Monday, January 9, 2017

New Year - Take Two

No, I didn’t screw up last week and need a do-over. Today is the first day all three of my kids are back at school since the holidays, so for me this is the real start to the new year. Actually, that’s not quite right. I consider my year to start when their school year does and since today is the first day of their second semester, I guess it’s mine as well.

First semester was good, not great. I’d give myself a B+. Not bad, but room for improvement. I could write more, have more patience and be more organized in all aspects of my life. I scoured Pinterest the last few weeks looking for inspiration and motivation. I saved, liked and pinned all the interesting and challenging posts about ways to purge, organize, and focus in the new year. I boiled it down to changing my daily ‘to-do’ list. As of today it is now broken down into three categories – Must Do/Should Do/Want to Do.

So far I’ve accomplished the Musts since they were the suckiest. It felt good to get them over with early in the day. I’m three for five in the Should department. Not bad for noon. The only thing on my Wants today is to read. I’ll consider that done since I plan to leave early to pick up the youngest from school. I rationalize that I need a good parking spot, but everyone knows I’m reading for fifteen minutes before the bell rings.

The downside – tomorrow’s Musts are already taunting me. I’ll give it a week and if it needs tweaking, I’ll tweak. Since I’m both the student and the teacher with this assignment, I'll reassess in a month and scrap it for the old laundry list if it's not working. I'm shooting for an A, but this may turn out to be a pass/fail semester.

I wish everyone reading this has the year they strive for and hope you get to your Wants list every day.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Confessions of a Halloween Hater

Image result for google image of a witch

I hate Halloween.

There I said it. I haven’t always felt this way, only since I became an adult. So, it’s been long enough. My kids are no longer little—or currently care what I think—so I’m ready to end the charade.

I never understood why my mom hated Halloween until I had kids of my own. As soon as my oldest was two it all became clear to me and only got worse when her sisters were born.

What exactly do I hate about Halloween you may ask?

Easy answer: EVERYTHING

1)      The season – yes it has its own season. Beginning with the initial discussion of costumes in July and ramping up when the stores start replacing back-to-school supplies with jumbo bags of candy and plastic packages of costumes for kids and pets. This occurs in August around here. Yes, you can buy candy corn to enjoy at the pool in the 90 degree heat.  Personally, the H word is not allowed to be spoken in my presence until October.

2)      The costumes – from July to October the kids will have changed their minds on their ‘idea’ six to seven times. Each kid. Every year they will tell me they’ve decided on ‘the one’ and assure me it will be easy, that I won’t have to do a thing. I will then make a dozen trips to the pop-up store (see 3 below), 3-4 confusing visits to the craft store and countless excursions to Target, often multiple times on the Saturday before Halloween. Compromises will be made as well as the inevitable last minute Amazon Prime order. (By the way, my love for Amazon Prime is as strong as my hate for Halloween). In the end, the costume will look amazing, but the costume-wearer will know and let me know, something isn’t quite the way it was planned.

2a) The back-up costume – a necessary evil and expense. I discovered when my older two girls were in pre-school that they are expected to wear their Halloween costume approximately 6 times before the actual ‘holiday.’ They would have to dress up for the school party, the park district party, gymnastics, at least one Halloween themed birthday party, and a Halloween walk through our downtown that I managed to keep my girls from knowing about until their friends in Brownies ratted me out. With all these events including chocolate, caramel apples, and colorful drinks I should consider myself lucky we got way with only two costumes per season.

3)      The pop-up stores - I don’t know when this phenomenon began, but I became aware of them 15 years ago when I moved to our current town. Seemingly overnight, abandoned stores transform to havens of costumes, decorations and everything my kids, ‘NEED!’  These stores lure kids like the flashing lights on slot machines at a casino and suck your money out at about the same speed. My husband and father-in-law think these places are ingenious and have no qualms about buying plastic rats and flashing skulls to ‘decorate’ my yard.

4)      The candy - I soo want to be the house that hands out an alternative to candy, but I think my house looks better without cracked eggs adorning my front door and windows. The only thing worse than handing out all that sugar is my kids coming home with their loot. After I’ve handed out 5 large bags of candy, it returns in triplicate and in various forms. We struggle over rationing, hiding and donating. In the end, they eat too much and we keep it too long, always.

5)      The parties – the little kid versions I had to attend were bad enough, but then the ‘big kid’ stuff hit. The school my kids attend/ed ranges from pre-school through 8th grade. There is a Halloween party at the school, a drop-off party, for 4th through 6th graders. Sound like fun, right? As long as I avoid the volunteer email I get to drop them off for two and half hours.  The kids have a haunted house, a DJ and food. What’s not to love? The prize for best group costume. Suddenly in 4th grade, kids will form cliques as they decide who should and should not be included in their group costume. One kid and mom will take control and drama will ensue. Someone will drop out of the group, someone will feel left out. By the time my third daughter entered 4th grade I figured out to encourage a stand-alone costume that could part of a group, or not. Best costume to date = a rubber ducky. No one knows there was originally an Ernie who was supposed to be her partner. She/I won ‘most original.’

6)      The decorations – tacky, messy, and oftentimes just gross. Have you ever tried to remove fake cobwebs from bushes? After it snows – because it snows on Halloween here at least half the time. I used to enjoy carving a jack-o-lantern until I become responsible for the guts and later disposing of the squirrel-molested pumpkin carcass.

We’re two weeks out now and I’m waiting for the drama to drop. The older two are in high school now and assure me they don’t need anything and will just figure things out later. This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. The youngest is in sixth grade, so her last school party is fast approaching.

 I could go on and on, but she just yelled up from the basement asking where I keep the hot glue gun.

Happy H Word

Monday, July 25, 2016

Y (A) I Need a Break from Young Adult Books

One of my favorite genres has always been young adult, even before the now-immensely popular category earned its own bookshelves and could only be vetted out among the children’s section and adult fiction.

As an actual young adult, I felt the need to be seen reading literary novels as I rode the commuter train, but the book on my night table would tell a different story – one of high school romances and carefree summers.

I was the mother of three when The Twilight Series hit, and I truly tried to resist, but ultimately gave in and lost. For weeks my kids survived on Nick Jr. and cereal as I read the entire series and sought out other bleary-eyed mothers in the drop off line at school to discuss Bella and Edward.

As an early e-reader owner I found solace in covertly reading Pretty Little Liars on my device while simultaneously toting around a hard copy of my book club’s latest historical fiction pick.

But, lately the thrill is gone due to the young adults in my life. In a couple of weeks my oldest daughter will be a high school junior, the middle daughter a freshman and the youngest in sixth grade. Aside from the drama my girls already provide and not having a need for any more in my life, YA books now present a dilemma I had not anticipated. They are planting seeds of worry.

Now, I’m not na├»ve. I know they have lives separate from me and do plenty of things I don’t know about and I’m sure they are feeding me the lies they think I want to hear on a daily basis. I’ve also made them well aware that they may think they are coming up with new and creative ways to get away with stuff, but I am no stranger to pushing the parental limits.

Back in the day I made sneaking out an art form. My friends tried to outdo my spectacular fibs and maneuvers, but I could not be beat. My claim to fame remains to this day: shortly after my sixteenth birthday my family moved to a big house. I told my parents (probably with crocodile tears) I was scared being so far away from them and feared not being able to get out if there was a fire. I suggested purchasing a rope ladder that can be kept under the bed and thrown out the window in case of a fire or another emergency; the commercials were currently running on TV. See where this is going? Well, they didn’t and I snuck out the same night we bought it at the hardware store. Oddly enough, I used it more to sneak friends in than I did to escape. I’m happy to report I never had to use it in a real emergency.

Maybe the identification with the deviance was why I liked YA books so much – until it became real. Now when I read a YA book I find myself wondering if my girls are doing the outlandish things the characters in the book are doing. Will S run away with her best friend’s brother tomorrow when she told me they’re going to a movie, ‘in a group’? Is K secretly going to cult meetings when I drop her off at guitar lessons? (I never actually see her go in the door, hmm). Is E’s sudden interest in coding not just a nice nerdy hobby but an attempt to hack into the school’s computer and change her grades?

If I don’t take a break our dinner conversations are going to get weird. Instead of asking about their school day or tennis practice I’ll be asking if they have gambling problems or participating in satanic rituals.

“Sweetie, are you making fake IDs in the basement when you say you’re watching Netflix?”
“Honey, pass the salt and have you been buying crack from your science teacher?”
“I’m glad you did well on your test and by the way are you and your friends facetiming with Russian drug lords?”

All mothers’ minds worry and go right to worst-case scenario mode, I know this is normal. Reading about teens drinking, having sex, skipping school and running away just doesn’t help me keep the worry in the normal range. So for now I’ll leave the YAs and catch up on other genres.

Of course the new Harry Potter book is an obvious exception. I’m sure I’ll see some of you at midnight this weekend.

Monday, June 6, 2016

I Need a Hero

Not the kind Bonnie Tyler sang of in Footloose – though that is an epic song. No, I’m not holding out for a guy fresh from the fight, just a main character I can root for.

Until about two years ago, I'd say 99% of the books I read featured a main character I liked. Whether I identified with him or her, fell for them right away or developed appreciation for their plight along the way – I wanted their happily ever after.

Then something changed. I read the book everyone was reading and was sucked in instantly. About 30% in, I realized I actually hated the main character, but it was acceptable because the story was so compelling I didn’t care. I think I actually wanted him not to get the happily ever after. It was unsettling, but I didn’t think much of it. Now, two years and about 8 books with main characters I didn’t care for I’m wondering what’s up with that?

I’m not going to name titles or authors, it’s not the point I’m trying to make or discussion I’d like to open. For the most part, I loved the books despite not liking the character (narrator in most instances) so the author did a great job. One particular story had me downright hating the shallow narrator of the story, but I could not put the book down. It’s a different experience than the familiar meet the main character, love them, and hope for everything turns out okay in the end. Different, not terrible, sometimes unsettling, but not exactly bad.

Having now read quite of few of these though, I have to say I’m ready to return to my heroes. Just in time for summer vacation, beach and pool reading I will be reading reviews with a little more scrutiny and using the ‘sneak a peek’ option so readily available now before investing my time in character. I need someone to root for, emulate and maybe fall for.

Hmm – romance maybe?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Prologue to White Lies and Promises

I'm in a sharing mood today. I'm still editing this full length novel, and continue to tweak the original story I drafted almost five years ago. I'm excited to move forward with it, so why not share a peek?    

                                                 Prologue – Matt and Jackie

            They had their mothers to thank. Or blame.
            Matt Foster and Jackie Hamilton were introduced in a hand-me-down wooden playpen. Matt’s mother, Ann and Jackie’s mother, Patty sat nearby at Ann’s kitchen table drinking instant coffee and awkwardly attempting a conversation. Upon being deposited in the toddler prison, Matt screamed at the intruder forced upon him. He soon realized he could make Jackie giggle when he poked her, and the tactic quieted him down. Jackie learned that if she took Matt’s truck or bear he would initially become mad, but turn nice in order to retrieve his possessions. From their mothers’ vantage point all seemed well.
            “They are playing so nicely together!” Ann said to Patty while she wondered how she ever talked to this dull woman. Patty still looked the same as she had in her office days, with her ramrod back and sensible mid-length hairstyle, or lack thereof thought Ann. Unconsciously though she sat up straighter and touched her own unruly dark curls.
            “Yes, isn’t that great?” Patty turned and wagged her fingers at the toddlers. “Be a good girl Jacqueline, and share with Matthew.” Patty turned her attention back to Ann, trying to recall if she’d always been such a nutcase. Patty looked around at the clutter filled house - dishes on the counter, toys spilled over the floor. She tried to ignore the fact that her coffee mug stuck to the surface of the table with each return. Ann didn’t seem to notice the sound it made as Patty lifted it tentatively to her lips. Life will never get this out of control, Patty silently promised herself.
            “This is so fun, catching up,” Ann said through a forced smile. “We’ll have to do this again.” She hoped Patty would quickly come up with something juicy to share or offer to leave. She had better things to do than try to rekindle a friendship that they had clearly both outgrown.
            “Yes, I agree. I’m sorry we’ll have to cut it short today though, Jacqueline really has to go down for a nap.”  Patty looked at her watch for effect and then over to the kids. It was obvious Jackie was having fun and not tired. In truth, she had given up her morning nap months ago and would not be ready for any sort of rest until at least two in the afternoon.
            “Oh, that’s okay, the twins will be home from nursery school soon and then all hell will break loose anyway.” Ann was relieved. She got up from her chair and tugged down her sweater which now seemed too tight upon being with Patty whose slender build and height had always made her feel frumpy.

            They claimed they would keep in touch and said their goodbyes easily. The babies dutifully waved “bye-bye” from their mothers’ arms upon request. After the door closed, Matt began to throw a fit, kicking at his toys until he found his thumb and blanket. Jackie’s screams began as her mom backed out of the Foster’s driveway. Her wails continued for the duration of the drive home. These would not be the last tears shed over each other.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Home Base

Travelling today, so here's one of my first blog posts, slightly edited, but still relevant. Enjoy!

Home Base

As I cheered on my Blackhawks last night, a thought occurred to me – when did they become ‘my Blackhawks’?  I’m from Boston, grew up cheering on Ray Bourque and the Bruins, rooted for the Red Sox (my T-ball card lists my favorite player as Jim Rice) and sat through cold days watching the Patriots in Foxborough. When did I switch allegiances? Did I truly?

I’ve lived in Chicago for over 18 years now, but I spent the first 25 of my life in Massachusetts. I keep thinking when I get to the halfway mark - when I’ve lived here 25 years - I’ll legitimately be able to say, “I’m from Chicago.” But will I be?  Will I always be from Boston?  When I’m here in Chicago, I refer to Boston as ‘back home,’ but of course when I’m visiting my family in Massachusetts I reverse it. Also, I don’t currently live in the City of Chicago, nor did I live in the City of Boston, but the suburbs of both and always give the city name rather than my town.  C’mon we all do it.  Only when speaking with someone who actually lives in either city do I get outted, and they always make sure to point out the distinction.

A couple of years I was put to the test. The Bruins faced the Blackhawks in the quest for the Stanley Cup.  While I really wanted the Blackhawks to win, because it’s exciting to be in a place with a winning team., and the parade is insanely fun, I joked with everyone, telling them it was a win and t-shirt for me either way.  My brother I had fun at each other’s expense on social media and in the end, well you know.

As for baseball, I flub that one too.  I say I’m a Sox fan and leave it at that.  My husband’s family are all White Sox fans, the other Chicago baseball team is like Voldemort, we don’t use the “C” word.  Again though, when Neil Diamond sang and everyone at Fenway came out Boston Strong, I proudly wore my Red Sox shirts and hats around the suburbs of Chicago.  However, when I took my kids to visit family last summer, we made sure each of us wore a Blackhawks shirt each day. 

Confused as to where home is?  Maybe.  Lucky to have two wonderful cities to cheer for? Absolutely.  Even from the suburbs.  Go Hawks and Sox!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Explaining Leap Day

I have the distinct pleasure of leading an adorable group of ten third graders in Junior Great Books on Fridays this winter. Last week's story was a long, heavy, Russian folk tale that I knew was going to present a challenging discussion. In anticipation of this, I engaged them in some light banter while they opened their lunch boxes and books to the opening page.

"Who knows what next Monday is?" I asked.

They asked if it was a day off from school, if it was spring break yet, the beginning of March Madness or even my birthday.

"It's Leap Day!" I exclaimed and waited for their responses.


They had heard of leap year, but weren't exactly sure how it worked. Most were surprised to hear that this is a leap year and wanted to know what it really means.

I explained as simply as I could and in doing so realized how bizarre the concept sounded out loud. Their faces and raised hands confirmed I had either done a terrible job of describing the Leap Day phenomenon or it truly is just a strange concept to comprehend.

"So, we do go to school?"

"What if someone is born on Leap Day?"

"Is it a holiday?"

I answered the questions as best I could and blew their little eight year-old minds when I addressed the Leap Day Birthday, but I'm sure I left them more confused than amazed - as I had hoped.

I realized our forty-five minute lunch/recess discussion time was ticking by and attempted to end the 'light banter', "okay everyone, let's start discussing this week's story."

One of the boys raised his hand was jumping up and down in his seat, so I agreed to take one more question on  the matter.

He put down his hand, stood up and announced, "Mrs. Hayes, no offense and I think you're really smart and all, but this doesn't sound right. I'm going to have to ask my dad about this leap day thing. I understood The Little Humpback Horse way better than what you just told us."

"I understand, Charlie."

And yes, they understood the three hundred year-old Russian folk tale way better.