Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A year in the life
For us Westerners who follow the Gregorian calendar, these are the final days of 2010. As such, our human need for closure leads to endless lists: celebrity deaths, top ten tech fads, top movies, worst gaffes, etc., etc. A year in review is supposed to somehow make sense of the preceding days, or not.

I’ve been working so hard to learn not to dwell on the past, where I’ve been mired emotionally for so many years, that even reviewing 2010 is a shift. That’s good I suppose, shows I’m making progress, but I still can’t resist at least a little year-end summary.
- We bought our first (and last?) house – yikes!
- I finished my master’s degree and for the first time in five years did not start classes in the fall. That was disorienting in itself and may prove to be a poor decision when the student loan payments hit next month.
- Geo built a geodesic cold frame greenhouse in the backyard and is immersed in plans for a new woodshop. At work he’s moved into management, something he never anticipated or sought, so 2011 will be interesting in many respects.
- Our daughter took up pottery, spindle weaving, rapier fighting and a new beau, not necessarily in that order. Her association with the Society for Creative Anachronism is expanding her world.
- Our son has taken the bold step and become the first family member in three generations to move out of state (except for my dad, and military service doesn’t count, because Ohio is always home). He’s in Chicago with his landscape-architecture-grad-student girlfriend waiting for admittance to law school in the fall, working for a bank and loving the big city.

And that’s enough looking back; looking forward is more productive, even though I need to keep reminding myself to live in the moment so I don’t miss out on life (perpetual goal number one). Since I can’t expect to meet a goal if I don’t know what it is, I have to have some idea what I want to accomplish in 2011.


- eat better
- meditate daily
- walk outside daily, weather permitting, or on the treadmill for 15 minutes
- read at least one book per week
- find a new, local community service outlet so I can give back


- weekly blogs on something more than life inside these four walls, although I love the life and the walls, that may attract more than six followers
- find an agent who believes my writing is worth marketing to take on novel #2
- rewrite and edit novel #1, which served as my thesis and is waiting to be polished for publication
- finish novel #3
- continue writing and submitting short pieces on a regular basis (not very specific, I know, but it’s all flexible)
- find that elusive non-fiction topic that will lead to a viable book proposal


- all those new homeowner things we’ve never experienced before – seal the deck, repair the driveway, replace the screens on the porch, clean out the pond, paint the entryway wall
- regular ‘us’ time when we turn off technology and just be together, talking, walking, biking
- maintain and improve connections with those who are important to us, no matter the physical distance
- open our home to friends and neighbors at least once a month for a meal and conversation

Is any of that worth blogging about? Probably not in the grand scheme of things. I’ve always wanted this to be more than a journal; I have a real hang-up on the whole concept of journaling since I stopped writing a daily diary when I was maybe fourteen.

So my resolution is that this will be the last lame blog post I will make. In 2011, I will find a compelling, recurring theme that stretches my writing brain and also communicates something meaningful to those readers who click in.

Suggestions? What makes you return to a blog regularly? What can I offer you?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Okay, all you pet lovers. How exactly should I deal with a snoring dog? Chi’s bed is too far away to prod her with an elbow, she sleeps through any scolding, and if I do happen to wake her up to silence the din, she just wants outside, no matter how dark and frigid. She is by far the loudest snorer in the room – no debates here about who else may or may not be in contention for that honor, please.

Barkley doesn’t snore; he ‘talks’ in his sleep. He whimpers, pants, woofs and grunts, all while his feet twitch and his nose sniffs out whatever he’s chasing across his field of dreams. Fortunately, his nocturnal excursions are short-lived.

But Chi can snore for hours, or at least it seems that way after being awakened for the umpteenth time. We can’t relegate them to another room. They whine and scratch at any door that separates us, day or night. I suppose earplugs are an option, but if I’ve adapted to hubby’s snores (sorry, said I wasn’t going to mention that, didn’t I?), I should be able to deal with the dogs.

I know, I know. If we had trained them properly when they were pups, it wouldn’t be a problem to bed them down in another room. But that’s history, and a philosophy of pet ownership that doesn’t fit our lifestyle. Chi and Barkley are part of the family; this is as much their home as it is ours. Sure, that causes problems at times, like when Chi sprawls across two-thirds of the couch, or when Barkley decides that bowl of cookies on the counter must be his dessert. Overall though, we co-exist wonderfully. They know when they can share our bed (afternoon naps only) and when they can’t. They know we will feed them and exercise them and always come home again when we leave them alone. And we can count on an ecstatic greeting after we’ve been gone, even for a few minutes. A warm puppy in my lap, their unconditional love, can overcome just about anything.

Except for the snoring.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who was it that first said, ‘You can’t go home again’...Odysseus? Of course he arrived home after an epic twenty year absence to find his home occupied by interlopers wooing his wife. And while that thought never echoes more strongly than after a visit to the parents, it’s not that I feel I’ve been replaced by an interloper, rather by a shadow of who I once was.

My mother (northern Ohio), father (Florida Panhandle) and in-laws all live in different residences, several times removed, from where my husband and I grew up. He and I have moved three times since our children went off to college (yes, we gave them forwarding addresses). In our increasingly mobile society, home is not realistically a place for most of us, but an emotional link. “Wherever we’re together, that’s my home,” sings Billy Joel, and that sums it up for me and the hubby.

But the parental ‘home’ concept is different, somehow more fraught with peril and complexity. There’s an immediate temporal shift when we walk through the front door, into ‘their’ space, and we’re kids again, subject to all the guilt-inducing burdens of being a ‘good kid.’ Meet those parental expectations:
"You need a haircut.”
“Growing that scruffy beard again, huh?”
“Putting on weight are you?”
“How’s the job? Get a raise yet?”
“Still driving that beater car?”
“What do you mean you voted for xx?”
“Why aren’t you going to church with us?”
...or be relegated to the kids table on the back porch while the adults carry on important discussions about NASCAR and pro football, the latest American Idol, the always enlightening organ recitals, and who got married/divorced/had yet another child with that good-for-nothing SOB.

Maybe the kids’ table isn’t such a bad idea after all.

But back to ‘home again.’ At what point do we graduate to being treated like adults with valid thoughts, decisions, and lifestyles? I love my parents and in-laws. And I’m sure the parental inquisition is not an intentional disregard for our feelings. In all likelihood they are as confused as we are with our evolving relationship. Throw in a generational shift or two as the younger set moves into adulthood, and things get even more dicey. I’ve never been the mother of grown children before; I’m constantly adapting to the shifting paradigms of our nuclear family status. And now Mom and Dad have not only their own grown offspring to deal with, but the idea that the grandchildren they fawned over for so many years are moving into their own lives. Change is always difficult, and when we feel out of control, it’s that much more frightening. Clinging to the status quo offers a sense of security, a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ that means one less new decision to face in our uncertain world.

When it comes right down to it, I don’t want to go home again. Most of my childhood was not a time I care to revisit. What I’d really like is to find that those adults I’ve looked up to for so many years are now my friends and partners on this journey through life. My dad and I are getting there, probably easier than it will ever be with the others because he didn’t raise me. We don’t have a lot of the parent/child baggage to shed as we age together. But even with him, it’s tough at times to be taken seriously, to be treated as an adult.

And now it’s the holiday season, when going home again is all but mandatory. Instead of dreading and bemoaning the next few weeks (and the past few, actually) as I generally do, I think I’ll look on those trips ‘home’ as my gift to the parents. If it makes them happy, even for those frenetic, too-short visits, to treat me like a teenager again (any younger than that and we’ll have to negotiate!) who doesn’t know how to drive in the snow or who can’t be trusted to contribute anything more than paper plates for the Christmas dinner, then so be it. I’ll focus on the ‘home again’ of hubby and me and we’ll get through it together, as we always do.

Do our children feel this way when they visit us? I certainly hope not.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

This afternoon I’m huddled at my desk watching the shimmering cold back yard, the oddly-still frozen pond, the stubborn orange beech leaves contrasting so beautifully against the white backdrop of snow. Sipping my fourth (fifth?) cup of tea, trying to stay warm and wishing the frenetic stress-inducing holidays were over and it was spring.

But it’s not. It’s early (can’t even stretch that to ‘mid’) December, and winter hit with a vengeance as soon as the calendar page flipped from November. Bone-chilling cold, icy sidewalks, blowing and drifting predicted for the weekend. So many of our fellow mammals are spot on with the whole hibernation thing, what was evolution thinking taking us past that lovely notion?

I must make the best of it, brew another pot of tea, pull on another layer of fleece, crank up the heating pad on my aching muscles, and keep my numb fingers moving over the keyboard. A book review to write, an essay to polish and resubmit (after four rejections, but we won’t go there today), a novel to finish editing, and a blog to update. My own personal deadlines, sure, but goals are important no matter the source, right? And another deadline down is another day closer to the end of winter.

I just realized all three of my novels, each at a different stage of completion, take place in warm weather, April through September, prime baseball season, with the occasional thunderstorm to cool the air. Nary a parka, mukluk or snow shovel in sight. My characters bike and swim, they don’t ice skate. I have one brief flashback scene that takes place along the Lake Erie shoreline in January. It’s bleak, depressing, and I shiver every time I read it. Sure hope that means it’s good writing and I’m not simply projecting.

It’s been said that all fiction is at least marginally autobiographical, albeit often idealized. In my case, that’s certainly true when it comes to the weather. And while I heed Elmore Leonard’s advice and never open a book with the weather, it is always at least a minor character, reflecting the internal tempests of my protagonists and the battles they face. Like me, my heroine is gloomy on dark, cloudy days; on edge – or in bed with a migraine – when the barometer drops and storms threaten, and more likely to be cheerful and productive when the sun shines and temperatures hover in the mid-seventies.

But I’ve lived in Ohio all my life except for a brief four-year stint in Wyoming where the weather is even more volatile, if that’s possible. I survived the Blizzard of ’78, among others; you’d think I’d have this winter thing down cold – pun intended. Alas, every year it gets harder to face the impeding winter, and I refuse to attribute such reluctance to my advancing age. I’m simply more willing to own up to my feelings and stop pretending to relish the changing seasons. I’m all for the circle of life, for plants regenerating in the frozen earth to burst forth again in the warmth of spring. I just wish I could join them and sleep until the ice is gone.

Now where did I put those open-fingered gloves my wonderful daughter crocheted...