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Author: Amy

Writer. Author. Blogger. Other interesting things.

On grocery carts

I arrived at the grocery store the other day ready to run to pick up a few items needed to make dinner for a friend. I knew it would be a quick trip as I had a very set list and was purchasing nothing for us; we were heading out of town and I had been engaged in a desperate attempt to consume everything perishable before leaving. I knew my foray into the market would last twenty minutes, tops, and would be quick and painless. This was reinforced by there being only two or three other cars in the lot; the store would be virtually empty and I’d be able to sail through.

By virtue of there being hardly any other shoppers, I had my pick of grocery carts. There were five rows of the beasts, lined up nearly to the door. My quick scan revealed no major differences; they were all in the same state of general disgustingness with no major defects of note and no trash in the basket.

I strode to the line directly in front of me and pulled a cart out, swung it around, and headed with a sense of purpose into produce.

Whap. Whap. Whap.

Dammit. Wonky wheel. I was immediately annoyed and briefly considered swapping it, but knew that it wouldn’t last because my grocery run would be fast.

WHAP. WHAP. WHAP.

By the time I rounded the corner out of produce and into the deli area, I was ready to murder someone. My head pounded, my nerves shrieked, my ears popped. Dammit. I should have changed it out.

Nah, this won’t take long.

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM

The noise grew louder as I went. I tried slowing down, which meant I would only delay my misery by having to stick around longer. I tried sprinting, which, with a clunky grocery cart, isn’t the most graceful thing to do. That didn’t work either, because the clanking grew so loud I thought my head was going to explode.

I began experimenting. Perhaps if I lifted the back end of the cart off the ground? Nope. It was definitely a front wheel. I slowed the cart and inspected the front end. Neither wheel showed a flat spot, nor did they look out of sorts. It was like the cart was possessed by a noise-loving demon.

Since the store was so empty, my cart proclaimed its presence with a dismaying echo. I couldn’t have snuck up on a rock concert with the thing. My good mood quickly soured into a raging, uncontrollable anger. If the store had been out of cilantro again, I’d be in jail right now.

I cursed my luck. There were 500 carts lined up there and I had to grab Satan’s. The grocery gods were punishing me for having a list and bypassing all the marketing gods’ efforts at compulsive shopping.

Here is what I don’t understand: what the hell happens to grocery carts to make them like this? I know you’ve had a crappy cart before. Everyone has. It’s a cost of grocery shopping. Carts that veer precipitously off to one side, forcing you to use actual bicep muscles to steer the damn things. Squeaky carts. Baskets with odd liquids dripping eerily off the bottom. Carts that look like they’ve been through a war zone.

Grocery carts go two places: the grocery store and the parking lot. The store is paved with smooth tiles, and there are no speed bumps, pot holes, land mines or flamethrowers. The parking lot is paved with asphalt, and while there may be a bump or a dip or two, there generally aren’t massive obstacles that force you to go off-road carting in an attempt to deliver your groceries to your car.

I’ve never once, in all my years of grocery shopping, inflicted enough damage to a cart to cause it to lash back in anger. In fact, I can’t recall a time when I’ve inflicted any damage to a cart. What in the hell are people doing to these carts?

I propose there be two sets of carts available at the grocery store. You take your cart driving test and qualify for one of the two available cart selections. If you pass the test, you are allowed to use nice carts that have smooth wheels, don’t perpetually steer themselves right, and don’t look like they need decontamination by a hazmat team. If you fail the test, you get the shitty carts the rest of us hate.

And we’ll all know who you are, because we’ll hear you coming from three aisles away.

Mitey Fine

It’s a long story about how I found myself in Home Depot at 9:30 on a Saturday night looking for air filters, but that’s not important. What’s important is what I learned while I was there.

M texted me a photo of our worn-out air filter so I would know what kind to get, which was helpful because the filter aisle at Home Depot looks like the Great Wall of China. No wonder home improvement stores are so large. They need three acres just for the freaking air filters. I found the size we needed, which comes in a convenient, cost-effective three pack, and headed for the checkout.

And then I made the mistake of looking at the rest of the package.

The pack I grabbed had a lowly rating of 4 on the FPR. The FPR, for those of you who don’t know (I didn’t), is the Filter Performance Rating. There’s an FPR scale on the package that shows that filters at levels 4, 7, 9 and 10 offer various levels of, well, filterage. It’s a scale of filterocity, if you will.

Holy shit. I was about to the buy The Cheapest (read: Worst) Filter Available for my family. What’s the difference, my pocketbook screamed. Well, we better check it out, the worrywart countered.

I stopped and scrutinized the package. I’m wishing I hadn’t, because I like living in ignorant bliss where I think my house, while not perfect, is reasonably clean and free from general microscopic disgustingness. I don’t like to think about Airborne Dust Mite Debris if I can help it.

The filter I had in my hands would catch only dust/lint, the mite shit, pollen, and pet dander. The Best Filter Available – an FPR 10, naturally – catches all that, plus mold spores (gross), bacteria (ick), microscopic allergens (bless you), virus carriers (WTF), odor (?), smog particles (gasp), and most smoke (we don’t smoke, but after all this I might be tempted to just to calm my nerves). That’s a lot of nasty crap.

Even though one FPR 10 filter costs twice as much as three of the FPR 4 filters, I replaced the FPR 4 filter to the shelves and bought the FPR 10 filter and drove home wondering how many mold spores were at that moment circulating through the pulmonary system of my home, and therefore the pulmonary systems of my family. “I’m on my way, dear ones!” I thought. “This filter shall save us all!” I pondered my wisdom in reading all those words on the front of the package instead of merely glancing at the pictograms. It wasn’t just the mold spores that scared me, mind you. Dust mites give me the willies, and “virus carriers” sounds like we’re one decent filter away from the bubonic plague. It’s a good thing I stopped to read up on the Filter Performance Rating system before I killed my family.

Because I am an idiot, I Googled “dust mites” when I got home. Then, because I am a moron, I clicked on the “Images” tab. I was about ready to burn the house down and start over when I remembered that I am not an idiot after all, because I ponied up and purchased the FPR 10 filter, the Best Filter on the Market. We are all saved.

M installed our new FPR 10 filter, while I congratulated myself on being an informed consumer and on being able to proudly answer the question, “What kind of mother am I?” Why, the kind who knows that the health of her child is priceless and spares no expense for the wellbeing of her family! I sat on my dust mite-ridden couch in triumph. M returned upstairs and pointed out to me the fine print on the back of the filter package that says FPR is simply “The Home Depot Rating System.”

So what kind of mother am I? I’m the kind of mother who buys into Home Depot’s marketing trickery and shells out twice as much money for 2/3 fewer filters, that’s who.

Well played, Home Depot. Well played.

Today’s Hit Music

I had a conversation with my child a couple of months ago that has resulted in some pretty significant life changes.

In response to yet another one of her groans regarding my singing in the car, I said, “Zoe, when I was your age, my mom sang to me in the car. So when you grow up, if you have a child, you can sing to him or her, and you’ll see just how much fun it is.”

My child replied, “Yeah, okay, but I won’t be able to sing the songs of my generation, because we always have to listen to your music.”

Touché.

She has a point. She’s probably the only 11-year-old in the state who knows all the words to every Tom Petty album. Even the B-sides. Even the Mudcrutch stuff. She’s familiar with Boston and Toto and REO Speedwagon. She can identify Van Halen in the first three notes. Countless times, she’s had to listen to her mother belt out Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and GnR’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and I’m pretty sure she has a video on her phone of both her parents jamming to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the car. She likes Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, but they’re a far cry from the music her peers enjoy. Or so I’ve been told.

Okay, so this is an easy remedy, right? We’ll start listening to your music, kiddo. I didn’t know where to find it, because I am old, so I had to ask a young(er) colleague what stations play Today’s Hit Music. (Do they still call it that? I remember the DJs using that phrase when I was a kid. A hundred years ago.) The whippersnapper gave me a station list and I plugged them into the presets in my car, and was thankful that my car allows two separate tabs of presets. No way am I saving Today’s Hit Music over KSHE-95, Real Rock Radio.

I admit that I hated her music at first. How can people listen to this crap? This isn’t music! And then I realized that I was one step away from yelling, “Get off my lawn!” and tried to be more open-minded. Because I’m a cool mom. Really. Stop rolling your eyes.

So I listened. At first I was mostly pissed that I didn’t know the words. I really like to sing in the car. It feels weird to be quiet and just listen to music. Zoe, as you can imagine, relished it. Then I came to some realizations:

  • Still love Lady Gaga. I shall be a Monster forever.
  • Taylor Swift is whiny. Not a fan. Stop crabbing about your ex-boyfriends and people you think are mean to you. Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
  • Ed Sheeran is okay, but way over-played. Holy crap, DJs. There are other musicians with good music out there. Give ol’ Ed a break and maybe not play his stuff every other song. The guy has gotta be tired. He’s even taking a break from Twitter, he’s so tired. Or so I’ve heard.
  • The Chainsmokers are the bomb. Master collaborators. Especially “Something Just Like This” with Coldplay. Because Coldplay. (I do not hold that “conscious uncoupling” bullshit against Chris Martin. That was all Gwyneth and her Goopy crap.)
  • I dig Imagine Dragons. Yes, I know I’m late to this party. Whatever. I’m 43. I’m late to every fucking party now, if I even bother to make it at all. I’m tired, people.
  • Twenty One Pilots is (are?) my new most favorite thing in the whole wide world. Last year I watched my beloved Cincy cousins lost their shit over Twenty One Pilots, but they’re younger than me and clearly on time to the party. I should probably hang out with them more.
  • I would like to invite Flo Rida to “My House,” and hang out for awhile. I think we could be friends. I’m going to make him call me Miss Ouri. Ha. I bet he hasn’t heard that before. It will be fabulous.
  • Adoring “Body Like a Back Road” because it’s all about a curvy girl, and I think curvy girls should be celebrated in a world where starved stick figures are held up as model women. I happened to mention how much I like this song at book club, and my friend whipped out her phone and showed me a picture of Sam Hunt, which served only to enhance my listening pleasure. Hoooo, boy.
  • Cake by the Ocean.” I didn’t have a clue what it meant until I googled it. Okay, I still don’t really understand it, but it’s fun to sing and dance to.
  • I’ve admittedly been a fan of Katy Perry for some time now, and not just because I think she could wipe out T. Swizzle in a nanosecond in direct head-to-head combat, but I even like her new stuff. I watched her “Swish Swish” on SNL and grew obsessed with doing the Backpack Kid’s dance move. Zoe mastered it quickly, and I eventually got it down. It’s not pretty, but I can do it. I’ve also taught it to M, several coworkers, and a Panera HR person I met at PrideFest. It’s like I’ve found a new mission in life.
  • I have no freaking clue who Zedd and Alessia Cara are, but I like their “Stay.” Seriously, who are these people?
  • I’ve at least heard of Selena Gomez, but I’m in the dark on Kygo. Doesn’t stop me from belting out “It Ain’t Me.

Basically, thanks to my kid, I could now watch a music awards show (if I can manage to stay up late enough) and know something, which hasn’t happened for a few years. Okay, ten years. Okay, fifteen. Or I could at least enjoy the music awards show once total strangers open their mouths and start singing songs that I recognize now.

So now Zoe and I sing together in the car. I welcome Tom Petty back once she hops out at school or camp and we’re both happy, so long as Ed Sheeran doesn’t come on yet again.

*Editor’s Note: the image for this post is from the Tom Petty concert earlier this year. I may be a fan of Today’s Hit Music, but Petty is still – and always will be – number one in my heart.

News!

The subhead to this post, if my site allowed me to have subheads, would be: I’m baaaaack!

I have news, and I’m so excited to finally share it.

I have a new job. After five years working for an all-boys Catholic college prep school, I’m moving on. I have so loved my time there, and have been given much more than I gave. I’ve learned about faith, humility, obedience and stability from Benedictine monks, who are pretty remarkable examples for that stuff. I’ve learned how funny and talented and driven teenage boys can be. I’ve learned how to be a better colleague from the best coworkers in the world. All of these things added up to make my journey remarkable, but over the past school year I’ve decided that my time there has come to an end. It is regrettable, but necessary.

I have a contract position as a writer for a global company, returning to my storyteller roots. In my new role, I’ll be…wait for it…writing. That’s it. As you can imagine, this makes me exceedingly happy. I don’t have to give presentations, or make and reconcile budgets, or be the face of anything. I don’t have to sit through endless meetings where two people discuss something for 20 minutes that the other six of us don’t need to hear. (Okay, I might get stuck in those, because everyone gets stuck in those.) Perhaps best of all, I don’t have to discuss closing the school at 4:45 a.m. on a snowy morning, and then record a perky message to go out to hundreds of people, smashing hopes and dreams to smithereens by announcing a late start instead of a full snow day. (I was always so tempted to start those messages with, “Don’t kill the messenger. I didn’t make The Call, even though I’m making this call. Trust me, I’d rather stay home all day, too.”)

All I have to do is talk to people and write. Heaven.

What also makes me happy is this: I get my voice back, in all its expletive-laden glory. I get to write again for my blog without worrying that someone who is offended by my words is going to call my boss and complain (which happened). I get to say things like, “I think the archbishop made a bullshit decision when he went after Girl Scouts,” and “Yes, I firmly believe that LGBT people deserve all the same rights as the rest of us. All of them,” and “I am appalled and embarrassed by the person currently making a mockery of the highest office in the country.” I get to celebrate She Persisted and Nasty Women. Hell, I might even buy myself a pantsuit.

And – this is probably my most favorite part – I get to curse again. I can drop an f-bomb any time I want. Although, to be honest, I don’t really drop f-bombs just for the hell of it. It’s a powerful word and should be used strategically. Although it may not seem that my use of the f-bomb – a word that is flexible enough to function as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and an adverb…how fucking cool is that? – is strategic, I do think about when and where I use it. It is a mighty word, and with might comes great responsibility. Oh, dearest f-bomb. Welcome home, my beloved.

I’m wrapping up my old job this week and part of next, doing everything I can to leave my colleagues in the best possible place. The last thing I want is for my friends to be cursing my name after I’m gone, although I’m sure sometimes it’ll be inevitable. (I recommend using the f-bomb, guys. It’s cathartic.) Then we’re spending some time on vacation, this one involving a beach and a bar and no set schedule for anything.

And then? Then…I write.

Finding myself. Again.

It’s been months since I’ve written. Amended: it’s been months since I’ve written anything beyond an obituary, and that particular piece needed the courage that a bottle of wine provides. There have been a variety of reasons: I’m too busy and there’s crap at work and my mother is dying and the house is dirty, blah blah blah. I should have been writing through all of it and instead I’ve written through none of it. I’ve written plenty in my head, sure, but nothing made it to the fingers and onto the page. I have a novel ready for heavy editing. A flash non-fiction piece ready to send out for hopeful publication. A creative non-fiction book in the early stages of interviews and transcribing. A million short stories and essays backlogged in my brain, all fighting for air.

And yet. Nothing. It was easier to lose myself in work and in cleaning the house and laundry and purging the basement. I’ve cleaned up/out my office multiple times, getting it “ready” for writing. Then I feel tired and I close the door, leaving bare surfaces just begging for clutter yet again.

The one thing I have remained faithful to, the one thing for myself, is the 365 I committed to back on January 1. I have made a photograph every day this year, even on the days when it was the last thing on earth I felt like doing. I maintained that one meager thread, that one filament, to my creative side, to me, and I’m so glad I did.

I have also lost myself in books and friends, both of which I find necessary for survival, especially right now. When my mother died, so much love and support swelled around me that I just let go and floated on the waves. I relaxed into the arms of those surrounding me, and watched as people tried to share the burden of my pain, tried to lessen my hurt even if just a little bit. It was extraordinary, and made me grateful that I can recognize and accept love even when feeling unmoored. My mother struggled with that, so I am especially thankful that I do not.

Where I am right now is complicated. I’ve been using that word a lot lately to describe my relationship with my mother, which is true despite sounding trite and Facebooky. But the complication goes beyond my mother and the feelings I experienced (and still experience) when losing her (beyond losing her to Alzheimer’s, which happened long ago) and extends to other areas, and I have to be intentionally vague right now and I’m okay with that, and I hope you are, too. Please know that I do not like feeling silenced, feeling as though my voice is not my own. It will pass, although I believe the days of laying bare my soul have gone forever. As I grow older, I become less inclined to lay it all out there. This means I have great doubt when I write. It used to be easy: if a thought entered my mind it went down on paper, for better or worse. There was very little editing. Now, though, I agonize over the words. Not the words themselves, those still come easy to me, but the ability to tell my own story while respecting the stories of others. My stories are intertwined with others, and I worry about crossing the line, respecting the personal histories of those around me, much more than I ever did before. With age comes wisdom…and reticence.

I’m going to try tackling editing the novel now. I’ve put it off for far too long, but the house is clean and the laundry is nearly caught up and my office is set and I’ve run out of excuses. I’m also telling myself to let go of this and post it out on my site. It’s not perfect, and it’s probably not even entertaining, but it’s where I am. At least I have written something.

Visit

Go to the nursing home, he says. It will make you feel better.

I start crying before I even pull out of the garage. The thing is, I don’t think going to the nursing home will make me feel better. But not going won’t make me feel better, either. Honest to God, there is nothing at all that makes me feel better about any of this. Alzheimer’s is hell on earth for everyone it touches.

I cry most of the way down the highway. Cruise control keeps the car moving forward. I pull into the parking lot and back into a spot. I face the nursing home. I like backing in. It makes for a quick get-away. I sit there for a few minutes. Then I turn off the engine, and sit there for twenty more. I feel paralyzed. Stuck. I can’t go in, but I can’t go home, either. I war with myself. You drove all the way down here. Just go in for a few minutes. You don’t have to go in. It’ll just upset you. Drive home, before it’s too late. It’s already too late.

I watch the clouds shift and fade and deepen. It’s overcast today, but the clouds are thinner, lighter in some places. Darker and heavier in others. High above, in the distance, movement catches my eye. Birds, flying in a v-formation. They drift in and out of shapes. They are so high and so far away that it takes them a long time to reach me. I open the moonroof cover so I can look straight up and see them. They are beautiful. Then they are gone.

I make a picture. I text with my best friend. I text with my sister. I text with my husband. I cry, dry my face, and then shower it again. I take off my sunglasses and dry them off and put them back on. I do that several times. I am glad I stuck a new box of tissues in the car. I stare out the windshield. I stare down the woman who walks out to place something in her car and looks at me. Then I stare at her the second time she comes out, the time she leaves. I wonder if she wonders what I am doing. I realize if she is visiting a loved one, chances are she’s done this, too.

By the time I finally go in, I feel more fragile than ever. It is hard to walk through the heavy double doors and down the long corridors. It is hard to push the little green button that temporarily unlocks the memory care unit, allowing those of us with memories to slip in and out. It’s ironic that I always forget her room is so close to the nurse’s station. I am always surprised when I stumble upon her faster than I expect. I’m usually looking into the community room at all the other residents. There are some real characters there, and I am fond of them. Then I glance the other direction and my mother is there, in her room, looking at me.

Hi, I say. Hi, she says.

She is agitated almost from the beginning. Her head hurts. Her stomach hurts. Her elbow hurts. Twice she tries to pull off her elbow, and screams that she wants it gone. She wants to throw it in the ocean. She hits herself in the head. She calls me by my aunt’s name. She yells that she wants to go home. I cry right to her face and tell her I miss her, and then panic that hearing this will upset her. It doesn’t register. She is upset about the noise in the hallway. I close the door. I try to deflect, to distract.

I tell her I like her black and white checked pants, and she says they are awful. I tell her they are cute, and that I wish I could wear cute black and white checked pants like that, but my hips are too big. I grin. Remember what you used to say to me? You told me I have birthin’ hips. She looks at me wide-eyed. I’m sorry, she says. I’m sorry I said that. Holy shit. My mother has never apologized in her life for the myriad things she said to hurt me. So I cry again. We watch television together for a little bit, and I catch her staring at me. A blank, vacant, thousand-yard stare with no feeling behind it. I cry right to her face. This time I lie when she asks why I am crying and say that I’m sad because work is hard right now. It’s not even a good lie because I have just finished a week off for spring break, but she doesn’t know that. She tells me to find a new job, because, she says, you are amazing.

This only makes me cry more.

I’m glad I went. I’m sad I went, because with every visit I close up a little more, I withdraw a little more. It messes with my mind, every time. I’m glad I went. I wish I wouldn’t have gone in. I’m glad I went in. I don’t feel better at all. I feel a tiny bit better.

At least I have stopped crying.

Watch out. She’s writing again.

I finally, for the first time in well over a month, have time and space to write. It feels amazing. And yet, I sit here and struggle to think of some topic worthy of committing to paper. Or screen, rather.

I pulled out my laptop here at the coffee shop and, after wrapping up some membership business for St. Louis Writers Guild, decided I would actually write. I would think of erudite words and I would type them into pithy phrases sure to delight both me and my readers. If I have any readers left, that is. They’ve probably all gone off to greener pastures, tended by people who say they’re going to write and then actually do it.

There’s plenty that has happened lately, so I should have a variety of topics from which to choose. That plenty is what has, by and large, kept me from writing. It’s all so packed with emotion, though, and I don’t really feel like crying in the coffee shop. Again. Maybe I can summarize.

My mother went into the hospital, because when you keep screaming at the husband who has been caring for you for years and then throw a lamp at his head, you don’t get to stay at home any more. She is now at a facility that we don’t necessarily prefer, but is the only one that will take her given her behavior issues. Turns out lots of places don’t want to take someone who screams expletives at her aides and spits on them when they try to do such terrible things as feed and bathe her. She will never return home again. That part is hard. No, wait, all of it is hard, and all of it sucks.

I find myself in new territory: parenting a tween girl. This means that I am reviled 10% of the time, considered annoying at best 25% of the time, and clung to the remaining 65% of the time. Keep in mind these percentages shift from day to day, and there is no warning which defcon alert state is currently active. What buoys me is that her father seems to be in the same boat, so we’re paddling furiously in circles together, just trying to stay ahead of the riptide. We spend a lot of time looking at each other and shrugging. She spends a lot of time rolling her eyes and texting.

The news. It’s getting in my head and generally wreaking havoc. I find myself spending way too much time reading and watching the news, and then reading the massive amount of commentary by people who argue not with reason, logic and fact, but by lobbing ad hominem attacks, most of which are rife with misspellings and grammatical errors. Honest to God, I don’t know what bothers me more: the news itself, or America’s steady, inexorable decline away from the long-established norms of the English language. I realized that I needed to stop reading the unceasing breaking news headlines and start reading literature. So I charged up the Kindle and downloaded my book club book, which I couldn’t remember the topic of until I started reading and then remembered: freaking Nazis. Fascism is apparently quite prevalent these days. How charming.

M has launched into another one of his charming “I’m gonna travel to all the places” periods. He’s been gone over a week now, and will be gone on and off for the next, oh, month to month and a half. He’s visiting places like London, Dubai, Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai, San Jose and other places I don’t know because he hasn’t updated the family calendar beyond blocking weeks at a time with “M on Business Travel” yet. Keep in mind that I think it’s hilarious that he’s going all over the world…and to San Jose. Yes, he knows the way. He leaves Shanghai and flies east. I think. Sometimes he flies over the North Pole, but that’s when he’s coming into the Midwest. Not sure if it’s a more direct route to the west coast.

Our email server blew up at work last week and the short story is that I went about 48 blessed hours over the weekend with no email at all, and have not had work email on my iPhone since. Then today I discovered that by granting my employer permission to tighten the electronic leash with installing email on my personal phone, I also gave them the rights to do whatever they damn well please on my personal phone. This was discovered after they inadvertently took both Safari and my camera app off my phone, without me knowing about it and most definitely without my permission. I won’t get into the details of my discovery of the missing apps, melt down, frantic Google search to figure out what the hell was going on, and rant at the tech guys, although looking back it was probably fun to watch. One of the tech guys said, with a sly smile, “Oh yeah, we could totally brick your phone if we wanted,” which may or may not have sent shivers down my spine. *cough*stalkers*cough* So I’m seriously considering scrapping work email on my personal phone altogether, both because the mental space it has freed up has been most welcoming and because I don’t need IT all up in my personal iPhone business. I google some crazy stuff sometimes, because I’m a writer, yo. Freaked me right the hell out. No, thanks.

I got a call from Zoe’s school a couple weeks ago. Or rather, from a parent at Zoe’s school. It started like this, “Hi, Amy? Yes, this is ____ from Zoe’s school. SHE’S FINE.” And then the woman explained she’s with the parent association and we laughed about how when someone from the school calls a parent it’s best to lead with the fact that your child isn’t hurt/in danger/flunking out. She then went on to ask me if I would serve as the volunteer vice chair of Zoe’s class next year, which would make me the chair of her class the following year. She told me that my name had been proposed during a nominating committee meeting and that I had been enthusiastically endorsed and then I asked what kind of drug they were all smoking because can I have some please. I also wondered if they had just gone down the parent list alphabetically and finally got to the last name and hoped I’d be the sucker to say yes. And, of course, I’m exactly that sucker. So next year I have to help put together some weekly news, which mostly involves looking at what happened this week last year and then changing the dates, and also help set up some coffees and finding hosts for a parent party or two. I’m sure there’s a whole slew of duties and responsibilities that she forgot to cover, like setting curriculum, hiring teachers, cutting the grass, and walking the head of school’s puppy, but I’ll figure it out as I go. I’m taking a calculated risk that things with my mother will be more settled by then, so I won’t be stressed out and crying every 2.5 minutes. However, given my history, there will be a whole new crisis du jour and I’ll have my hands full, but hopefully crying only every 3.7 minutes. It’s good to have dreams.

So that’s what’s been going on with me. Or some of what’s been going on with me. There is stuff I haven’t told you, like my dirty laundry. And by “dirty laundry” I mean actual dirty laundry. I have a ton of it at home. And a basket overflowing with clean laundry that I haven’t folded and put away yet because tonight…tonight was about the writing and not about the laundry. And damn, it felt good.

These are some of my recent Project 365 pictures. The project is doing exactly what it’s intended to do, and I’m so glad I decided to embark on another one. Want to see them every day? Follow me on Instagram.

First Printing

I took a big step earlier this week, which was so big for me and which I doubted would mean anything to anyone else.

I printed my first manuscript for the first time.

It turns out that lots of people thought it was big and told me so on my social media platforms, which was affirming and very much appreciated.

Printing my manuscript for the first time involved a fair amount of deliberation mostly related to my feelings about printing and the environment (I prefer digital to save trees whenever possible) while also realizing that editing a hard copy is much more effective for me than editing on the screen, and worries that with a black toner cartridge down to 15% I wouldn’t have enough toner to complete the job and then that would just be a weird let-down to have a partial printing in addition to impatience while waiting for the new cartridge to be delivered. My mind is complicated, people.

I enlisted the help of my engineer husband, who is quite handy in situations like this. I asked, “How many pages do we have left on the existing black cartridge?” He went into full-on tech mode, pulling up supply status pages and researching statistics about how many average pages a cartridge can print, delving into information on both a regular cartridge (which we suspected was currently in the printer) and a high-capacity cartridge, including cost per page. God, I love this man.

I had resigned myself to waiting for a new cartridge to be delivered, or putting it off until the next day because procrastination was appealing since seeing my manuscript in print for the first time felt daunting. Is it even worth the paper? The ink? Who knows. “I’ll do it tomorrow” felt really good. Self-doubt was driving the bus. I realized that it wasn’t really about the environment and toner supply, after all. Ecology and supply issues were just speed bumps along the way to Shameville. Who do I think I am to print all those pages of my so-called manuscript? No, I don’t need to print today. I’ll wait until tomorrow, when I can come up with yet another reason to stall.

After M did all his research, he said what I needed to hear. “Print it.” To me, this wasn’t just a go-ahead because the toner supply was adequate. It was someone I trust telling me that it was okay to print my manuscript. I’m not saying I need external justification to proceed, just that it feels good when my best friend says, in so many words, “Yes. You can do this.” He says this a lot, which is one of the reasons he’s my best friend. Of course, he’s also tried to use this to his advantage in the past, trying to convince me that yes, I could change all the poopy diapers and yes, I was utterly brilliant with my use of the washer and dryer and way better than he was at doing laundry, and yes, I could cook dinner rather than go out. Still, what counts, when it comes down to it, is that he always says, “Yes, you can do this,” just when I need to hear it. He’s the Wizard of Oz to my Cowardly Lion, helping me to occasionally take my fortitude out of mothballs and parade it down the main street of the city. His yesses help me overcome my nos.

I re-stocked the paper tray and, before I could come up with any more excuses or chicken out, hit the “print” icon. 286 pages later, after feeding the printer more paper (oh my gosh, do we have enough paper?), my manuscript was complete. I held the 1 5/8” stack of printed paper to my chest and damn near cried. It’s pretty hefty, and I find it hard to believe that I thought of and typed all those words. It represents hours and hours of work, not just sitting down and banging it out, but the thought that went into the characters and the plot, the reading and attending workshops that gave me the tools I needed to craft a story that is (hopefully) compelling and interesting and has conflict and resolution. I have thought about this story at night while I’m trying to fall asleep, in the shower, in the car as I’m driving, waiting to pick up Zoe after school or sports, on my walks. I have thought about this story in cars, trains, and airplanes. I’ve worked on it mostly in Missouri, but also in Colorado, Illinois and Ohio. I worked on it in every state on the Amtrak California Zephyr route, the Coast Starlight route, and the Empire Builder route. It’s a massive personal investment.

Ernest Hemingway famously said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Although the man was a raging alcoholic, I take this also as a nod to writing being the easier part (as hard as it is), and editing being the long, hard slog. I have never edited a manuscript before so I have no idea if Hemingway is correct, but I adore editing so I’m actually looking forward to this. I do realize it’s a ton of work, but since I’ve actually written a book now, I think I might be up for the work.

Thank you to everyone who liked and/or posted celebration and encouragement on Facebook and Instagram. Ya’all are my field wizards, feeding my heart and pushing me down that yellow brick road to my dream. Thank you for helping me fight my own flying monkeys.

Goodbye, 2016. Hello, 2017.

On the face of it, 2016 stunk it up, and so many of us are happy to see it go. 2016 brought a torrent of cultural and political pain from which the country is still reeling. On a personal level, it wasn’t exactly a banner year, either. As I reflected on the past year over the past week, I found myself scowling and angry, and frightened for what’s to come.

The year dealt multiple blows; we lost: Harper Lee, Bowie, Prince, George, Rickman, Wiesel, Cohen, Wilder, Ifill, Frey, Glenn, Ali, and more. The year dropped trou with a flourish by taking Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds back-to-back at the end, an enormous hand gesture to America that’s too crude to type here. The political scene was chaos and pandemonium, and most of us sat horrified and watched it unroll before our eyes, not believing that what was happening was actually happening. I don’t know whom to blame for that. The media? Nah. Russia? Naw. I think we have only ourselves to blame. And I think recovery is impossible until we admit that.

Personally, this year brought turmoil, too. A lung cancer diagnosis for my father sent my family into a tailspin. In addition to the fear for his health, we were forced to face some hard truths about what it takes to care for my mother, whose posterior cortical atrophy/Alzheimer’s continues to wreak havoc. His recovery was hard and scary, and everyone was pushed to the limits in multiple ways.

The foundation of our three-year-old home cracked and water poured into our finished basement. We ripped out drywall and baseboards and the front porch and, eventually, the entire front yard. Jury is still out on whether it’s completely fixed, but needless to say this wasn’t something we expected to have to do in a three-year-old home.

A dear friend at work learned that instead of launching into a new and exciting academic year he had to instead start fighting leukemia three days before the school year began.

A beloved family member on M’s side was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

We lost our parish, a huge blow from which I’m not sure I will ever fully recover. Thankfully we did not lose the community we’ve built there.

2016 gave me, at the end, the awful cold/flu crud that’s been going around. I was down for almost three weeks and had fought my way back to 99% when it slammed in again two nights before Zoe’s already-much-delayed birthday party. I self-medicated with caffeine and DayQuil, and forged ahead. A visit to the ENT the morning of New Year’s Eve confirmed that I needed antibiotics, nasal spray, rest, and quarantine from everyone. This made me crabby and hate 2016 even more.

Clearly, I was happy to see 2016 come to a close. Even with the uncertainty 2017 promises, I was just ready for the year to end. I spent the last six months praying that nothing happens to Tom Petty before he gets to St. Louis on tour again, because even though he’s been here a thousand times I’ve always had a conflict. He’s coming May 12. Hold on, Tom!

While sleeping half the day on NYE and grousing that I felt so crummy when I was conscious, I realized that I needed to flip my thinking. 2016 wasn’t all terrible, despite the fact that with little prompting I can reel off a litany of crap. So I made myself find 16 things that didn’t suck in 2016. Here we go.

  1. Zoe applied to, was accepted, and started at a new school that is challenging her in so many ways that we are continually reminded that we made a good, if tough, decision. She transitioned beautifully, made new friends easily, and is excelling academically. I cry when I think of the new worlds opened to her with this move. We made new friends through her new school, too. Our horizons are widened by these unique experiences and backgrounds, and the perspective gained is invaluable.
  2. I launched a new book project, a non-fiction work that I am still so excited about even while feeling bummed that life got in the way this year. It’s still there, waiting for me, which gives me hope and motivation. I hope to re-tackle in 2017 and get it moving again.
  3. The three of us enjoyed a mega-vacation that involved sleeping multiple nights on a train (one of Zoe’s most ardent desires) and experiencing San Francisco and Seattle. It was an amazing trip that gave us time together and memories I will cherish forever. M did an incredible amount of work planning this trip (mad props to him), and we all had a wonderful time.
  4. I got off my butt and started walking. I walked and walked and walked – almost 300 miles starting in the fall – and left nearly 30 pounds behind. I feel better and have retired a significant part of my wardrobe (significant both in size and in quantity). Better health led me to sign up for two fun runs late this year: the Girl Scouts Run for the Cookies and the Hot Chocolate 5K. We ran these as a family, creating more memories.
  5. I became more active in a private Facebook group for writers. This amazing group of people from all around the world is inspiring and motivating and supportive. We are collaborating on an anthology and I committed to writing a piece. It was hard, but I wrote it and gave it to two friends to beta read and edited it and submitted it and am so glad I did. Now I have to work on my bio, which I think may actually be harder to write than the original piece. I’m toying with, “Amy Zlatic lives, writes, photographs, mothers, wifes, plays and works in St. Louis, Missouri. She owns a cat that sneezes constantly. She likes pickles.”
  6. Because M retired the Christmas display, we were able to do the fun runs and more together. We decorated our tree as a family. We spent a Saturday in St. Charles to support a friend’s book launch and enjoyed the kick-off for the holiday season on Main Street. We’ve done Wild Lights at the Zoo and Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows. Never in my marriage have I had so much access to my husband before and even during the holidays. When people ask if I miss the display I am honest. No, I do not miss it. I spent too many years missing my husband. I’ve fallen in love all over again, with him and with the season.
  7. I won my second NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this time finishing the middle grade novel I began last year. I haven’t brought myself to print the entire thing out yet to start editing (and oh boy does it need editing) but that’s on the 2017 to-do list. Word says it’s 323 pages. Not sure I’m ready to kill a tree yet, but I know it’s inevitable. It’s too hard to edit properly on-screen. I need hard copy and a red pen. And lots of coffee.
  8. I grew closer to two wonderful women who support me and love me and accept me and make me feel not so crazy. These women inspire me and motivate me every single day to try to be a better person. I love them and their families, and feel so grateful they have fully embraced me and my family. One of them actually happens to be extended family, which is just icing on the cake. (She can’t get rid of me, ever!) They taught me patience and the insanely valuable lesson of “Always respond in love.”
  9. We road-tripped to Cincinnati and enjoyed a jam-packed weekend full of fun and family. I don’t think we could have crammed more into that weekend, which included a Cardinals-Reds game, a big family bike ride, shopping, and a Labor Day party complete with fireworks and Boom! I love our Cincy family so much my heart hurts when I think about how much I miss them.
  10. Zoe participated in two piano competitions and earned highest marks in each. She continues to stun us with her talent, and I continue to marvel at the fact that I get to regularly cook dinner and clean the house to live piano music. At the second competition, she exited in tears, convinced that her errors had tanked her score. There was a lot of snuggling and reassurances and discussion over what to do to not feel that way ever again (more practice!). She was shocked to later learn she had received highest marks, and her teacher told her, “It’s not about the mistakes. It’s about how you recover, how you keep going.” What a great lesson for us all.
  11. I read so many good books. So, so many, including two books by writers of color which reshaped my world view. The last book I read in 2016 was “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ll be chewing on that one for a long, long time. I highly recommend, but offer this caveat if you are not a reader of color: you absolutely must go into it with an openness to accept that your point of view can be – and should be – challenged.
  12. My dad recovered from lung cancer and surgery. My colleague is in the final stages of chemo and has beaten leukemia. Our cousin had successful surgery and appears to be doing remarkably well. For all of this, I am grateful and relieved. They’re all staying on the daily prayer list, though. Just to be sure.
  13. For the first time in my life, I voted for a president who looks like me. Even though she didn’t win, I have a new sense of purpose and resolve. I never again want to feel like I felt on November 9, when I was overwhelmed with feelings of, “I could have done more.” I am now exploring involvement with She Should Run and EMILY’S List.
  14. When my work friend was diagnosed with leukemia, I volunteered to take his advisory until he recovered. I had no idea what I was getting into, taking on nine boys freshman through senior. It’s way more work than I anticipated, but the rewards far outstrip the work. I was also asked tasked with the position of faculty moderator for the yearbook, overseeing four seniors who are the editors. I have grown very fond of all of these students, and find myself worrying about them and championing them like a mother hen. It has been my privilege to take all of this on, and I’ve received far more than I’ve given. They make me laugh every day, and they challenge me in the best possible way. This has injected a new passion into my professional life.
  15. I rode a camel. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  16. When I couldn’t attend the big NYE family bash, I sent my family on without me. My husband, who shall be henceforth known as The Greatest Husband in the World, came back home to check on me and bring me food from the party. He sat and watched Parenthood with me while I sniffled and wheezed on the couch. When he was at the party, he texted and called me, so I didn’t feel quite so alone. And right before midnight, he and Zoe returned and made Sprite and orange juice mocktails so we could ring in the new year together. It was pretty damn special.

Come to think of it, there are a helluva lot more than 16 things to be grateful for last year. Happy New Year, my friends. Hang on, because I think 2017 will be a wild ride.

Move-ember

I covered a lot of miles in November. I’m not exaggerating or being facetious or even speaking in metaphors, which I have been known to do from time to time. I actually covered a lot of miles.

100.2 miles, to be exact. Most of them within eight miles of my home. I walked, and sometimes (very slowly) ran (downhill), 100.2 miles last month. My longest walk was over eight miles (Thanksgiving morning!); my shortest was two. I listened to hours and hours of podcasts. I walked at 5 a.m. and at 10:15 p.m. and all the hours in between. Mostly at 5 a.m. for a very good reason outlined below. I looked like an idiot many days, including times when my podcast made me laugh out loud or cry rivers of tears or that one day when the podcast app wasn’t working and so I listened to music, forgetting that the reason I stopped listening to music when I walk is that I can’t help but do this weird, funky, white-girl dance-walk thing that makes it look like I’m having some sort of fit because I love music and it makes me want to mooooove. I have learned how much to layer based on the temperature, and which jacket keeps me pretty dry when it’s raining, and to not stuff my headband into a certain pocket because it will fall out causing me to backtrack and search with the flashlight on my cellphone and throwing off my whole route with my exact mile markers. I have seen enough dead rodents to last a lifetime, including an unfortunate collision between a squirrel and a Ford Mustang. The Mustang won. The big Thanksgiving walk was the best, because I smelled wood fires burning, a turkey in someone’s oven, and, near the end, a pie baking. That’s pretty good motivation.

My legs weren’t the only appendage working in November. My fingers were super busy, too. I logged a lot of wordmiles on the keyboard. 54,288 words, to be exact. I committed to National Novel Writing Month again (NaNoWriMo), which is 1,667 words every day for 30 days, resulting in a solid 50,000-word novel. I didn’t start a new book, but finally fleshed out the novel I had started a couple of years ago before writing myself into a corner. Time off from the book plus lots of workshops, articles, and books on writing helped me figure out that I simply hadn’t made my main character suffer enough. She has suffered now, but I’m not entirely sure it’s enough. She may need to have some more terrible things happen to her. The book, as it stands now in all its SFD un-edited glory, is at just over 73,000 words. It needs a heavy red pen and I’m fairly certain that there are whole chapters that require replacement, but at least I have the base down. That ain’t nuthin’, friends.

Oh, yeah, and I also covered some miles in the air, traveling to Columbus, Ohio, for a conference for work. During which I continued my walking and my writing (boom). I can also now check the whole “travel with a Benedictine monk” thing off my bucket list. That was pretty fun.

I started walking in late September, when the weather was nice. I walked after work, when Zoe was at PSR or volleyball practice or piano. The timing was perfect and the weather was glorious. Then I decided to NaNo and realized that I’d need time to write every day. This isn’t something you can crank out in 15 minutes. At least, I can’t. Not fiction, anyway. I knew that some nights would require slogging away for almost two hours to get to that word count. And I knew that if I went walking after work and then made dinner and then ate dinner and then cleaned up dinner and did the family thing, all I’d be ready to write was a series of Zs on my pillow. I also knew that if I got up early to write, half the time would be wasted while I waited for my brain to fully wake up. So, starting November 1, I switched my walking routine to 5 a.m. most mornings. I can get four miles down in about an hour and be home at about 6, giving me a little over an hour to get ready for work and get us out the door before most of the bad traffic hits. This freed up my nights for writing. Food being a need most evenings, I subjected my family to a series of crockpot meals that I prepped late the night before and assembled that morning. Most were really delicious, which was a relief since I was trying new recipe after new recipe to stave off the boredom. I made real meals, too, but those crockpot dishes were a huge help on many nights.

So, in these ways, it was a great month. (In other ways, not so much, but those are topics for other posts.) I was completely absent from here which was disappointing, but there’s only so much a girl can do each day.

It’s no longer November, so I don’t have to continue walking so early in the morning. But here’s the thing: by the time I start walking at night it’s just as dark as the morning, and there are a lot more cars on the road. I get blinded by headlights, and it’s disconcerting to not see the sidewalk in front of me. I very much prefer the early morning walks, when it feels like hardly anyone else is awake and I’ve got the canvas of my whole day laid out before me. I now, much to my surprise, relish walking in the pre-dawn morning, before the cars are out but when there are a few other crazy people walking, running, and biking and when there are loads of stars twinkling or a gorgeous fog wraps everything in silence. It’s just a matter of launching my body out of the warm bed and into the laces. I never regret it, but dang, sometimes it’s hard. I did almost get clocked by a dude on a bicycle this morning, but he swerved at the last minute so all is good. (Aren’t bicyclists supposed to ride on the road, and not on the sidewalk? Eh, it might help if I wore a headlight like I’ve seen other early-morning people have. I do love the pre-dawn gloaming, though, and an LED headlamp seems rudely interruptive.)

Things I got from this blog post: I’m writing here again. Not anything spectacular, but I’m back on the beat. Which feels good.

Things you can get from this blog post: an amazing podcast list and/or good crockpot recipes. Send me a message if you want either. I’ll hook you up.

You’ll get the book I wrote later, I promise. This isn’t like last year’s book which was written with the intention of shoving it in a drawer. I’ll work on editing and then maybe recruit some beta readers and then shop it around for an agent. Since 2016 sucked on many levels, I’m determined to make 2017 rock.

This post is dedicated to my adorable husband, who put up with crockpot meals and an abnormally-cranky wife on the few days she didn’t walk and vicious snarls when he tried to talk to her about football, television commercials, and random internet stories while she was trying to write. I am well aware that many writers struggle with families who don’t understand their need to pound the keyboard, and I am so incredibly thankful to have a husband who has continually encouraged all of my art – be it writing or photography – over all of these years. You, quite simply, are amazing and I love you.