Sunday, January 31, 2010

Post Script

My new niece Reese Nicole Andrews was born January 30.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Circle of Life

I write this having just returned last night from my Aunt Judy’s funeral. My mother, husband and I traveled to Wichita for this sad occasion, and we plowed back through snow-covered roads for more than three hours until the weather broke as we headed into Nebraska.

As often happens at this most mournful of occasions, families reconnect. I hadn’t see my cousin Chris in years since we had lived on opposite sides of the country until recently. It was really good to see him, meet his vivacious lovely bride of just over six months and his charming sons. Thanks to Facebook, we’re going to keep in touch.

As we were headed home, my mom got a call from my youngest brother. His wife was in the hospital getting ready to give birth. So as hokey and Disney-esque as it sounds, there really is a circle of life.

My aunt’s sudden death after her stroke and heart attack two weeks previous felt like a blow to the solar plexus. My heart went out to my cousin and his family and to my mom, who lost her ‘baby’ sister.

After the service, I heard two stories about my aunt’s ‘baby mojo’ quilts. One woman had been trying to conceive for 15 years when she became the recipient of one of Judy’s special quilts. She has a three-year-old now. Another friend of my aunt’s was there with her daughter, four months pregnant with her third child. She too had been gifted with one of Judy’s quilts.

My aunt had nearly been finished with a beautiful white quilt for her new daughter-in-law, Paula, when she died. Paula’s grandmother will finish that piece.

As we continue to mourn the loss of Judy, we listen for the cell phone ring from my youngest brother announcing the birth of his new child.

In a week from today, Erik, my mom’s first grandchild and my first ‘baby,’ will be home from his second sojourn in Germany. It can’t come soon enough.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


In the summer of 2003, I went with my late great friend Mary Rodd Furbee (sister of my dear friend Susan) to my first West Virginia Writers, Inc. Conference in the little burg of Ripley, WV. The gathering has met for more than 30 years now and boasts a line-up of past presenters that includes novelists Lee Maynard, Gretchen Moran Laskas, Brad Barkley, essayist/poet Jim Minick and children’s author Cheryl Ware to name just a few.

I’m looking forward to making the trek from the prairie to the hills again this summer to attend what will be my eighth conference. Humorist and novelist Terry McNemar, the organization’s president, is planning another stellar line-up.

This conference is like a big family reunion, welcoming old members and new alike into the fold. It’s a wonderful way for writers at all stages to jumpstart their creativity and feel energized about their craft. It’s also a good introduction to new genres.

Warning: I digress.

My aforementioned friend Susan says she likes to see where my train of thought ‘wends’ and eventually leads. Susan is too kind. I like to start at Point Q, detour back to B, and end up nice and neatly at Z.

My main introduction to poetry before WVW was Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, with a little Charge of the Light Brigade thrown in. Sure I loved Poe, but his short stories, not the gloomy Lenore.

Then I started going to the conference, some years as a presenter, some as a pupil.

I learned about spoken word poetry, prose poetry (and flash fiction), list poems…and was educated and illuminated. Probably my favorite poem of all is Eliot’s The Wasteland, but it was nice to be exposed to some new things.

At this point, even if I were Susan, I’d wonder where I was going with this.

But I know exactly where I’m going because I know exactly where I started. At 5:45 this morning I was in a YMCA exercise room dropping and giving the substitute ‘drill sergeant’ ‘50’ in a toning class.

I recounted my day in an email to a friend. Reading over it, it occurred to me that I had written a ‘list poem.’

Lately I’ve been all about trying new things to embrace the lifestyle change I’ve experienced over the last year and a half. I’ve gone from an ├╝ber stressed, overworked (my own fault), frantic lifestyle to the following:

i went to 5:45 a.m. 'toning' class run by substitute 'drill sergeant' instructor

came home, went back to walk

thought about yoga tonight but stomach muscles (or lack thereof) have had enuf

ordered flowers for funeral

worked on writing-related stuff, but not writing per se


feel fragmented, need more sleep

need to revive 'ancient' multi tasking skills that used to allow me to teach/advise fulltime

write, be 'super volunteer mom'

or not

Bad poetry and pathetic pushups…it’s a start.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Death in the Family

We were getting ready for church this morning when the call came from my cousin Chris. Aunt Judy had stopped breathing during the night and died. Two weeks ago she had a stroke and heart attack, and I wrote about my mom’s ‘baby’ sister and all she meant. None of us expected this news so soon, though. The all-around concern was that she’d have to go into a long-term care facility.

Instead my mom has lost her sister, my cousin has lost his mother and his children have lost their loving, doting grandmother.

And a niece has lost an effervescent aunt who enriched her life beyond what words can describe.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Modern Age

As I sit and write this on my iMac, I have Skype running so Erik can call me back from Germany. The first time I ever used a ‘VDT’ (video display terminal) was my junior year of college in the newsroom of the Iowa State Daily.

Previously I’d been a broadcasting major at Central Michigan University. And this week a friend of mine here on the prairie, Ann, got another Michigan ‘girl’ and I together for lunch. Carol, a Michigan State grad, is a local radio talk show host.

We sat and reminisced about splicing audio tape with a razor blade and scotch taping it back together. That long-ago production class was my first inkling that anything that involved even ‘rudimentary’ technology was probably not for me.

My mother runs all the remotes for the TV/Blu-ray/Netflix box/streaming. I turn the television off and manage to shut the whole system down.

However, I’m pretty handy at navigating search engines so it all evens out.

Hours ago when I started this, I maybe had a point. But it’s long-forgotten.

Thanks to ‘modern’ technology, I can chat with my older son – for free – as long as I want. We can talk books, writing, and whether we should lock younger brother Andrew out of my office when he leaves for a minute.

Erik will be home in two weeks from his study abroad trip.

It can’t come soon enough for any of us.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All About Me….

When Erik went to Germany the first time, as a high school foreign exchange student, my husband and I told his younger brother that life was going to be ‘all about him.’ We said this to help him cope with the fact his only sibling would be gone for a year. Despite the fact that Erik once stuffed a sock in Andrew’s mouth (the jury’s still out on the deservedness of the action), they get along pretty well.

And, whereas pre-schooler Erik once said to us in a mournful tone “I liked it better when it was just the three of us” regarding his new baby brother, Andrew wasn’t really prepared to live like an only child.

This spawned a little ‘ditty’ called, appropriately enough, “All About Me” (think “Pants on the Ground,” only not nearly as catchy).

I thought about the title of this tuneless little tune this week, but not for reasons that originally had anything to do with my sons.

The old post entitled “All About Me” started this way:

Day 8.5 of no stress-related/recreational sugar products, ready to gnaw on the landline phone...but other than that...okay...I think?

Ever since the night I dove into a Ziploc bag of leftover holiday M&Ms when Erik and Morgan called to say they were stranded in Denmark by “Storm Daisy,” I’ve gone cold turkey on sweets.

It’s time to cut out the stress munching and crunching so I’m being “All About Me.”

Only writing about eschewing sweets and upping the exercise bores even me.

To quote my dear mom, “You’re not going to write about fat again are you?”

Now posting diet/exercise related Facebook statuses and talking about it with friends who commiserate is okay.

But writing a blog post called “All About Me’ and making it all about ME is, in the end, not me.

Ever since I held that first tiny six-pound ‘monkey’ baby in my arms and later his more-than-eight pounds sibling, it’s been wondrously, gloriously about them.

No reason to change that now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to the drawing board….

I spent all morning writing a blog post about a defining moment in my life, and Martin Luther King Day seemed the day to articulate these thoughts. We’ve come a long way since Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but we still need to keep the dream alive.

I then spent less, but more frustrating, time scouring the house for my 1978 Lake Michigan Catholic High School Yearbook. Before doing so, I even logged onto a classmates website for the ‘free’ membership in hopes of finding the photo I was looking for.

Even tho a picture of an old cute neighbor boy of mine popped up as the ‘newest’ member of the site, I still wasn’t tempted to pay the $9.95 not-so-free fee to gain access.

One of the reasons I started blogging was to find my individual, as opposed to collaborative, voice as a writer. Since my writing partner is also my mother, she’s highly supportive of the whole endeavor. Also, I wanted to finally write about things I’ve mulled for years. Like defining moments from my older son’s younger days that have helped shape me into the ‘holding on and letting go’ mom I am.

We spoke yesterday after he returned from the Berlin airport where he saw his girlfriend off on her return trip to the States. Even though Erik flies back in three weeks, he said it was really hard to go to the airport and not be getting on a plane to come home.

So I have a lot on my mind, the words need visuals, and the dishwasher needs unloading.

All I ever wanted was to be a mom and a writer. And some days I just struggle to do either well enough.

Friday, January 15, 2010

End-of-the-Week Musings

My Aunt Judy is still in ICU in a Kansas hospital, having indeed suffered a stroke followed by a heart attack. I’ve been thinking a lot about family and friends and feel truly blessed in both areas. I’m grateful that three weeks from today, our eldest flies home from Germany.

The sun is shining, the snow is slowly melting, the bitterly cold temps are last week’s news.

On Wednesday, I finally went to get a flu shot. The friendly receptionist said to me: “Your birthdate is 12/26/, correct?”

I waited for her to say the ubiquitous /59 that always follows. But she didn't, and I commented on it.

She said she was trying to be discreet about my age, which made me laugh. I told her that was fine, I’d come to terms with it.

I promised no more fifty talk, but….

Aunt Judy and my mother’s father, my amazing Grandpa Rock, had his first heart attack at 50. A trim man, he was also a heavy smoker. He stopped and lived ten more years, until his fatal heart attack at 60.

Grandpa Rock would be 100 on February 10th.

This week, I’m cherishing 50 as the beginning of mere middle age.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Aunt Judy

The worldwide news this week has been horrible, with chaotic storms in northern Europe and a major earthquake in Haiti. At least in my own little corner, my older son and his girlfriend are safely back in Germany. This weekend they’ll head to Berlin so she can fly home. A couple weeks after that, he’ll head home too.

He’s a restless one but going to stay put for a while, relatively speaking.

So I should be breathing easy, but I’m not. My beloved Aunt Judy, my mom’s only sister (and younger than her by five years) suffered a stroke due to soaring high blood pressure. She may have also had a small heart attack. As I write this, we’re waiting to hear when she will be moved out of ICU into a regular room.

When I was eleven years old, my grandmother took me on a trip to visit Aunt Judy in San Francisco. My aunt was married then, her son was just a toddler and she owned the biggest, scariest, laziest Doberman Pinscher in the world. She took us to the Japanese Tea Garden and a fancy restaurant where I still remember what I ordered: Chicken Cordon Bleu.

She’s a gourmet cook, expert seamstress and grandma to two blond boys she dotes on. When I was in high school, Aunt Judy made me two gorgeous silky Qiana (it was the 70s) dresses. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn a dress that had cleavage peeking out. Aunt Judy crafted one of those dresses, and I wore it under my high school graduation gown. Before I went off to college, I took the train to go visit her because she said she’d take me shopping for new clothes. I don’t like to shop. It was the best shopping trip ever. We must have hit the mall (they did have malls then) for eight hours or more.

In the mid-fifties, my mom and Aunt Judy went together on a school trip to Europe. They flew over the English Channel in a wobbly plane during turbulent weather, had a marvelous time visiting the British Isles and managed to look smart and sophisticated while traveling.

When we visited Erik in Germany two years ago, I wore a sweat suit that still makes poor Andrew cringe if I dare wear it around the house. Yes, it’s that ugly.

My Aunt Judy is a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a cook, a quilter, a wonderful woman who’s been special in my life since I was an errant toddler at her wedding, emptying all the near-empty champagne glasses into my mouth.

She sent me a note when I first starting writing this blog, raving about it. Of course she is biased.

“You are simply great, Pam,” she ended her note with.

You are simply great, Aunt Judy, you are too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

"I quit," I said.

However, as my mother has been kind enough to point out to me in the past, when you’re the mother you can’t quit.


I spent all afternoon writing two pieces, one of them a new blog post. Which I promptly dragged to the trash and emptied. Permanently.

The next logical step was bursting into tears. Which I promptly did.

Parenthood isn’t for wimps.

When you hold that little baby in your arms, you have no idea of the words he or she will say to you down the road…such as “We’re stranded in Denmark.”

Over the weekend, Erik and his girlfriend, Morgan, went to Copenhagen. As I write this, a huge snowstorm has stranded them in a town ‘a piece’ from the village where the ferries dock. The road to the village is impassable, the ferries aren’t running nor are the buses. A train derailed yesterday because of the snow.

And I sobbed over ‘spilt milk,’ or rather lost words.

But not really, which both my older son and I understand. He’s a lot like me, that one. He handles the big things with aplomb, but minutiae such as a coffeemaker not working, frustrates. In a handful of years, he’s handled travel problems that would turn my hair gray…if it wasn’t already. The best word to describe his wonderful girlfriend is ‘plucky.’ They still like each other, even after wading through snow up to her waist to get to a bus to get to a hotel, when the buses were still running.

He’s uber resourceful, like his father. They’ll make it back to Germany, then to the States. I intend to hide his passport when he returns home, however….

Fortunately, for comic relief, I have Erik’s younger brother. High school freshman Andrew and I have a tacit agreement that I won’t write about him unless absolutely necessary.

This is necessary.

Last night, Andrew and I were chatting. He had just watched a movie with Laurence Fishburne in it. He said to me: Do you know that Laurence Fishburne is younger than you. He’s only 48.”

I said “But don’t you think he looks older than me?”

Andrew said “Yes, but he’s built differently than you” to give ol’ Laurence some slack.

Yes, he’s a tall solid black man; I’m a short plump white woman.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Baby, it’s cold outside….

Mid-morning it was still -8 degrees outside here on the prairie. The local cycle shop owner, from whom we’ve bought two bikes, couldn’t come look at the broken treadmill because his shop pipes were frozen. When we stopped in to talk treadmills with him later in the evening, he said this is the worst winter he remembers in a decade and a half. When he was a kid, he said, winters like this were the norm.


It’s pretty wretched also in West Virginia, where we lived for fifteen years. And my long-time friend in Erie, Pennsylvania, romance writer Holly Jacobs, e-mailed me she spent 51 minutes shoveling that lake effect snow today.

She kept track.

I spent the first 20 years of my life in Michigan, home to many lakes and much lake effect snow. From the middle of sixth grade until the end of my sophomore year in high school, my family lived in Sault Ste. Marie, across the ‘river’ from Soo, Ontario. Cold country, people. See-your-breath-snow-to-the-rooftops country.

I don’t ever remember being cold, except once. And then it wasn’t in the winter. My 7th grade science teacher, Mr. Herring, took a small group of us camping in late October in the northern Michigan woods. I’ve never been so cold in my life. Needless to say, my idea of camping is staying at the Holiday Inn.

A couple people have gently suggested that perhaps age has something to do with feeling the cold more now. You know who you are. Thanks.

But I think it’s not just the aging body, it’s the aging frame of mind. Certainly, I have more padding now to keep me warm than I did then.

Who has time to feel the cold when you’re a freshman in high school besotted with a senior boy with beautiful blond hair whose mother is one of your mother’s best friends from church? A boy who gave you a ride home from school on a frigid winter day because, even though you got a ride to school, you always walked home. Everybody did. Unless they could drive. Michigan kids are tough. Or were.

I’ve become a winter wimp, whining and complaining like I invented the concepts.

No more. I’m gonna channel that inner 15-year-old who went snowmobiling with another boy -- some pretty cute boys in the mitten state, but I married a wonderful Iowa boy -- on a snowy winter night through the woods with a group of friends and never felt the cold.

And I may take to wearing my new pink snuggie out of the house.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

To Do List:

  1. E-mail editor manuscript due this week: check
  2. Sort out books to donate to library: check
  3. Hang more girly artwork in home office: check
  4. Get caught up on laundry: never
  5. Dip whole body into river of full-time freelance writing: in progress



Sunday, January 3, 2010

Of course...

In the three months since Erik’s been in Germany, I’ve gained ten pounds. Now granted, most of that I put on in the last two weeks stuffing my chubby little face with Christmas cookies. I’m pretty decent at the ‘letting go’ part of ‘holding on and letting’ go…except for the part where I eat like I’m pregnant when he’s gone.

This happened the last time Erik went overseas. Through sheer determination I’d finally taken off the ‘baby weight’ from Erik’s little brother, Andrew. Of course that ‘baby’ was ten by then, but hey….

However, the pounds started to creep (gallop) back on while Erik was away. Then a cross-country move added to my weight gain. But last spring what I think was swine flu and a resurgence of asthma killed my appetite and jumpstarted my diet. I was optimistic in the summer that I was headed down, but before I could ‘own’ the new numbers….

Up I went again.

My goal had been to be down a sensible ten by fifty (yes, I promised no more fifty talk but this is really about another ‘F’ word, fat, so please bear with me). Instead I’m up ten.

Before Christmas, I plunked down forty bucks and registered for our local YMCA’s ‘2010 Fitness Challenge.’ You pick your own goal, whether it be ten pounds or 10,000 steps in ten weeks. Monday night is the first meeting, and participants get a packet, free t-shirt and pedometer. Plus you’re eligible for weekly prizes and a grand prize.

I hate group anythings…except for book group.

I love exercise. Also, I love to eat, especially when I’m stressed.

Early on Christmas Eve here on the prairie and much later a continent away in a depressed city in the old East Germany, Erik and I video chatted via Skype. So intent was he on getting ready for a post-Christmas trip to London to meet his girlfriend, he wasn't even aware it was Dec. 24th. His cupboard was nearly bare save for an egg or two and some pasta. He’d gone out to buy groceries and the only place open was a gas station, where he got what I will forever refer to as ‘gas station bread.’

This mother’s heart was breaking…over food or lack therof. So of course I ate double later that night to fill my void.

Erik of course was fine. He left early for the train station so he could get breakfast. And it should be noted that he’s already a fine, resourceful cook, unlike his mother but very much like his father.

In ten weeks, the length of the Y challenge, said father turns fifty. So I’m thinking ten pounds in ten weeks sounds just right….

Unless I can lose 15 pounds in ten weeks….Auf Wiedersehen Christmas cookies, hello broccoli….

Friday, January 1, 2010

So Many Books…

Like an expectant mother with a nesting urge, the arrival of a new year brings out an organizing urge in me. My current project is weeding out books to donate to the library…to make room for new books. The public library here is wonderful, not only for its collection but for the fact one can actually find a parking spot. Our previous city had many things to recommend it but being able to easily go to the library was not one of them.

Fast-forward to an hour or so after I wrote the above. Instead of making more room, somehow when I went to reshelve I had less room. The downstairs rec room bookcases look better, but I’d been hoping to bring more bedroom books (not bedroom books!) down to fit in the Christmas gift books and the ones I just ‘splurged’ on at the mall sale.

I’m wheezing and frustrated. And when my husband offers to help, I growl at him. Literally. He’s caught up in his own project of making sugar-free cranberry applesauce while re-watching Season One of Lost with my mom. Years ago, he also got her hooked on watching motorcycle racing with him. Don’t ask. I’m sure someday the mother ship will return my real parent….

Anyway, why does everything have to be about subtext? Am I really flummoxed because I don’t have room for both volumes of Valerie Bertinelli’s ‘memoirs’ or is it because I wonder if I’ll be alive long enough to read all the books I own, let alone all the books I want to read? And write?

Years ago, I had a fantasy. I envisioned that when I was pregnant with my first child I would sit and do nothing but read. Fat chance. At that time I was teaching two classes at Northern Arizona University and taught practically up until delivery. By the time I was finished with grading each night, I was too tired to even pick up a book for pleasure. That year after Erik was born I read one book. Yep, one. Things did improve; I went back to book group, even made it through Bonfire of the Vanities, which said son is nearly done with now.

Now I have a new fantasy, one that involves reading at lunch each day before I sit down to write. I’m an afternoon worker. And for the first time, ever, all afternoons belong to me.

Maybe it really is just a book about a whale?