Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Clean-sweeping the old WIP

I loved that old, now-axed show CLEAN SWEEP on TLC. It gave me hope that one day I could de-clutter my house. But of course every time I get in the middle of a de-cluttering project, it's some sort of immutable law that either (a) a neighbor will show up uninvited or (b) some medical crisis will break loose and you have to leave your pulled out clutter in situ for days on end ... in which case, clause A of the De-Clutter Law comes into full play.

The point is, of course, that everybody's junk looks the absolute worst when a person is elbow-deep in it. It looks hopeless. You've got all of it pulled out, bright and unforgiving daylight shining down on it, instead of having it tucked away in the shadows. You can't ignore it. You can't pretend it isn't there.

And what's worse? Once the junk's gone from the place it was, and you see the floor that held it, that floor's not bare. It's covered with dust bunnies and scuff marks and stuff you really don't want to ponder about. (OK, YMMV, as you may be a stickler for moving your junk and vacuuming under it, whereas I will vacuum around it. Don't care what they say, that edge cleaner on my vacuum doesn't really clean the edges.)

If I could avoid collecting the clutter to begin with, I wouldn't have this problem. But it's not always possible, because well-meaning family members WILL give you another tea pot or mug or thingamabob for the collection you didn't really want to begin with but that now is the instant answer to their gift-giving quandaries. The only thing I can do, then, is to ward off my increasing tolerance for piles of clutter in my life.

I was thinking about all this as I continued tearing apart my WIP. I am in the middle of a chapter that is pivotal to the whole book. It goes in the exact opposite direction that it needs to go in, and thus I am gutting it like the trout it is.

At the moment, the chapter is one hot mess. I keep cutting and cutting and cutting, until I think, "Gee, it'd be simpler if I just start from scratch." But then, just as I am about to highlight the entire last half of the chapter and hit DELETE, I see, sheesh, that there's some dialogue that would be PERFECT for the new chapter.

So I've got little scraps of dialogue in the midst of a lot of blank lines, and I am trying to build the chapter around those scraps.

It will happen. I still remember having to do a massive revision the first time, thinking, "I can't do this," as I cannibalized the old manuscript for the new. And then there came the tipping point, the realization, like a six year-old on a big two-wheeler, that, "Whee! I'm doing it! I'm doing it!"

I know it will come, that tipping point. I'm holding out for it -- that, and a lovely Godiva truffle, or if I can't have that, a Snickers miniature. But in the meantime? Pshew. There sure are a lot of dust-bunnies in this WIP.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jim Dandy isn't feeling so dandy

Cynthia’s grits bag, here.

Yes, I know, I’m usually content to hang out in the back corner of Cynthia’s fridge, right behind the sweet salad cube pickles and the jar of mushrooms. But enough is enough.

I’m feeling ignored. Here I am, a grain, a warm and nourishing hot cereal, the staff of life. And Cynthia pretends I don’t exist.

I’ve seen those looks she gives me. It’s all regret and remorse and “I don’t have time for you.” She lets her gaze skitter right over my blue and white Jim Dandy label and fix firmly on the butter that she’s reaching for.

Butter that, by rights, should be melting on ME, not some whole wheat bread in the toaster oven.

Talk with her about it? Talk, you say? That’s a laugh. You know how we grits bags are. We’re the strong silent types. You get as much out of us as you would out of Gibbs off NCIS. We’re all about the sticking-to-the-ribs business, not the warm and mushy stuff.

Although, I have to admit, we do the warm and mushy stuff pretty darn tootin’ well.

It’s not like I’m hard to fix. You start some salted water on the boil, go away, take a quick shower, come back in, and dump a cup of me in there. And then, while you stir me for five minutes – just five minutes – I’ll give you an absolute free gift of a facial.

Sure, I pop a little, and I splatter sometimes, but that’s why you’ve got long handled spoons and oven mitts in the kitchen. See? I play well with others, especially a good sharp cheddar cheese.

And then you switch me off, and I show you how I can finish cooking all by myself while you spend 20 minutes primping and preening and doing whatever it is you do to make yourself presentable to the rest of the world. Grits, see, we don’t care about stuff like that. We are plain and unassuming and don’t require a whole lot of gussie-ing up.

(Although, in the interest of full disclosure, lots of people seem to be ashamed of us and dress us up worse than a pink-dyed poodle. We are, however, best when we stick to our roots.)

Stick, you say? You’re saying that my propensity for sticking on plates and on pots may be why she’s not reaching for me in the morning? Sticking is what I DO. It’s who I AM. I stick to your ribs. I give you complex carbs. And fiber. And vitamins. I am sticking with you through the thick and the thin of the day.

And besides, if you don’t lollygag over your plates and the grits pot, but go right then and rinse them, it’s no problem. I know when I’m not wanted, and I make a graceful exit.

Which (sob) is what I’m thinking right now. I should emigrate to someone else’s fridge, someone who will love me and consume me and value my contribution to her day. Because (sob), it’s embarrassing when the Gibbs of the grains world breaks down in public.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Facing the mom brigade

It is 2:22 as I write this, and in -- ye gads -- 38 minutes, I need to be out of my yoga pants, out of my THE STORY NEVER ENDS tee shirt that was my sole recompense for stepping in and rescuing a desperate conference organizer and agreeing to speak to a herd of only slightly interested teenagers about writing.

I need to be OUT of these and IN something presentable that wouldn't get me aired on TLC's WHAT NOT TO WEAR ... and most importantly smiling (but not too dementedly) at the elementary school teachers and (whisper this) the other moms when I pick up The Kiddo.

The Husband usually has this afternoon pick-up duty, and he could care less what he looks like when he picks up The Kiddo. He has no idea how merciless women can be on each other. They rival vultures when it comes to efficiency in picking things off the bone.

So, since I have been job-hunting, I have been getting up in the morning, showering and putting on make-up, and instead of something dry-clean-only, I put on a cute casual outfit and take The Kiddo to school. Then I come home, presto-change-o into yoga pants and T and job hunt on the internet. Thus, every afternoon, I have to rip off such comforting duds and pull back on my protective haz-mom gear.

Dr. Phil would have a field-day with this, I'm sure, plumbing into the dark recesses of my inferiority complex about getting laid off. But honestly, it has zip to do with that. I'm absolutely petrified of the professional SAHM. This is the creature that always pays for yearbooks the minute the notice comes in, sends gourmet goodie bags for all holidays including St. Patrick's Day and remembers to never, ever send anything with nuts as a class birthday treat.

Speaking of birthdays, this creature sends out cute little birthday invitations to the entire class BY MAIL a month ahead, inviting the children to frolic at some exotically themed party. Before you ask, yes, The Kiddo goes to public school. Do you think I'd be idiot enough to send her to a fancy private school where I'd never measure up?

It's not that these moms don't mean well. They do. They're wonderful, and a great resource. Ask them for anything from a Kleenex to an epi-pen and they'll pull it right out of their handy absolutely-this-season's big designer tote slung casually over their shoulder as though it doesn't weigh 15 pounds. Me? I'm lucky if I have a spare Band-Aid or a dusty Life-Saver in the recesses of my tiny purse.

Always before, though, I had the excuse of being a "working mother." They'd forgive so many of my many, many lapses because I worked.

But now? It's becoming clear to me that I am NOT cut out to be a professional grade SAHM.

Take for instance the other morning when I was running late. I'd noticed a rank smell in the car that I couldn't place. It had been mild the night before, horrid the next morning. The Husband commanded me to open up the trunk, which I did. Voila! A bag of garbage that I had no recollection of having put there, and that The Husband had no intention of admitting that he forgot.

"I'll drop it off after I take The Kiddo to school," I told him. Over my shoulder to The Kiddo as I backed out, I gave her this solemn promise: "Sweetie, I know I'm not wearing make-up this morning, but I'll wear my sunglasses so that no one will see, OK? And this afternoon, I'll wear make-up."

She looked relieved, complained about the garbage, but otherwise we made the trip to school and I dropped her out.

Then disaster struck as I was about to make my getaway. One of the Professional SAHMs recognized my car and made a bee-line for me. I sat there praying mightily, "Please, God, no, no, no!" but the Lord did not see fit to intercede.

So she popped open my passenger door and stuck her head in, only to give me some insider piece of knowledge : "You know," she said, "That end door is open until 8 a.m., and you can just drive right over there and drop her off. That's what I do with (name omitted to protect the innocent). Easy-peasy."

To which I'm thinking, Please don't draw in a deep breath. And please, please, please don't make me have to call your name because I know you're (name omitted's) mom, but I have absolutely no clue what your GIVEN name is.

I didn't say any of this, of course. I smiled. Said something like, "Really?" Added a few inane comments about school. Hoped I made some sense and didn't blurt out the word "garbage" because it was so omnipresent on my mind.

In all of this, I realized that I had -- oh, my ever-lovin' goodness gracious -- slipped off my sunglasses. This woman had seen me without make-up. I had been caught without cosmetics in the school drop-off line by a woman wearing the coolest little cotton top (without a wrinkle, I might add) and denim capris (which meant the blasted woman had to shave her legs that morning) and wearing make-up down to lipstick.

She moseyed onto her car. I peeled out of there as if I were a getaway driver at a bank robbery. First thing I did? Toss the garbage. Second thing I did? Say a prayer of thanksgiving that at least I had taken a shower that morning.

Have I told The Kiddo? Are you kidding?

OK. 2:46. The count-down is on and I probably have to refresh my make-up at this point, too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Anti-Christ seeking virtual personal assistant

OK, so those of you who follow my blog regularly know that in early August, I got slammed with a curve ball right outta of left field: my dayjob position (along with those uber-important extras like health insurance) was eliminated.

So I joined the ten percent of the Georgia population looking for work. It has been, to say the least of it, an eye-opening experience.

A friend of mine reminded me not to forget the telecommute option and to search Craigslist in major cities for jobs that I might be qualified for that allow telecommuting. Off I went to Craigslist.

Since my strengths are in writing and in marketing and PR, I looked there first. Boy, did they leave more than my ears pink!

I had no idea ANYBODY was looking, for instance, for a sex-toy blogger. I mean, come on. How do you blog about, erm, sex toys, without blogging about ... oh, man. I'm reaching for anything to fan myself with. Shoot, I suspect in some southern states, sex toys are still illegal.

Plus, almost every major city has a few "customer service rep" positions listed for telephone call centers and chat rooms with really suspicious-sounding names, listings that brag how "the right person" can make a quick thousand bucks a week. 'Scuse me, but even my MacBook is blushing at the thought of what "the right person" might be saying or typing.

(Insert more fanning now.)

And then there are the ones that pretend to be legit, but if you look at them with even one eye open, they make you worry for the impressionable young people out there. For instance, a hip-hop independent label was advertising for a marketing PR person -- and the pay? That would be T-shirts and the chance to hang around with Hip-Hop stars. Uh, yeah. That'll pay the electric bill.

Plus, there are the truly outlandish ones, such as one that said, "The Anti-Christ really needs your help!" I mean, gracious, I'm a motivated job hunter, but a Faustian bargain so soon? Get thee behind me, Satan!

Craigslist has a bounty of contract work, and some of them just make me laugh. For instance, today on Craigslist I found a perfectly WONDERFUL opportunity: Personal Appearance Booker sought for Nat'l Media Personality & Author.

It's a commission-only position, but they're quick to point out that it has the potential of unlimited reward. Uh, right. I'm an author, and I do my OWN personal appearance bookings, because I know exactly how lucrative those book signings really are.

To be fair, I've found a few seemingly legit opportunities for uptight prim and proper types like myself, and I've applied for them. But, uh, the sex toy blogger? And the Anti-Christ's virtual personal assistant? If you want 'em, they're ALL yours.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Wii Matter

Last fall, The Kiddo wrote a fairly persuasive letter to us about all the benefits of her acquiring a Wii for Christmas. The letter talked about she would get exercise and how it would be a way we could do things as a family. Oh, and it included a whole mess of "please-please-pleases."

Needless to say, The Husband and I fell for it hook, line and sinker, and we gave the Guy in The Big Red Suit the okay to bring one in on his sleigh. Rudolf wanted to keep it. Guess Santa knew who would win THAT tusslin' match if it involved The Kiddo's Wii.

Fast-forward all these many months. I give the thing regretful looks as it silently reproaches me for not sticking to the yoga promise I made to Wii Fit. I sometimes join The Kiddo for a spirited tennis doubles match, and on occasion, I will be the low man on the bowling family trio.

The Husband, though, loves it. He and The Kiddo are particularly enamored with Wii Golf. Why, I don't know, because that's one sport that he USED to flip right on past.

It's not a casual match-up between them, either. It's a to-the-death fight, with both of them providing sound effects that definitely blow up the golf-clap decibel meter. You'd think they were fighting it out for the honor of donning the Green Jacket, the way they muscle each other around that virtual golf course.

The Husband: Aaack! The ball hit the flag pole and bounced off!

The Kiddo (in her most helpful tone): You should have hit it a little softer.

(Thoughtful, respectful silence as The Kiddo lines up her shot, and then) The Husband: I wouldn't do that if I were you. See? The wind? Coming from the northeast? That's pretty stiff.

(Long debate ensues about wind angles, spin, choice of club, followed once again by silence and then a good sound whack)

The Kiddo (anguished): It went in the water! You told me the wind --

The Husband (laughing in his most evil tone) You should have listened to me and put more spin on it. Now I'm a stroke ahead.

The Kiddo: Hmph.

The Husband: (whacks ball, says something that sounds too much like a muffled swear word): Bogey.

The Kiddo (laughing in her most evil tone): You should have never tried that short cut through the trees. This hole is SO easy. (whacks ball) Ooooh! A BIRDIE! Oooh, Mommy! I got a BIRDIE! Wait? That was the last hole? Mommy, Mommy, I won! I won! I beat him!

The Husband: Hmph. I was doing okay until that last hole. I led every one.

I swear, this is a regular occurrence in our household. Now there is absolutely not a single sport The Husband won't watch on ESPN (yes, he even watches the lumber jack competitions), and they both look disappointed when they shout for me to come witness their holes in one and I don't exhibit proper awe and amazement. Each has such a feat to his or her credit, feats that they extol about with as much detail as if they had actually been on a golf course.

You know, maybe Rudolf SHOULD have kept the thing. That evil Santa ... he must have known what a Wii would do.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A fresh view

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes at least that to give me an idea for a blog post -- at least this one. My thanks to Dana Elmendorf, Lickety Splitter, Lola Sharp and Stephanie Thornton all contributed to my lightbulb moment for today's blog post.

Lola, Stephanie and Dana had all talked about revisions, the pain that they can be, and the long slow slog that writing often is. Lickety Splitter had posted a couple of pix of herself -- with and without glasses.

I was reminded of how blind I am. I am, without corrective lenses, legally blind. You know that E on the eye chart? That's about all I can recognize with the right eye that God gave me, and it doesn't even exist with the left eye that God gave me.

Thank the Lord that the God who created my less-than-perfect eyes also created the guys who invented (a) glasses, (b) contact lenses and (c) the plastic that makes both of 'em possible.

Since 7th grade, I've worn glasses -- hateful demon things that steam up when you walk out of an air conditioned building into Georgia's heat, fog up when you're trying to stir gravy, slip and slide when you're working outdoors. Contacts are infinitely better -- until they dry out, tear or pop out, I can at least pretend I have "normal" vision.

It was flat amazing the first time I put glasses on and I could see, though. The blackboard came alive with math problems -- gee, no wonder I had been skating by with a C in math. The trees had leaves. And yeah, those black shadowy holes in people's faces? Those gaz-y-boos were eyes.

I think about the things people take for granted with their vision -- things we see and don't marvel at every day. My mom, toward the end of her life, lost a substantial amount of her vision in one eye thanks to acute glaucoma, a complication of some meds she'd had to take. It made her feel so insecure and so fearful.

If vision is a wonderful thing, then re-vision is even better, even if I do carp about it, because revision is literally seeing something again. I'm in the process of revising a completed manuscript of mine. Yes, it's hard. Yes, all my darlings are screaming to be saved. Yes, I'd rather be creating something fresh and new.

But I am in a way. I'm looking over the work I did on the MS, and I'm using my fresh and "new" (well, as new as I can get 'em, anyway) eyes on this.

Part of those "new" eyes? Well, that would be whatever wisdom and knowledge I've learned after having four books published and (more importantly) after having written at least 8 books, maybe more.

So if it is a love/hate relationship between me and my glasses and me and my revising, well, at least I get new eyes out of the deal!

Monday, August 23, 2010


I should be worried, I guess, that one of The Kiddo's favorite shows is SAY YES TO THE DRESS. I don't let her watch it much -- mainly because I'm worried about the message it's beaming into an unformed young mind.

No offense, but what is that show (or its southern cousin, SAY YES TO THE DRESS ATLANTA) really saying? Spend tens of thousand of buckaroos on a dress you'll wear for a half-hour service? My stingy bone just can't wrap itself around that.

But we Southerners are weird enough about weddings without a show like SYTTD. I do declare, Southern girls are obsessed about THE Day from the time they're old enough to loop a towel through a headband and hum Here Comes The Bride. If we could skip the getting-hitched part and just do the wedding ceremony, I know a bunch of Southern women who'd get married a dozen times over, different dresses every time.

It is a rite of passage, complete with an arcane set of rules that are just now beginning to relax. But here are a few that are still around:

1) The bride (at least the Southern bride) wears a tiara and a white dress. Period. I don't care if she was married three times.

2) Bridesmaid dresses must, absolutely, without fail, be the ugliest thing that you as a friend of the bride will be forced to pay the earth for and never ever wear again. And they must come with dyed-to-match shoes.

3) It ain't a Southern wedding without a bolt of tulle. Or maybe two bolts.

4) People will talk and your mama will be shamed if you let your Maid of Honor talk you into letting your bridesmaids wear black. Or red. So don't go there.

5) You can get cutesy all you want with the shower invitations, but the wedding invitations better be white linen with black script.

6) Rule #5 will be waived for all graduates of SCAD -- the Savannah College of Art & Design. But then, so few of those artist types even bother with tying the knot -- wait. That sounds just a bit gossipy, no?

7) Grandma will faint in the church pew if you wear a strapless dress. But she'll get over it and be fine for the reception.

8) Wedding albums are required by southern law to include the entire newly-grafted-together clan, complete with fake grins of congenial familial love, even though most of this bunch of in-laws never met before that day and won't see each other again.

9) You should spend just slightly less on the cake than you do on the dress. And as long as it's pretty, who cares if it's edible?

10) See rule # 3.

I'd thought weddings were pretty much universal in their method of torture -- until I was writing a book about an Oregonian bridesmaid. Tawna Fenske had no clue what I meant when my Oregonian bridesmaid/heroine was griping about tulle. Tawna took me under wing and shared with me that we Southerners are a bit ... fixed in our ways when it comes to hitching people.

Now, when I see a wedding announcement that runs half a page (just about every Southern girl's lifelong ambition), going on and on about the gown featuring embellishments of embroidered lace, a sweetheart neckline and yards of heavy satin, why, I just grin and say, "Bless 'er heart," and then ... say a quick prayer that The Kiddo won't be so fixated.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Holding on & Letting Go

You know that show on TLC, BURIED ALIVE? Where people have somehow managed to survive in homes that are piled and piled and piled with stuff? Most people look at shows like that and say, "How'd they ever get that bad? What happened?" But me? I know. I KNOW.

Not because I have a mile-high stack of old newspapers and a barrel of bottle caps in my living room, thank God, but because of The Kiddo. Getting her to let go of anything is like pulling hen's teeth.

The trouble started when she was a baby. Well-meaning folks would give her ... well, stuff. They assumed that we would be able to ditch the stuff when it outlived its usefulness.

They assumed WRONG.

The first time alarm bells went off was when she cried inconsolably when I gave away a faded old Winnie The Pooh shirt she could no longer wear. True, it was her favorite shirt, but she was three.

Over the years, it got tougher: baby toys, stuffed animals, bits and pieces of paper, drawings, rocks, freebies from fast-food restaurants, sticks. Yes, I said sticks. Like small tree limbs.

I did what I could to deal with the problem: involve her in the donating, letting her keep the profits from yard sales, trying to control what came in the front door -- ha! That's like holding back the Atlantic with a napkin.

I'd just about given up on any signs of progress until this week, when we tackled her wreck of a room, prior to school starting. Her room was AWFUL -- not messy, exactly, but stuffed with treasures. You couldn't really put anything away because you had to move something else, which meant you had to move something ELSE.

So I hauled out the black garbage bag and sell/give boxes, and we started in on her closet floor, filled with overflowing containers of Happy Meal (not bought by ME!) toys. By 12:30, we'd moved to a cupboard. By 1:30, we'd moved to the original target of our project: the top of her cedar chest, usually so cluttered you can't tell it's even a horizontal surface.

With every item, I asked: Do you really need it? Can you find a home for it? Still, it was agony for her until she sat down on her bare-to-the-wood cedar chest and said, "Wowee! It's like a seat!"

"Yeah," I told The Kiddo. "Originally that's just what I had in mind when I put it there, for you to have a window seat."

She asked me what we'd have to do to make that happen, and I said, "Find homes for some of the stuff you keep on there and give away or sell the rest."

After that, it was like a switch got flipped. She was ready to put stuff in the toss or sell pile, empowered. The room has a long way to go. But it's miles better than when we started.

How many times have I stubbornly held onto a concept or an idea or a character, even when I knew it wasn't working? I once sent out a project that got 37 rejections -- 37! And it wasn't until Tawna Fenske read it and said, "The mom is a whiner and the daughter's a brat, and I can't feel sorry for either of them," that I admitted defeat.

How many times have I moaned to CPs when an editor told me I needed to revisions? Every time, without fail, I've come away from the new project and said, "Wow! I did that! It's better! They were right!"

It's hard to let go of the familiar -- whether it's a prickly old stick that The Kiddo can't even remember the reason she first brought in her bedroom, or the WIP I loved, even though I know it doesn't work. But I've learned -- and I hope The Kiddo will, too -- that you can't grab onto the new until you let go of the old.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Hungry

When my "Twitterpack" started hounding me about a book I'd never read, a book I SWORE I'd never read, I hemmed and hawed. Then an impromptu Twitter Book Club sprang up -- officially dubbed BOOK HUNGRY now -- and I was excited. These were great ladies, ladies whose opinions about writing and books mattered to me. I said sure, that I was in.

And seconds later they gleefully sprang the first book on me: HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. The book I'd never read. The book I'd sworn to NEVER read.

"It's good," they said. "It's really, really good."

Yeah, right, that's what a zillion people say about TWILIGHT, and another equal zillion say they despise it.

The whole concept of the HUNGER GAMES -- a post-apocalyptic setting where a girl volunteers to take her sister's place in a to-the-death reality game -- gave me shivers. I don't like futuristic books. I don't like reality shows. So I was CERTAIN that I wouldn't like a book about a futuristic reality show where there could be no happy ending -- the main character would, by dent of my logic anyway, have to kill off all 23 of her fellow contestants, and what's likeable about THAT?

Still, I put the book on hold at the library, and when it came in, I picked it up. That evening, when I got in from shopping and the library at about 6:30, I heaved a sigh and started on the first page.

At 7:30, The Husband made growly noises about supper, saw I wasn't moving from the couch, and then went and slammed a bunch of kitchen cabinet doors and came back with a banana sandwich. The Kiddo asked me if it were all right if she fixed herself a heavy snack/supper. I didn't look up from the page, just mumbled, "yeah, sure."

Honestly? She could have asked if she could go rob a bank with her friends and I probably would have said, "Yeah, sure," at that point.

HUNGER GAMES is that good. It's a deep character study. A commentary on totalitarian governments. A love story. But most of all? It's flat entertaining. It sucks you in and doesn't let you go.

I shook myself loose from it once, to read to The Kiddo and get her to bed, and then I went right back to it. I finished it around 1 a.m., shut the book and heard my heart cry, "More! More!"

The main character, Katniss, is a teenage girl who has had to grow up fast to provide for her mother and her little sister. She finds herself, once she takes her sister's place, pitted against 23 other young people for her very life.

One of those 23 is a teenage boy named Peeta, who saved Katniss many, many years before. Katniss doesn't want to kill him -- doesn't want to kill anybody.

Collins makes you care for Katniss and Peeta and the locking conflict of how will both of them somehow survive keeps you flipping pages. Her characters are real and multi-dimensional. Her world-building is spot-on.

And to think I swore I'd never read this book. Why? Because of the blurb on the back and my preconceived notions and -- oh, yeah, the really biggie -- the fact that everybody said I had to read this book. I've always shied away from cult-like followings, even as far back as E.T., when I swore I wouldn't go see the movie. I didn't. My cousin and I, neither having seen E.T., would roll our eyes and say, "E.T., GO home," when we saw another merchandise tie-in.

But then we finally saw the movie when it came back to the theater in our small town for an encore performance. And we loved it and adored the ugly little alien. We finally got it, got what all the fuss was about.

And now I've finally got what the fuss is all about with HUNGER GAMES. My advice if you're a hold-out like me? Go. Read it. Now.

My fellow Book Hungry members are blogging today about their thoughts on HUNGER GAMES, and each month, we'll blog about the book our members have chosen. Check 'em out!

Karla Nellenbach
Patty Blount
Abby Mumford
Elizabeth Ryann
Kelly Breakey
Alyson Peterson
Vanessa Noble

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let 'er rip

It’s back to school time again … already.

The Kiddo seems as ambivalent as I am about the start of school, mainly because of the concept of homework that she was firmly introduced to last year. She likes school, thank goodness. But I don’t know of any kid who really likes homework.

At least The Kiddo gets to start fourth grade in the school she knows, with friends she’s familiar with. My fourth grade year was the first year in a brand-spanking new school to me, and I didn’t know anybody in my class.

There were upsides – the lunchroom food was better, I loved the science and the social studies textbooks, and my teacher was great.

But it was also the year that I first started having to ride the bus (which meant getting up earlier), the year that I realized I didn’t know how to make a long-distance phone call to my mom to come pick me up when I was sick, and the year that a pair of pants graced me with a split seam down the back.

By funny coincidence, earlier in the week of the pants-incidence, we’d read a story about a boy whose pants had split. I’d not paid any attention to it beyond answering the questions and thinking, “Wow, that must have been embarrassing.”

Then a few days later, I heard the tell-tale riiiip in the straddle of my black-and-white checked pants and I found out just how embarrassing a split straddle was.

I had no idea what to do. It was a warm spring day, and I wore no jacket to tie over my suddenly exposed backside. I kept wondering how I was supposed to get from my desk – middle of the row, middle of the room – to let my teacher know what had gone wrong.

Probably if I had just walked up to her desk without making a big deal, nobody would have noticed. But it was probably the very way I tried NOT to attract notice that attracted notice. I heard giggles and snickers and was grateful to the bone when my teacher sent me to the office. In the deserted hallway, I didn’t have to worry about who might be seeing my underoos.

A very kind secretary let me stay in a little bathroom just off her office while she roughly stitched the rip back together. I remember wiggling my bare legs in the bathroom, my pants a world away on the other side of that door, and hoping nobody had to use the bathroom until my pants were mended.

I think about the me that I was in fourth grade, a funny little kid who loved Galileo and hated division and survived split pants. And then I think about The Kiddo. On the one hand, she seems so much wiser than I was, while on the other? So much younger. I wonder if my own mom thought the same thing when she, laughing in the kindest possible way at my predicament, ripped out the secretary’s stitches and began stitching a proper repair.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A fortune by any other name

Now, first off, I want to say that I don't put much stock in predictions from horoscopes or fortune cookies. Most of them are so vaguely worded that a person could read just about anything into them, and apply them at will to life. Try it ... read the horoscope for your neighboring astrological sign and see if you can't apply it to your own life.

But tonight I found a couple of slips of paper that came from some fortune cookies we'd had earlier. The Kiddo keeps everything, including fortune cookie fortunes, and if we don't get her hoarding under control, one day she may well be the featured tortured soul on TLC's BURIED ALIVE.

The fortune cookies had been consumed and the fortunes read earlier this month, before my Tuesday surprise. They read as follows:

A long term goal will soon be achieved.


You will find great fortunes in unexpected places.

Well, tonight, when I found both little slips of paper, I shook my head. "Ha!" I thought. "Proves how accurate fortune cookies are."

Then it occurred to me, in that scary way that makes you have a niggling grain of doubt, that both fortunes were sort of accurate.

For instance, the day I came back to work after two vacation days off and was subsequently told my position was eliminated, I had tweeted earlier that morning, "When I grow up, I wanna be a stay at home mom."

Okay, so losing my job is not exactly how I wanted such a long-term goal to come about. But it did. So I plan to file that fortune under the "be careful what you wish for" category.

The second fortune was also true. As I was composing my grocery list this weekend, the idea of buying groceries for the first time post-layoff completely wigged me out. I had to know EXACTLY what was in my freezer. For the first time in months, the Kiddo and I pulled the frozen chunks out, organized them and took an inventory. I swear, I had about four half-bags of frozen green beans that I'd opened, not realizing I'd previously opened a bag. And meat? And chicken? And rice? Had that, too, and didn't realize it. This week I didn't have to buy one ounce of meat.

So yeah, I found treasure in unexpected places.

It's not that I believe in the power of fortune cookies. Nope, I reserve that faith for prayer only. But I think me finding those fortune cookies was no accident ... I think it made me look at what life had dished out and realize, with very grateful heart and eyes, just what I had.

When we get bogged down in anything -- life, the dayjob, mothering, a frustrating WIP that just won't behave -- we tend to think only the negative about it. At least, I do. But this little find reminds me that treasure can be discovered in the most ordinary places -- it's not at the end of a rainbow, but right in front of our noses.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gleeps, Trixie!

The Kiddo and Trixie Belden have now been officially introduced. After my rocky start with Nancy Drew, I was a little afraid of whether the Girl Shamus would hold up to the test of time.

I loved Trixie growing up ... I identified with her hatred of all things to do with housework, her difficulties in math and the fact that she blurts out the first thought that comes to her mind. I thought it was cool how the Beldens and Jim Frayne and Honey Wheeler (and gorgeous Di with the violet eyes) all got to go on super interesting trips and solve mysteries. (Psst ... I also had a huge crush on Brian, the would-be doctor). My parents bought me almost every one of the Trixie Belden books for Christmas one year, and I read them all.

So I didn't want this re-reading of Trixie to be a letdown. And I desperately hoped that the Kiddo loved her as much as I did when I was a kid.

That being the case, I girded my loins and started reading THE SECRET OF THE MANSION aloud to the Kiddo. And I was surprised ... by a lot of things.

1) Trixie seemed a little more bratty to me at first ... but I figure that's just the mother in me coming out. The writer quickly worked to make her redeemable.

2) The pace of the story is lightning fast. While I remembered the big plot points (learning how to ride a horse, finding Jim, Bobby getting bitten by a copperhead), I didn't remember it happening in a two-day timespan.

3) For all of her moaning and groaning about housework, Trixie sure doesn't have to do a lot of it ... and apparently the Beldens shipped their laundry out to be washed (remember the big laundry truck that nearly flattens Honey on her first bike ride?)

BUT ... Surprise #4 more than offsets 1 through 3: Trixie is a very real, very human character, and the book is as interesting to me as when I read it the first time. I actually think I prefer her to that paragon of virtue Nancy Drew (the shame of it!). Plus, it's interesting that in 1948, a girl who was fearless and daring when it came to spiders, snakes and the like could be presented in a favorable light.

The Kiddo is very caught up in the mystery, pulled out only to ask questions like, "Mommy, what are dungarees?" and "Do they have to wear helmets when THEY ride a bike or horses?"

Reading old books does require quite a bit of annotation -- that dungarees are the same as jeans, that girls used to wear dresses a lot more than they do now, that a riding habit isn't the same as a nun's habit. But I like the fact that Trixie is still relevant today -- probably even more so than other girl detective heroines, and that her exploits (at least in the first mystery) are in line with what a parent would actually let her get away with. Score!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Even a fish ...

When I put out a call for humorous, happy and upbeat blog topics on Twitter, @mistyprovencher suggested that I write about what people should say to agents in the happy instance that they call to make you an offer.

But that advice could be summed up with the old saying about even a fish would stay out of trouble if he kept his mouth shut. So I figured, hmh, maybe it would be funnier -- and more helpful -- if I wrote a list of things NOT to say to an agent with an offer of representation on the table.

The top five faves ...

5) Great! So this means you're gonna join in on my slumber parties? Will we trade pedicures and brush each other's hair?*

4) Maybe this is too much information, but my husband has just ... (fill in the blank).

3) Terrific news! Today's the 10th, so by the 17th, you should have me in an auction? And I'll pencil in Oprah for, hmh, next month?

2) That book? You wanna sell THAT BOOK? Oh, sheesh. I just deleted it off my hard-drive because I had decided it stank.

1) So, um, how much more complex will a six-figure advance make my troubles with the IRS?

As you can see (hopefully), the common theme in the list of should-nots is TMI and too high expectations. An agent is, above all, a professional. If you wouldn't tell/invite/ask your dentist, your accountant, your doctor, or some other highly-trained, highly experienced professional, don't ask your agent.

So I guess the best advice I could give when (notice I say WHEN and not IF) that happy day comes to pass would be this:

1) Say thank you.

2) Ask what her (or his) view of the book and the plan for going from here. (Revisions? Does she have an editor/house in mind?)

3) Ask what her plan B is if the book doesn't immediately sell. Ask this question with tact, so she'll understand that YOU understand worst case scenarios.

4) Ask what her preferences are on communication -- does she like frequent e-mails, or will she maintain radio silence until she has something to report?

5) Ask if she is an editing agent or not.

6) Tell her if the full is under consideration by any other agents.

7) Ask for 24 hours (AT LEAST) to consider her offer.

8) Say thank you. (Yeah, I know. But say it again anyway).

9) Hang up the phone.

Really, I add #9 in just because you're sure to forget to hang up and the agent will hear you freaking out after you think she's off the line. Now print this list, cut it out and tape it by your phone for when the happy day comes.

*This one was stolen without shame from Tawna Fenske. Yes, I'm a thievin' individual, and that makes Linda Grimes hopeful that I am soon to be corrupted.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Annnd right outta left field

The year that The Husband and I got married was a banner year. There were huge thunder boomers every night that summer, until two or three in the morning. Our well pump got struck by one of those lightning bolts. My car burned up. I was diagnosed first with arthritis (nope) and then with lupus (nope, again) and finally fibromyalgia (check). And one evening I came in from work to find that the freezer compartment in our ancient, single door fridge had come loose and fallen into my eggs and my butter.

It was just not a good year for the roses.

This past year has been that way, too, since October when my mom got sick, and then in November she passed away. That seemed to unleash all manner of torment, from little things like our kitchen floor getting ruined by a cantankerous, tired old dishwasher, to really big and awful things.

It seemed like every time I would get a handle on things, another curve ball would slam past me across the plate. In fact, I was just emailing Tawna Fenske earlier this week that I was about due for another curve ball, because I was beginning to get settled in over my latest misfortunes.

Sure enough ... I was called in for a meeting with two other ladies at my dayjob on Tuesday and told, "You do good work, we hate to lose you, but this economy is making it impossible to keep you."

I freaked. I have been working a public job since I was 17 years old, even before that at my parents' business, and I'd never, ever been let go. Plus, I am the one who carries the health benefits.

The cold hard truth about writing for a living is that you have to sell a LOT of books before you can give up that dayjob. Think about it. Your royalty for a paperback comes in roughly at a quarter a book, depending on the cover price. That's gross pay, before your self-employment taxes, before you pay for private insurance, before you pay for your writing expenses (and they do add up.)

The health insurance is the real kicker. At least in Georgia, there's not really a good alternative to group plans through an employer. Private insurance can set a family back $1,500 a month -- and that's with a $5,000 deductible on each family member. I know that, because my optometrist was recently bewailing the high cost of coverage for his family.

This post is not meant to discourage you unpublished writers out there. It's just to put it in perspective how much of a loss my dayjob is to me, despite the fact that I am published. Keep that dayjob, unless you are lucky enough to have dependable coverage through some other option.

As for me, I've shed a few tears, the numbness is wearing off, and I'm getting myself in gear for a job hunt. We're better off than some folks in our position: our house, never that expensive to begin with -- is now paid off, our cars, which we drive until the wheels fall off, are paid for, we have a little savings, and very little consumer debt. We tend to be frugal, mainly because I've always been paranoid about this very thing happening.

I have some leads for job opportunities. I've dusted off the resume. And in between filling out applications and (hopefully) going for interviews, I'm going to be working like mad on the edits for the book I'm trying to revise. I'm not waiting for luck, any more than I'm waiting for that ol' Muse to come staggering in with her feather boa and her stilettos. Nope, I'm going to tackle this with the same faith, hope and optimism (not to mention hard work) that got me my first publishing deal.

But if you're the praying kind, please, please, keep our little family in your prayers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Truth is stranger than fiction - at least in Georgia

Mark Twain is said to have observed, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities." I tend to agree. I can count multiple times when an editor has stopped me mid-plot-point, saying, "That would never happen."

"Oh, yes, something like that happened in a town near here," I reply.

Therein follows a long silence on the phone, and I realize that I have once again stumbled into the Mason-Dixon Line Mis-Understanding. I assume, like most ego-centric southerners, that the rest of the world knows a wedding requires bolts and bolts of tulle, that when a person passes away, you should break out your very best casserole recipe to prepare for the grieving family's comfort, and that you should never, ever wear white shoes, pants, skirts, dresses or white anything after Labor Day.

It's not that Georgia (or the South, for that matter) is backwards. We're not. We're just different, and different is good. Sometimes. As long as you have time to translate for non-Southerners.

But we Georgians tend to have a different mindset altogether, and we are definitely concerned with appearances. We do tend to get all up in each other's business, because, as you well know, it's much more fun to wash somebody else's dishes than it is your own.

Just like that T-shirt proclaims, "I nag because I care," we Georgia folks care mightily about the trouble folks might get themselves into. And we know what sort of trouble that could be because we, er, have thought up some mighty strange ideas -- or else seen our brother-in-law think up some mighty strange ideas.

To that end, around Georgia, we have some strange laws on the books, laws that my editor would probably shake her head at and say, "That would never happen."

But it is, and it falls under the Mark Twain Law.

For instance:

It is illegal to use profanity in front of a dead body which lies in a funeral home or in a coroner's office.

Donkeys may not be kept in bathtubs.

No one may carry an ice cream cone in their back pocket if it is Sunday.

Now, the profanity in front of a dead body, I can surely understand. We Southerners totally get the concept of letting the dearly departed truly rest in peace. But the donkeys? And the ice cream cone? Part of me wonders if anybody did this to begin with and the law was in reaction to that event. Part of me is glad that donkeys are safeguarded from would-be idiots who would want to put a donkey in a bathtub.

Depending on the town you live in here in Georgia, you may be subject to the following laws:

All citizens must own a rake.

It is against the law to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or street lamp.
(Again, glad that the giraffes are so protected, but what idiot did this to begin with?)

No one may tease an idiot. (Oops, did I just break that one with my previous comment? I think I did. Hopefully, if I run afoul with the law, someone will bail me out.)

I found these, and other, even more hilarious, examples at Dumb Laws -- go check 'em out.

Monday, August 09, 2010

An all-over body ache

The best exercise program in the whole world? Simply lie down in the floor, and get back up. Repeat about 60 times in one day.

It doesn't sound like much, but trust me: the next day, you'll be ready to hunt me down and shoot me. You won't be able to, though. You'll be suffering aches and pains in every major muscle group. Shoot, even my hands hurt.

No, I was not trying to get in shape. I was merely trying to put in my laminate flooring. You may recall having read about the Mountains In My Kitchen, courtesy of a dishwasher past its prime. This past Friday I took off a vacation day to install said laminate.

I'd watched YouTube videos to see how it was done, and I swear, one of the guys said you could do a room in two hours.

Two hours! It took me two hours to get the blankety-blank underlayment cut around all the door openings and the first tricky pieces of laminate down.

There were times when I was about ready to give up. For instance, about noon on Friday, when I was starving, and I realized that I had moved the fridge up against the table, where I couldn't open the fridge's door. The table in question is a heavy marble-topped behemoth that I couldn't move if my life depended on it. The fridge was equally impossible, as I couldn't move it back on my workspace for fear of tearing the blankety-blank underlayment.

Lunch for me and The Kiddo turned out to be two peanut butter sandwiches each. It was all that we could get to. We couldn't even grace the peanut butter with a little jelly.

By 2 PM, I'd gotten maybe a quarter of the kitchen laid ... a far cry from the "two hours and you'll be done" pronouncement of the YouTube handyman that I wanted to hunt down and clobber by then. It occurred to me that the room he was talking about was (1) empty of all furnishings and (2) blissfully lacking in tricky built-in cabinets. I couldn't lay any more flooring until I had muscle ... so I texted The Husband about my predicament and then rested my aching back as I watched a half episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats.

The Husband moved the fridge and I worked on, with his assistance. We got the last of the tricky corners cut, and I started making real progress.

Only, I was starving, my back was KILLING me, and it was (by then) 7 p.m.

I started back afresh on Saturday morning, making real progress as The Kiddo decided that it was more fun to help than to drag around the house repeating the refrain, "I'm boooored." She learned the business end of a rubber mallet and how to measure and mark boards, while I learned that I really HAD been helping my mom all those years ago when I stood on the ends of boards as she sawed them off.

By 11 AM, I'd gotten as far as I could (the beastly table was in my way again), so off I went to grocery shop. I returned, got The Husband to move the table, and I started in on the floor again. This time, the end was in sight, and by 7 PM, The Kiddo was banging in the last piece of flooring.

Yes, I still have clean up to do (everything's moved out to the garage) and yes, all my baseboard has got to be put back in, but I am done. And in pain. And joyful. And -- oh, gracious! Look at the time! I can take two more ibuprofen tablets!

Friday, August 06, 2010

A little bit is more than nothing

All that talk of chocolate yesterday on the blog -- not to mention a near red-alert status when I was down to my last Reese's Peanut Butter Cup -- put me in the mood for brownies. Luckily, The Kiddo asked for candy and I could offer brownies instead, so that it appeared that it was all her idea.

Why, yes, I am devious that way.

What I am not is much for forethought, apparently. I opened my big box of Hershey's Cocoa to find a scant three tablespoons. That was a red alert situation all in and of itself, as it was very late in the evening, past time when the sidewalks are deflated and rolled up in My Neck of the Woods.

For a bare moment, I considered tossing in the towel and saying, "Whoops, Kiddo, no brownies tonight." But then I thought, Hmm, three tablespoons. That's half a brownie recipe's quota of chocolate. Maybe I could make half a batch of brownies."

I double-checked the recipe, and sure enough it called for two eggs -- which is good, because I've yet to figure out how you half an egg when you half a recipe. Are you supposed to put the whole egg in? Because it sure won't taste the same if you round DOWN.

But as I mentioned, the recipe fortunately skirted the whole half/whole egg issue (dadgummit, now I've got this image of half an egg in my head), and The Kiddo and I proceeded with our brownie making endeavor. To make sure that we had a pan small enough to hold half a batch of brownies, I suggested that we use her mini-cupcake pan she got for Christmas from The Sister. The Sister is a Good Cook (who would know how to half an egg), and she hopes her niece will turn out to be as well.

The brownies turned out loverly, if I do say so myself. Each one was bite-sized, with a crispy little crust around the top, with a sinkhole of chewy goodness in the middle. I could have eaten about a dozen of them all by myself, had the little suckers been unguarded.

As I enjoyed the small tastes of heaven (three, just three), I thought about how I give up sometimes on writing, when I don't think I have a block of time, say an hour, to give to the effort.

The brownies made me realize how foolish I am. True, fifteen or twenty minutes of writing or editing time won't be as productive as an hour would be. There's the two minutes while I wait for the computer to whir and gig, and the 30 seconds it takes me to find the document in question, and the two minutes I stare at that blasted blinking cursor, afraid that this time it WILL outlast me. (It's a phobia of mine.)

But fifteen or twenty minutes might get me a paragraph. And a paragraph is better than no words at all.

So how about you? Can you write or edit in concentrated bite-sized moments of time?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The carrot or the stick?

Oh, yeah, babe, a chocolate keyboard like the one here is EXACTLY what will make me BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard.)

On the other hand, I might be eating the keys instead of pounding them. So, hmh, that sounds like a less than optimum solution there.

While the spectre of breach of contract and being sued by a major publisher will get me to the keyboard every time, it doesn't make the creative juices flow or inspire me to whistle while I work. I wind up with the exact same work attitude as the recalcitrant old mule who has been dragged to the field only to sit down on his haunches, refusing to budge.

More positive motivations, the aforementioned carrot (or more aptly put for writers, the Hershey bar)?

Reading a good book: Almost nothing inspires me more than reading a book that moves me, a story that makes me see writing done right. Recently I read THE HUNGER GAMES at near gunpoint (yes, there are only two other people in the world that haven't read it), and despite my hesitation about the premise, I read it in one gulp and came away in awe. How had Suzanne Collins hooked me, a cynical writer-type who is past jaded? It excited me and made me want to polish up my own tricks.

Reading an awful book: This is the "almost nothing more" situation -- the only thing that inspires me to write more than a good book is a bad one. I read a bit of it, bang it against my forehead, read a few more pages, bang my head again ... and I think, "Self, you could write a better story than this. You HAVE written a better story than this." It sends me straight to the computer to prove to the world and to myself that I can and will write a better story.

(I feel at this point the urge to insert this caveat: I am fully aware that readers have used my very own books as aforementioned inspiration. Not all readers like all books, and as a published author, I can admit that not every book an author writes is one she is completely proud of. Sometimes it's just a miss, but I've done my best, my editor says it's approved, and so I cash the advance check anyway.)

Talking about writing: For me, whenever I get a chance to run my mouth about writing, I come away enthusiastic and pumped up, like a runner in a athletic shoe shop. With other writers, I feel understood and not like a long lost puppy who's really a kitty and doesn't know it. So writing conferences, writers groups, or just a bunch of writers meeting for a cup of coffee can serve to get me revived on writing.

Paying it forward: Helping newbie writers always reminds me why I fell in love with writing in the first place. I think it's sort of like how parents view the world through the eyes of their children -- yeah, they see the mistakes that can be made and the foolish ideas, but they also see the innocence, the joie de vivre, the excitement that they too experienced in a past lifetime.

Published authors have to be really careful not to sound like they have the market cornered on the Gospel Truth of Getting Published (because we don't) and they have to remember that their first obligation is to their families and their legal binding contracts (BREACH OF CONTRACT! AAACK! Away from me!)

But we can still pay it forward in small ways -- in random acts of kindness. Because really, when we're paying it forward, we're refilling our own motivation tank -- or at least I am.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Afraid of Santa?

OK, so 'round here, it's been hot as all get outs, with the heat index upward of 115 degrees.

Why, then, am I thinking about Santa Claus?

Because I was thinking of agents and editors, of course, and the fear so many writers have for them.

Maybe it was all the RWA talk on Twitter. Maybe it was the fact that I had the privilege of critiquing a new writer's work (and it was GOOD!) and I saw afresh how scary the writing biz can be to a person just starting out.

But it got me thinking ... about Santa Claus.

When The Kiddo was two, I was working as an editor/reporter/chief-cook-and-bottle-washer for a small weekly newspaper. Christmas was a crazy time for me, what with all the year-end banquets and Christmas programs and special events. It meant time away from The Kiddo.

So a lot of times, I tried to multi-task and bring The Kiddo along, if it were appropriate for her and if I thought she'd enjoy it. Ergo, my brilliant idea about Breakfast With Santa.

I had to cover it anyway, and it was a sure fire way of making sure The Kiddo got to see Santa. Like most "sure-fire" things, it didn't go exactly to plan. As a multi-tasker, the endeavor went over about as well as washing your socks in your dishwater would.

It was the first time she got to meet The Jolly Old Elf, at least in her memory. I didn't get within 20 feet of him before she twisted in my arms. One look at him, sitting in his big wooden chair with his long beard and his beachball tummy, and her mind was made up. If she could have climbed on my head, she would have.

"NO, Mommy, NO. Don't wanna." she said. You couldn't get more emphatic than that. No crying. No real panic. Just a very clear, very no-nonsense declaration that there would be no Santa pix for The Kiddo at age two.

I tried explaining to her that she had to tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas, that she knew about Santa, that she'd seen pictures of Santa. And she had. She'd plop one fat finger on Santa's pictures in books and tell me all about him. But she was having nothing to do with the real deal.

Writers can be like that. While they understand that they have to ask in order to receive (a query letter must go out before a partial request can come in), sometimes they can't get past that fear.

I've given up trying to cajole, trying to convince new writers that agents and editors are human (and yes, that means they can be cranky, just like us). I've given up repeating, "You can't win if you don't enter!" in my best Ed McMahon impression.

Why? Because I remember that The Kiddo just needed time to process such a fearful choice of making herself vulnerable. A year later, when I had not even mentioned Santa to The Kiddo (after all, the previous year's debacle was still fresh in my mind), she asked ME.

She snuggled into my bed one Saturday morning and warbled, "Mommy, when I get to see Santa? Can I see him TODAY?"

So right then and there I re-arranged my full-to-bursting schedule and took her to the nearest mall. She wanted to see Santa all by herself. So off I let her toddle up to the Big Red Guy. She bent his ear for the longest time about everything she wanted for Christmas. When she climbed off his lap and walked back down the carpeted path to me, she stopped, turned and said, "Santa, I wuv you."

Oh, yeah. When you're ready, you're ready, and absolutely nothing can stop you.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Twinkle-Toe Torture

I am exhausted with school already, and all I’ve done is buy school clothes and school supplies.

Yes, this weekend The Kiddo and I went back-to-school shopping to take advantage of some sales that were going on.

The Kiddo tends to be a clothes horse, and one who would buy one of every color if my purse and my better sense would allow it. So this year I did something that was labor intensive for me, but saved me from pulling out my hair in the store.

I pre-shopped on-line. It took some doing. First I found the on-line stores where the sales were, and then I was able to find out what was actually in-stock at our brick-and-mortar version.

Presto, I printed out pictures of each shirt and jeans, figured my budget and decided how many shirts and jeans and so forth she could get.

Sounds a little OCD, you say? You’ve never been in the seventh circle of hell, AKA, a dressing room with a picky kiddo with an I-want complex in said dressing room.

The Kiddo and I carefully flipped through all the pictures, and she decided ahead of time which ones she liked and which ones she didn’t. I hammered into her head the magic numbers of how many she could get in each category.

I did the same with shoes, printing off a photo of a pair of heavily decorated canvas sneakers with lots of glitter and something called twinkle-toes. I figured for sure I was going to be paying 40 bucks for those sapsuckers. This is a child who will one day be wearing Manolo Blahniks for certain, as she loves and adores shoes.

But no. The Kiddo surprised me.

The Kiddo really liked the Twinkle Toes shoes – to look at. But if you wiggled your feet even the slightest bit, the sneakers lit up like a Christmas tree – a fiber-optic Christmas tree with halogen twinkle lights. They were impossible to ignore, and across the nation, sometime very soon, otherwise mild-mannered teachers are going to be ordering hits on the genius who designed these garish sneakers and the parents who sent their girl-babies to school thusly shod.

The Kiddo gave a long and wistful look at the Twinkle Toes and shook her head. “Maybe if they had an on-and-off switch,” she told me as she settled for a pair of shoes without the light show. “Or maybe if the battery would run down in a hurry.”

I chuckled at that, remembering all the very loud toys that misguided non-parent folks gave The Kiddo over the years, because I knew the rule of such devices: the more obnoxious the sound or light, the longer the battery lasts.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A cure for what ails me

What do you call a fish with no eyes?

A fsh!

OK, that was so corny that you could shuck it and roast it, but as I write this, I'm desperately in search of a laugh.

It's been that kind of a day, not a terrible day, but one that bogs me down in negative thinking. If I can't change the day, then I can at least change my attitude toward it.

A good belly-laugh is better medicine than almost anything than I can think of. Studies show that laughter boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes your muscles, and may even prevent heart disease -- and that's just the physical benefits. For me, it helps me find some distance from a situation that I want to fix NOW, even though that's either not possible or above my pay grade.

But laughing is not like breathing for me ... it's not automatic. I can forget to laugh. I can forget to look for humor in life. I can forget to laugh at myself.

And it's only when I'm this tense, tightly-wound attack spring, a bad-tempered Jack-in-the-Box, that I realize, quick, I need to laugh.

First step? Smile.

Yep. A snapshot of a laugh at conception would have to be a smile. So when I get so foul-tempered I can't even stand myself, I poke those corners of my mouth up instead of down. Just a little twitch -- not a grimace, not a fake smile, not a Cheese! smile for a photographer. And trust me, within five seconds, I actually feel lighter.

Second step? I poke fun at myself and my near melt-down in response to whatever the status quo is. I try doing it in a respectful way, because what you say to yourself, even in the privacy of your own head, can hurt just as much as if someone else was saying it -- more, sometimes, because you almost always believe yourself. But if I can laugh at myself, then I take myself and the situation a lot less seriously.

And that's always a good thing, because the pressure's off, and when the pressure's off, solutions can float in. An intense humorless person can be like one of those negative-pressure-air device the CDC uses: nothing goes out, nothing goes in. That may be really good when working with super bugs, but when I begin to resemble a room equipped with one of those gadgets, I know I'm not at my most creative best.

Third? I go TOWARD laughter -- whether it's a corny joke on the internet about a fish, or down the hall to where my co-workers are or on Twitter or -- you get the pix. I just keep hunting that first chuckle. Because if a smile makes me feel lighter, then a chuckle makes me feel like I'm a helium balloon.

For instance, The Kiddo just wandered in here, bored out of her skull, slinging a ball cap on her index finger. I am trying to get this blog done, and have been interrupted just slightly less than nine hundred ga-jillion times by every two-legged member of the household. My first instinct, when the cap hits her in the mouth, is to dish out an I-told-you-so. But she laughs, and that reminds me to laugh, too, so I do -- and tell her that she's been "pecked" on the mouth by the bill of a cap, which makes both of us laugh more.

Once again, humor defuses the situation, gives me oodles more patience, and doesn't escalate things -- including my bad mood!

And just in case the first joke didn't give you enough corn to shuck and roast, I got a chuckle out of this one, too:

A dyslexic man walks into a bra ...

Get it?