Wednesday, December 27, 2006

One year

One year ago today we buried my Dad, still feeling relief that his suffering was over. I wasn't quite feeling emotions such as sad. How could I? Just three, four, days earlier I was praying for him to die. How could I not? How could I even consider being selfish enough to want him to live just one more day?

So we stood at the gravesite as family tradition dictated. My brother and I were presented with American flags in honor of Dad's service in the Coast Guard. How surreal to hold the perfect triangle and stare out over the grey box before us and see the faces of everyone who mourned with us. My knees felt weak, and for the second time in my life I felt as if they would buckle. The first time was just days earlier when they took his body to the funeral home. And I stood in the door and watched them wheel him away, and I felt the new emptiness of the living room for the first time.

I didn't fall then, nor did I fall this time. I leaned back against my husband and used his strength until my own returned. I don't remember ever crying, just wanting to.

We watched them lower the casket, incapable of leaving until it was completely over. Another family tradition.

Relief has since faded. Am I angry? A little. Resentful? A little. I'm too human not to feel those emotions. But you persevere, you still go on. Wake up each morning, go to work, raise your family, and make new plans for the future. And you forgive. Though I'm not sure who needs to be forgiven. It's not like Dad asked to get cancer. Raging at the fates doesn't do much. They never answer.

What a blessing to have my son.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Captain Chaos and the Eight-Foot Wonder

I plan to make my own Christmas cards this year. I have the stamps, the ink, and the paper. I even have glitter and some fancy-smancy markers to boot. They're going to be lovely red, green, and white creations. A wallet-sized picture of Master Gavie will be featured on the front. It will be wonderful.

First, however, I need to save the cat from the toddler of terror. He's taken it into his head that he needs to save her from herself because she keeps chewing on my Christmas tree, the Eight-Foot Artificial Wonder. She's been gnawing on that thing for years, and she's still alive. I'm not particularly worried about her. I am, however, worried that he'll give both her and me a nervous breakdown with his attempts to protect her as they usually involve shrill scoldings and an attempt to chase her out from under the tree.

(Note to my fellow young mothers: never -- ever -- think you can just pull a three-year-old out from under a tree once he knows you're there. He can take the whole tree with him once his little hands are wrapped around the base. Don't ask, just trust me on this one.)

The inner Martha Stewart will emerge soon after I rescue the cat. Wait, no... sorry. The entire manger population went a.w.o.l. again. The Ghost of Christmas Chaos apparently decided to hide all of them, from Baby Jesus himself to the oxen and the lamb, in the tree. Ever try to find a 1/2" tall statue of an infant in an eight-foot tall, five-foot wide artificial wonder?

(By the way, the tree is also a great hiding place for pacificers, favored toy frogs, and other important items that you can't afford to lose or that your child wants to keep "safe.")

Chistmas simplicity, in the form of cards... excuse me. I have to go find out why the musical ornaments are playing. We hung those a minimum of five feet up on the Eight-Foot Wonder.

Yep, there he is. Gotta love stepstools. (Note to self: hide it in the basement tonight.)

I'm going to make those cards tonight, as soon as I find all of the blue plastic Christmas bulbs. They're gone. Opps, nevermind. They're all on the far left of the tree in one big blue cluster.

"All blue, Mom!" He sounds so proud of himself as I stare at the latest design. "All blue!"

I tell him it's lovely and give him a hug. Our Eight-Foot Wonder -- or at least the bottom three feet -- has been continually re-arranged and re-organized by Captain Chaos from the day we first put it up. The part he can't reach, so long as the stepstool is out of sight anyway, is decorated with the breakable, sentimental ornaments. (I can't wait until Gavie comes home with a felt snowman decorated with Froot Loop buttons, or the little cardboard tree covered in poster paint and sequins that says Merry Christmas in childish handwriting. Those will have places on honor on the Eight-Foot Wonder)

Okay. I think it's time. Let's the creating begin! A red card with white and green accents, some glitter on the snowman. Time for the picture. Damn, I'm good. This looks professional! Martha, eat your little felon's heart out!


Last week Santa came to "inspect" our Christmas tree and put the rest of the ornaments on it. Since Gavie was such a big help to us, Santa left him a present: Tinkertoys!


He comes running in with a handful of the little wooden toys. Apparently he's having trouble getting some of the sticks to connect, or at least that's what I innocently think. He takes my hand and pulls me into the living room to see his handiwork.

The Tinkertoy tin has been emptied of its contents and shoved into the tree. It's roughly four feet of the ground, eye-level with Captain Chaos. It's laying on its side, the open end facing out. The entire nativity set, including a few little froggies, now lives in a Tinkertoy container-turned-treehouse.

(Is "The-Eight-Foot-It's-A-Wonder-It-Hasn't-Fallen-Over-Yet Tree" too long?)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Perfectly browned turkey and pink eyes

The table was resplendent, set with my mother's antique china and my silver. Dinner was served in matching bowls and, when I ran out of those, served bowls and on platters that were from my grandmother's wedding set. My great-grandmother made the crocheted tablecloth. I like the ties to the past, they keep me grounded.

Around the table sat three generations, from the grandbabies to the grandmothers.

Dinner didn't come from the over this year, hours weren't spent slaving over a hot stove. Over a microwave, yes; but a stove, no. My mother-in-law's co-workers, wonderful women that the big guy and I know well from our college years, bought us our dinner from Seton Hill, where she works and we went to college.

La's cancer is gone, but we need six months of chemo since it was beginning to enter her lymph nodes. She's getting a port, just like my father had.

But dinner that night was not focused on cancer. It was about being together, eleven of us surrounding the table, wrangling the children and trying to get them to actually eat something healthy. My mother's companion was with us this year, filling my father's empty chair but certainly not replacing him.

So we survived our first major holiday without Dad. Last Christmas doesn't count, not when he died on the Christmas Eve. This year, I might dryly joke, I'm sober... but last year I was, too. I remember everything, despite probably drinking more in two days then the entire year previous. Then again, six or seven bottles of Zima probably isn't that much in the grand scheme of things.

(I think it's safe to say that I'm in no danger of becoming an alcoholic, eh?)

One year is creeping up quickly. December 24. My family does have a knack for death and holidays and other special occasions. Dad died only five days short of my mother's mother, almost ten years to the day. Grandpap left us right before Thanksgiving two years ago. My uncle died on my wedding anniversary. Of course, we can also mention my grandfather's minor stroke a week prior to my wedding and my father's diagnosis of bladder cancer two weeks later, but neither of those were fatal.

No wonder I'm so calm when holidays roll around -- so long as we haven't a funeral, I'm counting things a success.

(Did I ever mention my tendency toward irony and sarcasm?)

In all seriousness, Thanksgiving was a success. Dinner was divine, almost as good as the company. Serving dinner to family is indeed a blessing, you know. This year, though we thought about Dad, missing him didn't stop our lives, which is how it should be.

Things did stop this morning though, when I looked at my darling son's face and said, "What's wrong with his eye?"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A tiny bit more on labels...

Interestingly enough, an unplanned coincidence to my previous post, my friend (and author of Love and Ghost Letters) Chantel, just penned a post on nicknames, a whole other sort of label.

Check her writing out at; check her writer's site out at

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ladies and Gentleman, we have a LABEL

Well, my kid got labeled. Got an IEP, too, so I'm not too distraught. It's all good, really. Love that educational stuff.

Okay, enough with the tone, as my mother would call it.

The same kid who reads Go, Dog, Go! to me has his very own individualized education plan so that he can learn how to make the right sounds in the right way so that people can actually understand him. He counts to thirteen, spells about a dozen words by memory, and can read most three-to-four-letter words, but can't make an r sound. Or a w. Or, actually, quite a few.He just "drops" those sounds when he speaks.

I can't tell you what the label is because I don't remember. I'm not blocking it out, and I'm not in denial. I just don't think that a label is particularly important since he's simply working on pronounciation. If we were dealing with dyslexia or some other issue of major concern, I'd remember the words. We're dealing with a pronounciation issue, a developmental delay, and that's that.

I won't be the sort of parent who defines her child by his label. That's all. I've known a few parents like that and, frankly, haven't seen many positive things come out of that approach.

Then again, I won't be the parent so determined to prove that a label is only a cluster of words that I end up inadvertently sabatoging his progress.

The approach is this: we do what we need to do in terms of practice at home, we support the team that's working with him, and we stay very, very involved.

We actually wanted a label, believe it or not. While we can teach Gavie how to read, count, find bugs, and jump into a pile of leaves, we haven't much experience in teaching proper pronounciation, not when it comes to teeth and tongue and declension and whatnot. We need the experts, it's that simple.

So don't mind me, the sarcastic cynic, one with an intense dislike for labels in general. I think that, while usually applied with the best of intentions, often end up overshadowing and haunting the person in the long run.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Growing (but no) pains

Something clicked. Poof! Just like that. Then next thing I knew, I realized that I was no longer looking at my workplace with a sentimental eye. Poof!

Yesterday, a spur-of-the-moment visit to Monster-dot-com resulted in a phone call to the 770 area code and a brief conversation, the crux of which was "I'm in Pittsburgh tomorrow, come see me, let's talk."

Now I'm sitting here, in my office, pondering the fact that I may very well not be here much longer.

And you know what? I'm ready.

I don't think I was quite ready in July when I posted "Growing Pains." There was still too much emotional something keeping me in place. Perhaps other emotions are starting to invade and rule. Perhaps it has something to do with December 24 looming over me. Perhaps I'm finally tired of waiting. Whatever it is, I'm welcoming it. It's time to move on. I did outgrow this job; I outgrew it a good bit ago. But outgrowing, apparently, doesn't always mean being grown enough to make the necessary move.

Somehow, since July, I think I got a bit taller.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Inhale, exhale... and once more...

A lot of thoughts can run through your head while you sit in the hospital's waiting room. Why can't they have more recliners? Did anyone ever think of space issues? Can't they do something about the volume on that television?

Those questions are so much easier to angst over then the bigger ones. You know the ones I'm talking about, the ones that demand answers we as humans will never have. It makes no sense to us that a woman who spent her life working and giving would end up on the operating table at 61 while doctors probed and tried to determine whether or not the tumor began as ovarian cancer and moved to the colon or if it just began in the colon. It's beyond us, really, the unfairness of it all. But who are we to question? We can only rage, cry, and accept. Sometimes in that order. Sometimes out of order.

What do you do when you're in that holding area, surrounded by others whose own loved ones are being saved, or lost, at the same time? What do you talk about? And is there an etiquette for hospital waiting room conversations with strangers?

Burying oneself in the mundane is my saving grace on days like that. Took my grade book in and began filling in the lines. Writing out four classes with over 150 names total and filling in five days of attendance can distract anyone. Conversations, when we had them, avoided the obvious. It's far easier to talk about the merits of Verizon versus Cingular then to talk about whether or not we ought to see about a hospital bed in the living room while she recuperates to save her from climbing the steps.

I took my diary with me, but writing in it would have meant talking about my mother-in-law and thinking about how she is so much like a mother to me. I've been calling her "Mum" for eons, long before the big guy and I were even engaged. Writing in that little blank book would have reminded me of too much. I wasn't quite up to remembering at the moment; it seemed to premature, as if talking about the past meant that the future no longer existed. Then again, planning wasn't on my plate, either. Thoughts about home care and chemo were even less welcome.

We've spent so much time in limbo, waiting for this result or that, believing one thing or another that this day left us unable to feel much. Fear and relief had been exchanging places then switching back again for too many weeks to allow any of us to sit there and wallow in any single emotion.

All morning, we watched surgeon after surgeon walk in to tell other waiting folk that their loved ones were well. We, however, were called to the room's reception desk and given directions to a consult room so that the doctor could talk to us privately.

A few posts ago, I mentioned holding one's breath, not breathing, starting to breathe again... I felt as if breathing were a luxury as the four of us sat with the doctor, whom Mum nicknamed "Doogie," and he gave us the news: it's just colon cancer. Even if it's in her lymph nodes, it will only be "stage three." As for the mass in her ovary, it appears non-cancerous, though he's holding out for the final pathology results before he uses more decisive, more permanent, words .

Who would have thought that hearing "just colon cancer" would have brought smiles of relief to our faces?

We're breathing again. All of us.

Mum's getting her own room today if all goes well, and she should be home within 10 days or so. We'll take Gavie to visit her next week once she's settled in and the rest of the tubes are removed. And, we're going to have one hell of a good time reminding her about what she was saying while under the influence of morphine.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It NaNoWriMo time!

November is fast approaching... and that means only one thing!

National Novel Writing Month!

November is the month where writers around the world are encouraged to write, to write, and to write some more. And as for quality? HA! For once, that vulture is sent elsewhere! If you're a part of NaNoWriMo, you get to strangle that bird (perhaps, if I may be so crass, give the bird the bird?) and leave its carcass... well, pretty much wherever you want to so long as you're inspired and you write!

(One time, while still living at home, I killed a nasty-looking spider and left the resulting stain, but not the body itself, on the bedroom wall as a "warning to other spiders." A superstition, I know, but it apparently worked. I never saw another spider of that size again. It has since been painted over. The minute I moved out my room went from "Pepto-Bismol pink" to blah semi-gloss white. But that's another story for another day...)

So, where was I? Oh yes! Just leave quality behind and just WRITE! You can always go back in December and clean it up.

The goal is to pen a 175-page novel, roughly 50,000 words, in just 30 days.

As is my way, I'm leaping in head-first, starting fresh, and seeing where -- and how -- I land!

Wish me luck!
(I'm going to need it!)

Thursday, October 12, 2006


They lied.
Life lied.
The original CAT scans and the tests lied.

My mother-in-law does indeed have a benign tumor.

But she also has colon cancer. It was discovered the day before her first surgery date.

It's a hard floor to hit when the rug is pulled that abruptly.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


On my fridge hangs a square of white paper with the words "speech therapy" on them.

Next week we begin the search for a speech therapist so that my son can learn how to pronounce his words clearly, allowing for people other then his parents and aunt to understand him. We put it off, not because we were denying that there might be an issue but because the boys in our family have a tendency to start talking late. The big guy and my brother being two in particular; neither one started speaking until he was three.

Oddly, I'm not devistated about this... as one person already suggested I should be. I just looked at her when she said that, confused; I'm not exactly sure what being devistated will get me. Aside from a headache, that is.

Anyway, his speech delay may simply be, and we're taking an uneducated guess on this one, a result of his being a preemie. We could be wrong. Probably are, in fact. All we know for sure is that it has nothing to do with intelligence. The kid's too wily for that.

This morning we had a minor "crisis" (in his eyes) because I wouldn't pick him up and put him into the wood-framed laundry basket. After three minutes of fussing, he decided to solve the problem on his own: drag it to my bed, climb up on the bed, and slide into the basket.

Too bad I was too fast. I grabbed him mid-slide and popped him back on the floor. Crazy me, I always take such issue with antics that could result in trips to the ER!

The whole reason we're even taking this step now is because he's in pre-school and the teacher admitted that she can't understand a word he's saying. You know, it's easy to forget that others can't quite make out what he's trying to express. We're so used to his sounds that everything makes perfect sense to us.

We do tend to read his mind, too. Shame on us for that one.

I suspect that we sometimes forget that he's perfectly healthy now. There really is a part of me that still sees him in that incubator at Magee with all of those monitors hooked to his tiny body and those big eyes (when he finally got around to opening them) just staring at me, taking it all in and trying to figure it all out.

At his check-up on Friday, the doctor said that he suspected Gavie will hit 6' 1" easily -- a prediction he's making based on the little guy's current rate of growth. Being that Gavie went from a 3T to a 4T within minutes, I'm thinking that the doctor's being conservative in his guess.

My little boy, whose socks once fit my thumb, goes to school now. As I write this, I'm remembering the time he had what was kindly called an "apnea episode" while I held him in the NICU. It was only for a moment, fortunately, just long enough for the monitors to beep... and the start I gave at the sound jerked him back to breathing mode.

I feel like that sometimes: like I'm the one who's not breathing and he's the one jerking me back to reality. If I hold my breath, will time stand still and will he be my little boy for just a little bit longer?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Twice the relief...

It's benign. No cancer, no chemo cocktails, no hospice. We've been granted a reprieve, one like we've never felt before. We can squash the memories of my father's lingering death again, ball them up and tuck them away in the dark corners of our brains. We don't have to apply them to my mother-in-law.

We can pretend that all is well with the world again. I'm very good at that you know.

But, right now, there's no need to pretend. All is indeed well.

For, of almost equal weight -- or so it seems that way! -- is the monumental achievement in the Louch house: Gavie is officially, completely, and totally potty trained!


Believe me when I say it: wow.

I never thought that the sight of a three-year-old running for the bathroom would fill me with such delight.

It means a number of things to me, of course. First and foremost: NO MORE DIAPERS TO CHANGE! Secondly, no more diaper bag -- just an emergency bag in the car, just in case of an accident. Thirdly, my little boy is growing up.

He now wants to go potty like Daddy. No more of this diaper stuff, that's for babies! Besides, the diapers don't have neat designs on them like the briefs he now proudly wears!

No cancer and no diapers.


Monday, September 04, 2006


We're waiting right now. In this hellish, familiar limbo of schedules tests and opaque doctors' comments. We're going to treat this as a worst case until we know exactly where the tumor is located. You can't rely on CAT scans for certain details, and a dye test will give us a clearer picture.

This time it's my mother-in-law. Eight months ago we breathed a sigh a relief after Dad's funeral and told ourselves that we could begin to find our way back to normal. To a new normal, anyway. Thursday night ended that return.

It's either ovarian cancer or it isn't. It might just be a fibroid tumor. Whatever it is, it could be benign. Maybe it's not. We don't know yet. Thanks to insurance and doctors and the legal holiday, the test itself isn't even scheduled yet. It will be scheduled tomorrow and done within the next 48 hours. We know that much.

I don't feel like it's real. Surely it's been enough to bury three grandparents and a father in the last three years. Surely Gavie won't lose another beloved grandparent, not so soon after his Pap-Pap left him.

We will, of course, persevere. We're tenacious like that. We'll see her through whatever it is and we'll deal accordingly with the cards we hold. I'm already counting the small blessings: her daughter who's a nurse, having three grown children who can arrange their schedules if needed, our living so close by. I'm already planning, thinking about all of those things that we needed to do with my father's illness.

Like her doctors, I'm treating this as worst-case... for while it seems so surreal, I can't fathom life being so fair as to let it be nothing after all.

Monday, August 28, 2006

You might be a Week III'er...

You May Be A Week III’er
An Ode to all that is Week III
(Special thanks to Scot Leee!)

If you’ve ever looked at a girl in your company and said, “Hey, that’s my sister-in-law”… You may be a Week III’er

If you’ve ever looked at a guy in your company and said, “I think I can take him”… You may be a Week III’er

If your idea of exercise is getting off the couch in the hospitality room to get yourself and two of your friends a beer… You may be (etc.)

If you’ve ever gone on the Woolrich tour and come back with a phone number…

For you old-timers, If you found Joe Hardy’s keynote address exceptionally inspirational…

If you wept openly the day Tag’s closed its doors…

If you love coal…

If you find the food in Wertz dining hall to have a soothing, laxative effect…

If you know what Wendell Hall smells like, in the middle of January…

If you block off the first week of August the day after you leave here…

If you’ve ever snorted beer out your nose…

If you've ever been kicked out of the cage at The Cell Block...

If you want to kill John T., aw, hell, every week wants to kill him…


Yeah, I know... only a select few get this humor! Let's make this interctive, gang! Send me your comments! Thanks!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Yes, Mentos really do work...

A hodgepodge of thoughts....

We opened Week III with our very own PFEW science experiment: dropping Mentos mints into three two-liters and seeing which soda shot higher into the air.

Diet Pepsi won.

It might have been the mango-colored shirts or maybe it was the fact that we're all crazy enough to think of PFEW as a vacation, but when 24 grown adults, all in their mango polos, stand around and count down to the Mentos explosion, how can you have anything BUT a good week?

For the first time ever, I had a roommate. Alicia and I hit it off well, though I think a few felt that we hit it off too well. It's always easier to have a Chinese Firedrill with two people, you know.

The hospitality suite boasted its usual assortment of beverages, snacks, and games. This year's hit was a game called "Lightening Reaction." For the un-initiated, this game requires four people to hold onto four handles and then wait for the music -- which is screechy enough to make me wonder where the flying monkey are -- to stop. The VERY MOMENT the music stops, you must push the button on the handle. The last person to press the button gets an electrical shock.

The men loved it. The women who played were pretty content to do a few rounds then quit. The men kept playing. And playing. And playing....

And, no, I didn't play. There's something contradictory, oh gentlemen who mocked me, about your ragging on me mere seconds before you get shocked... and then you release the handle so abruptly that it sails across the table. Telling me that I'm a chicken while you wait for the feeling to return to your hand just doesn't really do much for me in terms of encouragement.

The 418 (or so) teens that came and stayed were amazing. They really were some of the best the state has to offer; they are the sort that make me think that teaching high school again might not be that bad. The 17 that I was a Company Advisor for were a dream. Once the company got itself underway, there was little actual guiding that I needed to do. That means, of course, that they chose well when they elected their CEO. They were a well-organized group, experiencing the usual bumps that 17 strangers run into. Nothing earth-shattering.

What else?

Everything. Nothing. A million memories, a dozen practical jokes, and a few promises of revenge.

It was discovered that a single Mentos in a 20 oz. Pepsi results in the normally reserved Frank running for his life.

(I would have caught him if I hadn't paused to kick off my sandals.)

New company advisors were put through the usual paces. I think they're coming back next year anyway.

Wednesday brough the annual tour of Woolrich's plant. Watching the wool turn into fabric is always fascinating, in my opinion. Seriously! It's the little kid in me, I think. Watching all of those big machines... coolness, dude. The adult in me never gets tired of it, either, because each time I go I end up talking to the second guide, the one who follows our group, and we have some amazingly interesting conversations -- all of them about fabric!

The students seem to enjoy it as well, particularly once we reach the weaving floor. It was hot that day (there's an understatement!) -- so hot that some of us were grabbing bottles of water out of the coolers and leaving our arms in the icy water as long as possible. I discovered that an ice-cold bottle of water on the back of the neck does the trick, particularly when you're riding on a school bus.

Ah, the things you learn!

I think that the most amazing thing about PFEW is the amount of dedication and the amount of volunteerism that we see. Everyone of us volunteers are exactly that: volunteers. We take our vacation time, our family time, and our own money, and head to Williamsport for eight days where we listen to the same training, the same speakers, and the same everything... it's really a recipe for disasterous boredom if you think about it. Yet, I think I can safely say, not one of us finds the week tedious.

Volunteerism itself is a bizarre concept -- think about it: you ask people to give up time and money for total strangers who may or may not thank you and may even give you grief over your goodwill. Then you add PFEW.

We stand there and tell these parents to trust us, that we aren't nearly as simple as we may act. We tell these parents that we're going to teach their children about free enterprise and how to compete and that there will be losers just as there are winners. We go against the popular theory that everyone's a winner. We toss those kids into groups with 16 or 17 strangers and tell them to form a company -- and then make them elect a CEO after knowing each other for barely 24 hours. Then, the very adults who promise to teach, hand it all over to the CEO and his/her team. We sit back and let the kids figure it out on their own, offering guidance only when needed, and then often in private so that the CEO maintains power in the eyes of the others. If we, the CAs, do everything right, it looks like we're sitting in the corner doing nothing. How's that for volunteerism and teaching?

*laughing* It's the best out there. Those kids come in on Sunday and leave on Saturday and, somewhere in there, most of them grow, even just a little bit. They find voices, they discover interests, and they make friends they'd never know otherwise. The person that each one was that Sunday is no longer there, exact and unchanged. It's an experience that no traditional classroom can offer. Watching some of them come into their own in just a week's time... wow.

Maybe that's why we CAs come back each year. Must be.

(Then again, that grilled cheese is pretty damn good...)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Homeward bound... in the opposite direction...

At 2:30 Friday I shot out the door and hit the pavement. By 3:30 I was past Monroeville and pulling into the Murraysville Sheetz for a some portable food. Two hot dogs, a bag of pretzels, and a large Pepsi later, I was on my way again. My only rule for food when I travel is that I can eat it whle I drive. Fast food obviously fits the bill. But, as Sheetz likes to point out, its food is "good food, fast." I think.

Anyway, it's been two years since I last drove this route, and the changes were amazing. The construction I suffered through in years past was completed in many places and made the ride as easy as could be. At that hour, I was one of the few cars on the road, meaning that I could max the speed limit and not have to fuss about slow drivers.

Route 80 was so empty that I was on cruise control for about 40 miles. That's a dangerous thing: it's always tempting to take my hands off the wheel for some reason.

By the time I landed in Williamsport, I was in high spirits -- so much so that I forgave the yutz who cut me off and denied me the opportunity to exit where I was supposed to exit, thus forcing me to head down the road a few more miles and get the next off-ramp. I knew where I was so it was no big deal.

I checked in, made it to my room, unpacked only what I had to unpack, then hightailed it to the hospitality suite.


The crew was, apparently, still golfing. No problem. I went back to my room and actually conquered some work. When I made it down there an hour or so later...

How good it was to be back. How good it was to see old friends. How hard it was not to cry. I'll only get sentimental once, I promise. And this is that once.

Coming back to PFEW is, to me, one of my last steps back into the life I had before Dad stopped his chemo and decided that quality of life was his goal, not quantity. My world stopped then, as you know. It started to move again a year later when he passed away, but I wasn't the woman I had been, and finding out just who I am has been quite a journey.

So seeing these men and women, being hugged and welcomed back as if I'd only seen them yesterday, was healing in some fashion. I felt like I was home again.

There. Sentimentality...

...promptly cured with a few good remarks, the re-discovery of our "Where's Weenie" book, and promises from Chuck better left off the printed page.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

103 weeks since, only days to go! PFEW, here I come!

While it's easy to go on about toddlers and ice cream, defining one's career, and even the comforting sameness of relationships, talking about today's topic has left me at a loss from day one.

How does one even begin to talk about a blink in time, where one is working her tail off, using one of her two precious vacation weeks per year, and spending the bulk of each day with a score of teenagers she's never met before?

How can I even start to explain the fact that, come Friday night, I'll be in a hotel hospitality suite greeting men and women I haven't seen since 2004... and it will be like I saw them yesterday?

I'm not sure it's possible, but I'm going to give it the old college try. ______________________________

This post was originally title "Payback," because that's what this whole odyssey began as: a chance to return a favor.

Once upon a time, as I mentioned once before, I was so shy that being called on to answer in class was agony. If the yearbook category existed, I would have been voted "Most Likey to Blush Herself to Death." (A bit un-weildy a title, though. Don't you think?)

But through two grand adventures, I found my voice and -- as many of you in Week III will say -- haven't stopped using it since.

One was the combined experience of college and The Setonian.
The other was Junior Achivement (JA).

JA was my first opportunity to be exactly what, exactly who, I wanted to be. The tenactious reporter and editor that I became in college emerged while I was sanding the raw edges of aluminum cookie sheets, bending metal rods into coat hangers, boxing Swedish fish, and running around trying to get my production crew to actually produce.

I didn't blush much at the JA meetings, I was too busy shouting at people to quit playing poker and start putting decals on the t-shirts.

Someone must have realized that I was more then bluster, because the second year there I found myself on a bus with roughly 20 other teens, barreling toward Bloomington, Indiana, for a seven-day leadership conference or something like that. It was the National Junior Achievement Conference (NAJAC), which welcomed roughly 1,000 teenages from around the nation. We were there to learn about business and leadership, to compete on a national level for titles we held regionally, and to see that there was more to the world then our hometowns.

To sixteen-year-old me, though, it was a chance to pretend to be cool. Leadership, back then, was easy enough: you simply had to look like you knew which end of the glue gun to use (we were making Christmas wreaths that year). Oh, yeah, and you had to be able to out-shout the others. As for business, well, I was going to be an English teacher! Who needs Drucker when you have Wordsworth?

I wasn't much more mature then the others who went, particularly on the bus; I was too much the teenager. What became known as "The Teddy Graham Incident" lived on for at least three years... and when the self-appointed 17-year-old chaperone discovered that his flashlight was missing, I was the first one he blamed... not that he could find it to prove that it was me!

(I was guilty, by the way. He kept shining it in people's faces. It needed to vanish.)

At NAJAC I made some of the best friends I will ever be fortunate enough to have. Some of them are reading this now, in fact. It doesn't matter that we haven't seen each other in years. There's a bond that wrinkles time and distance into nothing more then small inconvenient details. Time is relative. It was only last week that the 24 of us, myself and 23 people from everywhere but my hometown, sat under a tree and talked about what we did well. For many of us, that was a very foreign experience. Just three days ago, or so it seems, we listened to Dave Thomas talk about his life and what it was like to open his first restaurant. And last night we went to the President's Ball dressed in the finest clothing we owned and celebrated a week survived.

The speakers, both motivational and business-oriented, gave me topics to think about... ones I now use in my management classes at ICM, incidentally.

Two years later, I boarded the bus for the same trip for the third time. This time I was the official chaperone, the only college student on the bus, responsible for 20 teens that I only sort of knew. I'd learned, by then, that shouting wasn't leadership, and -- without flashlight :) -- managed to keep everyone intact for the entire trip to and from.

I went that third year and entered the talent show with intentions to solo. I made it to the final round before being cut. I had finished my years with JA by earning the region's top awards in entrepreneurship and production. I had scholarships. I had my voice.

And now, next week.

For the last seven years, I've been attending Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week, a.k.a. PFEW, as a volunteer, working with teachers and students -- ostensibly to help them learn about free enterprise.

As the "Company Advisor," I get to work with "my" kids from Sunday afternoon to Friday night, taking them from a group of total strangers to, ideally, a cohesive team. We begin with Junk Night, where they make a product and commercial from broken toasters and old lawn chairs, literally from junk! And they do it all in about 45 minutes. It's here were we begin to see leaders emerge, where the ones who were quiet all day come up with fantastic ideas that win awards and bragging rights.

Monday brings the rules of the game -- how to play the computer simulation and how to create an advertising campaign. It's a grueling days filled with pages of notes and rules that seem to make little sense.

BizSim? They think to themselves or wail aloud. We're going to play twelve business quarters? What the heck is R & D? How does that impact my sales? If I want to be a price leader in my industy do I need to pump up my quality budget? What demographic group do we want to target with our ad campaign and how should we explain that in Friday's presentation to the stockholders? How are we going to get this all done by Friday morning?

And who is this adult who keeps answering our questions with questions?!

The kids have that "deer in the headlights" look for a while on Monday, but it vanishes after the first or second round of the simulation. By then, too, they have a CEO and other officers to help lead.

Come Tuesday morning, they're dividing themselves up and beginning to run their own business -- some do the simulation, others do the advertising. By Wednesday, we company advisors begin to become superfluous...

Saying that I do this each year to help students find their voices as I found mine sounds cliched and trite. It's true, believe me, but I have this feeling that I'm still getting more out of it then the students.

I'm leaving on Friday at, ideally, 2:05 p.m. Since I'm taking my trusty laptop, I'm going to challenge myself to blog the days to see if I can't give you a taste of Week III at Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week.

PFEW, here I come!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Truck fruit snacks!

So we're still working on this potty training thing. Gavie gets a little bag of fruit snacks each time he goes potty by himself. (I know, I know: all that sugar!)

My kid eats like all of two out of each bag. The rest are doled out to Mommy and Daddy and Aunt Na. I get the red, Daddy gets the blue, and Na gets the orange. Gavie eats the green. Yellow fruit snacks are tricky because sometimes they're for Pap-Pap. We usually tell him to eat the yellow for Pap, and he does.

The other day he did the deed and ran out to me, yelling excitedly: "Truck fruit snacks! Truck fruit snacks!" I'd just answered the phone and wasn't moving fast enough, so he ran over to Daddy. "Truck fruit snacks! Truck fruit snacks!"

Erik, who just walked in and didn't know about Gavie's accomplishment, told him that he had to go potty first. Nonplussed, my problem-solving boy did what only made sense to him... get the potty and provide the necessary evidence.

Picture this, dear readers: my study little three-year-old running into the powder room and coming back out, pushing his little blue and yellow potty before him.

Now picture this: two grown adults leaping up to stop him before the contents went everywhere.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Growing pains

A question from a former prof about a week ago Friday has my brain aching. Paired with a too-true remark about my current career, I think my brain is about to implode.

When I started at my current place of employ, I was reeling from three years in a private high school. It hadn't been a difficult place to work; I had a few good friends there and a principal I trusted. It was just... well, I'm a good high school teacher but, I think, a better college teacher. In general, I seem to have a better rapport with the over-18 set.

Anyway, in the last three years, I've regained that confidence and then some. Students tell me that they ask for my classes, that I'm one of the few that control the criminal justice students. They come in to class and tell me how what we did in management class related to something in their workplace. They bring in letters and resumes for me to help them edit. There's a need that goes beyond academic: many of them lack basic skills so many of us take for granted.

Classes sometimes turn into coaching sessions where we talk about what to do when a boss is unprofessional or when a co-worker is pushing for a fight. We'll discuss what to do in interviews and how to be ethical at work without feeling as if they're selling out or going against the world they grew up in.

It wasn't all giving. I took a lot too. So many students asked how things were going, didn't complain when I was too emotionally scattered to remember to even bring my board markers to class -- five days in a row. I think I lost more markers in that time then I've used in the last ten years. I only cried in class once, when a student gave a speech about his mother dying from cancer.

Even now, with Dad gone and students who didn't know me while he was dying, they still give and I still take. My classroom evaluation last Wednesday was spectacular because they wanted to help me, so while my supervisor sat and watched, they were perfect. On-task. Focused. Interested. The women who are old enough to be my mother tease me about having a second child someday; those who are my contemporaries compare notes with me on child-rearing. The men, of all ages, are generally respectful -- or smart enough to keep silent. Word has it that I won't allow anyone to swear, let alone make remarks of questionable taste. Enough of the male population has heard my "creating an uncomfortable environment" speech, I guess. It's long, drawn-out, and scary. Once you hear it, you never want to hear it again.

I haven't gone nose-to-nose with a student in years. Haven't had to kick anyone out either. I'm settled, organized, comfortable.

Too comfortable, I fear.

So what do I want? To write, to learn, to design, to present... to be everything.

In first grade, I had a list of things I would be when I grew up: an artist, a ballarina, an actress, a teacher, a writer, a singer... the world really was my oyster, and I was smart enough to know that I could do anything.

Somewhere along the way, I learned the wrong lessons and discarded the optomism for what I thought was a better reality. Thank God for college dorm life. It cracked, then shattered, the fishbowl I grew up in.

Little Miss Doesn't-Have-A-Voice ended up running the campus newspaper and making it number one in the nation. Twice. The same girl who turned red each time her grade school teachers asked her to answer a homework question regularly interviewed the college president, dogging her on the school budget. In my senior year, we took on the student council as well, questioning voting procedures and the incumbents' integrity. Our stories were so tightly written that the underground rag found little to pick apart, only hammering us once on a date rape article that was, admittedly, "unfocused." Our paper went from eight pages to twelve and two-page spreads were normal. My staff was incredible: without them, The Setonian would have been nothing but birdcage liner.

I met people from other fishbowls and bigger aquariums... and learned that dreaming really was okay again.

So what happened in those ten years since graduation? Don't say marriage, that's absurd. Erik gives me so much leeway that it's astounding. He sent me back to college for an English degree, racking up more debt, when we were living in a tiny rental house and buying generic everything. Our house was furnished in what I call "early hand-me-down." Aside from our bed and tv, we bought nothing. I could have been working somewhere and paying down our credit cards, but instead I was sitting in a classroom demystifying Hamlet and critiquing Wordsworth. Even now, when I'm talking about my Ph.D. in two years, he says "go for it."

Tonight I'm up here on-line. I just finished another entry for Killing Julie,, and am trying to finish this blog. There's laundry to be folded and our living room probably needs a dusting, but he's not worried. He told me to go ahead and write, then picked up Gavie's toys then settled down with the book he's been reading. Tomorrow night he's taking the little one out for new shoes. When I come home from physical therarpy (screwed up my shoulder), I'll have the house to myself and will be able to take care of whatever chores demand immediate attention... and then turn my attention to this PartyLite business.

My first party is next Sunday. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell I was thinking when I signed up. Probably something about new furniture for my formal living room (which has nothing but a couch and a piano, both hand-me-downs). Anyway, I'll do what I can. I've no intention of making this into a career, believe me. It's all about short-term financial gain to feed my materialistic nature. If I do one or two shows a month, I'm happy. And, if PartyLite's dissatisfied with that, c'est la vie. It's not a job I plan to stress over.

(I wonder if PartyLite will fire me for being an underachiever? That might be an accomplishment in itself. Can you be fired from a pyramid scheme?)

Anyway, Erik gives me more then enough room to grow. I've been in no-man's-land with my life (willingly) on hold for so long that, even though it's six months since, I still feel like I'm waking up from a long sleep. Dreams? What are those? Am I allowed to think like that again? I am. Really! How amazing... don't you think? To actually be able to look into the future without "before" and "after" in the sentences, without time being divided by a black dress and a grey casket.

Friday, June 23, 2006

It's official...

I did it.
I have my Master's Degree.
Now what?

How does one who loves to write, who finds ethics and leadership theory fascinating, and who can't see herself leaving education fit it all together into the ultimate job?

Become a consultant. Freelance. Sign on to work where I won't be jammed into some cubicle and governed by a single-paragraph job description.

June is always a month of change for me. This year I turned 33 and hit the decade mark in my marriage. We're six months away from last December, and I think my head is on pretty straight again. I'm not about to leap into a new career because of anything but because it's right for me.

How lucky I am to have the luxury of time.

How absolutely terrifying in so many respects.

Yesterday I took a leap few expected: I signed on as a PartyLite rep. Yes, it's true... I'm a candle-chick. I did it for pretty much every reason the shiny brochures offer, with the idea of being able to actually grow professionally as number one. Making my own hours and bringing in some extra cash helps, too.

I'm shaking in my boots right now, convinced that I'm making some huge mistake. Then again, I had the same response when I took on my first writing job. The white-knuckle terror that wraps around my heart is always short-lived and quickly replaced by a sense of excitement, a sense of challenge. I've forgotten how exhiliarating that can be. I'd forgotten what it was like to be excited about a job.

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy teaching very much. I change courses every twelve weeks, my reputation is well-established, and students actually ask to be in my classes. This term's mid-quarter students are a dream come true, and the two hours we meet each day fly by... it's just that I need more.

How daring it is to post this. Who knows who will read this.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day

Somewhere around 5:45ish every morning, I roll out of bed, land on my feet, and stumble into the shower. Thirty minutes later, coiffed and made-up, dressed in the day's costume, I make my way downstairs for a hot breakfast and whatever book I'm reading at the moment.

Come 7 a.m., I'm on the bus, my eyes already half-closed and my mind on auto-pilot. An hour later, traffic permitting, I'm in Downtown Pittsburgh, navigating the crowds and cutting through buildings to escape the cold, the rain, or both.

Five days a week I do this, relishing the sameness. Maybe today will be so bland that I'll make it through without thinking about much of anything save for the future.

Five days a week I talk about business communications and management theories. I'm at the point in the term where the students who show up regularly what to be there and want to learn. We accomplish a good bit. It's nice to feel that I have a point.

It's safe to say that most days are pretty good.

There've been two funerals since Dad died. I made it to one, I think. It was the mother of a friend of my mother-in-law.

You know, I didn't even make it into the parlor part of the funeral home. I stayed in the foyer, next to to coatrack, and lied. Said that the crowd was "too much" for Gavie, that I didn't want him to see another casket anyway. Truth is, I couldn't walk into the main room for anything. The mere thought of seeing someone -- even a stranger -- in a casket was simply too much for me.

About three weeks ago, Jack's wife Val lost her sister. I contemplated taking a berevement day and driving up because, after all, Val is my (biological) dad's wife and thus (technically) my stepmother. I love her, I care about her, and I felt horrible for her having to go through this. I wanted to be there... but...

What a relief it was to realize that I had a meeting after school the day of the viewing. The thought of being about people I know and of dealing with their grief was overwhelming. If I could barely handle a stranger's death, what was going to happen to me at this funeral?

We went to the cemetary for Memorial Day. Took Gavie.

All you heard, as we silently contemplated the new headstone was a tiny little mournful voice, a wavering syllable. "Pap." Drawn out and ending with a little sob as he buried his head on my shoulder and repeated it again. And again.

Some days are worse then others.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Jack's Revenge and Lovely Ghost Letters

Two blurbs for "yunz" readers out there:

* Check out "Jack's Smirking Revenge" on Someone out there has a few Dilbert-esqu aspirations, and -- I think -- this Jack might have some potential. Give him some feedback if you can!

* Chantel's novel Love and Ghost Letters hits paperback come September. (For some reason the link won't work, so just do a cut-and-paste with this address: If you haven't read it yet, here's your chance! She weaves a fascinating story about a young woman who falls in love, defies her father, and marries a man below her station. It's a story many of us know well. Think about it: what have you done for the sake of love? If I ever get my book back, I'll write that review I promised eons ago.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The yellow frogs are for Pap-pap.

I call this one: "Must... stay... awake..."

That's Gavie in his crib. He played himself to sleep, literally. (This picture is about three months old, by the way. I have issues with downloading the digital pics in a timely fashion.) Please note the bajillion tiny frogs that surround him. As of last night, he now only sleeps with the green ones.

You have to wonder just what a three-year-old remembers, or understands. Last night, before I tucked him in, he handed me all of the blue frogs.
"Who are these for?"

Then I got all of the red frogs.
"Who are these for?"

The orange ones came next.
"These are for?"
"Nana." (pronounced "nun-ah")

And the purple ones.
"Who are these for?"
"Fuzz." (the cat)

Lastly, the yellow ones.
"Who gets the yellow ones, Gavie?"

What does he remember? Does he remember how Pap and Grammy used to watch him every day for the first year of his life? Does he remember how Pap would pull him, in his little wagon, around the neighborhood on nice days? Does he remember how Pap would "exercise" his legs -- holding his tiny baby hands and helping him practice standing? We always laughed at how excited Gavie would get when he'd stand up, as if he were conquering the world.

We still see yellow school buses and Gavie still points, yelling "Pap!" He knows Pap used to drive a big yellow bus every morning.

We're trying to keep my father's memory alive for Gavie. I think we're doing okay at it so far.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Selective memory, new beds, and sleep deprivation. (re-write!)

April 17, 2006: I know it's probably breaking some laws on blog-dom, but I simply have to edit this and clean things up. Forgive me, oh gods of blogger-space, but I'm just not happy with this original draft.

My friend Chantel of the Yucababy blog wrote a sweet post about the unexpected realizations that come with motherhood.

I had to smile as I read it. She hit the nail on the head.

The words that come to mind, though, when I think about those first few months as "shock and awe." Thanks to the combined experiences of having a preemie and reflux (what they now call "colic"), I barely remember the first five months of my son's life. Somewhere in there I slept, ate, and ran my household, but damned if I can recall when I did all that. My main memories are of the nights I semi-slept on the couch with Gavie on my chest trying to get him to sleep while I stared mindlessly at "Nick at Nite's" re-runs of 80's sitcoms, of wrangling with the mysteries of powdered formula/rice/oatmeal, and of marveling at how someone that small could go through so many diapers in one day.

She's right: there's nothing more amazing then that little creature.

Even at "almost three," there's a host of new tactics out there, guaranteed to twist your life into gigantic pretzel, foul up your deadlines, and cause you to nearly bite your tongue off trying not to laugh.

Gavie's finally into his "big boy bed." Unexpectedly, that long-awaited milestone's presence has robbed me of sleep from the moment we said "time for bed!"

Sunday brought both clear weather and the opportunity to borrow my brother-in-law's pick-up truck, so we took full advantage and, by 7 p.m. that night, had Gavie's new room ready to go.

When we brought him home from Ga's, which is what he calls my mother-in-law, he was beyond ecstatic. This was IT! The bed we'd been promising for some time now, talking about it, building it up, making this seem like the greatest event ever!

Gavie climbed right in, and we read eight books or so, sang our usual bedtime songs, and pretty much went through our nightly ritual without pause.

I tucked Gavie in and kissed him good night. We waved night-night to Pap up in Heaven, and said our usual prayers. Then I turned to go, pleased as could be with his acceptance of the new bed. (Oh, when will I learn?)

I'm pretty sure that the whole neighborhood heard him bellow in protest. Apparently Mommy leaving the room was not in his plans.

Somehow, don't ask me how, I managed to reason with my son. "If I'm in my room across the hall, will you be okay?"
He nodded.
"I'll be right there if you need me. Got it?"
Another nod. Another kiss and hug night-night. I made it the ten paces to my bedroom. Silence. Glory be and saints be praised! I was going to have an excuse to go to bed early!

I wasn't in my room two minutes when I heard the thump of two little feet hit the floor. A peek revealed Gavie sitting in front of his bookcase reading his picture books. (He is so my kid!)

Obviously that wouldn't work, so I got him back into bed with a stack of them, giving the order to read all he wants but to stay in bed.

Toddlers are incredibly interesting beasts, you should know. They have this painfully honest yet really skewed concept of reality. Apparently, Gavie didn't know if he was being punished or not. After all, the only other time he's told to stay put is when he's in a time-out.

(Incidentally, when he does get to sit on the couch and think about what he did wrong, he protests with these really pitiful cries of "mama." The only reason they don't tear my heart to shreds is that they are so obviously fake that I spend most of his time-out hiding in the dining room trying not to laugh out loud.)

To handle this new confusion over being in bed but not being punished, he did the only logical (!) thing he could: alternate between peacefully reading his board books and periodically emitting the high-pitched wail of "maaaammmmaaaaa!"

The tenacious one finally fell asleep around midnight. I fell asleep thirty seconds later.


Tonight, incidentally, is the first night without the drama. He's in there playing with his 873 bajillion toy frogs. It sounds like he's telling them a story. Methinks I might get some sleep tonight.

Friday, March 03, 2006

An Ode to the Big Guy

Erik and I are coming up on ten years this June. All in all, I'm liking this married stuff.

At the risk of embarrassing the un-assuming man I married via un-asked-for attention, I offer you this...

Fourteen years ago, a fellow I picked up at a dance on campus decided to impress me with a "Nestea Plunge" into three centemeters of snow. After literally dancing the night away, we went sledding behind Brownlee, where all of us frosh then resided.

(So what if it was midnight and no one knew where I was or who I was with? So what if I didn't even know his last name? I'd been quietly drooling over him for two weeks already and wasn't about to listen to the "don't go to any isolated location late at night with men you don't know" rule that I was raised on.)

Well, we went down the hill a few times; it wasn't particularly slick and the snow wasn't particularly deep, so the actual act of sledding was a bust. His next act, he later told me, seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Watch this," he said,just moments before falling backwards.

Somehow he didn't kill himself, and today we still laugh about how it must have worked: I married him, didn't I?

And now we own a house, have a kid, drive two sensible family-type cars, and consider a new dishwasher a kickin' anniversary present to ourselves. We take turns driving to work in the morning so that at least one of us gets an extra 40 winks in the passenger seat. I iron his work shirts every morning and he scrapes the ice off of my car every winter.

The Big Guy, which I call him because he towers over me, and I rode home together yesterday because there wasn't any overtime to be had at his workplace. It was a rare treat; often, he won't get home until about 9 P.M.

I loved it. Our best conversations usually take place while we're driving or lingering over a meal. It's always been that way, even before Gavie came on the scene. We talked about his work, about my very newly-earned degree, and about a plethoria of other mundane topics that fascinate only those involved.

"Did you turn the dishwasher on this morning?"
"Yeah, I didn't want to come home to it. This way I can do the kitchen after dinner."
"What are we having?"
"Chicken, peas, mashed potatoes."
"We need to give Gavie his vitamin at dinner."
"I will. Hey, that reminds me, I have a dentist's appointment tomorrow."

See? Less then fascinating. Must be love, huh?

Oh, by the way, we went back to the site of our first date three years and one month later. That's where he proposed.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Chantel's excuse is a lack of brain-power... oh would that I had such an out! Today's blog is a meme (rhymes with "dream"), and it is being written because I'm feeling rather plageristic today.

* Being the "card chick" for American Greetings -- I spent a few high school summers working with my mother, the "card lady." We stocked the greeting cards at various Thrift Drugs. I was raking in the cash back then, earning about $5 an hour, which was WAY more then minimum wage at the time.

* Playing "gopher" at a local doctors' office summers during college. Imagine four doctors in what was once a four-bedroom house. Thanks to some creative remodeling, there was an x-ray lab in the basement, a phlebotomy lab under what was once the back porch, an accountant in the attic, and a front office that housed roughly eight women (who took care of patient reception, appointments, and insurance) and four gophers. Add 43,000 patients on file and you won't wonder why we nicknamed it the "mental group."

* Substitute teaching. Not much rivals the day that I subbed for a music teacher. Being the innocent that I was, I asked the students if they wanted to hear Beethoven or Mozart. I forgot that THE movie to see was Beethoven. Imagine, if you will, approximately thirty first grades so excited over the prospect of a movie that they swarm me, chanting "Beethoven! Beethoven!" Being unable to produce more then an old 9-inch of the dead deaf guy, I was persona non grata amongst the kids after that. We spent the class drawing pictures for their teacher.

* Brentwood, PA. Proposed slogan: We're a three-stoplight town now!

* Greensburg, PA. Ahhh, those unforgettable college years!

* Brentwood, PA. Moved back after college... this time bringing my husband.

* Law & Order: Special Victims Unit -- actual plots, ethical dilemmas, and too-human characters... not to mention Stabler's blue eyes. :)

* MASH reruns

* The Boondocks
-- the daily comic is actually better, but this has really grown on me.

* Yucababy blog -- a former classroom-sharing, carpooling buddy o' mine who's the inspiration behind this blog... not to mention the author of Love and Ghost Letters, a book you really ought to read. I'd lend mine out, but it's spoken for until next October.

* Sudoku -- my addiction

* For Better or for Worse -- I grew up on (with) this comic strip. It's a nice little kick-start in the morning.

* Scottsdale, AZ -- if I'm lucky, I'll be there this spring for an economic conference.

* Roma, Italy -- I've a pen pal over there who I miss more then anything. Haven't seen him in about twelve years, since he came to Pittsburgh with his high school. Seems my principal and his principal were friends (if I remember correctly), so the whole class visited little BHS and my AP World History classmates and I were designated tour guides for the day.

* Williamsburg, VA -- like this needs an explanation. It's Williamsburg!

* Spiderman 1 & 2

* Batman Begins

* The Mummy & The Mummy Returns

Okay, so that's technically five movies. The point is this: I'm going through a "hero" phase right now. As long as there's a good guy who saves the day, I'm happy. For depth and/or emotional cartharsis, replace the above with the following: To Kill a Mockingbird, American History X, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

* Blink -- It's all about "thin-slicing," or using your intuition.

* Freakonomics -- It's all about incentives and how they affect us.

* Until You -- It's all about strangers, love, and lust. (Hey, everyone needs a vice! Mine just happens to come in the form of cheap romance novels.)

So long as it's NOT leafy green and rabbit-oriented, I'm pretty happy. But for the sake of argument: pizza and a cold one.

Writing about topics that interest me and being paid for it. Yeah, like that's a shock, huh?

Soooo... there you go. A little verbal snapshot of moi. The meme site I linked you to is pretty interesting (thanks, Chanty!). I might just start visiting that when I need a topic. Then again, if life goes the way I'm hoping, you'll soon be reading about my finally receiving my MS in Leadership and Business Ethics and my quest for a Ph.D. program. Future topics also include: finishing Killing Julie and submitting it to a publisher, landscaping my property to remove that generic housing plan look, and getting my son to speak in complete sentences.

With that, dear reader, I prepare to leave you. But first:


Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.
-Sir Winston Churchill

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."
-Gene Fowler

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.
-Stephen King

Friday, February 10, 2006

Anger Management

I think that -- if I could have -- I would have put my fist right through the computer screen today. Smashing something would have been nice. The absolute bottled up rage within me today was foreign, though once-upon-a-time... before mommy-hood and wife-dome and jobish-ness...

No, dear reader, I'm not sugar and spice and everything nice.

It doesn't pay much to be very nice. Really, it's rather expensive. Little girls who learn how to wear pink and bake cakes and rear their baby dolls are darling little things. Ornaments in training. Oh, don't worry. I'm not some ranting stereotypical feminist. I've no intention of burning a bra anytime soon.

My father is dead. I watched him die. I held my breath and wished it would end. It did, of course. It always does. But you know what? The obvious happened: I changed.

My childhood training to be a mother and wife is still with me, but several of the lessons on being nice somehow got lost along the way. I've decided that I don't have to be nice if it means biting my tongue and trying not to hurt feelings -- not when the price is my sense of self and selling my person to the lowest bidder.

While I'm nice enough to hide the details and protect privacy, I'll tell you this much: I no longer feel the need to be nice to people when they are wrong. If you are rude enough to answer your cell phone during a lecture, if while in public you behave in a way inappropriate for my son to witness, or if you find your personal conversations in the classroom more important then your fellow students' desire to learn, I don't have to be nice to you. I'm allowed to speak up for myself. I'm allowed to yell.

It's hard to remember sometimes.

I haven't yelled -- justly or unjustly -- in at least five years. Can you imagine? Standing up for myself was a challenge when the person was older and supposedly wiser. After all, I was trained to be nice. To respect my elders.

And what did it get me, anyway?

An ethics professor once talked to us about the differences between raising boys and girls. It was a fascinating class, because it articulated what I sensed but had never thought much about until then. We females are taught to live on this level playing field. We're supposed to get along, to play nice. Don't make others cry and all that jazz. Share your baby dolls and play house or shopping or make some little cakes in your Easy Bake Oven.

While we were inside pondering potholder kits and dressing Barbie up so that Ken would like her, our brothers were outside beating the hell out of each other so that they could win whatever versus game they were playing. Cowboys versus Indians. Cops versus Robbers. Good Guys versus Bad Guys. You name it, there was some sort of conflict.

It soon enough graduated to the courts and fields in the form of sports. More "versus" games while we learned how to shake our pom-poms and roll our skirts. We didn't talk to the girls we didn't like or who were mean to us. That would have caused waves. Someone might have cried and someone else would have been at fault. She would have been called mean.

So at what price comes nice? The world I grew up in taught me that females were valued for what we did to care for others -- but don't get me wrong, I'm not decrying that. I'm protesting the bookend lessons, the effects of those causes. My world did not teach me how to care for myself very well, if at all. I learned by accident, by watching my mother spend my youth being everything she wanted herself to be for us and nothing for herself. We had a few moments where she'd lose her temper and vow to quit being the mother she forced herself to be, but my brother and I never believed her. She never followed through anyway. That wasn't part of her training, I guess. On that gnarled family tree of ours, it was my generation of daughters that went to college. Not hers. Then again, my mother is someone who wanted nothing more then to be a wife and mother. Not me.

And thus the urge to break something. I didn't, of course. Not me. Instead I closed shop, logged off of the computer, and went home. The good girl.

Oh, reader, don't fear. I have my therapy like everyone one: I write.

Someone one remarked to me that being able to delete a blog entry is a pretty good perk. Other writers put their words onto paper, leaving them to last forever. So here's my question to that: if I put my soul into print, and then I delete it, am I denying that side of me exists? And should I? Is it better to edit for the world to think well of me, or is it better to be me?

Monday, January 02, 2006

A refusal to be serious.

You know, I've very cautiously steered clear of writing a ranting blog, not wanting to be clumped among the others who yell and scream about things that they can never change or aren't even trying to. Nor have I ventured into humor, having a dry wit that doesn't always translate well in print. Today, however, as I take a break from my latest writing venture, I'm going to try my hand at having fun. You know what? I'm even going to toss in some inside jokes.

So with Gretchen Wilson's "Here for the Party" bouncing out of the speakers, let's see what I can do...

Resolutions for 2006 (in no particular order)

* Work in the yard more, find more bugs with Gavie, and marvel at the way pure vinegar kills weeds

* Open that pilates DVD I bought six months ago and exercise, then buy another pink dress

* Go out dancing to celebrate my 30th birthday before I hit 33 this year

* Sing

* Keep up with "Killing Julie" and reach my 300 page goal by the end of the year

* Find the telephone and use it to call people I like

* Clean out my closet and donate all of those pre-baby clothes I "might" fit into again to people who will actually wear them

* Learn that I do not have to keep out-of-focus or unflattering photographs. (And those pictures of people whose names I forget? They might just go, too.)

* Drink good wine and eat my veggies. Not necessarily together, mind you.

* Ride a shopping cart across the Giant Eagle parking lot. (If you have it loaded with enough groceries to balance out your weight, you can get a good running start and hop right on. The fact that my Giant Eagle's parking lot has a slight incline might make it all the more intersting.)

* Visit relatives and friends that I like, and not feel the need to visit or deal with the ones that I only tolerate.

* Put my MS in Leadership & Business Ethics to good use and find an adjunct position at Seton Hill University, my beloved alma mater.

* Paint my gameroom (once it's finished) in fun, non-Martha colors -- I'm thinking plum for at least one wall. Peacock blue sounds like a pip, too. If I ever do it, I'll post the pics!

* Convince my husband that the basement needs to be finished and turned into a gameroom.

* Take down the teddy bear boarder in this room before I start acting like the wife in Charlotte Perkin's (?) short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper."

* Start looking at options for my next degree, but refrain from signing up for anything for at least a year!

* Write more blogs.

Hmmm... well, it's a start! And that, dear readers, is all for now.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The new year.

Several weeks ago, I drafted this post:

We're in a morbid race right now. Which shall come first: the birth of Christ or the death of my father?

Don't ask me which one I'm hoping for.

Christmas Eve, if Dad's up to it, Mom will load him and an overnight bag into the truck and make it here about 4 p.m. or so. Maybe a little earlier. It depends on the weather. We'll open gifts and pretend then everything is normal. Dad will get to give Gavie the gift he chose for him some weeks ago, a rock polisher. True, it's a toy meant for older children, but how can I tell my father no? My son has a fascination with small objects, the tinier the better. Gavie has one purpose when it comes to rocks and coins and, recently, little plastic frogs: to hold them. That's it. He holds them. And he will hold them. All day long. God help the innocent who tries to take them off if him.

The answer came, finally. Dad passed on December 24, sometime around 6 a.m. while I slept upstairs in my old bedroom and Mom slept on the couch on the living room, next to his hospital bed.

Death took its time in coming for him, something my I quietly raged about -- and still do. I fail to see the point in his suffering, dear readers. Why did he linger for twenty months? Why did he have to spend his last days in a semi-comatose state, too weak to do anything, so drugged for that pain that he barely knew where he was? Why couldn't he have slipped away just a week previous? Before he was confined to his hospital bed and before suffering the indignities that total helplessness brings?

We never talked about his impending death, Dad and I. For all the time I spent with him these last five months, we never had a single conversation about it. We talked about the present. We spoke carefully, avoiding verbs such as "will be" and mention of 2006. When the future insisted upon conversation, it would be about the upcoming holiday or December 17, the day I was to compelte my MS in leadership and business ethics, something he was so proud of. Short-term seemed safest. Less cruel.

On Thursday evening, the day he quit responding to us and slipped into that comatose state, we thought that the end was near. Not two days away. That evening, though, Dad opened his eyes and looked at me and my brother. Just stared.

"I love you, Dad," I said. For what else is there to be said?

He continued to stare for a moment, and then closed his mouth, as if to speak. For that moment, I saw my Dad again. Not the pale, hollow-cheeked stranger that had replaced him. For that moment, I even thought he might answer me. But he didn't. He couldn't. And within the span of an eternity or a nanosecond, his eyes went unfocused again and his mouth sagged open.

The horrible, shallow breathing that I was already used to began all over again. It was the sort that made you think each breath was the last one, made you hope it was the last one.

It's over now. Today was one week to the day of his death. I've already returned to work, having done my grieving these past twenty months. We celebrated Christmas for Gavie, and my husband and I are having a Christmas party this month. I might even send out Christmas cards for January 25th.