Thursday, September 29, 2011

What else are you going to do?

It doesn't matter that we knew this would be hard. I get sick of saying all the time, "This is the way things go." I want to throw a fit. I want to break in after midnight and bash up all the glass. I want to run wild.

I used to surround myself with sickness, or maybe it's just that all young people are sick. Maybe the condition of youth in itself is an ailment.

I lived with a shitty photograph of a person, once. That really happened, it wasn't just a made up story in head even though it seems that way. I woke up drunk in a freezing bathtub. My arms and legs were numb.

I walked in on him, standing naked in an open doorway. He didn't know I was there and I didn't clear my throat or toss my keys onto the counter top. I just stood there looking at how ugly he was and thinking about how much I hated him. It went on that way for years. I know what I saw and no amount of table flipping could scare me out of it. I didn't just find him to be boring or stupid or worthless. I hated him with such clarity and purpose that I ended up clinging to that hate and needing it. It was real when the way I hated my personal history was scratched and dented all over with love.

It isn't hard to do this, to wake up every morning a part of the world's most perfect and beautiful family. It isn't hard to love my kids. It's not even hard to shop for groceries with those songs on the pa system. To conduct business and say Thank you very much. It's not even hard to wake up at night and fumble around in the dark for a pacifier. It's not hard because my children have breath and they think and believe things. They ask me questions like, "Why is rock and roll the best thing ever?" Their little faces are shaped like hearts. They have these big dark eyes and you can see forever inside of them.

But it is hard, too.
It's way harder than hating everything and everybody.
It's way harder than giving up every morning.

Sometimes people act like they have a reputation for trouble and I don't believe them. I don't believe that I couldn't out-trouble them if I needed to. It's just that, I'd rather have the grass tall all around me and my one year old passed out against me, sticky with sweat. I'd rather kiss her head and taste the salt, hold her fat little foot in my palm and exhale. I'd rather be calmed down by my husband, a baby on his hip and a little redhead skipping around us yelling, "Daddy, daddy, daddy."

I want to fall apart and drive our old car much too fast. I want live on the highway between the town and the city, like we used to, my bare feet on the dash, fingering a tiny rubber band in my pocket. Instead, I wipe the dust from the floorboards with my finger. I pick cereal and peas from the soles of my feet. So, I'm a scrappy little underdog with a chance at happiness and not a big shot at fucking up and making everybody turn their head.

I forget what I was saying. Is it easier this way or harder? Maybe it's both and mostly it doesn't matter. I have everything people want. My life is brimming with love. Sometimes I'm even brave. Sometimes I understand that the reason you get through all the rejection letters is because what else are you going to do? Just not try and pay off your house and die someday?


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Blogher Book Club Review - Lunch Wars by Amy Kalafa


Lunch Wars by Amy Kalafa is an inspiring how-to guide meant to start a school food revolution. Kalafa was inspired to look closely at the school food environment when she discovered that her daughter was bringing home half eaten lunches because she was buying junk food every day at school. Amy Kalafa didn't like what she found in her local cafeteria, so she launched a personal campaign to improve the food the children in her community were eating every day, hoping to win back their best chances at health.

She suggests that you start your investigation by visiting your child's school for a lunch. Examine the food itself for healthfulness and sustainability, but also take note of the "food environment." For example, how noisy and chaotic is the cafeteria at lunch time? How much time is your child given to eat? Are healthy food choices promoted? Most of our schools have a contract with a major junk food brand resulting in prominently placed unhealthy products, vending machines full of sugar and chemicals and prepackaged, processed food being readily available to students.

Kalafa interviewed Bettina Seigel of The Lunch Tray, who said that in one school, she saw that students were being required to take a package of animals crackers with their meal. She inquired about it and found that the processed, enriched animal crackers had to be included in order for the school meals to meet the USDA nutritional guidelines. Schools are compensated for a portion of their food budget as long as they meet the USDA standards. This was a really illuminating part of the book. Kalafa suggests that instead of judging food by a scientific and technical set of nutrient standards, we should adopt a less stringent set of guidelines that would actually ensure a better healthfulness.

In some successful lunch programs overseas, the government guidelines state that the child's plate must be colorful and filled half way with vegetables and fruit. Lunch Wars really illustrates that fewer technical guidelines and a heartier focus on food as food, could be very good for the health of our children.

This book is full of advice about how to reform the way our schools look at and deal with the issue of feeding our children. Lots of it is fairly impractical for the average person, like organizing a wellness committee or spearheading a Farm to School Program in your own town. As parents of young children, most of us are just making it through the day without collapsing, and it is all we can do to make sure we're providing our own children with healthy meals.

While most of us won't be able to implement the detailed and impressive strategies outlined in Lunch Wars, we can all take away some bit of information or motivation to change our own food environments for the better. Whether it inspires us to pack a healthy lunch in lieu of giving our children lunch money, or informs us about which foods are the most pesticide ridden, or actually motivates us to overhaul the school food program in our district, everybody stands to gain something from reading this book.

How healthy were your school meals, as a child? Join the discussion at Blogher Book Club and find out what other bloggers thought of Amy Kalafa's Lunch Wars.

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This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Night Swimming - Indie Ink Writing Challenge

This week's Indie Ink Challenge came from Aimee, who gave me this prompt:

Listen to the song Nightswimming by REM. Tell the story of the memory this song evokes in you. Preferably nonfiction.

I challenged Kat with the prompt: There was hair everywhere.


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“You can change into your water clothes in my office,” Emma Lou told me. She was the church secretary and she wore giant glasses that magnified her eyes. “You’ll be with the other girls.”

Only, there were grown up women there, too. I had seen them before, shaking and crying at the altar. They were skinny with elbows that jutted out too far. They both had hair that was so fine and dry, I wanted to crumble the strands in my fingers and watch them turn into dust. One woman wore a pair of faded, gray underwear that sagged in the back and pulled up high around her ribcage.

Since this was a special night, I chose my favorite shirt. It was white and had an iron-on decal of a kitten. Part of the hem was ripping loose and I liked to wind my fingers through the hole, making it bigger.

I had seen some people getting baptized before, in the lake at the summer camp we rented for a retreat where we made key chains in the shape of crosses. Grown men in jeans and soggy tennis shoes, the pastor dunked them right there in the shallows where we launched a canoe earlier in the day. My brother flipped his over and had to drag it to shore.

Some of the newly baptized came up for air with one hand on their noses and the other hand raised to the sky, a single finger pointing right up to heaven.

I was getting dunked on the same night as my younger brother. I should have been ready before now. I was older. I should have done this two years ago. I didn’t know what would happen exactly, under the water in a tiny swimming pool hidden under the stage of our church. They would pull on the handle and slide a piece of the floor out of the way, and a neat blue rectangle would appear. There would be a wavering set of stairs and it would be filled with water from a hose.

I would have to hold my nose, because they didn’t let you go belly first. I asked.

I didn’t like getting tipped into water backwards because of how much it burned my nose. I didn’t see why it mattered whether I went in face first or not, but that just wasn’t how it was done. Nobody got made all shiny and new by face-planting into the water of God.

That’s what would happen, too. I would be lowered into the little pool by Pastor H. and when I came up sputtering and wiping the water out of my eyes, I would be new. I would be worthy. I would feel it in my bones, finally. I wouldn’t draw pictures on my hand during Sunday School. I wouldn’t crawl under the pews any more. Getting baptized meant that you were covered in the blood of Christ. All of your sins were washed away and the Holy Spirit could enter you and use you.

No more swears on the playground. No more stealing from my mother’s jewelry box. No more wondering what it would be like to kiss a boy on his mouth. The Holy Spirit would use me, just as soon as I was clean.


***



We were drunk on cheap red wine and I wanted to go swimming. There was a lake at the edge of town. If you followed the road into the dark, eventually it just ran right into the water. Our roommates made us promise that we wouldn’t. It was too dangerous and we were too reckless.

Kurt was nineteen and I was twenty-one.

We took off our shoes and pants, I let my skirt fall into a pile on the embankment. My friend from high school was there with us. We were wearing eyeliner that ran when it got wet. I held her hand under the water and we tried to swim to the other side, laughing and determined. We weren’t supposed to be there. We had to watch for the lights of a cop car on the road. There were a million stars in the sky. I loved them and their cold light. The water was freezing. I felt brave and clean in the night. I felt young and purposeful, bad and careless and beautiful.

Kurt was missing. We scanned the black surface of the lake and it was still and silent. Suddenly, he emerged, a wild flailing of limbs. Everything came to life in a spray of diamonds. We laughed, thinking he was playing. He reached for a buoy and slid down its surface, disappearing into blackness and everything was quiet again.

“Go, go to him!” I yelled. We were drunk and neither one of us could swim, not really. We dog paddled and freestyled it, back stroking like the devil himself.

Kurt's body was so thin and pale in the moonlight. We dragged him onto the rocks. I told him, “I love you,” knowing nothing of the way I would actually love him one day. How we would be up all night naked on a battered blue couch in the middle of a city where nobody knew us. How I would probe the bend in his arm for a vein and have his tongue in my mouth. How we would be married someday and sober with a garden and a white fence. I said, “I love you,” because I had saved him from drowning. He threw up in the bushes. We didn’t know that someday we would have babies.

***



West Lake Lighting
photo by J Aaron Farr

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No. No. No.




We baked bread this morning, one, two, three cups of flour. My daughters have such little hands. They are so strong. Pulling apart the crust and licking sticky apple butter, this is my world. I am where I was meant to be.

I lay my little one down for a nap and she tells me, "No!" She doesn't want to sleep. She doesn't want to be carried. She doesn't want anything, some days. Only to stand up, up, up and we clap for her. I've seen her take a few steps on her own, but no. She doesn't want to walk, just yet.

She's taking her time, this baby. With her sister, I was so ready for things to go by. I wanted all of the family moments to get to us quickly. I fed her sweet potatoes at four months, and she was up all night with a belly ache. With this little one, my Louise, we're all taking our time. She knows we still need a baby, so she's fashioned her own way of moving around in the world. The tips of her new shoes scraping the concrete at the playground, she has a sort of one legged crawl-hop.

Mostly, she's stubborn.

I tell her, "Give Mommy a kiss," and she leans in close. Just before her tiny heart shaped lips touch mine, she scolds me, "No!" and pushes on my cheek. Get away from me for now. I am the baby and I know for sure that I am loved, no matter what. The way we love her is an invitation. She throws her cereal onto the floor and tells us no, and we smile at her ingenuity. She is only the baby, after all, and isn't it a miracle that she's so smart and wild and independent that she understands this concept with a full heart?

No.





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Today's post is a link up with Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary's Just Write. If you want to join in, write something about the details of your day and link up! Be sure to read a few other pieces and get to know some great new writers in the process.


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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another 500 Dollar Month... in the name of Christmas.

We need to buckle down and have another 500 Dollar Month. This spring, it worked so well that I was able to put a down payment on a beach house rental for next year.

Don't call me crazy, but I'm already thinking about Christmas.

Every year, as soon as Christmas is over, I say to myself, "We need to start shopping earlier, next time. We need to buy things here and there throughout the year. We need to save some money specifically for buying presents and going Christmassy places."

Well, it's pretty much October, and we didn't do ANY of the things I always say we should. So, that leaves three months to get it together and plan and save for the most spectacular, atmospheric, sparkly, wonderful holiday ever!

WHO IS WITH ME?

I know that there's a lot of talk about the holidays being too commercial. About not wanting your children to get a bunch of crap that will just fill up your house. About wanting to emphasize the love part, instead of the getting stuff part. I agree that a pile of plastic crap isn't necessary for a Christmas to be wonderful.

Well, brace yourselves, because I am going to step up and defend a holiday with all the trimmings. I know that the holidays aren't all about getting things... but do you remember waking up on Christmas morning as a kid and GETTING THINGS?

It was out of this world amazing and memory making and worthwhile. It was exactly all of the things I want for my kids. You can call me superficial or possession grubbing if you want to. I want my kids to come down the stairs on December 25th and have their beautiful little eyes pop out of their heads. I want them to scream in delight. I want them to feel like we live every day of our lives in a state of moderation and thinglessness, that we're a family that understands our worth in terms of togetherness and love, and for ONE DAY each year, we go nuts and roll around in mountains of wrapping paper and throw our new possessions into the air and laugh and hug and feel like there is NO WAY our poor little, rattletrap of a family pulled something this spectacular off.

So, that's just me.

I grew up poor. Kind of REALLY poor. But, we always had a big Christmas. We always had an impossible pile of presents and a real tree and cheesecake with cherries for breakfast. We went out for dinner on Christmas Eve and left a big tip. We made cookies and decorated them with colored icing. We drove around in the days leading up to the big day looking at everybody's lights and decorations, listening to terrible, cheesy holiday songs.

I don't have a ton of easy and straightforwardly happy memories from my childhood. My parents hated each other, we didn't have any money and Jesus was always telling us that everything we thought and did was wrong. And then there was Christmas.

When I was in college and living across town under a black light, I came home and slept in my childhood bedroom for Christmas Eve. Long after everyone was asleep, I was wide awake with excitement over THE NEXT DAY BEING CHRISTMAS, and my sister and I were snuggled into her bed together, laughing and being stupid like little kids. I was twenty and she was fifteen, and we were saying, "Goodnight, honey," and then seeing who could snore the loudest and the funniest, and we snored and laughed so loud that our mom woke up and barged into the room. She yelled at us, "Go to sleep!" I'd spent the past few years being a junky and a fuckup, and suddenly, for just a moment, I was a little kid getting in honest trouble again for not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve.

I'm a Christmas fanatic. It is obviously the result of some short circuiting in my brain due to unresolved issues with my childhood. I also don't care because blasting my girls out of the water with an over the top holiday experience is so fun and exciting. I'm a big, fat old mom with orthopedic shoes and when I see the light in their little faces, I feel like a kid, again.

I KNOW. I'M SO SELFISH.

So, that's why we need to batten the hatches and trim the sails and starboard ho toward a Christmas Extravaganza. We need to spend NO EXTRA MONEY now, so that I can spend ALL OF THE EXTRA money later on being a totally materialistic, sensationalist, Christmas nut.

So, get ready. I'll be coming up with some cheap and nutritional ways to feed my family for the month of October. We'll be taking advantage of the beautiful fall weather to have all of our fun for free. We'll pay all of our bills, set aside $200 for gas and then we'll only spend $500 on EVERYTHING ELSE. For a whole month. In the name of a pile of presents and lights that twinkle and Phipps Conservatory and dinner out on Christmas Eve.

We can do this. It's worth it.

Christmas Scouty B. 2008.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Perfect

We've been having a lot of perfect moments, lately. (I believe this is probably a reaction by my brain to the stressful and discouraging nature of shopping my book around.)

Like, this morning, we went to Chuck E Cheese. When we got there, we were the only people in the whole entire place. We started playing and riding the stupid horse that I can't figure out, and then I noticed that all of the games had at least 20 tickets just sticking out of them! We ran around grabbing all of them and stuffing them in Kurt's pockets.

It was totally a scene out of my childhood dreams. Like, remember when you used to fantasize about getting locked into the mall on purpose so you could sleep there and wake up and you'd be the only one in the candy store? You could sleep on the beds at Macy's and borrow some roller skates from the sporting goods store?

It was like that.
I don't care about how many tickets we win. Scouty always ends up with the same handful of plastic frogs and packets of smarties no matter how successful we are.

There was just something about see all of those blinking, lonely machines in the empty space, offering me tickets. Scouty and I held hands and ran through the aisles between games. She climbed up onto the runway of the skee ball machines so that she could summon the strength to roll a ball that would actually make it into one of the slots.

I don't know.

This was a pretty perfect moment, too. It was a chilly fall day and we went for a walk in the strip. Scouty decided that she was hungry and thirsty. We got a pizza at Bella Notte and it was the biggest pizza we've ever seen.

Daddy was there and he was handsome.

Louisey had a lollipop and she got sticky sugar in places that have never seen the sun.

I just love being me, because of these three wonderful people.







Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Evangelical Born-Again Church Services

I'm sure that everybody has heard of evangelical churches. People speak in tongues and interpret the Bible literally, they are very demonstrative of their beliefs, ministering to the public and harboring a very real and very alive belief in the devil. We've all heard of this before, but I'm not sure that very many people understand what it was really like, as far as the every day aesthetics, to grow up in a Spirit Filled, Born Again, Evangelical church.

I was raised in an Assembly Of God church in a small coal town in Western Pennsylvania. At the time of my youth, I believed America to be in the midst of some sort of holy revolution. There were wild, amazing things happening in front of my eyes every day. The end of the world was near, there were signs all around.

I know now that evangelicals have always believed that their time is a very special time. They have always preached about the end of the world. They have always believed that a revival was imminent. The messages I received about my time being a very powerful, instrumental time are the same messages everybody has always received and will continue to receive off into nowhere.

Still, as a child, I believed a lot of the things I was told. I believed a lot of the things I saw. Around the time I turned 13 or 14, I started to understand that the grown ups around me had an agenda. I started to notice how most of them were well... a little bit coo-coo. The kinds of people you see muttering to themselves at the local K-Mart, only less isolated, because they had a group of people who backed them up.

They spent a lot of time talking about ghosts and aliens and exorcisms, devil-worshipers, new age heretics, witches, real life vampires and demons. The rest of the world read books and listened to music about a rainbow of emotions and feelings. The Christians listened only to music that explicitly praised Jesus. They only read books written by other evangelicals. The rest of the world believed in education, in women's rights and in encouraging and fostering a sense of independence and autonomy in their children. The Christians, including my family, believed that women were meant to be wives and mothers, that men were meant to rule over women, and that children should be subservient to the will of men and of God.

Oops. I'm getting off track. I meant to sit down and write about the actual mechanics of attending church as an evangelical christian. I promise to get back to the indoctrination later. I have a lifetime's worth of stories in me about that.

Church service.

First of all, Born Again Christians pride themselves on being "on fire" for Jesus. They are very enthusiastic in their judgement of other sects of Christianity. They believe that everybody else is just "luke warm" in their love and devotion to Christ. They talk about how Catholics have rituals, how they are quiet, how they don't believe in the Holy Spirit... how all of that proves that they aren't real Christians. Even within their own community of evangelicals, they are very quick to point it out when somebody isn't quite OUT OF THEIR MIND enough over their love of God.

The service began when lyrics to praise songs were projected onto a screen in the corner of the sanctuary. Songs like, "Let God arise and his enemies be scattered!" and "As the deer pant-eth for the water, so my soul long-eth after Thee." Songs about putting on the Armor of God, about how Jesus was more precious than gold and jewels.

There was a rock band on the stage in front of the sanctuary complete with guitarists and a drummer. (Please understand that actual rock and roll saved my life. When I call this band a "rock" band, I'm doing so in an ironic way.) A bony woman in shoulder pads played the tambourine. The pastor's son played guitar. The drummer was a man with a mane of wild hair who was accused of molesting his niece. I'm unsure of whether or not he was ever actually convicted.

So, we would all follow along with the projected transparency and sing songs. After a few minutes, people would start to sway with their hands in the air. They whispered and moaned. Someone would call out a prophecy or a word from god. "There is smut in your households!" an old lady would warble over a clunky rhythm from the band. "He is urging you to take stock of your entertainment, to scour your children's music, to make yourself aware of what is entering your house through the television."

Things like that. People took turns talking aloud, while everyone else swayed and murmured and sometimes called out, "Praise you, Jesus!" or "Thank you, Jesus!" Sometimes, the lord's wrath would take hold of someone and they would spew retributions at the congregation. They quoted terrible verses about the wages of sin. Lots of times, people cried. My mom cried. I hated the crying.

There would inevitably be a point in the worship portion of the service where things were expected to get a little crazy. The band would resume its playing and enormous women in polyester dresses would spin and jump and dance down the aisles. Little, pointy schoolmarm types in lace buttoned up around their throats would kick off their shoes and do an anointed little jig with their pantyhosed toes peeking from under the hem of their skirts. Teenagers in pleated sunday pants clung to one another, reveling in the opportunity to be close to another body.

There were noises coming from everywhere, at that point. People started talking and yelling and calling out in their "prayer languages." My father's prayer language sounded like, "Ah, sha dadadadada," when it started. Dancing and twirling and hopping and babbling, the whole place was filled with motion and sound.

Sometimes, groups of adults would descend on me, put their hands all over me and whisper in their prayer languages. They would pet my hair, hold my hands to their lips. They smeared my head with oil from tiny bottles they wore around their necks. They cried. The kissed me. This was called, "the laying on of hands." While they were anointing me and praying for me, I would doodle in a notepad on my lap or make faces and smile through the forest of hands at my friend or siblings, who were also enclosed in the prayer circle.

Sometimes, people laughed.

I hated the laughing most of all.

It would start with the young people, usually. Someone would be overcome with "spirit drunkenness" and start to weave and flail around like they were going to fall. Sweat would be broken out on their foreheads, people would surround the drunk one, holding her up by her armpits. She would release herself against them, throw her head back and start laughing uncontrollably.

Soon, the other young people with their arms and bodies around her, open to her, with their hearts and senses of expectation open wide; they would all start convulsing with holy laughter. Some of them would fall to their knees. Some of them would lay on the floor, seizing under the laughter. They held on to one another, hugged, brushed the hair from the sweaty brow of their friend. In a world where they all knew someone who had been abused, where the came from trailer parks at the edge of town, where their daddies drank and came for them in the night, here, in the sanctuary, they could hold one another and laugh the laughter of the holy.

The pastor, a well groomed man from the rich housing development near the college, would stand over the youth group, praying in his language, praising the lord for his gift of hilarity. Soon, speckled about the congregation, people would start to laugh, too. A high pitched ululating would resonate from the back corner of the room. A man wheezed and fell on his face, pounding the threadbare carpet with his palm. Women tripped over one another, tangling together, sticking to the skin of one another and laughed right up to high heaven.

Some members of the body of Christ would get caught up in a manic sort of dance, where they shuffled from foot to foot, hands extended to the sky. They would dance like this until they were pale and fatigued. Their muscles seized. Some of them collapsed. Some of them had to be carried out of the church and placed into a waiting car where they would stiffen in the passenger seat and continue to move and bob, unable to come out from the trance of the holy spirit.

This was all commonplace for me. I was a bratty little know-it-all who didn't want to serve a man. I didn't believe in the end of the world. I believed in Holden Caufield and David Bowie. I believed in Beatles, even if John had long since become only John. I believed in the revelation brought on by bad boys from the wrong parts of town. I believed in lipstick and men wearing eyeliner. I believed in experimentation and rebellion. I didn't believe in God.

Still, I didn't understand that my experience with church wasn't the same as everybody else's. I didn't know that most other kids had mothers and fathers who existed peacefully, loving one another and their families. I thought everybody knew what it was like to see a grown man fall down and not get up until long after he'd been plastered to the floor with his own snot and tears. I didn't know that people were Catholic and Lutheran and even Atheist! I didn't know that some people weren't sure what they believed. I didn't know that some people believed in love.

It took me a long time to identify my experiences as being unique. It wasn't even until I was a heroin user in college that it became clear to me that lots of kids hadn't been forced to go to church, to be prayed over, to attend conferences where people were delivered from demons.

I have a lot to say. I think that maybe I'm still realizing that writing about this sort of thing is important, or at least that it's interesting. When I write about church, I still don't think that I quite understand the impact it has on people who are reading my words. So, if you're up for it, I'll start thinking about it more and trying my best to illuminate that part of my past.



I wish I had lots of pictures from that time, from inside the actual church. Here is a crappy one of the sanctuary. At least you can see the screen in the corner where the songs were projected. I was really there. It all really happened. That's a thing and it's hard to come to terms with, sometimes.


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Mommy is sick, and the world keeps turning.

I am the only sick one.

My girls are full of life and energy. They radiate health all over me, all day, so that I'm cheering for a dance contest, tossing a baby into a pile of pillows and blankets, and bundling myself up in a scarf to go shopping for peppers at the farm.

As we open the gate to the animal pen, the chickens run up to us expectantly, fluffing their wings and pecking one another out of the way. We don't have anything for you, guys, and the black rooster chases me in a circle.

I tell him, "I'm not afraid of you!" but he knows I'm lying. All the while, Louise is wriggling in my arms, crying to get down because she loves these chickens with a heart so pure. She is reaching for them and calling, "Hi, baby!"

We head into school with muddy boots and stories about how mommy screamed and ran from a chicken. I'm sick, remember, and I've been carrying my baby on my hip, so close to giving up. So close to saying, "I can't do this. There must be some way out, because I won't make it to the end of this day."

But, I heft my girl higher and call to my Scouty, "Goodbye gorgeous! Have a good day!" Louise waves and says, "Bye bye, baby!"

At home, just the two of us, we roll the ball and I hold it up saying, "Orange ball." We read a book, and I let Lulu turn all the pages. We swing on the porch and I pretend to eat her new shoes.

When daddy gets home, I am frazzled. A pathetic dinner of Bunnies and Cheese and frozen peas is congealing on the stove. I hand him the baby, tell him I'm sorry, gather together a few sick day preparations and head out into a rain so fine it's barely a mist on my face.

Tissue clutched in my little fist, a cup of spicy tea sloshing at my side, I turn on some music and keep it down low. I roll down my window just enough to smell the leaves and drive off in our rattling old Hyndai with car seats and half eaten graham crackers in the back.

How I feel is brilliant, like I should pull over somewhere remote and fall asleep slumped behind the steering where. It feels so good to be me. I have a book in my bag. The sun is setting. I feel very much like I'm scoring one for the little guy.



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Today's post is a link up with Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary's Just Write. If you want to join in, write something about the details of your day and link up! Be sure to read a few other pieces and get to know some great new writers in the process.


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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Scary things and things that make me feel brave...

I'm getting excited for Halloween, already. I know that people hate it when stores get their holiday decorations out too early, but not me! I love it. I've already been working on costumes for the girls and thinking about how to make things spooky around here for fall.

So, I was inspired to post this by schmutzie and her thoughtful lists about what she's afraid of, and what makes her feel brave. Please check her out. She's awesome.


Scary House
photo by Randy Robertson



Things I am afraid of...

-Going crazy. Now that I don't have a new baby and I'm not up nights, this fear has diminished. But, for a while, I was convinced that every day could be the day I just went off into the deep.

-Getting sick, especially since I don't have health insurance. I have a specific health deal that I am unable to get care for. I'm okay for now, but I need to live in as healthy and clean a way as possible to stay that way. I'm afraid that I'm not capable of keeping my body healthy. It makes me feel discouraged and helpless.

-Aggressive Chickens. I don't really feel like I would definitely win in a fight with a chicken.

-PPD. Weakness, hormonal shifts, sleeplessness, trembling, panic, nausea, palpitations, heightened startle reflex, cold sweats, otherworldly alertness. I felt like I would never get through it. Even though it lasted less than a year each time, it was a major consideration in my choice not to have any more babies. I need to be present and capable for my kids. I just don't have the luxury of taking some time off to have a breakdown.

-Jail. I'm not afraid I'm going to go to jail. I have just always thought the idea was awfully terrifying.

-This picture.

-Bees. I'm one of those people. One of them actually had the balls to STING LOUISE the other day. Oh my god. Pure mama fury. It is my mission in life to swat the f out of all the bees I see.

-Sending my girls out into the world. I know how stupid and mean and selfish people are. The thought of them being used or betrayed or hurt is almost more than I can take.

-Sleeping in a house with the girls when Kurt is gone. I don't even notice how safe he makes us feel until he's gone over night. I can't sleep and hear noises on the steps.

-That I will forget all of things that make life so beautiful, right now. Like the way Louise gets so excited to wear her Muno shirt, how she has a little tune she sings, "Ba ba ba, bump ba ba!" How she says "Ga ga?" every time she wants something. How Scouty sings the "Mom It's Your Birthday" song from Phineas and Ferb, the way she pronounces her L's like Y's and how she can't sleep unless PeepPeep and Mr. Giraffey are on their very own pillow right next to hers.

-When my girls are sick.

-Getting through another winter.

-Christians. Especially "born again" Christians. Especially in small towns like where I grew up.

-The news. I'm afraid of the stuff on the news, but I'm also afraid of the way we're so interested in hearing and seeing all of the bad things that are happening in the world. Why do we need to know about every random atrocity that happens in every corner of the country? Why do we cling to these terrible stories in a passionate, intense way that could never compare to the way we respond to great, beautiful things? Or, if we are all talking about something gorgeous that blew our minds, it's that Susan Boyle lady. Like, we're so inspired and shaken by the fact that a normal looking ugly lady has a good singing voice! Be still my fucking heart, who cares! I hate the news!





Things that make me feel brave...


-My kids. I made it through a lot to get to be their mommy. Having them made me a real person, and caring for them every day has taught me how stupid it is to be afraid of the world.

-Living in the city. We're big adventurers.

-Changing a tire and fixing things myself. I do have an impulse to say, "I don't know how to do this, help!" But then, I realize that these things don't require a genius. They just require that you're willing to learn how to do them.

-Reading good books. It's a really brave thing to tell the stories inside of you. They make me understand that no matter what the news and the teenagers on the playground equipment have to say, the people of the world are amazing and beautiful.

-Realizing that I will never know everything there is to know. It's mind blowing. There is no way I will ever know enough to be able to say, "I'm ready to finish learning." It makes me feel like a part of something amazing, being a citizen of this huge world.

-Riding my bike far away from home. I especially like to go places where I'm the only person I can see.

-Telling the truth about embarrassing things and realizing we're all hiding things. When I was young, I felt like a freak, like everything about me was at least mildly embarrassing. Now, I understand that everybody feels that way. The only way to have power over that shame is to be honest about it.

-Watching Jenny sing.


-Cutting off all my hair.

-Swimming in the ocean. I'll spend all day out in the deep green sea, if I have a chance.

-Sunlight.

-Being educated. I feel like I'm pretty smart about a lot of things and I'm not afraid to assert my knowledge.

-Hiking in the woods when everything is alive and green and there are birds and animals everywhere.

-Building a fire all by myself.

-Living in a way that is good and honest. It is so freeing to know that I'm not doing anything that I feel the need to hide. I am confident in and proud of my life choices. That means that my self esteem isn't tied up in whether or not people (outside of my friends and family) approve of me.

-Knowing that my husband loves and trusts me, no matter what... and that I feel the same way about him. Neither one of us will ever do something that the other couldn't abide. That's what I mean when I say we trust each other. He will never put me in a position where I have to betray myself in order to be with him. He's not perfect and neither am I, but we always consider one another and whether or not our actions and choices will be hurtful to our family. We're perfect for each other.





What about you? What are you afraid of, and what makes you feel brave?


-

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge - Dime

This is my piece for this week's Indie Ink writing challenge. The way it works is that you sign up for the challenge weekly, and you'll be paired with another participant who will create a writing prompt for you, and you have a few days to write and submit your piece. (Click HERE if you'd like to participate next week.


This week, I challenged Jason Hughes with the prompt, "Why were you down at the river last night?"

I was challenged by Carrie of Views From Nature. Her prompt was:

Dig through your pockets, your purse, the ashtray in your car, wherever, and pull out a random piece of currency. Use the characteristics and details of that currency in a story: the shape, size, color, year it was made, images on it, etc. BUT don't make it a story about a coin/bill. Just use the characteristics randomly throughout your tale.


Here's my response.

----------------------------------------


Patina
photo by kevin dooley




I was the smallest of seven.

I was born with both of my eyes.

So pale, my mom used to say that I almost gleamed silver in the moonlight.

In 1979, a wild dog got into the pig pen.

I couldn’t let little Cassie get eaten. She was the runt and I loved her.
I saved her, but paid with part of my face.

My oldest brother stops the others from calling me Cyclops, but sometimes I catch him staring at me darkly.

A silver-white web of flesh where I used to be complete.

Things were hard on the mountain in the winter. We had no choice but to eat her, even after I kept her from the dog.

It stung my skin to cry, so I didn’t, mostly.

“Franklin,” my mother told me, “The Lord will pay you for your goodness. You only have but to hang on until you die.”



-

Thank you...

When I write something like my last post, I feel a little concerned that I'm coming off like a bully. I don't want to bully anybody into feeling the way I feel or making the choices that I make.

It's hard because, for me, these kinds of issues - women's roles, self-image, places in society, a pejorative standard of femininity... they're so crystal clear in my mind. I feel like, if people would just think about what's happening in the world, they would see that being made into something homogenized and consumable is bad. I feel like I'm an ordinary woman living an ordinary life, and it's so obvious to me that I'm worth more than I'm told. It's obvious that I'm being pressured to feel badly about myself so that I'll be more easily convinced to stay in my place and buy something.

When I talk about these things, it's not because I'm trying to buck the system or start a revolution. I just want the women in my life, and in everybody's lives, to believe that they are as amazing, capable and important as they are.

I do understand that not everybody is receptive to me and my ideas. I understand that there are many prejudices in place so that when I start talking about feminism and what it means to be a woman in society, some people will be turned off. Ideas about what women are worth are so closely embedded with ongoing political, religious and societal arguments that it is really impossible for me to moderate the way I'm being perceived by an individual person.

So, if I've made you feel alienated, pressured or harangued, I apologize. I never intend to make any person feel picked on or harassed. Just as I expect that my readers will understand that I'm not pushing an agenda, rather that I'm simply interested in preserving positivity... I hope that you can count on me to be fair to people.

Anyway, thank you for being here for me and with me. I really have gotten so much out of the experience of sharing my thoughts and life with you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I like shopping. And then there is everything else about me that actually matters.

I started writing this in response to this interesting comment from another post:

I get that you don't have a lot in common with "mainstream moms". I think most readers of your blog can commiserate, but I sure get tired of the "mommy wars" and knocking down women for wanting to do something besides watch their children. I think it's really refreshing when women can admit that they need a break, look forward to a break, want some time to themselves, whatever. Maybe it's shoes shopping, maybe it's exercising, maybe it's going to see a band, maybe it's (gasp!) getting a job. Implying that women want wine more than their children? C'mon, lady....

My response got so long that I decided to just turn it into a post.



I don't have a problem with "mainstream moms". I don't care where anybody affiliates themselves on the societal continuum. I don't care if you honestly do look forward to having a glass of wine. I don't care if you think shopping is fun. I personally like shoes and having dinner with my girl friends.

I'm talking about being opposed to a culture where women express and define themselves within a pejorative set of standards. I like shoes, so what? That's not even SORT OF one of the interesting or important things about me. It's CERTAINLY not going to be one of the first things I choose to tell you about myself. If I buy a new pair of shoes and tell somebody, "I really like my new shoes, look at them," that's fine, who cares? That's not what I'm talking about.

If I use my time and talents and my vehicle for the expression and representation of myself, if I consume and regurgitate that I'M A WOMAN, so OF COURSE I love shopping and wine and walking away from catcalls in a pair of Italian leather high heels... If I spend my energy TALKING INCESSANTLY ABOUT and DEFINING MYSELF ACCORDING TO,

"Don't you love wine? Aren't husbands stupid? Isn't being sexy and fabulous awesome? Aren't our kids annoying? Doesn't it suck to pack lunches?"

... I'm only participating in THE EXACT THING I started believing all of these things to get away from! (That "thing" being an idea that women aren't capable of anything besides being superficial and concerned with superficial things.

Liking shoes isn't an identity. Loving nap time isn't what makes you a mom. I don't care what you do, or what other moms do or believe or enjoy, as long as you're not adopting and enacting a bunch of superficial, misogynistic, oppressive standards of what it means to be female. And the only reason I have a problem with all of that in the first place is because I believe that you are better than you're claiming to be when you spend all of your time at the trendy wine bar talking about shoes! Not because I think you're less than I am, or because you're just more "mainstream" or that I think you don't deserve a break. (I really REALLY think you deserve a break, as a matter of fact.)

And also, why do people assume that I don't have anything in common with "mainstream moms?" What do you think I'm doing with my time every day, all day? I'm doing and feeling and thinking the same things that "mainstream moms" are doing and feeling and thinking. Only, I don't feel the need to belittle myself by sitting around letting other people talk and write and think about love and death and loss and beauty, while I go sit with a bunch of my ladies and giggle over how I spent so much money on a pair of shoes and how I'm not going to tell my husband, hee-hee. Because I'm a woman, right? I don't live every day of my life in a state of awareness and love and learning. I GO SHOPPING AND THEN GUZZLE WINE, GO-O-O GIRL-TIME!

I don't mean to totally beat the question to death, but what makes a person "mainstream" anyway? I'm college educated, live in Pittsburgh, shop at Target and Old Navy, I'm lower-middle class, own two cars and a home. I'm heterosexually married to an accountant, have two children and I plant a garden in my suburban back yard. How am I not "mainstream"? I honestly don't understand the definition. Is it because I believe there should be more to womanhood than being 40 and fabulous?

Do you think that by believing the way I believe, I'm saying that I don't look forward to nap time, too? That I don't appreciate having time with my female friends or deserve a break?

All I'm saying is that if I have the choice to repeatedly and persistently represent something about myself via my writing and tools of self-identification and expression, you better believe I'm not going to use that little window of energy and audience to bad mouth my children and talk about how they drive me to DrINk WiNE, woo! In saying that, do you think I'm implying that my kids don't make me crazy?

And... the thing about me inferring that the SHOES SHOPPING WINE WOMEN want wine more than they want their kids: I'm saying that it's a crime to spend all of your time talking about girl's night and wine, when you could be using that same platform to connect with other moms in a meaningful way that doesn't make you look like a brainless woman.

What I was really saying is that, I KNOW that you love your kids more than wine ; so, by defining yourself as a shoe shopping, "COCKTAILS!" kind of girl, you've just misused your chance to tell the truth about who you are and how you feel. It makes me upset that women are convinced that it's okay to talk more about wine than about the complicated, interesting, multi-layered, earth-shattering, nerve rending, heart breaking reasons why we feel such an impulse to escape and buy shoes and drink wine in the first place. I'm not saying that you can't be an awesome feminist if you enjoy shopping for shoes! Are you kidding me? I'm saying that shoe shopping doesn't even kind of make up who you are and why you're valuable or interesting, so why are you talking about it all the time?

We only have so many chances to say what we want to say and have people listen. Maybe you don't agree and that's okay, but I personally think it's stupid and brainless to use your personal platform to point out how awesome girl's night and high heels and men's butts are, when you could be telling the truth about how you really feel as a human being, when you could be representing all of the things about you that have worth.

If you interpret anything I'm saying to be condescending to the way another mom or woman lives, you didn't understand me. I have a problem with the fact that, due to living in a fucked up society with fucked up standards, women don't understand that choosing not to exert their worth, intelligence, beauty, depth and honesty when deciding and expressing who they are is a mistake.

I believe these things, not because I just think I'm right and somebody else is wrong. I believe them because I think we're all the same, whether we're "mainstream" or not... and we're all suffering and we're all experiencing joy and death and growth and heartbreak. Only, we're not saying so, because, as a culture of women, we've come to erroneously believe that people just want to see how fun and stylish and pretty we are, not how we're monsters and gods who are capable of staggering and breathtaking things.

I don't have a problem with wine.
I don't have a problem with shoes.
I don't have a problem with shopping or mani/pedis or men's butts.
I don't care how other moms are enjoying themselves in their free time.
I enjoy myself, too.

I just have a problem with a culture that assumes that we're a bunch of vapid idiots, and that we succumb to those expectations by behaving that way. I'm tired of reading about how "empowered" we are because we have jobs and don't bake, but in the same breath we're just brainless women who spend money while looking fabulous and drinking wine.


-

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Don't you hate baking but LOVE WINE AND SHOES?

Can I complain for a minute?

I'm feel uninspired in the mommy/housewifey arena. Sometimes it feels like I'm surrounded by women who love wine and girl's nights and nap time and who consider shopping for high heels to be some kind of emotional therapy.

Don't get me wrong, I long for nap time, but really? I long for my girls more. I need time for myself, but I need them more. I need them to be happy, and it's hard work and I'm tired and I'm lost, but not so lost that I'm about to jump on the DON'T YOU LOVE WINE AND SHOES bandwagon?

It's just that lots of times I don't feel relevant, but really, I'm only unpopular. It's not that every woman in the world wants to clean their kitchen floor in heels AND LOOK FABULOUS DOING IT! It's not that every mommy in the world wants wine more than they want to have their children. It's not that every woman who writes, writes about slipping up and eating a cookie and how she needs to get control or else she might GAIN FIVE POUNDS, oh no!

I know that you are all out there, I do. Sometimes, I just get discouraged. I feel like I'd be better off if I took Zumba class and checked out men in their twenties wearing jeans, or whatever. I feel like every turn I take, there is another woman wiping her hands clean of men and shopping for expensive pajamas to wear while eating cookie dough in front of the tv, because that's what we empowered women do! You might look at us and think we're all shaven and impeccably eyelined, but behind closed doors we're actually, naughty... cue the wine and Sex In The City, or whatever it is that women are watching now and pretending it's in line with feminism or maintaining any sort of integrity or pride.

The truth is, I'm not clean and manicured. I don't think that having a glass of wine makes you a rebel or free. I don't wait all day for nap time, or rather, I do... but it's only because I've exhausted myself trying to teach my children something new about themselves and the world.

And sometimes I feel like a BIG FAKE because I look at dance moms and wine moms and business moms and make up moms and DON'T YOU LOVE SHOES moms and think that they have it kind of easy. Wouldn't I be easier to sell if I wrote a book about how to walk away from a divorce wearing fabulous heels? Wouldn't it be easier to wake up in the morning if I was already looking forward to nap time and eventually wine time, while giggling to myself over how deliciously terrible I was.

Because that's what womanhood is about, right?

Coasting through everything that might make you work hard at being human, so that you can get to GIRL TIME! Sorry husbands, you'll have to open your own beer tonight because the girls and I are going out for wine and dancing!

Why don't we understand that behaving this way just confirms that we've been effectively marginalized? That somebody realized that women were demanding domestic freedom, but that they hadn't figured anything out about human freedom... so just toss some fashion magazines and shoes at them and make them think they're exercising their girl power by refusing to bake bread or own a jello mold and let them keep themselves busy babbling over there, WHERE NOBODY ELSE CARES WHAT THEY'RE SAYING BECAUSE TALKING ABOUT SHOPPING AND BREAK UPS AND WINE IS FUCKING STUPID.

So, that's how I've been feeling, lately. Maybe you've noticed that I've been a little withdrawn from the Online Mommy world, and that's why. I sort of feel like if I have to read one more piece written by a woman talking about WINE or SHOES or HOW ANNOYING THEIR KIDS ARE, I might totally fucking lose it.

But, really... you are smart people. I'm always amazed by the insight you provide and the ways you articulate yourselves as people. So, let's talk. I need to get my relevance back. What's on your mind?


-

Monday, September 12, 2011

First day of school! First day of school!

Today is the first day of preschool for Scouty! Like lots of moms, I feel a little uneasy about how quickly my girl is getting big, but mostly, I'm just really excited for all the things she'll learn and do. She's going to make so many new friends and have so many wonderful experiences making art and playing and cooking.

She was awake before Louise this morning and we sat on the couch together snuggling and laughing and saying, "First day of school! First day of school!" just like Nemo and his dad.

I remember her first day of school ever.

I remember how I broke down crying the night before while I packed her lunch. I walked into the living room where Kurt was watching sports and announced, "I need a hug."

She was nervous in the morning. I remember how uneasy she looked as I said goodbye, but she stayed brave and tucked her little lip back in and waved as I backed out of the classroom, fighting back tears. I was 37 weeks pregnant with Louise; Scouty wasn't even a big sister, yet. She was my tiny baby and how much I loved her was bigger than the reach of the sun.

The two and a half hours that made up her first day were the most agonizing of my life. Kurt rushed into town on his lunch break so that we could both be there to pick her up at the end of the day. We stood, holding hands, anxious and arriving thirty minutes early. We paced and checked the clock. I felt mildly amputated, like a part of me had been severed and I was dying without her.

I can see it so clearly in my memory. We walked into the room and all of the kids were playing and running around with toys and there was my little Bee, sitting quietly at the table by herself, eating her lunch. It was so hard not to run to her and fall down at her feet. She was so wonderful and perfect. She smiled and told us that she wasn't done eating yet, that she didn't want to leave until her lunch was gone.

Ever since that day, she has expanded my love for the world through her experiences at school. She has made me to understand how much people want something to love, how they're not unkind, not really. Just by being her, she has helped more love to exist in the world. She inspires people to want to be kind and mild. I am so proud of everything she has accomplished in one year and two summers.

When I meet with her teachers for a parents only conference and they say, "Scout can come to the meeting with you. There isn't anything we have to say that she shouldn't hear." When they tell me how she's a friend to everyone, how she's a diplomat and tries so hard to put the needs of her friends ahead of her own, I feel like I might just die from all the pride inside my heart, swelling and growing inside of me until I'm full and fragile like a balloon.

Today is the first day of another year of school and I'm not nervous. I didn't cry packing lunches and sister and daddy and I won't be waiting outside of the closed classroom door a half hour early. I have learned and grown a lot too. I understand that I've done my best to make my girl prepared for the world and that I don't have to worry about anything else. I've loved her the most out of all the loves in the world. She's living that love and because of her, I don't have to worry about what will come next.


Although, I lied about not crying this year. As I looked at these pictures from her first day of school ever...




Compared with pictures from today...



I won't lie. I totally got a little teary.




-

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wild...

I was young and wild, once. It's funny how, no matter how much fun it was, no matter how alive and dangerous my past, I don't long for it at all. I am so grateful to be in my thirties, to love something other than myself and freedom. I am so glad that I don't have to spend all of my time thinking about myself. It's exhausting, being obsessed with yourself.

On the surface, it seems like waking up early in the morning to sneak in a quick shower while the baby babbles in her bed and the big girl eats waffles in front of the tv. It seems like getting dressed for three and keeping an entire family healthy and happy and safe would be more work than being young, but it's not.

It might seem strange, given that I do more in a day now than I did in a lifetime of being a girl, that I find it so relieving to be so occupied. It's just that, it's easy to be in love with my family. They are just loveable.

Still though, sometimes I can remember what it felt like to feel sunlight on my shoulders, to know that I had no home, no money and nowhere to be.



From an email I got from Kurt on Friday:



I'm sick of drooling all over myself, shoving this wild, desperate desire in your face. It is, ultimately, embarrassing for me. Every night, I try to convince myself not to do it anymore. But every day, I go wild again. And I don't know what to do with myself.

So here I go, again.

I. This picture, you and Audra giggling wasted on a weekday afternoon, talking about us getting married, deciding to see what you'd look like holding a wildflower bouquet, with a couple more flowers tied into your dreadlocks - I would marry this girl every day of my life for all eternity. If you asked me to, I'd crush the world flat around you and push everything into the black sea, so that you could have the sun all to yourself, the way it's dazzling off of your skin in this picture.

II. This picture, perhaps more than any other, is exactly how I remember you from that time. By this, I mean very specifically. I mean your hair, this expression, that shirt, that skirt - that's how you look and exactly what you're wearing when I close my eyes. But in a more general way, again, this is exactly how I remember you. Soft and glowing, spilling out of your clothes.

III. Your body is a road map. Look at this body. Evolution, a million souls have lived and died to create the perfection of the line of your body that would lead my fingertips to trace naturally down the soft white curve of your shoulder.

IV. I miss you having this freedom on the grass in the sun, playing with flowers. I vow to you that I will give this freedom back to you. I can't promise you anything else - that we'll be rich or that life will ever be relaxing and easy, or anything. But I can promise you this - one day, sooner than you think, Scouty and Louisey will both go to school from about 8 until 4 every day, and I will go to work, and every day will be another sparkling gem for you to enjoy. This will seem like it's me doing something nice for you, and perhaps it is. But it's also doing something very, very nice for me. Because for me to picture you out in the world, enjoying the freedom of your own mind and motion - there is nothing that I could ever want more than that. I hope, at that time, that we'll be able to return to a place where you send me beautiful words that are meant only for me, accompanied with pictures of your adventures out in the world. That would mean everything to me.

Maturity - I am now filled with an intense desire to ramble on about a million lurid memories from our youth. Not a joke, not an exaggeration, my absolute intention is to send you this letter, then spend about ten or fifteen or thirty minutes, staring at this picture and writing all of those memories and desires down, before clicking delete and walking away. This is how badly I love you.


-

Friday, September 9, 2011

Everybody loves you, but you're gone.

I'm probably unbalanced, lately. I can't keep myself from bending the binding, I'm up until early in the morning with the overhead light on and pages fluttering in my lap. I would spend a year in bed, if I could. After all of this, I could sleep as a stone.

I've been waking up early and making my way through dew and darkness to sweat under the fluorescent lights at the gym. I've been running out on my family during dinner and coming home halfway into my time with Kurt.

I feel oddly possessed with stories, with making a story. I feel close to making my story complete and I'm preoccupied.

Sometimes I don't write. Sometimes I want to go to the farm in the evening for pumpkin butter, and there's yard work on the weekend. Sometimes I take my time at the health food store, using up my lazy Sundays. Lately, all I've wanted is a dark place and time. I've constructed everything so that I can disappear in the evenings, so that I can swiftly walk the silent stacks to find a corner alone.

I've always talked to myself. Ever since I was a little girl, I've never been alone, not really. In the shower, walking to school, I mutter to myself, pretending. There have always been people who aren't alive. There have always been stories that distract me and make me greedy for lonely places.

While I fall asleep at night, I run through them, all of my scenarios, and I construct myself in my blankets, between sleeping and waking, being somebody else. The things I'd say, the things I'd do if I weren't myself.

I'd follow you to Ireland and nobody would know we were there. I wouldn't want anything, only a picture that I'd keep secret.

I'm rich and I've chosen somewhere it's always winter and fireplace, somewhere with a giant window that looks out onto a wasteland. Inside, it's always warm.

We're young and you're always out of my reach. Your hair is dirty and you've been missing. Everybody loves you, but you're gone.


I've been making a lot of things up, lately. I like writing long, winding things. I like exhausting myself for a stretch of story that makes me believe for a minute that I'm not anything at all. I've just got the quilts pulled up over my eyes and I'm dreaming.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blogher Book Club Review - Slow Love by Dominique Browning



The thing about Slow Love by Dominique Browning is that it’s not even a terrible read. Browning’s voice is actually charming and lively, it’s just everything the she says that gets to me.

This is the story of a divorced woman who has money, lives in a huge, beautiful house in a wealthy suburb of NYC, shops on Saturday at the farmer’s market and her biggest concern during a portion of the book is the waistband of her expensive, designer pajamas. She has also recently lost her job and is carrying out a tedious affair with a married man. She goes so far down the rabbit hole at one point, that she starts eating an entire cookie each day. (Mind you, she splits it into two halves, what is she? An animal?)

Given that she is basically living a privileged dream life, I have a hard time identifying with her state of listlessness and depression. Her hardships basically boil down to being mostly self-inflicted “first world pains.” You know, like… my pillow is too squishy and I can’t see the tv without straining my neck?

So, let’s talk about her cookie addiction. She says on p. 45, “I break the cookie in two, behaving in that fetishistic way of a junkie. Halfway into the chocolate chip, my heart begins to race.” Seeing that I’ve been an actual junkie, that I’ve read gut-wrenching memoirs written by actual junkies, I found her issues to be a little less than gripping.

Don’t even get me started about her understanding of feminism. No really, don’t. It won’t be pretty, so I’ll save it for the discussions. Head over to Blogher's Book Club and find out what the Blogher Bloggers thought of Slow Love.


-
This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge - Hay For a Dead Horse

This is my piece for this week's Indie Ink writing challenge. The way it works is that you sign up for the challenge weekly, and you'll be paired with another participant who will create a writing prompt for you, and you have a few days to write and submit your piece. (Click HERE if you'd like to participate next week.


This week, I challenged femmefauxpas with the prompt, "I'm not actually married. I'm not actually anything."

I was challenged by Carrie of Views From Nature. Her prompt was:

"Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse." -Groucho Marx.


Here's my response.

----------------------------------------



White Horse
photo by nigel wedge



Petal was my mother’s horse. She had a wild blue eye and one brown, her mane flowed like corn silk. For as long as I could remember, that horse was the only thing my mother loved. Petal died over a year ago. My father doesn’t understand, or he refuses to understand that she’s gone.

The sheriff came by with divorce papers shortly after she left. My mom wasn’t like most women. She didn’t cook and her legs were too long for all of her clothing. She left town with a man from the rodeo. He had a mustache that exceeded the limits of his chin. I suppose you could have called him a cowboy, although my dad also fit that bill, he just didn’t have any pants with rhinestones embedded along the seam.

With my mother being gone, Petal refused everyone. We couldn’t get near her to brush her and feed her. I left her a pile of feed in the straw of her stall. More often than not, she didn’t even push it around with her nose. She got sick pretty quickly. A lot of horses around here did. They ran wild with fevers that burned them up from the inside out. She stood in the lightning and rain, her skin jumping and twitching and her one blue eye catching the electricity and chilling me straight through to the bone. Soon after she started foaming at the mouth, I found her twisted and crippled and still in the moonlight.

My father gives my mother half of his paycheck every month, even though she ran off on him. My mother was more beautiful than a man like my father deserved, at least that’s how I figured the spell he was under. He had a flesh and blood son living under his roof, but half of his money went to the runaway Lila Jane and the other half he drank on Saturday nights. “She needs some time away,” is all he would say of her betrayal. “I’m not going to let her starve out there.”

The week after we buried Petal, I was fishing at the stream that made up the border of our property. It was a sunny, mild day and I was all but falling asleep there on the bank, when suddenly my dad came lumbering through the brambles, swearing and spitting, asking me why I hadn’t gone into town for supplies.

“We don’t really need anything that can’t wait until the weekend, Dad,” I said.

My Pa spent his weekends drunk. He sat heavy and grey on a stool at Cain’s Bar and stared at his hands for the duration of a bottle of whiskey. It was my duty as his son to wait for him all night in the truck. As the last drunks slunk into the alley behind the bar to piss, my father’s voice sounded out of the dark, beautiful and sad. He sang his old cowboy songs the whole way home, his head hanging out of the window and his sorrow rising right up to the moon. I was planning to pick up some groceries and things on Saturday while we were already there. We were a little low on soap, maybe, but we could manage until then.

“The horse needs hay!” he shouted at me. “Get your ass into town.”

“She’s dead, Dad,” I said. “A dead horse isn’t gonna eat any hay.”

He lunged for me and took a swing at my head. I dropped my pole into the water, cursing him for making me lose it. That fishing pole was one of my few possessions in this world. He was on top of me before I could get my feet under me in the silt of the riverbank. I struggled good and hard, but he was heavier than me, and meaner. He held my arms down to my sides with his thighs and beat the shit out of me. Eventually, I wriggled a hand free and pulled my other worldly possession out of my pants and flicked it open. The ten inch blade gleamed ornery in the friendly sunlight.

“I know you’re drunk, Daddy,” I said. “So, I’m not going to kill you. I need you to get up off of me, though and maybe I won’t hurt you too bad.”

“She needs hay and feed,” he said, his eyes a faraway shade of green. “Just because she’s--” He paused. “It just isn’t right to forget all about her.”

I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about, but I didn’t want to have bad blood between us. “What do you want me to do, Dad?” I asked, as he rolled and got off of me.

“Go into town like you always have,” he said.

And so, I did. I went out and bought a big bag of feed and a bale of hay, just like if Petal was still alive and my mom still loved us. Every week since then, I’ve rattled along the gravel road into town and returned with the horse’s things. The feed I always left in the bed of the truck and took it with us on Saturdays. While my old man put in his time at the bar, I took it over to Annie Carpenter’s house, they had a whole field of horses and very little money. I knew they could use all the help they could get. Plus, Annie Carpenter was blonde and long-legged like my mom. Twice as wild, too and someday soon I was going to lose her.

The hay, I spread some of it over the garden to keep the weeds down. I stacked some of it into a kind of retaining wall at the edge of the bed of petunias my mother planted every year. There was no use in letting something beautiful go to shit just because she left us. Mostly, I’ve started building stuff out of the bales.

I didn’t have much space in Dad’s house, so I turned the barn into a home away from home, of sorts. Using horse blankets and feed sacks, I made a set of comfortable chairs out of the bales. I made a sofa and a little day bed, where I could invite Annie without anybody interrupting us. As a matter of fact, we christened the bed just this weekend.

My dad came out to the barn, once and surveyed everything I’d done. He didn’t seem to find anything wrong with it, and besides, Petal didn’t need any hay, now. “It’s your money, boss,” I told him and the golden strands just kept piling up under my makeshift roof. I’ve been putting my feet up on the sofa and thinking about becoming a rodeo man myself, someday.


-

Monday, September 5, 2011

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall List!

Today is the last day of summer and it's appropriately rainy and chilly. I'm not gonna let this get me down.

We had so much fun crossing things off our Summer List. Here's how we did:

1. Go to Erie
2. Go Camping
3. Play in the waterfall on the North Shore
4. Host a dinner party outside, with a fire.
5. Go to the Indiana County Fair in my hometown
6. Go hiking
7. Go to the drive ins
8. Make Lemon Blueberry cupcakes Well, we made a cake and that's close enough!
9. Go to Soergel's Farm and have ice cream
10. Make organic Banana Pudding Pops
11. Campfire bananas - (Thank you Burgh Baby!)
12. Landscape the back yard
13. Play basketball with Kurt
14. Teach Scouty to really ride her bike.
15. Get my very first pedicure.
16. 30 days of smoothies
17. Edit my book I'm getting there, slowly.
18. Take a nap
19. Go to the movies with my husband
20. Take Scouty to an outdoor movie in the park
21. Have a snow cone
22. Go to the strip on Saturday morning with Daddy and the girls
23. Go out for breakfast
24. Persuade Kurt to call off work one day and have an adventure.
25. Smell a newborn
26. Mulch the flowerbeds

28. Have an awesome giveaway
29. Bobby pin updos
30. Go to the park first thing in the morning before everybody else gets up
31. Get a hammock stand
32. Commit a completely random act of kindness
33. Iced Herbal Coffee Lattes with decadent flavored cream
34. Get rid of all the stuff we don't need
35. Lose 20 lbs
36. Swim in the ocean
37. Make Louisey's birthday cake, from scratch, all by myself
38. Play an awesome game of Kickball
39. Go to Idlewild Park
40. Picnic on Mt. Washington
41. Go to Mineral Beach Pool
42. Read a whole book on the beach
43. Make the yummiest dessert in the world and share it
44. Catch fireflies with Scouty
45. Use our free pass to Bower Hill Swim Club
46. Visit the country
47. Pick berries
48. Tomato sandwiches from the garden on homemade bread
49. Visit GG's grave
50. Bring flowers to someone

Not bad for a summer full of adventures, right?

So, now it's time for goodbye to swimming and camping and movie nights in the park, overlooking the beautiful city.




We love you, Summer!



But, don't fret, now... because here is our super duper extra fun Fall Fun List!



1. Pick Apples
2. Make Halloween Costumes
3. Hayrides
4. IUP Homecoming Parade
5. Simmons Pumpkin Festival
6. Ride the Tunnel Bike Trail
7. Visit Soergels Farm and get yummy Pumpkin Butter
8. Prepare garden beds for next year
9. Go hiking
10. Walk around IUP campus
11. Play at Anderson Playground and have lunch in Oakland
12. Get one fiction piece in a perfect state and submit to literary journals
13. Fall reading list
14. Go to a Haunted House
15. Go on a date with Kurt
16. Ride the North Shore Trail on my bike
17. Go on a Gateway Clipper Riverboat sightseeing tour
18. Pick Apples
19. Eat Pumpkin Pie
20. Ride the Incline to the top of Mt. Washington
21. Do something brave
22. See a scary movie
23. Warm Cider and a Fire
24. Kabocha Squash with Honey and Thyme
25. Go on a hayride
26. Apple Festival
27. Go to Round Hill Farm
28. Lose 20 lbs.
29. Start Xmas Shopping
30. Cut sugar (almost) completely out of my diet.
31. Dye my hair
32. Pile of leaves at the bottom of a slide!
33. Lay down landscaping fabric
34. Build a raised bed in front of the house
35. Get a replacement wheel and rollerskate
36. Get control of my diet and eat only whole, clean things.
37. Finish my manuscript
38. Write a good query letter
39. Go to the Trolley Museum
40. Bake a cinnamon swirl bread
41. Get Louisey Walking full time!
42. Cook with gratuitous amounts of pumpkin
43. Herbal Coffee Lattes
44. Buy a cool hat
45. Get back into a yoga and weights routine
46. Get a used baby bike seat
47. Drink fresh pressed apple cider
48. Decorate for Halloween
49. Go to The Strip on a weekend morning with Daddy
50. Go to a Halloween Parade


How about you? What's on your Fall Fun List?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Through the eyes of my Scouty B.

Scouty got a camera for her birthday. That was in April. This whole time we've never uploaded her pictures to the computer. Honestly, a lot of them are snapshots of her feet or the television. In fact, the day after her birthday, she sat in the armchair in our living room and took exactly 84 pictures of the television. As you're about to see, though, that's not all there is to her photographic persuasions.

We finally took a look at her photos today, and honestly... they're wonderful. It is totally delightful to get a chance to see the world from her little vantage point. We thought that you might like to see a day in the life of my brilliant 4 year old super girl, too.

Here we go...

































So, there she is. My big girl and the way she sees the world. Precious.