Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Profiles in Awkwardness

The writers' group I attend, Trinity Writers' Workshop, recently asked its members for blog posts for the group's website. I figured it would be a fun thing to do since I hadn't written one in a while. Eventually this story will be featured on their blog, but I decided to post it here as well, especially since it's mostly a different audience here. This story was a moment in my life that was just begging to be written down. I hope you enjoy.

*     *     *

It's fake Thanksgiving, and I’m anxious. Even though the people around me are known and loved, I’m in a crowd. I don’t like crowds. Even at my church’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner. My hands and upper lip sweat profusely, and I struggle to keep hold of my wriggling toddler. My cheeks flush, and I feel hot.
We’re a little later than most of the crowd, so I hunt for a table with enough empty seats for myself and my two girls. My husband is playing Navy as one of his monthly reserve weekends. The Navy is really talented at picking important dates for drill. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, our children’s birthdays. Give me pretty much any important occasion in our family’s life during the year, and there will be drill on that weekend. But I digress.
I spot a table with only two ladies. I don’t recognize these ladies, so I figure they are new to the church. And there’s nothing quite like meeting new people during a mild panic attack, right? So I steer myself and my oldest toward the table, and we introduce ourselves and sit down. Mercifully, seeing one red-faced mom and two small children, someone brings us food instead of having to wait in line. Bless them.
As I cut, doctor, and re-distribute offensive food (in preschool eyes) for my children, I try to engage these ladies in conversation. I ask the older one, “So, what do you do?”
“I’m disabled.”
Conversation killer number one. Sweat beads on my forehead. I try the younger one. “What do you do, then?”
“I’m unemployed.”
Conversation killer number two. My left eye twitches. I start praying. I guess I should have thought of that earlier. God is merciful, though, and sends over Linda (we’ll call her), who knows these ladies and smoothes over the conversation a bit.
“Hi, Linda! How are you?” I say, a little too brightly. As it turns out, Linda’s been sick. I feel bad for her, but her talking about her illness gives me a few moments of respite. I lose track of the conversation about the time that I realize that the rest of the table is staring at me. I think, Were you talking to me?
“I’m sorry, were you talking to me?” The three sets of eyes staring at me like I’d just sprouted an extra arm tell me that when I asked that question in my head less than five seconds earlier, I had actually spoken it aloud. I just asked the same question twice in ten seconds. Conversation killer number three. Smooth.
I am normal! I have social skills! I want to scream it out for the whole world to hear, but I figure I’ve done enough damage for one day.
I decide to cut my losses, and I get out of there as quickly as manners allow. I hope the turkey was good. I don’t really remember.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Homestead Hunger

I have a dream.

I want to have a homestead. You know, grow our own fruits and veggies, have chickens that lay eggs, maybe have a beehive or two for the honey. I’d love to have a few well-producing fruit trees too. Sure, I’d like to have a few acres to spread out on and have a few goats, and maybe even a llama or two in the mix, but that might not ever happen.

So, for now, I’ll have to content myself with becoming an urban homesteader. That means that I (we, really) will convert our poor, forlorn, overgrown lawn into a homesteader’s paradise. We’ll have raised garden beds with strawberries, tomatoes, chiles, squash and the like. We’ll have a vermicomposting bin somewhere (that’s worms for those of you who don’t do garden-speak). We’ll have a special area of potted herbs, and maybe even a beehive sometime. Yes, that’s legal around here. And safer than you’d think.

Here’s the problem. This is what our back yard currently looks like:

Nice, huh? So how will we accomplish this monumental task, you ask? Like the tortoise, we’ll plod along slowly, testing our mettle. We’ll plant a couple of beds this year and try our hand at growing some food. Next year we’ll plant a couple more beds. And maybe a fruit tree or two. And the year after? Maybe a beehive. Or a couple of laying hens, if the neighbors don’t tell on us. You never know. The possibilities are endless.

The point is, we’ll maximize. We’ll try to get the most out of what we’ve got. It’ll be great for the girls too. They love to be outside, and if they get to help grow their own food, then that will be all the better. Now, where’s my pitchfork?

P.S. I don't know what's up with the formatting. I've tried to fix it. Several times. I'll come back tomorrow and try to fix it. Again. Argh.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Mind of a Child

I almost always enjoy seeing life through Jewel’s eyes. Yesterday, on our way home from taking family portraits, Jewel started making this noise in the car. It was terrible. If I had to give it a name, I’d call it Dying Velociraptor. Well, I was already in a bad mood (family portraits, ugh), so I turned around and asked her to stop.

She said, “Why won’t you let me squeak?”

“That noise drives me up the wall.”

She was confused. “But you’re so big. You’re not supposed to be on the ceiling.”

And there you have it. At once both illuminating and ridiculous. I love it! Thomas and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Stories like these bring to mind experiences from my childhood, but as a parent I now see them in a whole new light.

For instance, when I was in elementary school and living in Michigan, I was a Girl Scout. And as a Girl Scout, I was obligated to sell Girl Scout Cookies (Mmm... Thin Mints). So, my best bud, Angela and I would go out door-to-door in my neighborhood and hit up the neighbors for petty cash.

This was a great plan. Until we got to that house. That house, which looked just as innocuous as every other house on the block, was terrifying. That house had... dunh, dunh, dunh... a scary note!

The note said: “Please knock. Kid napping.”

Now, my adult brain goes all calm and rational and says, “Oh. They have a young child who is asleep. I must knock instead of ringing the doorbell.” But my not-calm, not-rational little kid brain said, “AAAHHHHH!!!!! Kidnappers!!!!! AAAHHHHH!!!!” And we ran all the way back to the safety of my house and my mom.

Mom laughed, but not too hard. She’s nice like that.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Christmas on the Brain: Santa's Lament

Ever since my Rudolph story, I've had Christmas on the brain. Plus, the TWW Christmas Book needed additional items to fill it up. So I whipped up a short, cheesy Christmas poem. Poetry really isn't my best area, but it's fun for me. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It'll take you about the same amount of time.

Santa’s Lament

My job, it is a hard one
As everybody knows.
For one I’m dressed in velvet
From my cap down to my toes.
Mrs. Claus even makes sure
I’ve got velvet underclothes.
For a chap who’s rather hefty
It’s warm, don’t you suppose?

And then there are the reindeer.
Have you tried to teach them flying?
You know what I call sleigh rides?
Simply terrifying.
We’ve had eight different coaches
All left the North Pole crying.
I even used some magic dust
When I had to give up trying.

But the last straw came last Christmas
When I stopped in Timbuktu.
There’s a boy there named Benlaki
Who was feeling rather blue.
He didn’t want to miss me.
He knew just what to do.
You know what Ben has taught me
That I now relay to you?

Make sure you check for fireworks
Before you hit the flue.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How Rudolph Got His Nose

Since I am an aspiring writer, I have recently joined the Trinity Writers' Workshop. Every Christmas, the people of TWW man a booth down in the Fort Worth Stockyards where they help children write letters to Santa. They also hand out booklets of Christmas stories written by TWW members. It is their way of giving back to the community, and it gives everyone warm fuzzies to imagine parents settling down in their favorite recliners, reading our stories to their children. This story will, I hope, be my contribution to the booklet this year.

How Rudolph Got His Nose

I didn’t always have this big red honker, you know. I mean, sure, I wanted to be famous. Everybody knows those other reindeer— Comet, Cupid, and all those guys. They’re household names too. But who wants to have a song sung about them for having a giant red nose? Especially one that blinks like a broken stoplight! Not me!

Not that it didn’t come in handy, mind you, but if I had to save Christmas, that’s not the way I would’ve picked. Nope, not what I would have picked at all. I used to have a great nose. My nose was superb! Perfect, even. But one December day, all of that changed in an instant. Well, a couple of instants, actually. It happened like this:

There I was, clip-clopping along to Games practice, listening to some swank festive tunes on my SkyPod, and admiring my perfectly black, non-light-emitting reindeer nose. I was just thinking that maybe I’d stop at the cafeteria for a little snack on my way when I smelled the sweetest, chocolatiest, most heavenly smell known to reindeer-kind. That glorious aroma could only mean one thing— Mrs. Claus was baking her famous, fabulous, fantastic Carrot Chocolate Chip Cookies. My nose twitched, my mouth watered, and my feet moved themselves toward Claus Cottage’s kitchen window.

I peeked in the open window and watched Mrs. Claus. She was pleasantly plump and rosy-cheeked, with her wavy silver hair in a soft bun and a frilly white apron on over her old fashioned red corduroy dress. I eyed each delectable cookie as she slid it expertly off the pan and onto the cooling rack with her spatula. Just one, I thought. Then, who am I kidding? I’d eat the whole pan in one gulp if she’d let me.

Wham! A snowball smashed into the back of my head, right between my antlers. I didn’t even have time to turn around before another one sailed past me. This one hit the window above me with a thwack and jarred it loose. The window dropped faster than Santa’s pants without suspenders. And do you know where it landed? That’s right— on my perfect reindeer nose.

Fast forward five minutes, and life was only getting worse for me. My nose throbbed terribly. It was the size of a baseball, and it was still swelling.

“Wow, can you see past that thing?” said Dasher. Blitzen was still laughing. He was the one who threw the missiles.

“Rudolph, you’d better go to the infirmary. You certainly can’t play Reindeer Games like that,” said Mrs. Claus with concern as she examined me through the window, which had been opened again to free my snout.

“Yeah, see ya later, Big Nose,” called Blitzen.

I hobbled toward the infirmary. It was a good thing I knew the way because it was getting harder to see around my burgeoning nose. When I arrived, a couple of maintenance elves were putting a new coat of brilliant red paint on the large wooden sign above the door. I looked up to say hi. The two elves both had small plastic pieces covering their noses. How strange.

My nose was softball-sized now, and I was definitely having trouble seeing around it. I stepped to the side of the scaffold to open the infirmary door, but I couldn’t see my feet around my nose. I heard the clink as my hoof hit the scaffold pole, and then I heard the groaning and creaking as the scaffolding swayed dangerously and threatened to topple. The elves held on tight. I held my breath and ducked, bracing myself for the worst. But the platform didn’t fall. It settled back against the infirmary wall slowly, like an old house cat laying down for a midday nap. I huffed in relief.

Then I heard an ever-so-delicate plop. Right in front of my eyes, every inch of my now grapefruit-sized nose was covered in a perfect coat of gleaming red paint. I laughed nervously.

“Sorry, guys. That could have been so much worse, huh?” I said, looking up. The elves weren’t smiling. They weren’t even angry. Instead, they were staring, open-mouthed, down at my nose in horror.

“W-w-wwhat?” I said. “It’s just a little paint. It’ll wash right off.” They shook their heads in unison. “It won’t wash off?” They shook their heads again. One of them handed me a can of unopened paint.

The can read “Elbert Elf’s Mighty Magic Enamel,” in big letters. In smaller letters below it said, “Never use another paint again! Good for all your permanent painting needs! Still looks new after 200 years or your money back!”

“Oh... kay,” I said. I didn’t get it. The elves, still open-mouthed, motioned for me to turn the can over. Down at the very bottom, in itty bitty print, it said, “CAUTION: For precision maintenance elf use only. Highly permanent. Will not wash off. Not for use on the planet Neptune.” Then, in even smaller print below that, it read, “WARNING: May cause drowsiness, dizziness, and purple polka dots on skin. Keep away from nose as product will cause permanent glowing. If swallowed, seek immediate magical medical attention.”

“Wow!” I said. “Purple polka dots! What does it mean here about the nose glowing thing?” Then I remembered the elves’ nose shields. My heart sank. “Oh no! You don’t mean... is my nose going to glow?” I answered my own question when the bulging orb on my face, slowly but surely, began to emit a pure crimson light. “So, I’m going to have a giant red glowing nose? Forever?” I gazed up at the elves in astonished desperation. They bowed their small heads sadly.

How did everything go so wrong, so quickly? I mean, I know it wasn’t all bad. I did save Christmas just a couple weeks later. All that fog and everything. I guess I should just be grateful for what I’ve got. I am famous, after all. And everyone knows my name. Most folks can’t remember all eight of those other guys. I’ve even saved two other Christmases. Fog again. You’d be surprised how often that happens. I should be proud of myself. At least, that’s what my therapist tells me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Imagination Domination

The other day, an acquaintance asked me what my hobbies are. I asked, tongue-in-cheek, “You mean besides singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and cleaning up bodily waste?” She didn’t get it. This was a sure sign that this lady was not, as Anne Shirley would say, a kindred spirit.

I decided that the straightforward approach was best, and I told her that I like to read and write, and I might play soccer again if I can get in better shape. She was nonplussed.

“You write? Like, in a journal?”

I sighed inwardly. “No, I write whatever I want. Right now I’m working on a picture book as well as a novel for young adults, but sometimes I write poetry too.”

“Oh. I never know how people write fiction. I’d never be able to think up all those stories. Nothing that interesting ever happens to me.” She waved her hand dismissively.

“I stay at home with two little ones, so my life is interesting, but not in a murder mystery kind of way. I just have an over-active imagination.”

She gave me a blank look.

I get that a lot.

I always think it must be boring to live without imagination. I mean, what do you do when you’re at the doctor’s office, and you’ve read every page of the two 23-year-old, half-disintegrated magazines in the waiting room, and they still haven’t called your name? Me? Boom! Instant entertainment! I just switch on the ol’ television in my head, and I’m good for hours.

Of course, there’s a downside. While fun is more vivid in my head, so is fear. I had to stop watching shows like Criminal Minds and Law & Order, especially while my hubby was away on deployment. Also, I often expect events to be different than they are (a.k.a. impossibly perfect). For example, last spring, the state required me to take a first aid course for my childcare registration. In my idealistic, perfect world imagination, I pictured the class practicing myriad bandaging, splinting, and stabilization methods. I smiled happily as I envisioned a cheerful, expert instructor circulating around the room, complimenting me on my fabulous technique as he/she taught the class everything we needed to know to staunch the bleeding and be heroes.

In reality, I sat by myself in front of a cheesy video for two hours, learning how to keep an injured person still while calling 9-1-1. Not the highlight of my weekend, I assure you. So, even though I often end up being disappointed when my mundane life doesn’t live up to my daydreams, it’s no big stretch for me to imagine up an entire plot line either. Getting it all into words, with a coherent story, realistic dialogue, and compelling description? Now that’s the hard part.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Merry Adventures of Droppin' Hood

As most of you know, my little Jewel had her tonsils out last Monday. While I was not thrilled to put her through the trauma of surgery at the age of four, the procedure was a necessary evil. Poor Jewel started out with occasional tonsillitis here and there, but by the end, she was going on two months with the same bout of illness. And you should have seen the size of her tonsils. Biblical. Seriously.

Jewel did very well, the surgery was very short, and we got to come home quite soon after she was done. Of course, we had a minor hold-up in the recovery room.

NEWS ALERT: Thomas is squeamish.

He doesn’t do blood, guts, bodily goo, or general squishiness related to the human vessel (not in real life anyway). Or apparently, as we learned this time, he doesn’t do the mere suggestion of any of those things either. At least not when it comes to his family.

When Jewel was waking up from anesthesia, she started a very loud, very nasty cough. It went away quickly, but I was not surprised when Thomas said, “I’m feeling a little green.” He got up to walk around on the pretext of using the restroom. I thought, “Good. He’ll get a little air, Jewel will wake up enough, and we can go home. No big deal.”

When he returned in short order, saying, “I feel kind of dizzy,” I started to get a little nervous.

When he sat down quickly and said, “I think I’m going to pass out,” and then proceeded to do so, I started to get a lot nervous.

So, let’s recap. Here I am, sitting in a rocking chair with a 40 pound, semi-conscious child on my lap. I am both trying to comfort her and keep from mangling the IV in her foot. I am also trying to keep her from sliding off of my lap because my legs are too short for the chair. This is a two handed (and legged) job. Then, I am forced to catch my now unconscious husband with one of those already needed hands, call for a nurse (who looks worriedly at Jewel, then confusedly at Thomas), and try my best to keep him from crumpling unceremoniously to the floor.


At this time, Thomas is unconscious, eyes rolled back, twitching, snorting, the whole nine yards. Television makes it look like people just keel over and get really still when they pass out, like they’re sleeping or something. It ain’t that pretty.

Fast forward five minutes. Jewel is still on my lap, but Thomas is in Jewel’s hospital bed, recovering sufficiently for us to go home. Jewel’s fine. She’s ready to go. Just waiting on Thomas. *suspiciously innocent whistling*

Everything turned out okay. Thomas is fine. Jewel is still recovering, but she’s fine. I’m over it. Mostly.

But hey, at least we learned something. We now know that if there is a next time, Thomas (now known as Sir Faints-a-Lot, which can be abbreviated as Sir FAL (Mwah ha ha ha!)) stays home with the kids, and Grandmommie tags along to the hospital. We’ll all be a little safer that way.