Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Goodbye November!

Yeah, well...

It was good for me to have a regular writing outlet. I'll try to keep doing it, even though I'm just writing for my own eyes most of the time.

Moving on...

I took back the homeschooling reins today, which was nice. Little and I spent the morning coloring in his History book and baking and listening to music. When Middle showed up, we launched into American History for him, but I think they both enjoyed it. Little did some spelling and Middle wrote a bit on the American History. It wasn't an amazing day, but it was a good first day back after break.

Little has been asking me to read At Home to him. The kid is fascinated with everything architectural. He has been since before he could properly say architectural. It's almost creepy. He watches This Old House, and talks about stuff he learns. I didn't think he was really listening when I was reading to him about the invention of steel and the use of different types of bricks as building materials, but he repeated it all back to me, in more detail than I could have imagined coming from him. I knew he liked to build stuff with blocks and tinker toys, but I didn't really understand until recently how much deeper his interest in design and construction went.

Very cool. I'll have to find a way to work this interest into my Christmas shopping.

Speaking of Chrismas shopping - they're impossible to buy for. They aren't materialistic kids, and are pretty happy and satisfied with what they have. Which is how we like them. It will make them happier adults. I never did see the point of training them from such a young age to want want want more and more stuff. We already have too much stuff we hardly ever use. Yes, they like to open things on Christmas, but by the next day, much of it has been set aside and they're back playing with the same open-ended stuff they like. Namely, blocks, cars and little creatures and action figures. They have an infinite amount of ways to play with them and will spend hours doing so if left to their own devices.

I think I want a French Press. I had coffee made with one the other day and it was great. I'll have to research this a bit...

But otherwise, I'm good.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 29

Well, November is almost over.

And, just like last year, I've managed NaBloPoMo just fine, but have crashed and burned on NaNoWriMo.

What can I say? I'm much less invested in the Blog than I am in the novel. I can sit and write whatever I happen to be thinking about at the moment here. Many other people are much better at this than am I, but it's still enjoyable and worthwhile for me to take some time each day to write... something.

And this month, that something was not my novel. I did start with a new idea this year, and it wasn't a teen fiction. Two steps in the right direction. But it took half the month to just get the story into my thought pattern, and then it was too overwhelming to consider playing catch-up at that point. Not if I wanted to do it justice.

And herein lies the struggle with which I've been dealing since my teen years: that feeling that if I can't do it "right" - I'd be better off avoiding it completely. I have it with the novel; I don't have it with the blog. Therefore, I blog effortlessly every day, but must take weeks to psychologically prepare myself to work on the novel. There's a lesson here...

When I work at something and allow myself to care about it - and I mess it up or don't do as well as I'd like at it - it's frustrating and disheartening. I can see the pull in myself toward "If I had the time to do that, I'd like it and I'd do well at it... but I just don't have the time." That way, I can at least be successful in my fantasies, and blame any failure on external circumstances rather than my own lack of talent or unwillingness to work at getting better.

On the other hand, there's definitely something to be said for doing something despite the fact that I'm not going to excel at it. Sometimes, just the fact that I'm doing it at all is excellent.

Take martial arts, for example. I've never been athletic. I've never played a sport, and any attempts at exercising to lose weight or get in shape have been short-lived. I've just never been good at any of it. And I'm not especially good at martial arts. I watch other people who learn the material faster, perform the actions with more precision and power - and I wish I could be as good as they are. But I'm okay with the fact that I'm not - and so are my teachers. The philosophy there is that everyone is on her own path, comes with her own strengths and weaknesses, and as long as we keep coming and keep working at it, we will eventually get better.

So that's what I do. I just keep showing up, even though I'm not the best at it - and I have gotten better. A lot better. I'm still not where I'd like to be, but neither are a lot of people, and I know that I'm never going to be if I stay home kicking butt in my fantasies.
And if all I did was focus on the part I don't have yet, I would miss out on all the wonderful things I have gained from this imperfect pursuit.

Since starting martial arts almost a year and a half ago, I've been trying to remember this and to apply it to other areas. Parenting. Marriage. Homeschooling. Friendship.


The structure of NaNoWriMo is supposed to discourage too much ruminating over whether your writing is good enough or not - the word count and time constraints don't really allow you time to think too deeply about any of it. Just write write write as fast as you can and worry about the editing and polishing in January. November is for just showing up day after day and doing something.

Every November 29 I seem to have learned something new from this experience, and I think that was the take-home for this month.

I'll do my best to apply it going forward. I'm not always going to be the perfect wife, mother, or friend - but I keep showing up to try my best, and there's value in that. I can keep allowing myself to be imperfect at writing too.

But right now I need to get to kickboxing class, where I will be happily mediocre. And no one will fault me for it. There, my best is good enough for everyone, including me.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Skirt Party

I gots me some new skirts!!!!

I can wear them individually, or together.

They can double as tops also!

My friend sells these skirts at parties, fairs, folk festivals, etc. They're made from recycled Indian Saris. I loved the ones I picked so much, I made Savageman take a bunch of pictures of me in them when I got home.

Damn, I'm cute...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hours Alone

Savageman and the kids just left for Lancaster.

I've been saying for weeks that what I need is a day to myself - with no one home, to get my act together, get the place cleaned up, go through the stacks of mail, get organized, etc., etc....

And now they're gone and I'm feeling totally paralyzed.

Movement in any direction...

I'm starting by getting tonight's blog post done, because I'm going to be out again with friends and I don't want to have to rush home to do this. Then maybe I'll make a shopping list and hit the store, because I also want to make something yummy and gluten-free to bring tonight and I actually have time to do that. Ratatouille, perhaps.

The laundry is already done, the house is generally picked up - other than the major mountains of mail - and I could just put my veggies in the oven, kick back, watch a movie and go through all this paper clutter until it's time to leave.

Or I could write....

But I'm realizing that once I start to write - once I do all the work it takes to get into The Zone - there's no coming out of it again. Not even to go to a party. Maybe that's what I need to work on - being able to jump in and out of my story without so much psychological preparedness. Pick a scene - jump in, write it, jump out.

I doubt I will use this time to write.

Enough dallying - I'm off to be productive. Not that blogging isn't productive time well spent, of course. ;-) Especially for other people who actually work at it instead of just using it as a way to procrastinate like I do.

There are worse things.

Okay. Getting up now.


Going to make a shopping list and do some work around here.

After my power nap.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Quick Blog

Just got home!

Had a fun night out at a pub with some friends. Great live music, including my friend's college-aged son who got up and jammed too for a while. I reminded him that the Teen and I are in need of guitar lessons, so maybe we'll make that happen before he decides he misses college and moves away again.

In the meantime, I need to build up callouses again. I was playing the guitar and the violin daily for a while, but have gotten out of the habit. The first week or two playing again is so painful - once I get past that point, I tell myself I'll keep up with it so that I won't have to go through that again.

But alas....

Time to go read and relax with Savageman.

Here's the band.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Or Not...

Lost my spot in The Zone. It was bound to happen.

But I'm grateful!

One thing I'm grateful for: the fact that I got a free 2 week subscription to any magazine or newspaper I wanted on my Nook and I found this cool article in the WSJ yesterday.

Thought I'd share it.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and all...

A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional and physical well-being. Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They're also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.

Cool stuff.

The article also describes the benefits of keeping a Gratitude Journal where you can write down all the things for which you are grateful. I started doing this over a year ago, and it really has made a difference in my outlook on life. When I do start to feel low, I sit with it and write a bunch of things down - or just read over past pages I have written. Shifting my focus from the things that aren't going well to the things that are is often all I need to do.

I haven't done it today, and I should. I have much to be thankful for.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010


One good reason to avoid my writing project?

It's addictive. Like Chicktionary or Tetris, but with something to show for it.

Once I start, I don't want to stop.

Remember that guy who did his whole 50,000 NaNoWriMo book in two days?

I could so do that.

Will everyone please leave me alone so that I can write a 50,000 word novel?

Or a blog post, maybe?

Didn't think so.

There's something about seeing Mom sitting at the computer, engrossed in a writing endeavor, that attracts little boys like a powerful electromagnet. It's sweet that they love me so much, but...

The problem with writing is that you have to do it when the urge hits. If you put it off until a convenient time, you may not be in The Zone by then. Even though the house is finally quiet and there's nothing to do and no one to bother you - if you're not in The Zone, you might as well just go do laundry.

On the other hand, what's more frustrating than being wholly immersed in The Zone and finding yourself suddenly surrounded by children who will do anything for your attention?

Little just told me he was bored and would like to clean something. I kid you not.

Fingers flying over the keys, I muttered, "That's great, sweetie... start with your room."

"Will you help me?"

Ugh. Isn't that why we made you two big brothers? Room cleaning help?

I guess not.

At least they didn't expect me to cook for them. The three of them made pizza and homemade cookies for themselves and scarfed it all down while standing around the kitchen or sitting on the counter. Nothing for me. We real writers don't eat, after all. Or sleep. Or bathe.

Or blog.

Not when we're in The Zone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Long Day I Mentioned Yesterday

Indeed it was.

It started at 6:30 when I got up with the Teen. He had informed me that the public schools were off and there would be no bus today so I would have to drive him to school. So not only did I have to get up, I had to get dressed at this unGodly dark hour if I wanted him to go to school today, which I most emphatically did.

We stopped at McDonalds for breakfast and coffee.

And pulled into the school parking lot right behind.... his bus.

Him: "But there were announcements! And signs on the cafeteria doors!"


Turns out, it was a different school district that had off the whole week, not ours. But I was up, and I had a big cup of fast-food coffee. Whee.

I got home, put together schoolwork for the Smaller Savages to do with Grandma, and got ready for work. Snuck out of the house while everyone else was still in bed. Gave brain tests to a nice lady for the next 4 hours or so.

Went grocery shopping.

Came home, put away groceries, put in laundry, changed clothes, and picked up the Smaller Savages at the Grandparents' house.

Middle Savage read his book. Little Savage made corn muffins. I "reshaped" a Gap lambswool top I got yesterday at the thrift store for $3.99 - which I absolutely loved - and had ruined by washing it, even though the tag said you could wash it. It came out of the machine looking like doll clothes. I stretched it (almost) back to its original shape. But it took a while.

The Teen came home, needing to talk about his day and needing a new mouth guard for his first practice tonight - he made the Freshman basketball team, which is kind of a big deal. I took him shopping.

Then to practice, then to the bank, then to get my friend's key so I can feed her cats this week, then back home to pass the parenting baton to Savageman, then... (pant, pant) off to 2 hours of martial arts.

I've been avoiding the kickboxing class for a month or two now, because of my Elbow. But screw it - like the Brain said the other day - the Elbow is like, 1/300 of the whole body and the rest of us need to work out. Suck it up, Elbow!

I punched. I kicked. I ran. I did crunches. (I avoided the pushups to appease the wimp Elbow.) And when that was done, I changed into my gi and did another hard-core hour of regular martial arts class with more punching, kicking, and crunches - plus fighting techniques.

Came home to salad and a tasty beer. Dealt with homework issues. Took shower, read to Little.

Feeling strong. Ignoring the fact that my left arm hates me right now. I can type without moving it.


Doing it again tomorrow.

Feeling strong.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Wrote Something!

Can you believe it?

It was easy, too. I took a piece of my story that had been bumping around in my head for a while and I just wrote it down. No problemo.

I re-read it this morning and I still liked it. Very satisfying.

Right now, my novel is plotted out. It's roughly outlined and I have many of the scenes already planned in my head. If I can sit down and write each one, even out of sequence, then link them together, then edit and polish it up, it might turn out to be pretty good.

At least it might be satisfying enough for me to read, even if it's not fit for anyone else's eyes.

Having a creative outlet in my life really does help me with the whole sanity thing.

Which is good, because there are times when life can be pretty darn stressful around here.

Like at 11 p.m. when the Teen asks my opinion about his History homework and I see it and it's absolutely awful and we wind up staying up until midnight fixing it and he's angry at the teacher, angry at me, angry at his father, angry at the Giants, angry at everyone except himself, and he's yelling and being ungrateful and nasty.

And at midnight, when I'm struggling to get my blog post submitted, and Middle decides now is the perfect time to show up and tell me all about the new apps he downloaded for his new iPod Touch. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he really does think I'm interested in this now when I've just finished battling with the Teen and I'm trying to gently but firmly send the message that I'm Off Duty.

Now the Teen is insisting he can't go to bed because he has to read this book for English class, even though it's 2 1/2 hours past the time the lights need to be out. I'm at the end of my @#$%#$* rope with this kid.

See? Stressful.

Escaping into my own little made-up world to play is a more stimulating and satisfying activity than escaping into TV or even a good book. I enjoy putting the words together, designing both sides of a conversation (instead of just one, like in real life), the feeling of flow I get when I'm imagining something in my head and the right words for it are coming fluently out my fingers. Kind of like reading, but in reverse.

I'd almost forgotten how good writing feels. Why I did it so much when I was a kid, why I come back to it every November, even though I never come anywhere close to finishing NaNoWriMo. But the 50,000 words in 30 days challenge is just a jumping off point. If I can continue to work on this, a little at a time, I know I will be glad I did.

But for now, I need to go to bed. I have a long day tomorrow.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Time in my Bubble

I'm writing this on my Nook at my in-laws. It has a web browser - one big plus I hadn't even considered when I bought it. Next to my brother-in-law's iPad, I think it's the coolest new toy at the party.

So, did I use all that stuff I took on the car ride?

Not really.

I read my magazines and some of my novel, but most of the trip was spent listening to music and looking out the window letting my thoughts wander. Which was also nice.

It was kind of like being in my own little bubble, where I could think about whatever I wanted without having to answer any questions other than the occasional, "Are we there yet?"

Given the degree of Mind Clutter I've been dealing with lately, this was a welcome change.

If I could schedule myself time like this every day, it would probably help a lot. Which is probably where the real value of the power nap lies - not the sleep itself, but the act of removing myself to my room and being away from everyone.

We still have the trip home to look forward to. I plan to read and sleep. Still no writing going on, but I'm giving myself the mental space to really think about and develop my story in my head. Not really the point of NaNoWriMo, but that's okay.

Come to think of it, maybe I will do some writing in the car. I have a few things ready and it would a confidence-builder to show myself that I can do it.

The kids will likely be asleep, so I won't even have to answer "Are we there yet?" questions. I could get a lot done in 2 hours of being in my own little isolation bubble.

Glad I brought those notebooks.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Packing My Bag

We're taking a car trip tomorrow.

Not a long one - it's about 2.5 hours each way to my niece's birthday party in N.J. But that adds up to 5 hours in the car - and this time, I won't be driving.

5 hours with nothing to do but sit. The idea gives me goosebumps of excitement.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. I love a road trip. I'm putting together my Tote Bag full of things to do - just like I have since I was a little kid.

And to be totally honest, the contents of the Tote Bag have not changed much in the last 30 years or so.

There will be, of course, Stuff to Read.

This time, instead of a book, I have my new Nook, which contains 4 books I am currently reading. Namely, The Blue Orchard (our book club selection of the month), The Girl Who Played With Fire (follow-up to last month's book club selection), At Home (I never pass up new Bill Bryson), and Anne of Green Gables (reading aloud to Kyle). Four great books, all at once, and loads of time to read them. See why I have goosebumps?

But that's not all. I have Magazines. The new Backpacker, a Better Homes and Gardens Cookie Issue, and a Campmor catalog. Can't wait to dig into those, and make shopping lists and wish lists in my...

Notebooks. I'm never without at least one. There's something about a fresh notebook that I have always found exciting. The endless possibilities of ways to fill it, the satisfaction that comes from looking over the fruits of my (albeit mediocre) creative efforts, the occasional flash of brilliance I was able to capture before it was lost in the mind clutter... there's just nothing like a notebook. And I've packed my three favorites.

There's the gratitude journal in which I write anything that comes to mind for which I am thankful at any given moment,

...the organizer-type notebook where I write down menu plans, calendar items, to-do lists, Christmas lists, books I want to read, places I want to travel, movies I need to see, etc.,

...and my writer's notebook, where I jot down ideas, character sketches, and any other brainstormy things that come to mind for my story or blog.

I may or may not write in them, but it gives me peace to know they are there.

Last, but not least, the iPod, charged and loaded with good music, goes into the Tote Bag. Headphones make for peaceful car trips in our family, and my ears are no exception.

I will have 5 hours essentially to myself to listen to my own music, organize, read and write.

It's almost too good to believe.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mind Clutter

I am surrounded by clutter.

Walk through my front door and it will be obvious to you. We have more Stuff floating around this house than we have places to put it. Even when we do the Deep Clean - the kind you do when your out-of-town relatives are coming and you're too embarrassed to let them see how you actually live - much of that process still consists of finding temporary hiding places to dump large quantities of Stuff until after the company leaves, at which point it is returned to the desk, the floor, the kitchen bar, the chair no one can sit on... You get the idea.

Every once in a while, we look at each other (and to do this means we likely have to peer around the huge pile of Stuff that blocks our view of each other) and say, "That's it! Something needs to be done!" And then we go back to doing what we were doing because who can actually tackle a project of this ginormous proportion at the end of the day when we're totally fried?

Which brings me to the next, more subtle, and yet possibly more important problem: Mind Clutter.

I've been working mornings this week. While I'm at work (which, by no accident, starts with a trip to Starbucks for a Venti Bold Coffee), I am on. I'm alert, efficient, and feel sharp as a tack.

I have nothing to think about other than What I Am Doing. Which is giving people tests, and scoring the tests when they're done. I need to concentrate on this, and I can't make mistakes. I have no problem setting aside all the other Stuff floating around in my head and giving 100% of my attention to the task at hand.

Likewise, at martial arts. I have no option to think about anything but What I Am Doing.

One wrong move there, and I'm dead.

Okay, maybe not dead. But I could get hurt, or could hurt someone else. Or look like an idiot. All Bad Things if I let my mind wander during class. So I don't. Not even a tiny bit.

Then there's the rest of my day. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of Work or Jung Sim Do, all the mind clutter that has been temporarily chucked in the closet comes tumbling out and scatters throughout the far reaches of my poor brain. More coffee doesn't help. Sometimes a power nap will help a little. But much of the time, I'm feeling scattered and foggy.

People pelt me with random questions and I don't know the answers:

"What time is the party I need to be at 3 weeks from now?"
"Whose turn is it to do the laundry?"
"What time is Daddy coming home tonight?"
"Can you take me shopping for a snack to bring next Wednesday?"
"Have you seen my book?"
"How was the Teen when he woke up this morning?"
"Is Daddy coming home for lunch?"
"I thought I did laundry yesterday. Isn't it someone else's turn?"
"Are you teaching Bradley December 9th?"
"When are our library books due?"
"How was the Teen when he got home from school? Did he have a good day?"
"Can we get dinner out tonight?"
"What time is the Intermediate class on Tuesdays?"
"Have you seen my shoes?"
"Or maybe I should go to the Advanced class - what do you think?"
"When should the Teen get his iPod back?"
"Have you seen my gi?"
"What are we doing next Thursday?"
"Why don't we ever have anything good to eat?"
"When am I getting my iPod back?"
"What would be a good book for me to read next?"
"How was the Teen at bedtime?"
"Can you fix this broken thing for me?"

I visualize myself standing in the middle of my messy family room, juggling way too many objects, including a tennis racquet, with which I need to quickly and accurately hit balls being tossed at me by multiple family members on queue - all without missing a beat.

Which is as impossible as it sounds. Which is probably why, in reality, I look like I'm staring off into space much of the time. There's so much Stuff floating around in my head, I can't give any of it the attention it deserves.

My mind needs as much of a decluttering as my house does. And, as with the house, sometimes it just seems like too ginormous a task.

Savageman and I are going to watch a movie now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to Martial Arts

I've had to miss martial arts class much of this week.

Tonight I was back - kicking, punching, throwing people on the mat, being thrown. The sweat was pouring, my brain was working at full capacity, and my muscles and joints were begging for mercy.

I loved every second of it. I vowed to make it a high priority again.

Everything works better when I'm exercising.

But not just any exercise. Noooo - it has to be heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping, using-every-cell-of-my-body-and-brain-just-to-keep-up kind of exercise.

Preferably with shouting.

I had a brief moment when the class was doing an intense form of push-ups and I worried about my tennis elbow.

Brain to Elbow: "You're about 1/300 of this body. The rest of us benefit from this. Suck it up."

The Brain tells it like it is.

Elbow got a beer and some ice later to help it relax. Everyone's happy.

Happy brain chemistry, happy body that still fits in the skinny-person jeans purchased LAST November, happy muscles I didn't know I had...

Happy Me.

Feeling strong and healthy and beautiful.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tending and Befriending

The human stress response has been characterized, both physiologically and behaviorally, as "fight-or-flight." Although fight-or-flight may characterize the primary physiological responses to stress for both males and females, we propose that, behaviorally, females' responses are more marked by a pattern of "tend-and-befriend." Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process. The biobehavioral mechanism that underlies the tend-and-befriend pattern appears to draw on the attachment-caregiving system, and neuroendocrine evidence from animal and human studies suggests that oxytocin, in conjunction with female reproductive hormones and endogenous opioid peptide mechanisms, may be at its core. This previously unexplored stress regulatory system has manifold implications for the study of stress.

- Taylor, et. al.(2002)

Doing some background research for my story. How do women react to stress in a survival-type situation? How do men react? How might these differences create conflict - or balance? What kinds of surprising behaviors emerge in different individuals under duress? How are they changed by it, and do the changes last beyond the stressful situation?

All fascinating questions to explore. If only I had the time (and the talent) to do them justice.

Going to bed now.

Monday, November 15, 2010

15 Years

Fifteen years ago tonight, I became a mother.

Leading up to that life-altering moment were no less than 43 hours of drug-free labor, two weeks of prodromal labor, twelve weeks of Bradley classes, 9.5 months of eating healthy food, two months of talking about when would be the right time to start a family, several years of talking about when to get married...

Considering the effort it takes me and Savageman to agree on a sofa or carpet, I'm suddenly really impressed this child exists at all.

Raising the Teen has been the single most humbling experience of my life. Our lives, as I'm sure Savageman would agree.

We thought we knew everything. We thought we had all the answers.

We couldn't have been more wrong.

Starting with the birth itself, the most glaring of our misconceptions:

If we do everything "right" we are guaranteed the outcome we want.

That diet, the classes, the refusal of labor meds, the walking, squatting, pelvic rocking... and I still wound up having the C-section. I didn't care. All I wanted was to protect my baby, who was stuck and might have been hurt had I insisted on continuing with my perfect natural birth. I just wanted to hold him - I didn't care if it meant being cut open, as terrified as I had been by that idea earlier in the process. Cut me open - I don't care - I just want him safe.

Then came the breastfeeding, sling-wearing, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, gentle guidance, textbook La Leche League parenting. We were so proud of ourselves for doing everything right. I became a Leader and a Bradley Teacher. We went to the conferences, happy to be surrounded by other crunchy, like-minded people, and to see their sweet, calm, peaceful babies and toddlers nursing or playing quietly during the sessions. Our baby was sweet and happy too, although anything but calm and peaceful, and we adored him. It was exhausting, but we wanted to do everything right.

He was about 18 months old when we were at a LLL conference and noticed the difference. The big difference. And this time we knew it wasn't our fringe parenting style because everyone there parented the same way. Ours really was different.

Different bad? Different good? Who's to say? A little of both, maybe. But he was different. He was... MORE. More of everything. More active, more impulsive, more affectionate, more inquisitive, more talkative... just MORE. His preschool teacher nicknamed him Personality Plus. He was certainly a charmer, and he still is.

This was the child who brought me to homeschooling. Which was fine with me anyway, despite all the struggles. But after the first few years, I was starting to get the idea. Whether I did things "right" or not, there were no guarantees. He's half the equation, and he has his own mind. I'm glad we had those years together, and I know they taught us both a lot. But I'm glad he's in school now.

He brought home his report card today. 2nd Honors. He had a 99% in English - the subject we fought about most when he was home. A 93% in French - with (supposedly) the hardest teacher in the school. (Guess something about her seems familiar to him...) A 94% in History; a 94% in Religion.

And just like I can't take full responsibility for the problems we've had, I can't take the credit for this recent success either. He's got his own mind, his own ways, his own priorities, just like he always has. I can try to guide and reward and punish, but when it comes down to it, I have less power than I like to believe. Which is sometimes hard for me to admit, even to myself.

One of my reasons for homeschooling him was that I wanted him to learn to think for himself, and that's certainly what he does.

And deep down, I wouldn't have it any other way. Even when we disagree. I didn't bring him into this world to be an extension of myself. I can hope that he might absorb some of my better qualities and values, but when it comes down to it, he's his own person. Which is as it should be.

Tonight, we're celebrating a successful first quarter of High School, and tomorrow we'll be celebrating his 15th birthday.

And 15 years of parenthood.

Led off by this boy who forced us to question our own hubris right from the start.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

French Club in D.C.

Powerful stuff.

This was our first visit to the Holocaust Museum, and it was a deeply moving experience. At one point, I sought the Teen out to make sure he was doing okay - being immersed in so much cruelty and death could not have been easy for him right now and he did seem a bit wigged out. He's never seen Schindler's List or Life is Beautiful - he learned about the Holocaust in 4th grade History and, other than Diary of Anne Frank, we didn't go much farther into it than the lessons the curriculum provided. Certainly nothing as graphic as what he saw today.

But I'm glad we saw it together and I was glad to have had the chance to put the focus on the amazing acts of bravery and compassion shown by the many people who protected and hid the Jews, risking their own lives and the lives of their families in the process. Refusing to stand by and watch while others are harmed or mistreated is a value for people of all ages and I'm glad this was emphasized in the exhibits we saw today.

A good long walk to Union Station was just the thing we all needed after such an intense experience. We had lunch and hopped back on the Metro to go to the Fashion Centre Mall at Pentagon City. Taking the Metro was a very good experience for everyone. It seems intimidating, but now that we've done it with a guide, I would be much more comfortable doing it again on our own.

I had a lengthy walk and talk with the Teen's French teacher, with whom I am incredibly impressed. She's tough, but incredibly passionate and dedicated and wants her students to not only learn vocabulaire and grammaire, but to be able to converse, discuss and defend their opinions en francais. The students, including the Teen, seem extremely motivated to gain her approval, and were running around the Mall speaking French to strangers they met. They would check in with us, asking how to say this or that, and then run off to do it some more. She was clearly delighted.

The Teen had a wonderful time. He was so popular with the other students, we wound up taking extra kids home in our car and they had quite the iPod music fest. My ears are still ringing...

A good day overall. Beautiful weather, good company, good kids.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriWhat? 3

The peer pressure has gone up a notch.

Even my friend who has 5 kids and is running around delivering babies and doing pre- and post- natal home visits has surged way ahead of me in the word-count department. Another friend with a toddler and a baby is right on target for the month.

I have no excuses.

The Teen leaves the house at 7 a.m. and Little isn't up until at least 8:30. And he doesn't want to do much until at least 9. What do I normally do for those two hours?

A whole lot of nothing, that's what. I could spend that time writing.

The good news is that I've been thinking about my story a lot more throughout the course of my day. There's a lot of survival-type stuff in it, so every-day things we take for granted have to be thought out carefully - and there are reminders everywhere. I get in the shower and think about how difficult it would be to stay clean without running water or electricity. I feel the heat in my car as I'm driving and think about how my characters might find ways to stay warm when winter hits. I see the windmill across the street and wonder if I can work some alternative power source into my story and what my characters might use it for. I feed the compost bin and think about the garden in my story.

So I am having less difficulty with the problem of not having the attention span - or maybe just not being in the habit of - thinking and daydreaming about my story. A lot of pieces of it have now come together in my head. Sitting down and actually writing them are the challenge for this week.

And this week, it will be a challenge, as I am working part-time for 6 of the next 9 days.

It's exciting and fun drifting in and out of my imaginary world, though. I don't really mind that the project is not likely to be finished any time soon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Teen / Inner Teen

I spent today trying to remember if I blogged about this last year. Maybe later I'll dig through and look.

In any case, it's worth revisiting.

Last year, I turned 40. My son turned 14, (although his body was convinced it was 16.)

And suddenly, we became kindred spirits.

My Oh-My-God-How-Can-I-Be-40-and-Who-Am-I-Really? midlife crisis and his catapult into full-blown puberty coincided.

And while part (most) of me had to stay Mom and set limits and keep track of him and do all the things a Good Mom has to do, another (little) part of me completely got him.

All the passion and recklessness and highs and lows... I got it.

I still get it.

I remember what it was like to be his age like it was last week. And being so tuned in to my own Inner Teen at 40 has helped me to enjoy a little bit of that same questioning of authority, flouting social norms, striking out on my own path and refusing to care about What Will People Think? a lot more than I did in my 30s.

Reveling in the intensity of adolescence / second adolescence, the Teen and I still connect in the space where the highs are higher and the lows are lower than in normal life. We both tend to love deeply and hurt deeply, and we recognize and understand - and respect - that in each other. Which is why, although much of the time he drives me crazy, overall it works with me and him.

The fact that he's as open and insightful as he is often took me by surprise during this last year. I'd be in a low and he would notice and know what it was about and could offer a suggestion or piece of wisdom - and it would actually make some sense. Or he'd play a song for me and we'd talk about it - or not - and we'd know how it applied to whatever either of us was feeling at the time. Even though I had to pretend to disapprove in some cases - just to remind him that I'm still Mom.

But deep down, my Inner Teen really enjoys spending time with my Teen. I like to let her out from time to time so she can hang out with him and be pals and have deep discussions about life and love and all kinds of things. Eventually, she has to leave so that I can be Mom again, but I think he knows that she's also there if he needs her, and she thinks he's a cool kid to chill with.

He's not the only one who questions who he is and what his place in the world is. And if I still don't have the answers at 41, how can I expect him to know at almost 15?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Still Verdictless LIfe

Spent a gut-wrenching 2 hours discussing grief, anger and conflict with the Teen, Savageman, and the Therapist tonight.

And then we left - Savageman in his car and the Teen and me in mine.

My car headed for Panera, where we ate big salads and made small talk: he told me funny stories from school.

By mid-salad, the conversation had gone a level deeper: he was annoyed that his English teacher spent much of class today talking about feelings and teen suicide. He said he had tuned her out in protest. He didn't think English class was the time or place to discuss it, although he did acknowledge that, although it wasn't helpful for him at that time, maybe another student in the class could have benefited from it. The fact that the teachers are encouraging discussion might help students know they have more than just their parents or the guidance counselor to go to if they need to talk. And the more resources available, and the more caring adults involved, the better for everyone. He did seem to understand that.

By the time we were mopping up the remaining dressing with our remaining baguette, the conversation had taken an unexpected turn in the direction of our session and his relationship with Savageman - this time, with none of the anger and sarcasm he had shown in the office. Instead, he was curious and introspective. His questions were along the lines of: What makes me the way I am? What makes Dad the way he is? Why do we keep our guard up with each other? Then this: "I think I do try to pick fights with him - because the times we're fighting are the times when I feel most connected to him. Does that make sense?"


I hardly knew what to say other than to point out how insightful the observation was. We didn't try to problem-solve; that will be a conversation for another day. But it moves me to know how much he really thinks about this. And to know he does love his Dad and wants that connection with him.

We get in the car to go home and he plugs in his iPod. I brace myself for the Screamo music he's always trying to get me to listen to. Which I hate with a passion.

Instead, John Mayer comes on. It seems that the last time he did a sync, my library had somehow gotten copied into his and he's been listening to some of my stuff.

Why, Georgia, Why?

I breathe a sigh of relief and start singing. He cranks it up and joins in. We're driving on 81 in the dark, singing our hearts out to this melancholy song which fits our mood perfectly.

It was a Moment.

One I'll hang on to.

Despite the fact that a few minutes later, he was picking out the perfect Screamo song to play for me.

It struck me as the perfect metaphor for life with the Teen - and maybe all teens, in one way or another. They do their best to drive you crazy, to fight with you just to keep you close to them -

- and occasionally, just for a Moment, you connect in a beautiful and unexpected way.

And you cling to it, because these Moments are few and far between.

But they sustain us like nothing else can.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

(Not Quite) Wordless Wednesday

This is the amount of clothing I was able to declutter from my closet and drawers this week, thus freeing up space to add some new purchases and to spread out what I have so I can actually see it. When I start thinking of our clutter in terms of cubic feet, it's easier to visualize the impact of bringing too much stuff in - and on the flip side, the impact of getting rid of stuff I don't need.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

NaNoWriWhat? 2

Was I supposed to be writing a novel this month?

This is the part of NaNoWriMo when I start thinking about the guy who screwed around all month and hardly wrote anything - and then with two days to go, wrote his entire 50,000 word novel.

So it can be done in two days.

And I have 20!

I just have to write 2500 words per day instead of 1667.

That's not so bad, right?


Okay, let's be honest here. If I couldn't write 1667 words per day, there's no way I'm going to write 2500. I've got homeschooling to do, Teen Angst to manage, I was hoping to test for my Yellow Belt in early December, I'm teaching a childbirth class, doing neuropsych testing part time every day next week (and part of the folowing week), juggling multiple decluttering projects, traveling to D.C. next weekend and N.J. the following weekend, getting out with my friends when possible, and trying to read or watch an occasional movie with Savageman.

And do NaBloPoMo.

There just isn't enough coffee in the world to sustain all of this, plus novel-writing.

The question now is, do I just give up? Or do I keep going with my story, but not worry about the deadline or word count?

Or just wait and write the whole thing two days before it's due?

If this were college, that's the one I'd pick. It (usually) worked for me then.

I'm kind of bummed at the idea of giving it up. I have these romantic notions of spending November curled up in front of the fire at my friend's house, typing away on our laptops, getting together with our other writing friends and comparing word counts, hanging out in the B&N cafe sipping lattes while I write solo, sitting back and reading over what I've written, fighting the urge to edit...

It's fun stuff.

But, when I really think about it, I can do all of that without the deadline and the word count. Which is probably what I'll do. I still like my story and want to write it, and I can still have all that fun. I just have to be practical about it.

That's all the writing for tonight.

Maybe I can convince Savageman to watch part of a movie before bed.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Back to Reality

** Update on the Teen Angst: I did wind up contacting my beloved High School Biology teacher and she agreed to cut the Teen some slack. He can finish the section he missed tomorrow and she will re-submit his grade. He's feeling much better tonight.

... and the Teen Angst.

Being 14 is hard as it is.

Being 14 and having one of your friends die suddenly is even harder.

Add a test that you studied your butt off for because it's for an honors class that you really cared about - and you found out today that you failed it because you accidentally skipped a whole page and it's too late to do anything about it because the grades for the quarter have already turned in.

Such was the life of my Teen today.

We want to help him; he wants to take his sadness and anger out on us.

What I don't think he realizes is that we're sad and angry too. We hurt over these things too and then he does his very best to make us hurt even more.

He hates us.

I know that's his job at this age, but it hurts all the same.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Yet Another Day in the City

More exploring of NYC today.

And I rewrote yesterday's post, and it's better, so read it again. Maybe I'll even add more pictures. Tomorrow.

We started the day early again - but this time, we didn't realize how early it was due to the time change. Here I was, thinking it was almost 8 and we'd have to leave to move the car pretty soon and... it was actually 6:50. "Holy crap, I'm going back to bed!" or words to that effect were uttered when I shared the good news. But we were up, so we stayed up. Then we packed up.

The New York Marathon was today, so we needed to hightail it out of the Central Park region. After a quick Starbucks run, we hopped in Christine's big truck and headed south, saw a bit of the Times Square sights, and found free parking in a lovely residential neighborhood.

Then, more walking! As much as we ate and drank this weekend, my guess is that the walking more than balanced it out. I'm still shopping for skinny jeans this week. Which brings me to

Observation 11: The 80s are back.

Everyone was wearing skinny jeans or leggings, boots, and big scarves. We were stylin' with our hippie scarves, but we were lacking in the skinny jeans department. We even saw some leg-warmers at one of the trendy stores. God help us all.

We saw Times Square, the Empire State Building, Macy's, went clothes shopping on 5th Avenue, hung out at the library a bit, went to Bryant Park and walked around there, then back to Times Square, more shopping, and a leisurely lunch at Tony's di Napoli. After more Starbucks, we familiarized ourselves with a variety of different subway stations before finally going to the Port Authority and finding the train that would take us back to the truck in the Chlesea area.

A friend had recommended the Irish Hunger Memorial Garden and we drove there, but took turns checking it out because yet another friendly New Yorker warned us that we were not in a legal parking space and might get ticketed. It was a good thing too, because right after that, everyone else on the street got ticketed except us. (Insert fist bump here.) Thank you, friendly New Yorker!

Feeling satisfied that we had seen everything we had set out to see, we said goodbye to New York and headed toward home.

But were our adventures over? Not yet.

Swedish Furniture (and home accessories) awaited us in NJ.

Observation 12: If you have a place to stay and don't mind taking a little extra time to find free parking, you can have an awesome weekend in NY, complete with good food and terrific souvenirs, (and Swedish home furnishings!) for hardly any money.

Can't wait to go back!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Day in the City

This weekend, I hit the Big Apple with one of my oldest and dearest friends. So far, it's been a great time. Here are some things I noticed in the course of our travels today.

Observation 1: New Yorkers are so friendly!

They help you find a parking space, they help you with directions, they are happy to take your picture for you, they offer dining advice, they make friendly and interesting conversation when you're stuck together on the subway.

Observation 2: People love to talk to Christine.

I think it's a vibe she sends out. For example, at a Starbucks in the Village, I'm getting croissants and when I come back, this totally stoned woman sitting near us is telling Christine her life story, complete with vivid reminiscence of her school cafeteria and the scary lunch lady that worked there when she was a kid. Thus confirming my suspicion that Christine's true calling was to be a therapist.

Observation 3: The Village is actually pretty normal.

We wandered around for a while, wondering if we were in the right place. Finally, I called home. Savageman, who grew up in Brooklyn, quipped, "What, do you think the Freaks are all waking up early so that they can come out and entertain the tourists? Everyone's still asleep." Maybe he was right. We finally did find an awesome street fair, which was great for shopping, eating, and people watching. There were definitely some college students, but everyone looked pretty normal. We also took a nice walk on The High Line, which was very cool. And normal.

Observation 4: Vendor food is delicious. Had a real Gyro. Awesome.

Observation 5: Chinatown's pretty hard to understand if you don't speak Chinese.

But lots of people offered us Gucci, Louis Baton, etc., which we understood perfectly. We were more than happy with our hippie bags and scarves from the street fair, and were suspicious of the food, so we headed down Canal Street and away from Chinatown.

Observation 6: Little Italy sneaks up on you.

One minute we were seeing Chinese everywhere and the next - Bam! - everything's Italian. The fire hydrants are red, white, and green. Restaurants up and down the street. I got Christine to try some pistachio spumoni and she agreed it was incredible. Even on a cold day.

Observation 7: Starbucks is everywhere.

Thank God.

Observation 8: The South Street Seaport is a great place to watch the sun go down.

It has some nice shops and stuff too. But we went back to Little Italy for dinner.

Observation 9: The subway is a nice place to meet nice people.

It might have been the Christine Factor again, but we met some lovely people on the ride - a fellow bibliophile and a nice couple who own the Bone Lick Park Bar-B-Que in the Village - where we might go for brunch tomorrow. It was a long ride, due to "congestion." How is a subway line "congested?" we wondered. It's not like the street, where there are lots of cars all at once. But we didn't mind because we had these lovely people to pass the time with, talking about books and restaurants and good places to park.

Observation 10: Ow, my feet! (Christine's too.)

The map we almost left behind in the apartment is starting to show the wear - it got plenty of use. But there really is no better way to really learn a city than to walk it. And boy, did we walk it!

Ready for more tomorrow...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Exploring Lower Manhattan

Any ideas regarding must-sees for a couple of "crunchy" chicks who aren't looking to go to shows or museums this time? Post them here! I'll blog about our adventures this weekend and post lots of pictures.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Writing Buddy

There's nothing like a purring kitty curled up on your lap to keep you stuck at the computer for a little while longer. Which is sometimes exactly what you need to reach your word goal.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Nurturing the Inner Teen

I live with a teenage girl.

I know what you're thinking - Wait a second - she has three boys. And a husband. And a dog. And a cat. No girls. What am I missing here?

You're not missing anything. I do live with a teenage girl. She's a lot like me, just... younger. And sometimes she needs extra attention. Which I've been giving her this week.

Let me tell you - when the teenage girl inside of me is happy and getting her needs met, everyone wins. And when she's hurting... let's not even go there.

We all have our wounds - the hurts, large and small, that help mold and shape us into the neurotic adults we become. Mine seem to have clustered around the younger teen years, especially in the peer relationship department. I had a Best Friend (thank God) but other than her, no one else really "got" me.

As a result, I have this lovely, creative, wacky, non-conformist, sensitive person still hanging around who never quite got her act together when she was supposed to. She used to wreak a lot of havoc in my life, but now that I know she's there and know how to take care of her, we get along a lot better.

She likes being with her Best Friends. Friends are important, but they can't be just anyone - they have to be friends who "get" her - who challenge and stimulate her and appeal to her unique sense of fun. I'm glad I've been able to find some wonderful friends who excite and nurture us both, and I've been doing my best to make spending time with them and letting them know how much we value them a priority in our life. This makes her happy.

She likes to Write. This young teenager truly believed she was going to be a writer someday, and devoted a large portion of her life to working at this. Giving her extra time and space to write also makes her happy.

And she likes to Do Things. Getting together with her Most Excellent Friends to hike and shop and have coffee and take martial arts classes and talk about books and compare notes on how our novels are coming and plan road trips together... it's all wonderful, wonderful food for this wonderful girl I live with who could have used much more of all this when she was younger.

Feeling so grateful tonight for all of these things that make my Inner Teen so happy and whole, and for the wonderful people in our life who "get" us both.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Day 2: NaNoWriWhat?

Day 2 and I'm already way behind.

Due to the fact that I spent all of my writing time yesterday choosing names and wrote a mere 501 words, tonight I have to write 2833 just to break even. Because today was too nice to spend inside and I spent a huge chunk of it hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Maybe I'd better get started, then.

Oh, but the Teen has a big Honors Biology test tomorrow and when he gets home from basketball practice at 9:15, I'll have to help him cram for that. Cramming is what he does these days - he refuses to believe his mom the brain scientist when she tells him that it's easier and more effective to learn something a little bit every day instead of cramming the night before, but whatever. Some people just have to learn the hard way. I just wish he'd learn it the hard way in a different subject where he won't be embarrassing me in front of my old biology teacher.

So, I'll catch up this weekend.

Oh, but as it turns out, this is the weekend my friend and I are taking a road trip to the Big Apple to wander around and see the sights. No writing happening there either. This weekend is going to put me back 5001 words - but it will be worth it, so I'm not complaining.

This is just to demonstrate how, little by little, I'm already getting way behind.

The story itself is shaping up nicely in my head. It's just a matter of choosing all those individual words, deciding in what order to put them, looking at them and deciding they need to be in a different order, changing them around, reevaluating the new order, switching them back... that makes it so time consuming.

Maybe I should stick to blogging. This is pretty much stream-of-consciousness stuff and it flows pretty well without much effort.

Am I boring you yet?

I guess I'd better get back to the novel now, before the Teen gets home.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Day 1

It's NaBloPoMo time!

Which also happens to coincide with NaNoWriMo time. But I'm taking a short break from my wonderful, amazing, incredible novel (of which I have written exactly 380 words and introduced exactly one character) to write my blog post for today.

I spent way too much of my writing time this morning looking for names for my characters. Which was really a waste, because I will probably go back and change their names later anyway when I get to know them better.

Such is the beauty of the Find / Replace function.

Still, each time I am tempted to introduce a new character, I hesitate because I haven't yet chosen names (or even genders) for many of the other people who will inhabit my little make-believe world. I'm going to be spending the next month of my life with these people - I want to choose them carefully and make sure they are people that I (or some down-the-road reader) will actually care about. Right now I don't know any of them very well, and I'm frankly a little shy when it comes to meeting new people. Once we've had some time to get to know each other, I do just fine. But it's hard for me at first, and this is no different.

I'm resisting the temptation to model the characters after people I know. This would make it easier, but it would seem wrong somehow. And it might make me look at those people a little differently if I saw them after their counterparts had done something kooky in my book. So if you ever do get to read my book, the answer is an emphatic no - the characters are not modeled after anyone in real life. Even if they seem like they are. It's all in your head.

Glad we got that cleared up. Because I have no idea what these people are going to do and I could get hit by a bus and someone could figure out the password and open my document and read it and think I'm writing about someone or something real. Which I'm not. It's called fiction for a reason, dammit.

Another bit of business on Day 1 of NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo is the calendar. This month I am: taking three out of town trips, working out of the home at least seven days, teaching childbirth class every Thursday night, and I'm determined to get to martial arts at minimum 4 days per week for 1-2 hours. In addition to the home and school work that needs to be done each day.

At least the family members are used to me not cooking and the boys are all perfectly capable in the kitchen. All I have to do is make sure I buy some ingredients occasionally. Savageman and I can live on, respectively, protein bars and coffee anyway.

Okay, break over. Back to the novel. I can't put off meeting the other characters forever, no matter how shy I happen to be feeling. I'm sure I'll like them once I get to know them.