Sanity Returns, but…

I’ve been away for much longer than I intended. The summer got away from me, and now it’s all but over. The last couple months have been crazy hectic, and today sanity returns. But…it’s awfully quiet. The kids are both back in school. My husband is traveling this week. I guess I’m not used to having the house to myself just yet. I miss everyone.

My cabin at the Highlights workshop.

But, it’s a good day to catch up. My trip to Pennsylvania to attend one of the Highlights Founders Workshops (Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults) was everything I hoped for, and more. It was intense and relaxing at the same time, if you can imagine that. I met so many wonderful people, learned so many useful things, and, oh my gosh, ate so much good food! More to come on the workshop. And the food.

My Reesie-pie, two days before I left for PA.

While I was in Pennsylvania, my husband had to travel to Florida for a few days, so the kids were completely on their own. I was a stressed mom, even though I knew a 21-year-old and 15-year-old would be fine on their own, and I did have the workshop to keep me from worrying too much. Then Murphy’s Law presented a crisis. Our dog Reesie was afflicted with the sudden onset of glaucoma. But the boys were so great. So responsible. They recognized something was wrong, got Reesie to the vet, ordered medication at the pharmacy and administered eye drops three times a day–they really stepped up to take care of our poor puppy. Even so, it wasn’t enough to save the sight in her left eye.

Ryan, up to his neck in sand at Lake Michigan.

This summer, we also flew to Wisconsin to see family. We spent several days in Mt. Horeb, and I don’t think we ever stopped moving. We spent a day in Madison, we drove to Sheboygan to swim in Lake Michigan, we went to a quirky scrap metal sculpture park off Highway 12, and we went canoeing and kayaking at Devil’s Lake (where my camera became a casualty as I helped unload the canoe from the truck). Oh my golly, I was so tired! But it was a good tired.

Christian and fellow Whovian.

On the fifth day, we drove to Janesville to see Gramma and Grampa, stopping at the National Mustard Museum on the way. Another quirky place. Wisconsin has a lot of them, it seems. 🙂 And even quirkier? T-shirt connections. Christian wore one of his Dr. Who T-shirts and became instant friends with one of the girls who worked at the museum. (Who do you like, David Tennant or Matt Smith?)

My favorite boys.

It was so nice to be back in Janesville, but a little bittersweet–we are all older, but it hit home to see Patrick’s parents suffering the effects of age, all the more noticeable, I think, because we’re not there all the time. On the bright side, it was great just to spend time with them, to have breakfast on the back patio–orange juice and toast with homemade strawberry jam, yum! We had fun on the playground where Patrick went to elementary school. And of course we had to have that Wisconsin staple: burgers and brats on the grill. There was a wrench in the works though, because over the summer, hubby and son #1 decided to go vegetarian. Thank goodness for bean burgers! Oh, and how could I forget Caramel Collision–only the world’s best ice cream and not to be found here in Arizona. I should have taken a picture.

After Wisconsin, we barely had time to breathe before Christian started school, then it was sorting and packing and shopping for Ryan before he headed back to Flagstaff. Whew. It’s been so crazy. You’d think sanity would be welcome, but…it’s just so quiet.

Oh, one more thing that will define this summer in my memory–between travels and adventures we did have some downtime together. What did we do? We watched all six seasons of LOST. Yep. I was a blubbering mess at the end. Only one thing to say, though:  Best. Show. Ever. 🙂

Posted in Family, Musings, Parenting, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The World Beyond My Front Door

I think this will be my last quiet week of summer. This weekend I’m off to Pennsylvania for ten days, then home for a busy four days, and then the kids and I go to Wisconsin for ten days. Two days later, the new school year starts, and “summer” will be over.

But I don’t want to rush it. I want to savor the next month.

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Wayne County

I will be in Honesdale, in the northeastern corner of PA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pennsylvania will be a first for me. I think we drove through during a hurricane once when I was nine or ten, but I’ve never really been there. This won’t be the usual kind of trip for me. I will be on my own–no husband, no kids, no dog. Nobody to answer to and nobody to take care of except me.  It’s not a sightseeing trip, though I wish I could fit it in. I’m not going to visit friends, though I hope I will make some new ones. Nope, I’m going to a nonfiction writing workshop, and that is definitely a first.

I’m inching up to the workshop with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I am eager to learn and work, but nervous about being there. I’m looking forward to some freedom, but wondering what I will do with myself without kids to watch out for. Not that that they really need watching out for anymore. But it’s hard to get out of the Mom mode. And the truth is, the Mom mode can be kind of a crutch. I realize that I’ve come to depend on it over the years.

Last month, when the doctor pronounced my broken ankle healed and told me I could start walking without crutches, I had a few moments of panic. I couldn’t remember how to walk. It had only been seven weeks, but I had to think hard about it. The doctor assured me the feeling was normal and that I could still use one of the crutches for stability if I needed it. Of course I didn’t need it. I only needed confidence that I could walk without falling down. And getting it back didn’t take that long.

So, this weekend I will set aside my crutch and walk into the workshop as myself–not Mom, not Sweetie. Just Jeannette, aspiring writer. And I am excited for that. I’m glad I followed my whim and applied for the workshop. I’m glad my husband bought the plane ticket immediately so I couldn’t back out (he knows me too well). I feel like I have something ahead of me, a chance for new opportunities–which is a feeling I haven’t had too often as a work-at-home mom. Not that I haven’t loved the choice I made, but I do realize what I gave up to make it.

A line from the song “Pinch Me” (Barenaked Ladies) keeps going through my head lately. I think my subconscious speaks to me that way. “It’s like a dream you try to remember, but it’s gone; then you try to scream, but it only comes out as a yawn, when you try to see the world beyond your front door.”

The “dream,” to me, is the first thirty years of my life, when I traveled the world, moved every three years, survived earthquakes and volcanoes, and longed more than anything for stability. I’ve had my stability for a couple decades now. It’s been wonderful. But I see the change ahead, rolling in like a slow wave. I want to scream sometimes–I don’t want my kids to grow up, I want to be able to tuck them in and cuddle with them and read stories to them forever. I don’t want to highlight my hair to hide the gray strands. I don’t want to see silver on my husband’s scruffy chin. I want to stop time ten years ago, and I wish I still didn’t understand what it meant to be older and wiser.

But…I am older, and the wiser me sees there’s nothing for it but to yawn and make the best of it. And take steps to create a life in the world beyond my family’s front door.

This weekend, I will step back out into that world. I don’t  know what’s out there waiting for me, but I’m excited, and I’m going for it–Pennsylvania, here I come!

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Living In-Between

This week, on July 2, Patrick and I were married for 29 years. Not one of the milestones–one of the in-between years, I suppose, but still…a long time.

Cloudcroft, NM

I used to try to remember what we did for every anniversary, but there are too many now. We had seven anniversaries b.c., before children. I remember we tried to make each one romantic and special, though I’d be hard-pressed now to tell you what we did. On our tenth anniversary, we left toddler Ryan with my sister so that we could spend a week on the island of Molokai. But by our 14th anniversary, we were two kids in and money was tighter. We felt lucky to get a night off to go to the movies and dinner. On our 20th anniversary, we splurged and took the kids to Disneyland for a couple days, came home in time for fireworks, and then spent three days painting our living room and kitchen.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what we did on our 25th anniversary. Neither can Patrick! He offered to go into Quicken and check our spending–maybe see what restaurant we went to. But it’s not important what we did. Milestones are only markers in a life. The in-between times are when the real living is done. It’s the days that run into each other and over each other like pictures in a collage that make up a life.

Hiking near Prescott, AZ

I can’t remember how Patrick and I celebrated every anniversary, but I remember snuggling in a tent in the mountains of New Mexico and walking on the beach in Hawaii. I remember changing diapers and rocking babies, chalk drawings on the driveway and squealing children running through the backyard sprinklers. Summer movies, winter hikes, the Renaissance Festival, and the State Fair. Baseball games. I remember dinner conversations at the table with the kids with no topic off-limits, TV in the evenings, and game nights on the weekends. The separate in-between days don’t distinguish themselves, except in the making up of a happy whole.

The kids’ favorite game.

So, what did we do on our 29th anniversary? Nothing too much out of the ordinary. It was a day filled with the minutiae of married life, that particular day in the form of children. I wouldn’t have thought that at 21 and 15 their care could fill a day as much as it did when they were, say, 12 and 6, but some days it does. After all the running around was done, we went to the movies (Moonrise Kingdom). We went to dinner at the Macaroni Grill (Christian had his wisdom teeth out last week and we needed soft food.) We picked up some Peanut Butter Panic ice cream on the way home and had it later while we played Monopoly and streamed 80s music on Pandora. It was a happy, in-between kind of anniversary.

And it’s not over yet. Our anniversary is linked by proximity to the Fourth of July. In fact, I’ve always considered the Fourth part of our anniversary “weekend.” Sometimes we do something. Sometimes we just hang out. I will make chocolate chip cookies (tradition, according to the kids) to take with us tonight. Will this Fourth of July distinguish itself from the 28 others Patrick and I have shared? Probably not. But we will be living in this in-between moment, and this Fourth will take its place alongside the others, adding itself to the impression of our lives.


I can’t remember how Patrick and I celebrated every anniversary. But, I remember warm July nights and marching music, blankets on the grass and those glow-in-the dark crackle bracelets. I remember waving flags, laughing children, cookies, and watermelon. I remember lying back and gazing into the night sky at the fireworks that always, always help us celebrate another year of being married.

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Writing Again, Walking Again, and All’s Well

Smiley Face

First things first. Thank you so much, everyone, for all the encouragement after my last panic-stricken post. I was feeling overwhelmed with…everything–all of my own doing, of course. It was a good feeling to know you all were rooting for me, and it helped give me determination to do what I needed to do to get my act together. 🙂

So, these last three weeks I have not gone online except to research the story I’m writing. It’s been hard, let me tell you. I had to go cold turkey, as I told Mrs. D. Ranged, because I know it’s too easy for me to fall into the black hole of blogs. I start reading, and before I know it hours and hours have gone by. But the strict measures have paid off. I’m about two-thirds done with my draft and still 10 days from my deadline. I have decided not to beat myself up about it not being perfect, which is also hard, but at the same time a relief.

More good news: Today, I am two weeks into walking on my own, no crutches, no scooter. In fact, I am typing this post as I walk on the treadmill at 2.5 miles an hour–quite a bit slower than pre-broken ankle, but I’ll take it! My ankle and foot still swell, and sometimes I still have to concentrate on not limping at day’s end, but I’m getting there. I even started driving again this past weekend. It’s a great feeling to be completely independent once more. But it’s HUGE as far as my oldest son is concerned because he no longer has to act as my chauffer. Just in the nick of time too–he swore off driving Saturday night after he got his first speeding ticket ever on his way home from Flagstaff. 🙂

Promotional poster

I have allowed myself two guilty pleasures the last three weeks to relieve the seriousness and intensity of Civil War research and the frustration of translating it to kid level. First, from my perch on the couch, I came way late to the “Lost” party. I had always wanted to watch it, but between young kids and work I could not find the time while the show was actually running. So, when the subject popped up on MJ Monaghan’s blog, and then I saw it soon after on Amazon Prime, I knew it was fate. I watched the first episode and I was hooked, of course. And I’m happy to say I have dragged hubby and kids into it, too. We are having a fun time trying to figure out what is going on on that crazy little island.

Soulless (novel)

My other avenue of escape is reading for a while before going to sleep. I was shopping on my Nook, and came across a book I thought would be fun and quick. It was also on sale for 99 cents–perfect. It was called Soulless by Gail Carriger. And now I know what steampunk is. Also marketing, because I have since bought the other four books in the series for $7.99 each.

And my dreams at night have been a combination of Civil War tactics, steampunk fun, and “Lost” mysteries. Oy. I will be happy to take a small break from all of it and rest my brain, but not until the end of the month when I send my draft to Highlights. At which time, I will also get back to blogging on a regular basis. I hope you will all still be here when I get back. 🙂

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The Pretender Unmasked

Yep, that’s me. The Pretender, caught out, and now in complete and utter panic.

Pretender Confession #1:  I admit to being physically and emotionally derailed by the broken ankle thing. Despite my previous blathering about getting motivated and my repeated attempts to be optimistic, I have been in a funk of frustration and procrastination since April. My patience with my immobility is only on the surface. My intention to write, while sincere every day, seems to remain only intention, every day. And now I’ve gotten an email from the Highlights Foundation about the workshop I’m supposed to attend in July. Therein lies the source of my panic: I’m going to a writer’s workshop, and I am without a manuscript because I’ve been procrastinating instead of writing, because I haven’t been able to get my head in the game.

Which leads me to:

Pretender Confession #2: I applied to the workshop on a whim, thinking never in a million years I would get a scholarship that would make it almost affordable. Then, it was too late to back out because my husband got online right away and bought a plane ticket for me. For a little while I didn’t feel like quite such a Pretender because I did have an article being considered for purchase. But it turned out that someone beat me to the punch. Thus, Pretender status was fully reinstated. (Come to think of it, I got that happy news in mid-March…maybe that’s when the funk started.) I did send another article to the editor, but I fear it has fallen into the black hole of silent rejection.

Now I have only two short weeks* to come up with my manuscript for a mentor to review. A Highlights Foundation mentor. Holy s**t. What am I going to do?

PANIC. Which I am doing now–thank you for listening.

And get to work. Which I will do tomorrow, when the panic is out of my system.

Please send good vibes and good luck my way. I think I will need all I can get.

Four leaf clover

Four leaf clover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*Update on 5/30: Got another email this morning. The first one had the wrong date! I have till June 30 now, which eases the panic band around my chest a little. But, I have learned my lesson and will be working hard. 🙂 Whew, talk about motivation…

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100 Percent Protected

I dreamed about my dad the other night. He was there, just for a moment, just long enough for me to recognize him before he disappeared to wherever angels go. In my dream he was an angel, and all I saw was his face…but not his face. It was a cherub face, from old-fashioned drawings, all cheeks–it reminded me of how he looked while he was on prednisone those last couple years of his life. His hair was white and wavy. My dad always had a great head of hair, even though he kept it military short. He was wearing his glasses and his funny grin.

In my dream, I had been running, from or to something–I don’t know. I had the impression of having jumped off a train. I was sliding down a wet, grassy hill that must have recently had snow because there were patches of ice scattered around. I was scared, not of anything around me or coming after me, but of breaking my ankle again. Still, I kept running because I knew I had to.

I’m definitely no artist, but this is my best approximation of the badge I was awarded in my dream.

At the bottom of the hill, I looked up, and a badge appeared in the sky. I knew it was mine, that it had been awarded to me. It was green and yellow. Round. Flashing. It had a large check-mark in the middle of it, and it said “100% Protected.” Then the cherub face with my dad’s features popped out of the air above the badge and to the left. He gestured to the badge with his head and his eyes to make sure I got the message: I was 100 percent protected. Then he was gone. I called after him, but only the badge remained, hanging in the sky like a fading firework. I woke up, wanting so badly to bring my dad back so I could talk to him, if only in a dream.

Instead, I lay in bed, my broken leg elevated on pillows, and began to dissect my dream. That’s what I do with dreams. I can’t help it. My mind tries to figure out where they came from. You might think dissection would take the magic away, but it doesn’t. It only makes me wonder more at what’s left when I’m done, at the deeper meaning I cannot explain away.

* I had a feeling that I had jumped off a train, like the heroine in two books I recently read, Divergent and Insurgent.

* The badge I saw reminded me of the WordPress badges and awards. No surprise there since I have spent 0h-s0-many hours on WordPress in the last six weeks.

* The projection of the badge in the sky came from another book. It was how the results of the competition were relayed to  contestants in Hunger Games.

* I think the green and yellow colors came from the Green Bay Packers and Dancing with the Stars. Football player Donald Driver and his partner were wearing green and yellow cowboy costumes on Monday night, Packers’ colors, which I took note of after my son pointed it out.

* I have been worried about walking again, afraid that my ankle is somehow not healed and will snap again like a pretzel stick the minute I put weight on it.

* And I think the cherub face came from a book of old-fashioned Christmas cards that I have, though I haven’t really thought of Christmas recently.

But the message–I don’t know where that came from. I hope it came from my dad. I woke up missing him, but I felt oddly comforted. Secure, like a little girl who knows beyond doubt that her daddy is going to keep her safe. How is it that in the middle of my life, with two children of my own to keep safe, thinking of my dad can still make me feel like that?

It’s a good feeling. I think I will keep it with me and wear it like a shield when I’m able to start walking again, to remind myself that I am “100% Protected.” I know it, because my dad says so.

How about you? Have you had any dreams that have left an impression upon you?

Posted in Family, Journal Sorts of Things, Musings, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Why Being a Writer is Cool

I’m trying to start off right in this fourth week of the Blog Me MAYbe challenge (we’ll see how far I get). Monday is to tell you something about writing.

I’ve been working on an article that involves sperm whales. Whales are mammals, of course, but did you know that they are descended from hoofed mammals that looked like this?

Pakicetus inachus, a whale ancestor from the E...

Pakicetus inachus, a whale ancestor from the Early Eocene of Pakistan, after Nummelai et al., (2006), pencil drawing, digital coloring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How amazing is that? I thought it was so amazing I shared it with my 15-year-old, who really wasn’t all that amazed. Old news, as it turns out. Surprised, I asked him how he learned that little tidbit of information, and he said, “Uh…school?”

Translation: Geez, Mom, where else would I learn it?

But then, how come I didn’t learn it?

The answer, of course, is that the information was unknown when I was in school. This ancestor of the whale, Pakicetus, wasn’t discovered until 1979, which was only a year before I graduated high school. In college, my focus was on journalism, not science. So, why would I know?

Unless I had to research whales to write an article thirty-some-odd years later.

And that is the awesome factor of being a writer. I am actively learning things I never knew before. I am educating myself. Learning and sharing is the best part of what I do. If I were making money at it, that would be right up there too, but for now I get paid in knowledge. And I can sit out in my back yard, listen to the leaves rustle and the birds chatter (ignore the airplane sounds), and use my imagination to travel back 50 or 60 million years in the past–when some weird-looking mammals returned to the water from whence they came (millions of years before that) and evolved into whales.

Sperm whale and Bottlenose whale

Sperm whale and Bottlenose whale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I were a fiction writer, maybe I could come up with Pakicetus characters and spin a whale of a tale…but my imagination only goes so far (sigh…)

Can you even be a writer without loving research and learning new things? I don’t think so. But, maybe I’m wrong. With nonfiction, research goes with the territory because a writer can’t know everything about everything. But, is it different for fiction writers who create their own worlds? Is research more of a chore and done simply for accuracy? Do fiction writers feel the same sense of “Wow, that is really cool!” that I feel when I stumble across something new to me?

I’m interested, so please feel free to weigh in. How do you like research and learning as part of writing? What is the awesome factor of being a writer for you?

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