Friday, November 23, 2012

Taking a Moment to Wallow

I hate it when I feel like a failure. It stinks. I stink.

Today, was only one day after the National Day of Thanksgiving. Yet, I holed up in my room with two books and a bag of Sour Cream & Cheddar potato chips. I never do that. Well, not with potato chips, anyway. But such was the day.

It probably had a little to do with the-day-after-Thanksgiving recovery. I did bake six pies over a 24 hour period leading up to the actual feast. I also prepped several side dishes and made a triple batch of rolls. Not that I was actually hosting the dinner, no, my awesome sister-in-law volunteered for that. She took care of the turkey and potatoes and two different types of stuffing and four additional pies. And she got to orchestrate all the madness of timing all the dishes to be hot.

I just brought extra sides because my kids are such picky eaters, last year they only ate a few bites of turkey and some black olives.

I was mortified.

My sister-in-law is a follower of Rachel Ray and is always coming up with cool new ways to fix traditional foods. The turkey this year had a glaze consisting of orange juice and soy and lost of other stuff that made it scrumptious! I made sure my kids had no idea as we loaded up their plates with turkey and dished up the straight-from-the-can sweet corn and the straight-from-the-box stuffing. They actually ate fairly well this year, and had two helpings of pie. Some even had thirds.

So Thanksgiving wasn't bad, it was actually pretty good.

I guess it was partly the lead up. Monday, I spent at my oldest's middle school, shadowing him. The poor kid is genuine and kind ... and seems to get close to failing at least two classes once a semester. This time it was three classes. So, I prepped some colorful printouts about his learning disability and things that help him the best to share with each teacher as I came into class. Wouldn't you know, three of them were gone. I couldn't very well give them to subs. I sat in his classes and observed and checked out where the assignments were posted and reminded him (discreetly) to write them down in his planner. I worried the whole time I would embarrass him, but the sweet kid told me on the way home it was the best day of middle school ever.

The next day, I spent a lot of the day cleaning before Grandma and Grandpa pulled in from out of state. This mostly involved bathrooms and kitchens (I have five sons, remember), but then I saw my home with new eyes and saw the ugliness of the fixer-upper that I had such grand plans for. That flooring, still awkward mismatched tile and industrial style carpeting. And the mess of a family of seven didn't exactly help the ambiance of Home Sweet Home. Well, Grandma and Grandpa were here to visit the family, not inspect my home, right?

I told myself I was right, but knew not-so-deep-down, my standards just weren't the same as my mother-in-laws. But when she showed up on the doorstep two hours earlier than I expected, all I could do was smile and push the vacuum back into the closet.

Things actually went well for the next little bit as the elementary school kiddos came home and basked in Grandma and Grandpa loooove. Then the front door opened and shut and one of the kiddos shouted that my oldest was home and that he was crying.

"Shut up!" echoed down the hallway and the library door slammed shut.

Uh-oh. I went to check out what was going on with my middle schooler. It took a while for that poor boy to speak through his tears. Every time he seemed to have it together, he'd look up and a little brother was peeking through the door or I could hear the little boys in the hallway wondering loudly why big brother was crying, and he'd melt again. Finally I told them get out of there with some lovely language that I am embarrassed to say did not reflect my upbringing, or sound wonderful in my in-laws ears, I'm sure.

I sat, feeling as though my heart was being put through a juicer as the tale finally came out. Bus ride home from middle school and someone farts. The smart-alec kid who's been a source of irritation in the past decides that my kiddo is the one who cut the cheese. The other kids lay it on. Teasing. Razzing. My kiddo tries to brush it off, but ends up just slouching in his seat with his hood over his head. When he gets off, a couple of sixth graders from the front of the bus get off too. They can see evidence of tears and start in on him. The fact that they are sixth graders is even worse degradation for my seventh grader. He tells them to quit, but unfortunately, their homes are in the same direction as ours from the bus stop. So they and a couple of kids from the other middle school who just got off their bus are following my son, joking, teasing him about being a cry baby. The leader is right beside him. My son kicks at him sideways. The other kid kicks back. My son elbows him away. The other kid punches him back. Then they are hitting each other. My son calls 'Truce' and the other kid shrugs, 'Whatever' and laughs with his buddies as my son walks as fast as he can the last two blocks home.

Poor kid. He's so shaken by the idea that he's actually gotten into a fight. He is convinced I will be disappointed he didn't 'Turn the other cheek'. My blood is up and I say, I probably would have done the same thing, no matter what I taught him before. I give lots of hugs and assurance that the other kids were the ones to start it.

And I second guess myself wondering if I have turned my son into a victim somehow. Wondering if I should just tell him to slug the other guy next time. Wondering if I should protect him more.

I know this is bullying. Yet I know that there is no anti-bullying law when he gets to college or into the work force. I wonder where is the line for protecting ones child and letting him 'grow up' and learn how to be tough. Part of me wants to enroll him in the nearest karate class  and another part of me wonders if its my fault that he cries so easily. I was so proud of his tender heart and compassion for others just the day before. He is such a GOOD kid.

I call the school to report the bullying, and of course, almost everyone's gone home. I'm told the principal will call me when she gets the message.

We're both shaken by the whole episode.

When I go to fencing lesson that night, I bring the family so they can see what I've learned the past ten weeks. But because I was sick the week before, I've hardly practiced and the awesome-sauce I've poured on the past few weeks seems to have dried up. I barely make it though the footwork and the instructor is calling my name more than any other's to remind me of my stance, of my sword grip and to for goodness sake RELAX! Hmmm. Not quite the strong, cool-mom image I want projected to my kiddos that night. Sigh!

Wednesday, I start early baking pies. Then we go to a doctors appointment. I preface this with the fact that we had an awesome family doctor when we lived in Virginia. Since we moved to Arkansas, I've put off finding a pediatrician and just taken the kids to the little clinics that the local hospital has in the Walmart stores. Close, convenient, cheap and no commitment if we don't like it. But after my 10-year-old was in the hospital half of September, I got on the stick. I already felt like a #momfail before, but now we parade in with all five kiddos and when the doctor gets down to business, we have a lot to talk about. Auditory processing disorder for the oldest, recovery from surgery with the next, learning disability and possible ADD for #3 son and for the fourth I start to mention possibility of ADD with him and the doctor, noticing his behavior in the small room pipes up. "And hyperactivity?"

Gosh. It's obvious.

The kids were doing actually pretty good considering. But you put five boys in a doctors office and .... it gets overwhelming pretty quick and it makes it even easier to see what you don't want to see. That bright little first grader has very few filters and acts like a mexican jumping bean.

So I got a fistful of referral cards as I left the doctors office.

I took comfort in knowing I had resources. I have insurance to pay for it (at least mostly). And my youngest has no medical conditions. Yay!

Then why did I feel like I had just failed a mommy exam?

I tried to put it behind me as I prepped for Thanksgiving dinner. So, my kids might have issues, but they weren't going to embarrass me with their picky eating this year. One thing I could control.

The morning after Thanksgiving and I groan because its my oldest's birthday and I have hardly done a thing to prepare for it. I have a cake mix and a tub of frosting, the flavor he requested. Point for me. But I realized that I had very few things for him to unwrap. True, he was getting piano lessons, like he'd been asking for. And the grandparents had given him some lovely gifts already or mailed. And a gift from an aunt sat on the piano ready to unwrap. But I had been planning on buying him a new pair of jeans. He needed them. And he could use a couple of t-shirts. And maybe the latest cool Lego set. Or something else I didn't know he needed until I saw it at the store.

But it was Black Friday. And I was whupped. I couldn't bring myself to face any crowds. I felt fragile, like I'd break into tears or screams at any minute.

I started second guessing myself. What else could I give him? I HAD bought him a couple of novels at the book fair when I was with him at the middle school on Monday. We were planning on taking him to the movies with his brothers and Grandma and Grandpa. But we were going to the discount theater, which meant seeing 'Brave' not 'Wreck-It Ralph'.

I knew the boys would like much of 'Brave' if not all of it. And wasn't I educated enough to want my boys to identify with female protagonists as well as male video game heroes? But somehow that morning while I baked the cake, I felt like I was totally letting my son down. After all he had dealt with this week, didn't he deserve a fun movie tailored more to his interest? I wanted to blame my husband. It was him who was the tightwad, not me. It was his fault that we couldn't go to the perfect movie and have to settle for a girl movie.

When we got to the theater, my opinion deepened when my husband wouldn't spring for popcorn. I thought about using my own cash, except I knew I had exactly $13 in my purse. And wouldn't that make for a semi-great present if wrapped in nice scrapbooking paper? So my 4-year-old bounced between his daddy and me throughout the entire movie whining for popcorn. When we got home and my husband promised the little terror some popcorn, I reminded him of the broken microwave. Not to fear, he took himself off to the little grocery store down the street and bought a bag of popcorn. You know the kind you put in an air popper (not that we have one any more) or cook over the stove in a thick-bottomed pan. So as my husband set up making himself the hero of the day, I couldn't stand the good cheer in the kitchen and took myself and a bag of potato chips up to my room to wallow in my anger and self-pity and panic at trying to figure out WHAT to give a thirteen year old for his birthday without going to the store.

I almost got clear before dinner. I faced my lovely family and prepped something easy.

Then I couldn't find any birthday candles for the cake. I almost sat down on the kitchen floor and started bawling. My husband came to help. Not that I appreciated it at the moment. And he did find candles. My son didn't even notice that we could only find twelve. He never counted them.

And when he opened his certificate for piano lessons and his ticket to go shopping for new jeans and t-shirts with Mom or Dad and his little envelope of cash and the Civil War historical novels for middle graders that I had gotten at the latest SCBWI conference, he declared it the best birthday ever.

Yet, I still feel like a BFI truck backed into my yard this morning and dumped its contents onto my front porch. Why?   I dunno.

But I'm hoping that writing it all out will prove cathartic and that tomorrow will dawn a brighter day.

Until then, I am grumpily yours,


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Making the Past Come Alive

I have been astounded and impressed by the marvelous photos that Sergey Larenkov has produced and shared over the internet. In case you are unaware, this Leningrad native has taken old postcards and archived photographs, especially of World War II, and superimposed them upon modern photos he takes himself. This one above is of Omaha Beach during D-Day, June 6, 1944, blended with Larenkov's own photo of modern Omaha Beach.

I only discovered Larenkov's work the past few months, but each photo has so much story. I stare at the fresh faced boys under the soldier's helmets. I wonder what they wrote to their sweethearts in their letters sent off that morning in the post. Was it that much different than what the modern soldier sends today in email or skype? And yet those boys died over fifty years ago, or have become pale, wrinkled veterans in wheelchairs, unheroic in the eyes of the modern young man who slays opponents on his wii or Xbox or PS3.

Yet, seeing them with the modern trappings that are so familiar just a few pixels away, somehow make these fellows in khaki so much more...REAL.

Now, I grew up with a father who idolized World War II veterans. The father he never knew served in the South Pacific as did his four brothers. I grew up listening to tales from my great-uncles.  I know how my Uncle Chuck (the oldest) served on submarines (because he was so short, all the other uncles tell me). I know how when the youngest, Doc, enlisted up at sixteen, the middle three all signed up so they could "watch over the baby". I know the tremor in my father's voice that comes right before the climax in each story.

I remember every holiday, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, as well as Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, my dad would go down to the video store and rent a stack of movies about the men he most admired. We watched "The Longest Day" (D-Day), "Tora, Tora, Tora" (attack on Pearl Harbor), "The Great Escape" (POW camps), "The Guns of Navarone", "The Dirty Dozen", "Stalag 17", "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" are all part of the fabric of my childhood, my heritage. Yet, John Wayne and Eddie Albert, and Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson fade away when I stare at these photos.

This is real.

It happened.

And when I stare at the photo of Adolph Hitler during the occupation of Paris with the Eiffel Tower  in the background, I get chills. Because, that is not some actor looking fierce or silly in a movie. That man was there, in Paris, in Berlin, in all these places that are now beautiful and healed in another century.

We have forgotten, perhaps, the men and women who fought in uniform, the men and women who resisted, the men and women who risked their own safety to hide others. We forget that people died horrible deaths on the beaches, in the trenches, in the concentrations camps.

I have forgotten. At times, I have let my lovely modern world lull me into thinking that this could never happen again, that it is in the past. But the past is real and we must learn the lessons from those who have gone before.

As George Santayana has written, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

I hope that the past is always kept fresh enough in our memory that we can glean lessons from it in each generation. I know I've passed on to my sons the stories of their great-grandfather and great-uncles. But now they are into action movies and think a hero dresses in an iron suit or pounds villains with green fists. I think I'm going to go reserve "The Longest Day" or "The Dirty Dozen" on my library's web page now. While I'm there, I think I'll find a few more books that are age-appropriate for sharing these important stories. I think I'll dust off my book of 'Yad Vashem' (honored individuals that hid/helped Jews). I think I'll open up a conversation and tell a few more stories.

I need to share some history with my boys this weekend.


Friday, November 9, 2012


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As I mentioned yesterday, though I did fill the last half of October with revisions and edits, this week, I've been working on National Novel Writing Month. 
Or NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately called by us crazy enough to attempt writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

I've never done it before. And I'm not even doing it officially since I did start this new book back in September, because I 
Just. Couldn't. Wait.

The idea had been marinating for a year and I had two documents filled with delicious ideas. This shiny new book was begging to be written. So I started it. Then I broke off to prep for my SCBWI conference. 
When November 2nd rolled around, I had received encouragement from several friends and I made the decision to join in the madness.

I opened a new document, so I wouldn't "cheat" on word count. And I am proud to say that I have written 9558 words so far. And that was only Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Pretty dang good.

The kids were off school yesterday. And they are off today. So I'm not even guilting myself into working on it. It would just be a load of hooey anyway. Right now they are happily playing. I know it will not last long. So I am taking advantage of the moment.

Now for those who are not writers, this is what NaNo looks like from the outside: 
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I really am not smoking a pipe. But there are other signs of dissipation and letting go of the unnecessary things in life. The breakfast cereal bags and boxes stay on the table until its time to set it for dinner. Though the laundry is done, it is only stacked in the laundry room and the occupants of my home will have to find their piles and take them up themselves, thank-you-very-much!

But this is what I'm seeing in my head as I'm writing: 
Gravensteen Castle Ghent Belgium Counts of Flanders        Awesome view of Dinant fortress from across the river.
Belgium. Another view of Dinant Rock climbing in Dinant region
Images via,, and

Doesn't that look cool!
And then mix it with:

and with this creepy villain:

And you can see why I couldn't wait to start!!! 

I can't say much more now, and I've wasted enough NaNo time writing this anyway. So, off to my secluded chamber.....or not quite so secluded living room and family computer. :)


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Writing, Rewriting and Necessary Critiques

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I have been neglecting my blog again, and I must apologize. My excuse is valid, however. 

I have been writing 'real' stuff. 

Not that I'm not interested in sharing with all of you. But...after receiving a (spot-on) critique and great advice at the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference, I sent myself headfirst into revisions. My 3-hour layover in North Carolina was spent hunched over a notebook sketching out how I was going to fix the flash-backs and (mini) info-dumps that distracted from the beginning of my story. Also the wonderful Cynthia Cotten advised me to get my story out of the European Union and fix a location for my 'YA Castle Fantasy'.

So I knew 'where' in Europe this was all taking place, (Northern Italy, Eastern France) but my names reflected a more Swiss mix of French and German ....with additional slang from old England and one of the characters Spanish heritage coming on too strongly.


I hadn't even noticed this. 

So, I stared at German-sounding names in that airport and desperately coveted an Italian baby-name book. First thing, the next morning, I was on the computer trying to figure out a new name for half of my characters. Most importantly, my hero. For so long, I had been calling him Cornelius. It was so hard to let him go as Cornelius. Or as Neil, his name when he is in disguise as a commoner.

Now he is Lesandro. 


Mmmm, I like that name. I still kept typing C.o.r.n.e.l... as I wrote the revisions before I caught myself.

Finally, Lesandro is beginning to feel natural.

Once my pages filled with Lesandro and Chenzo and Hugo and Rosalba and Taddeo, I could almost taste the garlic and oil and wanted to go dance with these characters during their chestnut festival. 

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I have no idea why I couldn't see the disconnect between the names and place before. Well, yes, I can. These names were picked three years ago when the European setting was much more nebulous and my writing was only fit for spiral bound notebooks shoved under my bed.

Sometimes my writing is still only fit for shoving under my bed. 
But it's improving and I am so grateful for those who have gone before and shared their hard-won knowledge with me. 

Thank you Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators! 

(More tomorrow on my new writing project for National Novel Writing Month.)