More sugar

I'm back to finish up the "10 things you didn't know you didn't want to know about me" post.

1. I started my first blog in 2001 on Diaryland after I got my first real job out of grad school. I was working as a "publications specialist" for the EPA's air quality division. I spent six years training for what I thought would be a job in the magazine industry, but then I adopted a kid and realized I wasn't going to be the next media mogul. I entered the EPA job thinking I'd be developing my career, only going at a slower pace. Nope, it was boring and tedious and basically advanced proofreading. So to keep myself from dying of boredom, I blogged (in all lower case). Things were so different back then!

2. Through that blog, I met some really interesting women. Because blogging makes you feel closely connected to people, I wound up invited one of those women to come live with me. At the time, I was a single mom and she was a single mom. It made sense. I knew it was a mistake around week 2. I think it took her maybe a few days longer. I won't go into the whys and wherefors, but it was bad. I killed that blog to get away from the circus surrounding that experience and moved on to another one.

3. During the time that the Internet woman was living with me, the mountain man moved back to NC from his native Tennessee. He and I had been friends since I was 14, but I had no romantic interest in him. But she did ... and that sparked some weird competitiveness in me. So I took him. Turns out he's a really great partner and father, so I owe her a thank you for that.

4. The only thing about my mountain man is he didn't like being blogged about. In those early days I had not yet learned to offer a multi-dimensional view of my dearest ones and most often lambasted him. I saw my blog as a place to stew and vent, not a place to do PR for my relationship. However, he found my blog one day and was really hurt by my words. He requested that I shut it down. I resisted at first, but the fights and hurt feelings were more important than a blog, so I let it go.

5. I missed blogging. In real life, there's no one to listen to you whine and rant and laugh about the daily minutia of your life. And those who do listen don't want the steady stream of narcissism that blogs inherently are. So I started blogging about our wedding process and that morphed into the blog you're reading now. I have another blog/website project brewing, but it won't replace this spot as the place where I come to reconnect with myself and others.

Whew. That was harder than I thought it'd be. Thanks again to Amber for giving me the Sugar Doll award.

Read more about "More sugar"...


Mornings with Bella

At Javi's bus stop right after he got on the bus this morning.

Bella: Dat's a B, Mama. B is my name and dat B is Bus!"

Mama: Good job! That B is bus. Can you spell bus?

Bella: Uh huh. B-U-S. It right dere on Javi's school bus.

Mama: That's awesome, Bay! Can you tell me what other words are on the bus?

Bella: Hmm. Dat's a S! It say snake.

Mama: No, babe. There's no word that says snake.

Bella: Yes it is! It say snake right dere dat S. I seed it!

Mama: That S is for school. See, it's S-C-H-O-O-L school right before bus.

Bella: No, mama. Dat snake. SNAH-AKE snake.

Mama: Alright, you win.


In the car on the way to school:

Bella: I love dis song.

Mama: Me, too. It has lots of rhyming words. Hear that? Mat and sat and hat. They rhyme.

Bella: No more talkin'! Dis 'bout singing, not dem wyme words!

Mama: Don't you want to rhyme?

Bella: No, mama! No talkin'! I sing. You listen. Got it?

Mama: Geez. Got it.

Moral: You win some, you lose some. Or, in my life, you lose some, you lose some.

Read more about "Mornings with Bella"...


Pass the sugar

My smart and thoughtful friend Amber slipped me a little sugar.
To accept it, I must share ten things. Ten whole things. That you don't already know. I'll give it a try.

1. I used to hate my hair, but I've recently come to appreciate it.

I really disliked everything about it -- the color, the curl, the length (which was mainly long because my mother liked it that way and finger curled it every time I washed it). This is how I always remember it -- half curly, frizzy, floating around my face.

It didn't help that if I wore it in a braid (usually the low-tech one that starts at the nape), my sisters would tease me that it looked like "a turd." That's kid speak, and it cut to the quick. Both my sisters had shiny, straight hair that seemed (to me) effortless and sleek.

Since I became a grown up, I've been fascinated with the concept of good hair versus bad hair. My memories of my hair definitely fell on the bad side of the category. In fact, I remember successfully using afro-sheen on it one winter when the frizz was out of control.

All I can say is thank the heavens for frizz creme. Where was that stuff in the 80s? But, like I said, I've come to appreciate my hair. Not only the texture but also the color (which I hid under lots of red or black hair dye start around age 14 and lasting until not that long ago). And I've realized that my hair wasn't that bad at all. See?
Yes, there are some really bad things about this photo. Erin's high waist jeans, clear bangle, and bowl cut. Ashley's socks and square-shouldered sweater. And then me. The dress with the snaps and buckles. The thigh not quite hidden by the dress. The smile that looks like it might hurt my face. But you know what doesn't look bad? MY HAIR.

2. See those teeth in that picture? Yeah. Blame that on the one with the bowl cut. Homegirl pushed me off the top of a slide when I was 4ish and she was 5ish. Apparently I wasn't moving fast enough so she just pushed me off altogether. I hit the ground with my face, damaging the root of my front tooth. After the baby tooth fell out, nothing grew back in its spot so people assumed I had a bucked tooth gap. I didn't. The adult tooth was growing upside down under the gum. I had surgery to put it back where it belongs, but it's still all wonky and not where it should be. (Yes, mom, I know I should've worn my retainer.)

3. They thought I had a bucked tooth gap because I sucked my thumb until I was 12. My mother says I was pulled from the womb with my thumb in my mouth. Eventually I broke the habit thanks to the suggestion of my orthodontist who said I should keep my arms under my pillow at night (since I'd wake up sucking my thumb despite going all day without it). It worked.

4. See how I'm wearing that white "frock"? Yeah. I didn't own a pair of jeans until sixth grade. SIXTH GRADE. I went the previous five grades and kindergarten in slacks, sweat pants, skirts, and dresses. I think I stopped wearing them (after spending the preschool years in overalls) because my mom had a hard time finding them to fit my chub. Then when I'd try to wear them, they made the skin on my legs all rough and patchy. I started wearing them in the sixth grade after an asshat named Chad called me a tomato in my red sweatpants. How do any of us survive childhood?

5. This picture was taken on the front porch of my godparents' house back in 1986. We loved spending time with them (who we called Aunt Doris and Uncle Ronnie, or rather, Aunt Ronnie and Uncle Doris because he had long hair and a long beard and she had long hair and no makeup). My father skipped out shortly after Ashley was born in 1980, so my Uncle Ronnie and my Uncle Donnie (no relation) were my father figures -- and they were amazing.

Going to spend time with either uncle (or aunt) was such a treat for us. I would give anything for one more day with either one. My Uncle Ronnie passed away a few years ago from complications from Hep C. My Uncle Donnie died when I was a teenager from a massive heartache. Seeing the joy on my face in that picture reminds me of them, how I felt about them, and how lucky I was to have them in my life.

Okay. I think five is enough for now. What a trip down memory lane!

Read more about "Pass the sugar"...


My bright and slightly obsessive son has been completely fascinated by Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech since he heard it on a documentary we watched on MLK day. When he had the chance, he checked out a book entitled "Martin's Big Words" and read it over and over again.

Then he hit the jack pot. His class is learning about biographies and each student was tasked with a biography project to celebrate American history. He could've written a report, an essay, or a poem, or created a diorama. Can you guess which one he chose? Let's just say the kid can't pass up the opportunity to sit at the table and make crafts with me for hours on end. A diorama it was.

He quickly came up with his vision for the project: Children of different races standing together with Dr. King in the background. Then I broke out the supplies to help him make it a reality. Javi did the coloring and decision making; I did the cutting, gluing, and rearranging. As he colored a public city bus or created buildings for the cityscape and trees for the park, we talked about Dr. King's message and why this particular speech resonated with him so much and how it affected the world we live in.

But as educational as it was, the process was tedious, too. When your child lacks impulse control, gets frustrated easily, or loses track of what he's supposed to be doing, it can be difficult to move something from Point A all the way to Point B. I anticipated that when we started, so we sketched out a "vision board" that showed what he wanted the diorama to look like. That way, when he got lost in the details (like how his boy needed hair and a shirt and pants and shoes), he could orient himself and stay in control rather than try to slip me the lead and let me tell him what to do.

Of course, this project was completed on the back of tremendous amounts of positive coaching and encouragement. He'd doubt something or want to give up on some component, and I'd say to him, "If you want it to look that way, then let's make it look that way," or "This is your project, what do you think the boy should look like," and "Do you like that? Then that's the way it should be!" I think it helped him develop some confidence and take ownership of the project to know that I fully supported his decisions. (But boy was that hard!)

We've been working on this diorama for two weeks. When we put the finishing touches on it tonight (it's due Friday -- so we're a whole day early!), he was beyond thrilled with what he had created. "It looks like a miniature world in there," he said to anyone who walked past it. He kept fiddling with the boy and girl, worrying over the bus, trying to add detail to the trees. He's most definitely in love. And though he casually remarked that I did a great job on my project, after we sat down and talked about it, he realized this was his accomplishment.

And then he asked me to "interview" him about it, because he's proud and enthusiastic and wants to remember this project. But as soon as I turned the camera on, he got all weird and robotic and sweaty. We tried four takes and he finally made it through the fifth one. Through the video, I learned that my child's fascination with Dr. King has been replaced by an undying desire to make dioramas. Because that's what he's learned, you know.

And guess what he told me when I gave him his hugs and kisses before bed? "Tomorrow we can start on Paul Revere!"

Read more about "Lessons"...


Dancing Queen

My kid is like most kids his age. Either his eyes are way bigger than our wallet or he's begging to do something ridiculous with the stuff we've spent our money on.

But I've figured out how to gauge just how interested in something he really is. Rather than listen to him whine and beg and cajole and pout, I tell him to dance for it. "You'd better get to dancing," I say to him when I see that my "No" answer is about to garner a tantrum.

He will only go through so much humiliation for something he doesn't really want, but will dance until his lungs give out when he has his heart set on something. For instance, in this video, he danced his little butt off in exchange for having a "book sale" wherein he was going to give all his books to his little friend for his little friend to sell and give Javi a cut of the profit.

I made him dance and dance and dance (while I giggled uncontrollably and my sister sang to the music) and then I laughed as I told him his request was denied for being ridiculous. He was so worn out he didn't even argue with me. Instead, he and the friend went to the friend's house to locate something worth selling.

It may seem mean, but it's working for us. You have to let me know if you try it.

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday and Wordful Wednesday.

Read more about "Dancing Queen"...


Using Your Words

I spent years fretting over every word Javi said (or didn't say) when he was still my chubby toddler chunk. I was home with him until he was six months old, then he went to a psycho sitter's for one month, and then I moved him to a sweet Mexican mama with four extremely well-mannered boys. I was so relieved to have him somewhere safe and loving ... until I realized the Spanish immersion by day and only English by night and weekends was confusing his brain.

He was almost three before the effects of this language confusion finally faded away. But until then, he spoke in grunts and single-word sentences. He could follow any command, but couldn't ask a question to save his life. The tantrums were horrible and more than one person took it upon themselves to let me know he was spoiled and high maintenance and poorly behaved ... because the frustration level was so high, he acted out when words failed him.

Now our toddler chunk is a curly-headed diva named Bella and she is the most verbal almost-three-year-old in the history of our family. Even my dad, who can't spare a compliment for the grand kids, can't resist commenting on her vocabulary. I try not to be prideful and boast about her, but it warms me up inside to know that she'll never know what it feels like to be trapped inside your own mind like her big brother did.

But even with this vocabulary (which comes with an amazing ability to recall songs, conversations, promises), the child can't get it right every time. Take this evening, for instance. There we were: Dad, Mom, Auntie, and Brother, all sitting and staring in rapt attention as she sang every song she knows (including Monster Mash) and taking requests when her mind blanked on what song to sing next. Auntie Ashley requested Old McDonald ... and this is what we got:

Old McFarmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o
B-L-L-L-A, B-L-L-L-A, B-L-L-L-A
And Bella was her name-o

Priceless, right? After she finished, we clapped and she bowed to each and every one of us. Thank you. And thank you. And thank you. And thank you. Who am I to correct her or train her on nursery rhyme lyrics? My job is to encourage that little mind, applaud her confidence, and give thanks that I'm basking in the free flow of words rather than wringing my hands in worry.

I am doing that in spades. I promise.

Read more about "Using Your Words"...



The sun hasn't disappeared yet. I'm feeling so hopeful that the freeze of winter is behind us and we're tumbling gently into spring. I need to believe this, so I've stopped watching the weather channel and turn away from any weather reports. This is your warning to not pop my bubble with taunts like, "It's going to rain again tomorrow."

I'm not the only one looking forward to spring. I haven't bought grapes in at least three months because the price shot up to nearly $3 per pound for seedless varieties, but will be affordable again in the spring. Unfortunately, next to bananas, grapes are my children's absolute favorite fruit. So you can imagine their excitement when my sister turned up with a pound and a half of red seedless grapes already washed and ready for the eating.

Javi took his vat and escaped to his room to eat them while finishing up latest book. Bella disappeared, too, but then she showed back up with her apron and a determination to help me pick each and every grape off the vine. I prefer to leave them on (surely that keeps them fresh longer), but she was a woman on a mission (and this is a great way to work on those fine-motor skills).

You see why I couldn't stop her, right?

Read more about "Spring"...

Rules for writing

I spend a lot of time writing, but I don't spend nearly enough time developing a body of creative work that sings to potential readers.

So when I read these awesome rules for writing fiction, I immediately knew I had to share them. Not only are they whip-smart, they are also true. Like, down to your bone true. Read them, incorporate them, use them. That's what I'm doing.

Read more about "Rules for writing"...


Here comes the sun

This time last week, I had my head buried in snow. Today I wore a tee shirt while watching my kids play outside, the bright sun casting warm shadows on the park's brown grass. Spring is coming. My heart is full.

And then I come home, get the babe down for a nap, and find this waiting for me:

The perfect award for the perfect day. Thanks to Cane Wife for thinking of me! You have to go see those precious pugs (and the adorable Turtle).

And now for the rules:
1. Put the logo in your post or within your blog.
2. Pass the award onto 12 fellow bloggers.
3. Link the nominees within your post.
4. Let the nominees know they have received this award by leaving a comment on their blogs.
5. Share the love and link to the person who gave you the award.

These folks bring sunshine to my life. Go check them out -- you won't be disappointed!

1. Heidi at Attack of the Sugar Monster is full of gratitude and honesty.
2. Cheryl at Take a Second Glantz has a keen eye for nuance and perspective.
3. Julie at From Inmates to Playdates tells it like it is (and it's always funny).
4. Suzannah at So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter reminds me of myself, or one of my sisters.
5. Katie at Keeping Up With the Joneses has barely any free time and yet gets so much done.
6. Amber at Making the Moments Count never fails to make me think, and smile, and think some more.
7. Liz at ...but then I had kids provides a really unique perspective, and is an example of keeping the love alive.
8. Becca at Drama for Mama is silly and smart and soulful.
9. Rebeckah at Life with Kaishon captures moments in time that make your heart happy.
10. Lisa at Moore Minutes is so talented and has such an amazing ability to make things beautiful.
11. Dana at The Kitchen Witch often makes me laugh with my whole gut (and her recipes make it happy, too).
12. Melissa at I am the Mama is a local friend and hard-working mom who lets me know that, yes, it can be done and done well.

I hope everyone's enjoying some sun today!

Read more about "Here comes the sun"...


Death and taxes

You all know that I work from home. You also know that I gripe about how often I get paid (or don't get paid ... like how I'm missing a check for this month (despite me doing my part of the invoicing just like I always do) but the payroll people don't care and will rectify their mistake next month).

What you don't know is that the IRS pwned my tail. Like, lock stock and barrel. Like, if I could just toil my debt off with a pick ax and a yard full of rocks, I'd totally choose to do that (because imagine how much weight I'd lose) rather than figure out how to pay my astronomical tax bill.

Things I know: I should've paid taxes throughout the year. I should've squirreled away more in savings to offset what was inevitably waiting for me at the end of the year. I should've spent my hard-earned money on something (anything) that would make it worth it, but we don't have anything to show for it (except a camper) -- no flat screen tv or home renovations or dental work for the kid (or lap band surgeries).

Things I couldn't know: How much money I'd make freelancing last year.

It's an up and down kind of career. The jobs come and they go. I blogged for the Lord for a good six months, making a pretty good amount, but every month we were unsure whether the Lord would want me the next month. One day we were working on a devotional and teen outreach and the next day the job disappeared. I've edited web content and designed entire identities and developed communication strategies. I've stepped in to cover for other writers when they go on furlough or maternity leave. I've gone from writing full articles at one pay rate to milking other articles at a much lower pay rate. I've been told more than once that my work is moving to India.

My point: I spent the entirety of 2009 believing that I was one paycheck away from homeless. That we were living hand-to-mouth. That the mountain man was the breadwinner in our family. And how could I know ahead of time that all of my beliefs were wrong? How could I know until the 1099s came rolling in and I owe the IRS more than I know how to pay back?

When the tax lady broke the news, I lost my breath. I had to get down in the floor and just lay there, trying to keep the oxygen flowing to my heart and the tears from pouring from my eyes. My life flashed before my eyes. My arms started hurting and I did a mental check of heart attack symptoms just in case I needed to dial 9-1-1. When I realized my heart would hold, I made a different mental check of all the projects we'd planned to do with our refund -- the main one being orthodontic work for Javi. I tried to figure out how I'd break the news to the mountain man without destroying our marriage.

And then I started laughing. It was all so absurd. How in the hell did I screw it up so royally? What the hell were we going to do? But floating above those heart-wracking questions was this: I made it. I am a professional freelancer. I work from home as a professional writer and designer. I am a writer who gets paid to write and a designer who gets paid to design. I may wish for the chain-gang to work off my new-found debt, but the truth is that I have it because I've been successful at something I never imagined I could actually do. I owe because I have earned.

I am still embarrassed by my mistake but I'm also proud of my accomplishment. And you'd better believe I'm paying in my estimated taxes each quarter this year.

Read more about "Death and taxes"...


After three hours of LOST

Me: Damn. Even I want to follow him anywhere he'll lead and I know he's the Evil John Locke. This is the first time I've liked his character since, like, Season 2.

Mountain Man: John's always been one of the best characters, though. He's so complex, you don't know what he's going to do next.

Me: Like how you don't know what a psychopath is going to do next?

MM: Kinda, but Locke is the soul-searching believer. That's much deeper than being the tortured doctor or the clever and witty con man or the damaged but beautiful hero.

Me: Which character do you think you are?

MM: Probably Hurley.

Read more about "After three hours of LOST"...


It Snowed (again)

There are many reasons to live in the South. Sweet tea, leisurely pace, hospitality, and rock-bottom housing prices are a few. However, the main reason people flock to our region of this country? Warm weather! Soaring blue skies, temperatures in the not-too-cold zone, the ability to go years without needing a snow shovel.

So why the hell have we had snow and ice three times in the past month? It's cute and cuddly and okay the first time it falls. The children go ape-poo and run in circles and beg for you to bundle them up and take them outside (no, my children will not go out and entertain themselves alone). You indulge them because this may be the one snow they see for the next five years.

But then it snows again. And the sleet and ice pelt down. And you find yourself wondering why the hell you tolerate living in a region with ignorant rednecks in their obnoxious trucks and rotted teeth and Republican votes and country music only now you're frozen in and can't escape. And then you see that the whole damn country is blanketed in snow and you look around at those bumpkins and wonder: Do you see now? Can you finally grasp climate change?

But, no, every entitled polluter in a 20-mile radius is out ranting about how Al Gore got it wrong because it's not hot outside. Then you bury your own head in the snow and pray to all that is holy that the sun will come out soon. Somewhere inside your cold, dead heart you know it will ... but you aren't quite sure you'll survive to see it.

I am a Southerner and I know it ain't sposed to be this cold! At least my children finally understand that fake men made of snow with big eyes and pipes are creepy as hell.

We're all fantasizing about sweating like stuck pigs this summer. There's always that, and it works ... sometimes.

*This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday and Wordful Wednesday.

Read more about "It Snowed (again)"...


Nine years

I remember getting the call from my mom on Valentine's Day way back in 2001: "They have a set of lungs for your sister! She's being prepped for surgery now ... you need to get here as soon as you can." My mother's voice was raspy and breathless. She alternated between nervous excitement and dark trepidation. I booked a flight for Javi and I on the next flight from Boston to Raleigh.

Nine years ago. I wasn't able to talk with my baby sister before the operation. A team of skilled surgeons spent long hours removing her 20-year-old lungs and replacing them with a set of fresh, pink, young ones. Everyone knew Ashley needed that transplant. She and our mother fought for it with every ounce of strength they could muster, despite being told in many different ways that the transplant team didn't consider Ashley a worthy candidate. The held on and dug in and fought for my sister's right to live.

On that operating table nine years ago, surgeons removed two organs that were once healthy but had become so ravaged by the infections that are part and parcel of Cystic Fibrosis that they looked more like tiny, hard, shriveled lumps. The surgical team exhaled and remarked that those lungs, those diseased and worn-out lungs, had barely any life in them. They raised their eyebrows at the amazing miracle of transplantation -- the one thing that would keep this girl alive. My sister would've died within months, they realized once they saw those little lungs. Weeks even.

No one saw it coming. Ashley just happened to be in the hospital recovering from the flu and was on the same round of antibiotics and fluids that she would've needed to prepare for a transplant. An unknown tragedy befell another family in the world, and that family gave our family the gift of two beautifully healthy lungs. It was a chain reaction, a complicated string of grief and circumstance and right-place-right-time, and at the end of it, my sister was alive and looking down an amazingly long road of living.

My sister has chosen not to reach out to her donor's family, but she thanks them every day for finding the strength to transform their personal tragedy into a miracle for so many others. All told, six people received organs that night. Today, Ashley is the only one left to remember the beauty and magic of that Valentine's day night, but she tells her story with pride and humility and hope for the future.

The past nine years have been good to her. She's traveled to nearly every continent on the planet. She's studied in England, welcomed another nephew and her first niece, loved and lost and loved again. She's lived. She's breathed deeply into those healthy lungs and lived. I know she's proud of how she's carried these lungs in the world. I am proud of her, too.

Here's to another long nine years with this precious gift. Happy anniversary little sister!

Read more about "Nine years"...


To my sisters

Some children are born into a life of autonomy. They stretch their bodies across years, touching nothing but vast expanses of air, learning to stand and walk without leaning on another. Those children never have to fight for their place in the world, to negotiate and strategize and manipulate the bounds of family and love and individuality. They have all the space and time to unfurl their limbs and minds without crashing into someone else's.

And then there's us. Sisters, friends, enemies, allies. An impermeable circle of genetics and memory, we were born into an order and a definition: first, middle, baby. Our earliest movements -- shifting tightly in the womb, rushing into a too-bright world, struggling fiercely against receiving blankets -- brought us directly against each other's flesh and words and hopes and dreams. We were born with the smell of each other's skin in our noses and the feel of each other's skin on our fingertips.

Our histories are a triple helix of sight and sound that cannot withstand separation. When one is angry, the others feel the painful reverberation in our bones. When one is happy, the others flutter with excitement and joy. Two bend conspiratorially together to whisper fresh secrets into eager ears and the third smiles with the fullness of knowledge, secure in the swift passage of details through age-old glances and well-practiced gestures. The two are nothing without the third, the one stands strong only when flanked by the two, and the three are a powerhouse of strength and steel and might.

Sisters. Friends. Enemies. Allies. We are everything and nothing. We survived long nights of fear and rage, together. We played hard and mean, determined to shirk off the bonds of each other, together. We battled with sharpened blades and words, struck blood and bone, pieced into place the shreds and tatters of a shared life, together. We were angry, wild, hurt, and pure, together. We were hungry and we were vulnerable and we were scared. But we were together, from those first startling, watery shifts inside our mother's womb to the white-knuckled and desperate blows of adolescence to the gentle, compassionate linked-arms of now -- together.

A sister is a rising sun, a full moon, the first sweet and juicy strawberry of summer. She is a raging wind, a tidal wave, the brutal thrust of newly sharp sword. She is the thread that connects you to your most bitter disappointments and your most shining achievements, both linked forever to her solid and eternal silhouette beside you. A sister is your greatest hope, your most valuable treasure, a richness that allows you to unfurl limbs and creativity across space knowing there's a soft, warm place waiting for you.

I am one of you forever, your spirits and personalities firmly imprinted on my soul. Three sisters, thirty years, one rough and beautiful life.

This is a love letter to my sisters for the Love It Up Challenge.

Read more about "To my sisters"...

Valentine's surprise

I have one more week until I can afford to send Bella back to preschool. One more long, busy, child-centered week that just happens to be the same week that I have three different projects and a fundraiser to complete. I watch every minute-hour-day tick by on the clock, knowing I'll be up at all hours of the night to complete my deadlines.

But those are adult issues that my sweet Bella Wayne isn't -- and shouldn't -- be affected by. Rather than attempt to work with her climbing on my shoulders, kicking at the laptop, or plundering through hidden recesses that only she can find, we decided to spend the morning making Valentine's Day crafts. We cut and glued and stamped and painted to our hearts' content.

But something heart-soaring happened in the middle of it all. On a whim, I asked Bella to draw me a B since we've been doing a lot of work on letters over the past week. She asked me, "What da B wooks yike?" I drew it and handed her the crayon. And there it was:
After much cheering and high fiving, I asked her to draw another B on the little Valentine's card she made for Grandma ... and she did:

I'm still watching the clock and my deadlines haven't moved, but I'm feeling a little less stressed out and harried about meeting them. The words will be written, the sites will be updated, and the world will keep turning. But my daughter wrote her first letter and I was right there beside her guiding and cheering her on. That's the point. The whole of it. Right there.

I know I'm a slow learner, but I may finally be getting it.

(This entry is linked to Wordful Wednesday.)

Read more about "Valentine's surprise"...



For as long as I can remember, when my mom spotted some white, fleshy part of someone's body (mine, my sisters', our children's...) she'd yell out "cheesecake!" And the person in possession of that cheesecake would scurry in horror (or delight) at having been seen.

We continued this tradition with Bella, who falls firmly in the delight category. The child loves being naked, and absolutely adores other people seeing her naked. She's been known to flash her ladyparts at innocent bystanders (thankfully all immediate family) and loves to poke her butt out and taunt, "You seein' my cheesecake!"

For the past few weeks, I've tried to curb her exhibitionism with layers upon layers of clothes: onesie, tights, pants, shirts. Nothing worked. Like a miniature Houdini, she escaped all attempts at modesty. I have been forced to pull out the big guns: dresses.

The child loves a dress. She puts one on and immediately spins in circles while proclaiming, "I da fwincess!" And then she refuses to ever take it off, even though I bribe her with the promise of paint or playing outside or taking a bath. No matter how indulgent or luxurious, she holds onto that dress with both hands.

I can't rely on dresses to keep her safely covered forever, but for now, not only is it working for us, she's looking dang cute to boot. Now I just have to figure out a way to keep her hair from looking like it's never seen a brush. One thing at a time, right?!

What works for you?

Read more about "Cheesecake!"...


Mystery solved

My child loves to argue, debate, and negotiate. I say we're having chicken for dinner and he tries to convince me to order out instead. The mountain man tells him to pick up his shoes (jacket, backpack, pencils, etc) and Javi launches into a tirade of self-pity because he always has to do work and he's just so tired. You tell him to go brush his teeth and get dressed because he's been up for hours and still looks like he just rolled out of bed, and he flails around the room while giving you 18 reasons why he shouldn't have to do those things

All day long. About everything. And sometimes he makes sense. When he argues that I should let him go upstairs (even though Bella is sleeping) because he is much quieter when he draws than when he watches tv because he gets bored of tv and then he plays and don't I want Bella to stay asleep and wouldn't it be better to just let him tiptoe very quietly up the stairs to get his paper? And this wouldn't even be a problem if I'd let him keep his paper and pencils downstairs so he doesn't to go all the way upstairs to get them.

But most often (and to my frustration), his logic and reasoning is circular. He argues himself and us into a tangled knot of confusion. Nothing gets accomplished except yelling and the repetition of us saying loudly (and you know that often means yelling over his continued protestations), "I'm not asking you. I'm telling you! Do! It! Now!"

Until yesterday I thought my lot in life was to have this miniature politician constantly questioning, probing, and demanding. I thought it was my fault because I'd prayed at night when he was a toddler that he please find his voice and grasp language. I thought I'd turned him into this argumentative little hassle. I was almost resigned to a lifetime of this little boy who can't really reason his way out of a paper bag. But then we had a conference with his teacher to go over his test scores (welcome to third grade) and a huge weight lifted.

She showed us the results of a bevy of tests, but one stood out above all others. It was a test of his verbal, quantitative, and math ability (at a single point in time, as his teacher stressed over and over again). His verbal score was off the charts, his math score was directly between average and above average, and then there was his quantitative score -- dead last (also known as average range). No wonder his arguments always leave my head spinning! The child can't reason.

It was like a revelation. It's not that he's argumentative or difficult or hard-headed. He simply can't understand why we made the jump from Point A to Point B, and his "reasoning" is his attempt to figure it out. His nine-year-old mind hasn't developed the ability to understand why and so he must question and second guess and offer different options. He's not defying his parents, he's attempting to learn from them.

My new goal is to entertain his questions and travel down that rabbit hole with him as he links nonsequitor to nonsequitor and asks questions that have no connection to your original topic. I will have patience with him as his brain wrinkles and stretches to firmly grasp cause and effect and the big picture. God help me.

Read more about "Mystery solved"...



A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that are considered capable of creating transformation, usually in the spiritual sense.

In the past few years, I have done lots of soul searching (navel gazing?) and lifestyle evaluation (more navel gazing?) and bootstrap pulling to separate who I am from who others want me to be, and the fear that comes from not trusting that your true self is enough.

These are the mantras I've learned so far. Repeating them daily keep me from regressing, descending, spiraling into the pit of self: self-pity, self-doubt, self-loathing, self-absorption ... you get the picture.

It's not my business what other people think of me.

Words have only the power you give them.

Speak and act with the intention and direction of truth and good.

Always make the next best choice.

Courage means asking questions and expressing what you need.

It's okay to be wrong.

I am not the most important person in this room.

It's my job to love myself. If I don't, who will?

This is not about me unless I make it about me.

Notice a theme? My whole life, I've felt there was so burning spotlight trained directly on me. People watching, judging, measuring and always me coming up short. My mantras revolve around me remembering that I am just another face in the crowd.

You wouldn't believe how freeing it is to know that the room isn't staring at you. That the world couldn't care less about you. That you can show up to a fitness class or a civic group meeting or a house party and no one will care you're there. Sure, someone may be happy to see you or someone may cringe that you showed up, but that person is just like you -- just another person in a world full of people.

In the end, it's not my business if you want me to show up. It's not business if you think I look disgusting in a bathing suit. It's not my business if you can't believe I don't know that song, that word, that movie. My business is putting good into the world. My business is loving myself. My business is speaking what I need so that others can be fully present in my life (and I can be fully present in theirs).

Those are my mantras. What are yours?

Read more about "Mantras"...


Snow days

We've recovered from the Great Blizzard of 2010. Piles of snow and ice are melting, buses are running, and we're finally able to walk without slipping and sliding across the ground.

But Bella's not worried so much about the walking. She's way more interested in the throwing. My goal is to buy weather-proof gloves for the next big snow so she can pack together the perfect snowball. I think she got more joy from just busting snow globs on the ground than she did sledding!
I am counting down the days until Spring bursts forth, but until then, I choose to appreciate this beautiful life.

Read more about "Snow days"...

Just ... no

Regarding my earlier post: I should never watch Intervention while looking through old photos. I cry and snot and feel too deeply. Let's shake off the melancholy and get light.

Here are a few things you will not catch me doing, ever (and don't try to convince me otherwise):

Entering my child in a beauty pageant. I don't understand why parents prance their toddlers around in expensive clothes (they likely can't afford) and under way too much makeup. My daughter is a cutiepants and I know it. She knows it. We don't need the validation or attention that comes from a $2 trophy that's handed out to everyone who pays the right amount of money. If she chooses to enter a pageant one day, I'll support her -- but it's her body, her decision, and should have nothing to do with me.

Swimming in the ocean. Do you know what lives in the ocean? Sharks. Great big sharks with razor-sharp teeth and millenia-old instincts to rip me limb from limb. There's also poop -- fish poop, shark poop, people poop (the worst). No thanks. I'll stick to the pool conveniently located not 50 feet away from your salty cesspool. Thanks much.

Jumping off of stuff. It's unnatural. I mean, if I was designed to jump off cliffs or out of planes or from bridges with a cord strapped to my ankle, then I'd be the indestructible girl. But I'm not indestructible and you won't convince me to hurl it off of things. Any things. So give up.

Walk under ladders, or open umbrellas inside, or break mirrors. Yeah, I'm a firm believer in superstition. They were developed for a reason and I'm not one to play with danger. Just move around the ladder. You want to open an umbrella, go outside and open it to your heart's content. Do what you want with your mirrors. Be my guest. But don't try to drag me into your bad luck!

I'm not interested in why you love it or why everyone else is doing it. I don't care that you LOVE IT and it's the most fantastic experience in the whole world and if you haven't tried it then you haven't truly lived. Just .. no. Now let's move on, shall we?

Read more about "Just ... no"...

The silent killer

I was the kind of teenager who broke lots of rules. I snuck out at night, stole my mom's car, had a string of boyfriends, and dabbled in drugs and alcohol. I chose not to abuse inhalants like fumes, solvents, and gases.

Because of my uninformed choice, my mother didn't have to do what my best friend's parents did; she didn't have to bury one of her children.

Not a day goes by that I don't think about Christina. She was wild and beautiful and strong and brave. She laughed loudly and without fear. She smiled at the world, yet knew how to kick its ass when necessary. She had long red hair and a face full of freckles. She was a free spirit. And she was dead at 18.

Christina changed my life.

Before her death, I thought of huffing as something silly and pointless. I would laugh at the boys in my gym class who kept bottles of Freon tucked in the inside pocket of their coats, roll my eyes when they'd huff and then talk in droning voices with spittle pooling in the sides of their mouths, and shake my head at their glassy eyes. I thought nothing of people inhaling "Rush" at a party or a friend's house. It didn't occur to me that it was more than stupid that many of my friends chose to hang out at closed convenience stores to huff gas fumes.

I never stopped to think those silent, noxious fumes could kill me. My mother certainly had no clue she should be warning me about inhalants the same way she beat me over the head with warnings about drugs and alcohol.

I didn't know. I chose not to huff the same way I chose not to experiment with hard drugs or pills -- because I was scared. But my best friend was braver than me and she made a different choice. I didn't know I should stop her.

Christina died in August 1994, just a few weeks after her birthday. She died from complications from flash burns incurred after huffing in a car with the windows rolled up. She lit a cigarette and the air in the car exploded. She survived for nearly a month in the NC Jaycee Burn Center, but ultimately lost her battle.

Today, one in five teens in the United States have used inhalants to get high. One in five. If you have a child, you have to learn the warning signs and talk to your children about inhalants. Most of the kids I knew who huffed started as young as 10 or 11. At Christina's memorial service I met a girl my age whose twin brother passed out after huffing glue, vomited in his sleep, and asphyxiated. He was 12.

Inhalant abuse is serious and it's deadly -- and it's legal. Your children can find inhalants in your home or buy them without hassle at any store. They could die the first time they try it. Know the signs of inhalant abuse and arm your children with the knowledge of how dangerous huffing can be.

You'll never regret that talk.

Read more about "The silent killer"...


Who doesn't love cake?

Our Big Top CupCake wasn't the prettiest thing and I forgot to add icing between the bottom and top. But throw some icing on it and all is forgiven.

The mountain man and the big kid ate their pieces with gusto and many compliments. Bella licked the blue icing and then said, "I wan shello for my birfday!"

Yes, she pushed away her plate of chocolate cake with marshmallows and frosting in favor of a bowl of jello with whipped cream. And, yes, she thought it must be somebody's birthday if we were actually having cake.

We live a very decadent lifestyle, obviously.

Read more about "Who doesn't love cake?"...

Because life is a circus

We're going on day ten in the house. There's snow and ice and rain. There's an empty checking account. There's an empty stretch of day without any light. So today there was a Big Top Cupcake (thanks to Grandma who gave it to Javi for his birthday).

I dumped a box of Betty Crocker in a mixing bowl and added oil and water. Javi cracked the eggs.
Bella had the most fun of her life using the mixer.
And then we got creative. Those lumps are jumbo marshmallows.
In the oven for a while.
And then there was this.
I undercooked the top part, so I stuck it all back in the oven to hopefully benefit from the latent heat. We plan to frost it after dinner. The kids are certain it will taste like heaven. That's all that matters, right?

 *This post is part of the Moms' 30-minute Blog Challenge.

Read more about "Because life is a circus"...


Help me break this habit!

We have a problem, and our best efforts have failed. So I'm turning to the interwebs for advice.

My son refuses to shut his mouth while he's chewing. I'm not talking about it comes open once or twice. I mean, if we aren't actively saying, "Shut your mouth!" or "Mouth closed while you're chewing!" then his mouth is hanging wide open or he's talking a mile a minute and you can see every gross particle of food inside of it.

Usually the mountain man stays on the alert. He has to make sure Javi takes the right sized bites (rather than either packing his mouth full or taking teeny-tiny bitty bites) that allow him to finish his meal in a normal amount of time (versus an hour or longer) without his mouth being too stuffed to close properly. But it's an overwhelming job, especially when the other parent doesn't do as great a job at paying attention (yes, that's me).

So last week we started a new policy that we hoped would result in less arguing and tension at the family table. Now Javi gets one warning to close his mouth while there's food in it. When he does it again, he must take his dinner to a tray we've set against the kitchen wall. He sits with his back to the table, facing that wall, to finish his meal. He is not to talk or at all participate in the dinner. If he speaks, we ignore him. If we're talking, he's not allowed to comment.

The "face the wall" punishment is supposed to serve two goals: Enforce to him that we refuse to look at the food in his mouth and give him incentive to keep his trap shut when there's food in it.

The problem: He gets to that wall and the open-mouthed chewing comes on full force. It's like he doesn't even bother trying to keep his mouth closed. I looked over at him this evening and I could see flakes of biscuit flying around. What the hell? This is obviously not going to work!

I need help, people. The kid doesn't have breathing problems and has been taught table manners. We didn't just spring this on him recently -- however it has reached a breaking point. Javi does have an overbite and slightly (okay, more than slightly) bucked teeth -- but we make him take bites that negate the tooth issue.


Read more about "Help me break this habit!"...