Thursday, February 25, 2010

Where do ideas come from?

The last blog post I wrote was lame. I knew it was lame, my dh said it was sweet but lame and my mom said it was lame.

It was. She said it was an okay idea but not only are people sick of winter, they’re no doubt sick of even talking about winter.

I told her I wanted to write about writing next, and she said “Where ideas come from?” And I said, exactly!

That’s the reason I write books with my mom. We have an almost symbiotic relationship, not to mention she dazzles at what I’m not good at and I’m an idea person, which has never been her forte she will say.

This works domestically too. She’s lived with us for going on eleven years, and she doesn’t mind loading and unloading the dishwasher, and I have no problem washing the pots and pans. My husband cooks, and mom and I both know how fortunate we are in this department.

But I digress.

Where do ideas come from, for everything from blog posts to books?

For more than ten years, I told my reporting students to avoid question leads if at all possible because that kind of opening is weak and leads the reader to say ‘who cares?

Apparently I’m not quite over the lameness yet.

I’m in a slump.

So stay tuned for ‘Where do ideas come from, part two.’

By then maybe I’ll have some idea besides the ether.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spring is in the air…or not?

March is less than a week away, but it seems an eternity right now.

The mid-Atlantic region of the country got hit a lot harder than we did on the prairie this winter. But it started snowing in October here, completely bypassing fall.

At least my high schooler, Andrew, has only had a handful of snow days. In some areas of West Virginia, where we resided for 15 years, the kids have missed three weeks of school.

Facebook status updates announce gleefully that garbage pickup has finally resumed. I remember those days…watching the cans sit out pitifully at the side of the road, frozen solid into the snow.

It’s not even the lack of sunshine here. We get a lot more wintry blue sky than we ever did in the east, though not as much as in Flagstaff. The sun shone every day there, it seemed like. Except maybe the March when I was a new mom with a three-month-old baby, and it snowed 80 inches that month. Yes, eighty. Eight zero.

That’s a lot of snow.

I wasn’t deterred, however. I’d load Erik into his car seat and maneuver baby and seat into our tiny Chevy Sprint to go to a moms and tots group. Okay he was a little young, but the camaraderie was priceless. When Erik was two-and-a-half, we moved to Morgantown, West Virginia. It rained every single day that fall. Seriously. I used to take my little boy to the park in a drizzly mist, letting him shuffle through the sodden wood chips and hope we’d meet some other moms and tots.

The only other person I ever saw that autumn was a stay-at-home dad with two little boys in tow. When I suggested a play date, he looked like he’d been attacked by a giant anaconda. Apparently, co-ed play dates were verboten.

It was a miserable fall. Somehow Erik and I survived.

He has wonderful friends scattered to colleges near and far and overseas on gap-year adventures. I miss his friends and mine.

After a year and a half in Nebraska, I like the new friends I’ve made too.

One thing we all have in common, is we’re all sick of winter. No matter where we reside in the country, female or male, we’re all weary of winter.

And that, my dear friends, is comforting.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Two left feet

This morning at step class, without really thinking, I put risers under my step. I wondered why it felt like an even more intense workout than usual. Of course when I actually stumbled off the side of it, I didn’t question the height because I know I have two left feet.

Yes, I can chew gum and walk at the same time, stay on a treadmill without falling off and actually cross-country ski. But that’s the extent of it.

In 7th grade, I used to go out night after night in the frosty northern Michigan winter to skate on the makeshift ‘pond’ between our house and the neighbors. Maybe skate isn’t quite the right word for the non-stop, not-graceful back and forth shuffling I’d do in my pristine white figure skates.

My younger sister and brothers became pros on the ice. Both Steve and Mark played hockey, even though they came to the sport ‘late’ (they weren’t toddlers when they started).

It’s winter Olympics time, and for years I watched the figure skating and ice dancing competitions. A huge treat as a kid was doing to an ice show. My favorite haircut to this day is the Dorothy Hamill wedge…I think I’m growing it out again right now….

However, finesse on figure skates has always eluded me. Even now when I bring up wanting to learn my husband recoils in horror. My aging body hitting the ice is too much for the poor man. I haven’t even told him about the step class this morning.

I have similar affection for dancing. My only foray into lessons came at age four when we lived in a Detroit suburb and resulted in an affinity for the little bus that picked me up to take me to the studio. Since I now also avoid public transportation at all costs, unlike dh and older son who revel in it, I guess riding the bus didn’t ‘take’ either.

After a month and a half of zumba at 5:45 a.m. at the local Y, I may have found my outlet. This week I was usually mamboing left when everyone was mamboing right, but it doesn't seem to matter. As long as you keep moving, according to the instructors and the poor women standing next to me, that’s all that counts.

I may have even mastered the salsa step. I’m still better at eating it than dancing it, but it’s a start.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Writing

It’s Wednesday already? Time for a new blog post, but I got zip, zilch, zippo. Sigh.

One of the reasons I started blogging, in addition to writing about things that have been on my mind for years… or weeks… was to jumpstart my creativity, get the juices flowing, try out something new besides journalistic writing or fiction… yada yada yada.

More sigh.

I think it’s going around. A brilliant writer friend of mine… truly brilliant… feels like writing is becoming ‘old hat.’ Since this person also makes gentle fun of my ‘old lady’ clichés (my husband chides me for my ‘air quotes’…I can’t win!), let’s substitute ‘clichéd.’

I’m rather fond of air quotes. So there.

Since I was about ten there’s nothing I wanted to be more than a writer (well, okay the mother of ten children and a musical comedy star came in a close second and third).

My ‘dream job’ in my early 20s would have been to be a writer on SNL… you go, Tina Fey!

Words are my vocation and my avocation. I love words, books, newspapers, cereal box copy… you name it. And I love wonderful words written by others. It’s like one great big word love fest.

Except of course when the words won’t come, when the ideas stalemate, when the punctuation snarls and growls.


Still we writers persevere. We have to. We sure don’t have any other marketable skills.

So for everyone out there who shares a passion for the written word… whether as reader or writer or often both… don’t let the passion burn out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Holding on and letting go…in more ways than one….

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. My friend Susan’s husband was taking their daughter to the airport to fly back to Boston, where she’s a third-year law student. She’d been home to see a cousin’s new baby. My husband was at the office for a couple hours shuffling and tossing papers.

Like me, Susan was just chillin’ and doing laundry so she said to give her a call if I felt like chatting. Chatting with Susan, whether via e-mail or on the phone, is always high on my list of favorite things to do.

Somewhere between talking about the Boston Cream Pie she’d made for Bill, her husband, for Valentine’s Day and fighting fat after fifty (a perennial topic for both of us), the conversation turned to holding on and letting go.

Susan said some things so wise about the importance of letting go of the worry along with the kids that I started taking notes on a napkin. Napkin notes have led to many a published novel in the past so I trust those scribbles.

Except of course I can’t read what I wrote and can’t exactly capture, written-word wise, what my dear friend said. But I can recreate the gist.

It’s not enough just to let your kids go, Susan said, you have to also work on letting go of the worry that lives inside you. After a week at home, Erik took off for Baltimore to see his girlfriend, Morgan. The East Coast has been socked in by snow for what must seem like months now. He flew Omaha to Memphis but missed his connecting flight to Baltimore due to weather delays. The airlines wanted to re-route him to Minneapolis the next day then fly him to Baltimore. Instead he got plane to D.C. and took the train, delayed by electrical difficulties, to Baltimore. But he finally made it.

I worry; it’s what I do. Susan wasn’t telling me to stop doing what is as natural to me as breathing; she was just suggesting that the next step in the letting go process is to step back from some of the worry and anxiety.

Years ago, my husband wrote an excellent column about risk for a Charleston, WV newspaper. He rides a motorcycle and had one when we met in college. He got rid of it but never lost the desire for another one. When he turned forty, he got one again. He wrote the column in reaction to an NFL player’s motorcycle accident. My husband wrote that the most dangerous thing he probably ever did was being a teen detasseling corn under the hot Iowa sun. Fortunately my husband’s melanoma was caught before it was too late.

In 2007, my husband was struck on his motorcycle in a hit-and-run accident. He broke his shoulder, and his beautiful brand-new bike was demolished. When he called me from the ER to tell me, I said the only thing I could. I told him that I had no problem with him getting another one.

Of course I have a problem with it. I also want him happy. Our eldest is an inveterate traveler; travel makes me jittery. But I want him happy, too.

So I need to let go of not only my child but some of the worry too.

Last week, there was a hostage situation at a bank here in town. A man who’d been fired from the local television station held employees at the bank at gunpoint for hours, wanting media attention. The day before Erik had gone to that bank to try to exchange some euros.

Whether it’s a summer job in the sun or a routine trip to the bank, risk exists all around us.

I’ll never stop worrying. But thanks to Susan, maybe I can work on worrying lite.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love is in the air…

To celebrate Valentine’s Day week some Facebook users are posting profile pics of themselves and their significant others and updating statuses to reflect how long they’ve been together.

This February 14th marks 27.5 years of marriage for my husband and me. The picture I put up is from our wedding; he has a lot more hair, I actually have less...and it’s a lot darker.

I can’t pinpoint the year I gave up coloring my hair, but I do know a disastrous ‘pixie’ haircut was the impetus. Even though my gray screams ancient apparently (according to a sixth grader at church youth group the other night, who then hastened to tell me later ‘old school’ is still good…), I’m fine with it and so is my spouse.

And isn’t that what marriage is ultimately about? Loving your mate, follicle foibles and all?

Here’s the thing about marriage: sometimes, even though you love your spouse, you don’t always like ‘em. The thing to remember is rules of umpiring apply to marriage. You can tell your husband or wife you don’t like their behavior (their call stinks), but you really don’t want to tell them they stink.

It also helps if you marry your best friend because the starry-eyed stuff gives way to climbing the career ladder, children, occasionally catastrophic illness...all things good and bad that test a relationship over time.

Years ago I was interviewed by a reporter at a college newspaper for a Valentine’s Day feature. My mom/writing partner and I write women’s inspirational fiction, but we are also the authors of 22 romances together (and she authored 19 previous to our partnership).

Who better to do a story on than a romance writer?

Except of course I said the most romantic thing I appreciated about my husband was that he unloaded the dishwasher for me. He took umbrage with that. Despite my writing pedigree, he has a much more romantic nature than I do. Sure I love flowers and candlelit dinners, but the fact he did the late-night feedings with our second son was far more endearing to me.

He’s a wonderful husband and an amazing father. I don’t like that he rides a motorcycle and operates on a triage system whereas I’m a maniacal big- picture multitasker. However, we’ve been together for nearly 30 years and haven’t struck out yet.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my husband, my best friend.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation

On Super Bowl Sunday those eternal bad boys of rock n’ roll played the Super Bowl halftime show. Roger Daltry looked like he was a commercial for Hair Club for Men, and Pete Townshend couldn’t keep his shirt buttoned across his navel.

They didn’t sing their classic line ‘Talkin’ ‘bout my generation’ allegedly so they wouldn’t remind the audience how old we all are.

I know how old I am, I know how old Roger is and I know how old I’m gonna feel at 5:15 tomorrow morning when I get up for Zumba after falling off the dieting ‘wagon’ and indulging in homemade pizza!

All night I’ve been trying to persuade Erik, home from Germany finally, to go to bed early.

He pointed out that for the past few months when I’ve been telling him via Skype to go to bed it’s been three or so in the morning. I don’t make a very compelling ‘mom argument’ at 8:30 at night here.

It’s good to have both sons under the same roof again. When Erik left for Germany the first time when he was 16, none of us quite envisioned the path he would take: early admission to college, another trip to Germany, joining us on the ‘prairie’ to go to school….

Talkin’ ‘bout the next generation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sleep Deprived

Yesterday afternoon I Skyped for the last time with Erik before he comes home from his study abroad in Rostock, Germany. We talked about cars, classes and chairs (I’ve traded his desk chair for my new one which doesn’t have enough lumbar support) among other things.

“My days and nights aren’t mixed up anymore, mom,” he told me, which was a relief to hear.

Usually when we’re chatting via Skype it’s a perfectly civilized hour in the afternoon here and the wee hours of the morning there. Ever since he was a newborn, getting that boy to go to sleep has been a Herculean task.

The previous night I noticed he’d commented at about three a.m. German time on one of his stateside friend’s Facebook updates. I added my own comment: “Go to bed, Erik, and I’m taking your chair.”

My sister-in-law who just gave birth on the weekend told a friend of hers on FB that my new niece has her days and nights mixed up.

May the force be with her.

My teeny-tiny firstborn ate every two hours. I’d sit up in bed feeding him and squinting at reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation because I was too tired to put my glasses on. For years after I harbored a strong attraction to Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Picard. He (Erik, not Jean Luc) got his first ear infection at seven weeks and that led to many a sleepless night.

One of my favorite pictures of my husband and me was taken on our tenth anniversary, with the towering San Francisco Peaks looming in the background. We were headed out to a late dinner and show to celebrate. We knew we were in trouble when we got home about midnight, and our wonderful babysitter, Andrea, was pushing Erik in the stroller.

For the next several months, we averaged about three hours of sleep a night while ear infections raged. Finally he got tubes put in, and the ears cleared up.

Over the years, Erik’s sleep habits alternately improved and worsened.

By contrast his younger brother, Andrew, was a much better sleeper as a baby. There was the week he was one and his daddy was off researching forest fire reporting in Colorado. Andrew stood and screamed every night in his crib. The only one having night terrors was me!

I come from a long line of night owls. My Grandma Rock would stay up til the wee hours of the morning knitting and watching television. My mom likes to stay up late, and so do I.

So I guess Erik comes by this honestly.

For the last three weeks, my neighbor and I have been getting up to go to daily 5:45 a.m. exercise classes at the local Y. This, in addition to my regular walking routine and foregoing French Fries, donuts, and other fattening goodies, makes me hopeful I can lose the “Erik goes to Germany again” pounds and make my fifties fit.

The only problem is I just can’t get to bed early enough to avoid being a zombie at Zumba….

Last night was particularly bad. I couldn’t get to sleep. When I did I tossed and turned, suffered an excruciating foot cramp and looked constantly at the cell phone to check the time.

Today I got a FB message from Erik’s girlfriend, Morgan. I’d asked how school was. She told me and said she was talking to Erik at that moment. Apparently he was in Berlin (his trip home takes him from Rostock to Berlin to London to Chicago to Omaha to Kearney…whew!) but he’d had a rough time getting out of Rostock, whether snow or transportation issues I don’t know. He was going to be in touch with us only if anything changed schedule-wise on his trip.

His father assures me I’ll start sleeping through the night again when Erik is home.

If not, I’m gonna go back to watching reruns of Star Trek: TNG.