Home sweet home

I spent last week at the beach with my family. We had a great week, and as a souvenir, I brought back the realization that I am old.

My father used to drag us back from our vacations a day or two early. He’d just announce that we were leaving early and that was that. Definitely a killjoy move, and not one I’m willing to make, but I am starting to understand his motivation. By the end of our week, I wanted my own bed and the larger space of our house so that my precious little family whom I adore wouldn’t be in my face 24/7. I wasn’t eager to return to work, but I did miss my office and the unwritten rule of my closed door: “Mom is working; go entertain yourselves.”

Does this make me a bad person?

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More guerrilla goodness

I was up to my old tricks yesterday. Well, one old trick. Lately I’ve been worrying about money and holding on to my wallet a bit more tightly as a result. A friend said that whenever she feels like that, she gives money away, which immediately makes her appreciate what she has and sometimes even turns the financial tide in her favor.

Why not?

Hiding money in the grocery store this winter was a lot of fun, so I decided to do something similar. Actually, I did two similar things, because I couldn’t decide which to do.

First, I hid ten dollar bills within ten books in our children’s library. No, I won’t tell you which ones. I picked books I’ve loved and left a note for ten little readers, feeling (as I did in the grocery store) delightfully sneaky. I sent my daughters to the other side of the library so they wouldn’t be tempted to tell their friends where to find the dough (or grab it for themselves).

When I was a kid, not much was better than found money. I hope the kids who find these little surprises are intrigued about who put them there.

And then I hope they finish their books.

Next, I bought some stuff for a local food pantry and tucked into the outer wrapping of each item a Starbucks gift card with a little thank-you note for the staff.

The people who work at these places definitely deserve a treat.

So, do I feel richer? Maybe not, but I do feel better.

Related links: Guerrilla Goodness

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“Ohhhhmmmmmm—wait, did I lock my keys in the car?”

I signed up for Deepak Chopra’s 21-day Meditation Challenge. Today is Day 1. I’m not very good at it, unless wondering whether I put soap in the dishwasher and how I can watch the new season of Breaking Bad (since DISH dropped AMC) counts as stillness.

Stupid DISH! You see? Hating my satellite TV provider just doesn’t bring me that healing energy I’m looking for.

Look, my eyes roll when people get too serious about stuff like synchronicity, just like everyone else too stressed out to notice their thoughts, let alone silence them, most days. But the thing is, I buy into the benefits of meditation. I just haven’t been able to stick with a practice long enough to experience them.

Have you ever tried to meditate? What was it like?

If you’re interested in meditation, you might want to sign up for the challenge.  It’s free, and that man’s voice is SOOTHING.

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The blogging habit and bad pants

As much as the whole concept of doing one brave thing a day became tiresome to me around the eight-month mark, the lack of a concept makes it hard to know what to write now.

So I’ve decided to post something every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and hope for the best. Forcing myself to post means settling for crappy posts (like this one!), but I need to get back into the habit.

So this is me, with not much to say, forcing myself to blog. There, I did it.

I leave you with this clip from the movie, Labyrinth, mostly because Sarah recently told me that David Bowie can’t sing and (in this movie) wears bad pants. Made me chuckle.

Have a good weekend.

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Beyond the year of double-dog dares

I almost didn’t come back. After three months of ignoring the promise I made a year ago today, how do I have the nerve to show my face here?

Here’s how. Even though my commitment to doing one brave thing a day for a year petered out at about eight months, I’ve come out of this year substantially less wimpy. I tell the truth more often, even when it means admitting defeat or being embarrassed. I say no more often, whether to work I don’t want, or to the expectations of generations of mothers who NEVER leave dishes in the sink.

I’ve learned a bit about the lies fear tells, especially about failure. When I try something difficult or new, like writing fiction or hula hooping or telling the truth about my religious beliefs, fear puts up a wall that pretends to be a mountain. Pushing against it seems pointless, but after about a thousand moments of resistance, there is suddenly open space. After a while, these walls became a green light, a signal to just keep moving forward.

I’ve let go of some things, too, like concern for what people think of me, and about 36 pounds. Maybe spending more time out in the open made the extra weight an unnecessary cover. Or maybe paying closer attention to what I want clarified the choice between chocolate and good health. Either way, I’ll take it.

I’ve jumped off cliffs, climbed rock walls, and belly danced. I’ve braved wild geese, parent-teacher conferences and a room full of people expecting me to be funny without a script. I’ve gotten up at 5:30 a.m. to write even though I’m terrified I’ll never come up with anything good enough to publish. That continues to be my biggest double-dog dare.

This has been an amazing year for me, and I appreciate everyone who took the time to read this blog. I’m not done with it, even though it has served its initial purpose. If I were brave, I’d keep writing, even when I know the writing isn’t as good as I want it to be. And if you don’t think that’s brave, you should try it sometime.

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One mother’s meditation

Motherhood is like a game of ping pong on a table that sometimes changes into a plate of French fries or a thermometer or a bad report card, and you aren’t always supposed to hit the ball (sometimes you are supposed to ignore it or paint it purple or sing it a song but no one tells you that in advance). Still, you are expected to adapt to the changing landscape and demands with skill, grace and patience.

I say that partly because the topics change so rapidly and so randomly.

A Shoulder Buddy - Collect them all!

One minute I am asked to define the word “poverty,” to which my girls respond with appropriate solemnity. The next minute – I mean the very next – I am invited to watch their shoulder buddies dance with each other.

Or maybe it’s because their behavior is unpredictable. One morning ejecting them from their beds involves a song, a dance, a bit of tickling, some begging and eventually, the mad mommy voice. The next day, typically a day I’ve risen early to get a head start on work, they wake to the sound of my eyelids opening.

Then again the emotional demands can be dizzying. The cold shoulder in the afternoon (as punishment for an unspecified maternal crime) is followed immediately and without transition by entreaties to “snuggle for just a few minutes longer” in the evening.

What is my point? Motherhood is hard. Even with healthy, loving, joyful kids (which is the kind I am blessed with).

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know no one said it would be easy. And I never said I wouldn’t whine about it.


Photo credits:

Shoulder Buddy – http://shoulderbuddies.com/
Why do they want dinner eCard – http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/1329851648404_327005.png

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A children’s piece, this time

So it seems like I am spending most of my free time on my writing classes. Yes, classes, plural. I signed up for a second one, this one focused on writing for children. No, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up either.

My first assignment for the new class was to write a scene based on some detail from my childhood, evoking the voice of the child I was at the time. What follows is a fictionalized scene based on a couple of true moments. In case you are wondering, the setting is 100% mine. I went to Catholic school for the duration. Also, when I was in third grade, they read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe out loud to us, probably because of the underlying Christian themes, which were totally lost on me at the time. Everything else is made up.

As always, I appreciate your feedback.


Whenever someone got sent to the principal, everyone ooohed until Mrs. Long shushed them. But when Sister Xavier came and asked for me, no one said anything. Probably because I NEVER get in trouble.

Roger Hane's cover for the 1970 Collier-Macmil...

I was happy to go. Mrs. Long had just finished reading a chapter of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. That book was as magic as the wardrobe leading Lucy to Mr. Tumnus. Whenever Mrs. Long finished a chapter, finding myself suddenly back in our classroom always gave me a jolt. I didn’t think I could stand multiplication tables just then.

Sister Xavier didn’t say much as we walked down the hall. Maybe she didn’t want to open her mouth because the hall reeked of ammonia and Regina Grasso’s throw-up. I was surprised when we walked outside and onto the path toward church, but I knew to wait for an explanation rather than ask for one.

As we descended the wooden steps behind the school, the pretty pattern of sunshine and leaf shadows flitted over us. I always imagined the speckled sunlight tickling my feet, but it never really did, of course.

At the bottom, we entered the rectory through the back door. Sister Xavier led me into what looked like a library and smelled like our attic. The air tasted like an attic, too – heavy and a little dusty.

A nun, dressed in a white dress and veil – a habit, I mean – stood in contrast to bookshelves the color of a Hershey bar. She was smiling.

“Sarah, this is Sister Rose. Sister Rose, your new pupil. I’ll leave you to it,” Sister Xavier said before leaving.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Sarah. Come sit down,” she said, gesturing toward a small table tucked in the back. Up close, I could see the crinkles around her bright green eyes. “Do you like math?”

“It’s okay. Boring sometimes,” I told her. This comment would have scored a punishment from Mrs. Long, but somehow I felt safe saying it to Sister Rose.

“Well, we want to change that. From now on, you’ll be working with me to do math that’s a bit more…challenging. How does that sound?”

“Okay.” I knew that pride was a major sin, but I couldn’t help it. Pride filled me up until I could have floated away on it.

She handed me a sheet of word problems, and I dove right in. Sometimes I felt like the answers pulled me through the problems, urging me to hurry up and find them. As I worked, I heard nothing but my pencil scratching the paper. The quiet made the work seem important, like taking a test.

After I finished, Sister Rose looked over my answers, smiling. “Wonderful job, Sarah! Let’s see what you make of the next set.” She seemed delighted. With me!

The rest of our time together went much the same way. I did the problems; she praised me, even when I made a mistake or two. Her voice was so kind, not impatient like Mrs. Long’s or angry like Dad’s. When we got back to my classroom, I wanted to hug her goodbye, but I didn’t.

Nuns can be funny about stuff like that.


Photo credit: Roger Hane’s cover for the 1970 Collier-Macmillan edition of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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An unwelcome visitor

It’s time for another fiction post. My latest assignment was to write a scene with two characters who are in some kind of conflict with each other. Here you go. Feedback appreciated!


Janet answered the door wearing pajamas and a grimace, the TV remote in hand. “Hello, Neil,” she muttered through an unconvincing smile. “What can I do for you?”

Neil held Sandy’s leash in one hand and a plastic bag full of her droppings in the other. As usual, he seemed unsure, as though worried that the space he occupied was reserved for someone else. In pressed khakis and a short-sleeve dress shirt, he looked to Janet as though his mother still dressed him. To quell the pang of guilt following this thought, she pushed her smile a bit nearer to her ears.

“Hi, Janet. How are you?”

I’m in my pajamas, tired as hell, grateful that the doorbell didn’t wake the baby, and counting the seconds until you leave. “Fine, thanks. Greg’s out of town, and luckily I got the baby to sleep before midnight for a change, so I was just about to settle into a bowl of ice cream and my couch,” she said. Please take the hint.

“Sounds great. Sandy and I were out for a walk and thought we’d visit.” Big smile.

“It’s a nice night for a walk,” Janet said, rubbing her puffy eyes and shifting her weight from one slippered foot to the other.

“Yeah,” Neil said, still smiling his dopey smile.

He obviously wanted to come in, but entertaining anyone, let alone Neil, was the last thing Janet wanted right now. After the briefest internal battle in history, the magnetic pull of her couch overpowered her sense of social obligation. Committed to getting rid of him, Janet replied to his hopeful smile with silence and another half-hearted smile.

“Ok, well you have a good night then,” Neil said.

Janet smiled wide, a genuine one this time. “Thanks, Neil. You too,” she said, closing the door and locking it.


While Janet sank into her couch, Neil continued his search for company. His well-kept shoes cleared the cracks in the sidewalk, even though his mother’s back was well beyond threat of injury.

Before she passed, his mother had made Neil promise to make some friends, and he knew that she was right. Living alone in his mother’s house—his house, now—was a lonely business. Everyone in the neighborhood was polite, but that was as far as things went. As he walked now, he puzzled over what he ought to do differently. He was as friendly as he knew how to be, but no one appeared interested. It seemed a lost cause.

That thought stopped him short on the sidewalk. Ma would have scolded him for brooding. God helps those who help themselves, she’d have said.

Looking up, Neil noticed lights in the living room window at Megan and Bill’s house. Maybe they would welcome a visit. Maybe little Anna would like to pet Sandy. “Come on, girl. Put on your happy face.”

With each step up their front walk, he felt a bit better. Reaching for the doorbell, he was almost certain that this time would be different.

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A little distance goes a long way

I’ve discovered a wonderful way to get my children to do my bidding – I leave them alone. I don’t mean that I abandon them in the shady part of town until they’re willing to do anything to come home (although who among us hasn’t been tempted…). I mean that I tell them what they need to do and then leave.

I’m speaking mostly about getting ready for school and doing homework. These don’t sound like big challenges, but my children can make breakfast seem like one of Vi Hart’s infinite series (without the fun and cool doodles). It. Just. Doesn’t. End.

Like any sane, loving parent, I’d gently remind them (since they would often forget) why they found themselves sitting at a table with food in front of them. “Drink your milk…Drink your milk…No, DRINK your milk…your milk…drink it…drink it now!!!!!” Despite a mountain of evidence against the efficacy of these rants reminders, I’d continue to offer them every minute or so.

By the time we’d get to the bus stop, their faces (and mine) were twitching.

The solution was to take myself out of the equation entirely. Now, as soon as I put breakfast on the table, I sprint out of the room before I can start screaming at them to finish their waffles.

My kids have never moved faster.

Ok, so maybe I should have realized sooner that giving them such a colorful reaction only rewarded their sloth-like behavior. I’ve read parenting books, so I ought to know these things. But they just move so slowly and there is so little time to get ready and why can’t she take more than just a tiny bite at a time and oh my God, move it!!

See. It’s much better with me out of the room.

Our mornings have gotten so much better that I now use the same approach with homework. They know what they need to do and where to find me if they need help. We are all better off with some distance.

This extra-special glimpse into my parenting style probably reveals more about my mental health than I’d like. It may also leave you feeling sorry for my kids. I feel sorry for them, too, sometimes.

That’s why I keep so much ice cream in the house.

So for my fellow nutty parents out there (you know who you are, even if you won’t admit it), I offer this valuable lesson in avoiding facial tics for you and your children. You’re welcome.

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A new way to walk your dog

I just discovered my favorite way to give my dog, Scout, some exercise. I heard him barking at something on the road, possibly a pedestrian, more likely a suspicious leaf. I called his name from an upstairs window. He sprinted toward my voice and ended up at the front door, which is in the general vicinity. But because leaf patrol requires constant vigilance, he tore right back to the road again. I called him again, and he darted to the front door. And so on.

He never quite figured out 1) where I was or 2) that I was messing with him. He was just happy splitting his time between defending the realm and answering the call of his beloved. Exercise and self-worth. You’re welcome, Scout.

And I never had to leave my bedroom.

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