hitting on all creative cylinders, you might say.
Even though it’s dark when I leave work now, I love seeing the remains of the sunset glow behind the Abbey church. Everyone else is usually gone, and it’s a quiet, peaceful walk back to the car.
I noticed the tree reflecting in the stainless steel fridge door sometime in the afternoon, but the light coming in the front windows was too distracting so I waited until night to make this.
At 21 weeks, when we found out we were having a baby girl, M and I had very different reactions. They so aptly describe our personalities.
Our girl wasn’t an avid reader at first. She didn’t show much interest in consuming books much beyond having one of us read to her. I always suggested reading when she was bored and looking for something to do. No dice. She’d weave a million pot-holders on her little plastic loom over picking up a book. I’d glare at M, who thinks libraries are the scariest places on earth, and silently curse his wicked-smart engineer genes. “Fine,” I’d huff. “I guess she’ll be good at math.” And then I would shudder because any time I think about math I get the heebie-jeebies.
When I thought it was time for her to take on the Little House series, I offered to read them to her. This way we’d go through the books together and she’d be more likely to enjoy the experience. So we started, and within about four chapters I was wondering how the heck I ever loved these books because Laura Ingalls Wilder is not the most talented writer in the world. I know, I know. There are people who will consider me blaspheming because I dare go against the Little House cult. Let me just say this: when you have to devote hundreds of paragraphs to prairie grass, you might want to consider different subject matter. Prairie grass: how it looks, feels, smells, blows in the wind, is weighted down by snow, burns in a flash fire, regrows after a flash fire…not exactly riveting material. I honestly think Laura participated in some sort of frontier National Novel Writing Month on the Prairie (NaNoWriMoPra?) and was strapped for words to hit her daily goal. Enough with the prairie grass, sister.
We have gotten through about half of the Little House books. So far Nellie Oleson, by far the most interesting character, has gotten half of one paragraph, while the prairie grasses have gotten three of the four books. This is not a good ratio. In this time, Zoe has turned into a little reader on her own, devouring books at breathtaking speed. (M would want me to point out here that she’s still cranking out an A+ in math every term, and that libraries are still scary places.)
I’ve been thinking it’s time for Harry Potter. Zoe has a friend who recently tore through them all, so I figured she’s about the right age. And she loves books where exciting things happen. Well, no place is more exciting than Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling didn’t dedicate a single sentence to prairie grasses. I had originally thought that I’d read Harry Potter out loud, too, but given how long it has taken to get through the Little House books I reconsidered. We can’t read together most days because of schedules, but she reads quite a bit on her own now, including during free time at school. I don’t want to hold her up.
I gave her a nudge towards Harry and his friends yesterday, after she finished her book report and the book she had been reading for fun, and was casting about looking for something new to start. I gave her a quick summary of the introduction to Harry’s life, just enough to pique her interest. She pointed at the later books in the series. “Holy cow! Those are HUGE!” I pulled out the first one, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and showed her that it wasn’t any thicker than what she’s been reading. “Check this out. It’s regular size. Start on this and before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to those longer books because you’ll get to read so much more about these characters you will come to love.” She supposed that was true, and started reading. The line has been cast, she has taken the bait, and the hook is being set.
We snuggled together in her bed tonight as she read the third chapter. I read over her shoulder, reading not just for pleasure but also as a writer and editor. I’m watching how Ms. Rowling crafts the story, how she describes surroundings, moods, and expressions. I’m already thinking I may need to buy the whole series for my Kindle so I can read them again without having to steal Zoe’s books that are actually my books.
I love sharing this with her. I love sharing this love of reading and this love of good books and this quiet time together. She’s working on an essay for class this week about what would change in our lives if there was no television. She shrugged and said, “It wouldn’t make much difference for us. We never watch it.” And then she told me where she was in her Harry Potter book and how she couldn’t wait to read more.
Maybe I won’t need quite so much in that therapy fund after all.
I made biscotti today. I made so much biscotti today that I never want to see biscotti again. Until tomorrow morning when I’ll make up some excuse to eat it for breakfast.
This madness is the result of signing up for two separate cookie exchanges. Because I am stupid. In my defense, I signed up for them months apart, so I could claim that I had forgotten about one when I signed up for the other. However, I’ll be honest and admit that I received a reminder for the one I signed up for last May before I signed up for the second one two days ago. It was one of those, “I’ll be making cookies anyway, so why not just make more? And you know what would be great? Choosing an incredibly labor-intensive and time-consuming recipe!” things.
The first exchange is a party hosted by a mom in Zoe’s class. It’s a mommy-daughter tea-lunch cookie-exchange party. That sounded like fun plus I had consumed some beer at the parish carnival when I signed up and when it’s May it’s super easy to say, “Heck yeah, I’ll make dozens of extra cookies right before Christmas because I won’t be busy then at all!” The second party is at work. A few years ago one of the science teachers started bringing chocolate-covered Oreos for the exchange, so there’s no freakin’ way I’m missing that.
Committing to these two cookie exchanges meant that I needed to have 13 bags of four cookies each for the work party, and three dozen for the mommy-daughter party. Plus I always make extra biscotti for us (because my biscotti rocks, yo) and for family members who have not angered me off in the last year. Kidding! I give them to the women in my family because they are awesome and they deserve a special treat just for them. This all adds up to a boatload of biscotti. (Boatlad being the metric equivalent of whatever all that biscotti adds up to.)
At one point I had two biscotti loaves cooling while two more baked with three batches of dough in the fridge. That’s not counting the biscotti that were already cooled and packed in their gift bags. I had biscotti everywhere.
I am exhausted. And slightly nauseated from eating too much raw biscotti dough. But I’m done baking for the year and that’s good. Now I just need to work on the dang Christmas card.
This has been a rough week. M left for London on Tuesday, and I started missing him before he even left for the airport. Zoe had a minor kerfluffle with a boy at school that I had to straighten out that day, too. The dining hall was supposed to serve patty melts on Thursday, but our chef forgot to order Texas toast and so he substituted hamburgers. (Yes, I know: first world problems. I get it. But when a girl is counting on her patty melt, dangit…)
Meetings upon meetings upon meetings all week long, scheduled both early in the morning and late in the afternoon like bookends on a shelf filled with novels about torture. I abhor meetings. I think they are the most useless function in the world of business. Or academia. Or anything, really. Meetings of more than two or three people are pointless, by and large, because at any given time the discussion at hand doesn’t pertain at least one person in the room, who is forced to either plod along in boredom or create their grocery list in their notebook so it looks like they’re engaged and taking notes. Or, like me, that person can sit there and think about all the work waiting back at her desk that she could be getting done right now.
I’ve made the terrible mistake of reading comment threads after online articles regarding both the Syrian refugee crisis and the San Bernardino shooting. The crap people post astounds and appalls me to no end. The irrational, judgmental, vitriolic, uneducated, stubborn masses are too much for me. I feel defeated, and worry for the future of my once beloved country if these people are truly representative of my fellow citizens. I need to stop reading the comment threads. Stop reading the comments, Amy, just STOP. Or maybe move to Canada. No, too cold. Find someplace warm. And beachy. With drinks that have little umbrellas.
On my way back to campus from lunch today, I watched as two cars jockeyed to exchange lanes. A woman in a larger sedan was trying to cut across traffic to get into the right lane, while a man in a tiny subcompact wanted to move into the left turn lane. I was behind them both, and the whole thing took less than six seconds to sort itself out. Then I watched in horror as the man pulled up next to the woman, rolled down his window, and screamed obscenities at her for a full 15 seconds, while also gesticulating wildly. His face was almost purple in anger, with veins popping out in his neck, and he called her name after name after name. I wasn’t even on the receiving end of it and I was frightened. He looked so enraged that I worried for a split second that he had a weapon in his car, because it looked like he had already lost his mind. It was another indicator that there is so much hatred everywhere these days. Courtesy and patience and basic respect for humanity is, by and large, gone. I’m sure he was annoyed by her driving – I was, too – but his reaction was unwarranted and went way beyond her infraction.
This afternoon brought an unbelievably poor decision from The Daughter, resulting in an immediate and epic groundation (that’s what she called being grounded) and many, many tears. M and I are very much equal parents; we rely on each other constantly to raise our daughter together. So when something colossal happens and he’s 4,200 miles away (roughly), it feels doubly hard. I don’t like to parent solo, because I know I need him to help me be a better mother. When I have to travel the rough patches alone, or between intercontinental calls and text messages and FaceTime with a six-hour time difference, I feel like I’m on shaky ground. So I’m missing him even more tonight.
Then, after Zoe went to bed (both of us much calmer, and after a lot of snuggling), I walked out to the mailbox. There was a package inside with a gift I ordered last week. I unwrapped it and checked it over and was so very pleased with it, and know that the recipient will be, too. I found the packing slip which contained the shop owner’s name and an email address, so I sat down and wrote her a brief email, thanking her. I started thinking about how most business owners probably don’t get too many emails saying, “Hey, everything’s great. Awesome job!” and how nice it is when positive acknowledgement rolls in unsolicited. I thought that if she’s anything like me, she’ll see an email come in about a recent order and groan, wondering what sort of fight an irrational customer is picking now. I hope she is surprised to see someone who just wanted to say thank you, and good job, and what you do matters.
As I was sending this email, I realized that kindness is the solution to all that other crap that’s been bothering me. Even when I don’t see kindness hardly anywhere else, I can create it myself. I can give it away all the time, every day, and maybe create little rays of sunshine in the lives of others. Even people I’ve never met who sold me something I will give to someone I care about.
I have a friend who is on a Love Campaign. She’s had a rough year and she’s been through a lot, and despite being laid bare, raw and hurting, she has chosen to actively respond with love. And in love. And kindness. And gentleness and grace and beauty. She’s on to something, I think. Given the alternative (sinking down into the depths over the all the hate manifesting itself in our world), I’ll climb aboard that train. You’re welcome to come along…it’s gonna be a great ride!
It has become apparent over the past few weeks that the dogs in my life have banded together to coordinate a targeted campaign against me. Their goal? A puppy in our home. Their tactics? Being as cute as possible. It’s not me they should be targeting. It’s the big guy who lives in our home and who hates all dogs, even the cute little puppies. I don’t know. It’s like he’s got some sort of genetic defect or something. What I’m trying to say is: give it up, dogs. There’s no way we’re getting a dog in this house. Unless we get rid of the husband/father in this house and that’s not happening. He earns too much money. You can keep being cute, dogs, but it’s pointless. It won’t work.
Look, it’s not like I don’t like dogs. My family always had dogs when I was growing up. We had pets of all flavors, including cats, birds, turtles, fish, and hermit crabs. The dogs were the best, though. (Shhh. Don’t tell the cats. They’re already snooty.) We had a cocker spaniel named Cinnamon who was a moron, if I remember correctly, and who went to live with my aunt after awhile. She would howl whenever we sang Happy Birthday at parties. The cocker, not my aunt. We had two loving, gentle, and very smart Golden Retrievers named Shannon and Abby (short for Abacab Genesis). Shannon was a red Golden, on the smaller side. We adopted her full-grown as a rescue and she gave us the love only a rescued pet can give. She was the perfect dog, and she was even a great mentor when we got Abby as a pup. Both of those dogs put up with receiving a ton of kid hugs, being used as pillows, and racing around the house. They loved playing fetch, and Abby would make a true game of it by forcing me to work to get the tennis ball out of her mouth. One day I had the brilliant idea to throw a second ball, which would make her drop the first. Or so I thought. Dang dog came trotting back with both balls in her mouth, tail wagging away, refusing to relinquish either one. Shannon had problems with her velvety ears as she got older. They would fill with pockets of blood and we’d take her to the vet and they’d drain the blood, stitch the ear flaps flat again, and stick her in the cone of shame to keep her from pawing at them. My little sister, who was probably about six at the time, thought it was a terrible shame that Shannon had to wear the cone. It was so…ugly. Katie set out to brighten Shannon’s world and soon the cone was covered with just about every sticker imaginable. Shannon must have thought she was on some sort of LSD trip every time she opened her eyes in the cone, but she bore her disability with grace and dignity.
My gran had two dogs: Tippy and Cocoa, both mutts. Tippy was larger and a bit on the dopey side. Friendly enough but not very snuggly. He reminded me of my gramps: reliable and steadfast, but short on the warm and fuzzies except in dire emergencies. Cocoa was a small, chocolate-colored terrier mix with a giant personality and paws that faced primly out when he sat on his haunches. My cousin and I decided he was aristocratic. On my dad’s side, my aunt Joann had a giant dog named Harley who looked fierce and was the world’s biggest teddy bear. My other aunt Peggy had a small, yappy dog named Napoleon, which was the perfect name for his outsized ego. We called him Napo. He was a bit of a moron, too, but he had swagger and made up for intellectual deficiency with attitude and spirit. My step-mom had two chows at one point, mean as heck and with bad attitudes. I stayed away from them as much as possible, and then one of them bit the pool man and off they went. Savage beasts. I don’t really consider those dogs true dogs. They were simply jerks to be avoided, much as we all experience people like that in our daily lives.
Dogs were always part of my family and part of my extended family. Our neighbors had dogs, our friends had dogs. The love we received from these animals more than made up for the mess, the hassle, and the inconvenience being a pet owner sometimes entails. Dogs can melt your heart, make you laugh, and pick you up when you’re feeling blue. I doubt I’ll ever have one again and I’m okay with that. I had the joy of experiencing the unconditional love of my dogs and I have great memories. Besides, with dogs like these in my life, why would I need to get one for myself? So you can keep laying on the cuteness, dogs. You can keep melting my heart and making me laugh. I’ll take it all in and return the love with belly scratches and ear rubs and Instagram pictures. Just don’t expect one of your furry little friends to come home with me.
I have been gone from here, but oh, how I’ve been writing!*
I participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those of us familiar with the program, committing to get at least 50,000 words – the length of an average novel – down on paper in 30 days. I looked at my calendar before the month started and grimaced at all the commitments. I put M on notice that I was doing this, and that I’d need help. I scheduled one day each week to take vacation from work, if needed, in order to catch up because I worried about falling behind before I even started.
1,667 words each day. That’s it. And that’s a lot. Try writing 1,667 words about one topic and you’ll see that it’s not as easy as it sounds. I started out on fire, and kept going. It turns out that when you do something every single day it becomes a habit. And when you love what you’re doing, it’s not something to dread. Even when I opened up the laptop and pulled up the blank page without a clue what I was going to write, I was happy. It’s hard work, but it brings great joy.
Some nights the writing flowed easily, and I blew the 1,667 daily goal away. Doubling it, even. Other days, it was a struggle, and I felt like I watched the word tally click up even as I typed, just trying to reach that daily goal. I learned that it’s very easy for me to get lost in my writing, using it to blank out the rest of the world. This is both good and bad. I can tune out a busy coffee shop or kids running around or other writers talking. But I can also get pretty snappy when directly and frequently interrupted. This happens at home, constantly. I learned pretty quick that it was never wise to try to write in the heart of our family together time each evening. Too many interruptions (where is my t-shirt, have you seen my keys, did you respond to that email, can we talk about…, hey did you see…) led to me losing my temper and flaring with aggravation. I never want my family to be an aggravation, so I stopped writing while Zoe was awake and if M wasn’t lost in his own work. Writing isn’t something I can pop in and out of, like editing photographs. Trains of thought lead in different directions and I must follow or the flow is ruined. If I have to break off to describe where the graham crackers are located in the pantry, I go right off the rails.
Since I couldn’t write until after Zoe was in bed and M and I were finished with all the stuff that comes with married life, this sometimes meant I wrote when it was late and I was tired. I was never too tired to write, though, which was good, but I easily lose track of time when working and so went to bed too late many nights. I started carting my new, small laptop everywhere. Since it has a solid-state drive, start-up is nearly instantaneous. If I knew I’d have a few minutes waiting for a lunch date, I’d pull it out and bang out two or three hundred words. A drop, but a start. I found that I can write in all kinds of places. And I found that I can write every single day.
For 31 days now, I carved out time to write every single day, and in that time I wrote over 60,000 words. A book. I wrote a book. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words. In case you’re wondering what a book of 50,000 words looks like, here are a few that clock in right around that mark:
You may have heard of these. I’m not saying my book is anywhere close to these pillars of the literary world, but if my book were published, it would work just as well as any of these as a door stop.
No, you can’t read it. I will never submit it for publication, and I’ll be lucky if I ever even edit it into something I’d let anyone else read. I didn’t write 60,000+ words for publication. I wrote 60,000+ words for me. I wrote to prove to myself that I can write a book, that I am a writer. I wrote to prove to myself that with a full-time job and the responsibilities of a child and a husband and a home and friends and family and volunteering and all the other hats I wear, I can still find time to write every day. Must find time to write every day. I learned things that I will use in my next book, and the one I started earlier this year but stalled on. I learned things that will help me craft a story that I will submit for publication. This, my friends, is a most excellent use of 60,000 words.
In the last 31 days, I wrote at my desk, on the couch, in a chair pulled up to the fireplace, at the kitchen counter, and in bed. I wrote at Starbucks and Kaldi’s. I wrote in the Starbucks parking lot once when I realized I didn’t want a coffee after all, I just wanted to write. I wrote in the car outside of the piano teacher’s house (more than once), and on her couch. I wrote when I was tired and sad and hungry, and when I was caffeinated and happy and full. I wrote when I was angry, realizing after I wrote that the anger was gone. I wrote early in the morning before anyone was up, and late at night after everyone was asleep, sometimes both in the same day. I wrote even when I didn’t want to write, and learned that while it might be hard to write some days, it’s far better than not writing at all.
I wrote a book in the last 30 days. 60,000 words and counting.
I think I’m fairly tapped out with that particular piece now. It’ll sit in the proverbial drawer, and I’ll pull it out every once in awhile to take a look at it and prove to myself again that I can write a book.
And, most importantly, I’ll keep writing.
*I’ve also been reading. Because writers need to read. It’s almost as important as the writing. I read Still Alice, and had to stop reading because it hit too close to home, and then went back and finished it. Two Neil Gaiman books, because the man is a writing god and a genius, part of Jenny Lawson’s new book, a Shirley Jackson and half of another Shirley Jackson. It’s been a good month of reading. I highly recommend all of these books.