Flip the Script

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. My children are off of school; they are spending the day at Dan’s office playing on their tablet computers. I am at work.

I am assuming my representatives in Washington, DC are off for the federal holiday as well, but I will be calling them anyway. My word for 2017 is Dare (more on that later), and part of my Year of Daring is to let my congressman and senators know my positions on policy. (I should figure out how to bring this to a local level as well.)

After all, even though I didn’t necessarily vote for them, they work for me.

Here’s the message I am leaving today for Senators Casey and Toomey:

“I hope you are having a productive Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and are doing your best in your work to honor the legacy of this American hero. He fought for justice for all people, and sought to elevate the rights of all races. You should be able to say you do the same. Remember, Black Lives Matter. Confirming Jeff Sessions as Attorney General would be a disservice to MLK’s legacy.”

I will probably leave a slightly different one for Rep. Tim Murphy, in support of the ACA, again.

I put each of my representative’s phone numbers in my contacts, and I call every day except for Saturday and Sunday. It’s nerve-racking for me (hence the script). I don’t like to talk on the phone. But I am also learning that emailing and tweeting my representatives simply isn’t going to get their attention the way the phone calls do.

My own discomfort is secondary to the work that needs to be done in the next two to four years.

How are honoring MLK’s legacy today?

Copyright for featured image: Lilia / 123RF Stock Photo

Edited to add: If you want to make phone calls too, see this spreadsheet in Google docs for scripts. Today, Tuesday Jan. 17, I will be calling Sen. Casey and Sen. Toomey to oppose Betsy DeVos and Tom Price. I’ll be using this script. Tomorrow, I’ll probably call Rep. Murphy’s office again.

Kate, You’re 10!

Oh my Kate,

From my own mother-daughter relationship, I am aware how different daughters can be from mothers. I’ll never forget the look on my pharmacist’s mother’s face when, in fourth grade, I told her I wanted to be a writer.

But even so, I am still surprised at how very different you are from me. You are extroverted to the extreme. You have 107 best friends, including about 27 “besties.” When you tell me about your day, you go on long stream-of-consciousness ramblings that, more likely than not, stray into tall tale territory. You have fantastical stories about your friends, your school day, your life.

You are wildly silly, especially at the dinner table. You giggle yourself into hiccoughs most evenings. Some days, I find it exhausting but some days I find the energy to laugh along. You are affronted easily; for all your goofiness, you do want to be taken seriously. You don’t like being ignored, and you *really* don’t like being criticized. You have some thin skin, my dear.

As has always been the case, you have a lot of energy. You like gymnastics, and you are talking about taking up basketball. You are certainly tall enough! Your birthday outing will be to a roller skating rink for the second year in a row. You have managed to find several friends who have trampolines in their backyards, and we are all grateful for that.

You are easily affectionate, and you still like to cuddle up. You are managing being alone better; I think the Kindle helps with that. You are the only one who can manage Michael sometimes, a fact that Flora and I both find amazing. He listens to you; you can calm him down. I think sometimes it is because you can give him 100 percent of the attention he is craving, while Flora is impatient with him, and I am tending to him in a distracted state more than half the time.

While you are an indifferent student, you aren’t dumb. You are liked at school for your outgoing personality and your willingness to participate and help. You like to do well, but you aren’t thrown off when a grade is a B- instead of an A. You are in the chorus and you play, with much enthusiasm, the alto sax. If there was ever an instrument to fit your personality, it is the alto sax.

You want to take care of things. Getting you a gecko was a wise move; something on which you can lavish your love and attention; something to focus your responsible nature on. I think you will be a good pet owner.

You and I have fewer conflicts now than we have had in the past. I am adjusting to the fact that you are always going to live louder than I will, that your boundaries will always be bigger, that you wear your heart on your sleeve (much like your daddy). You will tend more toward impulsiveness than quiet introspection. My job is to feed your spirit and teach you to look before you leap, and to have patience during the times your spirit is hungriest and your leaping gets ahead of your looking.

I will always be here to catch you, baby girl.

Happy 10th birthday. You are bright and beautiful, and I will always encourage you to shine. I love you, my middle, my wild child. All my heart.

Love,
Mommy

Year in Review, 2016: The Music Edition

Let’s face it, of all the popular culture out there, what I mostly take in is music.

I wanted to read more books this year, but I got seriously bogged down in non-fiction. I am still reading The Warmth of Other Suns, which I think I started a month ago.

Pathetic.

As far as movies, I’ve seen two Star Wars movies in the theaters, and a couple of animated films. So, I’m not exactly a good critic of what’s been outstanding in that field.

Music, on the other hand, has had an incredible year, both in terms of good music and of bad losses. Here’s what I listened to the most.

My top female artists (or female-led bands) this year:
1. Beyonce. I finally get it. I get chills every single time I watch “Formation.”
2. Lucius. I discovered this wildly, tunefully shrill (in a good way) band this year. So happy.
3. Florence + The Machine. Been on heavy rotation in my collection since about 2014, so no surprise here.
4. Brandi Carlile
5. Basia Bulet

My top male-led bands this year
1. twenty one pilots. I don’t think I kept my fascination with this millennial band a secret.
2. Fitz and the Tantrums. “Handclap” may have been the song I played the very most this year.
3. Afghan Whigs/Twilight singers. Greg Dulli didn’t even put out an album this year, and he’s still at the top of my playlist. Seeing his on tour in March was a highlight of the year.
4. Radiohead. Did it again, hauntingly catchy tracks on a new album.
5. Leon Bridges. Hoping 2017 brings a new album from this R&B crooner, who channels Sam Cooke.

My favorite tracks by the artists I will miss the most
I won’t call 2016 “the worst year ever”, but when the artists that formed the soundtrack of your younger years start dying, some of them suddenly, it adds up. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen put out amazing albums this year, but I picked different tracks that were formative to me.

1. Prince. I tried really hard to pick one song that meant a lot to me. And I just couldn’t do it. From the dance tracks to the funk anthems to the unabashedly sexy tunes, Prince made an impact in too many areas. “Kiss” ranks high, as does “Pop Life.” I always loved “Cream” and “Little Red Corvette.” The entirety of Purple Rain was ground breaking to me. And he penned so many other songs that made an impact on me, notably, “Manic Monday” by the Bangles and “Nothing Compares 2 U” as done by Sinead O’Connor.

2. Bowie. Bowie was nearly as hard to pick as Prince. Ultimately, “Rebel Rebel” and “Under Pressure” are two I will never switch away from.

3. Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows.” I imprinted on this song, that voice, the very first time I heard it. Man was a poet and a lover.

4. Maurice White, “September.” We had more kitchen dance parties to this song, and Earth, Wind, and Fire in general, than any other song and group ever.

5. George Michael. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” I can still remember dancing to this song at some of my middle school dances.

Copyright for featured image: tzido / 123RF Stock Photo

Who were your top artists this year? And who are you going to miss the most?

Death of a Princess

Carrie Fisher, who died Tuesday, went on to become a lot of things.

But she was, first and foremost to me, the first princess in my life that I could identify with.

I’ve written about my experience of Star Wars before. I know, I’m rather shocked, too, but it was the first pop culture touchstone of my life.

Here are some things I learned from Princess Leia:
1. Even if a guy has to come to rescue you, you don’t necessarily have to take his orders.
2. Once you’re out of your prison, you can grab a blaster, and make something happen.
3. Scoundrels will steal your heart.
4. It’s okay to want to kiss the scruffy-headed nerf herders.
5. Women have to be stronger than men. (Okay, I also learned this from my maternal grandmother.)
6. Women are leaders. Unquestionably.
7. Women can do the rescuing.
8. You can kill someone even if you’re wearing a cold bikini.

I was, as a child, a tomboy. Is this still a phrase used to describe girls? I didn’t gravitate toward dressy clothes or dolls. At 6, I had already had my fill of Disney princesses and Prince Charmings. I wasn’t cleaning up after men or trying to enlist the help of mice or birds in my sewing. And I also wasn’t being told to do those things. The expectations for me were to grow, learn, and explore; to speak my mind; and to take up space.

Princess Leia wasn’t meek or mild. She took events into her own hands; she challenged authority. She spoke her mind, participated at the table.

Princess Leia didn’t lean in — she took her place, and made people lean toward her.

And she never went to the dark side.

++

I delighted in many of Carrie Fisher’s later roles. She was a great actress, in that as much as she had been Princess Leia to me, she could and did embody other characters.

As a mental health advocate, a recovering addict, and a woman in Hollywood, she was fierce and outspoken. She was also a writer of the first order. And she was funny. Holy cats.

My two favorite quotes of hers:

“Please stop debating whether or not I’ve aged well. It hurts all three of my feelings.” — on Twitter

On what to tell children about that gold bikini: “Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.”

++

I was so pleased that in The Force Awakens she appeared as General Organa. Still leading the rebellion; still in love with her scruffy smuggler. Now a mother, as well, with pain and regret for the loss of her son to anger and the dark side of the Force. And absolutely clear with whom her legacy rests: Rey, an orphan who needs to find her destiny, and take it into her own hands.

She will always be my hero, in so many ways and for so many reasons. Farewell, sassy princess. May the Force ever be with you.

What did Carrie Fisher mean to you?

My Favorite Christmas Memories

I had good Christmases growing up. My parents were kind and generous parents (ARE kind and generous parents), and they worked hard. Our Christmases were spiritual and full of faith and religious obligations, but they were also full of family, presents, food (so much food), cookies, and love.

I have two fond memories of Christmas traditions while I was growing up.

One involved our nativity. My mother owns a lovely Christmas nativity set. Each year, she chooses where to put it, and lovingly sets it up. Some years, she would have Mary and Joseph “travel” to it. We children would fight to move the figures each day. She would put the three kings in a separate room, because they didn’t get to Jesus until the Epiphany on January 6.

And baby Jesus was not laid in the manger until Christmas Day. That was an absolute rule.

One year she forgot where she put baby Jesus, and had to replace him. It was weird having a Christmas without baby Jesus in the manger.

My other favorite memory is of the year I realized that Santa Claus, as an embodied entity, didn’t exist.

See, as a child, we went to Mass on Christmas Day, usually the 9:30 a.m. Mass.

And Santa didn’t come until we went to Mass.

For years, I never questioned this.

We got up, had a little breakfast, dressed up, and bundled into the car to go to Mass.

We would sit in the driveway, my mother, my sister, brother, and I, in the driveway in a running car. Waiting for my father.

“What’s daddy doing?” one of us children would invariably ask.

“Daddy’s shaving,” my mother would invariably answer.

I would guess that I was about 10 years old when I put “Daddy’s shaving” together with Santa’s arrival. And it was a comforting revelation, not a shock or disappointment. As much as I love the magic of Santa, and Christmas, and the warmth of the holiday spirit, a guy in a suit coming down the chimney while we were at mass was… troubling to me.

I always look back on that moment fondly. It didn’t ruin anything about the holiday for me.

What is your favorite Christmas memory?

All I Want for Christmas Is… Me?

Are we cloning people yet? Because that’s what I need. A clone. Or a personal assistant.

I want someone to leave at home to do the cleaning – and I mean all the cleaning: clean and reorganize my daughters’ room; clean our bedroom; run all the donations to Goodwill; do a toy purge.

I didn’t get to a toy purge this year, and we are about to get a bunch of stuff. Allegedly. Maybe we weren’t very good this year.

I want someone to do all the running around I need to do, but I’m kind of out of time to do, because full-time job (that I love). So now I have to do it in the evenings, as well as help my children finish buying presents, then wrap them. As well as a Christmas chorus concert (Kate) and gymnastics practice (Kate again) and baking for my job (that I love) and for Flora’s social study class. (Last night’s announcement went like this: “Mom, mom! I need a traditional Irish Christmas dessert! I need to make it and bring it to school on Wednesday!”)

And, you know, regular life: job (that I love), children to send to school (through Thursday), children to feed. Cleaning, constant cleaning.

I am going to have to sit down with these children and impress on them the absolute need for cleanliness this week. That should be fun.

It might be easier to tell them to play in their rooms.

Anyhoo! It’s fine, it’s good. This is normal. Mostly.

I feel like I’m usually a little closer to done by now. But maybe not.

And money. More of it. Or less debt.

++

Alternatively, my husband could come home from his full-time job (which he loves and at which he is *very* good), fix the kitchen sink with his oldest daughter, then proceed to participate in the cleaning of the kitchen and the front room. We can plan the rest of the week to the best of our abilities — I made a list; it is very long — decide how we are going to divide and conquer (I have most of the children stuff, and all of the baking and cooking). And then he could stay up, clean both bathrooms, and put plastic up on the bathroom window. Somehow or another, he ruined my toothbrush he told me. I declined to ask for details.

Somehow or another, even though 2016 hasn’t been awesome, and, frankly, 2017 isn’t looking like anything to look forward to, we are going to make this a good Christmas for us. There will be grief, no doubt. But more importantly, there will be love, and family, and the birth of Jesus, and church, and food, and gifts.

Maybe that is all I want for Christmas: a tiny island of love and faith in a mad world. The cleanliness of the island could be less important than who is on it.

Copyright for feature image: alexmaster / 123RF Stock Photo We don’t even have a fireplace, but that looks heavenly.

sad woman, grey room

Silenced

I don’t know what to write anymore (right now).

Commenting on the shitshow that is the incoming administration seems futile. Every day is a new low. It’s like watching a tragedy unfold, and the people you expect to stop it from happening, to step in and say, “No, no. This is wrong, and this is illegal, and you can’t do that” are sitting on their hands.

I guess they have been silenced too. Or have chosen silence.

Where is the Democratic leadership who is going to stand up to this administration? Where is the independent press that’s going to hold the Liar-in-Chief’s feet to the fire?

I feel like it is up to “We, the People”, but, you know, we’re trying to live our lives and pay our bills. I know that my friends need my voice. I am overwhelmed with where to start and what to say — and how to say it to more people.

So, anyway: I am reading “The Warmth of Other Suns.” That’s where I am starting. I am joining my friend and fellow LTYM mom Danielle to listen to others, to figure out how we make our voices count. I am researching the Safety Pin Box, and thinking it would be another good starting point.

This is not the time to “wait and see”, to “come together”, to give anyone in the upcoming administration a fair shake. They are Russian allies and white supremacists; they are Wall Street cronies and billionaires. They do not care about you or about me.

So you can be quiet if you like. But I’m going to find a way to speak up.

#OhMichael, Age 6

My dear Michael,

This is what happens when you are the youngest child.

Your birthday letter is nearly a week late. I am so sorry.

In the meantime: On your birthday, I made chicken (okay, rotisserie chicken), vegetarian corndogs, mac and cheese, and broccoli. At your request. We also had chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and multicolored sprinkles.

Cake!
Cake!

On Saturday, I took you and two of your friends to see Trolls. It was, to my mind, an unexpected delight. You and your buddies seemed to like it too. I’m pretty sure your favorite part of the movie was either, “No Troll left behind!” with its accompanying visual. Or the icees. It’s a toss up.

On Sunday, we had a little family/close friends party for you that you seemed to enjoy too.

So. I guess this letter is late, but you haven’t otherwise suffered for birthday attention.

++

You, my dear son, are tall and thin. Your BMI is a ridiculous 1.48. So, more chicken and corndogs and mac and cheese for you! Maybe some chocolate chip cookies, too.

You are very boy: you hop and jump and dance and bounce. You TALK. A LOT.

You are also the sweetest boy. You give and ask for hugs spontaneously. You still snuggle (when you’re not jumping). You want to be friends with everyone, and you truly do not have a malicious bone in your body. Which is not to say you can’t be a jerk to your sisters. It’s just that you’re not mean. When you were getting picked on on the bus, and you told us about a boy kicking you, and Daddy said, “Why didn’t you kick him back?” you were shocked. “Because I don’t kick people, daddy! I’m nice.”

You are smart, which is not surprising. What surprises me is your breezy confidence, your belief that you are simply good at anything and everything. You are similarly convinced you are correct about a lot of stuff that you know nothing about, which grates, but I’ll get you on the right path. Believe it or not, buddy, I know more about math than you.

And, you’re silly. You like to laugh, you like making other people laugh, you remember funny stuff from shows and movies. You are still working on telling a joke. Your current favorite, courtesy of Kate:

How do you make a tissue dance?
Put a little boogie in it!

You adjusted well to school after the first week. Full-day kindergarten is a major transition! You found soccer discouraging; I am hoping you will try it again, but if not, we’ve got to find something else for you to channel your energy. And you still have little meltdowns. You don’t like being told no, and you seriously don’t like being yelled at.

But you still will admit when you are tired and ready for bed, which is my favorite.

20161201_135053

That is you, Michael: sweet, smart, silly, and skinny. I love all the boy you are. Again, I apologize for this being so late. But I know with a little extra snuggling, you will forgive me.

Love you, buddy,
Mommy

What I Did on Thanksgiving Vacation

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. “Food, family, and football,” I used to say. “What’s not to love?”

I’m less about the football these days — I don’t think we had a game on at all, and we definitely didn’t watch the Steelers at 8:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night. But I’m still about food and family (and drink!). I am fortunate that I don’t have to interact with people whose political opinions they feel like airing. We’ve all agreed to disagree, and not even the deep divisiveness of this year was going to change that.

Overall, it was a fantastic break, but Thanksgiving Day itself was rough. It was my FIL’s favorite holiday, and his absence was huge. In writerly terms, it loomed large. For the most part, we stayed focused on positive things, but there was a collective meltdown right before the meal was served that highlighted our dark cloud. Then, Dan and I received some heartbreaking news about the man who married us.

Life is short people. Love the people you love. Tell them about it.

However, the food was delicious (links to the recipes I contributed are below; both were 10/10, would make again), I taught people how to play Euchre, I learned a new cocktail, and… and we made it through the day.

1. I worked on the second draft of my novel. A lot. Devoted many hours to it Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday. I still have more editing to do. But I am feeling very happy with this work. I’d like to finish this draft by Christmas, and start getting into the hands of beta readers by the new year. I have some agents and small presses to start emailing too.

2. I drove to Moio’s to pick up Italian pastries for my husband to give to someone else. To put that in context, this Italian bakery is a 40-50 minute drive from my house. It was busy, but the workers are efficient and cheerful — you’d be cheerful too if you worked in an Italian bakery, I suppose — and in addition to the pastries my husband had ordered (a cannoli kit, three pasticciotti, and three sfogliatelle) for his friend, I picked up three nutrolls.

Those nutrolls made the drive worth it. They were incredible.

As a plus, Dan and Kate spent some time filling the cannoli on Thanksgiving morning, just the two of them. It was a special little moment, and a pocket of sweetness that Dan sorely needed.

3. We went roller skating. As many parents know, between the break in routine and the crummy weather, holidays can make children fractious and give parents cabin fever. (Or maybe the other way around.) So I built some physical activity into the long weekend. We went roller skating Saturday afternoon, and it was great. Mostly great. Michael spent the first thirty minutes refusing to skate; he couldn’t seem to figure it out, and even with a skate mate, he just wouldn’t do it. Around 2 p.m., we stopped for snacks — always stop for snacks — and after a soft pretzel and a fruit punch, he rallied. I had to help him, which gave me a nice thigh workout.

The girls had a ball; they always enjoy skating. They used roller blades for the first time, and they preferred them to standard skates. So, there’s a Christmas list idea for people: roller blades.

4. And, yes, I started Christmas shopping. As per, I waited until Cyber Monday. I don’t shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, and believe me, that is a judgement-free statement. If Black Friday shopping is your thing, go for it. I don’t like crowds. Full stop. (I am also lazy.) Black Friday demands a degree of hustle that I lack when it comes to buying stuff. So I wait until Cyber Monday, go through my email for deals and coupons, use Ebates, and buy a few things.

All-in-all, it was a very relaxing, fairly productive break. I probably won’t get that kind of time off again until March.

What did you do on your Thanksgiving vacation? Food? Family, friends? Football?

Recipe links:

My contribution to the appetizer course; light, flavorful, good with crackers and cheese: Lebanese Lemon-Parsely Bean Salad
My main protein dish, and a nice side with turkey: Broccoli, Cheddar, and Quinoa Bake
A light drink that is the perfect foil to Thanksgiving dinner: The Americano cocktail (h/t to @thejqs)

I Am Thankful…

… that my husband is doing the work he needs to be doing to work through his grief. It’s hard work, people. Make no mistake.

…that my children are 12, almost 10, and almost 6, healthy and smart. They are a pleasure, truly.

…for having a job that I like, and that I am good at, and where I am appreciated. Working in an environment where you are heard, where your expertise is recognized and where your opinion on the work matters, means so much. If you’ve had a job like that, you know. If you don’t or haven’t, I cannot encourage you enough to keep learning and keep looking to find that kind of employment. It’s aces.

…that I can cloak myself in my skin and my faith and my straightness to do the work that needs to be done for those who do not have the cloak.

..for internet friends, especially on Twitter. I had to pull back from Facebook, I really did. Maybe I’ll get back there someday outside of the groups I am in. For now, though, I have to put myself out there IRL, and not fight the battles online.

…for IRL friends, who I do not see enough, but who still reach out to me to see if I can come out and play. (I can, sometimes. Thanks so much for your patience, IRL friends.)

…that we did not have to travel this year for the holiday. While I love my parents and extended family very much on that side, it’s nice to not have to do more than walk across the yard for food and drink.

…for words and music, and writing and music, and all the various ways I can find and give voice to what is inside of me.

…for you, for listening.

What are you thankful for?
Copyright: wernerimages / 123RF Stock Photo