Book Club With Mom

When I decided to become a full time substitute teacher, it was all about the shortened workday and ability to be home in the afternoons with my boys. I wasn’t able to imagine all of the other side benefits I would get out of it. Chief among them is stories. Every day is an adventure. I am full of stories about what goes on every day in schools. Part of that is seeing what school is like for my boys, and better understanding them and their academic experiences.

My youngest son, John ,is not a fan of most stories, and he would read the first 20 minutes into a book, and decide he hated it. Rinse and repeat for years. The teachers never pushed him to read more, because he did what he was asked to do, and read for 20 minutes a day. But to my way of thinking, timed reading discourages kids from really sinking their teeth into a story and (I know, this is crazy talk) actually finishing it.

So John decided he hated books and reading. I bit my tongue until this year when he started 6th grade. Watching him whine and moan his way through language arts was more than I could bear. John might be an engineer someday but he’ll have to get through high school and college English to get there. He needed to learn a different way to read. And as is often the case, I decided that if I wanted things to change, I’d have to take matters into my own hands. And so Book Club With Mom was born.

John’s been very interested in politics and government lately, and often wants to know why things happen the way they do. He’s also been interested in WW2 for years. So, in looking for a book we could read together, I looked for something short(ish), with simple language, a straightforward story, and maybe, most importantly, a book that would give John a sense of accomplishment after he read it. I picked Animal Farm.

There was much whining about it. But I explained to John that this was not a kid book in any way, shape, or form. This was a book for adults and if he listened very carefully, he would come to discover that’s it’s an extended metaphor for the Russian Revolution.

So we started reading the book together.

I found the audio book on spotify and bought us each a paper copy. We take time every day to listen to a chapter together. Using colored pencils, we highlight parts green for setting, circle the characters’ names, and important parts of the plot are orange. After we go through the chapter, we go back over the chapter to re-read the important parts. John asks questions, I point out things I want John to think about and ask him why Orwell might’ve used certain words or certain descriptions to say certain things. We talk about the narrator (who is surprisingly very opinionated for a narrator), and the different characters and what they might represent. For example, today we talked about the fact that Moses the raven reminds John of a minister, and the Sugarcandy Mountain he talks about sounds like heaven. John said “Oh, he’s named Moses, like in the Bible, too.” I told John that that is a clue that his inferences are correct and we talked about who Moses was and what he did in the bible, which also seemed to mirror his character in the book.

For the first time ever, John is really engaged with his reading and seems to enjoy the book a lot. He asked me today if we could play the chapter all the way through without stopping one time and then go back and listen one more time for the highlighting part, because he’s getting into the story and doesn’t like the starting and stopping. Whoohoo! Mission accomplished!

John doesn’t know it yet, but when we get to the end of the book, he’s going to write an essay with me on the theme of the book. I’m going to show him how to use his highlighting to help make his literary argument. More than anything I want him to be a confident reader and writer. He doesn’t have to love it. I just want him to get through it with a minimal amount of aggravation.

This goes along with something a friend posted on Facebook, too. It was about executive dysfunction and ADHD. The article posited that part of the reason that students with ADHD often have trouble completing a task is because they lack the ability to visualize what the task completed would look like. I think that is part of John’s problem (but I imagine it’s true for many other students as well). I’m showing him (I hope) what it looks like to read a book critically, and then to use that critical thinking to write about it. I’m going to show him what a completed critical essay looks like and go through all the different parts with him so that he feels confident doing it himself.

At first I thought this would be a one book thing, but it’s going so well that I’d like it to become a regular part of our routine. Maybe we’ll try The Metamorphosis next.

Doing It The Heming-Way

I reached 60,000 words of my manuscript last weekend. My goal is to be at 70,000 words by Sunday night. Is it realistic? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to have a goal to shoot for. I’d still like to be “finished” by the end of the month, and it’s going to be a long hard slog to get there. I say “finished” because having a completed 80,000 word manuscript is only step one of a ninety-billion step publishing process. I’ve been listing to a lot of podcasts related to publishing and the unofficial publishing timeline goes something like this:

  1. Spend literal YEARS writing a manuscript.
  2. Then have it workshopped, critiqued, and edited by any friends, Romans, countrymen, king’s horses, king’s men, ladies dancing, lords a leaping, and drummers drumming you can happen to rope into becoming beta readers and critique partners. (Start cultivating your list of fellow creatives early on in the process)
  3. Once all of these people deem your book not-cringeworthy, you can either A. Pay for an editing service to go over your book with a fine tooth comb, B. Pray, and start querying agents, or C. Say forget it and self publish on Amazon. (Yeah! Your novel becomes a choose your own adventure book at this point!)
  4. After paid editor goes over your book you can move on to 4B or 4C
  5. Plan to query hundreds of literary agents. Some people query for years.
  6. If the agent likes the book, they will most likely give you edits.
  7. Do the edits. Resubmit book. This may happen several times.
  8. Then your book goes on submission with editors and one of them might want to buy it. Yay! It’s going to be published! (Maybe in 2 years if all goes well)
  9. But first the editor will give you still more edits.
  10. Do the edits.
  11. Wait.
  12. Work on next book, repeating process.

Is it any wonder Hemingway said “Write drunk. Edit sober.” I’ll stick to the drinking, thanks. I’m going to need A LOT of alcohol to get me through this. A LOT.

The next time you’re in Barnes and Noble and you hold a book in your hand, I want you to think about all the pure, unadulterated hell the author went through to get that book to you. It’s madness.

And yet, there’s not a thing I’d rather do.

I have this image that keeps replaying in my head of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book sitting there. (Of course I will emblazon social media with that moment!) Bonus point for starred reviews. And people throwing ticker tape parades in my honor. Ok, maybe not that part, because I LOATHE being the center of attention. But a nice note, on pretty stationary, that says you enjoyed it, and the 11–12–13–15(!!) years it may take before the book I’ve been working on off and on since 2008 ends up in a bookstore was worth it in the end.

Anyway, if it sounds like I’m punchy and out of my head, it’s because I am.

I put my notice in at work. Which was weird. Ever since my divorce, it’s been the stinky, rotting albatross around my neck. I was simply not made to sit at a desk and think about business in any capacity whatsoever. I can do it, and do it well, but it is not what I’m supposed to be doing. However it has been what I was supposed to be doing for so long, that now that I have other options, I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

And I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing my novel lately. Which is also weird. And I’m gnashing at the bit to get it done, partially because I really need a break from it, but also because I miss crafting. I want to go back to bouquet making and open my etsy shop, but I’m struggling so hard to stay focused on one thing and see it through. You really have no idea. I don’t think I’m really meant to do that point A to point Z thing either. I’m a meanderer and a saunterer, through life and all artistic pursuits. Again, I can point A to point Z with the best of them, but IT SUCKS!

Which explains why this blog is so all over the place tonight…

I did have a point to make. It’ll get to it.

Back in my previous incarnation at http://www.re-writingmotherhood.com, I used to complain a lot about how difficult it was to be a mom and a writer. It was difficult then because my two lovely children were hellbent on becoming Darwin awards every time my attention was elsewhere.

Now that they are 11 and 13, I firstly deserve a pat on the pat for keeping them alive this long, and secondly, want to update my complaint to say that it is still difficult to be a mom and a writer at any age.

This morning, for example, I was trying to write. I had my notes at the ready, and was all set to go, when I got interrupted by John, who couldn’t find any shorts to wear (because, ironically, they were in his drawer and not on the floor, or the laundry basket, or in the refrigerator (where I presume he looked, because he looked everywhere). So I get up to help him find the shorts (miraculously apparating into his drawer the minute I opened it), and in the time it took me to do that, Rory ate my notes that I left beside my laptop on the bed.

*insert your favorite string of expletives here*

So I want you to imagine, just for a moment, the mere suggestion that say, our good drunk friend Hemingway would ever be called away from his writing to locate a pair of wayward shorts. Or that one might ever pester F. Scott Fitzgerald (drunk again) to drag himself from The Great Gatsby to make breakfast. I want you to picture Charles Freaking Dickens stopping mid-A Christmas Carol to remind his child to brush his teeth. Laughable right? And yet, when I’m writing, all of that is just par for the course.

The children are obnoxiously needy, but the dogs are even worse. Wrestling right on top of my laptop keyboard, barking to go out, barking to come in again, barking because there’s a full moon, or an empty dog dish.

I’m tired of writing this book in tiny, stolen moments. It’s impossible to go into the deep, sustained writing headspace I need because of all the damn interruptions. I locked myself in a room last weekend and made huge progress. That is what I need. I wonder if it’s because I’m a woman, or because I’m a mother, or because I’m unpublished, that my writing time isn’t viewed as sacred by anyone else.

I’m not doing it anymore. I’m reclaiming my time.

I let it be known, to all who inhabit this house, that if I have announced that I am writing, and have disappeared behind a closed door, and have not made both visual and verbal contact with them first, before they try to have a conversation with me about dinner, or if the laundry has been folded, or where the remote might be hiding, or why they had no matching socks, or whether I would take them to the store, or why they aren’t an only child because their brother is driving them nuts, to first ask themselves “Would I interrupt Hemingway with this?”

(They don’t know Hemingway from Adam’s house cat, so I used Stephen King and Rick Riordan as other examples.)

If the answer is no, they not would interrupt Hemingway, (or King or Riordan) then they are absolutely, positively, most assuredly requested to vigorously leave me the hell alone.

I’m finishing a novel. Everything else can wait.

Thoughts On Being a Writer

This has been a strange week.

Of course, when you’re a writer, every week is a strange week. I have characters popping in and out of my head all the time. We have little conversations every day, my characters and I. I know these people better than my own family members, and sometimes they just don’t like me and the situations I’ve put them in.

This week, after trying to write a scene that had been in my novel for as long as I’ve been trying to write it, I hit a wall. No matter what angle I tried writing it from, my characters rebelled. They hopped in a car, and like Bonnie and Clyde, fled the scene, killed some darlings, and went rogue on me. This happens sometimes, but it’s still weird when it happens. You sit there thinking, Wait a minute. This is *my* story. I’m supposed to be the one in control here. How can imaginary characters–out of my own mind–run over me roughshod like this? But somehow they can, and they do. If you want to keep your sanity intact, and finish the damn book, you just have to let it happen. So I did. I think the story is better for it.

And of course, when things are back on track and starting to go well, what does my brain do? It decides to go into the ADD death spiral, and spins me out a perfectly constructed, super interesting plot–for another book. Thanks, brain. So now I’m distracted by the pretty new shiny thing in the back of my mind, and am having trouble staying focused on the novel I would finish if I could just get my shit together.

And then there is the matter of the book I did finish. When you’re a writer, especially when you blog and write poetry and pseudo-memoir like I do, you put yourself on the page for all comers. Even if those comers are your ex-husband and his new wife. I don’t know how she stumbled upon Courtesan , (thanks, Google) but she did, and in an act of what I can only characterize as masochism, she’s reading it. Awkward.

But here’s the thing with writing. The things I write are from my point of view. First person limited all the way. The narrator is so, so unreliable. And anything I create is not written in blood or set in stone. It’s a snapshot of a moment, of however I was feeling the second I wrote the words down. And thoughts and words are fluttery, un-catchable things, that either allude you, or land on you, or come to you crawling, and over time, start flying.

That’s one of the things I love about words. They’re so capricious. One sentence strung together with random words means one thing. Take one away, the meaning changes. Add another, and it changes again.

My world is full up with words right now. My novel, my next novel. The books piled on my nightstand that will frustrate and inspire me, and make me doubt my sanity and my talent. The 8 page snippets from my writer’s critique group waiting for critique. Twitter. Facebook. WordPress words.

If I am quiet, and you want to know where I am, that’s where you’ll find me.

Conversation With My Muse

Muse: Pssssst! Brittany! Are you awake? I have an idea.

Me: It’s 5 am. Can this wait?

Muse: (in an obnoxious sing song voice) It’s a great idea! Get out of bed sleepyhead! You’re gonna miss it!

Me: Can’t you just come back later?

Muse: Nope. Limited time offer. I’m going to give you all the words. All. The. Words. But you’d better wake up and write them down.

Me: But, you had me up past midnight! Way past midnight! I have to go to work today. I can’t be writing now.

Muse: Do you remember what happened the last time you sent me away? You’ve re-written that paragraph sixteen times, and it’s never even come close to the perfection I gave you. Ready or not, here they come! *Unfurls the words*

Me: Oh for god’s sake! Let me get my phone.

(leaves a note for myself on google keep)

Me: Are you done yet? Can’t I go back to sleep now?

Muse: Yep.

Me: Do you plan to hang around today?

Muse: Nope. You’re on you own. Until maybe 10 o’clock. Then I’ll come back.

Me: In the morning?

Muse: At night, silly!

Me: (grumbling) We need to have a talk about standard business hours.

Muse: We need to have a conversation about the word your character used on page 137. You should change it. In fact, you should change the word and then write an entire paragraph about stars.

Me: It’s 5am! I was going to go back to sleep.

Muse: Oh? Would you like help with your next chapter, or no?

Me: I hate you.

Muse: You love me, too.

Me: Fine.

Muse: Fine.

To Each Their Own

Jeremy and I were talking not too long ago about our desire for a lazy weekend, but then complaining about how even the most potentially lazy weekends become consumed with doing things. All that spare time seems to get filled up so quickly by errands, chores, and lately, birthday parties and holiday visits. We both wished for just a couple of hours to do something creative (me) or hit the casino for some poker (Jeremy), but also filed those wishes away as not likely to happen.

My life has taken on a certain pattern. On weekends when I have the boys, I try to plan fun activities for us to do together, and it’s usually a whirlwind of day trips, eating out, and general adventuring. Then the weekends I don’t have the boys become a mad scramble to take care of all the things I neglected the previous weekend and an attempt to carve out some time to myself to pursue the things that fill my life when I’m not creating foreign customs documentation.

This weekend was shaping up to be equally nuts. The boys have an all day taekwando event today, and since the rain has decided to give us a reprieve, I have several months worth of yard maintenance I need to tackle, and windows that desperately need a cleaning. Super fun. Not. But then John was invited to a sleepover last night, which coincided with a painting I was dying to try at Saratoga Paint and Sip. The wheels started turning.

I can’t tell you the last time I did anything one on one with either of the boys, so I texted Sam and asked him if he’d like to go on a “mom date” with me. He readily agreed. After that was settled, I sent Jeremy a text and said “You are going to have the house to yourself Friday night. I strongly suggest you go play some poker.”

This is one area that I am absolutely adamant about in our marriage. It is healthy to have time to ourselves to do the things we love. I am not one of those wives who discourages Jeremy from doing the things he enjoys. And he is not one of those husbands who discourages me from doing what I enjoy. In fact, we push each other to cut the self-sacrificing bullshit and do things for ourselves whenever those rare moments present themselves. This is why I married him.

He acted like I’d just presented him with a bow-wrapped Porshe in the driveway. A night to himself to do whatever the heck he wanted? Sign him up!

So we were all happy.

I told Sam that he could pick the restaurant for dinner, and to my surprise, he chose The Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa. Ever since Jeremy and I honeymooned in Paris and introduced the boys to the crepes we fell in love with there, the boys have become serious crepe connoisseurs. When we took them to Montreal, they ate their weights in crepes, and are determined to partake in crepes everywhere. The Whistling Kettle makes amazing crepes and has always been one of my favorite restaurants in the area, so I was absolutely fine with that suggestion.

After dinner, we drove up to Saratoga Springs, another one of my favorite places in the area. And then we painted.

The finished products

Every time we go we see lots of women, usually a very small contingent of men, and never any moms with kids. I don’t get it. For me, it’s the perfect bonding activity with the boys. They put their video games and phones away, we talk, we compare, we ask for advice, we bond in the shared experience of doing something together. As a parent, when was the last time your kids saw you trying and failing and doing something completely new and working through figuring it out? We are constantly on the sidelines watching and cheering on our children, but how often are the roles reversed? And how often do our children get the opportunity to work side by side with us, as peers?

Sam’s Paso Fino

At work, in the break room, an Everything-I-Ever-Needed-To-Learn-I-Learned-In-Kindergarten poster hangs on the wall. But for me, there are some major life lessons to be learned at Paint and Sip.

  1. Everybody is looking at the same image, everybody receives the same instructions, has the same paint, and the same paintbrushes, and every single person is going to interpret that image differently. It’s amazing at the end of a class to walk around and see all the little micro decisions people made that completely changed their painting from the one used as an example. It’s a lot like life, plus it’s a metaphor for the ages.
  2. It’s ok to go rogue. Just because everybody is doing the same painting, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something entirely different. Anything goes at Paint and Sip. It’s your painting, so do what will make you happy to hang it on your wall.
  3. Everything is more fun when we support each other. There’s something truly magical about the camaraderie, the encouragement, and the whole lack of judgement at Paint and Sip. We’re painting a horse and you think yours looks like a duck? Awesome! Paint or duck! Or, we’ll fix it!
  4. Everything can be fixed. There is no such thing as a painting emergency.
  5. The finished product is not the point. The process is the point. The learning is the point. The figuring it out as you go is the point. And it’s also the fun part.
My Paso Fino

The Under the Sea Birthday Party

Sometimes I feel like, for a couple of years there, I completely dropped the Mom ball. Between just-getting-through-the-day depression, soul sucking work at a series of jobs that brought me no kind of joy, and just being tired, and poor, and overwhelmed generally, I wasn’t able to do the type of things I wanted to for the boys.

In past years, instead of throwing them a birthday party, I instead gave them experiences. We went to NYC and we did some day trips, and we had fun. But this year, John was turning 11, and when he said that what he really really wanted was a birthday party with his friends, I took a deep self-collecting sigh, and agreed to whatever he came up with.

Every day with my boys is a reminder that time is constantly marching on. They are 11 and (weeks away from) 13, and I see my relationship with the boys is changing daily. I’m entering new territory as a teen/preteen mom. All the things I loved doing with them in their young childhoods are soon to be things of the past. Like birthday parties at the house. Sooner than I would like (or am ready for) such things will be passe.

John wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for his birthday, but for what is probably his last party like this, I wanted to do something memorable for him. One of the things we really enjoy doing together is paint and sip. And he’s incredibly good at it.

John’s version of Van Gogh’s Poppies

He painted this last summer when he was 10.

I happened to go to a paint and sip locally, and Nicole, our leader and painting guru, from Paint Parties by Nicole mentioned she did home parties. When I suggested a painting party to John, his eyes lit up. Winner, winner chicken dinner. Nicole sent me some pictures of possible paintings we could do, and John picked this one.

Under the Sea

So we had a theme. I’ve mentioned before how much I love a theme and the planning that goes into a party. So I fired up Pinterest and John and I pinned a bunch of images of food, cakes, and decor that he liked. Then later, I went back through the images and selected the things I knew I could pull off. I live in fear of becoming a walking, talking Pinterest fail, so I try to be realistic (okay, sort of realistic).

This is what I did:

Something fishy is going on…

And I decided that since my days as birthday party planner extraordinaire were numbered, I would go whole hog and make the cake too.

I am not a baker. I have never not been a buy-the-cake-from-the-bakery kind of girl. But I was feeling nostalgic and wanted some of my doting Mom street cred back. So I made one myself.

Yeah….

Yes, it’s lopsided, the icing isn’t smooth, and the decorations are, how do we say this nicely… underwhelming. But it is a cake, and the girl who never makes cakes made it.

The layers look good

I am particularly proud of how the layers turned out though. I had to figure out how to dye the batter myself, and I nailed it! (I added one drop of blue food coloring to the batter, mixed it, and put it in a pan. Then added another drop to the remaining batter, mixed, and put it in the pan. I did this for each successive layer and as you can see it worked perfectly!) Plus it was pretty tasty, and the kids didn’t complain. That is a marker of a good cake.

The kids all seemed to enjoy painting as well, and John was in his glory. Here are his and Sam’s finished products.

They turned out great!

The Best Step Dad Ever

This is my new favorite picture of Jeremy.

We recently went out to dinner when something amazing happened. Sam left half his sweet and sour chicken on his plate. No sooner had the words “I’m full” come out of his mouth than Jeremy reached over, grabbed a piece of chicken, and popped it in his mouth.

This would have been perfectly normal in a lot of families.

But we’re a step family.

It happened so quickly, and so naturally, that maybe no one else even noticed. But I definitely did. For our family it’s kind of a big deal, because Jeremy is the step dad and (even though it seems like he’s always been around) in actually he hasn’t even been in our lives 2 years yet.

But the fact that things are this comfortable between us all is HUGE.

I was raised by a single mother, and I can tell you right now that if any of her boyfriends had ever eaten my leftovers, that would’ve felt supremely weird. And since she didn’t remarry until I was 30, I never had to get used to the idea of having a stepdad around. But I imagine it’s hard.

So whenever I see Jeremy with my boys, I want to pinch myself, because they make that whole bonding-with-stepdad thing look effortless. Tonight we went out to buy a new keyboard for John’s computer, and on the way home, I was serenaded by all three of them singing show tunes from Avenue Q and SpongeBob and The Book of Mormon on the way home. In my wildest dreams, that was never how my fantasy remarriage looked like, but every day I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure Jeremy and I would have figured any of “us” out had it not been for the boys.

We’d gone on one date, and if I’m honest, I was ambivalent about the whole thing. Jeremy seemed nice enough, but we’re both shy, socially awkward introverts, and first dates are not exactly where we shine. I’m pretty sure I spent the whole date just trying to maintain eye contact and look engaged even though I was disassociating through most of it (as I’m want to do when get-to-know-you small talk gets too tedious). I assumed, like so many first dates before him, I’d never hear from him again.

But he kept texting me. So I kept texting him. And I asked him if he planned to go to the family picnic the Facebook singles group we belonged to was planning for 4th of July. He said he’d go if I was going, so we met up there. Only this time, I had the boys with me.

Again, if I’m honest, I was still super blah about the whole thing. In my mind this was NOT a date. But the boys really seemed to like him. When he heard them complaining that the party was boring and that they’d rather see a movie, he invited us to all go see a movie together, which impressed the boys immensely. On the way home in the car, they went on and on and on and on and on and on and on about the awesomeness that was Jeremy. Sam said I needed to marry him and make this guy their stepfather, preferably as soon as possible. I did not get it. But I trust dogs and children. And Archie, my dog, had already laid claim to Jeremy.

I talked about that here.

From the moment Archie met Jeremy, he made it quite clear that Jeremy was the greatest human alive. He said to me, in no uncertain doggie terms, “Thanks for springing me from the shelter. Thanks for feeding me, and walking me, and giving up 2/3 of your bed to me for the last two years. But now that Jeremy is here, I’m going to pretend I don’t know you, and try to wedge myself between the two of you at every opportunity because Jeremy is MY human, not yours.”

With the boys jumping on board the We Love Jeremy fan club, I stuck it out, and here we are. (It didn’t take me long to figure out what everyone else saw in him so readily. It just took me longer.)

But again, if the boys hadn’t brought up marriage and continued insisting that they wanted a Jeremy stepfather and not a Jeremy mom’s boyfriend we would probably still be living together and probably less likely to make it official. But here we are, five months in, and I’ve truly never been happier. A big part of what makes me so happy is seeing the relationship that Jeremy had created with the boys, and how happy they are around him.

He’s not trying to be their dad. He’s not trying to be their friend. He’s more their bonus parent–an additional adult who has got their back in life. An adult who expands their world, and shows them one more example of how to be a good man and good father. We’re all really lucky to have him.

A Slight Detour

Back when I started this blog, I had every intention of writing several more posts about our Harry Potter wedding and all the things I made for it. But then, as is wont to happen, I got distracted. Usually, this isn’t a good thing, but in this case, the thing that distracted me was writing a book.

I have a truly weird relationship with writing. On the one hand, I do it pretty compulsively. Writing is integral to Brittany-ness. But much like my only-child play was centered around what was going on in my own little head, writing isn’t really what I do for anybody else. Yes, I write a blog, and yes, I’m a frequent poster on Facebook, but I write as much or more for myself than anyone else. I certainly don’t do it for attention, or for dreams of worldwide fame. I don’t much enjoy being the center of attention, actually. And while I do like the idea of being published, it’s more in an I-want-my-books-available-if-anyone-is-interested kind of way. This half-assed attitude probably isn’t the way to get a Man Booker prize, but whatever…

The thing is, I realize that it’s a half-assed attitude, and that if I stopped pulling an Emily Dickinson, I might actually reach more people who would get enjoyment out of my writing. The part of me that is a reader says that the more reading options there are in the world, the better. To get over myself, and put myself out there. So I do, or more honestly, have started to. But I grumble the whole time, because it just feels so weird to say “Look at me! Pay attention to me! I’ve got something important to say!” Just writing the words here makes me feel all cringey.

But anyway, I got sidetracked this winter because I wrote a book. A weird book, too, if I do say so myself. Deliciously weird. How often does someone open their diary to you and say “Have at. Go nuts.” It’s pretty no holds barred, and for the voyeurs among us, a really good time. It’s called Courtesan (you can find it here at Amazon ). It’s a diary told through poetry that’s raw and blunt and basically me trying to make sense of my life after my 13 year marriage imploded and I had to start over again. It’s also the story about falling in love again, despite my best efforts not to.

I wrote all about it here at Studio Mothers.

And while that is happening, I’m also still chugging along on the novel I began in 2008 when John was an infant. John just turned 11. And I’m all kinds of annoyed about that. Where has the time gone? How have I gotten so old? Working on a novel for 11 years? Maybe I should just cut my Sisiphusian losses, and taking up knitting? (Oh wait… I did that.)

This is also not the way to get a Booker Man prize… I want to be done before the end of the summer but it’s going to be a challenge. I keep telling myself that I’m closer to being finished right now than I’ve ever been before.

I’ll keep you posted.

Harry Potter Wedding – The Scarves

Nothing is as quintessentially Harry Potter-ful as the iconic house scarf. I wasn’t very deep into wedding planning when I decided that scarves needed to happen.

Jeremy’s Mom and Stepdad rocking their scarves

It started when I was thinking about the wedding pictures. I wanted pictures of all of us in our scarves. Originally, all of us meant me and Jeremy. And then the definition expanded to include the boys. But just like the guest list went from the two of us, to the four of us, to the four of us and our parents, to the four of us and our parents and families, to the four of us, our parents, families, and our friends, the scarf plan got a lot bigger, too. I started fantasizing about a group photo, where everybody had a scarf.

And not just a scarf… I could’ve gone the direct-from-China route, and bought thin nylon Harry Potter scarves for cheap, or dug out the ol’ sewing machine and whipped together a few lackluster squares of fleece, but if my primary motto is Why buy it when I can make it, my secondary motto is if I’m going to go to the trouble of making something for you, it’s going to be something worth keeping. It’s go big or go home in Brittanyland.

The thing is, my scarf fantasies involved homemade scarves, reminiscent of something Molly Weasley might’ve made. Hand knit beauties that would be fun, and warm, and actually practical. And I was going to make every single solitary one of them. Great idea! Wonderful! Awesome! The best wedding favor EVER!

Except for one teeny, tiny, insignificant detail…

I didn’t have the slightest idea how to knit. Or crochet. And if you know me, you know that numbers and I do not have even the remotest working relationship. There’s a very good possibility that I have dyscalculia (numerical dyslexia), so counting stitches and remembering where I was in a numerically lined pattern was unlikely to go well.

But I was determined. And as Ginny Weasley once said, “You sort of start thinking anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve” (and youtube tutorials.)

Some people would say I love creating work for myself. I say that at my best I’m a planner, but at my worst, I’m a psychotic, micro-managing demon spawned stress basket, and during the lead-up to my wedding, it was probably a good idea to keep myself good and occupied. So I made a goal for myself.

  1. I would teach myself to knit a scarf – on a round loom – less room for error that way.
  2. And I would knit 4 scarves. One for me, Jeremy, and the boys.
  3. If that went well, I would knit more.
  4. But I wasn’t making any promises.

I tried out a couple of YouTube tutorials, and wasn’t successful. My scarf-knitting attempts were dismal, I couldn’t understand the instructions, and I was growing frustrated enough to start looking for fleece scarf patterns.

My best friend’s family

But one day I happened upon the Loomahat channel and this tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdxFdqy6u1s

I do not know who this woman is, but she is an angel sent from loom knit heaven. Under her tutelage, I successfully knit one scarf…two scarves… ten scarves… and finally 30 scarves. I was knitting at all hours. Up at 4:40am, knitting. Up at 11:30pm, knitting. Knitting in the car. Knitting on the train. If I wasn’t at work, I was knitting. What I wasn’t doing was stressing about the wedding. I didn’t have time.

This glorious YouTube knitting genius taught me how to switch colors, bind off a nice edge, and even add fringe to the ends. They turned out exactly the way I’d envisioned.

They are pretty spiffy, right?

But have you read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? Things have a way of starting off simple, and then morphing into something bigger and crazier. And so it went with the scarves.

The first thought I had was pretty logical. If I’m giving people scarves, I need something to put them in. I could have put them in a clear plastic bin and called it a day, but where’s the fun in that? I got it into my head that I needed an antique trunk, because let’s be real here, no self-respecting Hogwarts student was going to pack their scarves in anything else.

The hunt was on. I found said trunk at the massive yearly yard sale in Warrensburg, NY. It was hideous when I got it, painted a monotone brown, and really looked very much the worse for wear. But we snagged it for about $25, and at that price, I was willing to work with it. Over the course of a weekend I gave it a magical paint job, but the inside was still a disaster–peeling contact paper from many decades ago plus some water staining. I had been hanging onto an old, rotting crazy quilt, that was visually beautiful but literally disintegrating and didn’t know what to do with it. I revisited it, and discovered it didn’t look unlike Harry’s invisibility cloak, so my next project was lining the trunk with the quilt. Problem solved.

The scarves in the magical $25 trunk.

But then, I got to thinking that passing out house scarves to our friends (who knew Harry Potter, knew their houses, and cared very deeply about their scarf’s color) and our family (who didn’t know, didn’t care, and had no idea how important being ___insert your house of choice here___ meant to some people) might end in bloodshed if I didn’t intervene.

So I made name tags. Specifically, I ordered 3 dozen antique-look owl pins off ebay, and then I made envelopes for them to carry from sticky notes. But that looked really boring, so I drew an air mail border around them, because they are carried (in the air) by owls. And for my final embellishment, I dug out my dymo that hadn’t seen the light of day in about six years, and made labels with everyone’s names that looked like post office stickers.

And then I rolled the scarves up, added a wedding program, tied them with ribbon, and attached the little name tag.

I was quite satisfied with how they turned out, until my friend (and photographer extraordinaire) Kira said to me one day, “You know what would be cool to do? Give everyone a wand, so we can do a wand bridge as you enter or exit the church.”

So I made wands. (I’ll add that blog shortly)

And this was the finished product that greeted all our guests when they entered the church.

Wands, Owls, and Scarves. What is more quintessentially Harry Potter?

Just as an aside, because I’m sure someone out there wants some numbers, I made 30 scarves in total. I got all the yarn at Walmart for $2.97 a skein, and it took two skeins to make each scarf. The owl pins were less than $1/ea. The wands are made from thin dowel rods, hot glue, and paint. Not a bad favor considering they cost less than $10 each.

Oh, and I got my picture!

Rory – A Parvo Story

On June 3rd of last year, Jeremy and I drove up into the Adirondacks in search of a puppy. We’d been together 11 months at that point, and *my* dog Archie had decided, pretty much from the moment that he met Jeremy, that Jeremy was his human and I was chopped liver. It seemed like a good idea to get another dog to even things out a bit.

Seriously, do you see how pleased he looks?

We went to a place that I won’t advertise here, that is known for bringing litters of puppies up to NY from kill shelters in southern states. Sounds great in theory. I wasn’t set on any particular type of dog. I felt very strongly that when we met the right dog, we would just know.

As fate would have it, two puppies were available. One, was, in retrospect, probably already sick, and one was our puppy. I locked eyes on this soulful golden puppy, and knew he was mine. Pictures simply did not and do not do him justice. His coat looked like it had been spun by Ruplestiltskin, and his eyes were that same sparkling pale gold. To me, he looked like a golden Weimaraner. His brother ignored us, and dropped off into a corner to sleep, but this puppy stood on his hind legs, tail wagging furiously, as if to say, “What took you so long to come get me.”

The Golden Puppy

I have had dogs my entire life, and know a good dog when I see one. This puppy had he calmest, most grounded, most generally lovely dog energy I’d ever seen. No puppy frenetic energy. No mouthiness. No distractibility. It was weird. I had the strongest impression that we needed him. And that full grown, he was going to be the sort of dog that people reverentially refer to as good.

So without even thinking about it, we adopted him, and brought him home. On the drive home, Jeremy and I tried to name him. I felt like such an usually beautiful dog needed an unusual name, something like Calyx, or Zephyr. But they weren’t quite right. We started brainstorming characters we liked from books and movies and tv shows, and when we got to Rory, the character from Doctor Who, we knew we’d found the name.

For those who aren’t familiar with Dr. Who’s Rory, he is what you would call salt of the Earth. He’s unfailingly loyal and loving and dependable. And it is that loyalty and love and dependability that allows him to cheat death over and over and over. I realized that this wonderful doggie energy was Rory to a T.

So we had a puppy and we had a name.

Rory

One of the shittiest things about divorce is not seeing my boys 100% of the time. The day we got Rory happened to be my son’s 10th birthday, and he and Sam were with their father for the weekend. So we had to wait until Monday to introduce them.

Rory and John

Rory and John hit it off right away. So much for *any* dog being my dog in this house… *sigh*

So Monday June 5th was full of new puppy excitement and bonding.

Then June 6th, Rory threw up. What follows are my facebook status updates.

Tuesday June 6th: Poor Rory ate something that didn’t agree with him and was sick vomiting and shaking with a gurgly tummy, and wasn’t eating or drinking. Of course I freaked, but I called the vet and they said it was probably something he ate and to give it overnight to see if he started feeling better…

...which I heard as “let the puppy sleep in your bed so he won’t be sad and scared and will get better faster…”

It must’ve worked because he slept through the night and had some canned chicken and broth this morning!

Wednesday he wasn’t throwing up or sick to his stomach, but he was listless, and didn’t engage with me at all when I came home at lunch. His eyes looked glassy and he wasn’t making eye contact. I called the vet and made an appointment for him for after work. Something just seemed wrong. I had had puppies before, and something in my gut told me that he wasn’t doing well. With what, I had no idea. But I was a nervous wreck all day until I could get home and get him into the vet’s office.

We took him to the vet, who the minute she heard where he came from, ordered a Parvo test. It came back positive.

When I was three or four my aunt and uncle got a German Shepherd puppy who had Parvo. I remember my mom taking my to visit her in the vet hospital because we thought she was going to die. I remember we let her lick ice cubes, and she looked like complete and utter hell. Miraculously, she survived and lived a long, happy life. But the memory stuck with me. I knew Rory was seriously ill, and I knew this was going to be one seriously expensive vet bill. But I was also a little in denial that he was gravely ill, because he wasn’t vomiting and didn’t have diarrhea, so I assumed it was a mild case. You know what they say about assumptions…

Tuesday June 6th: Poor Rory is at the vet hospital 

😦 Turns out he has PARVO. Please send your prayers, healing mojo, good thoughts, etc that he recovers quickly.

Wednesday June 7th: No word from the vet. But imagine the absolute heartbreak of explaining to your kids who come over expecting a happy puppy day, that their puppy is gravely ill and may not be coming home.

Thursday June 8th: Update from the vet: Rory has bloody diarrhea and the goal today is to get some food in his stomach whether voluntarily or through a feeding tube. 

Then later in the day…

Latest vet update: Rory is responding to treatment. Diarrhea almost over. They’re putting in a feeding tube because the sooner his gut gets nourishment the faster it’ll heal. She sounded much more optimistic about his prognosis and said he absolutely is holding his own and has not lost ground.

In dealing with the rescue organization, I would say that while I really respect and admire what they’re trying to do, DO NOT expect to get a healthy puppy there. They are aware of Rory’s parvo and are trying to deflect responsibility for his infection on something we did… claiming his adopted brothers are all fine, meanwhile keeping their shelter open and continuing to adopt out puppies that were parvo exposed to unsuspecting families. Read up on the steps necessary to remove parvo virus from your house and yard. It lives in soil for years! ( I actually sprayed down my backyard with a water/bleach mixture and was told by the vet that even doing that, it wasn’t safe to have an unvaccinated puppy there for at least a year!)

Plus, they have asked us repeatedly to pull Rory out of the vet HOSPITAL and be seen by their vet (who incidentally lives in Bennington Vermont and only comes to them intermittently AND handles all their incoming puppies). Um… no. A thousand million times no.

Thursday June 9th: Ugh… talked to the vet this am. The bad news is that Rory’s white blood count is at 1040 and anything below 1000 is associated with unfavorable outcomes. He’s also still vomiting with diarrhea, but the vet said that’s not unexpected.

The good news is that Rory is alert and responsive, which is associated with good outcomes. He’s been put on a different antibiotic. He’s keeping the food being tube fed to him down. And the vet is optimistic that based on all of that today might be as low as his white blood count gets and it should begin to go up tomorrow.

So we wait… and bleach the house…

Friday June 10th: Poor Rory. He’s stable, quiet but alert and making some small improvement – no diarrhea but is still spitting up and drooling- his white blood cell count is at 600. The outcome below 1000 isn’t wonderful, so he’s going to have a plasma transplant today. The vet is hopeful that it will really help him. God I hope so. I feel sick. Our poor puppy. 

Later that day: Rory made it through the transfusion without any adverse reactions. Anecdotally they say they have seen huge improvements in lots of dogs after plasma, so hopefully in the next 12-24 hours he’ll turn a corner. Seems like the stomach issues are minimal now, so I’m hopeful that he won’t have to fight so hard to fight the virus and can use his limited resources to start healing.

Saturday June 11th: Finally a good Rory update! The plasma transfusion worked and the vet is very pleased with his numbers. Still some tummy issues but they’re going to start syringe feeding tomorrow.

The vet says everyone at the office thinks he’s awesome and he’s getting lots of love from everyone. His long-term prognosis is much more positive but still no talk of when he can come home.

*does happy dance anyway*

Sunday June 12th: The update on Rory today: his white blood cell count continues to go up (thank God!) But he was still vomiting and is still weak. They think maybe the gastric tube could be causing the vomiting, so they’re going to switch it out for syringe feeding and see how it goes. He can come home when he’s able to eat again.

Later that day: Latest Rory update: the first syringe food they tried he couldn’t keep down, but he IS keeping pedialyte down!!!! Making progress!

Monday June 13th: Today’s Rory update: the word from the vet’s office is that Rory kept all the pedialyte down last night!!! He was much brighter today, able to lift his head, took it eagerly, even wagged his tail. They’re really pleased and happy with his progress and going to try solids tomorrow.

As awesome as this it, you can’t know how much it pisses me off that through pure human greed/stupidity/cruelty my puppy is/was SO sick that drinking pedialyte and lifting his head up are considered good news and signs of encouragement. 

Later that day: Afternoon Rory update: the vet says he’s not out the woods yet but seems to have turned a corner. He’s tolerating the pedialyte and is sitting up now and looking happy to see people when they visit. He’s making incremental improvement, but she said coming home even by Saturday is optimistic. This was a SEVERE parvo infection and he’s still got a long way to go. We’ve racked up a $1600 vet bill so far.

Apparently the rescue group keeps calling to check on him but since we didn’t authorize them to talk to the vet they haven’t been told anything. And in an uncharacteristic gesture the vet had *never* seen before, they credited our adoption fee to his medical bill. (This does not make me like them any more, but it’s something and I was expecting nothing.)

Tuesday June 14th: Guess who ate solid food today, no longer has an iv, and will probably come home tomorrow?????

Wednesday June 15th Rory came home

Sick puppy

He was home, but honestly, I’ve never been so frightened that something might drop dead at any moment on me than I was when I saw him. We brought him home in a cat crate and there was just no life in him. The vets were all like, “He’s doing great!” And I was thinking, “OH my god… if this is great, how bad was it when you said it was bad?”

Emaciated is an understatement. As was our bank account, hit with a whopping $2100 vet bill (which I suspect was heavily discounted because 8 days in veterinary icu is not cheap). Rory was too weak to stand, nearly too weak to lift his head, and had no energy at all. I stuck him in a dog bed, wrapped him in a blanket, and carried him room to room wherever I was. I also slept with him in the bed right beside me, because I felt like at this point he needed to know what he’d been fighting for. I promised him, he was going to grow up and live his best doggie life when he got well.

I learned that this particular rescue group is a notorious parvo factory. According to someone in the media I spoke to, Rory was the 11th (!!!!!!!) case of parvo he’d heard about coming from that organization THAT SPRING! My vet said they have begged and pleaded with this group to take steps to do parvo abatement (because it lives in the soil beneath the runs where they continually put new litters of puppies, and it can be transmitted through a puppy’s nose who sniffs the infected soil. What puppy doesn’t sniff everything?) and this group won’t do it because it would be too costly. So they are saving puppies from a kill shelter’s gas chambers to suffer from (and unfortunately, die) from the dog equivalent of Ebola… I’m still enraged just thinking about it.

June 16th: Well, I think crate training isn’t going to be happening any time soon… After 8 days in a cage in a vet’s office, Rory has no interest in ever going back in any kind of metal box. He’ll sleep in a dog bed on the couch with a duvet over him, thank you very much.

I have been up with him every few hours all night. He’s overhydrated from the iv and peeing a lot, and I’m feeding him a couple teaspoons of baby food meat (mixed with a little plain yogurt) every couple of hours.

When he first came home he seemed so out of it and I don’t think he had a clue who we were. He just looked lost.

At some point last night I think the lights flickered back on, he remembered us, and the layout of the house, and his favorite spots. Now he is using his energy to explore and play a little and seems a little steadier on his feet now.

June 17th: Rory had a rough night. He had a couple of exorcist-like bouts of vomiting and is much weaker than he was before the vomiting, although he is willing to eat and drink water (which he wouldn’t do yesterday). Yesterday I’d been feeding him roasted chicken and hamburger (per the doctor) but I’ve gone back to baby food since his stomach is still raw. He’s very hungry with no energy and is struggling to stand this morning. It’s really hard to not feed him all he’ll eat or just stop at a few tablespoons and spread them out throughout the day.

He whined all night at me (hound dog speak for I dont feel good, mom) and seemed to feel better if I was touching him. So I kept a hand on him all night.

My poor baby has a long road to recovery ahead of him and this just sucks.

But after this last horrible day, he finally turned a corner. Soon he was back to his old self.

June 19th Rory is ruined. He gets rotisserie chicken, ground beef, and steak (doctors orders) and now when we try to feed him dog food he looks at us like “are you kidding me right now”.

Round the clock care and crate trauma means he thinks he *has* to sleep with us.

That he has to be carried around the house.

We went to petco to get him some canned dog food and I found a cute teething toy for him. Conversation with Jeremy:

Me: “Is $9.99 a ridiculous amount to pay for a dog toy?”

Jeremy: “Everything about that dog is ridiculous. So why not?”

Rory today
He and John are always together
My beautiful golden dog

This is Rory today. A year old, a year stronger, and a good dog living his best life.