31 May 2011

Dog Drama: A Lesson in Decision-Making

Last Friday, Five and I went to see Four's concert. Five woke up in a horrible mood, which degenerated into an overwrought rant about how he should be paid to go to school, because it's like a job for him. I gave him by best pep talk, followed by the contrasting "you already get paid in toys and fun" lecture, and when neither of those worked, I gave him a mental health day. There was nothing to be gained from dragging him to school crying, thereby reinforcing how much he hates it. Sometimes, it's better to cut your losses.

The concert was lovely. All the children performed enthusiastically, and there were outstanding vocal and instrumental soloists. As a special treat, we signed Four out of school early and took him home with us. When I opened the front door, I saw blood droplets on the floor. The dogs did not come to greet me. When I looked in my dining room and noticed an overturned bench, I stopped the boys, and said, "Wait. Something is wrong."

My first thought was that the dogs had killed each other. The gate I had been using to contain Cobie in the kitchen had broken, so this was the first time I had left them together unsupervised. My second thought was that the dogs had been beaten by robbers, but a quick glance at my laptops and televisions disproved that theory. I started opening doors, searching for the dogs. Five got very nervous.

When I got to the bathroom, the dogs came out together, with Cobie attached to Leo's neck. I yelled at her to let go, thinking her teeth were sunk in his skin, but when she didn't get down, I realized she was stuck in his collar. I unhooked it, and she broke free. The collar was completely twisted, from either Cobie or Leo struggling. I inspected them for open wounds, but it appeared the blood was from Cobie's mouth. They both ran for the water dish.

Five's anxiety had reached a fever pitch, and he was demanding we call 9-1-1. I assured him that everyone was fine, that the dogs had become tangled, and bumped their way into the bathroom. But truthfully, the whole thing freaked me out. I had to lay down that afternoon, a victim of post-adrenaline crashing. I told the Captain about it later, and he said he wasn't going to yell at me, but Five was right. When the dogs didn't come to the door, and I saw the blood, I really should have left the house and called the police.

I'm used to being in control, and managing the pack. Even though my first thought was correct--there was something wrong--I overruled my intuition. It didn't occur to me that the problem might be something I couldn't solve. But the world doesn't always work that way. There could have been an intruder, and I placed myself and the boys at risk. I learned a lesson, and I'm going to make sure I tell Five his instincts were correct. We don't always have to fix everything on our own.

30 May 2011

Making Memories

We hosted the Memorial Day barbecue today. Remarkably, everything came together, as it does for every party. My mother-in-law says I should take "before" and "after" pictures before each event, to impress my readers with the amazing transformation of my home.

My young nephew stayed at our house last night, and had an outstanding visit. His two sisters, including his twin, were sick at home, so he got to come for his first solo sleepover. He was in heaven, because as you know, we are very penii-oriented here. This afternoon, he told us he was never going back.

At some point last evening, M.I.L. checked in on Four, Five, and Nephew. They were all stark naked in the bedroom, pretending to be wild animals. We have experience with this behaviour. When Two was young, probably around age five, he would routinely shed his clothes at family gatherings. He was pretending to be Simba, from "The Lion King," and any rational person knows lions don't wear pants. We have a picture of him at the Thanksgiving table, eating dessert naked.

In addition to the usual suspects, we had some extended family members join us today. It was fun to see the Captain's cousins, one of whom just graduated college, and is getting ready to start his own life. He seems young to be heading out into the world, although he is the same age the Captain was when he started to work for Macy's. And we were married two years later! My older boys will be this age soon. Yikes; time flies!

Thank goodness I still have several young people to raise, who spent the end of the day gathered around our new fire bowl, roasting marshmallows. When they had burned or eaten all of them, they sat down on overturned galvanized buckets, and sang songs with Uncle Geoff. It was a scene right out of "Country Living" magazine, which is the published version of my dream world.

I had decorated the all-season tree with red, white, and blue necklaces--a last-minute version of patriotic garland. The cousins got to choose their favorites, and wear them home. We gave good-bye kisses, and sent everyone up our dark driveway. The fire still glowed in the night, and it made me think of all the family members that are no longer with us--my father; our grandparents; the Captain's aunts. The recollection of them is like a warm fire that binds us together, gathered around it to share stories and laughter. Today, I felt like we were honoring them, by coming together to create new memories.

Is there someone special you are remembering today?

27 May 2011


At 3:30 PM, I received an urgent email from the president of Two's Choral Booster Club. It said, "We have six more seniors than we thought! Can you bring your wrapping paper before the concert?" I sat in the van, letting the full import of that message sink in, and my faith in the power of the Universe was renewed. Let me explain.

About six weeks ago, I attended a Booster Club meeting, and volunteered to wrap the gifts that would be presented to the departing seniors at the banquet. Last Friday, the president called to ask if I wanted them that day, instead of the following Tuesday, so I would have more time to wrap them. I thought that was very kind of her, since the banquet isn't until June 12th. She really understands my busy life. We met in the parking lot of Target and I got the gifts.

On Monday, there was a call for volunteers to buy water, or bake items for sale at the concert. I was pleasantly surprised to see I was thanked for agreeing to wrap the gifts. I went to Costco Tuesday and bought the water, which Two unloaded for me at the end of concert rehearsal. The president met me there, with a basket to hold the gifts for presentation. I still hadn't wrapped them, but I figured it was good to have the basket in advance.

When I opened my email this afternoon, it slowly dawned on me that the gifts wouldn't be presented to the seniors at the banquet, but TONIGHT AT THE CONCERT! That's why the president gave me the presents and the basket! That's why they thanked me for volunteering! Oh my God, I had 36 small boxes to wrap and get to the the school by 6:30, and I hadn't even chosen a design motif!

Lucky for me, I employ a color-coded wrapping system at Christmas. Each boy gets all his presents wrapped in one solid color-red, green, blue, white, or gold. So, I already had green and gold paper, which are the school colors. I ran downstairs, unrolled "Santa's" paper, and set up shop on the air hockey table. I'm not actually Wonder Woman, so Four and Five had to skip tae kwon do, but they did manage to get most of their homework done. I sliced and individually wrapped a dozen large, gooey brownies, and I flew out the door with Two, the gifts, and the extra wrapping supplies.

The Captain and the little boys joined me at the concert. It was stifling in the auditorium, but Four and Five hung in there. When the singing began, Five asked, "Where are the priests? It sounds like church in here." Then Four said, "I can hear Two. He sounds great! You handed that down to him, right Dad?" His father was once asked, at a family funeral, to stop singing, so he laughed, and said, "No, he gets that from Mom."

The kids sounded great, as usual. At the end of the concert, the gifts were distributed, and no one knew how close they had come to leaving empty-handed. Yesterday, Oprah said to listen for the voice of God, which comes in a whisper at first, but can progress to shouting, or worse, if unheeded. I smiled as I listened to the choir perform "Battle Hymn of the Republic." I hadn't heard the whispers, so I'm glad I got the screaming email . Glory, glory, hallelujah- it saved me.

26 May 2011


I've been a tad cranky this week. There are a number of factors contributing to my irritability, and I will now kindly list them for you.

My house is very cluttered and disorganized. I have a very high tolerance for this sort of thing, which should give you some sense of how far things have spiraled out of control.

Our new dog has a bladder the size of a soy bean. This means I must be ever-vigilant for the faintest hint of the need to relieve herself, or she will pee on my floor. Or my carpet. Or the foyer tile.

This week is especially busy with events. Four and Five had tae kwon do on Tuesday, and will again on Thursday, the same night as Two's choral concert, and Three's baseball game. Five had his game tonight. Friday morning Four has his school concert, the new dog gets groomed, and Two has his play that evening. Three plays double-header baseball on Saturday morning, and Two closes out the play Saturday night. On Sunday we host the Memorial Day family barbecue.

Three got in trouble with his math teacher for farting in class. He claims it was an accident. Our exchange:
"Three, have you ever heard a girl fart?"
"No, because they don't fart."
"Everyone farts, Three! They just do it silently, or out of the classroom! Learn from the girls!"
I cannot wait for this school year to be over.

I am having a difficult time writing the book. I am dedicating time every day, but I'm struggling. I think all the contest comments have my head spinning, and I am second-guessing everything I type.

That's all the pissing and  moaning. It's tiring, so I am going to focus on these things instead:

It has been sunny here for the past two days! The Ark has been placed in dry dock!

I think I have a behavior modification plan for the new dog, which does not involve making her live outside, or with a different family!

Four and Five earned their orange belts! My children are athletic and artistic!

I wrote my guest post for The Bettyverse today, and sent it off to Alastair! It will run on Friday, June 17. The Bettyverse is the new spin-off blog of LucyMarch.com, which will debut in early June. When I have more details, I'll let you know, so you can go read me somewhere else!

I took the new chapter in a different direction, which should make it easier to write!

I've got nothing for the messy house, or the farting child. Some things cannot be positively spun.

But I feel better.

FYI: If you are having  trouble commenting on Blogger, I heard from a friend that you should try another browser. I use Internet Explorer and haven't had an issue.

25 May 2011

Singing, Dancing, Worrying

The end of the school year is fast-paced and often overwhelming. Each week is full of some end-of-year event that I must attend. Last week, Five sang in the First Grade concert, and this Friday, Four will perform at his school.

Four's concerts are always fun, because the music teachers form a house band, and the kids sing contemporary songs.  Many of the students in his school are classified with autism spectrum disorder, so it's very uplifting to see them on the stage, singing and dancing. I always cry.

Four has a lovely singing voice, with good pitch, and a nice tone. He also can hear a song once, and know most of the words. It's the same skill set that allows him to watch a television show, and then repeat the dialogue ad nauseum. The other day, I was listening to Adele in the car, and after hearing the chorus the first time ("Rumour has it/ Rumour/ Rumour has it") he sang along for the rest.

He's musically inclined, but learning an instrument is a challenge. He's been taking piano lessons at school, but it's nearly impossible to get him to practice at home. That would require sitting, and he prefers to move. Lying on the couch to play Nintendo DS would be the exception. Yesterday, he wanted to stand to do his homework at the kitchen table, and I was fine with that. Whatever gets it done.

I worry about the future, for all my children, but especially my boys with special needs. They each have unique skills that don't necessarily translate to career descriptions. One has a brain like a sponge. If you need to know, right this very minute, how many tons an African elephant weighs, One can tell you. Or, if you are unsure what countries comprised the Triple Entente in World War One, he knows that, too. And you can ask him anything about animals, especially wolves and birds of prey. Four has instant auditory recall, fantastic reading comprehension, and acting and singing ability.

So, I'm thinking research assistant, and voice-over artist? I need help figuring it out. Actually, there is help available, but I need to make the time to fill out forms and go on appointments. And that seems to be the biggest challenge for me, because my life is fast-paced and often overwhelming--every day of the year.

24 May 2011


When Erin was here, we were driving home from the mall, and she called one of her daughters in college. They proceeded to have a twenty-minute conversation. They talked about finals, and packing up the dormitory room. They reviewed what she would need to bring for her trip east, and who she should contact regarding her new living quarters. They hypothesized that perhaps the new roomates wouldn't mind a small pet, but, either way, that would have to be decided soon. In between, there was some discussion about overall health. It was a far-ranging exchange.

When Erin hung up, I told her how the conversation would have sounded between me and Two:

"Are you done with finals?"
"How'd you do?"
"Are you packed to go?"
"Okay. Text me when you get on the road."
"You got it, Mommy-O."

And then he would forget to text me.

Case in point: Two took a trip this weekend with the concert choir. They travelled to Williamsburg, Virginia to compete, but had fun stops along the way. The first night they enjoyed a dinner cruise in Norfolk. The following day they performed in a competition, and visited  Busch Gardens. On the last day they meandered through Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Two did not text us to say he had arrived safely. He reached out at 5:50 P.M. Saturday to say, "I love you guys. Y'know, in case the world ends." The next, and final, text arrived Sunday night. "One of you needs to be at the school at 7:30." That was it for the whole weekend.

When I pulled up to get him, he was wearing 1980's sunglasses, holding a giant, stuffed banana, and carrying a paper sign. I asked him about the weekend, and got bare details, except for descriptions of the crazy rollercoasters that he absolutely would never ride, and the restaurant where they ate in Baltimore. It's called "Dick's," and apparently, the wait-staff abuses you while you eat. The paper sign was actually a hat, with an obnoxious comment about Two scrawled across it. I can't believe I didn't come up with this idea.

When we got home, the Captain asked about the competition. Two knew the concert choir took first place, but couldn't remember in which category! He did, however, regale his father with more stories about Dick's, and other rude hats. So, that's all we learned about the trip.

I don't recall Two being particularly quiet as a child, so I think this reticence is an acquired teenage trait. It doesn't really bother me, because our house has plenty of chatty Chucks. I think boys, in general, are less likely to spill  their feelings; so if I want to know something, I must put on my pith helmet and dig. And, if that fails, I just talk at them about the important issues. (Please see "Condom Shopping.")

I do wonder if my propensity to bark orders has contributed to this dearth of dialogue. Maybe if I was more inquisitive, more probing, they might open up more. Oh wait, I forgot that they don't listen to me after the fourth word. Thus, the boys and I will never have the same conversational relationship my sister has with her daughters. But, as they all grow and reach teen-hood, I think I will have something better. Silence.

23 May 2011


The Captain and I went out to dinner last night, with his friend from work and her husband. We drove through a torrential downpour, which I thought might portend the end of days, but felt better when I saw no flying bodies. We arrived no worse for wear, and sat at the bar to wait for Elle and Nick. The Captain ordered a Stella Artois beer. I almost checked for a zipper down his spine, certain that his body had been snatched.

At some point this year, the Captain overreacted to one of my comments about his personal habits. One day, I had to drive to the train station to get something out of his car, so I asked him to tell me where he was parked. When he indicated it was the same space every day, I said, "Of course it is."  He took offense to my tone, and has since set about proving he can be unpredictable. He now parks his car in a different spot each day. He orders fancy beer instead of Heineken. It's silly. His predictability is one of his most endearing qualities. He's the very definition of steadfast.  After all, he's been with me for twenty-five years, and his company for twenty-three.

The Captain and Elle have worked together for twenty years. They are friends, who have amassed a lifetime of memories that are distinct from the ones I share with my husband. I find this fascinating. Each day he leaves the house, and has a whole other life separate from the one we have created. Of course, he tells me about it, and I've met some of the people he works with, and they all know about me and the boys. But every once in a while, like last night at dinner, it strikes me that he spends more waking hours each week away from me, with people whose faces I will never know.

In contrast, I have never had a career. Jobs, yes. Part-time, mostly. The Captain has always known where I am, and who I am with, because it's usually the children. This year, as I've reached out across the internet, and gone off to conference, he's had a glimpse of my experience with his career. I wonder if he finds it all unpredictable and worrisome, or if he can send me off to "virtual" work everyday with the same confidence I have in him.

How much detail, or daily interaction, do you need to feel like you really know someone?

20 May 2011

Saturday Snapshots

Let's begin our visual presentation with our biggest news: The New Dog!
This is Cobie.

She's cute, right? Leo doesn't think so.
 The aggrieved party:

He's slightly less depressed now. He seems to be grasping the whole Alpha mandate, so their relationship is improving.
Speaking of relations:
Here is Erin's family! I asked the girls if I could post their picture, and they looked at me like I had two heads. Who among them doesn't already have a facebook page? Exactly.

Alene, Caitlin, Donald, and Brenna at "South Pacific."
We most definitely are not experiencing any tropical weather here! It continues to rain every day. Therefore, it is more important than ever to visit the all-season tree. Here she is, gussied up for Spring.

Covered with many eggs and birdies.
We think we might do Father's Day next. Lots of slippers, Sports Illustrated magazines, (especially the Swimsuit issue), barbecue tongs, and whoopie cushions. We welcome your suggestions!
And speaking of trees:
Recently, the town hired tree cutters to remove branches from around the power lines. I don't know if the tree owners asked, or if the cutters decided on their own, to leave these branches alone. They reach out from opposite sides of the road, their leaves entwined like lovers' desperate fingers in a final embrace. I have named them Romeoak and Maple-ette.

Thank you, as always, for sharing the week with me. I'll see you on Monday!

The Results Are In

No, not more test results. Contest results! I checked my email this afternoon, and there was a message from the contest coordinator for the Winter Rose writing contest. My phone only prints some of the message, so it read, "Dear Megan: I'm pleased to announce that your entry, BIG SKY, has placed..." I was standing in the driveway and I thought, "Holy shit, I won!" I quickly opened the email, and saw "SECOND in the CONTEMPORARY SINGLE TITLE of the Winter Rose contest!"  And I've gotta say, I was disappointed. I wanted to win. But honestly, I know I didn't deserve to. The novel isn't finished. It needs work. And that is why I entered it-for the judge's comments. For those alone, it was worth the entry fee.

Three kind readers took the time to critique my submission. All of them scored it, and wrote comments in the manuscript. I haven't even fully reviewed those yet, but I did read the score sheets, and they were extremely helpful. The first judge was incredibly detailed, so much so that she (I'm just assuming her gender) corrected some of my punctuation. We all think she must be an editor, because she had marked up my manuscript with color-coded highlighted sections that denoted different issues.

I would have been overwhelmed, but she gave me the highest score, and genuinely loved everything about the book except for one major issue. This she emphasized, repeatedly, with many exclamation points attached. I don't disagree with her; in fact, she's going to get a big ole' thank you note, for taking so much time out of her life to help me make my novel better. I will send notes to all the judges, including Margo Lipshultz from Harlequin, who read all the finalists' entries in my category. For thirty-five dollars, I got the sum of all their knowledge, and more encouragement than criticism.

As I read the comments to June and Janet, I found myself disagreeing with some of their points. I think this is good. It proves I have confidence in my story, even if the execution can be improved. Ms. Lipshultz finished her note to me with this:

"Then again, fiction is so subjective that this might just be my own reaction, so please take this feedback with a grain of salt."

Not everyone will like my novel. That's why it's so important for me to keep writing the story I love. I'm okay with second place. For now.

19 May 2011

Someday, She'll Be Ours, All Ours!

My sister, Erin, left New Jersey today. It was a brief visit, but I think we packed in the shenanigans. I hardly made her clean the house at all, and she and the Captain enjoyed much television and wine. Indeed, the Captain was happy to have someone beside him on the couch, because I rarely watch anymore. Plus, Erin enjoys the same shows. They got to watch "NCIS," "The Mentalist," and "Castle." On two occasions, I joined them, only to fall asleep. It's like some sort of Kramer/Mary Hart seizure disorder-some voices just knock me right out.

We got Erin all to ourselves for a few days, and set her up in her room downstairs. Sometimes we let other people use it as the "guestroom," but it's officially known as "Aunt Erin's room." We told her we'd put in a bathroom if she came to live with us permanently. From the way we talk, you might assume that Erin has no family of her own. In fact, she has a husband and three daughters, all of whom are in Arizona. Her twins are entering their last year of college, and her third will be a junior. They are all lovely girls, who really don't know us, because they grew up on the other side of the country. Over the years they've visited more often, and have developed a tolerance for the chaos and noise of my home.

The girls and their father, Donald, flew to New Jersey to join Erin at a fancy birthday party for Donald's niece. We got to spend a few days with them, and it was terrific. They ate dinner with us, twice, as we peppered them with questions about their future plans. They were game, and went to watch Three perform in "South Pacific,"  before heading home exhausted (it was overly long). They sat, patiently attentive, as Four and Five demonstrated their Tae Kwon Do moves in the living room. Then they ran for their lives. I'm probably exaggerating; but it takes years of immersion in the House of Penii to withstand its rigors. Not everyone can survive it.

Erin has spent the last few months visiting my mother and sister in Florida. Tonight, she and her girls will return to the Gulf for ten more days. Then they will all go back to Arizona, and their "real" lives. I'm happy she's been able to take the time to be with Mom, which is what we all long for now.

My sister will return to New Jersey in July to join us, and twenty-odd other relatives, in the big Victorian by the sea. For two weeks, various families will come and go, swim and crab, play Rummikub and cards, and eat Pappou's ice cream. It will be chaotic, noisy, bittersweet fun, because it will probably be the last time we all get to share a house with Mom. I don't think she'll be up to the massive undertaking next year. But wherever she goes, we'll follow. With Erin, because we're planning her abduction.

18 May 2011

My Coy Innards

Before I had my procedure last week, my Aunt asked if I would post the results on the blog. I told her I wasn't sure, because, really, how intimate do we want to be, folks? But since last night's sexual intentions alert, I feel like we've gotten closer. I would have shared last week, but Blogger broke on Friday, and then the weekend came, and I forgot about it. Some of you have been kind enough to ask how I'm doing, so here are the deets.

My upper endoscopy was scheduled for 10:30 on Thursday morning. The Captain took the day off to accompany me, and Erin stayed home with the dogs. The surgical center is brand new, quite lovely, and feng-shui correct. There was a beautiful water feature behind the reception area, and all the furnishings were patterned in subtle greens and wood tones. The nurses, however, all wore blue. It was jarring. I may comment on that in my customer service survey.

Despite their clashing uniforms, the nurses were terrific. There were many of them, and they instantly endeared themselves to me by offering heated blankets. The facility was very cold, and soon I was buried under three blankets. Then they inserted an I.V. and pumped cold fluid through my veins. I asked for another blanket, because they were losing their coziness as I waited for my doctor. He was on-call at the hospital, and had not yet arrived.

I could feel my blood pressure rising, not because I was nervous, but because I'm busy. I get that he's a doctor, off saving people's gastro-intestinal systems, but my time is valuable, too. And I'd sent Five to school that day, knowing he didn't feel well, so I worried that the school nurse would call while I was under anesthesia. And what great stuff that was! Fast-acting and effective.

When I awoke, a new nurse brought me ginger ale and Lorna Doone cookies. We talked discharge instructions, I got dressed, and then I waited in a recliner for my doctor. Frankly, I waited too long, but that could be my pesky sense of self-importance talking. Finally, he arrived to tell me the results, and here is where the facility fails. He spoke to me in front of other patients. Really? There's no private office in all of those swanky digs? That's definitely going in the survey.

So, thanks for following this fashion-conscious, mildly disparaging, commentary all the way to here, just to find out that the endoscopy didn't reveal anything out of the ordinary. We're waiting on biopsy results to find out if there is H. Pylori present, which could indicate an ulcer, but they didn't see one. They also took samples to test for celiac disease, but my symptoms are not indicative of that. So...I will now schedule another test, which will determine if my gallbladder is failing. And then they can yank that sucker.

When I know those results, I promise to write a one-line post, to reward you for sitting through this one.

17 May 2011

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Program

And so the pendulum swings.

Yesterday we were so proud of Three, and tonight he barely escaped with this life. His grades are sucky, he freaked out about some assignment, and then he didn't have the common sense (well, he never does) to get his ass in bed on time.

Today I found out from Master Cho that Four told nice, young Master Corey to shut up the other day. Then we had a long chat about Four, because the Master didn't know he's on the autism spectrum. Four's behavior earned him a stern talking-to from Master Cho, and there will be another tomorrow. I'm a little nervous, because some days the carrot works on Four, and other days the stick is more effective. But if you try the wrong one on the wrong day, it completely backfires.  I hope it goes well, because Four and Five are taking their orange belt test on Wednesday, and I would like them to succeed.

Two gave me completely screwed up information about some meeting I was supposed to attend tonight, after I sent his father to get him at the high school. I went to the meeting, after yelling at him on the phone, because we had reviewed this information three times today. His brain is mind-blowingly vacant some days. Fucking arrggghh.

The God-blessed dogs have yet to work out their relationship, and the lovely Cobie messed on my carpet twice. I know we're in transition, but she can't annoy Leo AND shit in my house. Cute only gets you so far.

Our dryer has decided to join our other recently deceased appliances, and the estimate on my new furnace boiler has increased four hundred dollars since I met with the salesperson in November. Seriously?

I stopped by Home Depot to price out bathroom vanities. The boys' bathroom is currently held together by duct tape and prayer, so that was our designated spring project. Then everything else collapsed around us, so we're a little nauseous. The space for the vanity is irregular, so I found out I need something custom made. Naturally.

I'm going to go have sex with my husband. It's free, it's fun, and we'll be alone.

Then I'll tell him the price of the vanity.

16 May 2011

Defying Expectations

It was a typically busy weekend, but not with the usual activities. There were no baseball games to attend, and hardly any schlepping of teenagers to far-flung locales. Instead, there was The Play. As in, three nights of Boy Three's school production of "South Pacific."

Each year, the middle school theatre department presents an elaborate musical. About one hundred singing, tap-dancing, set-moving students work together for months, under the direction of three very dedicated teachers, to create a stunning showcase. Every time I sit in the darkened all-purpose room,  I am astounded by the talent of the young performers.

Two was in every production during his years in attendance. He began in the ensemble for "Grease," had a small speaking part in "42nd Street," and progressed to the dramatic role of Maurice, Belle's father, in "Beauty and the Beast." He knew fairly early on that he wanted to pursue acting, and we've supported that endeavor. But Three's involvement came as a bit of a surprise.

From the time he was very little, Three has always been our athlete. He showed an early propensity for sports of all kinds, and we've logged years of time standing on sidelines and sitting in bleachers. It's been thrilling, and agonizing, because, for every ounce of talent, Three has an equal amount of anxiety. This has manifested itself over the years as "injuries," which prevent him from attending practice, or playing in games. It also sometimes renders him incapable of accepting direction from his coaches, or guidance from his parents, because he twists it in his mind until it becomes paralyzing criticism.

It took many years for us to accept that Three would have to participate in sports on his own terms. I think part of the problem was recognizing that he had a real gift, and feeling like he was squandering it. But mostly, I think we assigned him a role, and expected him to perform. We saw that he had talent, he wanted to play, so we ran with that. Every parent wants to see their child succeed, and I suppose this is the thing we thought he would do best.

So it was a pleasant surprise when he came home and told me he had auditioned for the musical. He knew that it meant a wholesale commitment on his part for three months of almost daily rehearsals. He understood that it would interfere with baseball, and take time away from hanging with his friends. He did it anyway.He made new friends, with kids older and younger, and from different social groups. He learned that he has a good singing voice, and isn't a bad dancer. He had fun.

The Captain and I sat in the audience on opening night and marveled at our boy. In some ways, he's been our most challenging child. Outwardly, he doesn't display any of the issues that affect One or Four, but he shares some of their characteristics. He's a jock, but his best friends are kind of nerdy. He's self-centered, but has a real soft-spot for animals. He continues to confound us, but we like the new thespian-shaped piece in the puzzle. We're proud of him for taking a risk, and we can't wait to see what he'll try next.

11 May 2011

Prep Work

I just ate a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. I am scooping dessert for One and Four, and I am carefully planning how much I can shove in my mouth before midnight. Because after that, I'm NPO until 11:30 a.m. tomorrow. That's medi-jargon for "nothing by mouth," a.k.a. "fasting." Yes, dear readers, it's medical procedure time.

When I was done spending my Easter Sunday with the kind folks at St. Clare's Emergency Room, they handed me a bunch of discharge papers, including the name of a gastro-enterologist. Even after having an ultra-sound and a CAT scan, they couldn't find anything remarkably wrong with me. So, they referred me to a specialist. Amazingly, I followed their instructions! I met Dr. Barbarito the following week, and told him he was going to have to scope me.

Because he is an actual medical professional,  he asked questions about my latest attack, took a medical history, and agreed with my assessment. He would have to scope me. So, tomorrow at 10:30 I am scheduled to have a camera snake its way through my upper G.I. tract, so we can have a look-see at what caused me such distress.

I am totally ready for the procedure. I absolutely cannot go through an attack like that again. I don't have the time. I want that camera to worm it's way down and bump right up against something that can be surgically removed, thus instantly curing me. I will be psyched if it is a twenty pound ball of fat, that once excised, will halt the paralyzing pain, and make me instantly more svelte. Fingers crossed!

Now, I must go eat some more. Midnight is fast approaching.

The Day Only Counts If I Do What I Want

Over on Delia's blog, she has a category called "Paralyzingly Boring Introspection." I love that title. I don't classify my posts, because I would only have three selections: "Wasting Time When I Should Be Writing," "Damn Those Kids and Their Penises," or "I Am Fucking Busy, and I Can't Get Anything Done!"

Today would be Category Three. I did actually get a few things accomplished, but it just doesn't feel like it. I spent the morning supervising the dogs, as they tried to establish a relationship. The main problem seems to be that Leo isn't sure how to be an alpha dog, and Cobie refuses to interpret his attempts at dominance as anything other than play-acting. Apparently, miscommunication between the sexes is not limited to humans.

Erin finally had the brilliant idea to kennel Cobie, right at the moment it seemed Leo might rip off her nose. We still have a crate from the failed dog adoption, so we coaxed Cobie inside. She promptly fell asleep for two hours. We decided she is like a toddler, who gets so worked up and over-tired, she can't stop her bad behavior. The time-out worked nicely for both canines, so we employed it a few more times throughout the day. And now, they seem to be less agitated with one another.

After declaring doggie detente, Erin and I took Five, home sick for the day, on the shopping loop-Costco, Walmart, pharmacy, and Fed-Ex for flavor. Then Five had to go lay down. He's battling a virus/allergies/slight fever. Judging by the dark circles and pink cheeks, I think he'll be with me again tomorrow.

After Four came home from school, we left the little boys with Two so Erin could go to Macy's to buy a few things for a fancy party she must attend. No sooner had she stepped into the fitting room than my phone rang. Two forgot he had play practice. I left Erin at the store, and went home to get Two. I made Four change into his Tae Kwon Do uniform and come with us. We dropped Two at the high school, went and got Erin, and brought Four to Tae Kwon Do. He wanted his Aunt to watch him, so we stayed for stretching, blocks and kicks. His flexibility was very impressive! We left him in class, ran down the plaza to order a pizza, and ducked into the supermarket to get those few things I can't get at Costco, Walmart, the pharmacy, or, you know, Fed-Ex. As we left, I told Erin we had visited almost every single store I ever frequent, all in the span of five hours!

Four's TKD class didn't end well. He was sitting angrily on the floor, and the Master asked to speak with him. He wouldn't tell me what happened, and I didn't pester. Maybe tomorrow. We went home, fed everyone pizza, and I started this post. Erin cleaned the kitchen, because she's awesome. At eight o'clock, I retrieved Three from his play practice and deposited him at home, before leaving for the high school to collect Two from his chorus rehearsal. They each have upcoming performances.

Finally back home, I settled in at the kitchen table to help Two finish a research paper. It is already a day late, so his grade will suffer. But it's done, and now, so is this post. Six hours after I began writing it. See what I mean? I was fucking busy, and I didn't get anything done.

Perhaps from now on, I will just shorten this category to "Irrational Whining."

10 May 2011

The New Dog

We got another dog. Her name is Cobie, and she is an eight month-old, soft-coated Wheaten Terrier. She needed a home because her family had a little boy who was allergic to her saliva. Who knew that could happen? Not those poor folks, who were very sad to let their pet go. I hugged the mom when Cobie got in my van, because I know it was a difficult decision, even if for the right reasons.

Sean's wife called a week ago to ask if we wanted another dog. She is friends with Cobie's family, or perhaps not, since she recommended our house as a good place for their dog! We have many people who live here, and we are busy, as you know. Sometimes we are also loud. So, you've got to be the right kind of dog to decide to stay with us. We already have that kind of dog, and his name is Leo. He's a Goldendoodle, who looks like a standard poodle with a square nose. He's very mellow and accommodating, but....he's kind of wussy around other dogs. Especially smaller ones. So, the New Dog transition is going to take some time.

I brought Cobie home while all the boys were at school. I wanted us to have quiet time to bond, for her to understand I am the person in charge. You know, until the Captain gets home. Then he likes to imprint his Alpha-maleness upon all the creatures. He's done it to me at least five times. I like to think of us as an Alpha and Omega duo. Kind of like the awesome new Patricia Briggs series about Charles, the sexy, inscrutable werewolf, and his mate. Available now at your local bookseller!

I completely surprised all the boys, who had no idea Cobie was coming. They've asked for another dog in the past, and we tried once before, but we had to return that lass for biting Five in the face. The truth is, I'm not really a "dog person." My M.I.L. has mentioned this often enough that it's a bit of a running joke. I like dogs, but, apparently, without enough vigor to qualify me as a dog lover.

I'm okay with that. Leo and I have an understanding. I feed him, I pet him, I take him to the vet and the groomer. I made a commitment to him when he joined our family, that I would do my best to keep him healthy and happy. In exchange, he won't be too barky, he won't pee on my carpet, and he'll mostly lay about out of my way. It's not dissimilar from the arrangement I have with my teenagers. Leo and I shook on it, because I don't kiss dogs.

Now, Cobie is here, and I'm sure Leo is looking for his copy of the contract, because he can't figure out why I've upset the apple cart. I do love him. I just love my kids more. And they, in return, will love the dogs slavishly. See? Still not a dog person, but I'm not crazy. Really.

09 May 2011

Where In The World Was The Lone Woman?

On Thursday afternoon, my sister-in-law called to ask if I wanted to fly to Florida with my brother, to surprise Mom for Mother's Day. Sean offered to use his mileage to fly me for free. It was a generous offer, but I still had to run it by the Captain. After all, we both went away last weekend, and this Sunday our house was booked for family festivities. He told me to go, because he is The Captain, and he understands that time is precious and well spent with my mother.

So, when I blogged about all I had to do in preparation for the weekend, I left out that I also had to pack! Lucky for me, my suitcase was still sitting in my bedroom, not yet completely devoid of the remains of my trip to Salem. See, sometimes sloth is helpful.

I ran around like a loon on Friday, the Captain came home a little early, and off Sean and I flew-First Class! Mi hermano travels quite a bit for his job, so he's worked his way up the Elite Class ladder. It was a treat.
We arrived late at night, and drove the hour plus to my mother's, where my sisters, Kate and Erin, were already encamped. They snuck us in, and we had a mini-reunion in one of the bedrooms, whispering and laughing like we were up late at a sleep-over party.
Sean, Erin, and Kate. Yes, we're Irish.
And goofy.

No matter how old we get, we fall into the same childhood rhythms when we get together. We rib one another about the same quirks we've always had, and tease about who Mom loves best. (Me, even though she would never admit it. It's okay, Mom, I know the truth.)
After taking some late night photos, we picked on Erin for her white noise needs. She requires a fan in her room, which blows at roughly the same volume as a jet engine. Which got us talking about fighter planes, and "Baa Baa Black Sheep," a show we all loved in the 80's. We laughed about how we girls thought Robert Conrad was so hot! Sean only watched for the fighter planes, of course.

The next morning, we all waited for Mom in the family room. She opened the door, and I watched as her brain tried to comprehend who she was seeing. And then she cried.

We spent the whole day at the pool, just laying about, or sitting with our feet in the water. Everyone was more intrepid than I, and actually swam. Instead, I chose to sparingly apply sunscreen, and thus, roast until well done. I am lobster pink right now. If you look closely, I'm sure you can see the odd red stripes down my arms and legs.

I'm hoping to be one solid color by Thursday.
Erin and Kate had to leave Saturday evening, but Sean and I stayed Sunday. Mom wanted to play Rummikub, so we honored her request. I won all three rounds (sorry, Mom) which was awesome, because Sean is very competitive, and I like beating him. See how juvenile I get?
I made everyone go out to lunch, so I could bask in the lovely weather one more time. Don't worry, I sat under an umbrella, to protect the third-degree burns.

It was a lovely end to our visit.
I'm so grateful I was able to go. I missed my boys, but I knew they were home, having fun with their cousins. I'm going to go kiss them now, and climb in bed. It's late, and I'm tired. But happy.

I know Mom was thrilled, and we were so lucky to share the day with her. Thanks to my great family, for making it happen, including Pappou, who patiently took pictures with everyone's individual cameras, and made ice cream!

Tomorrow: New Dog...

06 May 2011

I Slept Beside Timothy Olyphant

I fell asleep last night watching "Justified." If you are a fan of the show, you know that 53 riveting, action-packed, tension-filled minutes are coming your way every week. It is nearly impossible to look away, much less fall prey to the siren call of somnolence. So, I think I was tired.

I huffed along on the fumes of the post-conference high for the first two days of the week. But then the reality of my life caught up with me. I have at least two weeks of papers I have to rifle through, kids' sports and play commitments every day, laundry that just won't wash itself, dammit, and homework to supervise every night. Yesterday, I stood outside for an hour watching Five's baseball team attempt to catch and throw in wind gusts that would make North Dakota jealous, and I'm fairly certain that's what did me in. Too much fresh air.

I've been trapped indoors for the past eighteen months of winter, and my body just can't make a radical shift in climate conditions. It's too jarring. I need to intersperse my nature-communing with something familiar, like sitting inside, in front of a computer. I'm like a domesticated animal being introduced to the wild. I need to  work up to a few minutes outside every day, while you hand-feed me.

I have much to accomplish today. I'm trying to get the house in order for Mother's Day, a/k/a/ "Easter Redux." I have to pick Three up at school and take him to have his braces removed, and then re-deposit him, so he can attend play practice. I have phone calls to make, and I might even try to dust the guest room, in preparation for my sister's arrival on Monday. Then, she can help me clean the rest of my house! I love Erin.

All our lives are busy, and it's natural to get caught up in the whirlwind. Sometimes, though, our bodies just quit, and we need to heed that message. So, before I get moving again, I'm going to take my cup of coffee, sit down on my couch, and watch U.S Marshal Raylan Givens kick some ass. It's justified.

05 May 2011

The Peep Show

All of you have been so kind with your compliments, and words of encouragement. I'm touched that you read the Diaries, and have expressed an interest in my novel. See how I didn't call it my work in progress? I'm visualizing it as a completed product. It's my next step toward actually finishing it.

To that end, I am going to attend the New Jersey Romance Writers conference in October, and ask for an agent appointment. I'm excited to have a real deadline! There is much work to be done, but I'm pretty good under pressure. However, I need your help. One of the speakers at the NECRWA conference posited that a book must "hook" the reader within the first five pages. If one isn't interested in the characters at that point, chances are that book is going back on the shelf. But, you know, no pressure.

So, I went back and read my first five pages. I've shown them to half the country already, in my capacity as Contest Slut, but after the conference, I wanted to revise, revise, revise. I'm trying to suppress that urge, and move forward toward completion. Then I'll go back and gussy it up. So, I'm going to give you a peek at what is currently making the rounds of the pageant contest circuit, and you can let me know if you're "hooked." Geez, I've gone from slut to pusher in five sentences.

Here's the first paragraph, and if you want more you can follow this link over to Lyrics and Failures. There's space over there, because it's more a storage facility than a real blog. I'm sure there's an easier way to do this, but I'm a little computer stupid.

Tomorrow, a real post. Maybe about penises.

An Excerpt:

She heard the crunch of the tires before she saw the lights. Flashing lights. Although it had been years since her last encounter with the law, Sibby O’Connor instinctively reviewed her possible infractions. Unlike the 1992 incident, she wasn’t speeding. Her inspection sticker was current (summons issued, 1995), and all her taillights were working (warning, 1999). Maybe her New Jersey plates had triggered some east coast terrorist alert, but honestly, would radical extremists drive a 2003 Dodge Caravan? As she dug in her purse to find her license, indignation rising at this flagrant display of geographic bias, she heard Caleb behind her.
“Mom, there’s a policeman at the window,” he said, from the confines of his booster seat.

04 May 2011

Cut Me, Mick

I started to write my book because I had finished a few Jennifer Crusie novels, and they were so wonderfully crafted, rendered with such seemingly effortless style, that I wanted to author the next one. I actually said, "I am going to write the next Jennifer Crusie novel, under the pseudonym Megan Coakley." Obviously, I didn't comprehend how much work is required for an "effortless" read. But I had an idea-a movie, really-in my mind, and I thought, "I should write that."

Shortly thereafter, I got invited to a U2 concert.  I wanted something to commemorate the event because I don't get to many concerts. And it's U2! (I love you, Larry Mullen, Jr.!) I bought a t-shirt with a picture of cherubs entwined under the arcing phrase, "The future deserves a big kiss." While standing in line, waiting to pay a ridiculous amount of money for my flimsy t-shirt, I imagined an entire love scene based on that quote. And that's what convinced me to begin my novel.

I keep writing because I have great friends. June and Janet are my support system, my beta readers, my agent, and my editor. I gave them my first attempts, even before I let the Captain read them. If Janet had told me, ever so politely, to take my life in a different direction, my "work in progress" would have progressed no further. When June sent me that first email, explaining how she missed her subway stop because she was so engrossed in reading what I had sent her, it gave me the courage to continue.

I shared that story with Ellen and Sarah, two lovely women I met in Salem. Ellen was relating how she called Sarah to say she had registered for the conference, and, without hesitation, Sarah agreed to go with her. Together, they fantasized about how they would submit their manuscripts to the agents and editors, who would be so impressed by their brilliance, a bidding war would erupt over the rights to publish. We all laughed, but I remarked how important it is to have somone who believes in your potential, who goes in, whole hog, for the fantasy.

After June read my first chapters, she called to say she couldn't wait to plan my book signing. It was an outlandish statement, but it made me want to succeed, if for no other reason than to prove that my friend's faith in me wasn't misplaced.

I am blessed to have a family that encourages me. I would not be sitting here, typing on this beautiful laptop, if it weren't for the Captain's unwavering support. I have sisters who read for me all across the nation, and keep asking for more. But it was Janet who helped shape those first pages, and June who coaxed me online, which led me to the Betties, my blog, and you! They helped put me on a path toward my future.

When the Captain and I realized the conference was the same weekend as his hockey tournament in Montreal, Janet and June said they would watch the boys. You may have heard I have five of them. But they signed up anyway. They are always in my corner, rooting for my success. They are the Mick to my Rocky, and I want to write a knock-out novel for them. I hope you have someone cheering you on, someone who sees your greatness even when you can't. It's inspiring.

03 May 2011

The Verbose Mr. Five

I snuggled with Four and Five at bedtime. Two years ago, it was nearly impossible to get Four to go to sleep. He would toss, talk, burrow, and generally flail until sheer exhaustion finished him off. We were ready to lose our minds. Medication has helped, and now he falls asleep with relative ease.

There is nothing clinically wrong with Five. At least nothing that's been diagnosed. He does, however, suffer from what my grandparents would call "diarrhea of the mouth." He talks all day long. He tells rambling stories, and re-enacts funny television moments. He rants. He giggles. He talks until the moment he falls asleep. Here is a sample of tonight's bedtime conversation.

"Mom, you wouldn't want to be alive in ancient times, because of the giant ants. There were worker ants, and fighter ants, and the queen. The worker ants were this big...(he holds his fingers six inches apart), and the fighter ants were this big...(ten inches), and you don't even want to know how big the queen was!"

"Did you learn that in science class?"

"No, I learned it from One. He's a science whiz. You know what's nocturnal, and small, and back out at night now? I'll give you a hint. They buzz. Mosquitoes. Did you know that the male mosquitoes just bite, but the female ones suck the blood? I thought they all sucked the blood. Huh. The females lay the eggs, though, and then they spend some time swimming. We saw some at the grist mill. There was a huge trough, and we knocked it over, and the water poured out like a tsunami, and all the water bugs got washed away. Except for a big blue one."

"Go to sleep, Five."

"The girls didn't do it, though. Kelsey talks to Damon a lot. So, you know what I do? I tell Damon he should run. Because she's trying to get him. And when she gets older, she might catch him! You know what's funny? Yesterday, on 'Sponge-Bob', Patrick got a suntan, and Sponge-Bob asked him how he felt, and he said, 'I feel like a soda commercial.' And then, they showed this old guy with a soda can, and he said, 'Drink it!' (holds can up to mouth, puts can down, brings it back up), 'Drink it!' (repeats gesture), 'Drink it!' (repeats gesture). It's so funny when they put real people into the, you know, the animated show!"

"Go to sleep, Five."

"Why do you suppose bats are nocturnal?"

"Because that's when they hunt."

"Well, that doesn't make sense, because then all the carnivores would be nocturnal. And you don't see the foxes out at night. You know where they live? In the woods, near that little lake. That's where they have their den. And that lake is covered with a billion mosquitoes."

"Go. To. Sleep. Five."

"I would, but I hate my bed. It's so uncomfortable. And my pillow is always hot. I need that pillow that I saw on the commercial. It's always cold! You don't have to turn it over. Because even when I turn mine over, then that side gets hot. I need the pillow from the commercial."

"Five! Go to sleep!"

"Oh, okay."

I think I need medication.

02 May 2011

I'm Happy He's Dead: Murky Morality

I was writing the post tonight, and Two came in and told me that Osama Bin Laden is dead.
"Says who?" I asked.
"All my friends on facebook. And CNN."
At least he had the smarts to check a reliable source.
I stopped writing about my post-conference crash, and went to turn on the television. It's late, but we're waiting to hear what the president has to say.

Three had civil rights concerns.
"Isn't it illegal to shoot him if he's unarmed? Aren't we supposed to take him to a court of law?"
I found myself in the odd position of defending our nation's right to hunt down a man and kill him.
"Nope," I answered firmly. "He's an enemy combatant. We've been actively trying to kill him for ten years."
Surely this goes against Christian teaching.

This is a murky area for me as a mother. I spend a large part of my day teaching the pack problem-solving skills, to help them avoid physical violence. I am giving them a more comprehensive religious education than I ever had as a child. I actively encourage forgiveness.

But I am happily awaiting confirmation of that man's death.

I think it is right that I will sit with Two and Three on the couch, and feel satisfaction. Today's news will help them, and me, remember that evil is a tangible foe, not to be overlooked or forgotten in the details of our daily lives.

There is a famous quote: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Do you agree?

01 May 2011

What I Learned at Conference

Romance writers are an incredibly supportive group.

Agents and editors want you to succeed.

It sucks to go when you're feeling crappy, but the positive energy makes you better!

You can write at any age.

It is better to write a beautiful, well-crafted novel than a quick one.

I need a better thesaurus.

Writing is a gift that must be shared. 

I was considered an "extrovert." That's a nice word for pushy, right?

Lani Diane Rich is a kind and welcoming soul.

Anne Stuart is a hoot.

Annette Blair made me cry when she read thank you letters from her readers.

I am a great writer. But Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol is still better.

Wait. I wasn't supposed to add that last part.

I am a great writer!

The Betties Rock.
In front: Megan, Deborah, Lani/Lucy, and Katy.
Delia is behind me, and Kate George, fearless conference coordinator, is behind Lani.