Friday, November 30, 2007

It's official

NaBloPoMo: A Triumph

Well, maybe a little melodramatic. Triumph? Okay, fine. Success.

In other news, I dragged myself and my daughter to see a documentary last night. I was a little stunned at the tiny, tiny crowd (when we sat down, we doubled the audience, but a few others straggled in, making an audience of about ten, including the panelists for the discussion afterward.

The film was short, about 30 minutes, consisting of adolescent and pre-adolescent girls talking about the media. It was filmed in 2000, so some of the pop-culture references are a little dated (back then, Britney Spears was still considered a role model - the daughter and I just giggled and giggled over that one), but most of the content carried more general themes, some of which I could remember experiencing at that age. The gist of it being that the media creates some physical expectations of what girls are supposed to look like, and it's impossible to look like that, and that catch-22 sacrifices some self-esteem in these girls.

Susie was interested and engaged during the movie, and vigorously nodded when I asked her if the girls in her Girl Scout troop would be interested in watching it sometime. I, however, was more engaged in the panel discussion afterward. I haven't flexed my feminist theory muscles many times in the past few years, and it was nice to be in a room with feminists who engage in such discussion frequently. I heard my voice saying phrases like "dominant paradigm" and I was a little stunned.

Even more stunned when the two panelists approached me after the discussion and asked for my contact information so we could continue the conversation and some of it was applicable in their research and I think I might have glazed over at this point because of the sheer happiness.

I had found my people.

I didn't know how much I had missed them.

So ladies, please, hurry up and call me. I need you in my life.
And that, my friends, is my final post for November. I have posted every day. I have bored myself, and probably you, occasionally, but I've also dug inside and found a few bits of gold. Thank you for the comments and the emails and the awesomeness. While I started out writing this for me, I've found myself thinking of you more and more as I write. I know some of you in person, even more of you online, and it's awfully gratifying to see loyal readers stopping by to see what this dorky girl is up to.
I do not promise daily posts in December, but I do expect to continue writing most weekdays.
Peace out, and bring on the holiday decorations!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


After my thorough gift-bash that was yesterday's post, I feel like I need to come clean about something.

My kids are getting a Wii for Christmas.

See, I got this idea to do almost-nothing for the holidays not only because of my high-mindedness, but also for practical, pragmatic reasons. The kids, at 8 and 10, are getting a little old for toys. I haven't seen Alex play with a toy in ages. Susie still enjoys her dolls and animals, but even she will tell you she has plenty of them. And going to a school that requires uniforms means they don't really need clothes (I stocked up on uniforms earlier this fall...thank you, Ebay).

But they've been coveting the Wii for at least a year.

It all came together perfectly, to be honest. We're taking a trip to Florida in January, so we knew we weren't going to do a lot for Christmas. Then I saw the announcement on the bulletin board at church that MIFA needed drivers for Meals on Wheels for Christmas Day. And everything started jumbling around in my head.

(Santa spoiler ahead...if you have a believing kid reading over your shoulder, it's time to turn off the monitor. NOW.)

My kids don't believe in Santa. I don't think they ever really did. So I knew I wouldn't be ruining anything for them when I said, "What would you guys think if we didn't do any presents for Christmas and instead I just bought you a Wii?"

The jumping and screaming and giggling and chanting gave me a hint that they wouldn't be devastated.

So that's how I convinced them to be okay with no presents. By promising them the best present they could imagine. Which, yeah, seems a little bit like cheating.

But maybe it's a start. Maybe they can learn to associate Christmas with service to others (because OF COURSE they'll be riding along as we deliver the meals on wheels) instead of a great orgy of gifts. Maybe they can see the wide disparities in our city between the haves and the have-nots, and be moved to do something differently to make a little more justice.

When my kids were born, I did astrological charts for each of them. Not because I'm a big believer in astrology, but because I thought it would be something interesting for their baby books. And something jumped out at me, something that was the same on each of those charts, 22 months apart. These kids, and the millions of children born in their generation, are thought to be the children who will bring in the true "Age of Aquarius" - a time of enlightenment, justice, peace, and fixing what's broken. A generation of children who will solve problems that it took generations to create - they'll clean up the air, the earth, the water. They'll create peace. To a starry-eyed new mother, those words were just what I wanted to read: my kids are going to save the world.

Let's say that again. My kids are going to save the world.

My kids are going to save the world.

And if you're a mom with kids who aren't grown yet, yours are too.

Your kids are going to save the world.

But they can't do it if we don't teach them how. And today seems like a good day to start.

But I'm still going to let them play video games. They're just kids, after all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm dreaming of a....

So, Christmas.

Here's the thing. There are things about the holiday season that I love, truly love. The music, the food, the family togetherness, the marvelous television specials, receiving cards from friends and family who are far away. Heck, I even love the Christmas card letters.

But something's been gnawing at me, and last night it all bubbled to the surface.

It's the present thing. It's out of control, people. Kids in TV land, you're being duped!

We're being sold on this idea that the only way to show people that you care about them is by running out to the mall or, even more, the big box retailer that treats human beings like cattle, and spend as much of your hard-earned money as possible. Preferably with plastic. The kind that, at best, overdraws your checking account. At worst, puts you in some really amazing debt.

How did this happen to us? How did we get the idea that if you love somebody, you need to buy them a bunch of mass-produced crap that probably has lead paint in it. And, if you're extra lucky, it was made by some kids in a third world country who work eighteen-hour shifts for pennies a day! Awesome! Because that's the spirit of Christmas/Hannukah/Kwaanza, right?

I saw something on the news the other day that gave me hope. This guy is spreading a new gospel. True, he's not likely to be taken seriously. But what if we all listened?

Would it ruin our holidays to skip (or at least greatly reduce) the gifts?

How much is too much?

How much do you really need?

Where is it going to go?

Who gets hurt because of this gift?

And while I was considering these questions, one of my favorite bloggers wrote about a great campaign in the U.K. One that really, in my mind, fits the bill.

So, if you're reading this and you were going to buy me a gift, don't. There are a lot of fantastic charities out there who need it more than I do. I have plenty of stuff. More than I'll ever need, really. And if you need charitable suggestions, I've made a great shopping list for you.

Heifer International
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Planned Parenthood
Boys & Girls Club

And there are so many more who need help.

I won't begrudge you the tax deduction, either.

Tomorrow? How to approach the kids and sell them on the idea.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In the kitchen

Stumped for dinner tonight? Need more beta carotene in your diet?

I've gotcha covered.

How long can I get away with this?

We're just four! more! posts! until NaBloPoMo is over, and I'm not sure who should be more relieved, you or me.

I think it's probably me, but not by much. Posting on weekends and holidays means, for me, slapdash posting with little thought or concern for niceties like sentence structure and transitions. So, for the sloppy writing, I apologize. And, as God as my witness, come December, we'll be back to high-quality writing. Most of the time. When I remember.

The other part of NaBloPoMo that has me very! happy! that we're almost done is that I don't necessarily have anything to say everyday. My life, and I assure you, I like it this way, is pretty low-key and drama-free. Sure, we have our ups and downs, but mostly we chug along, doing our work, trying to be good parents and good neighbors, keeping the damn kids off the lawn.

And that kind of life, my friends, does not make for fascinating reading.

I spent a lot of time this month trying to write a novel, and documenting that effort here. I haven't written one single word on the novel in a week, and I'm not sure there's even a remote, snowball's chance that I'll get done this month. Writing 2,000 words a day, give or take, is not how I roll. I can write 500 words a day, when I feel like writing, and then revise something I've already written, netting about 750 words a day. That works better for me.

So. Taking stock.

NaNoWriMo: not a dismal failure, but barring cheating, I won't hit the goal.
NaBloPoMo: SUCCESS! I can't say I wrote a great post each day, but I never really thought that would happen. I posted every day.

And the combination of the two? Not as daunting as I would have thought, since they involve completely different disciplines, at least in my brain. Writing fiction is much harder than transcribing my interior monologue. Journaling and essaying (if that's not a word, so what?) are much more my cup of tea, my natural mode as a writer. Fiction, however, especially historical fiction, is an effort. Sometimes it came naturally and the words poured out of me almost faster than I could type, but there was a lot of staring at the computer and not knowing what to do next.

All that's to say that I'm definitely doing both again next year.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back to reality

And, we're back. Back to school, back to work. To a fairly ordinary life in which the biggest question we face this week is: "Should we turn on the heat?"

We arrived home at dinnertime last night, and the house was cold. Not freezing, not pipes-bursting or anything dramatic. 61 degrees downstairs, 57 upstairs.

A few of my neighbors and I have been playing "freeze out," a simple game with one rule: don't turn on your heat. So far, we've had an easy time of it. It's been a warm November, with only a few days that made heat a little tempting. Heck, the day before Thanksgiving it was 75, and the house was, well, toasty. Even after a dramatic temperature drop that night, all the cooking on Thanksgiving kept the house cozy.

But now we're facing the decision. My goal was to make it, heatless, until December 1. Last night, however, my children were not amused by our game and begged me to turn on the heat. I gave them another blanket.

If the house is below 60 when I get home from work, I'll be throwing in the towel. Because I'm not able to tolerate the whining noises that freezing children make. And because the next few days aren't going to be warm.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My new favorite family picture

Not much to say when you've got this to show.

Edited to add: more pictures here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wedding day!

We're back in the hotel, recovering from my brother's wedding. The kids did a great job in their respective roles as bubble girl and ring boy. It's always gratifying to hear people go on and on about how cute, well-behaved, awesome, superior, etc., my children are. Just shows that they inherited some pretty amazing DNA.

Aside from the obvious awesomeness that today's festivities embodied, we also partook of some traditional Chicago pizza. Now we all have horrible breath, from the fresh garlic and cheese pizza that my sweet son selected.

I'm too tired to upload pictures tonight. Can't promise they'll be done tomorrow, but they should be done in the next few days.

Congratulations, brother and hot blonde girlfriend, er, wife. I'm so glad you found each other. And you both looked hot today.

Friday, November 23, 2007

In Chicago

The last time I was in Chicago, it was July and lovely and warm. Not so much today. But we made it, and the kids are snuggled up in their beds, and all is well.

I'm kinda tired now, after nine hours on the road followed by a rehearsal dinner, so I'll have to tell you later about how we had lunch at a fireworks outlet. For $15. Total. It was awesome.

But see, I'm so dedicated to NaBloPoMo that I bothered to update, even though we've got a major family milestone going on, plus a mall next flipping door to the hotel.

Gotta go.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving, minus...

...the poultry. Due to an awesome miscommunication, neither I nor any of my potluck guests brought any kind of poultry to the table. We feasted, however, and really didn't miss it at all.

Traveling to the windy city tomorrow. Will update shortly.

Peace out, y'all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I'm feeling a little whiny this morning. My kids and husband were sleeping when I left the house. Because they don't have school today. And I'm conserving my vacation days, so I didn't take the day off.

And it's raining. Seriously raining. With thunder and lightning. And I walk to work. I considered taking the car, but that would leave my family without a vehicle, and that's probably not a good idea.

But walking to work in a flash flood warning might not be a good idea either. Because my pants? Are soaked to my knees.

I do need to publicly thank my mom for a gift from two years ago. The cherry-red patent leather Doc Martin boots? Are waterproof. So at least my feet are dry.

Hair update: my hairdresser didn't cut my bangs. But she did change where my part is, to maximize one particular curl which she proclaimed her favorite. Even though I slept on it, my hair still looks great. I hope I can recreate it after washing it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bonus post

Thanksgiving vegetable recipe on my other blog. Enjoy.

Still posting

Quick NaNo and NaBlo statistic: The month is 66.66667% complete.

We're going to have a nice Thanksgiving this year. We have a few friends who are "orphans" this year. One set is a father and eight-year-old son from church; the mom/wife just took a new job in a different state and moved last week. She was planning to return for Thanksgiving but it's not cost-effective. The father is a former chef, so that works out well for a potluck. Since they're packing to move in December, we decided it was easier to host at our house.

And then I saw an email from other friends from church who decided to stay nearby for the holiday because her grandmother's health is failing, so they anticipate needing to travel at a moment's notice. Since we all like each other, and since really, Thanksgiving is so much more fun with a crowd, I emailed them and invited them over.

Years ago, when Craig and I were still newlyweds and he managed a video store, we had lots of single friends who didn't have family in Memphis. And there was a really great Thanksgiving dinner we hosted of all our "orphan" friends. We were both vegetarian back then, so there was no turkey; instead, I made something out of "it's not turkey" (not its real name, but close enough), dressing, and puff pastry. (It was okay...looked good...and was an amazing array of carbs.) And much, much, much wine was consumed. The photos I took of the evening are a little cringe-worthy. It was the early 1990's. Our outfits and glasses were, well, a little larger-than-life, I suppose. And Craig was in his long hair and goatee phase, which wasn't his greatest look. (He's definitely aged gracefully. Gets cuter by the minute, if you ask me.)

Bad hair and big glasses notwithstanding, it was a great night. Our friends enjoyed the food, we all enjoyed the company, and the photos remind me sufficiently of the happy memories that I forget to cringe at the gigantic Cosby sweater my husband was wearing.

And this Thanksgiving is another opportunity to make memories. Memories with a family who will be leaving the fold soon, but also with one who has no plans to leave (or at least none that they've shared with us). And one day, years from now, we'll cringe at our hair and clothes, but we'll smile when we remember the jokes and stories. At least that's how I'm writing it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The funk sets in

I've spent too much time inside my head, or, more accurately, too much time trying to get inside dead people's heads, concentrating on a difficult (at best) time in our history. And it's taking its toll. I'm feeling kind of ragged right now, processing the emotions that I'm mostly imagining these people to have felt. Tell you what, I don't really believe in psychic stuff, but if there are people who really can and do communicate with the dead, I don't envy them. Feeling just my own emotions is sufficient, thank you.

Which is why I'm taking a break from the Civil War today. And maybe all week. I'm going to concentrate on the decade prior for a while. When my main characters were kids, just doing kid stuff where they were. I think it will cheer me up.

Because I reached a pretty sad place last night, re-reading some of the more despondent letters.

Maybe next year I need to try my hand at chick lit.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not what I expected

One of the odd side-effects of this NaNoWriMo mess I'm in is that I'm thinking a lot about war and battles and how they work. Seriously, I'm thinking of the battle choreography. And it's really, really hard to envision it, to have any clue if my protagonist was surrounded by people or not when he got wounded. Even after seeing the very spot, or very nearly, I'm still stumped.

I've never been a war buff. And not really much of a history buff. But that's not to say I'm not interested in history. Every time I visit Mud Island River Park, I read the informational signage, much of which includes Civil War information. I've read a few historical novels in my day, and I never hated history classes. And, well, fair enough, I was an art history major, too, but I was really most interested in contemporary feminist art those days, so really no reason to see a future interest in the Civil War.

But another side-effect, one I was discussing with my mom this afternoon, is that, the more I think about that war, it just makes me more certain that war is futile. Arbitrary. Let's put a bunch of young men in outfits, give them guns, and whoever kills the most of the other team gets to say their side wins, and that's how decisions will be made on a national (or global) basis. And looking at all those graves, all those boys and men dead just from one battle (and plenty of the dead from that battle aren't buried where I was...this cemetery only included the Confederate troops).

I just keep imagining how discouraged these guys had to be at that point. Okay, in all honesty, I don't really have to imagine this. The family letters make it clear. Of the three cousins who were in the same company, one of them, George, was a very observant and expressive writer. He made it so clear that, after nearly two years in this ugly, ugly war, he didn't really know what they were fighting for anymore.

Keeping in mind that these guys were from mid-state Missouri, it must have been a huge culture shock to wind up in middle Mississippi. The role of slavery was vastly different in Missouri (yes, these folks did own slaves) than it was in Mississippi, where plantations frequently had over 1,000 slaves per household. Fighting for King Cotton must have been a slap in the face for these apple and hemp farmers.

Not sure what I'm doing with this. But I'm agitated and just hate that, a century and a half later, we still send teenage boys and young men to shoot and be shot, thinking that's a reasonable way to decide world events. Insert some cliche about not learning history and being doomed to repeat it.

I've got a novel to write. Peace out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Field Trip

I've bemoaned NaNoWriMo several times already this month. I've been blocked for days, even a week; I'm horribly behind in my word count. Lesson learned? Start the research early.

But I made up some time today by dragging my sweet family four hours south, to Port Gibson, Mississippi, the site of the battle that killed my 22-year-old cousin Isaac, one hundred forty-four years ago.

We saw Isaac's grave at Wintergreen Cemetery, along with the graves of other Confederate soldiers who died in (or sometime after, due to injuries incurred in) the Battle of Port Gibson. We tromped through the graveyard, looking for any sign of the woman who took care of him for the six weeks after the battle, until he died. The woman who wrote a beautiful letter to his mother, telling her the horrible, yet probably unsurprising, news that her son had died. The letter that started this book.

And then we visited Great Gulf Military Park, site of a battle the few days before the Battle of Port Gibson. I scouted around, looking for any signs of my cousins, who were members of Company B of the Sixth Missouri Infantry. Success! I found a rifle embankment with a sign that specifically states that the 6th Missouri held that position. Which meant I did what any mother would do...I made the kids lie down in the embankment and point gun fingers at me, and I took pictures. We also saw a Civil War ambulance, possibly the same one that transported my wounded cousin to his final home, a makeshift hospital staffed by young women whose husbands were likely in some other place, fighting in the same war.

I expected this trip would help me write, particularly descriptions of the town. Many of the buildings, especially churches, are the same buildings that stood in Port Gibson a century and a half ago. The Presbyterian church with the golden hand pointing heavenward on the top of the steeple. The Catholic church with the hand-carved altar rail. Several antebellum mansions. I wanted, and expected, to get a sense of place.

What I didn't expect was that Isaac would talk to me the rest of the way home. No, I don't mean in some psychic, "from beyond the grave" type thing. Nothing like that.

But he's talking to me, trying to tell his side of the story. And I need to get back to transcribing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hard to write

I'm not looking forward to writing this post.

Not because I'm burned out on writing, NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo notwithstanding. I really enjoy the writing. And writing everyday is fine, although sometimes I'm a little stumped as to exactly what to write.

But today I have something to write about, but it's not funny or snarky or witty or heartwarming. Just a little upsetting. By the time I get it all out, it might be more than a little upsetting.

And I feel the need to put a lot of preface here. Preface about how I love my city and I know damn well that we have crime problems and I am committed to being a part of the solution. That's why I moved to one of the poorest census tracts in the city when it was redeveloped. That's why I send my children to public schools. That's why I walk to work.

But yesterday I doubted my choices.

Because yesterday, my son told me what happened on the playground. (This is all hearsay; he did not witness the event, but he was there when it allegedly happened. So believe what you want to believe.)

A few children were playing (throwing rocks, actually, is what he told me) near the fence that borders the playground. A man was on the other side of the fence. (Maybe across the street. Details, again, are fuzzy.) He spoke to the kids. They spoke to him. He pulled a gun and showed it to them, or maybe pointed it at them.

This happened at the beginning of recess. The kids didn't tell anyone until they went back inside. (And yes, the kids got in trouble for not telling.)

My son is a sensitive, sensible kid. He was pretty damn scared afterward. Not so scared that he wanted to stay home today or that he had nightmares or anything like that, but scared enough that it showed on his face when he told me about it.

And no, the school, the teacher, no. They didn't send a note home about it.

So if you'll pardon me, I need to call the office. This is a problem. And if it's not addressed to my satisfaction, you can bet your last dime that some grumpy redheaded blogger is going to wind up on the news.

edited to add:
The principal was aware of the situation yesterday and questioned the children involved. Each child's story was different from the others; she thinks the whole thing is a tall tale. As soon as it was reported, a teacher went back out to the playground to check out the situation and nobody was nearby at all. Even though she doesn't think there's a problem or that anything happened, the principal did contact the district's security office and reported the incident, also requested patrols. I still think a note should have come home, but at least she did what was necessary. The schoolyard is bounded by a fence, and the kids reported that this man was on the other side of the fence. I was impressed that my kids knew that it was a felony to be within 500 yards of a school with a gun (unless you're the police). So I'm okay. For now.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Halfway done!

It's November 15! That means these orgies of writing known as NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo are half over! Exclamation point!

But now comes the time when I take yet another opportunity to ask you, my lovely readers, to help me make life decisions. I've got a few quandaries right now and I'm nowhere near the decision stage. And I need to hurry up. Or toss a coin. But y'all are so much prettier than even the shiniest Tennessee quarter. So HALP!

1. The singing thing. I didn't sing the September concert because I was working extreme hours at work. And then I decided to NaNo and NaBlo and train for a 5K, so I decided not to sing the holiday concert. My in-box started getting some rather flattering emails that I think were more about the group needing alto singers than my fantastic voice. And I hedged and said I'd think about it. It's been a week and I'm no closer to a decision. Should I go to the rehearsal on Tuesday and hope I can learn the music in time for the concert (Saturday, December 8)? Or should I be firm in my decision to sit out? (I do love me some holiday music...I'm torn...) I really need to let them know this week.

2. The hair. Should I keep on growing my bangs or should I cut them?

3. What should I wear tomorrow?

4. Is November 21 too early to hang up Christmas lights on the house?

5. What should I bring to Thanksgiving dinner with friends? Did I mention that the husband in this couple is a former chef? And that makes me a little nervous? Should I make pecan pie, even though it will eventually kill us all with its sugary, buttery goodness?

Thanks, everyone. Please number your answers in the comments so I know which question you're answering.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just ten days

My brother's getting married in ten days!

I've written about him before, and about his fiancee and how well-suited they are for each other. They're a very special couple and it's nice to see how genuinely kind they are to one another.

My daughter is particularly excited about the big day. She's very likely the fiancee's number two fan (and only #2 because it's fair to say that my brother gets the #1 spot), and she can't wait to be a part of the wedding party. Oh, and Alex? Can't wait to wear the tux. The boy likes to dress up.

And, for what it's worth, I'm quite a bit more excited about the upcoming festivities than I expected to be.

Maybe because I have a good feeling that this one's a keeper.

And it doesn't hurt that I'm not a bridesmaid this time. Since every time I've been one, the couple has divorced in less than five years. So don't ask me to be in your wedding. I'm cursed. It's real.

But I'll be delighted to sit up front and dab my eyes during the vows.

And I hear they've taking dancing lessons. I promise to video it and put it on YouTube. Because I'm generous that way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

So, now what?

While I didn't reach the lofty heights of writing 5,000 words yesterday (who was I kidding, anyway?), I did get a lot done, and I'm mostly pleased with the results. When life isn't getting in the way, I've found a pretty good rhythm to the writing that seems to work.

See, fiction? Pretty much new ground for me. I took a fiction writing class my senior year of college because it fit nicely into my schedule and I needed an elective, and my friend had recommended the instructor. And I wrote a few short stories that the instructor had proclaimed to be very, very good. (Strangely, looking back, they were all in the horror genre, with cannibalism, burning at the stake, and bludgeoning being the themes of the three stories.) After the course ended, however, I never had any interest in writing more fiction.

Essays, research papers, reaction papers, sermons: those are my comfort zone. Even my blog posts, when they aren't about what I had for dinner, take the form of essays quite frequently. The five-paragraph essay, the one I learned how to write in seventh grade, is still my favorite thing to write. Except the 8-10 page research paper, with footnotes. MLA style, preferably, although one of my graduate professors told me I used APA style "with sophistication." (Strangest comment I've ever received in my academic career.)

And that means when I'm writing historical fiction, I find myself slipping into nonfiction, especially when I'm trying to include details from the era, or set up the situation with the whole Civil War thing that the book sort of hinges on.

But I've figured out that I can fix it afterward. If I just need to get those details OUT, onto the page, I'll allow myself a few paragraphs of nonfiction. But I have to highlight it and go back and fix it.

I'm really proud of how I did that yesterday. I turned two dry paragraphs about Grant's Vicksburg campaign into two pages of good dialogue.

I'm still working on getting the characters to act out their thoughts instead of just thinking them.

5700 words. 11% complete. Yes, I know the month is 43% complete. I'm behind. But I'm making progress. I just need to find a way to write 2,500 words a day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ask, and you shall receive

Apparently the universe read my blog yesterday. And the universe also seems to think that I needed a day to work on the book. Which is a perfectly reasonable explanation of why my son spiked a low-grade fever yesterday. And held onto the fever today. Which is why I'm at home.

Dedicated employee that I am, though, I did go in to work at 6:30 and stayed until 8, bringing work home with me, and tethering myself to computer and cell phone. I've received no less than four calls so far, which has inflated my sense of my importance at the Corporation. If this keeps up, they'll have to get me a Blackberry.

Hey, universe, I was only halfway kidding on that one.

Oh, and YouTube? With all those video clips from Grease? You're dead to me. Because that's all my son wants to do.

Universe, I'm kidding there. If he weren't watching Grease videos on the internet, he'd be keeping me from doing important things, like blogging.

If I really focus, I might get 5,000 words written today. That would be awesome.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

NaNoWriMo = Fail?

If you've been paying attention to the tally in my sidebar, you may have noticed that my NaNo word count has not changed in almost a week.

I've forgiven myself, given my insane work week last week, and I'm strategizing now how I can still complete my goal of 50,000 words by November 30.

I'm 10% complete and the month is 40% gone. That's a little daunting.

I've also learned that I tend to get blocked, bored, restless, distracted, pick a few more similar adjectives, after I've written about 750 words. Which makes me a good essayist, but not so much a novelist. At least not so much a good sprint novelist.

But there are so many good reasons to keep at it. This project has been floating in my head for more than a decade. I've got so much wonderful primary source material that it should be easy. Of course, I decided to go in a much more difficult direction with the material, and this road has taken me on a much more research-intensive detour, but I've already admitted that the research is what I really enjoy most, anyway.

All this means that I've cleared my (and my family's) schedule for next Saturday. We're taking a road trip to Port Gibson, Mississippi, to look at a cemetery and to check out the scenery. It makes sense, I think, to have a look around the place where at least a large chunk of the book is set. Right? Plus, I'd like to take pictures of my late cousin-however-many-times-removed's grave. Since he, and his death due to a rather nasty wound in the Battle of Port Gibson, sets the whole story in motion.

The problem is, in all these family letters, this particular guy (who died at 22) is barely mentioned. I have letters and letters and letters from and mentioning his older brother, who was not killed in the war. That brother was eight years older, and seemed to be an outgoing, charming, and witty guy. My main guy's younger brother was much younger (I'm too lazy to walk across the room and look, but I think it's another 8 years or so), and his letters are not as well written (which makes sense, in a historical way, because he lived on the "frontier" his entire childhood, while the others lived in Virginia, so his education was considerably less than his elder siblings and cousins). (Which, when you think about it, must have been very difficult for him, to be around all these older people who seemed so much smarter and cooler.)

As a result of the lack of mention of this Isaac, I'm free to make him whatever I want. But that's a mixed blessing. I've given myself a task that kind of makes my head hurt. See, my mother and her cousin (who share the same last name but so little DNA that they're only barely related) have done a great deal of work on their family tree. This side of my lineage is very well-researched. (And my mom's cousin is a direct descendant of the older brother, the one who lived. So I feel a sense of responsibility to his character; I don't want to paint him in an unflattering light.) (Neurotic much?)

Which means I really don't want to make stuff up.

But that's what writing fiction is all about.

See my problem?

My mom and I had a good conversation about all these people and I asked a few key questions. Her answers, fortunately, confirmed what I was thinking about Isaac. He's younger than this cool group of cousins, almost a decade younger. His letters home from the war are well-written, so he wasn't dumb. But his letters are serious, guarded. He doesn't share anything, but accurately (I assume) describes where he is, who is with him, and what's happening. I don't get any sense of how he feels about the war and his part in it (he fought on the Confederate side, a whole other tangle that is messing with my head more than I should let it). And in the letter written by my main character, the woman who nursed him in a makeshift hospital where he died of his wound six weeks after the battle, the letter to his mother informing her of her son's death, the nurse reports his last words included mention of his uncle and someone named Sarah.

He had an uncle who was a General (I think, again, too lazy to cross the room) for the Union army. How interesting would it be if that was the uncle he mentioned.

And Sarah?

A girlfriend?

A cousin?

This is where you, dear readers, get to help write my book.

Who is Sarah?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

An interesting day it was

Friday capped off a very work-intensive week for me. And around noon, I got dessert.

11/9/04 was the date I first interviewed with the Corporation, and also the date I got the job offer that changed me from a banker to what I am now. The job I got was a newly-created position, one that was well-suited to my strengths.

This job has mostly been satisfying. There have been frustrations, of course, but I've never dreaded going to work. And I feel very very good about where I work and what I do there. I know I play a valuable role, and my work is high-quality. I've received public accolades after just a year on the job and was asked to join a professional association's steering committee.

But lately, I've felt like I could do more. And this spring, when I got a new boss, she started seeing that I could do more.

And yesterday, at my annual performance evaluation (which, if you must know, went extremely well), we continued a conversation from the day before. A conversation that included the words "promotion" and "new position" and "manager" and "pay grade increase" and "human resources" and "job description".

Needless to say, it was a good day.

Followed by clocking out a little early to walk to the kids' school, a snack at Bigfoot Lodge, a drive to the 'burbs to drop the kids with their respective sleepover hosts, a trip to Davis-Kidd to treat myself to a new purse, dinner, and some much-appreciated TiVo'd shows.

Just try to get the smile off my face. I dare you.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Much better, thank you

I'm better-rested and it's Friday, so I get to sleep late (but not too late) tomorrow. Especially because the kids are spending the night away.

I did something uncharacteristic yesterday. Apparently my crankiness from the morning may have lasted a tad into the workday, and by that I mean ALL DAY.

Here's the story, with identifying details left out. You tell me if I'm in the wrong.

I worked all day and night for the majority of 36 hours this week because we were replacing machines, including putting in a new server (no, I'm not in the I.T. field...I'm our department's go-to girl in these situations). So I gave up, willingly, valuable sleep and time with my family in order to improve something in my workplace. Something that is not specifically part of my job, mind you.

As with many hardware/software installations, things weren't perfect. Wednesday morning and yesterday were spent in troubleshooting mode, helping the employees figure out the machines and dealing with problems as they came up.

One of the employees seemed to have many, many more issues than anyone else. This employee also seems, in general, to have a piss-poor attitude most of the time. And this person is smarter than he/she lets on, in my opinion. And maybe a little manipulative. I called shenanigans.

When this person's machine crashed for the third time, another manager tried to make it work. And couldn't. I was called. And figured out, very quickly, that the network cord was plugged into the wrong jack on the wall. Once I'd ascertained that, I asked the employee to come over and look, so that he/she could know where it should be plugged in, just in case it happened again. But instead of, "Thanks for helping me," or, "Great, I'd like to know more about how my machine works," or, "Okay," the reply was this: "I don't want to know."

"I don't want to know."

I processed this one for a second.

"I don't want to know." How to do my job? Anything that may put me in a position to move up? Any more than I have to know in order to do the very least I can do and stay employed?

Sorry. That's not how I roll.

And I may have thrown my hands up and said, "Fine, if you don't want to know how to operate your machine, I'm not going to worry about it. See you later."

And then when he/she told me that I misunderstood the response, I may have used the example: "If your child was failing math and you wanted to teach her the multiplication tables so she could pass math, and she told you I don't want to know, would that bother you?"

Should that bother me?

Because it does. Still. Honestly, yesterday I really wished I was Donald Trump, because I would have said, "You're fired!" with a great flourish. And a smile.

So, am I wrong to expect employees to want to actually do their jobs well? And to be glad that this person is not on the schedule today?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

So tired

My insane work hours have left me bone-tired. So tired that I was grumpy this morning. So tired that I snapped at my husband. So tired that maybe I yelled a little too.

I got home from my work marathon at noon yesterday and parked myself on the couch with a glass of orange juice (which I was craving yesterday...I wound up downing three glasses, which is more than I consume in a normal month). Watched my saved episode of Dexter and a few minutes of the prior night's House, but the closed-eye part of blinking was beginning to overtake the open-eye part, so I wisely turned off the television, finished my OJ, and gave into the sweet snuggle of my two smallest animals, Gravy (the dog) and Roxy/Kitter (the kitten). They're the cuddlers of our menagerie, and served to keep me toasty since we've not yet turned on the heat.

Next thing I know, I can feel people looking at me. Those would be the children, just home from school.

I'm not normally a heavy sleeper. I wake up if it rains. I wake up if the dog gets off the bed. I wake up if my son throws up in his bedroom.

My husband had come home, been in the house for over an hour and left again, and I slept through all of it.

The rest of the evening was easy enough. I started some chicken boiling on the stove, walked the dogs, watched more television, made dinner (chicken pot pie for the meat eaters, veggie pot pie for the vegetarians), watched more television, walked the dogs again, went to bed.

The highlights? My daughter coming into the kitchen to keep me company while I prepared dinner. Eating real food. My son sitting on my lap to watch Kid Nation. The feeling of going to sleep in my bed with an extra blanket. The knowledge that the extra work I did not only will make a difference in my paycheck (and likely my paychecks to come, since my anniversary date, and performance evaluation, with the Corporation is later this month), but also made a difference in the success of the project.

Making a difference is worth losing sleep sometimes.

If I could just pull it off without the yelling the next day. That would be good.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NaBloPoMo cheat

Yes, I'm doing a meme today. Sorry to be so jarringly non-posty today, but my body still thinks it's yesterday. Because I worked overnight, until 6 a.m., went home, walked the dogs, showered, woke the kids, and came back to work at 6:45 a.m. I'm so jacked up on caffeine and sugar right now that I may never sleep again. And if I'm having trouble reading, you can imagine what would happen if I tried to write a paragraph. So thanks, Kelly, for the help.

Four First Names of Crushes I’ve Had
1. Curtis - last I heard, he was in prison
2. Brian - turns out he was gay
3. Greg - a few people already know about this. Yes, Melissa, I'm talking to you.
4. James - no, Melissa, not that one

Four Pieces of Clothing I Wish I Still Owned
1. My polyester satin Picasso jacket.
2. That cute red plaid miniskirt. I know Craig mourns that one, too.
3. A pink twinset that was very, um, flattering.
4. My black leather jacket. Because I'm punk rock.

Four Names I’ve Been Called at One Time or Another
1. Kathleen
2. Katie
3. Kaleigh
4. Mommy

Four Professions I Secretly Want to Try
1. Real estate tycoon
2. Trust fund recipient
3. Slumlord
4. Pro skateboarder

Four Musicians I’d Most Want to Go on a Date With
1. David Bowie.
2. David Bowie.
3. David Bowie.
4. David Bowie.

Four Foods I’d Rather Throw Than Eat
1. Whipped cream pies
2. Jello
3. Chicken if I don't know who cooked it
4. Stovetop stuffing

Four Things I Like to Sniff
1. Earl gray tea bags
2. Cut lemons
3. A new bag of coffee beans
4. Flowers
Is it bad that the first thought I had was "Glue"? Probably so. I think it's the sleep deprivation talking. Only two more hours until I get to go to bed.

Four People to Tag
1. Kristabella (because it's NaBloPoMo and she needs help, too)
2. Melissa (because I don't tag her and I called her out, by name, TWICE in this post)
3. Nic (see #1)
4. Oh, The Joys (because I want to see her answers. I'm putting $5 that the words "National Park Ranger" appear in her post at least once).

More coffee!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Five years

Five years ago yesterday was a bad day. One of the worst.

Things were normal until I got home from my part-time job, teaching at my children's preschool. There was a message for me. I returned the call to Edie, a mom who was involved in La Leche League and Attachment Parenting International. We had children who played together, and I assumed that she was calling to set up a playdate.

I remember how gently she spoke to me. It was clear that something was very, very wrong. I was on the phone right next to the television and I remember sinking down to the floor when I comprehended the news. Our friend Christie had been in a car accident the day before and was going to die momentarily. They had delivered her baby via c-section. Edie and Allison were going to the hospital to see the baby and hopefully see Christie before it was too late.

I remember crying like I'd never cried before. On the floor, with my small children coming over to comfort me. And I recall calling the hospital to find out what was happening, being frustrated as I was switched between departments, being told she wasn't on the census, being told she was in surgery. Finally Craig taking the phone from me and explaining what was going on: she was an organ donor. She was already gone.

The rest of the night is a blur of telephone calls and emails. Since she and I were co-leaders of a parenting group, I had to inform the families involved in the group. And the national organization. And her books' co-authors.

It still doesn't always feel real to think about her not being around. My memories of her are wrapped up in strange things. Cans of Progresso chicken soup. Homemade chili. The television show "24". Her goblets that I thought were so elegant when used for water. And the wine charms that hung from her kitchen cabinet pulls. I never did dig up some of her hostas she had offered that summer, and when I look at my hostas, I regret that.

I've already written this story here, but I needed to process it again. Thanks for bearing with me.

But it's also another anniversary. Nineteen years ago I met my husband. Which is pretty great.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I hate when he's right

Craig finally gave me a bit of a lecture last night. Not that he's unsupportive of my insane venture to NaNoWriMo, but that I'm doing that kind of irritating thing I do when I get into a project: I become singleminded.

But that wasn't his lecture. He told me to stop with the research and start with the fiction. A good point, but not easy for me, as research is pretty much my favorite activity in the whole world.

So I did what he said, a bit begrudgingly, and the next thing I knew, it was an hour later and I'd written 1,000 words, introduced a new character, and realized that I was having fun!

There's still research to do, but I've realized that I can do a lot of writing without it. If I can get to the 50,000 mark with some large blanks in the story, like there are now, I can leave the research for later, when I'm editing.

Thanks, honey. I'll admit you were right. Especially here, because you never read it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

NaNo makes me all thinky

I'm nowhere near my word count quota for NaNoWriMo (should be 1667x4=6668 at this point), but I've probably read well over 50,000 words doing research. Research I should have completed by now. That's what happens when I do no task analysis at all.

That being said, my head is better wrapped around all this stuff and I may even finish. On time. If I'm really, really good and disciplined, especially this week. And I successfully rearranged my schedule later this month to give me a chance to visit a Mississippi cemetery where the central character is buried. If I'm lucky, another character is there, too.

But here's what all this is doing to my head.

When you meet someone and they ask you where you're from, how do you answer?

Me, I say "Memphis." I don't say, "Memphis, Tennessee," or "Shelby County," or "Tennessee," or "the Mid-South." Of course, all those answers would be accurate. But that's not what comes out of my mouth.

I've met people from Texas, however, that tell me they're from Texas. It's a big state, that, so the answer is very different from mine. It's not geographic, at least not specifically. It seems to me that it speaks of a pride in place, of a heritage.

And my claim of Memphis speaks similarly, but differently. Perhaps it's a function of Memphis's place in Tennessee. Located in the southwest corner of the state, I can find myself in Arkansas or Mississippi in less than ten minutes. In all fairness, since I live seven blocks from the Mississippi River, I live closer to Arkansas than I do to most of Memphis.

If you know Tennessee geography, you'll have an idea that one can cross the state, north to south, in under two hours. Crossing the state east to west, however, takes most of a day. On the other hand, I can leave my house at eight and find myself in Missouri, having crossed into Arkansas, in under two hours.

Because of this proximity with other states, but the great distance between Memphis and other parts of my state, I don't really identify myself as a Tennessean.

(The historical research I'm doing has put all this in my head. In the Civil War, Confederate regiments were identified by state, not community. There were county militias, and those fed into the state infantries, etc. So these people I'm reading about and, ideally, writing about, talk a lot about being from Missouri, not being from a specific place in Missouri. Does this make any sense?)

So, dear reader, where are you from?

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I've spent too much time doing research and not enough time writing. You'll see that my word count has not changed. I have, however, logged a lot of time on Google and various genealogy and history websites. And have purchased a large book of Civil War history.

It's sucking me in. I'm only posting this because I needed to come up for air. Oh, and because of that crazy NaBloPoMo thing.

Peace out, kids. Gotta write thousands of words about elusive Civil War people.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Day Two

So far I'm doing okay with the multiple disciplines. I knew the NaBloPoMo would be the easiest part, and yes, by Jove, it is. I found out the hotel in Chicago has complimentary wireless internet, so no worries even when we're out of town.

Although the goal is to write about 1700 words each day, I'm pretty happy with the 498 I wrote yesterday, especially considering that at 6:45 p.m., I was still kind of stumped. But the treadmill (another 5K!) provided me a moment to think and I got an opening sentence and a few other ideas about the novel's structure. The longest fiction I've ever written was 12 pages, typed, double-spaced, so the structure part is important.

The book is based on (inspired by?) a collection of letters that my mom's cousin transcribed. The letters are from the 19th century, mostly the Civil War era, and represent one side of communication with an ancestor of mine.

The first letter I read (they're in a binder, not in chronological order, and the binder is bulging, so this letter had fallen out of the rings) was from a stranger, a woman who volunteered at a makeshift hospital for Confederate soldiers, writing to a fallen soldier's mother to notify her that her son has died and was buried. In the letter she mentions cutting a lock of his hair to include in the letter. Her letter is long (the transcription is two and a half single-spaced pages), detailed, and beautifully written. But, as I read and re-read it, I noticed something. She really doesn't say much. She leaves a lot out. Was that intentional? Or was there not much to say? His injuries were bad from the get-go, so maybe he mostly just lay there, dying, for six weeks. I haven't decided exactly where I'm taking him, if he's really going to be part of her story.

So, at this point, Emily, a woman who is not my relative, is the star of the story. But I see the mother, Elizabeth, my great-great-going for a while-aunt? (my mom will surely help with this; she and the transcriber of the letters are the genealogists of the family) being the other star.

One complaint to my ancestors: too many Elizabeths. Very confusing. No offense to the Elizabeths out there, but good lord, I think every little girl in that family for fifteen years was named Elizabeth. It's almost like a bar bet. Two of these cousins correspond: Bessie and Lizzie. (The side of correspondence I have on those two is hilarious and impressively snarky....they would have loved MamaPopTalk.)

So I've started off a little behind on the novel writing, but I have a pretty free weekend coming up, and once I get a better grip on which letters belong to whom, and which Elizabeth is the mother, things should move a little faster.

Oh, and it would probably be clever for me to go to Port Gibson at some point. It looks to be about three hours away. Not this weekend, but maybe the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Maybe the treadmill will help again tomorrow.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

NaBloPoMo, NaNoWriMo, schwaaa?

Why did I sign up for both of these? Insanity? Over-enthusiasm? Too much of a joiner? And why am I re-starting my running program at the same time?

Blog posting daily isn't that much different from what I already do. I post almost every weekday, so I'm just adding the weekends. Possibly challenging on Thanksgiving weekend, when my brother is finally marrying that hot girlfriend of his, but I'm confident that I'll find an internet connection somewhere in Chicago.

This book writing, though, requires 1,667 words, on average, every day. Given that, up to this point, I've written 100 words (go ahead, count!), it's not impossible. But given that I still don't know exactly what I'm writing about, we may have a problem. Plus, there's this prioritization that needs to happen on days like today: I need to go to the gym, I need to write 1,667 words, Survivor and ER are on. Um, yeah. It's not going to be easy. Thank goodness for TIVO.

Anyone done NaNoWriMo successfully? How did you manage your time? Did you write every day or did you have writing binges once or twice a week?

I'm going to track my progress on these three projects in my sidebar. Miles run, consecutive days posted, and word count. So cheer me on, or something. Or at least buy me a drink when it's all over.