Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy 21st Birthday to my firstborn

Last night I laid awake pondering everything I need to do to meet work deadlines. Fortunately a marathon baking session on the weekend took care of the last of the big holiday prep. But I wanted to make time to write a birthday blog post about older son, Erik. He’s studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea and turned 21 today in his time zone.

Lying in bed I imagined the low tones of Garrison Keillor intoning, “It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegone” resonating in my swirling thoughts.

Except it hasn’t been a quiet anything here on the prairie with time for reflection and musings. I went back and read what I penned two years ago, which struck me as a lovely paen to a son’s birthday along with being a thoughtful essay on children growing up.

This year he’s just getting cash.

But I still feel I would be remiss if I didn’t at least note this milestone birthday. A little more than two years ago, I started blogging for a variety of reasons, including writing about holding on and letting go of children, facing a new decade, and switching to writing fulltime.

Ironically the busier I get as a writer, the less time I have to write. That’s a good thing. But I do miss mulling and musing.

On the other hand, I’ve come a long way in the holding on and letting go department. The death this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il didn’t send me into paroxysms of inner turmoil because I have a child in South Korea. Erik and his father talk U.S. and world politics; I prefer to handle the more mundane topics.

At six a.m., Seoul time, late afternoon prairie time, Erik called just to chat. I wished him a happy birthday and before we hung up, asked him if he needed anything. He said maybe thirty dollars for food money when he hits the San Francisco and Denver legs on the long trip home. I told him I’d have his father deposit fifty. I also like to handle another ‘m’ word: money.

This is the child who left home at 16 to be a foreign exchange student in Germany. Now that his younger brother, Andrew, is driving, I marvel we let Erik drive cross-country at age 17 in an aging Honda Civic with 200,000 miles on it and no air conditioner. Andrew could do it, but I don’t think I could stand the worry the second time around.

But of course I could and would. When it’s time for the chicks to fly the nest, and the timing is different for each son or daughter, I know to step back and enjoy the beauty of the flight. This doesn’t mean it’s not difficult, but it does mean we did our job as parents right.

Later this week, Erik will be winging his way home for a short duration. I want to wish this son, born in record cold in Arizona 21 years ago, a happy birthday.

Sometimes I marvel how I can remember each detail of that day snow dusted the cacti and can’t remember yesterday. But I think that’s why parents can let go and yet hold on.

Memories don’t leave us, even when our children do.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankful for….

It’s easy this time of year to get caught up in the mania of the season and forget to slow down and count our blessings. Recently I saw leftover Halloween candy corn sandwiched next to a display of candy canes, a visual reminder of how quickly the seasons seque. Personally, I am still trying to figure out what happened to summer, having spent most of it recovering from foot surgery.

Which brings me to what I’m thankful for this year and every year:

  1. This year specifically I’m thankful I only gained five (okay some days seven) pounds while ‘booted’ and in recovery from foot surgery. Still not one-hundred percent but in the big scheme of things – a walk, not even a hobble, in the park.
  2. My family: husband, children, mother, siblings, nieces, nephews,cousins, et al. We’re traveling this week, not specifically for Thanksgiving, but because my husband’s aunt is celebrating her 95th birthday on Friday. Years ago we instituted a ‘no travel’ at the holidays rule. Suffice it to say it came about because of too many miles, a stay in a Red Cross shelter, and other assorted John Hughes-esque moments. But I’m forever grateful for family, near and far – maddening and marvelous.
  3. Friends. This is what I said last year and wouldn’t edit a word: “Through all the years and all the places I’ve lived, I’ve truly been blessed, and continue to be blessed, with the best friends in the world. Seriously.”
  4. Facebook. Without that social networking media site I would not be able to keep in touch with so many far-flung friends. And that would be a great shame and sorrow. From friends I’ve known since grade school and reconnected with to former students to newfound gems, thank you Mark Zuckerberg.
  5. The fact I’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner. I loathe cooking (although I do like to bake) and am forever thankful for a husband who cooks. As an aside, I loathe even more the disease – diabetes – that prodded said husband to take over the cooking a decade ago when he got the diagnosis. I am thankful of the people who work so hard to find a cure to eradicate this and other autoimmune diseases.
  6. A job I truly love: being a full-time writer. The pay is erratic, the benefits non-quantifiable, and the wardrobe shabby. I love it and am thankful my childhood dream has come true.

Every Sunday in church, a time is set aside for sharing joys and concerns. The congregational response to joys is ‘Thank you, God,’ and to concerns is ‘Give us faith, Lord.’

I am truly thankful for my joys and blessings, and as the seasons blur I’m going to remember I truly have a wonderful life.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.


Monday, October 31, 2011

The Ghosts of Halloweens Past….

It comes up every year at this time: the accusations, the recriminations, the denials. My younger son and I will start reminiscing about Halloweens past, and my husband will invariably start pouting about the year we ditched him. Said son and I always turn the tables and blame dad for being left behind, but it’s time to come clean.

We ditched him.

On Halloween younger son and his twin pals would take turns trick-or-treating in our oh-so-hilly neighborhood or their flat but spread out one.

The incident in question happened a year the boys headed out armed with pillowcases in our neighborhood, aptly named North HILLS. Husband and I followed at a discreet distance, saving our lungs for the long hauls up and down the streets.

The ‘gold at the end of the rainbow’ was a huge Victorian manse tucked away at the very bottom of the biggest hill. It was the ultimate Halloween destination, lit up with strings of lights, illuminated bats, cats, and assorted monsters. The owners were also legendary for handing out GIANT Hershey bars, the kind you buy only if you’re making S’mores for Bigfoot and his crowd.

The boys made quick work of the streets surrounding our house then were ready to head down the hills to the mother lode. It should be noted, our sprawling university town had set hours for trick or treating…after that the little munchkins (and Buzz Light Years and princesses and Spider Men) had to be off the streets. The college students would be heading out a few hours later for their version of trick or treating, but that’s another scary tale.

At a house just before the big descent to the big candy bars, we got held up. Dad started talking motorcycles with the homeowner and talking and talking and… Three eager boys and antsy mom me stood at the end of the long driveway waiting and waiting and… bolted.

Dad was on his own… curfew was a comin’.

Over hill and dale (and fence) we tromped until we reached our destination. It was a long trudge back up the hills to reach home. The big candy bars were forgotten as the boys participated in the annual ritual of candy swapping and scattering.

Yep, we ditched him. And if we had to do it over again, we’d do the same thing. No time for idle chatter when the treat is giant candy bars and the trick is growing up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Writing your own life

Seems like forever since I’ve written a blog post. It’s not for lack of things to say, says me whose mother nicknamed her ‘satchel mouth’ as a child. Just the business of life keeps me preoccupied. And since ‘fiction writer’ is my occupation, some days I’d rather make things up than ponder truths.

Disclaimer: In another life, I was a journalist and taught reporting for many years and didn’t make anything up.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could write our own endings? Edit our shortcomings, failures, and yes successes?

Tweak yesterday, today, or tomorrow to get it just so….

The unpredictability of life is what makes it so…unpredictable. And worth living.

Sometimes the curve balls life lobs my way really tick me off, making me long for a do-over, a makeover, or just for whole seasons to be over.

Like this summer, which I spent ‘booted’ and cranky, recovering from ankle and foot surgery. I couldn’t wait for fall. Autumn arrived, at least calendar wise. As I sit avoiding work by pecking out this post, the slight breeze outside is wafting the 88-degree temps inside. I’m long out of the boot, but recovery continues, as does the crankiness.

On the positive side my gorgeous friend Franny (ten years my senior and beyond stunning inside and out), persuaded me (and it took a lot of persuading) to join her in water workouts at the Y. I love the instructor, the other women in the class, the workouts, and even the water.

So to continue in a cliché-ridden vein, every cloud does have a silver lining.

Got an e-mail from older son today, who’s studying in Seoul this semester. This is his third sojourn abroad, a journey that started when he was in high school – as I’ve chronicled before. Actually it probably started when fate and the financial woes of the Michigan public school systems led my administrator father to a job in Iowa more than 30 years ago. I transferred to Iowa State University and met my husband, he of the Viking blood, when we both worked at our college newspaper. His wanderlust runs strong in our firstborn.

We haven’t heard from Erik much because he’s so busy with classes and tutoring English. That and the time difference make finding a time to Skype difficult.

And, as he says in the last line of his note, with him no news is good news. This is a running joke in our family because often when he has news it has to do with wanting to go to:

  1. Europe (twice)
  2. Asia
  3. The moon (okay that one hasn’t come up yet, but I’m still waiting)

He’s writing his own life, as is his younger brother, and having the time of his life doing it.

As a mom, that truth makes me very happy indeed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Worrywart

My mother, blessedly, is not one to give advice often. Her favorite piece is, “Only worry about things you can do something about,” which is something neither of us really succeed at. Occasionally, she will also quote the pastor of the church we attended when I was in elementary school. His adage, "Act, don’t react,” is excellent advice and fodder for another blog post.

On this glorious pre-autumnal day I find myself fraught with worry, consumed by it, almost devoured by it.

In between doing laundry and working, of course.

But the worry seems to be winning.

Fast forward to this not so glorious pre-autumnal day about a week later. Today I’m still worried about a myriad of things, including whether I’ll ever get another (decent) blog post written again. I just finished my walk (cut short because I was worrying about A. getting rained on B. everything that has to be done today) and it occurred to me I used to be so busy before we moved to the prairie I didn’t have time to worry. Oh, there was plenty of time to be stressed, overworked, and anxious but not a lot of time to fret.

Then we made a drastic lifestyle change, leaving jobs at a large university in the Mid-Atlantic region for life at a much smaller university in the Middle West, much closer to family.

One thing I never worry about is that we made the wrong decision to move.

And that alone guarantees peace of mind even when I’m stewing and stressing about… stuff.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to school

On Sunday night I started writing a ‘back to school’ blog post – which I’ve yet to post let alone finish.

With my younger son entering his next-to-last year of high school and the older one heading to South Korea soon to study before his final semester of college, writing about ‘holding on and letting go’ seems apropos.

After all, Erik was only 16 – the age Andrew is nowwhen he sojourned to Germany on a foreign exchange student program.

It’s hard to believe it was only four years ago we dropped Erik off at an elegant Washington, DC hotel after touring the Lincoln Memorial, the then-new World War II memorial, and ‘the Wall.’

I probably fled that hotel as fast as earthquake evacuees did from various buildings yesterday, wanting to be back in the car before the flood of tears began.

Today my niece Kasey, Erik’s birthday twin, started kindergarten. On Erik’s first day of kindergarten, I put him on the bus without shedding a tear. Ditto Andrew, who this year drives to school. Sometimes I miss Crazy Louie, the bus driver who scrawled my phone number next to his seat so he could call me if he couldn’t get up our hill in snowy, icy West Virginia winters. When that happened I led the children at the bus stop down the street to be picked up.

Early Monday morning when we drop Erik at the airport for the first leg of his journey, I don’t think I’ll cry. When he graduates from college, I probably will. And when commencement rolls around for Andrew, no doubt I’ll bawl like a baby.

But I won’t be crying because we failed in our job as parents: to hold on as tight as we can then let them go.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Going Indie

Recently my mother/writing partner, Barbara Andrews, and I launched our first venture into ‘indie’ publishing. Faith, Fireworks and Fir written as Pam Andrews Hanson is an original inspirational romance available for Kindle at Amazon and for
Nook on Barnes and Noble.

My husband, who was instrumental in the process, strongly suggested I blog about the whole thing. “Write something clever, funny, and witty,” he said.

No pressure there!

Naturally all week I’ve felt more witless than witty. Cleverness also continues to elude, so here I sit on a Sunday night willing to settle for mediocre – but even that seems elusive.

I’m just going to plunge in and make do with what I’ve got.

Several factors influenced this leap into independent publishing. First, after 30-plus books with conventional publishers (with more on the way) for Mom and me (and 50 plus for Mom including those written under her own name), the time just seemed right to explore ‘long-tail publishing.’

It used to be if you wanted to write a book, record an album, or produce a movie, and you wanted it to go out to a national, or even global, audience, you had to work with a major publisher, recording company, or movie studio.

But today, with online technology, anyone can distribute his or her work to a vast audience independently. You can sell your book, album or movie using online stores like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes. And since it is all done electronically, you don’t have to underwrite the costs of printing a book or burning a physical CD/DVD.

I have to confess I am slow to change when it comes to technology. Case in point: I just recently gave up my ‘chewing gum’ iPod, and I’m sure the Smithsonian will soon come to claim it. However, I’m also a voracious reader and being able to load half a dozen or more books onto an e-book reader when traveling is very appealing. I’ve come to believe electronic delivery systems of books don’t have to replace the traditional form but rather are complementary.

So why make the leap now? While my mom and I continue to write inspirational women’s fiction for Guideposts, we also love co-authoring inspirational romances. It is complicated to plan projects around multiple publishers. The interest in a measure of editorial and scheduling freedom meshed perfectly with the concept of indie publishing.

We view this foray into independent publishing as akin to launching a small business. Not only did we have to write a good book, we also needed to find someone to design the cover and figure out ways to promote it. I owe a great deal of thanks to many people, especially romance author Holly Jacobs who referred me to the fabulous Kim Van Meter, a Harlequin author who is a freelance designer. Holly was also instrumental in suggesting ways to use social media to promote the book, and she titled the book. She is an amazing cheerleader and friend.

And I owe a lot to my friends for not only liking me in person but ‘virtually’ on my official author Facebook page. Even people I don’t know have clicked like for which I’m also grateful.

This is not the first entrepreneurial venture my mom and I have tried. The summer after my junior year of high school, she and I went into the ‘junk’ business. My Aunt Marge (who gave my mom a paper bag of Harlequin romances which in turn spurred her novel writing career) owned a flea market in a small southwestern Michigan town not far from the city where we lived. She offered us a booth to set up and sell our wares. We haunted garage sales for antiques and collectibles and books to resell. I started collecting cookbooks that summer. After expenses, I earned enough to buy myself contact lenses. It was the best summer job I ever had, and my mom and I had a lot of fun.

Just like we are now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heat wave

I was reading an article this morning in our local newspaper that quoted a National Weather Service forecaster as calling the heat wave gripping the central part of the country “unrelenting.” Temperatures on the prairie soared to 98 today.

A good friend of mine lives in Oklahoma, which is particularly bearing the brunt of the heat. In the same article it reported in Oklahoma City another day of 100-degree heat was expected last Sunday, making it the 27th day the city reached 100 or above. (I’m behind on my newspaper reading). And the triple-digit temps could last through September. My friend, Sandra Dark, is the co-author of a book coming out that month on weatherproofing your landscape.

Sometimes I wish there was a way to weatherproof my internal landscape, to better manage my inner mercury. Oh, I’ve mellowed considerably as I’ve aged. It’s been nearly 30 years since I lobbed a blob of Thanksgiving pie dough at the ceiling of the apartment my husband and I lived in our first year of marriage. I’m fairly certain something was preying on my mind in addition to my leaden crust.

Over the years, I’ve tried and failed to adapt my mother’s adage of “only worry about things you can do something about.” I’m a worrier, and worrying can make me cranky. Aside: I imagine my husband, mother, sons, and friends reading that last sentence and laughing hysterically. Perhaps cranky is too mild a word. Conversely, I have mellowed somewhat in my old age. I still worry excessively, but I think I do a better job of handling it.

Then a week comes along where an egg would fry on the sidewalk, two fairly new appliances fail, family challenges arise, work is ‘interesting,’ and the post-surgery boot feels welded to my foot. But I see an amazing physical therapist, work always works itself out, ditto on the family stuff, it wasn’t the AC that broke down, and the heat, well…

The weather is the one thing I never worry about because it is totally out of my control. When shivery 50 mph winds whip across this piece of prairie in late winter, I’m going to remind myself to be grateful it’s not nearly 100 degrees outside. And when life lobs lemons at me, I’m not going to make lemonade; I’m just going to lob them back.

Just not at the ceiling.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Writing Life

In lieu of writing a blog post this week, I would like to direct you to Janet Smart's blog (link below) to read the lovely interview she posted about my mother/writing partner (Barbara Andrews) and me. Thank you, Janet!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reading the fine print

Today our older son’s lovely landlady called to tell us she was showing the apartment he’s vacating (he’s spending fall semester studying in Seoul, South Korea) to some prospective tenants, and they were interested in buying his furniture.

Specifically: his platform bed and new box spring and mattress, futon and wire cube storage unit, kitchen table and two mismatched chairs, and even his dishes.

While Erik and his father texted back and forth, negotiating what he wanted to keep (bed et al and dishes) and what he didn’t (futon and storage unit), my inner hoarder kicked in with a vengeance.

The thought of parting with that little JC Penney table, a wedding gift from my in-laws (one I am ashamed to admit I was always indifferent about), horrified me, the matching chairs long since discarded in some dumpster in some state we called home in the course of our nearly 29-year-marriage.

So I planned to write some sentimental twaddle about possessions and the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of their existence—and then I logged onto Facebook.

In matter-of-fact language an old college friend posted he had cancer. Treatment is pending, but he was happy he can still take a planned trip with one of his children. His spirit is indomitable.

Waxing woefully about an old table now seems stupid and pointless. Besides, Erik wants to keep the table. It really is a sturdy thing that will fit nicely into his first apartment somewhere, whether it be Baltimore or Berlin or points in between.

And railing about the unfairness of life seems pointless, also. We all know life isn’t fair. If we don’t, it means we neglected to read the fine print. The unfairness of existence can be debilitating. If we dwell on it, how can we truly live?

Instead I’m just going to say ‘thank you’ to Mark Zuckerberg for the means to stay in touch with a vast array of old and new friends, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters-in-law. And a bigger ‘thank you’ to God for these people who make life worth living, fine print and all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

So many books, so little time

Back before I was even pregnant with my first son I harbored this little fantasy of what life enceinte would be like. I imagined something akin to an extended beach vacation (a smooth, sandy Great Lakes beach) where my only responsibilities were to plump out and devour all the books I ever wanted to read.

I got the plump part right at least.

Instead, right up to my delivery date, I taught two classes at Northern Arizona University—much of the time in pain from sciatica. Between grading and clearing out the spare bedroom as a nursery, reading took a back seat. My husband, Ralph, was teaching fulltime at NAU and commuting up and down the mountain to Arizona State University in Tempe for his final PhD class. Our son Erik’s December birth coincided with Ralph finishing his coursework.

I went back to teaching parttime a semester after Erik was born. Sleep deprivation and school work trumped reading. It horrifies me to think of it now, but I only read one book that entire year: a Barbara Michaels romantic suspense novel that obviously did not keep me in too much suspense.

Fast forward to late summer 1995: I’m recovering from the C-section birth of my second son (my mother, God bless her, ‘edited’ my legs out from many of the pictures of me in bed holding my new baby. A career as an old-timey circus sideshow attraction was surely an option for me then…and I ain’t talking about the Bearded Lady.).

Why I chose as post-pregnancy reading material the Kazuo Ishiguro book from the library I did, the title of which escapes me and even a trip to Amazon doesn’t enlighten me, I’ll never know. I still have nightmares about that book. The ceaseless repetitive surreal scenes did not mix well with the pain pill Percoset. I soon abandoned both the narcotics and the novel.

Books are my vocation and avocation. Ever since my mother introduced me to the Honey Bunch series when I was five, I was hooked. They sure beat Dick, Sally, Jane and their insipidly named pets, Spot and Puff. A voracious reader from that age on, I soon ‘graduated’ to Nancy Drew and never looked back. The year I was ten I read “The Catcher in the Rye” and “True Grit,” both probably too gritty for a ten-year-old, but there was no turning back.

The only time my mom ever censored my choice of reading materials was when I was in 7th grade. The Detroit Free Press was serializing excerpts from “Sybil,” the story of a woman diagnosed with multiple personalities. One morning the newspaper was missing. My mom explained she threw it away. That day’s installment contained graphic descriptions of abuse Sybil suffered as a child at the hands of her own mother. Naturally I dug the paper out of the trash and read it.

And I’ve regretted doing so to this day.

Over the years, I’ve belonged to four book clubs in three states and read countless tomes crisscrossing genres. About a week ago someone posted a question on the West Virginia Writers, Inc. Facebook wall asking people their favorite authors. Nearly a week later the thread is still going strong. I responded with just a smattering of my favorite books and authors.

And I’m constantly discovering new favorites.

But also over the years something alarming has happened. Some of the joy went out of reading—and writing. Granted, I write to earn money but also because it’s akin to a calling with me. That’s a part of writing I never talk about except to say I knew from elementary school on I wanted to be a writer and have never really veered from that path.

In the dead of winter of this year, my mom and I had a heart-to-heart talk. We both wanted to make writing fun again. And so we have.

That decision opened the floodgates of reading joy. I’m no longer approaching every book I pick up as a ‘textbook,’ wondering if I should try something new, stretch my skills, stick to tried and true, the list is endless. I’m not saying I won’t do any of those things, but for now I’m at peace writing in the voice my mom and I do best together. And ideas for exploring future projects ‘out of my comfort zone’ are already scribbled in a notebook.

This summer, ‘thanks’ to foot surgery, I find myself with lots of reading time and no maternity clothes in sight. So I’m devouring books the way I used to race through the adventures of Nancy and her pals Bess and George.

There are so many books I still want to read (and write) and I need to embrace my enforced stillness rather than railing against it.

Who knows? I may even spend a few hours revisiting “The Secret of the Old Clock,” or “Harriet the Spy” or Harry Potter or pick up Anne Tyler or Jonathan Franzen or Lynn Austin or—the list is endless.

And I, for one, feel like a kid whose just been let back into the candy store.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Life in the Slow Lane

First some housekeeping: Recently I returned from my 9th WVWriters, Inc. conference. The event is held annually at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, West Virginia. Every year I come home saying “That was the best conference ever.”

This year was no exception. It really was the best conference ever.

Being around like-minded people is energizing, refilling the creative well. And believe me, I never use phrases like that. I’m a journeyman (woman) writer, not a weaver of sumptuous words.

Seeing dear old friends and making new ones is priceless. I totally want to adopt the amazing couple, Doug and Telisha Williams, who entertained Saturday night with their own brand of Americana music. Everyone in the universe should check them out.

And instead of breaking down weeping when it came time to leave, I either avoided good-byes or did my best Mount Rushmore impression when faced with the partings.

It worked.

I remained dry-eyed all the way home to the prairie, 1,100 miles away.

Inside I was a soggy, blubbering mess, but all things are made sweeter by being laced with bittersweet.

One day after returning, I had foot surgery -- a tendon sheath sliced (or something like that) and toes pinned (my surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, the staff, the amazing PT who sent me to the surgeon… all rock), and here I sit. I’m ‘non-weight bearing’ for two weeks, hobbling horribly around on crutches. Granted, the end result will be less pain and much better mobility. My advanced years goal is to still be able to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in my 80s, so more mobility is all good.

In the meantime… here I sit.

I always blame my husband’s Viking lineage for our older son’s wanderlust, but I too bear responsibility for Erik’s boundless energy. (As a holding on and letting go aside, said son is heading to S. Korea this fall for another study abroad program marking his third trip overseas.) I’ve written this before: When all the toddlers in our Arizona playgroup were happily rolling trucks in the sandbox and swinging on a tire swing, Erik was heading for the Mexican border.

When I was four my parents took my little sister and me to the Detroit Zoo to see a Tasmanian Devil all the way from Australia. I wouldn’t say I’ve exactly been a whirling dervish my whole life, but I don’t like to be still. If I didn’t like to eat so much and have peasant forebears, I’d probably be thin.

Being fairly immobile has been… challenging. That no one in my family has knocked me over the head and buried me in the backyard is a testament to their fortitude. My family deserves kudos.

During several scary tornado warnings the other evening my mother put a chair in the hall (which she had determined was the safest spot upstairs) for me and refused to go down to the lower level to our ‘storm shelter.’ I haven’t been this touched since she allowed me (the daughter of a public school administrator) to attend a Catholic high school when I was miserable at the public high school in the town we moved to right before my junior year.

In addition, my younger son is being nice enough to help me overcome my tendency to resort to not-so-nice language when I get frustrated. (There’s a financial incentive in it for him). And my husband is not bonking me over the head with my crutches when I get uber frustrated that the simplest tasks elude me.

My friends have also rallied. I have been touched by the gestures of those both near and far. Calls, visits, e-mails, texts, Facebook messages have inundated my heart. An arrangement of lilies worthy of a royal wedding grace my living room, thanks to my friend Ann Snider, the mother of four… who is holding on and letting go herself as her oldest son is on his LDS mission trip for two years. She is courageous indeed.

Another beautiful arrangement sits on my buffet, a gift from my longtime friend Susan Case. Susan coaxed me though Erik’s first trip abroad to Germany when he was only in high school. Her daughter had been a foreign exchange student several years previous.

Too numerous to mention are my many other supportive friends. It takes a lot to spend time, in person or virtually, with a cranky woman on crutches!

This morning I escaped for coffee with my exercise pals (that was my exercise!) and learned the sister-in-law of one of the women just fell off a horse when the saddle loosened. Broken ribs and a punctured lung resulted. Once again, I’m reminded to quit whining and remember how fortunate I am. I’m slated to be off crutches (I hope!) in another week and plan to have more mobility when I can stomp around in my Herman Munster boot.

In the meantime, maybe it’s time to enjoy life in the slow lane?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Procrastination Nation

I’m sitting here at my computer, surely having exhausted every possible procrastinating tool. If I were my own ‘friend’ on Facebook, I’d hide me in my newsfeed.

Today it took me longer to unpack from my trip to my ninth West Virginia Writers, Inc. Conference than it did to drive from Cedar Lakes to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, the first leg of the trip home.

In between I did umpteen loads of laundry, went to the dentist, waited around for the surgery center to call with a time for my toe pinning / ankle tendon slicing / Frankenstein’s Monster foot apparel fashion statement ‘procedure’ tomorrow morning.

I even took time to dig out an old photo of my father in his Kalamazoo College marching band days in honor of my friend-since-6th-grade, Sandy Plenge Taube’s, posting her dad’s photo on Facebook for Father’s Day week.

Since I really have to go to bed, I’ll cut to the chase. Friends…whether those since elementary school who take time to check on you, or newer ones, like my gorgeous friend Franny, whom I met in exercise classes at the Y (and who called to see if I needed company after surgery tomorrow), or like-minded writer friends who are more like family you never want to part from…are invaluable.

They are worth embracing -- physically and spiritually -- and revering. Tonight my heart literally aches for those I just left behind and those I haven’t seen in years but who still remain close in my heart.

The pain of missing those is far more brutal than a few swipes by a superbly skilled surgeon.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Camp for Writers

I am not a camper. My idea of ‘roughing it’ is staying at a Holiday Inn. My few experiences sleeping under the stars have done nothing to disabuse me of this notion.

In 7th grade my science teacher, Mr. Herring, decided to take half a dozen of his students camping in the woods. In October. In northern Michigan. I’ve never been so cold in my entire life. Later, he told my parents (not unkindly) I was the worst camper he ever had.

I took it as a compliment.

Many years later while living in Arizona, my husband and I wanted to climb the nine-mile Potato Patch hike overlooking Jerome and the Verde Valley. The Grand Canyon is visible at a distance. He assured me this involved pitching a tent at a very nice campground. Sleeping on the ground, even in my 20s, was not my cup of tea, the clincher was the bathroom ‘facilities’….or lack thereof.

That was our first and last camping trip.

Over the years he’s looked longingly at little pop-up trailers and talked wistfully about the fun we could have in our retirement traveling around the country. He also used to hold out hope I’d actually get on the back of his motorcycle again (as I did for a brief period in college when we first met).

Ain’t gonna happen. He’s come to terms with it the same way I’ve come to terms with he’s never going to care (nee obsess) about clutter the way I do.

Then I discovered (thanks to my late great writer friend Mary Rodd Furbee) ‘writers camp” for adults. For more than 30 summers, West Virginia Writers, Inc. has held a conference where like-minded people can be revitalized creatively as well as make new friends and reconnect with old. As long as I’ve been going the locale has been Cedar Lakes Conference Center in southwestern West Virginia. Cedar Lakes offers charming rustic cabins and a better-than-many-hotels lodge. Geese, a covered bridge, and a lovely little chapel also dot the landscape. Gentle rolling hills envelope the area.

Cat Pleska, the president of West Virginia Writers, Inc., took the photo below at last summer’s conference.

Attending year after year to see old friends, make new, and get those creative juices flowing is akin, I think, to the fond memories many people have about traditional summer camp.

My dad tried to send my four siblings and me to summer camp one year, but we all came down with chicken pox. Darn. However, I revere and embrace the few days I spend each summer at Cedar Lakes at the best little writers’ conference in the country.

Past presenters have included Gretchen Moran Laskas, author of ‘The Midwife’s Tale,’ an Oprah book club selection; the indomitable Lee Maynard; Cheryl Ware, from whose pen the delightful children’s series featuring Venola Mae books took flight; Brad Barkley, an award-winning novelist; Jim Minick, whose memoir on starting a pick-your-own-blueberry farm with his wife garnered a multitude of rave reviews plus a whole host of talented others. This year, Cheryl and Jim will be back to present workshops, and Lee will be reading from his latest book. Pitch sessions to an agent and editor are also available. And it’s not too late to register.

Camaraderie, creativity, and best of all…no camping on the ground.

Can’t be beat.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother’s Day, Part 1

Once again, Happy Mother’s Day to all who mother.

I attribute my happiness in life to having a wonderful, supportive mother. She never berated, belittled, or criticized. Rather, she nurtured the very best in all her children and was unfailingly on our side. This doesn’t mean she condoned bad or inappropriate behavior -- not at all. Her standards were high; her love was unconditional. She made being a mother look so effortless that when I had my first child I accused her of making parenting seem too easy.

It wasn’t.

Married to a workaholic school administrator, she was a stay-at-home mom who forged a decades-long writing career that has resulted in more than 50 published novels.

She is my mother, my writing partner for the last 20+ years, and my best friend.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Part 2

In addition to being a daughter, I am also a mother. An old mother by my reckoning, married at the tender age of 22 and a first-time mom five days shy of my 31st birthday. Had my second son when I was pushing 36.

They turn 16 and 21 this year, so you can do the math.

Unlike my mother, I sadly run a loose(r) ship. Like my mom, I endeavor always to be supportive and value the importance of children stretching their wings.

The other night my older son, Erik, was packing for a train trip East. After a layover in Chicago, he’ll arrive in Pittsburgh, take a Greyhound to Morgantown, WV, liberate his girlfriend’s car and drive to Baltimore to pick her up from college.

I must have asked him half a dozen times if he had packed his tickets.

Like his father, Erik is a transportation junkie. Trains are his preferred mode of travel and his interest in locomotives started at an early age. From “The Little Engine That Could” to Virginia Lee Burton’s better-than-Mike-Mulligan’s-steamshovel “Choo-Choo” to all things “Thomas the Tank Engine,” Erik was a train aficionado.

Of course he had packed his tickets.

I explained to him I feel like I need to catch up on some ‘hover mothering.’ He had come home from his ‘final’ final that same day and announced he’s now a senior in college.

Huh? Seems like only yesterday we were winging to Germany to visit him during his high school exchange year. His little brother, Andrew, is nearly done with his sophomore year of high school.

Erik will be back in a couple weeks, then he’s off again (this time to NYC for a university writing workshop) – via train.

In the fall, he’s hoping to do another study abroad (he studied in Germany again in college). Eventually he’s going to go for good.

Then it will be Andrew’s turn. But it won’t be a totally empty nest since we’ll still have Grandma, thank goodness.

Somehow I recall knowing when I held my tiny (at six pounds we called Erik a ‘little monkey baby’) firstborn son in my arms that long-ago December in northern Arizona, when it was so cold there was snow on the southern cacti, I wouldn’t get to keep him forever.

I just didn’t know the time would come so soon.