The It-Just-Figures Crapfest—Alive and Well and After My Dog

Shhh…my husband is gone again this week and I’m hiding from the crapfest…

I should have whispered when I publicly outed the “It-Just-Figures Crapfest” last March. I think I pissed it off, because it showed up with a vengeance in April in the form of zumba and a broken ankle. Of course, my husband was gone. And it came back in the summer, when, for only the second time since the kids were born, I took a trip on my own. Of course, at the last minute, duty called, and my husband had to be gone too. So there were the kids and the dog, by themselves. It was only a few days and a 21-year-old and a 15-year-old are fine on their own, right? What could happen?



Doggie glaucoma, that’s what. By the time I got home, my poor Reesie was blind in her left eye. It just figures it would happen the one time I’m away.

My husband traveled most of the fall, and the Crapfest (notice how it has taken on capitalization status) hung around, snickering in the corners, waiting for the worst possible time to unload itself on my day. But, ha! I was in such a funk, I didn’t even care. Take that, Crapfest!

Evidently, the Crapfest does not like to be challenged. It decided to come after my dog.

With my husband home the month of November, the Crapfest went into hiding, no doubt planning its next move. The morning my husband left again, Reesie and I went for our usual walk in the canal park. There had been a couple times in the previous weeks that we passed by a woman sitting on the grass with her three unleashed dogs, but she kept them close as we passed by. Earlier than usual this time, Reesie and I were on our way out of the park when this woman and her still unleashed dogs came jogging toward us. Before I knew it, her maniac poodle was upon us. As Reesie tried to avoid the other dog and I tried to protect Reesie, her leash wrapped around my legs, and down I went. Then the woman came huffing and puffing by, carrying a smaller dog in each arm, and the crazy poodle broke off and followed her. That witch did not say a word (bet she heard me though).

Reesie pouncing on her toy. This is what the dog encounters looked like: one big blur of motion.

But, hey, what are the chances of something like that happening again?

Pretty good, it turns out. A couple days ago, my son and I took Reesie for a walk after school. It was so nice to have Christian along. We were having a great conversation about habits (I’m reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business). On our way back, we passed an older lady (well, older than me anyway) with a huge dog, some kind of lab mix. The dog was on a leash, but he was too much for her. We tried to pass by quickly, but in a flash the dog was out of his collar and on Reesie, like white on rice. He had teeth on her neck, her ears, her leg, her back end. Again, I ended on the ground. That’s when Christian stepped in front of the dog, and suddenly it was over. I made Christian take Reesie away and wait for me, while I made sure the dog’s owner was okay. She was hysterical, sobbing, “I don’t know why he does this!”

Really? He’s done this before??

The Crapfest had one more surprise in store. I put Reesie in the bathtub when we got home, and just as I got her all wet and soapy and went to adjust the water temperature, the faucet broke! For a wonder, I was able to get the water off and finished rinsing her with water from the sink, but dang…it just figures.

And where is my husband this time? Beach-side, in Puerto Rico. Nice, huh?

The view from my husband's hotel room.

The view from my husband’s hotel room.

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Staying Afloat

Sea Otter

This guy has the right idea. Sea Otter (Photo credit: engelcox)

So, I’ve been gone a while. I have no idea if any of my wonderful online friends are even hanging around anymore, but if you are thank you. And I do apologize for not answering comments or visiting blogs lately.

I have been uncharacteristically unhappy these past months, and I think I’ve mentioned before that I would not want to inflict on anyone what I might write in that state. It gets ugly. I get ugly. And I often regret some of the things I set down in writing when I’m sad, angry, irritable. So…absence was better.

But, I need to work though things. I need to get back to happy, and I need to understand why I haven’t been. I believe (well, I like to believe) that I am going through a normal phase. (Oh my gosh! Is this the infamous mid-life crisis?? This thought has just occurred to me. I will have to read up on the subject.) My feeling, though, is that normal or not, I still have to take a hard look at myself. I still have to expend the effort to find happiness within me. It won’t just happen.

A couple days ago, when I was out walking with Reesie, I stopped to talk with Bonnie, a friendly lady in the neighborhood (you would never guess her to be 70). She told me her across-the-street neighbor had died suddenly this week. The woman was my age, 50, and was found by her 16-year-old daughter. Bonnie and I talked about how it is that you just never know when your life will end, and how true is the adage to live each day as if it were your last. I was affected even more, I think, because the woman who died was my age and has children the same ages as mine. It could have been me found dead in bed by my teenage son. A sobering thought.

And I think, too, of my dad. Today (Jan. 10) is the five-year anniversary of his death. I woke up in the night and was not surprised to see the clock read 3:30 a.m., right around the time of the code blue, the time when the ICU doctor was straddling my dad, pounding on his chest, trying to bring him back that awful night. The memories were painful, but they didn’t leave me in tears, for which I am thankful. It seems that Time is doing its job.

And with these thoughts, I’ve decided that enough is enough. There is no time for unhappiness, at least not the gobs of it I’ve been wallowing in recently. My better self is giving me the proverbial slap in the face and telling me to snap out of it. A few weeks ago, I was talking to my mom about something—I don’t even remember what—and she told me off-handedly to count my blessings. I told her I count my blessings every damn day, that it is the only thing that is keeping me afloat. She laughed.

But what I said to her is true. It’s really not all doom and gloom around here, and reminding myself of the good in my life often pulls me out of the doldrums and sometimes out of the pit of despair. Even the small things help—for instance, every strand of lights on my Christmas tree worked this year, and I didn’t have to go to Target to buy new ones. I appreciated that. My coffee cake turned out awesome. Also, I have a pan of lasagna in the freezer for future yummy dinners. My college kid has been home for a month and my husband has been home for a couple weeks—though next week it’s back to just me and my teenage son for a while, which is its own blessing.

So I will be back to my blog and will do my best to write from an even keel. I will record my view from the middle of life, which sometimes sucks. But I will remember what’s good and stay afloat.

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Perspective Is a Happy Child

It pains me to think how I’ve neglected this blog lately (and I don’t even want to think about the other one). The truth is my brain has been so churned up (oh, that sounds gross) that I don’t think I could have written a word without sounding maudlin, which I hate. I won’t get into all that—I am not nearly as eloquent in describing those feelings or finding the good in them as some of you others out there.

My chocoholic child. After two birthdays in one week, I am caked out.

But here I am now, at 4:47 a.m., and I haven’t been to sleep and I’m nowhere near sleep. It serves me right for having too much caffeine—Coke—and too much sugar—birthday cake. Not mine, though I did have a good bit of that this past week, too. Today, November 4, is my son’s 16th birthday. For various reasons, we had the party yesterday. It was a good day. Almost everyone was here. I had time to get things done the day before, so I wasn’t stressing (ah, the perks of being unemployed—who knew?). The kids had fun. The adults got along. Some of us big kids played in the front yard. And for a change, my fudge frosting turned out perfect!

Still hula-hooping, despite my advanced age.

It’s been more than five weeks since I last posted. I am in my sixth day of being 50 years old, and I seem to be surviving. That could be the sugar and caffeine talking, but I think it’s fair to say the immediate crisis has passed. I am starting to feel more like myself than I have these last couple months. Is it because my husband has been home, or I finished my article and mailed it, or I’m getting busy with my copyediting classes? Is it because that daunting birthday has been and gone, and it really wasn’t so bad? Beats me, but I’ll take it, whatever it is.

The day after my birthday, I got most of the highlights taken out of my hair so I even look like myself again. I also decided that while I am 50, I am finally going to learn to play the guitar. Yes. Right now, it feels good to be me, and I don’t often say that. Which is kind of a shame, really. We should all be able to say that with some regularity. I think I will try to make a point of feeling happy to be me a little more often from now on.

But when I think about it, those things don’t have very much to do with how I’m feeling now. I really have to give credit to my birthday boy for the perspective. I asked him, after his party, if he’d had a good day. And after thinking for a second, he said, “I did. I really did. Things have been going pretty well lately.” He was smiling. He was happy with his life.

Happy just to be–warm and fuzzy, like sunlight on fountain grass.

What more could a mom ask for? Sixteen years ago, at about this time (now 6 a.m.), I was at the hospital waiting to give birth to my second little boy. Just as I had for his brother, I prayed only that he would be healthy and happy. And he is. They both are. My most fervent wish has been answered.

Simply put, I am happy because they are happy, and that will be true whether I’m 50 or 100, whether they are 16, or 21, or—someday—50 years old themselves.

And now…wait for it…WHOMP! The sugar and caffeine crash an hour before it’s time to wake up. No more Coke or cake for me. Jeez, you’d think by the time I was 50 years old, I’d know better! 🙂

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An Ordinary Miracle

A change in the weather is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s still amazing. Amazing, too, what a little cool sunshine and fresh air can do for a person’s mood. This week, finally, I can open the doors a let the cross-breeze blow through, which means it also blew my dust bunnies around, which means I could not put off sweeping any longer. But, hey, my doors are open and it’s not an oven outside, and that makes me happy! We are heading into Arizona’s best time of year.

Reesie was a bouncy pup this morning–I think she felt the change in the air too.

Reesie and I could even go for a walk this morning without dripping sweat by the time we got home. Earlier this week I was listening to NPR podcasts as I walked–because, I think, hearing voices (no, not the ones in my head 🙂 ) made me miss my absent hubby less. But this morning, I decided on music. I was already happy because the air felt cooler, and I was happy because said hubby will be home today. I was thinking how glad I was to have read Arlene’s post at Science and Story yesterday about turning 50, and how I need to take a more positive view on my own upcoming milestone.

Speaking from the middle (and I optimistically think of 50 as the middle), it has been a rough few weeks. In addition to dealing with constant traveling, we have worried about children (two-legged and four-legged) and worried about parents. And the children were easier. Ha! I never thought I’d say that. But, the truth is I feel more competent as a mom lately than I do as a daughter or daughter-in-law. I can handle kid-worry and feel reasonably competent in coming up with a solution to whatever the problem might be. But aging parents leave me helpless. My mom is 70, my mother-in-law is 77, and my father-in- law is 83 next week. We are dealing with medical issues, distance issues, safety issues, sibling issues, and just plain ol’ drama (ugh). All of it has weighed heavy, and sometimes the mortality of it all paralyzes me.

A flock of ducks–I wanted to get closer but I didn’t want to scare them away.

But for a little while this morning, the worry eased. The air was cool and not summer-oppressive. I saw ducks! And even better, Reesie didn’t chase after them. I thought about what I have accomplished this week, instead of what I haven’t. I thanked what powers there be that my father-in-law is in the early stages of Parkinson’s (treatable) rather than Alzheimer’s (as was suspected) and that my sister-in-law had the time and the money to fly home twice in one month to take care of all the doctor appointments. I thought about how fun it was to watch Dr. Who with my son last night, who, for once, wasn’t buried under a mound of homework. I had a skip in my step and my pony was swinging.

Every song that played this morning had something to say to me. Sometimes, I skip through the slow songs because I feel like I need to stay upbeat to keep ahead of the…I don’t know what–the melancholy, maybe. But this morning, I was happily noticing the “ordinary miracles” taking place all around me, like cooler weather, migrating mallards, and a bouncy pup. Go ahead..listen, then appreciate.  🙂

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R-Rated Classroom?

English: "R" rating of Motion Pictur...Here is a dilemma–not mine, thank goodness, though it easily could be. This came from friends in Wisconsin. Their 16-year-old child’s Spanish teacher sent home a permission slip that said, “We are going to watch several R-rated movies in class this year. The first one is Frida with Selma Hayek.”

“What would you do?” my friends asked.

My first thought was: How are they allowed to show R-rated movies in school? My second thought was, okay, maybe it’s not so bad. After all, The King’s Speech was rated R, but when I researched why, it was only for the non-gratuitous use of the F-word, said several times during the course of the main character’s speech therapy. Legitimate use, in my opinion. So, I made the decision to let my then 14-year-old see the movie. Maybe Frida was the same?

Cover of "Frida"

A suitable movie to show in school?

Uh, no. I went to to check it out. This has been my go-to website to check out movies before I let my kids see them, though I’ve gone there less often as my kids have gotten older. The site scores movies based on the amount of sex/nudity, violence/gore, and profanity they contain. The scores are out of 10. Frida scores 7/7/6. The movie focuses on the artist’s “rocky and often abusive relationship with her husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), her bisexuality, medical problems and the drug and alcohol abuse that killed her at age 47.”

Hmm. Next, I would watch the movie myself. My friends did. The movie apparently earns its R rating immediately–the first several minutes are a graphic sex scene. Right there I’m thinking how is this appropriate for school? Okay, she’s a famous Mexican artist. Okay, the movie is the Spanish language version and it is a Spanish class. But, how is it okay to show this in school?

The King's Speech

I made a personal decision to let my son see this movie, but is it appropriate for the classroom?

You could argue that kids these days have seen everything, but is that really true? I know my husband and I were pretty adamant about not letting our kids see PG-13 movies until they were at least 13. We used the ratings as a guide, and I would like to think we were not the only parents monitoring what our children watched. We made exceptions, of course, as with The King’s Speech. When Lord of the Rings came out, my older son was 11. He so wanted to see that movie. My husband and I checked it out and decided that he could see the movie, with us, only after he read the book. The same held true for The Two Towers, which was much more violent, even though he was over 13 by then.

My thinking is that once you see something, you can’t un-see it. It’s there, in your brain, forever. At what age, then, do you want your children to see drug addicts shooting up, men and women having sex, a husband beating up his wife, parents beating up their children, one human murdering another, etc.? “Values” is such a charged word these days, but truly, this comes down to the values of parents. I don’t want to condemn anyone’s values. Each child’s parents get to decide what their child sees, and that’s just fine–each family is different. But what about when you have children all from different families in one place, like a classroom?

English: Fairport High School Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Well, that’s what the permission slip is for, right? But what happens to the child whose parents decide that the movie is not something they are comfortable with their child seeing? The child is singled out, dismissed to the library. Does the child get teased, stigmatized, ostracized? Kids being kids, likely so, to some degree. And what additional grief is there for the child who already has a hard time fitting in, who already faces tormentors every day?

My next step would be to speak to the teacher and/or the principal. A hard choice for my friends, I think, because they live in a very small community, and word gets around.

What a horrible position for a school to put parents in. What do you do? Be true to your values and risk your child’s emotional well-being and sense of belonging? Or compromise your values, knowing that your child will be seeing something on the screen that he or she can never un-see, that some little bit of innocence will have been torn away by the time the school day ends? Not to mention the fact that your son or daughter will be well aware that you compromised your values. What message does that send?

Schindler's List

Schindler’s List–would this R-rated movie be okay to show to 16-year-olds?

For me, what it really comes down to is this: Permission slip or not, is it appropriate to show R-rated movies in the classroom? In my opinion, no. I am a liberal, but speaking as a parent, no politics involved, R-rated movies have no place in a classroom. It shouldn’t even be an option with a permission slip.

But, that’s my opinion, and I’m open to the idea that there could be exceptions. What’s your opinion? And what would you do if this was your child’s high school Spanish class? And, something else to consider–does it make a difference if your child is a boy or a girl? Is there an R-rated movie out there that you think would be okay to show in class?

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Remembering, Like You

It’s cloudy and rainy this morning. The kids are in school. My husband’s traveling. It’s just me and Reesie-pup, waiting on the bug guy.

And I am remembering, like you. Today is 9/11, a fact that didn’t register until Christian asked me this morning what he was doing riding a bike on September 11, and why wasn’t he in school that day. He was confused–it was the day the Iraq War started that he learned to ride a bike. On 9/11, he wasn’t even five years old. He barely remembers a world where 9/11 didn’t happen.

Roo, the week of 9/11.

That day, Roo, our 13-year-old dog was dying–at the time it was the closest death had ever gotten to me. I cried oceans that week, for Roo and for more than 3,000 people I never knew. For me, the two events are forever one. Personal grief eclipsed by national grief that was certainly personal for the families of the slain. And both eclipsed by universal grief for a world that would never be as it was.

This cloudy, rainy anniversary of 9/11 could be depressing. But I will not allow it. I could think of my husband being gone so much, but I know he will be home at the end of the week. Christian will be home at the end of the day, and Ryan is at the other end of Skype. When I clean out the kids’ closets later, I could cry to remember the days when they were little, but I won’t. At least I am here to remember those days. At least my children have grown up with two parents and we have grown up with them. And I have Reesie to keep me company, the way Roo (and Gus) used to. I am so lucky.

Today is a day for reflection, for remembrance, for gaining perspective. Today, I honor the memories of those who died on 9/11.

Today, I can’t be anything but grateful for life.

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The Highlights of Highlights

What can I say about my first-ever writers conference? Only that it was awesome and intense and that I chose well. Not that I went shopping for it, but of all the conferences out there, a Highlights Founders’ Workshop was the best one to get me started.

The Barn

It was intimate–not a hundred or two hundred attendees, but 18. It was specialized–this workshop was about writing nonfiction for children and young adults. Every presentation, every conversation was about writing nonfiction. It was comfortable–we each had our own cozy cabin just a minute’s walk from the Barn, where presentations took place. The Barn was also where we shared gourmet meals in family style. They seemed gourmet to me, at least–just ask the five pounds I came home with. So yummy. (Marcia is the name of that excellent chef.)

Workshop loot.

As for the workshop itself…Wow. We heard from children’s authors Candace Fleming, Larry Dane Brimner, Stephen Swinburne, James Cross Giblin, and Laurence Pringle; journalist and author Peter Jacobi; professor of literature Cyndi Giorgis; Highlights editors Carolyn Yoder, Debra Hess, Andy Gutelle, and Andy Boyles; and book producer Bernette Ford. And of course the Highlights people themselves, who are the friendliest, most responsive people you’d ever want to meet. I cannot say enough good things about the Highlights family. There were also book signings almost every night–I came away from the conference with so many books, I was worried my suitcase would be over the weight limit. (Highlights would have shipped them to me, though.)

One of the slush piles at Highlights.

The workshop included time with a mentor and a critique of a work in progress. In addition to presentations to the whole group, there were break-out sessions on writing for magazines, writing nature books, writing biographies, writing sports, etc. We had a presentations on how the Common Core State Standards will affect nonfiction writing, thebook producing industry, what the editors at Highlights and Boyds Mills Press look for in a submission…oh my gosh, I just learned so much! And, we toured the magazine’s editorial offices, which are in a beautiful old house, also cozy and intimate.

After nearly jumping out of my skin, I had wits enough to snap a picture.

And what was really cool for this desert-dwelling city girl–we were smack dab in the middle of the woods! Real woods, with a real creek (and real ticks, evidently). I saw a deer on one of my walks. I was excited, but apparently deer are a nuisance of sorts in that part of the country, and no one else was impressed. Would you believe, I slept without having to lock my door? I did have a run-in with some bees (wasps, hornets, whatever) on the cabin porch. I came away with three stings and a healthy respect for hymenoptera. That didn’t stop me from spraying them dead though. One night we had dinner at the Brown farm with a talent night in the barn (a real barn as opposed to The Barn).

The week was so full and busy–intense, like I said, but a good intense. A motivating intense. It was so nice to be among people with the same interests, the same goals, the same intent. I guess you could say we were all colleagues, and as a work-at-home mom for so many years, I haven’t had that feeling in a long time. The trick, now, is to carry that motivation over into real life.

For any of you children’s and YA writers out there, I highly recommend the Highlights Founders’ Workshops. Check them out here.

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