Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Writer's Journey

When you decide to become a writer and not just someone who writes *(see difference at the end of this post), you agree to travel down a path of highs and lows. Some examples:

High: You come up with a great idea for a book. The idea hits you one day and doesn't let go. You must write this book.
Low: Writing a book is hard. You have no idea what you are doing, how to plot an ENTIRE NOVEL and keep the story fresh from the first page to the last. The first several attempts are so bad that you are pretty sure the whole thing was a bad idea.

High: You don't give up, convinced that you just need the right inspiration. You read books on craft, and start telling everyone you meet that you are writing a book. Eventually you make connections to other people who write, both in the flesh and blood world and the online world. You learn strategies, like how to plot, develop believable characters, and write strong beginnings. You make new friends. You find a whole community of people and feel connected to a larger force.
Low: Some people in the writing community are mean. They criticize mistakes made by newbies (mistakes that you rush into your manuscript to fix - like omg did I describe my character by having her look in a mirror?) and sometimes do things that make you feel excluded. You worry that you will never fit in, that people won't like you. Or worse, they won't like your work.

High: You finish your book. Holy crap, YOU WROTE A BOOK! It is brilliant. Everyone must read it. Now.
Low: You make the mistake of sharing your un-edited manuscript with friends/family/random strangers online because you are just so unbelievably excited about having wrote a book. An actual book. The friend/family member/random stranger points out the ten million things you need to fix. Every flaw is exposed and you feel as though someone has taken your heart out of your chest and stepped on it. Repeatedly.

High: You recover from the criticism and learn who to trust to give you solid, helpful advice about how to make your book better. You revise, revise, revise, and feel incredibly good about the growth you've made as a writer. Idea number two pops into your head and you think, I can do this whole writing thing after all. You attend conferences and meet new people. You start to put your work out there to professionals in the industry. They appear interested.
Low: You get rejected. Over and over and over and over. You watch other people get snatched up by agents, published, and inundated with praise. It makes you want to crawl under a rock. Give up. But you keep plugging along and working on project number two. Or three. Because maybe that's how long it is going to take.

That's as far as I've gotten, but I know that the rest of the journey is fraught with more ups and downs. I've seen agented authors wait years to secure a book deal. Celebrated when the day finally came. I've seen friends experience heartache when their book is pulled from the shelves because of problems with the publishing house. I've seen authors in agony over bad reviews and/or their lack of sales, worried that their editor will reject every new idea. Done my best to encourage others to keep putting their work out there because it is beautiful, beautiful stuff.

It's not an easy life. But as writers, we create worlds everyday, and I think we need to sprinkle a little of that fantasy in our own day to day experiences. What keeps me writing is not so much the idea that one day my words will be out in the world, but the release I feel when I let myself get lost in the page. When I shut out the minutiae of daily life and plunge into the story. It feels like nothing else.
So why can't I do the same for my "real" life? Walk into a bookstore and picture my baby on a shelf. Imagine myself reading chapter one in front of family and friends at my release party. Celebrating every small success instead of wallowing in bitterness over every failure.

With each rejection I give myself permission to wallow for a brief moment, and then move on. With each high from someone else, I say hello to the green-eyed monster and then tell him politely to move on. There's no room for that in this life. When I wanted more than anything in the world to get pregnant and become a mother, jealousy was camped out in the front of my brain all the time. It was exhausting. But we are all on different paths, and the important thing to remember is that everyone, EVERYONE, has highs and lows. Celebrate the highs - your own, your friends, the random stranger you met online, and recognize the lows - give them their chance to exist and help you grow - but don't allow them to take over.

*Someone who writes: anybody really; grocery lists, thank you cards, letters to Santa - these are all things that someone could write.

A writer: A person who has dedicated part or all of his/her life to putting ideas on paper, to telling stories, to creating something meaningful from words.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Turning Forty

The big day is nearly here. The day when the clock turns over to 1:01 pm and I will have officially been breathing on my own for forty years. The months leading up to this event have been interesting as while I firmly believe the cliche that age is just a number, it has not escaped my sphere of thought that I am about to enter a new decade. And that means changes.

Some changes are a little tough to swallow. The gray hairs on my head seem to multiply while I sleep, and I shy away from the camera because the bigger I smile, the more wrinkles appear. And as many of my friends are discovering, I just can't party as hard as I did in my twenties and not expect to pay for it the next day.

Some changes are welcome. Like the wisdom to realize that life is too short to waste on drama. It's easy to get caught up in the web of trying to keep up with everyone else, but what for? I was happy to be myself in my teens and twenties and didn't care what other people thought - why start now? If anything now is the time to boldly pronounce that you're either here to have fun/be supportive/share in life's journey or you need to move on. It's a tough proclamation and not one that will make me very popular. But here's the thing about forty: I don't care.

I've made it halfway (? avg lifespan in my family is around 80) through life and it feels pretty amazing. There have been good decisions and bad ones, kind people and cruel ones, positive life experiences and ones that left me crushed and defeated. But I have traveled through it all and plan to keep on trucking. My thirties were all about being a mom. Waiting to be a mom, feeling completely clueless when I finally became a mom, and then figuring out (which I'm still doing) how to be the best mom I can be. In my forties I hope to keep rocking the mom thing and to discover what else makes me whole. It isn't so much about having a plan (I tried that in my twenties. Ha.) as it is about finding what fuels my soul, and then going out and doing it. Not being afraid. Not making excuses. Setting goals and reaching them.

When I set out to write a novel, I was naive and green. Oh so green. But I read up on the craft, expanded my social network to include people who could help me get a clue, and kept at the project until it was finished. It may never see the world outside my small circle, but that is okay. Because there's something else I've learned on the cusp of turning forty. I've always wanted to leave my mark on the world, but I never stopped to think about what that really meant. I have used my writing journey as an opportunity to teach my children about passion, about risk, and about perseverance. About the fact that you don't always get the thing you go after, but often the expedition is its own reward.

So bring it on, forty. Bring on the gray hair, the wrinkles, the sagging skin. Bring on the day afters because mama is going to keep on dancing. Join me, if you want.

Oh, and in case you like this sort of thing, here are highlights from the last four decades:

five years old... I wanted to be a model

seventeen years old... away from home for the first time and so not ready for the real world

twenty seven years old... solo trip to Hong Kong to visit hubby on deployment

thirty nine years old... dancing with the band

Friday, October 2, 2015

The road to independence is full of potholes

My oldest is now in fourth grade. Next year he'll be in middle school, changing classes, using a locker, and generally being independent.


We have a bit of distance to travel before then, and my plan is to use these next 11 months (pardon me while I spend a few moments in denial.... ... ... okay, I'm back) getting him ready for the next phase of his life. That means letting go. Letting go of the nagging, the reminders, the doing everything for him because it's much easier than waiting for him to do it himself. Letting go is not easy for me. I like to be in control of the minutia of life; it's one of my character flaws. It is nearly impossible to enforce such levels of control over two young boys, but I try anyway. And now it is coming back to bite me. Because now I want P to do things without reminders and to make good choices and to not procrastinate until the last minute.

Needless to say it's not going all that well right now.

There is a lot to keep track of in fourth grade. Daily reading and math logs, spelling charts, and math homework. Violin practice. Cub scout requirements. Remembering to bring his gym bag home so I can wash his sweaty clothes (this has only happened once so far. ew.) We'd also like him to do chores around the house - nothing too complicated - simple stuff like keeping his room clean and collecting garbage once a week. And I want it all to happen without nagging.

As if it were that easy.

Last night the hubs and I had a convo with P about not letting his daily charts go until the end of the month and then scrambling to get them finished as the bus is pulling into our court. After our son went off to bed, my husband said something about the boy following in my footsteps. I am desperate for that NOT to happen.The procrastination struggle is real and a lifelong monkey to peel off one's back. My grades in school were not nearly as good as they could have been if I had actually made an effort. Turned things in on time. Worked up to my potential. Of course my parents said that to me in an endless loop and fool that I was, I didn't listen. And now I fear that we are wandering down the same path again, only this time I'm singing the "don't get swallowed up by the ease of mediocrity" tune. And the boy is clearly zoned out into the happy place where I spent a large part of my childhood whenever my parents lectured me.

The plan is to try and let him make mistakes and hope that he learns from them. My parents rescued me a lot, even into young adulthood. And while I appreciated it in the moment, it took me a long time to figure out how to stand on my own. It wasn't until graduate school that I learned how to focus on the task in front of me and give it 100%. (Admittedly that philosophy has not transferred into all the other areas of my life... but it's a process.) I don't want the boy to wait that long. I hope that if I allow him to fail, he'll eventually see that there are intrinsic rewards for doing your best work and getting things accomplished on time.

Mama just needs to step back and figure out how to guide him in the right direction without standing behind him and giving him a huge shove. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why it's okay to occasionally bribe your children

For some reason, J has been completely stubborn about riding his bike this summer. We have always enjoyed family bike rides; the boys started out in an attached trailer but quickly became too big for the free ride. P transitioned when he was five. He was a quick study post training wheel removal, taking a few tentative treks around our court and then zipping away. Proud to be out of the trailer and on his own, despite a handful of rides that required some creative manipulation of children and bikes when he declared that he was simply too tired to continue.

We didn't push our youngest quite as hard. It took him longer to learn how to ride with training wheels and we wanted to make sure he was physically able to balance on his own before removing them. But over the last two summers, the wheels became a hindrance. Last year we tried taking a family bike ride along a paved trail that transitioned onto an unpaved trail. Three of us were able to maneuver through the brush. One of us got stuck, training wheels spinning, and had a mini meltdown that required intervention and resulted in two of us getting left behind. About a month ago we tried another path that ultimately led out into a neighborhood, and three of us peddled along the quiet side streets admiring the scenery while one of us freaked out because he was afraid of.... well, I'm not entirely sure. It was a long, slow return to the car after which J declared that he was never riding his bike again.

He had already been refusing to ride it before the family bike ride, with really no explanation. There were excuses:
"My training wheels are loose." Tighten training wheels.
"My seat is too high." Lower seat.
"The tires are flat." Inflate tires.

My father found a used bike to keep at his house and tried to coax J into riding it without training wheels. Nope.
With training wheels. Nope.
With the training wheels on a different bike. Nope.

Seriously? What kid doesn't love to ride bikes? It wasn't as if he had fallen off the bike and suffered serious injuries. Heck, our oldest has more bike related scars on his knees that I can count. When I was learning how to ride a bike, my brother took me to the park to practice, and despite him telling me not to put my foot down I put my foot down, crashed, and a huge rock lodged into my right knee. Bleeding down my leg into my sock, he made me ride the bike all the way back home. With the rock in my knee. And I still ride.

Nothing that tragic has happened to our boy. So what, you say. So what if he doesn't want to learn how to ride a bike. I'll tell you what. We live in the suburbs. It is a childhood requirement. Besides, older brother wants to bike to and from school while the weather is nice, and I think it would be great if they went together.

School starts Tuesday. I declared this morning that this would be the day J would learn to ride his bike without training wheels. No, he said. Hmm. I want to go buy Yu-Gi-Oh cards, he said. Hmm. How about if you can ride your bike around the court without training wheels, we'll go to the store and buy you a pack? Contemplation. Some heel dragging. Forcing mom to put his sandals on even though he could do it himself.

And then.

He did it.

Hubs held on to him about halfway around the court, let go, and whoosh! The boy was off, just like that. He never even fell. His face filled with pure joy. After a few successful stops and starts he declared, "Now I can go on family bike rides!"

Perhaps it was bad to use bribery. But there was this little voice of fear in his head that kept him from moving forward, from doing something he was perfectly capable of doing. And I guess sometimes it takes a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards to tell that voice to shove it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Love at First Sight - It Does Exist!

My family has this weird way of doing everything in the years divisible by five. There are several members who celebrate milestone birthdays on the 5's (we call them "the fivers"); the trend started in 1915 with my maternal grandmother and lasted until 1995. (I had really hoped to have a fiver, but my son was born in early 2006. As far as I know, no one is due to have a baby this year either, so it looks like the trend has officially ended.) My sister is a fiver, having just celebrated her 50th birthday, and I am as well. (Stay tuned for posts about turning forty. I'm actually pretty excited about it.)

But it doesn't end there. All of us siblings got married in a year divisible by five. My sister in 1990, my brother in 1995, and me in 2000. We told our mother it was so that she could easily remember how many years we'd each been married, but I'm pretty sure it was just coincidence. Although it does come in handy when I'm trying to remember how many years I've been married.

FIFTEEN. Fifteen years. It still blows my mind that someone agreed to spend the rest of their life with me, and that the someone was my first love. Now before you start gagging, it's a really sweet story. See hubs and I met way back in high school at a drama club meeting. He was a sophomore, and I was a senior. Someone introduced us, and his first words to me were, "Those are some funky eyebrows." I thought he was making fun of me. Who wouldn't? My eyebrows were funky. And by funky I mean unnaturally thick. Frida Kahlo thick.
But he was actually admiring them. I shrugged it off, but I couldn't get him out of my head. Later in the meeting our friend Jen was singing "Age of Aquarius" and I distinctly remember getting this feeling that I had just met my soul mate. That this underclassman, this eyebrow critic, was going to be my husband some day.

He would be. Eventually. But first I had to find out who he was, where he lived, and did he actually like me? Later in the week I was coming home from a blind date that had gone quite poorly, and when I pulled into my driveway, there was my destiny. Heading to Mighty with his friends. I invited him to take a walk with me to the playground across the street, where we got to know each other and would have kissed if it weren't for my mother's headlights beckoning me to "GET. HOME. NOW." (They had slightly panicked when they saw my car but not me.)

We dated for a while in high school, but as high school romances go it wasn't all that wonderful. Too many feelings, not enough feelings, feelings for other people, foolish mistakes - all the good stuff of YA romance. We had a love/hate relationship after that until the day he broke my heart. The day he told me he was planning to marry this other girl and I felt an ache in my chest like nothing I had ever felt before.

Now I know I have a flair for the dramatic, but my chest truly hurt that day. Nevertheless, I accepted my fate and accepted the girl, and made a plan to stay single forever in my house full of cats. Because truthfully? No one ever compared to him.

That's us in the Netherlands. So young!
Fast forward a year or two. He made plans to come in from college and visit his girlfriend, and they were going to road trip out to see me for a day. Only the moment he got off the bus, she dumped him. Now I'm not going to say that he immediately came running into my arms and I welcomed him in a warm embrace. This is reality, not a romance novel. It took some time. But within a few weeks he invited me to come with him to visit family in the Netherlands, and the night before we left we officially declared ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend. A year later we were engaged.

Our marriage has survived several deployments (one that lasted nearly nine months), infertility, the crazy invasive process that is an adoption home study, and all the little ups and downs that come with being a couple. Hubs asked me last night if I thought we'd make it to fifteen years. Of course I did. The universe went through all that trouble to bring us together, there's no way I'd do anything to screw that up. Also? I'm not the easiest person to live with, but for some reason he gets up every day, smiles at me, gives me a kiss, and makes me feel like I can conquer anything.

Even if he no longer likes my eyebrows.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Being me

The conference was wonderful. I learned a ton and met some great people along the way. Here's the thing: it is possible for me to break out of my shell a little and talk to strangers.

I'll wait while you collect yourself.

Basically I had a choice: allow myself to be swallowed by social anxiety and spend the weekend curled up in a ball in the corner OR jump into the pool and doggy paddle for a while. (I may have taken the metaphor too literally though because on the first night I decided to join a new friend in the hot tub. In my dress. Because why not.)

The most difficult part of meeting new people is that initial conversation where you break the ice with something witty enough to get another person to talk to you, and then the part where you keep the conversation going by being a good listener and not letting the dreaded awkward silence creep in, oh and the part where you don't say anything stupid or embarrassing. Okay, so basically everything about meeting new people scares the crap out of me. But I kept telling myself that there was a good chance that most of the other people at the conference were likely experiencing the same fears and anxieties. It was a conference full of writers. We lock ourselves in a room and spend hours typing away into a void FOR A REASON.

Here's an example: It's lunchtime. TACO BAR. I enthusiastically fill my plate with taco goodness and enter into the large meeting room. There are round tables full of happy, chatty people, and I don't recognize a single face. It's like that time in middle school when you walk out of the cafeteria line with your tray and decide you'd rather eat lunch in the hallway/bathroom/inside your locker than face the sea of strangers. So I see this guy who sat with us the night before at introductions, and he has the same eyes-scanning-the-crowd-for-someone-he-knows expression. I walk up to him and say, "This is way too much like middle school." He laughs. Doesn't run away with his plate full of tacos. So I follow with, "Let's sit over there," and head for an empty table. He agrees, and we have a great chat during the meal.

Imagine that. I CAN be a normal person.

I keep the energy up for most of the weekend. Introduce myself to people in line, ask them about their writing, their families, listen to their stories. It's as if the introvert in me got left behind at the security checkpoint. (Those body scan machines are weird, people. Weird.)

But then, I hit a wall. It's Saturday afternoon and I'm feeling a bit drained from a harsh (but helpful and necessary) manuscript critique from an agent. I sit through the final session at a table with some women I had chatted with before, but they aren't talking to me. Then it's happy hour. Happy hour is a great time for people who like to drink and socialize. But I just want to crawl into a comfy chair and be alone. I stand around for a few minutes with no one to talk to. Find my friend from home, but she's got a line of people waiting to pick her brain. Feel the panic start to set in.

You see, people can push themselves out of their comfort zone, and it may even feel good for a while, but we always come back to who we truly are. And I am truly an introvert. I'm not ashamed of it, and I have learned to pick up on the signs that it is time to get the hell out of dodge before my breath quickens and tears start to flow. It happened when I was at camp with the boys last week, and I was determined to get myself together before it happened in front of all the nice writerly types. So I take a walk. Calm myself down. Call CJ because he truly gets me and knows what I need to hear. Go back inside and find my hot tub friend and tell her to stay by my side. She understands.

It's tough to be shy in a world that expects you to network, to sell yourself, to be someone people want to follow on twitter. But I'm okay with that. I am me, and if you don't like it, oh well. Sometimes I say inappropriate things. Sometimes I create the world's most uncomfortable silence. Sometimes I want everyone to just leave me alone.

But sometimes I am witty and fun to be around. Sometimes I go hot tubbing in my dress and make jokes that cause the whole table to laugh. I guess the bottom line is that while wandering out of the comfort zone is important and healthy, it's okay to be who you are. Whatever that may be.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Going Solo

The last time I traveled alone was in 2003. The husband was on deployment for pretty much the entire year, and although I can't remember the exact date I'm sure I traveled back home at least once that year. That was also the year I went on my scariest adventure: Hong Kong. While hubs was sure to point out that I wasn't technically alone for that trip - a group of wives traveled together, but none of them were my friends so it only sort of counts - it was pretty darn terrifying. And once in China I needed to navigate to my hotel alone and then walk to the dock by myself in the morning.


You see I'm not the best traveler. I get nervous. Like, I can't eat for 24 hours prior because my stomach is in ragey knots nervous. It doesn't matter where we are going, what we plan to do there, or who is coming. So it's not a big surprise that I am a ball of nerves right now and have been since yesterday. Today I am setting off to my third writing conference and the biggest one yet. Oh, and I'm traveling alone. Which is pretty awesome on one hand - no one to entertain but myself, no one whining about how hungry/bored/full of pee they are. Just me. And my tiny little bag filled with just  my stuff that took about 10 minutes to pack. Okay, it took about two hours to pick out what I was going to wear, but the actual packing part was super fast.

I'm meeting my friend on the other end and then we have a driver taking us to the hotel. A driver. As in some guy is going to hold up a sign with her name on it and everything. Here's the thing. My friend is kinda famous in the writing community and she's part of the faculty for this conference, and I am crazy lucky because she still wants to hang out with me despite the emotional word dump she endured on our last few road trips. (Seriously. Sometimes I don't know when to shut up.) Oh, and she lets me tag along with her on conferences. And she brings sponge candy. And introduces me to amazing people. So yeah. Anyway, the conference is going to be huge and a bunch of well known people from the writing community will be there, and I get to meet them and sit down and talk about my book with them and holy crap that is a lot of things to make me a nervous wreck.

My husband told me this morning that I can't put my best face forward when I feel this way, and he's right. I need to get out of my head and enjoy the journey. I had an amazing time at the last conference - made new friends, had a ton of fun, and learned a lot about writing and about myself. I didn't want it to end. It's something I get to do that is entirely selfish and hey - I'm not going to apologize for this - it feels good. So as I sit here waiting to board and thinking about what is just around the corner, I'm hoping the nervous feelings with hit the road because frankly, I am sick of them holding me back. I walked through a communist country alone and lived to tell the tale; this is easy compared to that. Right?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Five

Decade Five: 2005-2015

We have arrived at the present. It has been an interesting journey to say the least, has it not? A lot changed in the past ten years. My sister discovered her passion for running and found a relationship that fulfills her heart and soul. She sent that adorable little baby from yesterday's post off to college, and he is becoming an incredible young man. I am proud to say that I watched him grow up and introduced him to his first roller coaster. (Technically it was my husband. But I was there!) My family doubled in size, and Chrissy has been there to guide me through the crazy maze that is motherhood.

Now that we are both full fledged adults, we get to have fun together. Family friendly activities like our annual apple picking trip, or not so family friendly activities like wine tours. An awesome trip to Florida where Chrissy and the hubs enjoyed beers of the world at Epcot (photo not included). And Christmas celebrations that inevitably get silly.

I consider myself pretty darn lucky to have spent my (gulp) four decades as Chrissy's baby sister. Cheers to the next decade and to more adventures, laughter and not Chardonnay.


I leave you with this little anthem. It may not be as fabulous as the tape recorded version of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold" (stay tuned for that little gem), but it reminds me of my sister. What a long strange trip it's been.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Four

Decade Four: 1995-2005

Earlier this week I was over at my parents' house sorting through pictures for the blog. It was somewhat challenging because nearly every album was full of pictures of me. Yep, I'm the baby of the family and was pretty darn adorable. My mother laughed as she flipped page after page of my smiling mug and said, "You were the center of attention for a lotta years. Until Mitch came along."

Mitch. He was the first grandchild (and the only one for nearly eight years) and a super cute kid. I honestly didn't mind passing along the attention torch. He transformed my sister's life and it is obvious when you see them together that they have a strong bond. Mitch has a calmness about him, with a quiet, wry sense of humor and a huge heart.

My sister continued to second-mother me, but I certainly still needed it. She took me in when my roommates kicked me out of the house (that is a convoluted story and not blog appropriate; let's just say that sometimes I don't make good choices), and she kept me calm on my wedding day. I tried my best to be there for her when she needed me, even if it just meant making her laugh when life got her down.

Around the middle of this decade, I graduated from college, moved away, and got married. And then I moved again. And again. And again. And... (you get the idea - we were the traveling vans for sure back then!) Chrissy and Mitch came to visit me in Virginia and Washington; both trips served as much needed diversions for the lonely life of a military wife. I loved taking them around to see the sights and remember my sister remarking at how impressed she was at my ability to navigate in a new town year after year. (This is of course because she did not have to witness the previous attempts at navigation which involved much cursing and turning around in parking lots.) It was wonderful to have connections to home when I was far away.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Three

Decade three: 1985-1995

A year after my grandpa died we took a family vacation (minus my brother) out to California so that grandma could see the Queen Mary. The trip was a lot of fun despite the daily sunrise wake ups, the impending doom of dad speeding around the curves of Route 1 at Big Sur, and an animatronic shark attack at Universal Studios. Chrissy was thrilled to pose with her "date" (as it is described on the back of the photo below) and also got the opportunity to wear an astronaut suit and experience zero gravity. 

Soon after, she 
graduated from college and moved away. Permanently. Despite our physical separation, we remained close. My memories from this time period range from the goofy (Chrissy philosophizing about the deep lyrics to "Pump up the Volume" on the way home from religion class) to the educational (everything I ever needed and not so much wanted to know about sex, drugs, and rock and roll), to the profound (she took me to my first and only Grateful Dead concert where I learned many, many, MANY interesting things about human nature). 
We share a common bond of,"What ridiculous behavior can we exhibit that will drive mom crazy?" For example: on one road trip we made up a silly rhyming poem and repeated it over and over until mom begged us to stop. Read it here.  Another time we wrote a parody to Lionel Richie's "Hello" called "Jello" and sang it at the top of our lungs. Success was reached when mom said, "GIRLS. ENOUGH." And I am proud to say we haven't changed much since then. Although, karma caught up to me - my children are happy to provide payback with their endless silliness. I guess what goes around comes around.

Despite being only 15 and legally unable to serve as a witness, my sister chose me to be her maid of honor. I was matched with Larry, the three fingered man (if I recall correctly, he lost two of his digits in a saw accident) who tried to hit on me in the limo. I was thrilled to become an aunt five years later, even if it meant listening to my sister scream through endless hours of labor before my nephew finally made his entrance. But the big arrival was not until Chrissy's fourth decade, so you'll have to check back tomorrow for Mitch.

Enjoy the pics. Appreciate the glorious 80's hair.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Two

Decade two: 1975-1985

My sister and I were close growing up, but more in the second mother sort of way. She took care of me, showed me life’s ropes, and made sure we had a good time on the journey. When Chrissy babysat, it was always an adventure. Instead of simply asking me what I wanted to eat, she would create a menu containing my favorite items and have me check the box next to my choice. We convinced mom to purchase every kind of spaghetti-o on the market and ran a comprehensive taste test, complete with restaurant critique style reviews. And she taught me to appreciate the finer things in life, like butter on saltine crackers.
We loved to watch MTV together, back when it was actually music television, and imagine how cool it would be to be a VJ. Chrissy's walls were covered with posters of Duran Duran and Adam Ant (I can still picture the one featuring an adroggynous Nick Rhodes in the bathtub with his wife). I owe a considerable amount of my music knowledge to my big sister, who would quiz me when songs came on the radio. If you’ve ever wondered why I am so completely obsessed with the 80’s, well there you have it. I recently uncovered this little gem while sorting through my mix tapes. Proof that our competitive nature started early. If you listen closely, you can hear her say, "I can sing louder than you." But she doesn't. And of course I have to be the boss, saying, "That's enough" at the end.

At the tail end of this decade, we lost our paternal grandfather. He and I were very close, and it was an unexpected and devastating blow. My sister was in her second year of college and came in for the funeral. That week a blizzard hit and she was stuck at home for an extra week. Our maternal grandmother was staying with us and Chrissy and I had to share a room. It was during this time (for reasons I honestly can’t remember) that we started calling each other “Doodie”. She filled the emptiness of my grandfather’s passing by making me laugh and showing me how to write messages with footprints in the snow.
That's my favorite thing about my sister: her ability to make me laugh. It is obvious that we share genes - strange, strange genes (thanks, dad!). My children (and many of the kids I babysat over the years) are familiar with the napkin moustache “You must pay the rent” routine, which I learned from Chrissy. Anyone who knows her knows she has a wonderful and slightly twisted sense of humor. When we are together, belly laughs inevitably ensue, and that has always been the case. I can’t imagine my childhood without her.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Birthday Week: Day One

In honor of my big sister’s big birthday this week, the blog will be taking a little trip through history. Each day will highlight a decade of my sister’s life, complete with photos and the occasional sound bite.

Decade one: 1965-1975

My sister Christine (known to the family as Chrissy, to me as Sissy and for a brief period of time Doodie – more on that later) entered the world on June 24, 1965. A first born, she enjoyed two years of only child bliss before my brother came along in 1967. I did not arrive until 1975, marking this period in our family’s history as B.S. or Before Sandi. Therefore I cannot speak with any clarity as to what went on during these ten years of my sister’s life, but I can leave you with these adorable pics.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The power of persuasion... or perhaps magic

After several rounds of, "Are you sure you don't want mommy to make you a special cake? Are you sure you just want a square cake?" my boy offered a suggestion: The Magic Tree House. Duh. Why hadn't I thought of that? He loves the books and wants to read them all so that he can have his name on the school library "tree house". We are on #17 and have a looooong way to go, because many of the books come with a fact tracker that teaches you all about the time period and place that Jack and Annie visit. And my boy loves him some facts.

When he made the suggestion, I went to the wonderful world of Google images to see what other moms had done. I am not on Pinterest (believing it will only make me feel inadequate), and I do not steal ideas from other people, but I do look to the Internet to get my creative juices flowing. And flow they did. There was one cake, clearly made by a professional, that was three dimensional - a tree house supported by a trunk and decorated with cute little books at the base. Amazing. But I had no idea how to support the weight of the cake. Part of my philosophy is that the entire thing must be edible, and it seemed I would need to use cardboard to distribute the weight. Another picture featured a ridiculous amount of fondant (which I never use) and explained that the tree was a vase covered in fondant. Vases are certainly not edible.

Lying in bed one night (Husband: "I do not want to talk about the cake. This is your thing.") I thought, why wouldn't I just lay it flat? Why does it need to be three dimensional? There is no way we'd be able to transport that! Again, duh. So I set off to the drawing board. Translation: wandering the bulk food aisle with rough sketch in hand. The trunk is fashioned out of rice krispie treats, because why not. At the time I was still trying to figure out how to make the tree stand up, and I remembered seeing Cake Boss use that technique. Of course he wrapped the treats around a PVC pipe for stability, but remember - all must be edible! I molded the mixture into a trunk shape, let it cool, and then covered it with melted chocolate, using a knife to make tree-like swirls. The cake itself is a simple chocolate cake cooked in two loaf pans. I thought I would stack them, but when they came out of the oven I realized I should have just used a square pan. Because low and behold, two loaf pans = one square pan. Oops. But it looked better with just one, so I saved the other loaf for "extra". My frosting was a masterpiece with no disasters this year! (Finally, right?) I added cocoa powder to make it brown and swirled in cool whip for ease of spread-ability, thinking to myself that I should totally patent this recipe. The rope ladder is laffy taffy and wafer cookies - I had originally planned to use licorice rope, but when the bulk food lady told me they didn't have it I turned around in a huff and found the laffy taffy. The chocolate wafer cookies had to be cut into smaller pieces to simulate the boards, and I also sliced the gummy leaves in half because their weight caused them to slip off the side of the cake.

All in all, I am pleased with the result. I tried to think of a way to create Jack and Annie but just didn't think I could pull off tiny humans. And there are no cute fondant books, but hopefully the kids will get the idea. I honestly have no idea how we are going to cut into the rice krispie trunk without making a complete mess. Oh, and if some kid doesn't like chocolate, they are out of luck. It will be J's first friend party and we invited his entire Kindergarten class, most of whom RSVP'd yes. Should be interesting.

Anyway, thanks for reading - here's the finished product:

Friday, June 12, 2015

The mix tapes

I have trouble letting go. This is a fact, not a dramatization.

Recently I read a great book about decluttering, called The Joy of Less by Francine Jay. It talks about why it is important to live with less, how it helps not only our personal stress level but also the planet at large. And of course I was gung-ho to revisit my year(s) old goal of getting rid of the crap in our house. You see, we used to move. All the time. Every year or so. And with each move came the question, "Do I really need X? Is it worth lugging across the country and back? Will it even FIT in our next place?" It was a helpful and healthy way to routinely examine what we had and to purge what we no longer needed. There were always exceptions to the rule, like the fact that I moved several boxes of books from place to place, books I had read and never planned to read again, books I got at a used bookstore and thought sounded great but merely sat on the shelf, books I inherited from my grandmother and couldn't bear to give up... you get the idea. Oh, and the boxes and boxes of teaching stuff, which I only recently decided to donate after years of collecting dust in our basement. Nevertheless, it was, for all intents and purposes, a good way to keep our stuff in check. Then we moved here. To this house that is bigger than we truly need, with an amazingly huge basement full of nooks and crannies for storage. Oh, and we had two kids. Who added to our crap exponentially.

Fast forward seven years. I have tried to declutter the house; the last time I was inspired by a magazine article and got nearly through every room. But, as per usual, I gave up before it was finished. As my husband told me once when I was trying to come up with a six word memoir to describe myself: HAS BIG IDEAS, NO FOLLOW THROUGH. Yep, that's me. This time I was inspired by Jay's book and promised I would actually do it. Follow through. Complete the task. I made myself a six week schedule that allowed for missed days and proudly displayed in on the refridgerator. Did great the first week. Carted a bunch of stuff down to our church for their annual rummage sale. Week two? Not so much. Week three? It's Friday and I have very few proud X's on the calendar. It is the week I am due to take all of the stuff out of our den and make room for the boys to have a study/computer space. The plan was to move P into the back bedroom, me into his old room in a space entirely devoted to writing (with a futon for the rare guest) and use the downstairs den for the boys. Not for the upteen piles of papers, books, and general clutter that currently occupies the space.

But I digress (sorry, I do that a lot.) This post was intended to be about mix tapes. Yes, mix tapes. During week one I went through the cupboards in our family room and came across the boxes of tapes that I have henceforth been unable to part with, tapes that hold an unbelievable amount of memories and can still be enjoyed in the tape player of my van. Yes, my van has a tape player - how completely awesome is that? So, I set off to listen to each tape one last time and then toss it in the trash. Don't worry, I still plan to keep the notebook that outlines the songs on each tape (plus the songs from each tape I ever made for anyone else - I was the queen of mixes back in the day).

Listening to the tapes has brought all sorts of emotions to the surface. I remember loving the songs, remember sitting at my boom box and cuing up each one, the whirring sound evident on my earlier tapes (before I figured out how to avoid it). I remember playing each tape for the first time, marveling at my mixing abilities. The transitions, the mood each mix created, the clever covers made from cut up magazines. It is painful to think that these tapes will no longer be part of my life, but it is time to move on. As part of my "big idea" I plan to recreate each mix on my iPod, but I doubt that will ever happen. Currently there are several tapes in my car, some listened to, some in the cue. But so far none have made it into the trash. Despite the fact that the sound quality is terrible and some of the songs are barely audible, they are still such a huge part of my history. Throwing them out feels like tossing out an entire decade. Friendships I had - people I held close and vowed to never let go of, but who have been reduced to the occasional Facebook like. Moments of self-love and self-hate that ricocheted back and forth like a tennis ball. My complete obsession with songs like The The's "Slow Emotion Replay" and Gin Blossom's "Hey Jealousy", with artists like Morrissey, The Judybats, and Nine Inch Nails. The tapes were how I expressed myself.  Sometimes as an adult, I feel listless, without purpose and passion, Each day spent doing the same thing: meals, laundry, homework. I miss the creative requirements of picking just the right song, of blending genres in a way that made you think, of telling a story with music.

One of my Twitter friends turned me on to 8tracks, a website that is like mix tapes for the modern world. But it's not quite the same. The feel of the tape in your hands, pushing play and letting yourself get lost in the ride. The van is stow and go; perhaps I can hide a few tapes in there and bust them out when I'm feeling particularly nostalgic. And who knows, maybe someday I actually will recreate some of the best mixes. People can change, right? Right?

Friday, June 5, 2015

From monster truck to, "Just make me a square"

My youngest knows how to push my buttons. To quote him exactly, "And your zippers too." And he knows how much I get into the annual cake making extravaganza. So this year, when he announced that he just wants me to make him a square cake, I wasn't entirely surprised. But I was a little heart broken. His birthday party is next week. It's his first friend party and I am excited to have the chance to show off my mad cake making skills to a new set of parents. Nope. Just a square. No fancy design, no elaborate concoction made from the various treats in the bulk food aisle, nothing.

I have a week to change his mind.

Last year, he was very much into monster trucks. We read about them, talked about them, played with them. Having some prior vehicle experience from oldest's bulldozer, I knew roughly what needed to be done. The boy loves chocolate, so I made a chocolate cake in two loaf pans and arranged the pieces to resemble a truck.
Then I used the miracle frosting (which no longer exists) to make it blue. The inspiration was Big Foot, and despite using the largest possible chocolate donuts for the wheels, they still were not quite big enough. According to boy expert anyway. I used fudge cookies for windows and the about to be crushed cars, and chocolate graham crackers for the dirt. To make the truck look tough, I raided the leftover Halloween candy and found a bag of skull and bones. (Yes, we still had Halloween candy in June.) Perfect. Some fruit roll ups for stripes, weird little wafer things for headlights, and Twizzlers for tail lights. The truck was epic. EPIC.

Which is why I don't get it. Why would he not want me to make him a specialty cake this year? Should I simply override his wishes and chose a design for him? That seems a bit underhanded, but I just don't think I can arrive at his party with a boring square cake.

What's a mom to do?