Monday, December 22, 2008

How not to take a Christmas photo

Thanks to everyone who was on the ball this year and already got their cards to us. We've enjoyed seeing how much your kids have grown, and I've tried to keep up with new addresses. Hopefully our card will eventually find you.

I finally took a picture of the kids on Saturday. Usually I'm a little more together, but this year I just said, Fine. Wear whatever you want (to some degree). Let's just get this over with.

This is not the pose I used in the card but thought it reflected my kids' true personalities. Maybe next year I'll be a little more laid back and use one like this.
I guess it's time to finish up the cards and get them mailed. Mia just handed me a Family Nice List and my name had an X beside it because she said, "You're not playing with me at all today." Jacob's had a check beside it because, "He's been messing with me which is kind of like playing with me and that's okay." Here's to hoping she doesn't pass it along to Santa.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sounds like love...

Excerpt from a conversation I had last night with my son, a high school junior, regarding his recent crush on a senior.

He: She actually talked to me today.

Me: Really? Cool. What did she say?

He: She said, "Move your big head. I can't see."

Me: Well, that's a start.

(The photo was taken of us after his school's production of Scrooge on Saturday. He doesn't usually wear his hair like that.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Christmas Short Story

Tonight I had plans to attend the monthly gathering of the Writers' Guild of Texas. I'm a member but often wrenches get thrown into my plans and I have to miss. Tonight it was inclement weather. I had prepared a short story to share, and since I didn't get to read it, here it is for everyone to enjoy endure.

Christmas Carol

Every year I meet my friend Carol for spiced cider the week before Christmas. I’m never on time; she’s always early. I tell her that way, she gets to choose the table--preferably one with a cute waiter.

I enter the cafe and scan the seating area. There she is, waving me over. I stomp the snow off my shoes before crossing the sunny room, nod my head and mumble Merry Christmas to some folks I recognize.

“Sorry I’m late, traffic was horrible.” I take my seat across from her and she reaches for my hand.

“The weather outside is frightful,” she says.

I smile with relief. She’s not mad I’ve kept her waiting. “I’m almost done with my shopping,” I tell Carol. “I just need something for my little niece.”

She pulls a sales flier from her purse and points to a picture. “Give her a dolly that laughs and cries, one that will open and shut her eyes.”

I fold the ad and place it in my purse. “I knew you’d have an idea.” I sip the drink she thoughtfully ordered for me. “Thanks for the cider. I can’t believe we have snow.”

She smiles and says, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

“I know!” I agree. “Joe’s parents are due in tomorrow. I’m not sure what we’ll do for fun.”

Carol, of course, has the perfect suggestion. “It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”

I say, “That’s perfect. Joe’s parents love sleigh rides.”

Then our waiter appears with suggestions for dessert. “Ladies, can I get you some applesauce cake? Or perhaps our pumpkin torte?”

Carol says, “Oh, bring us some figgy pudding.”

I nod my head but he frowns at us. “I’m afraid we don’t have figgy pudding.”

Carol is not easily dissuaded. “We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here.”

He takes a step back. “Um, well, I’ll see what I can do.”

After he walks away, I say to her, “Do you and Chris have plans tonight?”

“Later on we’ll conspire, as we dream by the fire,” she says.

“Well, that sounds cozy,” I say. “I know you’ve been worried ever since he lost his job. Things any better?”

She smiles slightly. “From now on our troubles will be miles away.”

Suddenly I’m intrigued. “What do you mean? Are you moving? Planning an escape?”

She shakes her head. “There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief or pain. Because it’s Christmas, Christmas once again.”

Now I’m confused. “I’m so sorry. It must be really hard this time of year especially,” I say sympathetically.

“Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more,” she says.

I can’t help but wield the feeling that there’s something she’s not telling me. “You’re moving, aren’t you? We won’t be able to meet again like this--like we’ve always done all these years.”

She pulls a pack of tissues from her purse, hands me one and takes one herself. “You’d better watch out,” she sniffs. “You’d better not cry.”

But I do. The tears just come. “I’ll miss you. Christmas won’t be the same without your friendship.”

She wipes the tears from her cheeks and stands to hug me. “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again someday.”

I hug her tightly, sad to see her go, and when she gets to the door she tosses her plaid scarf over her shoulder and turns to wave. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas now,” she calls and then she’s gone.

I sit back down and the waiter reappears at my elbow. “Did your friend leave? I found some bread pudding. Is she coming back?”

I look at him, incredulous to his insensitivity. “If only in my dreams.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Moonrat weighs in

Several months ago I ran across a contest sponsored by Moonrat on her blog. (Moonrat is an editorial assistant at a publishing house—you can read her profile if you’re curious.) She has a friend who is receiving treatment for cancer and has no health insurance. Not only is Moonrat an insider who generously offers advice to those of us trying to get published, she’s wonderful to her friends as well. She created a raffle, offering her feedback to those interested. I purchased one chance at her reviewing a partial manuscript. And out of 252 entries, I was lucky and got selected.

I waited a while before submitting and then asked her to review the first 50 pages of Center Court Seats and a Pair of Jimmy Choos, a romantic comedy that I wrote along with my friend Joan. Joan and I met for lunch one day at Mimi’s CafĂ© in Lewisville and hammered out the story idea. A year later, we were done. Joan took on the writing of the character Mimi (named in honor of the place where she was conceptualized), a romance author. And I decided to write her sister Jac, an investigative reporter for a fictionalized Dallas newspaper. (Later we’d muse about how the story might have unfolded had we written the other’s character.)

Here’s an excerpt from our query letter to help you understand the storyline:

Dallas reporter JACLYN LIVINGSTON considers romance writing the fallback for wannabe journalists. Her sister, romance author MIMI, becomes exasperated by Jac's attitude and presents an improbable challenge: Jac must write a novel and get a publishing contract within six months. Since Jac doesn't read romance, and her non-existent love life can't possibly inspire her, Mimi assumes the bet is hers to win. As Jac dives headfirst into the contest, Mimi discovers her boyfriend cheating on her—with her agent. Unaware that her sister is using her misfortune as a storyline, Mimi struggles to put her life back together while Jac finds love in a most unexpected place.

Through mishap and betrayal, sexy trysts and serendipitous twists, the sisters discover that in life, as in fiction, you can't always stick to the outline. And pursuing the subplots can lead to a better ending than the one you planned to write.

So we sent off the entry to Moonrat along with our query letter since she offered to critique that as well (Did I mention she’s generous?), and this is an excerpt from her response:

"This is a very clean--almost impeccable!--manuscript, and an engrossing read. You guys are in really good shape. I only tended to mark things up when I wanted to suggest a change, so if you're basing a judgment on what you see marked up in the document you're bound to think I didn't like it, which is NOT TRUE even vaguely.

Congratulations on all your hard work! Please remember that anything--ANYTHING!!--I've marked up is just a suggestion. Obviously my feelings will not even be vaguely hurt (I won't even know!) if you just override what I've put in. But I hope that some of it at least is helpful to you!

This, ladies, was a very enjoyable read. I sincerely hope that someone snaps it up in a heartbeat!"

Joan and I then spent some time reviewing and accepting her suggestions and now I have to make those changes to our manuscript so we can begin querying more agents. I’ll be sure to let everyone know what response we get.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Giving a book for Christmas

I planned to write up some favorite books for gift suggestions and will here, but have been amazed at the lists that two people in the publishing industry have amassed. Here is Jim McCarthy's, an agent at Dystel & Goderich, and Moonrat's, an editorial assistant at a publishing house. (More on Moonrat tomorrow.)

My list of favorite books is here on the left of my blog. Unfortunately I didn't read the volumes of fiction this year that I normally do, for various reasons--mostly writing got in the way. But some suggestions follow:

For that seldom-reader sister-in-law who likes to laugh: We're Just Like You Only Prettier by Celia Rivenbark or anything else by Celia. Also Laurie Nataro's Idiot Girls books are funny (but for some reason, I always feel like I need to take a bath after reading her), and Amy Sedaris (David's sister) is a hoot.

For that brother/uncle/friend who likes a quick, light adventure: You can't miss with Harlan Coben. His Myron Bolitar series is the best. You can go to his website to find them in the order they were written although you can read them out of order and not suffer any irreparable damage.

For little kids: The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet, Frances books by Russell Hoban, Peach and Blue by Sarah Kilborne, Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, Green Wilma by Tedd Arnold, Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, and if you can find it--Tommy at the Grocery Store by Bill Grossman (it's out of print but worth the hunt).

For artistic kids: Doodles: A Really Giant Coloring and Doodling Book by Taro Gomi. Jennifer bought this for my kids one year and they all enjoyed it.

For grade school kids: Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park is my fav, especially the books on CD. (My daughter listens to them almost every night before falling asleep.) The Magic Treehouse books are good as are Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

For preteen girls: I'm passing along recommendations from Julie since I asked her professional opinion--as a mom of two daughters. Here's what she wrote: Catherine Ryan Hyde (she wrote Pay It Forward, which I didn’t read but saw the movie) and she has several YA books, and it seems I’ve heard girls raving about Sarah Dessen. Emilie (her daughter recommends) the Ally Carter books, too.

Kristen said something about a series with books called “Among the Hidden,” “Among the Betrayed,” and so on. I’ve never heard of them, she hasn’t read them because she said they’re always checked out at the library. On Amazon that they are the Shadow Children series.

I just remembered a book I’ve wanted to find by an author/editor I met at La Jolla. They sound quite funny but also with good messages—Deborah Halverson's Honk if You Hate Me and Big Mouth. I just got the giggles again reading the summary for Honk if You Hate Me.

I'm also curious about the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. The premise sounds fascinating and I'm going to read these myself in the new year.

So, what are you buying or what would you recommend for someone on your list this year? I'm sure we could all use some suggestions.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Update on writing

Unfortunately I was much more successful at participating in No-Shave November than I was at NaNoWriMo. My legs stayed warm but my manuscript failed to make the 50,000 word mark. Not even close. At least I have December. And January. And maybe February to finish it. Who picked the holidays as the best time of the year to write a book anyway?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sleeping through the Blackness of Friday

I’d like to express my apologies to the retail industry for not leaving my mark on Black Friday. Thursday evening I returned home from Thanksgiving dinner at Joan’s and promptly fell into a tryptophan-induced coma by 10 o’clock. I had no intention of setting my alarm to go shop at an hour when only vampires are awake. The only expenditure I made on Friday was at the drive-thru at Chick-fil-a when Jacob decided that sounded good for lunch. At 2 p.m.

I have shopped the day after Thanksgiving before and sure, I lived to tell about it, but I couldn’t think of anything I needed to buy that would make me go fight the crowds at the mall or local discount department store. No one even asked for a Wii at our house. In fact, I hadn’t made a shopping list, so I didn’t even know what to look for. Therefore the ads remained untouched in the newspaper on the table and are now in the recycling bin.

Maybe it’s all those years working retail that has scarred me. In high school and college, I dreaded the holidays, particularly Christmas Eve, when all the men would realize they couldn’t put off shopping any longer and finally braved the department stores in search of the perfect gift for their girlfriend or wife. I worked in lingerie for several years and, trust me, playing 20 questions about what a woman you’ve never met might wear/like/not return because she’s too humiliated to is not fun. Me: Is she about my size? He: No, bigger. Me: Yeah, I got it.

Tomorrow I will try to make amends with the economy and buy some gifts. In an effort to save the publishing industry with aspirations that I’ll have a book or two on the shelves one day soon before I die, I am joining a grassroots campaign to buy books as gifts this year. I’m meeting The Writing Women (Julie, Joan and blog-less Elizabeth) at the new Legacy Books in Plano and then we’ll lunch. We want to check out the new, independent bookstore that recently (and quite optimistically) opened its doors in a market replete with going-out-of-business signs.

So, if you are looking for a gift that sure to fit someone of any size, shape, or reading level, buy books this holiday season and log your purchases here. A book might not exercise your body like a Wii, but it sure does wonders for your brain.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

History through the eyes of a five-year-old

How did the pilgrims come to America? On the Mayflower, of course! (For some reason, they looked like Indians...)
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Trailer to Love

One of my favorite parts of going to the movies is watching the trailers for the movies I’m not seeing. Even renting a video is fun because you can see what other shows are out there that you somehow missed. Unless you’re watching a kids’ movie. My daughter watched a movie while she was sick (okay, she watched it more than once) and learned the intro to Beverly Hills Chihuahua. (She cracks herself up saying it.) Now she’s convinced she needs to see the movie. I thought we missed it at the theater and she could wait until the video came out and I would conveniently not be in the room when it was on. But no. It’s still showing here—she saw a poster of it the other day.

I can’t think of a fate worse than having to sit through it. I remember taking my boys to see Pokemon: The Movie with my friend Wila and her kids. Wila sat on the aisle and I warned her before the lights dimmed, “If you slip out and go see another movie without me, our friendship is officially over!” She just laughed. And didn’t leave. Did I mention she’s a stronger woman than I? The only thing that kept me from bolting was having to stumble over five kids and an extra large bucket of popcorn.

Some kids’ movies are not so bad. Enchanted I loved but probably because of James Marsden. (Did you think I was going to say Patrick Dempsey? No.) And some animated shows are awesome. But now I enjoy taking my oldest to see movies he likes. He and I have a lot in common and appreciate British comedies and satire. Over the Thanksgiving holiday—since his dad and brother are going to be AWOL at an out-of-town soccer tournament—I asked him to put together a list of movies he wants to see and I’m planning a run to Blockbuster later today. (We both secretly want to work there.)

I might have to add to his list Milo and Otis or The Incredible Journey. Something with a dog in it for his sister to watch. But after she goes to bed, the DVD player is ours.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I escaped to my local Star$s today for a cup of tea and some time to write in a different location. I went up to the counter to place my order and the guy working there said, "Hey. Cool sweater."

"Thanks," I said.

The other guy looked at him and frowned. "Hey, I'm into sweaters," came my guy's response.

And even though I promised myself I wouldn't, I confessed to him, "Wanna know where I got it? Goodwill!"

He, being a fellow frugal fashion finder, said, "Guess where I got mine? Thrift World! It's my favorite sweater, too."

I nodded. I could appreciate a guy who believed that it's not where you shop, but how you wear it. And then I picked up my cup of tea (that cost nearly as much as my lovely new-to-me sweater), found a sunny spot and a comfortable chair, and spent the next two hours with some other colorful characters...those in my new story.

Bad Week?

In case you've had a rough week and need to end it on a cheerful note...try this: Will you take a spider?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Can I get a witness?

Words of advice from nasty virus sufferer and five-year-old daughter Mia.

"Diarrhea should not be called diarrhea because it has the word die in it and that's not good for kids to say."

Monday, November 17, 2008


Joan emailed me the other day and asked if I wanted to NaNo with her. Those of you who don’t write fiction may not know what she meant. I’m not versed on the origin of NaNoWriMo, but someone decided to challenge others to take the month of November and write a novel. Apparently quality isn’t the goal here, just quantity to the tune of 50,000 words in 30-odd days. I’m assuming you spend at least December revising and fine tuning it to be something readable. For some literary agents, the nightmare begins in early December when they receive all the NaNo first drafts in their inboxes as writers seek representation.

NaNoWriMo has grown to a support community where you get emails encouraging you to keep up with the word count. I have been saving mine to read later. (Those truly curious can click on the button on my blog here to the left, under my mug.)

So, since I’d already started a new manuscript, I signed up. Now it’s become a source of guilt because I’m so far behind on the word count, I probably couldn’t even finish a novella in time. Last time I wrote, I had 5,124 words. That was five days ago before my daughter came down with a virus. Then gave it to her brother. They are both still home from school today.

No, instead of writing my next novel (or on my blog), I’ve been playing board games and card games, reading story books and holding up flash cards. At times I’m the vet for an assortment of stuffed animals who somehow end up getting mauled by a large dog or stepping on nails. Don’t ask where she gets this stuff. The scanner on my daughter’s cash register doubles as a hand-held x-ray, and the stuffed puppies end up spending the night on the sofa recovering. The bill is getting expensive.

Now I’m trying to find food for two children who can’t seem to keep anything in them. Icee-pops anyone? I have been cautiously eating only a little and only things I don’t really like in case I’m the next victim. (I still can’t eat Burger King or Panda Express from my last vomit episodes.)

Sometimes I’ll sneak away to the computer, and I’ve been following the tragedy behind Nebraska’s safe haven law loophole that has sparked parents there to abandon their children in droves. The law was supposed to provide a no-fault escape for parents of newborns to leave their babies at hospitals or police and fire stations. Nebraska legislators couldn’t agree on a maximum age and therefore left it to read “child” as opposed to “newborns” as all the other states did. Now parents are dropping off hard-to-handle teenagers. Sadly two children escaped from their mother en route and are now missing. What horror this has been for these kids!

Parenting is not easy and even though I’m ready for a break from the demands of sick kids, I can’t imagine being so distraught that I would think my child better off with strangers than with me.

Okay, just like in my novels, sometimes my writing takes off in a direction I didn’t plan. As this blog post just did. The image of these abandoned children has weighed on my heart this week and here it is on the page now. Hopefully somewhere down the road, these kids will recover from their plights and make better lives for themselves. I hope Nebraska finds a way to make amends for their oversight. Maybe offer free parenting classes or a safe house for teens?

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Nighttime conversation with my daughter...

She: Why do people say, You have ears like a hawk?
Me: Not ears, eyes. You can’t see a hawk’s ears.
She: Oh. What has really good ears?
Me: I guess a rabbit. They’re pretty big.
She: And what can smell really well?
Me: A dog, I suppose. Some dogs better than others.
She: So, you have eyes like a hawk, ears like a rabbit and you smell like a dog?
Me: (Laughing) I don’t think telling someone they smell like a dog would be considered a compliment.
She: (Laughing now too) Oh, yeah. I guess that would be bad.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Race Race

My son came home from school the other day and said his freshman geography teacher had some advice for filling out college applications. She said those who were white males stood a better chance at getting into a college and obtaining some form of financial aid or scholarship if they checked OTHER under the heading of RACE. Technically, she said, this is not a lie. Not many white people are really white. We are German, Polish, French…Other. My son has a friend whose mother is black and his father is Asian. Blasian is the term he uses at times. And for fun he says he is “Blackie Chan.” Would he check whichever race box that seemed more advantageous?

My son’s teacher had a point but I think trying to dupe the system would fail. I’d like to see the RACE heading completely eliminated. If we truly believe we are all equal and that employers and colleges and friends see not our skin color, then why still insist we pick one? I know it’s the law and history established the precedence. Equal opportunity. Affirmative Action. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. But since public schools no longer restrict access based on race, shouldn’t all children seeking college admission be judged equally?

I know my neighborhood school has more resources than schools in poorer neighborhoods. But the issue of race isn’t the determining factor. Children of all races are educated alongside my white children. Perhaps instead of a place for race on the application, why not indicate the ZIP code of your high school? Colleges could then factor in the quality of your education based on resources made available to you.

The issue of race came into play during our recent election, and it bothers me to hear our president-elect referred to as our first black president. His father is black but his mother is white. Doesn’t that make him white, too? Or biracial? If my children’s father were black, I would want them to think that my heritage was as much a part of their makeup as their father’s.

For Obama’s sake, I hope he is remembered as a great president who achieved success that had nothing to do with his race. It’s like an asterisk forever beside his name. Wouldn’t he prefer that no concession be given to him based on his heritage? Conversely, will people shrug off his missteps, nodding to the fact that, Well, he is a black president. Therefore our expectations are lower? I certainly hope not.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One minute

If you had one minute to make a difference in the world, what would you do?

My kids and I would pick up trash around our neighborhood. Hopefully that would inspire others to do the same and we'd get some fresh air and exercise in the process.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween 2008

Hope everyone has a fun Halloween. Just thought I'd share some photos of a recent visit to the Arboretum with my daughter's class. We spied a pretty pink princess, a nutty squirrel, a house made of pumpkins, and lots of gorgeous flowers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


By Jacob Hammonds, guest blogger

I enter the lunchroom every day at relatively the same time. I am usually one of the first people to enter given that the location of my class is relatively close. When I enter the room is relatively empty. I hear nothing more than the buzzing of the florescent lights and mild, quiet, contained conversation. I take my seat on the end of the bench, same as every day. I make an attempt to converse with an acquaintance who is located adjacent to me. After a few meaningless words there is typically an awkward pause in which for a split second there is only the sound of silence. The sacred sound of silence is an underappreciated phenomenon.

Every day we surround ourselves with noise. Noises from cars and TVs and stereos. We even put a TV and a stereo system in a car. Even now, sitting here, I hear the squeaking of pencils against paper, the constant indescribable vibrations caused by air moving through the air conditioner and, of course, the occasional sound of snot juice being vacuumed back into one’s nasal cavity. But I digress…

So for a split second in the lunchroom, I get consumed by the simple buzz of the florescent lights and then comes a dull roar from behind me. I hear a soft piano of footsteps accompanied by quiet, indistinguishable dialogue. A certain amount of footsteps becomes more pronounced. I take a guess at who the person is before I turn around. But before I turn around, my guess is confirmed. What I hear is the sound of carbon dioxide being forced out of one’s lungs and passing through one’s larynx. As the air passes the vocal folds it causes a vibration that, in this case, resonates in the person’s nasal cavity producing a most unpleasant but very distinguishable sound (aka my ex-girlfriend’s voice). As she tries to make meaningless conversation, I turn around, trying to find any person who can distract her long enough for me to make a conversational segue to another person. My messiah has come in the form of a guy named Ryan who allows me to avoid all conversation, and her voice slips into the cluttered mess of noise which is the lunchroom.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Four more things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other

A. Took the dog to the vet yesterday. Bad news: He has an ear infection. Worse news: Said ear infection cost $153. Better news: I took advantage of the dog scale in the waiting area and, according to the digital readout, I no longer weigh as much as a full grown Great Dane. Now I'm closer to a Rottweiler with a healthy appetite.

2. I used to work with a woman who couldn't stand to wear anything around her wrists, such as a watch or tight sleeves. She told me she believed she was a slave in a previous life and spent much of her time shackled. If her theory holds true, I've got $50 that says I was a hippie in my previous life. I can't stand to wear a bra past 9 p.m. and would rather go barefoot than wear shoes.

III. I was in my son's room the other night, watching him play his guitar and just talking with him. His cell phone rang and he answered it. "No, I can't talk now," he said. "Just hanging out with my mom." He hung up. It was a girl. Wow. I know a compliment when I hear one. Thanks, Jacob.

d. If you are a woman and haven't seen Then She Found Me with Bette Midler, Helen Hunt, and Colin Firth, rent it soon and keep the tissues handy. I highly recommend it. If you're a guy (or a woman who doesn't mind a violent, laugh-out-loud, smart movie), go see Burn After Reading or add it to your list to rent one day. It's great too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reading for everything in between

This morning I wondered what Evel Knievel did to unwind at the end of the day. Did he cruise on a Harley, wind whipping through his bandanna? Did he own a vintage Honda that he only puttered around on, keeping it under 50 miles per hour? Or did he do something so out of character—like knitting or penning sonnets—that he found was the only way to relax?

My typical day involves a lot of reading. Currently I am rereading the manuscript I wrote with Joan. We’ve tweaked it, fine-tuned it and now feel the need to read it once more. At 90,000 words, I’d say we’ve read it through at least five times now. Thankfully, I’m not yet sick of it. One more time? Maybe that would put me over the edge.

I also read other friends’ works in progress. Sometimes it’s a short story or a poem. Typically it’s a chapter from a manuscript. I love doing it. It’s fun to be a part of the creative process, especially early on, and I feel vested in their success—thrilled to be a trusted critic.

Additionally, I freelance write articles for magazines. Finished one today. Have another one due Friday. And then I blog when I can think of something half-way interesting to say. Factor in emails, online reading for research and for amusement, and by the end of the day, my vision has had a workout. And I still don’t wear glasses! I’m sure it’s coming.

I’ve whittled my television viewing down to two shows I follow, so relaxing in front of the television at the end of the day doesn’t happen. I avoid the news (I can catch what’s relevant online) and abhor reality TV (except for Idol) and most everything else that’s on.

So, when I need to wind down and go to sleep, I read. (This is after about a half-hour of reading to my daughter who always wants just one more story, please.) Not surprisingly, my eyes are pretty tired some nights. I have a stack of books that friends have sent me recently. Jennifer bought me Twilight—which I intend to read to see what the hubbub’s about. Sonya mailed me Liberating Paris at least two months ago. And Trisha sent me Resistance and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen earlier than that. I’m sure they’re great. And I’ll get to them. Soon.

But lately I’ve been drawn to reading short stories. A friend loaned me two collections: Glimmer Train and The Best American Short Stories 2005. Fascinating. I’m not sure I’ve written a short story since college and it’s clearly an art form. Some I’ve read have left me wondering, What was the point? And others I’ve been haunted by for days afterward. When I finished “Until Gwen,” I was so moved I looked up the author online. Then I was embarrassed that I didn’t recognize his name: Dennis Lehane. He also wrote some pretty successful novels: Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone. “Until Gwen” is written in second-person and done really, really well.

Last night I was reading another short about a woman whose daughter was caught up in a cult the mother couldn’t penetrate. The only evidence of her child’s existence was a birthday card that would appear anonymously in her mailbox each year, addressed in her daughter’s distinctive handwriting. In the middle of reading that story, I completely lost interest. It had nothing to do with the writing, but an idea came to me for another novel I’m currently working on. So, I crawled out of bed and went searching for some paper and a pen, jotted down some notes, and then went to sleep completely inspired to start over again today.

Doubt if I rode a motorcycle the same thing would have happened…but who knows?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Baby-sitter Extraordinaire

I don’t remember having many baby-sitters while I was growing up, but I certainly spent many hours employed by neighbors and family friends. One summer I kept our neighbor’s two sons, Dwight and David, at their cool old house. Sometimes my little sister would tag along. The three of them would put on shows for me, playing tennis racquets like guitars and singing along to the Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight. Totally inappropriate in retrospect but, hey, they had fun.

My boys have baby-sat for hire on a few occasions—mostly when neighbors have to dash out for a bit and need an older child to oversee their young ones. Lately I’ve been leaving my five-year-old daughter with my oldest son when the middle child has soccer practice. It’s been a good lesson in responsibility for my son, and a nice opportunity for his sister to get to know him better. A few years from now, he’ll be away at college, and I hope their times together will form some lasting memories for her. And for him.

Last night I got home late—her brother had gotten her ready for bed, read to her and she was asleep. The Hot Wheel track was out (he claims she has the better cars, but he helped her buy them), and this artwork was on the fridge. He immortalized her into a cartoon character and then helped her color it.

This is one I will keep. Just in case she sometimes forgets what an awesome brother she has.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Can I see your double-X chromosome, please?

I’ve determined that I might not really be a woman. This revelation came to me yesterday and I just had to share.

It had been a few days since I’d left the house other than to get my daughter to school and back. I’d had a great lunch at The Corner Bakery on Monday with The Writing Women—some friends who write and now we get together every other Monday to eat, talk, discuss writing and occasionally chat about ourselves. Just occasionally. It’s sort of like therapy without all that annoying advice on how you should change.

Tuesday—stayed in. Wednesday—stayed in. Then on Thursday I had a few chores nagging that just had to be done. Blockbuster called. Where are our movies? Fine. I’m coming. The shoes I’d ordered online for my daughter needed to be returned. (The website cautioned that they ran large. Well, gargantuan might have been more accurate.) And then my mom called. She’d been looking for a particular piece of fabric and found one at my local store. Could I run by and look at it for her? Then buy it? Then mail it? Sure. I was just on my way out…

So, I showered, pulled on a skirt and T-shirt, slid into some sandals, said good-bye to the confused dog, and away I went. I ran my errands and then thought, While I’m already out… I poked my head into a consignment shop and took a look around. Came out with a Beatles T-shirt for my son. (Abbey Road—he loved it.) Then went in another shop to see if they had any clothes for my growing daughter. Sorted through racks and racks of black, glitter, and sequins and managed to find three dresses that didn’t scream, “Hey I’m five and already a trampy whore!”

No, I’m not a good shopper. Therefore, probably not a real woman. I don’t mind going out with my girlfriends on our annual weekend out, but shopping once a year does not a woman make me. And on those trips I usually end up buying stuff I wouldn’t if I were alone. Peer pressure? At my age? I guess. It would explain the I Had a Nightmare I Was a Blonde T-shirt currently hanging in my closet.

Grocery shopping? Only the worst chore there is, or maybe a close second to cleaning the bathroom. Shopping online? That I can do but I don’t do a lot of it. (Not like my neighbor who brings the UPS truck to our street almost daily.) Because you never know if the stuff you buy is going to fit. And then you find yourself having to shower, having to get dressed, having to leave the house, having to go to the post office to return it. And that’s almost as bad as going out shopping.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Where's the fun in a fundraiser?

It has already started. My daughter came home this week with a slick packet along with a DVD to get us all pumped up about a Booster-thon Fun Run. I know marketing and I’m sure the first thousand or so they raise will go to foot the bill for the expensive campaign they’ve unleashed. A DVD? In a plastic pouch attached to a lanyard? Really? Can’t someone in the office just run off a bunch of copies and call it a day?

I dragged my feet for as long as possible. On the way home from school yesterday she started in. “Mom, I have to bring in my Fun Run paper and then I’ll get a bracelet and my teacher says then I’ll be awesome.” To her I said, “Honey, you are awesome even without a bracelet.” She wasn’t convinced. “Yeah, but if I have a bracelet I’ll be even awesomer!”

So this morning I bypassed the per-lap sponsor section. (Do they really expect her to run laps? She still rides to school in her stroller!) And instead I donated a flat $20. And put my mom down for another $20. (She’ll learn about that here.)

I also stayed up late last night attaching BoxTops for Education pieces to a paper so that her class can compete with the others in her school. They’re currently not even in the top ten. Luckily I’ve been tossing those suckers into an empty butter tub for the past year and had about 40 of them to send in. I stared at the sheet that took me about fifteen minutes to complete. First I had to trim each coupon and then glue them on. At ten cents a pop, I filled up a sheet worth $2.50. I have that much change in the bottom of my wallet! I'm letting her do the rest over the weekend.

Then earlier in the week she came home with a sticker on her dress reminding us that it was Chick-fil-A night. And of course we had just eaten there the night before.

Maybe it’s third-child-syndrome at work here and quite frankly, I’m just tired. But I know when I pick her up from school today she’d better have a bracelet on and be smiling from ear to ear since she will most definitely be awesomer than she was when I left her this morning.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Note to my Daughter's Kindergarten Teacher

Dear Mrs. L:

Thanks so much for the packet of papers welcoming us to your class. By now you might have finally sorted through all the information you requested from your students and their parents. But I can do the math and know that six pages times nineteen students is…is…well…a lot of papers to read. Here’s some more information I thought you might need.

On the form asking for volunteers, I offered to buy extras for the room as needed. No problem. I make it to Target at least once a week, so provided I remember to write down what you need, remember to put it in my cart, remember to set it aside so that a child doesn’t make off with it, remember to put it in my daughter’s backpack, that should be no problem.

I notice that I can’t send in home-baked items for parties. Darn. Your loss. Yes, ma’am, I’m well aware that children have food allergies and you really can’t take chances, but my cookies are the bomb! Just ask my daughter. Besides, I never bake with peanut butter or put nuts in anything. I’m probably a safer bet than Kroger’s bakery in that regard. I know. Rules are rules, so I’ll let it go.

I didn’t sign up for cafeteria helper. No, thank you. Light my hair on fire and toast marshmallows on my smoldering scalp instead. Please. I don’t like a lot of noise, and my children have long ago forgiven me of my absence in the lunchroom. I know some parents have lunch with their kids on a regular basis, but not I. Sorry. I’m sure therapy is just around the corner for my three kids, but it’s a chance I’ll take. They know I love them. Just not all their noisy friends who eat with their dirty little hands and chew with their mouths open.

I will happily come in and read to the kids. Better yet, let me bring in my own books. I have quite a collection. If I do have to read yours, I must warn you I have mastered the art of skipping pages. Rarely do I get busted for it. Especially if it’s a Dr. Seuss book. The man was a genius but had a tendency to ramble. If you don’t agree, try reading “A Wocket in My Pocket” without a glass of wine first. It’s a doozy.

I must also warn you about my daughter. She’s an absolute joy, but she also has two teenage brothers. Go ahead. Giggle. Everyone else does. She might not know all the Raffi songs her classmates do, but she can sing every line of “Taylor” by Jack Johnson and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. Also, if you need to know all the verses to “The Diarrhea Song,” she’s your go-to girl.

While other children might politely tell you that they need to go poop, she’s been known to say she needs to take a dump. I know. I’ve tried to correct her, but it is what it is. I pick my battles; you are free to pick yours.

In closing, I need to say thank you for embracing such a noble challenge. I wouldn’t trade places with you even if you stripped me naked and promised me the cast of Ocean’s Eleven as a blanket in return. You’re my hero. Just please don’t expect me to be your room mother.

Mia’s mom

Monday, September 1, 2008

Musical memories

The other day on the radio, the morning drive-time crew was discussing songs that should be banned from the airwaves. Not those that are obscene or distasteful, but tunes that turn your stomach. Bad dates, bad memories, bad times that a particular song brings to mind.

I have a few, but I also have many more songs that make me smile when I hear them. Songs that remind me of good times, good friends and good feelings. So, when I first heard that the songs of ABBA were being made into a musical, I knew I had to see it. I never made it to the Broadway show, but today I finally got around to seeing the movie Mamma Mia.

It wasn’t the best movie I’ve seen. Not by a long shot, but the music was awesome. Flashback to eighth grade. I was a nobody. Well, I played volleyball, ran track, was on student council and had friends, but I wasn’t a cheerleader, so therefore—a nobody.

But one night at a middle school dance, Don Heintzelman—a somebody—asked me to dance with him in a dance contest. The song was “Dancing Queen” and we won. Our prizes were gift certificates to a music store. I bought a Barry Manilow album with mine.

Don and I became friends, served on student council together in high school, worked together at the Water Bowl in the summers, and in our senior year we dated. After high school, I stayed home and attended Ball State; he went off to Notre Dame. His family still lives in Muncie, but I haven’t seen him since high school. I’ve been to a few of my class reunions and apparently, the one or two I’ve missed, he was there.

I still have fond memories of Don, of ABBA, and of course, of the one night in eighth grade when I was a dancing queen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

One hundred

One hundred. It’s a pretty big number. And for those who started reading my blog at its inception, pat yourselves on the back. You’ve endured ninety-nine posts so far. Today is the big one-oh-oh.

To commemorate, I decided to list 100 things I love. I’m not listing the obvious—such as God, country and my family. Instead, this is a quirky compilation of things or people or items in pop culture I enjoy, find amusing, or absolutely love.

Here goes, in no particular order:

1. the first page of a book
2. s’mores
3. down pillows
4. a freshly pressed white shirt
5. babies
6. old blue jeans
7. dancing
8. thunderstorms
9. my critique partners
10. British comedies
11. mint
12. music by Jack Johnson
13. salad
14. the beach
15. writing
16. lightly sweetened tea
17. antiques
18. DVR
19. homemade bread
20. chick flicks
21. email
22. grilled salmon
23. smocked dresses on little girls
24. Moonlight Path body lotion from Bath & Body
25. singing in the car
26. soccer
27. uninterrupted sleep
28. the South
29. corn-on-the-cob
30. bare feet
31. happy endings
32. a massage
33. starlit nights
34. teenagers
35. jigsaw puzzles
36. cookie dough
37. music by John Mayer
38. black and white photos
39. motorcycles
40. acoustic guitars
41. cotton T-shirts
42. patience
43. acknowledgements in books
44. firemen
45. Coke from Sonic
46. caller i.d.
47. kissing
48. quiet
49. tire swings
50. steam-in-the bag microwave veggies
51. manners
52. a full tank of gas
53. laughter
54. a moment to myself
55. iTunes
56. Autumn
57. professional football
58. traveling
59. handwritten thank you notes
60. watermelon
61. music by Jason Mraz
62. bracelets
63. embroidered handkerchiefs
64. Tyler candle “Intense”
65. used-book stores
66. local morning drive-time radio shows
67. smiles
68. flea markets
69. 70 MPH speed limits
70. sandals
71. money in the mail
72. hammocks
73. old houses
74. a great joke
75. the color blue
76. Netflix
77. scrapbooks
78. waiters
79. office supplies
80. bonfires
81. online banking
82. tulips
83. girls’ weekends away
84. my laptop
85. photography
86. MINI Coopers
87. farmers’ markets
88. journals
89. an organized closet
90. clean sheets
91. a great haircut
92. sincere compliments
93. hot water
94. antique roses
95. the last page of a book
96. fishing
97. weekends
98. Golden Retrievers
99. linen skirts
100. shade trees

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My decorating consultant should be fired

I’ve gone through a few decorating trends in my day. A very brief brush with everything wallpaper about 20 years ago. And the mauve era that thankfully went away. Now I like anything that reminds me of the beach—blue and white, sea shells, life guards. Yeah, I know. Who decorates with life guards? That’s just my imagination working overtime. I keep the beach-look minimalist since we live in Texas, but I do love the clean colors.

My daughter is often my shopping companion, and she likes to help me choose things for the house. She assisted with a recent fabric purchase when I made new curtains for the den. And now she’s campaigning for a redo of her bedroom. I’m not sure why. She’s rarely in there. She spent last night sleeping on a pallet on the floor next to my bed.

She wants me to paint her room pink. Right now it’s a lovely combination of periwinkle blue (my favorite color) and white. I stalled her with, “You keep your room clean, and we’ll paint it.” Seemed like a fair trade. Two months later…it’s still blue and white.

I really can’t trust her decorating judgment due to a recent discovery in my bathroom. I asked her, “What’s up with the naked Barbies on my doorknobs?” She giggled. She couldn’t come up with a good reason, other than she thought they were funny. Me too. But I doubt Martha would share the laugh with us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Thank you, John Mayer

Last Friday, my husband and I along with our two sons attended a John Mayer concert in Dallas. The last concert we’d been to was 1990 BC when we saw Hall and Oates in Huntsville, Alabama. After having children, our concerts were limited to those presented by children during holidays or at the end of the school year. No one held up lighters and you almost never smelled marijuana, although having someone vomit on you was a distinct possibility. But it wouldn’t be from someone who’d consumed too much beer—rather a baby with a sour stomach.

Now our boys are teenagers and big fans of music we also like by artists such as John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz and others. When I saw that John Mayer was coming to town, I bought tickets the day they went on sale. The concert became a summer highlight we looked forward to for weeks.

The outdoor venue was sold out and the temperature hovered around 100 degrees when the concert began. Colbie Callet warmed up the crowd and then out came John sans shirt. Thank you, Texas heatwave! Even though we didn’t have front row seats, I could appreciate the man’s dedication to his workout routine. For two hours, we moved and grooved to his extremely entertaining set. (Click on his name above to open the link to his website, then click on the fourth "official photo.")

The only dark cloud was the pair of 20-somethings standing behind me who talked incessantly. I turned and glared, hoping the girls would get the hint, but they didn’t. Who pays $60 for a seat at a concert and then doesn’t listen to the music? I tolerated it through the first song or two and then I couldn’t take it. I turned around and said, very nicely through my clenched teeth, “Would you please stop talking?” One of them said to me, “Sorr-rry!” not a bit sorry. I have kids. I know sarcasm. So I turned back around to them and said, “I’m trying to hear the concert and all I hear is you. Talking!” As I turned back to face the stage, I heard a backup comment from her boyfriend. “You are talking too much,” he said. Thankfully, they stopped. I kept waiting for her to pour her beer down my back, but at $6 a cup, she thought better of it.

So, I made two enemies whom I’ll never see again, but at least they quit talking and we were able to enjoy the concert. We’ll see what excitement awaits us at the Jason Mraz concert in October. Wonder if he’ll wear a shirt…

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Webkinz are too darn hard to play with

This morning I was helping my five-year-old daughter with her Webkinz. You have to play games and do chores to earn W dollars to buy food and accessories for them. Otherwise your animals die of hunger and overexposure. Well, not really, but the threat remains.

So, we were on a beginners' level math quiz where you have to answer 50 multiple choice math questions before they allow you to work at the grocery. Kinda like the training at Kroger, I assume. I was reading the questions to her and letting her answer those she could. If you have three apples and give one away, how many do you have? That was an easy one.

I got to the one that asked: What is a graph used for? and she looked at me and said, "What the hell's a graph?"

It might an interesting year in kindergarten.

Monday, July 21, 2008

There are some things money shouldn't buy

New Dog Bed: $25

Owning a dog that lies everywhere except on the Dog Bed: Priceless

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Perfect Ending

I spotted her at McDonalds. A mom, like me, with her children in tow. This day, I only had my youngest with me. Her three looked to be about five, three and not quite two years old. She had arrived with a plan similar to mine. After eating lunch, we’d sit and enjoy a few moments of peace while our children entertained themselves in the Playplace. I had brought along a legal pad for writing; she had a book tucked under her arm. I peered at the spine (I always wonder what people are reading) and read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Her bookmarker was near the end. She only had about thirty pages to go.

My child disappeared into the play area and I began to write. Her children toddled away and, just as she opened the book, one returned to climb on her lap. She snuggled the girl for a minute and then set her down. The mom opened her book again, and her older son appeared with tears in his eyes. She rubbed his head, kissed him and he went on his way. No sooner had she opened the book and the crying boy rematerialized.

It wasn’t playtime, it was naptime. She calmly endured about ten more minutes of interruptions before she closed her book, placed it in her bag, gathered her children up and took them home. I wanted to reach out to her and pat her arm, maybe hug her neck and say, “I feel ya, sistah.” Sometimes you just can’t catch a well-deserved break from the demands of your children.

She came to mind again this week as I tried to finish a manuscript. My writing partner Joan and I had set a deadline of July 1 to complete our story. Two weeks later, we still had the last two chapters to complete and most of that burden rested on my shoulders. She had written most of her sections and I needed to fill in around her.

Of course, this week my husband was out of town and, even though one child was away at camp, the other two were here and needed my attention. Then my editor called and asked if I could write a last-minute article. Sure, I said. I ended up not sleeping much.

Yesterday, I picked up a friend for my son to play with, came home and fixed lunch. I played with my daughter and then her friend Daniel came over, rescuing me from a day of manipulating dolls around on their quest to find the castle where the prince was hosting a ball. I wasn’t playing right anyway. She insisted my doll had to wear a long dress for the ball, and I had my heart set on a short, flirty number with lace trim. Instead I ended up with the one she didn’t want because it looked like a nightgown—because it was a nightgown.

Later, I managed to hole up with my laptop in my bedroom, leaving my office free for computer games of Hotwheel racing for my daughter and Daniel. My son and his friend played soccer in the den and Playstation when soccer got too rough. I sat on my bed and finished the book. As I typed the last lines, my eyes got wet with tears and I don’t cry easily. I tried to tell myself that I was emotional from having to end something that had been a part of my life for the past ten months. But it wasn’t that at all. The ending really got to me. The characters aren’t just names on a page but have become real to Joan and me. We talk about them as if they’re old friends—they just happen to say and act the way we tell them to.

Since Joan was out of town, I sent her a text: It is finished. She called later and we shared a high-five via a wireless connection, and I emailed her the final two chapters. I slipped outside to shag balls while my son and his friend played HomeRun Derby Baseball with a tennis ball directed at the neighbor’s house. Then I went inside, fixed supper and treated myself to a glass of wine.

The kids and I played two games of Clue (I won both times—maybe I’ll share my strategy with them) and then entertained ourselves with a challenge of, Who can drink milk from a sippy cup held between their feet? Since I’m in bragging mode, I will admit that I was able to lift my wine to my mouth with the glass held between my feet. Thankfully, no pictures were taken of that achievement.

A text later from Joan read that she absolutely loved the last two chapters. I knew she would. It was the perfect ending to a story that practically told itself. The characters just needed us to put it on paper.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kit Kittredge: The Depressing American Girl

The other day, I took my daughter to see Kit Kittredge, the American Girl movie. This was one of the few times I didn’t read the book before going to see the movie (one other being The Devil Wears Prada), and I must say, I was surprised. It’s a little dark. Not very happy-go-lucky or upbeat.

Spoiler Alert! Depression-era Kit and her buddies befriend hobos and watch, as one by one, their houses get repossessed, and their fathers take off to find work in neighboring states. The eclectic individuals the Kittredge’s take on as boarders provide some lighter moments, but the movie is a bit sad at times. (I was glad to see Chris O'Donnell on the big screen. Too bad he took off for Chicago in search of a job about twenty minutes into the movie.)

My daughter had a hard time understanding the whole doll/real person concept. She understands that American Girls are dolls, and I think she expected the girl on the screen to be playing with an American Girl doll.

Luckily (ha!), I had saved the latest American Girl mail order catalog, so when we got home, I sat Mia down and explained that Kit was a doll, and the movie told her story. I tried to relate to her how The Saddle Club books have their characters also on television, and Strawberry Shortcake is a doll, a book and a TV show—the ultimate marketing trifecta.

As we leafed through the pages of the catalog, perusing the doll and all her accessories—the tree house, her attic room, desk, clothes, your clothes to match her clothes—the irony became apparent to me. Yes, you, too, could be poor like Kit and risk your parents losing their home if you bought all the stuff in the catalog. I didn’t run the numbers, but just the doll and her book are $90. The tree house will set you back $250. So, why did I keep the catalog?

Later that day she had the neighbor child help her write out her birthday wish list. Number one: an American Girl doll. Later, she said to me, “I think I’ll ask the neighbors to buy me an American Girl doll for my birthday.” Good luck, sister.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Handwritten notes

I’m not too much of a pack-rat, but I have held onto a lot of my writing that I’ve scrawled longhand on legal pads, on the backs of envelopes and other paper that managed to be within my grasp. These all end up getting typed into the computer to become part of the manuscript I happen to be writing. At first I kept them just-in-case. Just in case the computer crashed. Just in case someone accused me of stealing their work. Just in case I ever became so famous that the ‘original draft’ of my book might be worth something.

And today I read that Christie's auction house recently sold John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to "Give Peace a Chance" for $833,654. Now, I’m no John Lennon—or John Irving (according to my friend, Sonya), but maybe someday, my children will like sifting through the wrinkled pages of my writings. They may be worthless to an audience at Christie’s, but hopefully, they’ll get a kick out of Mom’s handwriting.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Good Cop, Bad Cop

I try to be a fairly law-abiding citizen. I don’t litter, shoplift or carry a concealed weapon. But this week I had two run-ins with the Long Arm of The Law.

Monday afternoon I took my son out to run an errand before his voice lesson. I Mapquested the route to the store he wanted to go to since I’d never been there before and decided to take a shortcut through our neighborhood. We were cruising along in a 40 MPH zone, and I wasn’t paying attention to my speedometer since I knew I wasn’t going too fast. And then I saw him. He was parked off the road, hiding behind some overgrown weeds and I immediately hit the brakes. Thankfully, so did the guy behind me.

He pulled out anyway and started flashing his annoying red and blue lights. The guy behind me pulled over and I think, Whew, close one, but the policeman pulled out around the truck behind me and came in for the kill. Darn it. (Not really what I was thinking, but I had my son with me.) I pulled over and he said, “What's the hurry?” And I thought, Is that the most original line you can come up with? So, nonchalantly I said, “I’m just taking my son to his voice lesson.” He responded by telling me he clocked me at 42 in a 30 MPH zone. “Thirty?” I asked. “I thought the speed limit was 40.” It was 40, about ten inches before he stopped me, when it became 30 because the road narrows. You know the drill: license, insurance, registration, sign here, blah, blah, blah. He handed over a slip of shiny paper from his handy-dandy portable ticket maker and told me I had to show up some place in our city and take care of it within 15 days. I asked, “Is this a warning?” to which he replied, “No, ma’am, it’s a ticket.” Double darn it! I wanted to look into his reflective sunglasses and say, “I’ll bet you were a tattle-tale as a little kid, weren’t you? You probably hid behind the trashcan at school and watched your friends and then told the teacher which kids were chewing gum and sneaking answers to their tests, weren’t you?” But I didn’t. Instead I stewed all the way to the store, and the afternoon I planned to spend with my son, riding around and catching up with what’s going on with him, was ruined.

Flash forward a few days and I’m in downtown Dallas where my children and I have just had lunch with friends of ours who are in town from St. Louis. After lunch I walked with three of the five children to the nearby School Book Depository so we could tour the Sixth Floor Museum featuring JFK’s last trip to Texas. On our way from the Depository to the Dallas Convention Center to watch our friends’ daughter play volleyball, I got a little lost. We were walking in 95 degree heat, my daughter was tired and wanted to be carried, and I couldn’t figure out how we got turned around. We came back a different way because we wanted to see the Grassy Knoll and Dealy Plaza. Finally I stopped a woman who quite possibly had a worse sense of direction than I do. She was friendly but no help at all. Luckily, a policeman walked by us and I snagged him and asked if he could point us in the direction of the Convention Center. He suggested we take the train since we were standing in front of Union Station. Apparently I looked a little confused and I mumbled something about having kids with me and he said, “It’s just one stop. Come on. I’ll ride with you.”

So this kind policeman boarded the train with us, told me not to buy a ticket but just stay with him, and rode with us to our destination. Short of holding my hand, he got off the train with us and walked through the station until we reached the street. From there he pointed and we could see the convention center just ahead. I wanted to hug him but I didn’t. Instead I said thanks and thought about how my view of law enforcement officers is now positive. Once again, I do love a man in uniform.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I can hear you all the way up here

I read this morning how scientists have recorded ‘screams’ from earth that can be heard in space. The theory goes that these chirps and whistles can be heard by any aliens that might be listening. My take is the noises are the collective screams from all the mothers at home with their children over the summer. It’s been weeks now since school let out, and the novelty of having the babies back in the nest has worn off. We’re now pulling our hair out, trying to come up with food they like, crafts to make, and entertainment befitting the assorted children who have landed on our doorsteps today. It’s enough to make us all scream—and knowing the aliens are listening will surely circumvent an invasion anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Research--part II

I didn’t realize until I started writing fiction how much research can be involved in putting together a story. Even if the story takes place in your head, you still have to have your facts straight or someone will call you on them. (See yesterday’s post.)

In my latest work-in-progress, I have a character whose father is in prison. First step: how did he get there? Luckily my son’s baseball coach is an ICE agent (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and he gave me some insight as to crimes this guy might have committed that would have landed him in a federal prison. Since my character goes to visit his dad, I needed to know more about how that would play out. I chose Beaumont since it’s in Texas (where the story takes place) and is a federal correctional facility. It took about 20 phone calls before someone ever answered their phone (glad I didn’t have someone incarcerated I was trying to reach), and then three more tries before I connected with someone who would/could talk to me. Now I have her name and direct line. She told me about security procedures, what the inmates would be wearing, guards, parking, everything I needed to know without actually having to make the drive.

I also have a character who drives a racecar around the Texas Motor Speedway—just for fun. Dawn Stokes, the CEO of the Texas Driving Experience, was more than willing to talk with me and even invited me out to the track in July. I’ll be there.

Another character in the story rides a motorcycle. (I seem to be drawn to them—probably because I was raised around bikes and even had a mini bike of my own that I shared with my sisters. My dad and brother raced dirt bikes.) One night at critique, I read about this character getting on his bike. Two guys in the group immediately started grilling me: what type of bike was it? what did it sound like? did it have a back rest? etc. And they were right. The type of bike he owned would say a lot about his character. Did he ride a ‘crotch-rocket’ or a Hog? So, more research. Now he rides a Triumph Tiger. (I found one on eBay and was careful not to bid as I checked out the features.)

This book is set in Dallas (and I’m writing it with my critique/writing partner Joan), so we spent an afternoon wandering around downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum, and uptown to get a feel for where our characters might live, work, eat and play. A chatty waitress named Maggie at Ten (a sports bar), a friendly valet, two cops on foot patrol, and assorted others helped us get a feel for the area, and we worked many comments and details into our story.

What I’ve learned is this: people are willing and so helpful when asked for their expertise. We couldn’t have put together this story and made it authentic without the input from others who know more about ‘stuff’ than we do.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Research--part I

Recently I read a book that I assumed to have been researched meticulously by the author. One of the characters had a life-threatening illness, requiring a bone marrow transplant. I was so impressed by the details she shared until I read the last chapter. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen enough medical dramas to know the basics of organ donation and, in one of the last scenes, I thought the author blew it. She had the parents saying goodbye to their child AFTER the organs had been harvested and the mother puts her hand on the child’s chest to feel her heart beat one last time. Uh, why didn’t they take her heart? And don’t the parents say their goodbyes BEFORE they harvest organs? It ruined the story for me because then I doubted every medical detail leading up to that scene.

My first manuscript featured a character in a wheelchair. First step, how did he become paralyzed? I first thought he might have been in a diving accident. But then after talking to my sister-in-law who is a physical therapist, I discovered that most diving accidents will break your neck and leave you as a quadriplegic. That wouldn’t work because my character was only a paraplegic. I wanted him to be as independent as possible and therefore, he needed a back injury instead of a broken neck. So, I had him in a motorcycle accident which Becky said could cause a wide range of injuries depending on speed, helmets and road conditions.

Then I visited the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas to observe disabled people during rehab exercises and talked with another therapist. There I met John. I’m guessing John was about 25 years old and the angry red welts snaking down his arms suggested a recent surgery. The beginning signs of a wicked scar on his forehead also signaled a recovering head injury. He was wheeled up to where I was standing, and a technician made adjustments to his wheelchair while we talked.

I introduced myself and told him I was a writer observing for the day. He asked about my book, and I told him I had a character in a wheelchair. He asked how he got there and I told him. John shared that the same thing had happened to him about five weeks earlier. Apparently he was out for a ride with some buddies and another biker cut in front of him and bumped his front wheel, causing his bike to slide out from under him. Even though he was wearing riding gear and a full face helmet, when his head hit a guardrail, John broke his neck. He told me it was going to be his last ride. His wife was due to have their baby the following week, and he didn’t think he needed to ride anymore. Ironically, the ride was his last but not by choice.

His next question floored me. “Did the guy in your book wish he had died?” What to say then? I said, “No. He didn’t. He certainly wished he could change what happened, but he made the most of his life after that point.” John nodded, not really buying it, so I continued. “I’m sure your wife doesn’t feel that way. And now you have a daughter you might never have lived to see.” He and I talked some more and now that about a year and a half has passed, I still see him sometimes in my mind. I wonder how John is, how his wife and baby are doing. Mostly, I hope that John has had a change of heart. That he still doesn’t wish he’d died out there on the parkway when his life changed in the blink of an eye.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Nothing soft about a gun

This week my son and I went to visit an old friend. His name is Dr. Lee and we met under tragic conditions nearly three years ago. Dr. Lee is an eye surgeon and he met us at the hospital one summer evening in 2005 when we had just moved to Texas.

My son Ben had been playing outside with his brother, getting to know the new neighbors while my husband and I stayed indoors unpacking and keeping an eye on our daughter. The boys came in and asked if they could play Air Soft guns with some neighbor boys. Initially we told them no, but they said they had goggles and why not and everyone was playing and why couldn’t they. So we relented, against our better judgment.

A few minutes later we wandered outside to the driveway and then we heard Ben scream. I stayed with our daughter while my husband went over to see what had happened. Ben was holding his face screaming, “My eye! My eye!” But he had goggles on, right? So I assumed he had taken a pellet on the eyebrow or forehead.

My husband ushered him down the sidewalk and said to me, “He’s been hit in the eye.” I said, “You mean his eyebrow.” That’s when he said, “No, he took his goggles off to reload and got shot. In the eye.” I ran over to the neighbor and asked her where the nearest emergency room was. We had just moved in and didn’t even have a doctor.

Moments later, Ben was being examined at a walk-in urgent care clinic and the diagnosis wasn’t good. He had no vision in the eye and blood had pooled. We were referred to a local hospital—about thirty minutes away—and Dr. Lee was called in to examine him.

He’d suffered a tear to the iris (at about the 2 o'clock mark), pulling the iris away from the sclera (white part). Fortunately the pellet did not embed itself in his eye. We were sent home with four different types of eye drops, pain medication and a very scared little boy. Dr. Lee said he sees about twelve cases of eye injuries caused by Air Soft guns each year. Ben’s was one of the worst.

This week, Dr. Lee said at Ben’s now annual check up that we were lucky. His vision is normal. He shows no signs of glaucoma or cataracts but those will be ongoing concerns.

Dr. Lee’s mission is to get manufacturers to take the word “soft” off the product since it misrepresents the “hardness” of the pellet and the damage it can cause. My wish is that no one will allow their children to play with such a dangerous toy. Please click on the envelope below and forward this blog entry to everyone you know who might have a child who plays with one of these guns. Because that’s what they are: GUNS and kids have no business playing with them.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I am not my mother

I made a mental list last night of all the things I had done the previous week that my mother would never have done: had two glasses of wine with dinner; let my daughter play with the neighbor boy even though he had pink-eye (I needed a break); spent fifteen minutes in front of a magnifying mirror with tweezers, trying to tame my eyebrows; went to see Sex and the City at 10:45 at night with a girlfriend; let my daughter eat EZ Mac for breakfast; allowed laundry to pile up, washed and dried, because I was too lazy to go looking for hangers; danced to a CD in the den—just because; wrote on my laptop in bed; let my daughter sleep between me and my husband—just because; left my husband in charge of the kids so I could attend critique group.

It’s not that I’m a lot different than she. We really are a lot alike. We both like to cook, and I’m pretty much a homebody. The major difference is I am a little more relaxed about how I live my life. I enjoy my family, but I know I can start to feel resentful if I let their schedules override mine every time. I also differ in that I totally believe my husband is more than capable of parenting as well as I.

Now that summer is here, it will be easy for me to become Momma Taxi and, before I know it, school will be back in session and I’ve done nothing but chauffeur kids around town. So, call me selfish (You’re selfish!), but I am giving myself permission to not let my kids dictate my schedule. If they want to go to the pool, they can figure out a way to get there. Soccer camp this week at the high school? I wrote the check, but you can ride your bike. There. I don’t think my mom would say that, but I bet she wished she did.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Trouble at the ballfield

Wednesday night my middle child had a baseball game, and my daughter made a beeline for her requisite visit to the concession stand. She stepped up and asked the cute teenager behind the counter for a Coke. And a bag of chips.

I asked him for cup of ice to go with it. He added it to our order and we handed over our money.

Me: “I need a lid too, please.”
Teenager: “We don’t have any.”
Me: “I got one the last time we were here.”
Teenager: “Well, we don’t have any.”
Me: “Can you look? I know you have them.”
Teenager: “Well, we don’t have any now.”
Me: “Just look. They look like coffee cup lids.”
Teenager: “Ma’am, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Me: hahahahahahahaha!

The cute teenager behind the counter was my older son. He has a great sense of humor and fortunately a mom who gets it!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Official Jason Mraz - I'm Yours video

Summer has officially started for me when I find a new fun song. This is it!

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Logline. No, it’s not what you wait in at Six Flags to ride a fake piece of wood down a water chute. A logline is a one sentence teaser, typically used to promote a movie but it also applies to novels. Sometimes it will be two lines. Or three. One is best. Bob recommends 25 words or less.

When I started submitting my first manuscript to agents, I faced the challenge of writing a synopsis, a one-page summary of my story. I researched how-tos online and found one that suggested writing one sentence (a logline), then expanding it to one paragraph. Then taking that one paragraph and making it one page. Piece of cake! Once I had the luxury of an entire page, it was much easier to do.

Here’s the logline for my first manuscript, A Forgiving Season: When a single mom returns to college, she never imagines a disabled professor will show her how to love and trust again. Tagline: We all have disabilities—some are just easier to detect than others.

Imagine you’ve just read a great book and are recommending it to a friend. They ask you what the book is about. Your response is a logline. Or you’re channel surfing and pull up a movie to watch. Your cable provider gives you a one-line summary to entice you to watch it.

Here are some examples of movie loglines (a few were originally books):

1. After serving as a perpetual bridesmaid, a young woman wrestles with the idea of standing by her sister's side as her sibling marries the man she's secretly in love with.

2. A teen living under house arrest becomes convinced his neighbor is a serial killer.

3. When a fairytale princess is sent to New York City by an evil queen, she begins to change her views on life and love after meeting a handsome lawyer. Can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world?

4. A young widow discovers that her late husband has left her ten messages intended to help ease her pain and start a new life.

5. The life of a top chef changes when she becomes the guardian of her young niece.

6. Single-girl anxiety causes Kat Ellis to hire a male escort to pose as her boyfriend at her sister's wedding.

7. Two men from opposite sides of the law are undercover within the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish mafia, but violence and bloodshed boil when discoveries are made, and the moles are dispatched to find out their enemy's identities.

8. A hardened trainer/manager works with a determined woman in her attempt to establish herself as a boxer.

9. Karl Childers, a simple man hospitalized since his childhood murder of his mother and her lover, is released to start a new life in a small town.

10. A naive young woman comes to New York and scores a job as the assistant to one of the city's biggest magazine editors.

11. Cady is a hit with The Plastics, the A-list girl clique at her new school, until she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina.

12. When a sports agent has a moral epiphany and is fired for expressing it, he decides to put his new philosophy to the test as an independent with the only athlete who stays with him.

13. A FedEx executive must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a crash landing on a deserted island.

14. Two business rivals hate each other at the office but fall in love over the Internet.

15. A bored married couple is surprised to learn that they are both assassins hired by competing agencies to kill each other.

16. Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.

17. The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.

1. 27 Dresses
2. Disturbia
3. Enchanted
4. P.S. I Love You
5. No Reservations
6. The Wedding Date
7. The Departed
8. Million Dollar Baby
9. Sling Blade
10. The Devil Wears Prada
11. Mean Girls
12. Jerry Maguire
13. Cast Away
14. You’ve Got Mail
15. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
16. Juno
17. Across the Universe

Not so hard to do now that you’ve seen it done, right?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You go, Grandma Pittenger!

Last year we decided to take advantage of our home’s close proximity to a large lake and buy a boat. With three children ranging in ages from 16 to 4, finding activities that interest everyone can be challenging. Boating seemed like the perfect solution. And it has been a purchase we haven’t regretted.

I haven’t water skied in almost 20 years and I systematically rebuffed my son’s routine pleas for me to try it again. Or wake boarding. Or even tubing. I kept telling myself that it was never a good time to be hurt. I had a conference I was attending in a month. A party coming up. There was always a reason not to.

This year I’m taking a different approach and my change of attitude comes from a 96-year-old woman named Edith Pittenger. She is the grandmother to my cousins, the mother of my uncle Jay. (His wife is my mother’s sister.)

Yesterday Edith, a long time fan of Indy racing, took a spin around the track. She has attended the Indy 500 for the past 44 straight years. This time she saw the track from a different vantage point. Going 180 miles per hour seated behind driver Arie Luyendyk, Jr., this great-great-grandmother fulfilled a dream and had a smile on her face the entire time. She set a record for being the oldest person to accomplish this feat.

The photos here were taken by my cousin’s husband, Ryan Mackowiak. Along with Edith, several dozen family members were present to cheer her on. What have you always wanted to do but were just too afraid to try? Or maybe you’re waiting on a better time, a day when it wouldn’t matter if you got a little banged up. I’m going to get out of the boat this year. If anyone takes pictures, I’ll be sure to post them.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The First Lines

Your first kiss. First love. First baby. Baby’s first steps. Memorable firsts.

As in life, very often in literature a good first can be priceless. The first few lines of a book. I pulled some of my favorites from my shelf and reread the first few sentences, wondering if there was something there that kept me reading or was I curious enough about the story to persevere, even when the beginning didn’t grab me.

Here is a sampling:

1. In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky.

2. All right, so I’m a diva. There are worse things—a mass murderer, a bigot, a telephone solicitor.

3. You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.

4. The Tuesday before it happened was a perfect summer day. Driving through town on my way home, I saw two young girls holding hands as they tried to cross a street against the light. They would start to cross, then stop; start again, stop. Finally, all the traffic sighed and halted; and the girls bolted to the other side of the street and began to laugh and push each other, exhilarated by their survival.

5. Three days before her death, my mother told me—these weren’t her last words, but they were pretty close—that my brother was still alive. That was all she said.

6. One evening early in the summer, conversation was going around Grandmother Curtiss’s dinner table, as it was wont to do. Earlier dinner conversations had turned to yelling matches, with each person talking louder than the last and sometimes pounding on the table.

7. This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.

8. If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python. But dirty bare feet stuck out from beneath her nana’s ancient Crown Victoria. One extremely cautious glance under the car revealed they were attached to a homeless man known only as Mouse, who was famous in her Wicker Park neighborhood for his lack of personal hygiene and a fondness for cheap wine.

9. It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger-than-life world. “Son of a …” Dean slammed on the brakes of his brand-new Aston Martin Vanquish and pulled over in front of her.

10. February the fifteenth is a very special day for me. It is the day I gave birth to my first child. It is also the day my husband left me. As he was present at the birth I can only assume the two events weren’t entirely unrelated.

11. The scent of slaughter, some believe, can linger in a place for years. They say it lodges in the soil and is slowly sucked through coiling roots so that in time all that grows there, from the smallest lichen to the tallest tree, bears testimony.

12. I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

13. When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands. There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.

14. I used to love this season. The wood stacked by the door, the tang of its sap still speaking of forest. The hay made, all golden in the low afternoon light. The rumble of the apples tumbling into the cellar bins.

1. Lucky by Alice Sebold
2. Welcome to the Great Mysterious by Lorna Landvik
3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
4. Never Change by Elizabeth Berg
5. Gone for Good by Harlan Coben
6. Sins of the 7th Sister by Huston Curtiss
7. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
8. Match Me if You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
9. Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
10. Watermelon by Marian Keyes
11. The Loop by Nicholas Evans
12. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
13. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
14. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

What do you think? Would you have kept reading past the first few lines of these books?