Obligatory New Year Post

At the end of the year it is the law of the land that you look back on what you have accomplished (or not) and then look forward and make unattainable goals for the new year.

I was going to say that I don't like to follow rules and refuse to do this. But the sad truth is I'm actually the worst kind of conformist - to my own rules. Therefore, I decree, I shalt ponder the year...

As this is primarily intended as a writing blog, I will focus on that.

What I accomplished in 2008:
1. Completed a two year long Children's Literature course.
2. Began writing this blog (and got a small number of readers).
3. Accepted to Journal Instructor Certification course.
4. Submitted two articles and two queries.
5. Had one article accepted.
6. "Hired" as a journal instructor.
7. Hired as a grantwriter (and do-everything-elser) by a non-profit.
8. (and this is the biggest achievement in my mind): Began thinking of and believing in myself as a Writer (yes, that's with a capital W).

What I hope to accomplish in 2009:
1. Make a writing schedule for myself that I stick to as if it were a work obligation ("no, I'm sorry I can't bake 24 dozen cupcakes for this afternoon, because, well, I don't bake, and I have to work.")
2. Write this blog at least once a week, preferably twice.
3. Continue "The Tale of Two Couples." (The telling of this story became hard for me, something I wasn't expecting. I have yet to figure out why... still too close to the heart??)
4. Take the time to read more blogs.
5. Write in my journal daily.
6. Read more of the magazines to which I would like to submit.
7. Write, write, write, submit, submit, submit...

Anyone want to be the "Ethel" to my "Lucy" (i.e. be my buddy and nag me to keep to my goals)? (I credit The Momstown's Guide to Getting it All for this idea, and I think it especially appropriate to me as I have the right name.)

OK, obligatory reflection and goal-setting done. Now I have to wish you all the obligatory good wishes and success for the coming year.

May there be:
A world-wide effort towards peace (starting with me and you)
Food for hungry stomachs
Hope for trembling hearts
Joy in tear-filled eyes
Fewer natural disasters and no human-made ones
Less hate and much, much more love.

And I send many good vibes to our new president...


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Just a quickie

No, not that kind (get your head out of the gutter).

No, this is just a quick, boastful post to say...


In Mama Says (this is the link to their blog, not the zine itself). My understanding is it is just a small Vermont publication, but I don't care. You have to start somewhere, right? and a homegrown zine in my own state is as good a start as any. It is an essay on talking to my children about God and religion. I can't wait to actually see my name in print.

And, on another happy note: It is official... I will be teaching a journal workshop at the end of February. I will be listed on the Writer's Center website with bio and everything (not that I have much of a bio).

I believe the life of my dreams is beginning to unfold. Ironically, it is happening at the same time as my day job, my dream job, is becoming a bit of a nightmare. It seems serendipity is poking in its nose making sure I am fulfilled and feeling appreciated at a time when I could be feeling far from it. And I have more proof of this.

Even though I am tired from work, battling children and housework, I have started singing again. Like Agnetha from Abba, I could sing almost before I could talk and I have been singing alone or in a group my whole adult life. My highest achievement was singing with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra chorus, which I had to leave when my unborn child insisted on sleeping on my lungs. Since then, I haven't sung much at all (which I will also blame on my children). But recently I joined a church choir that has an amazing reputation and an even greater repertoire. A few weeks ago after the performance of Messiah, the soloist approached me and hugged me because she, amazingly, remembered me from my VSO days (over 6 years ago). She told me she remembered I had a beautiful voice and was glad I was singing with Rip (the incredibly talented director of the church choir). I don't know where this will lead but I'll keep singing and wait to find out.

I tell you this, not to boast, but to prove my point: DO WHAT YOU LOVE... you WILL have success!

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1991 called

I think I have mentioned before that I am addicted to planners. Not a bad addiction when you consider the options. But I fear I am woefully out of date (pun intended).

I watched the movie 27 Dresses where the main character Jane, played by Katherine Heigl, is a perpetual bridesmaid and wedding planner for her friends. She scribbles all her bridesmaidenly tasks in a dayplanner, which, when left in a cab is the cause of much distress and missed appointments. I relate... I would sit on my rump, head cocked sideways staring at the floor not having a clue what to do next if I mislaid my planner. My daughter has a book about some creature who makes a list of what he has to do that day but when it blows away in a wind gust he is helpless. When his friend suggests they look for the list he refuses because that wasn't on his list of things to do. I'm not quite that bad but if I accomplish something that wasn't on my to-do list I will write it down just so I can experience the pleasure of checking it off - a far more healthy obessesive trait, I believe.

Anyway, back to the movie... when the love interest in the movie finds Jane's planner, making fun of her, he says something about 1990-something wanting its planner back. At the end of the movie when they are all kissy-kissy and she has thrown out her closet-full of dresses (and symbolically, her past), he gives her some electronic, very 21st century, planning gizmo.

Now, before watching this movie I had no feelings of inferiority surrounding my complete dedication to the paper and pen method of time-management. In fact, I wondered why these very-berry thingy-ma-jigs were so popular - what was the point? But suddenly, I am questioning my whole life and its so-called efficiency. Why exactly do I carry around a 5lb tome when I could have a slick, clicky thing that fits in my pocket... and it's a phone too! Now, there's true efficiency for ya.

But I don't have a blackberry, or even a strawberry for that matter, and I probably won't have for a very long time (well. maybe I will in 2038 when everyone else has their daily schedule implanted behind their eyelids).

But continue to plan I must.

So, it was with resignation I ordered a Franklin-Covey designed especially for busy mothers. But when it arrived, its pink and brown mommy-ness and unmarked pages laying flat and shiny waiting for my life to fill its lines, reminded me why I love them. Yes, it's heavy and not as fun or multi-taskerific as a handheld computer/phone/camera/music player/kitchen sink but until 2038 when my grandaughter's discarded device is passed on to me, my planner and I will continue to make plans the good old fashioned way.


As an addendum to this story - when I opened my new planner and inhaled its scent in true addict fashion, my husband, who in true male fashion hates gift shopping, says to me, you better wrap that thing up and put it under the tree, it might the only thing you get. I think I deserve a blackberry after that comment... or at least a new cuddly sweater.

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Just asking

Why is it...

1. After you spend 20 minutes stuffing your children into their five layers of winter clothing, hats, mittens, and boots, they stay outside for exactly 2.2 minutes? And then after peeling them back out of it all, leaving a puddle of melted snow and ice on the rug (in which you step in your socked feet), they ask to go back out?

2. Your husband unexpectedly brings home a cheesy, gooey, yummy, pepperoni-free (miracles can happen) pizza half an hour before you leave for a Christmas party that includes food for which you have already (over)paid?

3. Daughter could be playing with anything, let's say something as uninteresting as the can opener, and Son will scream that it is his, so you try to distract him with, say, a wooden spoon; dropping the can opener, Daughter will yell that no, the spoon is hers, making Son once again focus on the spoon; so, you give them both wooden spoons, which they immediately crack over each other's head?

4. A Christmas ornament that somehow did not make it into the storage box last January 6th and has been hanging around all year, its location known even through a move, is no where to be found when you put up the tree? And with 100% certainty you know it will magically reappear once the Christmas box is back in storage, thus starting the process all over again?

5. In the same mail as you receive a surprise Christmas check from your grandmother, you get a surprise bill for the exact same amount?

6. Son's colon decides to empty itself in the most pungent, leak-potential way after you have just wrestled him into a clean diaper, clothes, snowpants, jacket, and boots, and you are already running 10-minutes late?

7. Children sleep like the dead through 1/2 hour of an eee-eee-eeeing alarm clock on school mornings but are awake and bouncing at 6AM on the weekend?

8. Children begin the I-really-need-a-nap-whine three hours earlier than usual on the very morning you were psyched up to go Christmas shopping, leaving you adrift and in denial that you could use the time to finish cleaning the kitchen (and so you write a pointless blog instead)?

Just asking...

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The Sob Fest

Two days ago I had a sob fest. Ya know, the kind that hits a woman once in a while when every day life becomes so overwhelming and so unfair that the pressure building since the last meltdown finally blows open the gates. The kind that makes your husband want to run for cover until his calm wife who usually handles everything with goddess-like power returns.

Now, before I rant on about my so-called hard life, I must throw in a disclaimer. I work at a non-profit in a town that has its unfair share of drug addicts, homeless people, and teen mothers. I spent most of Thursday morning sorting out coats and snowsuits that were to be given away to those who don't even have the ability to clothe their children (or themselves) adequately for winter's brutal hand. I receive phone calls asking where a mother can get diapers because she doesn't have the $10 to buy a pack. I see children down in our childcare center who are dirty, disheveled, ramen-noodled, and most likely not walking at 18 months due to a mother who drank in her pregnancy.

I, therefore, write this post with the knowledge that I am fortunate, very very fortunate and blessed to even have a house that needs cleaning, to have enough money for the groceries that need buying, and to have the healthy children who can demand food and receive it.

Until 3 months ago, I was leisurely (haha) at home with my children, grocery shopping whenever we ran out of even just one item, putting away laundry while watching Project Runway, and making nutritious meals for when my husband came home. We all sat around the table together and discussed our day. When I had a few hours alone, due to naps and/or preschool, I was either writing or working on my journal instructor certification.

Of course, it wasn't remotely that easy. Life is hard as a stay-at-home mom but I have to say that life as a working mom is HELL.

I have already bemoaned this fact in this post but now I have to add the stresses of work itself. I work 24 hours a week; six hours a day for four days. I do not have enough time to do everything that gets thrown at me in that time. And I can't work overtime; I have to leave at 3:30 on the dot to get my son from daycare and my daughter off the bus. My job is starting to keep me awake at night. Three grants due by the time we close down for two weeks for Christmas... I don't know how I will ever pull it off. I try not to care quite so much, but I don't handle failing so well.

So, that's one part of the sob. Another: Groceries.

Over the summer I devised a wonderful system where I got a healthy menu together for the week and using a pre-printed shopping list I found on the internet, I would get all the ingredients I would need for the whole week. I didn't have to think about food (I hate cooking) and it made my husband happy to be greeted at the door with a steaming hot plate of sauteed tofu (I'm not kidding, I actually converted him!) But those days are gone. There is ZERO time to grocery shop. If you recall my grocery-shopping tale, you'll know why I can no longer shop with my children. And definitely not after school. Little Lady practically falls off the bus and onto the couch with only enough energy left to whine for a snack. And Tater Tot no longer appreciates the fun of sitting high in the front of the cart when he knows the potential of running full-speed through the aisles with mom hot on his tail. He has recently discovered his spoiled brat cry which he only employs in public; the one that goes, "IIIIEEEEEEEEE WAAAAAA CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANDYEEEEEEE!'

No, grocery shopping needs to be done on the weekend using the buddy-system (Buddy=Daddy)immediately following a long nap (mine). Which means we frequently run out of meals - not food, meals. There is always a can of something starchy and sodium-filled in the back of the cupboard, but the greens don't hold up quite so well in the back of the fridge. The kids don't care, but I do, and it makes me feel that I am failing in one of my duties - filling my family with nutritious fodder. And so I sobbed about that.

And then there's the never-ending housework. I, who loves a well put-together house, does not appreciate the overflowing baskets of laundry on the chair and the randomly tossed toys that have replaced the perfectly placed, beautifully tasteful antiques. Sob, sob, sob.

And then there's my writing, journalling, and coursework. By the time the kids are finally bathed and ensconced in their beds, I, following my daughter's lead of a few hours earlier, crawl to the couch and whine. It is at this time that I pay the bills, check email, and maybe write this blog. Beyond that I'm useless, completely useless.

By the time Friday rolls around - which I scheduled off from work in order to write and study - my to-do list is longer than the day itself. They are so full of errands, chiropractor appointments, and housework I don't even have a chance to get to my favorite coffee shop for a sip of latte. Major sob.

I'm not even going to mention Christmas. Any woman knows the insanity of Christmas. We know there would not even be Christmas if it was not for us. No pressure.

Finally, I think my body is giving up on me. My back is always stiff, my sinuses are perpetually stuffed, and my lungs are sore. Sob, sob, cough, cough, sob.

This stress is unhealthy and something's gotta give.

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And the universe shifted into place

I am a few hours short of becoming a Certified Journal to the Self Workshop Instructor (through The Center for Journal Therapy). I will have business cards, a brochure, a website (hopefully) and a whole new career ahead of me (again, hopefully). I am very excited by this prospect.

Let me tell you how this all began.

I have been writing a journal forever, well, for the last 24 years anyway. 12 years ago my sister gave me Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and I took to Morning Pages like a new religion (well, for me and my newly heathen ways, it was a religion and a good one too). A few years later I was given (once again by my very insightful and great gift-giving sister) A Voice of Her Own by Marlene A. Schiwy. Two amazing books which, as I can see now, were stepping stones in the journey towards my future life.

When we moved to Mississippi as I mentioned in this post and this one that I was driven to do something creative. I was a new stay-at-home mother in a new world (because Mississippi is not on the same planet as Vermont) and I was determined to stay sane, stay productive, stay me, and stay off soap operas. Actually, I wanted to be more Me than I ever had been before. Since age 22 I had been a 9-5er who aspired to something more, but who used her job as a convenient excuse not to do a damn thing about it. "If only I had the time... the energy... the turret... the right pen... o, then I'd be a REAL writer, an artist, a SOMETHING... whine, whine, whine."

In downtown Hattiesburg, MS there is a tiny bagel cafe on the corner of an old building that shakes as the trains pass within feet of its doors two or three times a day. In this shabby, comfortable anachronism with the handsome model-turned-bagel baker behind the counter, I dreamed up and pursued an idea for a journal workshop for women. While Little Lady was at the local church pre-school for her 3 hours of much-needed social interaction I would read and plan, plan and write.

I taught one four-evening course at the local bookstore to a tiny group of women. It was well received and I was well pumped-up. My plan was to slighty revise the curriculum according to the feedback from the group and offer another workshop. So much for plans. I was taking a writing course, I was having another baby, and I was moving back to Vermont.

However, in my efforts to revise the workshop and open it to men, I had come across a book by Kathleen Adams, and consequently discovered The Center for Journal Therapy. Yada yada yada...

OK, so now I have a certification under my belt (or will, shortly) and now need somewhere to teach. In this post I told about a writer's symposium I attended. It was there I met a lovely, inspirational author and workshop leader named Joni B. Cole. Now, once upon a time, shy me would NEVER have 1) attended a writing workshop where I might have to share my drivel and possibly confirm my suspicions that I was not, and will never be a Writer, or 2) casually chat with an author as if I had some god-given right to do so - Lord, no! But that was old me. Before I had met my good friends Confidence and Serendipity.

It turns out that Joni lives in a town about an hour from my home, the very town to which my sister (ya know, the one who seems to have had an on-going, yet unwitting influence on my creative life thus far) has just, as in last month, moved (from the other side of the continent). So what? you say. Just wait...

Joni operates the Writer's Center in that town (the one an hour away where my sister - who has a spare bedroom and a willingness to babysit her niece and nephew) and she wants to talk to me about offering... drumroll, please... a Journal Workshop...

Yada, yada, ya-serendipity.

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The Tale of Two Couples (pt.6, for real)

I was excited to go camping. Despite the fact that four other couples and a few random singles were coming along too, I was looking forward to the romance of snuggling in a tiny tent, sharing a sleeping bag, keeping each other warm on an early spring night.

After hiking in our gear and setting up camp, we all sat around the fire, laughing over hot chocolate and s'mores. There are photos of me from that weekend looking 100 lbs heavier, all lumpy and shivering, wrapped in a blanket and multiple layers of clothing. Not one of these pictures includes my loving boyfriend with his arm around me sharing his body heat. No. I spent that weekend with only betrayal for company.

While I was trusting that a weekend in the woods would spark a dying flame, S made it very clear that a night alone in a tent with me was more embarrassing than romantic. God forbid, anyone would hear us whispering sweet nothings.... no, he wanted us whispering, saying, doing, nothing. As he had been from day one of our relationship, he was reluctant to show any kind of affection towards me in public. I took this rejection as I always had - with hurt resignation. I spent the night curled up around myself.

In the morning, I awoke to find him already gone from our cold nest. I assumed he had gone off to find the outhouse and didn't think too much about it. But as the smell of bacon and eggs filled the air he still hadn't returned. Not wanting to come across as distrustful - he was a grown man, he had every right to go off for a walk - I casually asked if anyone had seen him. No one had. Nor did anyone - including her husband - know where K was.

On the pretense of fetching him for breakfast I wandered towards the water, still clinging to the hope that I would find him alone.

On an rock jutting out over the gently rippling lake, I found them sitting side by side. They did not show surprise to see me pushing through the low hanging branches, in fact, annoyance seems a more appropriate description was what I saw on their faces. And I think it was this that kept my hope alive (idiot, that I was). They did not jump apart, or even have the decency to look embarrassed at their discovery. Their innocence kept me believing. They should have won an Oscar.

They showed me the dragonfly they had been watching uncurl from its former shell to dry its wings in the weak morning sun. As the three of us watched, it suddenly flitted up and out over the water. A bird swooped down and ended its journey before it had even begun. K started to cry.

Later that afternoon we all packed our snacks and headed up the mountain for the waterfall of which we'd heard tell. I wandered leisurely through the woods chatting with a girl friend. As some of the braver (insaner) souls jumped and splashed in the frigid mountain pool, I laughed at their shrieks and nakedness and managed to keep up the conversation. But my mind and eyes were elsewhere.

S had once again disappeared.

As I crossed a small bridge on the way back to camp, I caught sight of something just below. Sitting by the water, their straps crisscrossed together, were two pairs of sandals; Tevas, the stream gently lapping over the toes. One, size 5 was red and in good shape, the other much larger blue pair, were trodden down at the heel with the velcro barely hanging on. S was constantly bending down to re-fasten those flapping straps.

I don't remember much of the trip after this point. I know I stayed because I had no vehicle to leave by. Knowing me and my constant, insistent denial, I probably tried to act like nothing was happening. One thing I do recall, however, was that one couple (at whose wedding I sang and was blantantly snubbed a year later - an actual turn to the wall snub) left the camping trip early with the explanation that they could no longer be witness to the childish antics.

Unbelievably, it took another two months before S and I finally ended the charade.

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The Tale of Two Couples (pt.6)

I'm cheating tonight.

I was going to watch Desperate Housewives - my one TV addiction other than Lost (why do they have to take such insanely long breaks? Is filming in Hawaii that taxing?) - but apparently Justin Timberlake is more important than the Wives tonight (although I do love Annie Lennox). So, I thought I'd write something instead. But I just folded and put away four baskets of laundry (and still have three to go), my back is killing me, and I'm needing to be at one with my duvet for a few hours before the frenzy of Monday morning. So, ball's in YOUR court, my few and far between readers...

What would you like to hear about next?

1. When I heard my father say "shit" - for the first time ever - in reference to the male company I kept?


2. How I spent an entire camping trip looking for my tent mate?

Your call...

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Swimming in Blog Love

I want to thank Green Mountain Country Mama for another blog award. I'm feeling so damn special I can hardly stand myself.
When I was nominated for the "I Love Your Blog" award I promised I would nominate some more blogs as I went along. Well, I still haven't read enough blogs to make an informed decision, so, I have only one for today.
Jessica from The McMahon Family Circus writes of her life as a new mom of two boys. She cracks me up! Her humor in writing is as good as it is in real life. You may take your bow now, Jess (and go grab your award down there).

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Not in Kansas... er, Vermont, Anymore

I just have to say I'm not a huge fan of New Jersey. I'm sure it is a lovely state - in spots; it must be called the Garden State for a reason - but from where I'm sitting, it ain't so grand.

The wind is howling around and right through my 8th floor hotel windows and the gray clouds are making the already gray panorama, well, grayer. All I see from this vantage point is asphalt and concrete; roads, parking lots, and boxes of concrete, with only panels of black windows to break up the concreteness. Cars and trains crawl through this tangled mass of blah and I have to wonder, why would anyone choose to live here?

Last night, after my husband's 11 hour day in a conference and my day of writing (and re-writing and re-re-writing), we took our courage by the hand and ventured out. We knew there was a mall nearby, and after a couple days of over-priced and over-cooked hotel food our budget badly needed a food court. The map indicated we needed to turn left, right, then go straight and the mall would be right there.


Turns out you can't turn left in New Jersey, only right. We could see the mall just over there, but could we get to it? Heaven forbid! That big ol' Neiman and Marcus sign was shining bright - a beacon, a north star - but we two kings were lost in the desert. Round and round we go, no left turn, no left turn, NO LEFT FREAKIN' TURN. Eventually, (we ain't too smart at this point, hunger had taken over our senses) we figured out that we had to turn right to go left. Well, duh! And, of course we're cruising along in the left lane (as any intelligent being who wanted to turn left would be) and the Saturday night traffic, which is heavier than the worst Vermont rush hour, is preventing any intention of moving over in time to exit to the right.

By this point we are so far away from the mall, we give up and turn wherever we could and hope any dining establishment would be appear. As luck would have it, we had discovered another mall, a Macy's and Nordstrom mall. But I am so frustrated and hungry by the time we get out of the car (an hour after left the hotel) that the normal little thrill I get from walking into a busy mall is replaced by fear and "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore"-ness. I didn't think I had become such a small town girl but the ugg-wearing, designer bag toting masses, the pre-Thanksgiving Santa, the knock-you-on-your-ass perfume fumes, and the racket of the food court - oh, the noise! - was too much. I, me, who can't pass a clearance rack to save my life, was inhaling my philly cheese steak and racing for the nearest exit, my very un-designer bag flying behind.

Later as B and I were safely back in our dull hotel room, crying with laughter over an HBO comedian, I thanked my lucky stars that tomorrow we go home. Home, where you give directions according to the nearest barn, where you can turn left wherever you like, and the only concrete is the path leading to your own front door.

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The Tale of Two Couples (pt. 5)

In October, I was one of about a trillion bridesmaids in the wedding of a friend. The reception was held just a mile from my parent's house and there was going to be dancing. B was living at my parent's house and I really liked the idea of dancing with him. I asked the bride if he could come over after the food and cake.

When told who this guy was, another friend's response was, "well, it obviously won't work." I was crushed. Was she right?

B is a great dancer; pulling me close, pushing me away, swinging this way and that. My meter was ticking over into Seriously Turned On.

When the Electric Slide was losing its zap, we decided it was time to leave. However, we weren't ready to call it a night. So, along with another couple, we headed to a bar by the frightful name of Finnius T. Flubberbusters. Although it was almost ten years since graduation, I discovered five or six fellow alumnus hiding in the cracks of this dismal place drinking and playing pool. The surprised looks on their faces told me I was the last person in the world they expected to walk through the door. And I was very ready to walk right back through it. But I had a tall, handsome man by my side, I was still slim (unlike many of my aging classmates), and I was ready to have some good, redneck fun.

Unfortunately, so was another patron of the establishment. A lanky red head, with hair swinging down to her cute little behind, sidled up to B while the four of us were chatting and asked him to dance. He accepted. Twice. While I watched him dance with her just like he had with me at the wedding a little while earlier, a unfamiliar feeling surged through me. The usually passive cat in me pounced and (silently) hissed at Little Miss Red. I dug my claws into "my" man and took him away. My dancing took on a new intensity, trying to tell him through my moves that I was ready to be his.

To this day I don't know if his little excursion with that sexy l'il thang was a strategic move on his part. Whenever I ask him he just grins. Whatever it was, it worked... kind of. It was later that night when I sat on his lap and cried as he told me I would love him. Jealousy had lit one fire but guilt was still burning hard and strong, smothering any other feelings that might be attempting to grow.

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Just Encountered

Allow me to briefly interrupt The Tale (Part 4 is one post down if you missed it) to tell you another love story... of sorts.
This past weekend my husband of seven years (no itch comments, please) and I drove over a mountain to gain a better marriage. We have a good marriage but we had been promised a great one. We had heard of this weekend from two different, very reliable sources. So we signed up, roped the parents into having the kids for two nights, and drove the two hours to Stowe, Vermont for our Marriage Encounter.

We had no idea what to expect other than a long-needed weekend alone together. When we walked in the conference room we were instantly put at ease by three couples who greeted us with warm hands and hot coffee (or tea or cocoa).

I can not begin to tell you every detail of the weekend; it was emotionally intense, jam-packed, and utterly and completely exhausting.
But wonderful.

This is how it worked. We sat in a room with about 20 other couples with a fat notebook in our laps. We listened to one of the trained team couples as they gave a presentation of a Key Concept. They would then tell us their personal experience with that particular concept. There are 12 sections based on these concepts:
  • Communicating Our Feelings
  • Encounter with Self
  • Marriage in Today's World
  • Listening
  • Reaching out to Each Other
  • God's Desire for Marriage
  • Risking Trust in Dialogue
  • Impact of Dialogue in our Daily Lives
  • Marriage as Sacrament
  • Keeping Our Relationship a Priority
  • Sharing the Dream
  • Continuing Our Journey
Over the three days the three couples told us of their love, their struggles, their disappointments, their triumphs, and their joys. We all listened intently to these soul-baring stories with limp, soggy tissues held to our eyes and noses. When we had mopped ourselves up off the floor, we separated - one stayed in the conference room while the other went off to his/her hotel room -to answer the question(s) for that section of the notebook. After 10 minutes we would reunite in the room to dialogue our answers and re-light our candles.... so to speak.

Over the course of the weekend, the couples became physically and emotionally closer. Chairs were pushed together and hands were held tighter as we gained a greater understanding of our spouses.

To offset the many hours and mental energy it took to get through this weekend, we were also fed copious amounts of food and kept highly caffeinated. At each meal we were seated with different couples and the conversations were lively (probably due the coffee and the sugar buzz from the enormous brownies). Most couples were from around Vermont but there was a fair representation of the other New England states also. We all looked forward to future reunions and other "Encountered Events."

If anyone reading this is interested but afraid of that red cross in the logo up top, don't worry. Yes, it is a Christian-based workshop, but it is not in-your-face. I am not religious (as opposed to spiritual) and for the most part I felt extremely comfortable and un-preached-to. So hop on over to the website to get more info: http://www.wwme.org/.

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A Tale of Two Couples (pt. 4)

In 1997 the game began.

I ran into an old college friend (let's call him S) in the toy aisle of Walmart. He was in the toy aisle. That should have been my first clue.

We got together for old time's sake; talked about the musical we were in as freshman and how our lives had transpired over the past seven years. Another friend from college, who coincidentally was in a marshal arts class with S, said we should invite him to a party that was scheduled for that weekend.

So the party came and went, he was the center of attention (I'm not sure why. The Guinness in cool new cans that he brought, maybe?), and we had fun. That was about it. By the time we got invited to another party a couple of weeks later we had begun phoning and flirting at the possibility of liking each other. Once again he was the center of attention, this time due to his sketching ability. The hostess was his main admirer but she was dating someone, and had been for three years. She was therefore harmless.

But I had noticed her attentions and S's response and questioned him. He assured me, although he thought her cute, he liked me, and besides she was taken. By the end of the evening we were kissing goodbye on my front stoop.

So ensued a fun, goofy relationship. He made me laugh until I cried. We went to lots of parties, many more than I had ever been invited to before (remember I was only the friend of a friend). I was acutely aware that my joined-at-the-hipness with S was the cause of my new popularity. But I tried to ignore that fact and have the kind of fun I had missed out on in college due to my shyness and annoying insistence on doing well academically. We went on trips together, he came to my choral concerts, had dinner with my family, and we attended friends' weddings. One wedding was that of our before-mentioned hostess (K) and her beau, B. In fact, yours truly sang at the festive occasion. And the gift and card were given jointly from the now-serious couple J and S.

At some point, S and K, at K's encouragement, began a "project." S was a cartoonist, K was a writer. There was also another cartoonist friend involved (a chaperone?) for a while. After work K and S would meet at the waterfront and make plans for their book, or whatever the hell it was. At this juncture I was more hurt that I was not included in their creative endeavors than by anything else. After all, I was a writer and an artist. I did not doubt S's faithfulness - to all appearances, including mine, we had a healthy relationship.

But then 1999 rolled around.

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Doing my Blog Love Duty

As a nominee for the "I Love Your Blog" award it was asked that I in turn nominate some of my favorite blogs. Seven to be exact. Unfortunately, I don't even read seven blogs. I have visited many, commented on a few, and kept visiting about four. Not because the others weren't good - I just don't have the time. My eyeballs are twitching enough as it is just from writing this blog, reading emails, and paying online bills. I don't even visit the Mothering.com forums like I used to. So I will nominate two blogs today and as I go along I will add some more.

And the winners are:

Mocha Momma: I find her open and honest, funny, and intelligent (and coffee makes me very happy).

GreenMountainCountryMama: Other than the fact that I owe her one as the person who introduced me to this blogging world, she cracks me up (and invites us to pool parties in the summer, so I have to stay on her good side).

Congrats! Go forth and put that graphic over there on your blog and nominate your own seven favorite blogs.

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Returning the Blog Love

I will explain that lover-ly graphic up there ------------------^
and do my reciprocal duty when I haven't got a grant to write.

But for now I want to thank Noble Savage for giving me for such a prestigious nod. Visit her blog... she is a writing mother living in my home country. She has a strong sense of humor and some even stronger opinions (for which I admire her for expressing - I haven't disagreed with her yet!).

Thank you, NS!

Oh, and P.S. The Tale will continue... there is so much more to tell.

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A Tale of Two Couples (pt 3)

But I couldn't stay away. B soon traded his lonely attic retreat and cold feet for toasty toes under my cozy duvet. Yes, it was fast...

... and I couldn't handle the guilt.

Every moment we spent together filled me with doubt and each kiss caused me physical pain. I was betraying a friend... wasn't I? My tears were now a mixture of anger and shame. I couldn't enjoy my new love affair. No walking down the street holding hands or giggly googly-eyes in the back of a restaurant. B told me time and again I shouldn't put so much pressure on myself - if we were falling in love then that's what was meant to happen. On a visit to my parents' house, I nervously told my mother I thought I might, um, possibly have some feelings for B (whom she had met a few times). I felt my load lighten (but not dissipate) when, without hesitation, she said "well, it was inevitable." I felt I had her blessing despite the circumstances.

Sometime in October B moved to my parents' house. They were living temporarily out of town and the arrangement of a house-sitter who did some maintenance for rent was satisfactory for all. Well, almost. B increased his commute by 800% and when his evening shift ended at midnight, the ride home was an hour-and-a-half battle with his eyelids. The time spent in a large, empty house with my fat cat curled on his lap was good for his emotional healing, but not so good for the phone bill. We talked almost every day and weekends were spent together. It didn't take long for weekends to begin on Thursday night, then Wednesday, and pretty soon his commute "home" was cut down to maybe once a week.

One night as I sat on B's lap in the glow of the woodstove, he held my hand over his heart (yes, he was for real) and told me he loved me. I cried. And said nothing. He placed my hand over my heart and told me that he wasn't worried - he knew I would fall in love with him too. I had never felt so scared.

Meanwhile, the other two had given up the game...

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A Tale of Two Couples (pt 2)

The exact details of the next day are confused in my mind. But I do know that much later that morning I found myself hugging B's tearful wife on her front porch as he got in the car to drive away from her for the last time. B, me, and two other friends were going to a Fall Festival. To say I felt conflicted would be an understatement. Here I was consoling someone who was the reason I was no longer dating the man I thought I was going to marry and who had caused a grown man to weep in my lap just a few hours earlier. Not to mention the fact that I had wanted to kiss that very man.

At the festival, while trying to concentrate on apple cider and pumpkin-headed scarecrows, I was distracted by the little flutter inside me each time B and I walked together. We didn't talk, we didn't touch, but I felt - rightly or wrongly - that he was already mine.

But he wasn't. He was a married man. A brand, spanking-newly separated man. I was just the shoulder he had leaned on. I'm guessing that he saw nothing at that festival other than the thoughts crashing through his head.

Later that evening my phone rang. It was B asking if he could stay in my attic; the unheated, dirty, furniture and audio-cassette graveyard. No other friends had any space to spare (did he ask anyone else? I've never questioned that), and so of course, after passing it by my room-mates, I said yes.

In what was most likely a servant's room in the early 1900s, we set up a futon, a flash light, a battery-operated clock radio and some of his prize-possession books. As the late September wind blew in the broken window, B curled up shivering and alone in his new bachelor pad.

Over the next week, after B came downstairs each day to thaw out in a hot shower, he and I would talk and talk. We got angry all over again and more tears were wasted on our former loves. A carry-out sandwich at the kitchen table was our first "date," and when he was working the evening shift he would sometimes meet me at my office to go to lunch. One night he picked me up at my bedroom door for our first formal date and later we said goodnight at the base of the attic stairs. We were trying very hard to be normal when we couldn't be further from it.

We were falling for each other. Whether in different time and situation we would have felt the same we will never know, but here we were sharing a heartache and a bathroom, and the wheel of fate shifted.

At some point I began to visit him in his attic icebox - to say good morning, good night, or just hello. Something drew me up those rickety old stairs, and it wasn't the ambiance. Then one evening it happened. Just once. And I was shaking like it was the first time I had ever been kissed. It was one of those kisses that movies are made about. I turned to liquid.

And then I ran.

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A tale of two couples (pt 1)

Two pairs of sandals left by a stream -

Quite unimportant a sight it would seem.
Two wandering children gone off to play?
A couple trying to get quietly away?
What did I feel dart through my heart
As I witnessed those shoes play their innocent part?
Close as two lovers in bed,
They symbolized everything I'd come to dread.
Stifled tears escaped from my eyes
While scanning to see what I longed to deny.
Up and down the river no one was seen,
Only the evidence left by the stream.
I did not see what my mind unwillingly beheld -
How could they continue to be so uncaring and bold?
In the mountains I faced my fear manifest,
Constantly haunting me despite hopeful trust.
Betrayal was laying there at my feet -
Those sandals together, their owners' retreat.
One pair are his who sleeps by my side,
The second belong to my friend - another man's wife.

I wrote this (admittedly horrible) poem almost 10 years ago. I can now share it because the pain has long passed and I do believe - finally - the anger has too. The (happy) life I now have is all due to the events that took place on September 25, 1999, although the story begins two or three years prior to that.

It was almost midnight on the night of my 27th birthday party and all but two of my guests had left. I was woozy but not drunk, and very sleepy. But when B asked me if we could talk I could tell by his tone that I needed to stay awake a little longer. After we finally got the other hanger-on to leave B and I sat down.

Then the tears came.

Now B is a big guy, a funny guy, a don't-show-your-emotions-marine guy, and here he was sitting in my living room crying - to me, and we hardly knew each other. You see, B was married to a friend of mine, not a close friend, just a member of a group of goofy people I had recently become aligned with for the purpose of partying and Sunday morning brunching. I was not particularly close with any of them - I was a friend of a friend. B and I had only chatted about something deeper than the foam on a Guinness one other time (which happened to be religion). Beyond that he was just one of the gang and he made me laugh, as he did everyone (except his wife - but that's another story... oh, actually it's not).

B came to me because we had something in common - our partners were in love with each other Yes, his (very new) wife was in love with my (by then, ex) boyfriend.

B had given his extroverted, gregarious wife the benefit of the doubt for too long and he couldn't take it anymore. He and I had both put up with their "friendship" for over a year - hanging out every Wednesday night (working on a comic book project, they said), even coming home at 6AM sometimes - and in constant denial that there was anything more between them. The awkwardness and insanity of the situation had finally broken up my boyfriend and me 3 months before, although I was still in denial that he could truly be in love with another man's wife - over me! B had never talked to anyone about the pain and feelings of betrayal and anger he was experiencing. But it was time.

That night two very hurt (and slightly drunk) individuals talked and cried together into the half light of morning. We yelled at those who had hurt us and we beat ourselves up for being so naive. We felt like a couple of door mats - stomped on and caked in mud.

I won't deny that I fell in love with him that night. I have never wanted someone to kiss me quite so intensely. I know it was the combination of wine, sleep deprivation, and a very large dose of emotional overload. But it did not happen. He was married. I was still mourning my lost love. We hugged and we said goodbye.

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Driving ourselves to debt (pt 2)

Hello, my name is Joanna, and I am a Shopper.

OK, I admit, I'm a shoe whore. I also like to be surrounded by pretty things. I love matching dishes and coordinating bedrooms. I prefer to have the perfect weight jacket for the temperature and the most appropriate mode of transportation for my baby (i.e. sling, backpack, jogger stroller, wagon, etc.). Yes, I am part of the problem. I love to shop. I have a credit card balance. (BUT I also buy many things second-hand and I rarely pay full price for anything. I'm just relieved I'm not so materialistic that I just have to have that designer bag or the latest iPhone (I don't even really know what one of those is.) )

Almost a month ago I began a rant. Now I will finish it.

On my walk to work I pass houses of every economic description. Most are well-kept and beautiful, some are shabby, and some are, well, let's put it this way, you couldn't get me to cross their threshold even if the dog chained in the backyard was about to sample my derriere for dinner.

Lawns littered with old swing sets, pools, and discarded toys where no child could safely play. Mud-splattered, plastic Santas smiling pathetically at the cracked Easter bunnies and smashed pumpkins. Old cars, vans, and trucks, tires melting into the mud; no more use than outdoor closets. Through open front doors I see hallways where "stuff" is piled so high and deep a person would have to turn sideways to inch past it. Now, granted, this is (I hope to goodness) the exception, not the norm. (Pack-ratting (is that a word?) is one thing, hording another, but plain ol' lazy is quite another.)

The difference between this house and, say, mine? My crap's hidden.

In closets, sheds, attics... the reality is Americans shop and shop and shop. Whether we pitch it all with equal enthusiasm, yard sale it, or stuff it in our multiple storage units (or cars), it is a national pastime. Our credit card debt, our lack of savings, and Suze Ormon on Orpah every week are all testimony to our addiction.

Why do we need so much stuff? A TV in every bedroom? Read a book. A sweatshirt from every tourist trap along the eastern coast? Highlight a map. Four inflatable, light up, jingling Christmas monstrosities that leave your electricity bill and taste in question? Put some (little) lights on a tree.

Unfortunately, Americans will continue to shop and horde until they are completely shopped out and poor. Maybe then life will become more simple.

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Don't send a man to the grocery store...

... or to get a movie unless you like sodium and fat saturated foam board and a cheesy, violence-saturated flick starring a certain muscle-bound governor.

Is it a missing gene that makes an other-wise intelligent man enjoy the most brainless entertainment and unable to shop or eat responsibly? I dearly love my husband but I do feel the need to "take the mickey" for just a moment. I hope he'll humor me.


Why is it that after living in the same house for many months, even years, he still doesn't know that the yellow mugs live on the same shelf as the other yellow mugs but not with the blue ones?

And how hard is it to close a kitchen cabinet door? Apparently very.

How is it that when I move the hamper (although still in plain view) the clothes still get thrown where the hamper used to be? Maybe he thinks that if he does that for long enough I will eventually give up and put the hamper back. Or maybe he still sees it there... The Phantom Hamper?

Talking of Laundry

I have three categories of clothes:

Clean - either in a basket or the closet.

Dirty - in the hamper.

Still Wearable - laid on the chair (not always neatly, I must confess) or back in the closet.

He has four:

Clean - in a basket or the closet.

Dirty - in the hamper, on the floor next to the hamper (how hard is it to get them in the hamper?), by the side of the bed, or, in the case of socks, rolled in a ball next to the chair that he happened to be sitting in when he removed them.

Still Wearable - in piles in the closet or on the floor, and frequently mixed with the above categories.

Dirty but should be saved for outdoor activities or messy chores - in piles in the closet or on the floor, and frequently mixed with the above categories.


Please explain why this man who cannot take off a shirt without first pulling it into the most unbelievable muddle - inside out and upside down - or god-forbid, put it to rights before throwing it in the hamper or hanging on the hook, can, without fail bundle his socks into a perfect space-saving little ball? Is it because they provide more entertainment when doing a 3-pointer into the laundry basket (can't be that because they hardly ever make it there), or is it the pure joy of knowing that I have to pull apart each slimy pair before dropping them into washing machine? He tells me it's so they won't get lost... well, dear if I were to wash and dry them while retaining their spherical form that might make an ounce of sense.


I don't have it but I do like things done right. The dishwasher, for example. When loading it there are certain items that fit better in one spot and there is a way to maximize capacity. But no matter how many times I gently remind him of these specifics, if left to his own devices, my husband's loading job will be full of holes and inefficient placement.

I have just read this to my husband and for the most part he is humored. But fair's fair... now it's my turn. And I quote (more or less):

You let the gas tank get to practically empty before even thinking about stopping to fill it up (and then you wait until I drive it next anyway).

You refuse to run the dishwasher until every inch of space is filled.

The floor of the closet is entirely covered with shoes - and they all look exactly the same to me. How many brown shoes do you need, woman?

You always have one more thing to write before going to bed.

I have to butter my bread with soup because you always leave it out.

You pack for every possible activity and weather conceivable and every thing in the house has to be left clean before leaving on a trip.

You have a tendency to be penny-wise and pound-stupid... "no, you can't buy that, it's .50, but oh, look at these shoes I got on sale.... $48.95 instead of $50... what a great deal!"

You look like the Abominable Snowman when you dress for bed in the winter.

You can change the most putrid diaper or wipe the baby's nose with your fingers but you gag if someone snorts or clears their throat.

And what about hitting snooze 12,000 times every morning? On, off, on, off, buzz, buzz, buzz...


He had many more. In fact, the list was getting so long I had to stop him before I started forming an inferiority complex.

I guess we're both as bad as each other - that's why we're perfect for each other.

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Utterly random, boring facts

I am sitting next to a basket of laundry which is taking up more room on the couch than me.

I have just put Tater Tot back in his bed for the 6-1/2th time. (The 1/2 time was when he had finally burned off the brownie and put himself back in bed but kept calling, " 'mon Mama" until I followed to give him his 7th set of goodnight kisses.)

Little white paper circles are scattered all over the carpet and coffee table: The entire contents of the 3-hole punch.

My neck keeps spasming.

I am addicted to daily planners, appointment books, and notebooks.

Brownie is still active. Tater showed up again then charged up the stairs in front of me saying, "'eat you, 'eat you..."

I love Obama but I am very tired of seeing his face on TV (although it's still better than that other guy.)

My bag collection may have, for the first time, exceeded the shoes - a malady I must quickly remedy. (I must take this opportunity to state my opinion on designer bags and the ridiculous, sickening amount of money women spend on them - it is ridiculous and sickening. What kind of society are we living in that women feel the need to hang their money (i.e. debt), taste (i.e. unoriginality), and trendiness (i.e. shallow materialism) off their shoulder, and deem it so important that they will actually rent it? The most expensive bag I own cost $45 and that seemed extravagant. I will now dismount my high horse.)

I own one of those stars that everyone has on their houses and garages (I bought mine before anyone else); it is hanging in the stairwell.

Ten times a day I write a sentence in my head that never makes it to paper (or back into my head - or even to the tip of my tongue).

Today I found myself explaining to a young mother that no, the Incredible-Hulk-green "Bug Juice" is not real juice.

Tater will not accept any drink, food, or service from my hand if my husband is within walking distance: "NO! Daddy do it."

My children have been known to fight over whether their oo-ah-ahs are of a monkey or an opera singer.

My name has been officially changed to Tater's and Little Lady's Mom (that's Mrs Tater's Mom to you.)

I still have all my teeth despite the lack of dental intervention.

Clothes don't fold themselves (but do appear to scatter themselves across the floor.)

I haven't drawn a portrait in over 3 years.

I haven't sung with a choir since I was 3 months pregnant.

I have now lived in the U.S. a decade longer than in my homeland.

I'm terrible about downloading pictures off my camera (oh, you hadn't noticed?). (Probably because I can't figure out how to do one or two pictures at a time - it always downloads all photos in the camera. Frustrating.)

I'm running out of fascinating tid-bits (and I really need to go to bed).

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Writers Unite!

I went to a writer's symposium today. Despite being exhausted (this follows two grueling days of workshops on child sexual abuse and other things I'd prefer to remain naively ignorant about), this workshop was just what I needed. Being around other writers (and what colorful characters we are!) is so affirming. Hearing pens frantically scratching across yellow legal pads as we thrash through the mental cobwebs to enter the mysterious, and always miraculous, cave of verbal wonders; being applauded for something you scribbled in a 10-minute sprint and told you have to "keep going with that... I'd read it," is music to the ego and adrenaline to the muse. You feel a part of something; something real, something worthwhile. You might even consider claiming to be a... a... Writer (whoa, slow down there, Nellie!)

Let me throw a little bit of serendipity in here.

I found out about this workshop from a writer whom I contacted through http://www.pw.org/. I was hoping to find a writer's group nearby. I found the name of a woman who lives 20 miles from me. While reading her bio I discovered, amazingly, that she grew up in a town within miles of where we lived in Mississippi. She wrote a friendly, helpful email telling of her publications and current works-in-progress. She also suggested I contact a certain gentleman about a workshop being held the next weekend. It turns out that this very gentlemen and my father just happen to belong to a mutual admiration society, so I was able to [maiden] name drop and register for the workshop just a day before it was held.

Now I have contacts. I will be joining the local writer's guild. I will have people to hold me accountable, who will (hopefully) offer positive feedback and constructive criticism, and who, most importantly, will make me feel I belong. To a "club" of like-minded people, who understand the unbounded beauty of a blank book and a fountain pen, and to whom the ideal day is one spent wringing out words and pegging up phrases.

To paraphrase one of our presenters today, Joni B. Cole, writing may be a lone effort but it doesn't have to be a lonely one.

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Waiting for the serendipity to stir

I realized I hadn't said much about serendipity or positive thinking lately. Since I started the job that was the result of a serendipitous event, life has become kind of run of the mill. Despite having not worked (out of the home) for 4 years I have slipped back into the routine and mindset of being in an office as if I just returned from a extended vacation. Thankfully this job has yet to stress me out like my last "real" job where I had publication deadlines, front-of-house crowd control issues, and the pressure of being a new, working, breast-pumping mother.

Even so, I think I'm a little down. I had finally started writing - or at least got my head in a place where I was (truly) ready to start - and now I'm wrestling The Schedule. I have marked up my planner until it looks like the departure board at Logan airport, blocking out every hour with this chore, that errand, appointments, work, and writing. But then that errand takes an hour longer than it should (due to the rice having been moved from aisle 4 to aisle 13 and pizza dough apparently no longer made) or a staff meeting and work project running over time, shrinking the scheduled writing time from three hours to one (which, of course, means no writing).

I'm glad I'm working and I especially can't wait to write a grant. Plus, we definitely needed the extra paycheck to get through this heating season. But I also feel that maybe - once again - I have put my own dream on hold. Did I do this on purpose; subconsciously sabotaging myself because I was getting too close to actually doing what I have dreamed of?

When you no longer have an excuse to fall back on, the responsibility of a dream can loom large and scary.

I think I have stopped thinking positively and looking for serendipity because my life has become, well, normal, and a normal life - boring life - doesn't foster spiritual thoughts. But I'm pretty sure that's where I'm making a mistake. If I did start thinking more positively about merging my working, mothering, and writing lives into a more do-able, less scary whole, I would most likely start to see the serendipity stir.

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Saying goodbye

Today I took down the crib that cradled my two children through nights and naps from infancy into their toddler years.

And today I cried.

It's not that I want another baby. It's not that I'm attached to the 3rd-hand crib or the space it was taking up in the kids' room. It isn't even because I jammed my finger while trying to wrestle the thing apart (which I didn't, but surely would have if I hadn't enlisted my husband to pry its bolts and screws from their nooks and crannies). No, I cried because... well, I don't know exactly.

Twice I have endured the morphing of my body into an unwieldy monstrosity. Twice I have labored and summoned strength and stamina I could never have imagined for myself. I have brought into this world two babies, two beautiful, smart babies.

I have been splattered and spit up on. Puked on and peed on. I have been sucked on and slept on. I have picked up, mopped up, and been fed up. I have cried, I have laughed, I have felt pride, and I have felt guilt. I have yelled and I have hugged. I have felt alone and I have craved to be alone. I have wanted my life back yet never want to go back to life before I met my children.

I love my children but I know I don't want any more. I am ready to get myself back, to begin the life I have wanted for myself but have had to put on hold. With one child in kindergarten and one ready to take on the world in his new 2-year-old shoes, I am beginning to get a glimpse of that life.

So why the tears?

Maybe I was crying for the babies I will never hold to my breast again. For the times I gently placed them, limp with sleep, into that crib, their soft breath whispering through milky lips. For the first time I found them standing, holding the crib bar for support, triumph beaming on their face.

Or maybe I was crying for the future toward which they are headed now that they sleep snug and secure in their big girl and boy beds? For the patter of feet down the hallway or the thumps down the stairs. For the curly-topped head that seems each day to have grown a little closer to my waist. Or the slammed doors and stands of defiance that mark another step toward independence.

I can't answer the question with one definitive answer because I don't think there is one. Taking apart and stacking in the hallway the biggest physical aspect of my children's babyhood is an obvious metaphor. What is not so obvious is the part of me I was dismantling along side it.

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Driving ourselves to debt (pt 1)

I drove to the mall in order to save $5. Yes, I used $2 in gas so I could save $5 on a sweater. Can you say idiot?

But that's our problem, isn't it? We, in this country, drive, drive, drive and shop, shop, shop.

I'm not going to say anything about the failing banks and the Wall Street bailout that was voted down yesterday because I know so little about such things. What I know is what I see on My Street.

I know people who drive 30, 40, 50 or more miles to work, putting hours of their life and huge chunks of their paycheck into their cars. Living in a rural state with very little public transportation often makes this necessary and common place. But I also know we are our own worse enemy. There are buses but we refuse to ride them. There are car pools but we don't like the inconvenience of them. No riders, no funding. No funding, no buses to ride even if we wanted to. And so we keep complaining about the gas prices while chugging down another gallon.

My husband walks to work everyday and I do when I can. When we moved back to Vermont we made a conscious decision to move into town. To say we did this to save money and the environment would be overly self-righteous. In reality I just wanted to be able to throw my kids in the stroller and walk to the coffee shop. If we saved anything in the process, that was a bonus. I know not everyone can live in within city limits. Americans like their privacy and their land. What I don't understand is those who live in one city and work in another. Or live in the suburbs and sacrifice hours and hours of time sitting on a highway. Obviously everyone has their personal reasons and situations, but I have to wonder if many aren't sacrificing unnecessarily - or putting the wrong priorities in the driver's seat.

My family has sacrificed privacy for community, a large lawn for street festivals, and a second car for a father who comes home in time to eat dinner and read a bed time story to his children. My daughter rides the school bus for 5 minutes rather than an hour (and will walk to school once she starts 3rd grade) and I get to breathe in the crispness of a fall morning on my walk to daycare and my office.

I hear on the news that more and more people are moving into the cities for the convenience and financial logistics of it. I am thrilled to know that walkable communities are slowly edging their way onto the landscape. But I also know that Sprawl still stalks this land; gated communities yank woodlands out by their roots, box stores are plopped down in cow pastures, and sidewalks are never drawn into new city plans. Americans are forced to drive, our addiction to oil is fed by poor planning, greedy investors, and our own need for property and insulation.

And then there is our addiction to shopping...

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I am not an island

I have a confession to make.

I'm lonely.

Last night I was checking the traffic to my blog and followed one visitor's referral link back to a blog I didn't recognize. At first I was confused why a link to my blog would be here. Then I began to put it together and realized it was the website of a couple with whom we were friends in Mississippi. I finally found the link to my blog along with this introduction: "A friend that used to live in MS has a blog about her new life in Vermont, a move back home for her. They are cool people and we miss them a lot but I guess they've moved on to better things." (Thanks, Tim... you're cool people yourself!) He goes on to say that although he does miss his home state, as long as he has friends, "you've got the most perfect place on earth."

That's hard to hear.

I haven't acknowlegded (in this forum) something very important about our 3 years in Mississippi: Friends.

For the first time in my life when I planned a party I had a list of guests, guests who showed up, who stayed late and with whom we had laughs, tears (not at the party, thankfully), and meaningful conversations. With these same friends we had lunch and drinks out on the town, shared Thanksgiving dinner, and threw baby showers and children's birthday parties.

Friends became the norm. Now we don't have them. And I thought I was OK.

But I'm not.

My days are running into each other with no anticipation of fun. The little screen on my phone never lights up with just a first name. I have no other woman to gripe to, no other mom to sympathize with. No one to meet at the coffee shop.

I keep in touch with close friends in various parts of the country, and even in England where I grew up, but I never knew just how vital it is to have friends right on your door step until they weren't there anymore.

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Squeezing me in between

The honeymoon's over.

Me and this blog, we don't talk so much anymore.

My life has radically changed from when I was a stay-at-home, wannabe writer. Even though the last of those days are barely a month gone, I have already made them into golden nuggets. I catch myself thinking, remember when I could put Tater down for a nap while Little Lady was at summer camp, and I could sit and think and write? Of course, my memory has blotted out the crazed insanity of the hour prior to getting her out the door.

The first morning I put Little Lady on the school bus was the also the first day I put on some make up and clocked into my new 22-hour a week life. Four hours a day... oh, poor me, right? But listen, here's the reality of how four hours of work morphs into a whole day:

7AM - 8:30AM: Kids up, breakfasted, dressed; make lunches; squeeze in a couple of chores

8:30: Walk to bus stop; wave off Little Lady

8:40: Walk or drive to work; grab a coffee if time

9:00: Kiss Tater Tot goodbye downstairs in toddler room; walk upstairs to office or return home to do laundry, dishes or bills, or run into town to grocery shop

11:00: Return to work

3:30: Leave work

3:45: Meet bus

4:00-4:15: Disperse snacks, check backpack, go through mail

4:15-5:00: Workout while watching Oprah (who am I kidding? I'm mostly just standing in front of the TV, doing the occasional leg lift to justify watching TV for a few moments.)

5:00-6:00: Prepare and eat dinner

6:00-7:00: Clean up dinner and kids

7:00 - 7:30: Put kids in bed, read story, sing song, say good night, go downstairs, come back upstairs, put Tater back in bed, kiss goodnight, go downstairs, come back upstairs, put Tater back in bed, kiss goodnight, walk downstairs... (this can go on for 5 minutes or, like last night, 1/2 hour).

7:30 - : At this point I collapse on the couch and try to push my brain into writing mode, usually unsuccessfully, until I can keep my eyes open no longer.

Needless to say, I left out of the schedule the 6 circles I make around the house looking for the left shoe, or the 7 minutes I spend debating with Little Lady whether she should eat the soggy cereal of which she gave herself too big a helping, or the 11 minutes I am chasing a giggling Tater trying to grab his soupy diaper.

And there you have it - Monday to Friday, 7AM-10:30PM, poof!

I ask you, where's the me in there? Where are the great tomes I'm meant to bring forth?

I know this is a time of transition and I will eventually settle into my new life. I plan to take three mornings for myself - schedule in my writing. No housework. No errands. No excuses.

NO excuses.

Think I can do it?

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Tick Tock, The Clock Won't Stop

This is just uncalled for.

On the eve of my 36th birthday I found, not one, not two, but three gray hairs peeking out from under my otherwise auburn mass (not Auburn, Massachusetts... hehe, I'm so funny). How does that happen? One day you have none and the next you have three pigmentally-challenged hairs. Do they suddenly grow or do regular hairs turn gray? I suppose I could look this up on wikipedia but I can't be bothered with that right now. I'm more concerned with why this would happen on this day of all days.

Tonight at midnight I begin the downward slide to 40. I am beginning my 37th year with three holes in my head from whence I yanked the offending follicles. Am I supposed to read something into this? That the time has come for me to face that I am no longer a young woman?

You see, I have this thing about age. I always assume (completely illogically) that if someone is in a high position of power or reached a stage in their career that puts Director or President or CEO by their name, that they must be old(er). I even think anyone who has children - of any age - must be beyond me in years. I can never quite wrap my head around age.

At my new job I am reorganizing the personnel files. It was with shock that I discovered on a list only two or three 1970's birthdates. Other than the really old 'uns - born in the 50's and 60's -the majority of my co-workers were wailing in their cribs when I was Karma Chameleon-ing to Boy George.

Who do they see when they say hello to me from the hallway? Someone who stays home every night -even Fridays and holidays - who is dosing off at 8PM and gets buzzed on one glass of wine? Someone who will never again zip a pair of jeans without first folding in the baby belly, and who didn't like the 80's styles the first time around. I AM one of the older ones to them.

But aren't the 30's are supposed to be the best years of a women's life? (No? It's the 40's? According to Oprah, it's the 50's... ???)

Yes, tonight for the first time in my life I believe I am having trouble with a birthday. Planning our 20th high school reunion and realizing this year's seniors were born the year I graduated certainly doesn't help.

So, Happy B00-Hoo To Me.

(I still want cake.)

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The Sound of Silence

It's 6AM and I've been awake since 4. Ike (Tropical Storm Ike, that is) has been blustering around the house all night, licking us with hot, sticky tropical winds. It's 6AM and almost 80 degrees outside... in Vermont... in September! It'll probably snow next week.

Once in a while I don't mind not being able to sleep - getting up in the dark and having complete silence and motionless-ness for a few hours is intoxicating. I think that's the most difficult part of motherhood for me - the constant motion, constant noise. I'm an introvert, I don't particularly like to talk (unless I'm in a comfortable social situation or feeling overly emotional, then I don't shut up).

When Little Lady was a baby, and my mother or sister was visiting or babysitting, I was struck by how they would talk and interact with the baby continually. When I was home with her there was almost complete silence. Of course, I talked to her but wouldn't offer a running commentary. I'd get so tired if I had to engage my brain and move my mouth that much.

I used to worry that I was doing our child a disservice by not reciting the alphabet or giving her a blow-by-blow of what mummy was doing every second. When we began to socialize at a mommy-n-me group, I'd feel ashamed when the toddler on the next mat could count to ten in English and German when my little one could barely count to three in any language. But she was dancing with abandon at music time or sitting quietly at still time. And, I think, more importantly, she knew (and knows) how to entertain herself.

Today, I look back on those quiet hours with my baby with longing. From the moment the kids lift their sleepy heads to when they finally give in to the drug of sweet slumber, there is a racket - either from their games, their music (which is still danced to with abandon by both), or from PBS or Disney. Now, I am forced to use my voice interminably: Stop that, food's ready, don't fold your brother in two... or just to answer the never-ending flow of demands for "Mama, Mama, MAMA!"

I'm tired. Very, very tired. Listening takes almost as much energy as talking. I crave silence more than a manicure, more even than Ben and Jerry's Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz (and that's saying something).

It's my birthday on Friday and all I want is a big box of silence, wrapped up in a bow.

So, thank you, Ike. Although you did some harm down in Texas, and I admonish you for that, I do appreciate the gift you gave me this morning: Two hours of... nothing.

Unfortunately, it's a gift I will have to pay for with lots of coffee (or maybe some coffee ice cream?).

Start your engines... hear the roar... the madness of a school morning is about to begin.

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A cat, dental hygiene, and $123

If I seem a little absent lately, it's because my writing brain has gone missing. I think it's out looking for a more attentive host.

I've been a little distracted by, well, life. For example, this is how yesterday went.

I awoke with the sudden realization that the cat hadn't eaten or had water for many hours. Due to a feral cat who sunk its fevered fangs into our sweet kitty's foot, said appendage was two times its normal size and can bear no weight. He couldn't get downstairs to eat all night. I had neglected our feline family member because a certain human member had a tantrum - I had the audacity to ask her to wash her hands. (In all fairness to her, this is only her second week of all-day kindergarten and she comes home exhausted; although that rationalization did little to ease my anger at the time.)

I spent the time I should have been getting dressed looking under beds and in closets for - the thought crossed my mind - a dead cat. (He wasn't.) That put the whole morning off schedule. Add an intense storm and missing rain coats and I end up dragging the kids through puddles to where the bus is already waiting at the stop.

From there I go to my first "full day" of work. Despite the short day, the transition from house-work to office-work is surprisingly tiring. Instead of catching up on chores and bills, or just relishing the first hot cup of coffee while Tater Tot is napping, I'm arranging my desk and reading up on grantwriting how-to. Rather than grocery shopping or mediating between my two small anger-management candidates, I'm plugging in network cables and attending my first staff meeting.

I should note here that my children are actually incredibly well-behaved, sweet and loving... when they're apart. When together I spend my every breath and ounce of energy playing referee. Tater is two-years old in two weeks and acting his age with a vengeance. His poor sister suffers his frustrations and constant search for independence at the end of his pinching fingers. Meanwhile she sees the attention he receives (negative as it is) and acts out to even the score.

And, as tired as I am, this is what I come home to (aswell as the bills, the dishes, and the messes). But I digress...

So, I return from work just in time to collect H off the bus. As usual she is staaaarving, mom! As I throw a pizza in the oven - the kind we never eat but very thankful to have on such occasions - invalid kitty limps into the kitchen with a paw four times its normal size, and shaking. He attempts a jump onto the table, scrabbles at the table cloth and thumps inelegantly to the floor. I swear I see his little cheeks flush in shame. Time to make a call to the vet.

45 minutes, a slice of pizza, and a frantic search for the cat carrier later, we are in the car, mewling cat and pizza-sauce covered children along with (who are also mewling along with).

Another 30 minutes later I am writing a check for $123.


FOR 8lbs OF CAT!!

I haven't had my teeth cleaned in three years because it costs $100 each time, but I just paid a vet (who has lovely teeth) more than I earned in my whole first two weeks of work. Because some neighbor couldn't be bothered to neuter their damn cat, one of its hoodlum offspring just cost me another six months of grungy teeth.

And that's why I haven't written...

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It's like, gag me

It's the smell of skunk spray immediately after ejection - sickly sweet.

What is that word?

Smarmy. "Revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness...."

Yay, that's it.

The videos at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions are just plain smarmy. Obama's was OK, but Clinton's? Lord. I didn't see Palin's, but McCain's was out of control. That irritating movie-announcer-guy narrator. I can't take it seriously. And the background music! Bleck.

It's all so... so... American. A pep rally. A tribe of too-earnest cheerleaders yanking on your heart strings. An after-school special (remember those?) - all cheery, cheesy, sappy, and oh-so-serious. Just like that skunk spray; so sweet it's nauseating.

I don't know why they bother me so much. The word that springs to mind is propaganda: "Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause." Put some patriotic music behind some touching pictures, tell the story as if it's a 1940's news film and it all becomes more important, more emotional, more convincing.

Call me a cynic, but I'm sorry, it doesn't work for me. Bring on the hype and I run the other way.

Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts...

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Remembering Katrina (part 2)

Sitting in the hallway on a mattress. The wind is howling. The roar is constant, like sitting in the middle of a major highway at rush hour - only louder. When it gusts, it shakes the house and you can't hear the person talking right next to you.

We monitor the speed of the wind by how close to horizontal the small sapling is outside the bedroom window. Trees are toppling, peeling up the lawn into a game board of four-foot craters. The tornadoes springing out of the hurricane are snapping other trees like pretzels in a child's fingers. The house across the street has two corners sheared off. One of the largest, vine-choked pines sways, leans, and then in a sudden blast from the south, slams into our neighbors living room.

Garbage cans, branches, and other debris is cartwheeling down the street, including part of our roof. One huge gust, a splintering crack, and a tree comes smashing through the roof. I watch it fall and scream at the impact. I am at my breaking point. The racket - for six solid hours - is more than I can take. My little girl puts her hand on my leg and says, "It's OK, mama."

Then it all but stops. The eye. Although the relative silence is a relief, my nerves are still firing missiles in anticipation of the other side of the storm.

But it never comes.

Two hours later, intermittent gusts and complete devastation are all that remain of Katrina.

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Stop the hatred... PLEASE!

Warning: This post contains sarcasm, cynicism and downright anger.

"The answer is: 'If [she] were a __________, she would have aborted the baby.'"

"What is a dying 12-year old who was raped by her father?"


"What is a Democrat?"

"That is correct."

According to a lovely lady called Phyllis Schlafly, if Sara Palin, the Republican V.P. nominee, was a Democrat she would have aborted her Down Syndrome baby boy.

WHAT?! That has to be one of the most hateful, offensive, and ludicrous things I have ever heard. I have been fuming ever since I heard this comment yesterday on NPR's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. His website is flooded with comments all expressing a similar rage. Some have criticized Mr. Ashbrook for not immediately challenging this horrendous generalization. My guess is that he was actually unable to due to blacking out momentarily when he fell off his chair in disbelief.

Because Democrats are pro-choice, apparently (according to the religious right) they are pro-abortion, just killing their unborn babies willy-nilly. I heard an interview recently where a man was asked why he was voting for McCain: Because I'm pro-family, he said. Yes, obviously Democrats hate family, which is why they would rather abort than have brats running around who might constitute a family.

This ignorance and pigeon-holing just floors me.

And would someone, please, explain to me how some pro-lifers justify being pro-war? Death is death, is it not? Someone's baby is being killed, just 18, 19, 45 years after leaving the womb.

Let me just say for the record, I'm not a Democrat (or a Republican) because I'm not a citizen of the U.S. But I am a family-loving, compassionate, intelligent human who believes people who judge others and spread hatred in the name of God (hmm, isn't that what the terrorists do?) are only damaging their cause and hurting those to whom Jesus (the one I learned about, anyway) would have shown love.

I will say no more...

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Remembering Katrina (part 1)

Three years ago on this date I was sitting by a hotel pool in northern Louisiana. My two-year old daughter was swimming with my husband and a friend while I sat in a lounge chair talking with the wife of our good friends. The weather was glorious but the atmosphere far from it. Everyone around us was tense, sad, and in shock. On the flat screen TV in the hotel lobby were scenes from a horror movie that we couldn't begin to fathom as reality. South of us in New Orleans people were dead and dying, the city drowning, and the Mississippi coast had been sucked out to sea.

We were the lucky ones. We had escaped. Our home in Hattiesburg, MS had a tree limb jammed through the bedroom ceiling and food was rotting in the refrigerator, but we were safe.

And I felt awful about it.

What right did I have to be safe and far away from the devastation, sleeping in an air-conditioned room, eating freshly prepared pancakes, and drinking hot coffee, while people even as far north from the coast as my hometown were lining up for bottled water and a rationed trip into Walmart for essentials? And while in the city of jazz babies were dying of dehydration, and corpses - human and animal - were floating down flooded streets. While in Gulfport a man was living with the all too recent and vivid memory of watching his family float out to sea. What right?

But at the same time I was so grateful to be alive. My family and friends were safe, even those unable to escape the tree strewn city, who sat in their sweltering homes waiting for electricity and relief. Using his mouth (and swallowing some in the process), my husband had siphoned gas from the truck into the car. Leaving everything behind, we and another couple piled into our car and headed north; we didn't care where, we just needed to leave the war zone that was our town.

I'm having a hard time writing this. My thoughts (and words) are jumbled. It's been three years, I don't even live down south anymore, but Gustav has brought it all back. My dormant fears, feelings and pain are bubbling over. I feel it physically in my chest. My husband's family amd some dear friends are still in MS bracing for the impact. We can do nothing but sit here and watch the weather, wait for the phone to ring, and hope for the best.

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Why did the rabbit cross the road?

Because he's afraid of a squirrel.

Yeah, I don't get it either.

Can someone please tell me why a rabbit, one that wears clothes, goes to school, and watches TV would be afraid of the squirrels in the back yard, and furthermore, why aren't these squirrels also wearing clothes and conversing at the library about their homework with their fellow rodents? What kind of hierarchy is this where not all rodents are created equal?

I'm talking about the PBS show 'Arthur'. In this cartoon world it appears some animals have evolved beyond others, even those who in the real world, are of a similar species. But what's even more confusing is the episode where Arthur the aardvark - yes, an aardvark - who wants a pet takes a dog-walking job to prove he's up to the responsibility of dog-ownership. Now consider that one of Arthur's gang is also a dog. If you use this reasoning, in Arthur's world, a human might be seen walking another human on a leash and scooping up its poop in a plastic bag.

I read a book to my daughter the other night where a pig, a sheep, and a cow, all wrapped up in their best winter coats, enjoyed a sled ride driven by... a horse! A human harnessed to the sled might be more logical, but a horse? What audacity! The horse is one of the noblest creatures in this creation and some author has deemed it appropriate to demote him as a slave to a pig.

Now, I could draw a political comparison between these disparities in the cartoon-animal world with that of the poor vs. rich or developed vs. third world. But I won't. I'll just continue to be amused and bemused by the rat, rabbit, monkey, aardvark, and cat living and learning in harmony while their squirrel and bird cousins peer wistfully in their windows, cartoon tears in their little cartoon eyes, wondering when it will be their turn.

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The many hats of me

I need a haircut. The shaggy, steel wool mop that haloes my head is reflected in the screen of my laptop as I sit on the deck this glorious late summer morning.

I also need to finish organizing the new office which until 3 days ago was the kids room. Boxes of books, old files, and decades-old computer stuff, retained "just in case" (or rather "just too lazy") were crammed away in a closet. Now, due to the room rearrangements, they have resurfaced and are demanding my attention. I need to make curtains for the new kids' room. I need to hang out the laundry that's slowly rotting in the washer. I need to put away the clothes that have been sitting in a basket for a month. I need to empty the dishwasher. I need to put two years worth of photos in the kid's albums. I need to listen to another session of my journal workshop instructor training. I need to dig through the heap of shoes on my closet floor and take half of them to Salvation Army (so I can justify buying more). I need to be brainstorming article ideas and getting out queries. I need to pay the bills...

I need to not be sitting here writing this blog.

Ever since I began this blog-ourney I have neglected everything else around me. I send my husband to bed with a "I'll be there soon," and then not show up for another 2 hours. I don't even give the TV my full, undivided attention. And next week I start work. I wonder how I can possibly divide a 24 hour day into so many increments. I feel writing this blog is important (I'm not sure exactly why yet) and I don't want to give it up. But, really, how does one wear so many hats?

The Mom Hat: The shabby one with the unidentifiable stains. It has a big brim and droops in various places. It's worn out and really needs to be replaced but no other hat will ever fit quite as well.

The Wife Hat: The one most often forgotten in the closet even though it is nice-looking and can be fun to wear. It should be worn more frequently.

The Housewife Hat: This one's dusty; hard to get clean. It's very large and kind of overwhelms the wearer. It gets in the way of other more agreeable hats.

The Administrative Hat: The one decorated with numbers and letters. It's an annoying but essential little hat worn for protection of one's assets.

The Employee Hat: This one's new and very smart. It is a good one to wear in public due to it's professional appearance and lack of accouterments.

The Writer/Artist Hat: The one with a veil behind which one can hide. This hat fits the wearer well and is the preferred one in the selection, but other more practical hats are usually (or should be) worn instead. It is very colorful but does have some ink stains.

The Single Gal Hat: Rarely worn, or ownership even acknowledged. It is bright, stylish, shapely and attractive. If worn more often it could revitalize that which is dull, monotonous, and all together too blah.

I really do need a hair cut... maybe then I can cram two (or three) hats on my head at once.

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September Sentiments

September has always been my favorite month. It is a month of beginnings. I came into the world in September and as a child in England, it meant the beginning of a new school year. I actually turned 5 on my second day in Mrs. Goddard's class at Huish Infant School, Yeovil, Somerset.

I have always loved school. While my classmates dreaded those first signs of an oncoming school year - cooler nights, stores with the oh-so-subtle signs blaring "BACK TO SCHOOL" - I felt excitement instead. In high school I would start buying my notebooks and pens in July. That annual trip to Ames was a high light for me. New sturdy spiral notebooks with crisp, bright white pages, colorful coordinating folders, multicolored pens... oh, makes me want to run out to Walmart right now.

As an adult, September holds a new joy for me. Fall. That first telltale kiss of a crisp breeze, the first splash of red on the mountain side, apple trees heavy with fruit. And of course, my birthday. I don't avoid the commemoration of my birth; I like parties, I love gifts, and I particularly enjoy being the center of attention. You can blame this little egocentricism on my mother who has always venerated birthdays as a true cause of celebration; the celebrant is duly honored with gifts, a card, a meal of their choice, and a cake. If said birthday-girl (or boy) is not within hugging distance, then a phone call first thing in the morning must suffice, complete with a harmonized rendition of "Happy Birthday" (thanks to Dad's willingness to oblige his dear wife).

This September, the one that is amazingly only one week away, holds particular significance for me and our family. September 2nd, 2008 will mark two milestones: 1) I am going back to work after 4 years at home, and 2) H is starting Kindergarten.

Yes, I am starting a real, wake-up-to-an-alarm-clock, take-a-shower, wear-a-bra job. And my little baby girl, the one who had no hair until she was 18 months, will, with pony-tail bobbing, board a big yellow bus and drive away from me. She'll be back 6 hours later, but that disappearing back-end of a bus marks the beginning of her full departure from home; from me.

Um... corny! Yes, I know, but true. This is where she'll start to hear and learn things from other kids that I may not be so pleased about when she brings them to the dinner table. And I don't just mean those words we have protected her young ears from; the attitudes, the bad manners, the commericial world of Bratz and Hannah Gag-tana... she may be entering the structured world of school, but it will be a world I can no longer control. My precious baby will slowly grow up whether I like it or not.

If she's anything like me (which I believe she is) she will love school because she loves to learn. I can only pray that school does not turn into a place of bullying or boredom. I hope September becomes a month of happiness for her aswell and that together we can look forward to the trips down the stationary aisle (and I'll try to just breathe real deep and let it go when the Cinderella folders are exchanged for those showing some 14-year-old blue-eyed hunk with a basketball. Lord, help me now.)

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