Year in Review: 2015

Aside from two things, 2015 has been a great year for us. So, let’s start with the bad news, and move on.

I do not yet have a new job. And while it’s a little frustrating, it’s not horrible. After all I’m still gainfully employed; and opportunities keep presenting themselves. The right thing will happen at the right time.

The truly bad news is that Dan’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been sick for quite some time, and he finally started getting tests done around Thanksgiving. The official diagnosis was made about a month ago, and things are moving quickly. He’s getting appropriate and very aggressive treatment now, but we don’t know what kind of time he will get. Please keep him and Dan (and the rest of us) in your prayers.

I just spent about an hour going through my blog, and it has been a good year for us as a family, and for me as a writer.

Top Five Events from 2015

1. I was in Listen to Your Mother, the inaugural Pittsburgh edition, and not only was it one of the top events of 2015, it was one of the coolest things I have done in my life. I highly recommend it.

The ladies of LTYM.
Cast of LYTM 2015 Pittsburgh. Image by Ashley Mikula Photography

2. We went to Chicago, and Chicago was a lot of fun.

Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, and aside from Legoland, M’s favorite.
Angel of Chicago
Our guide and friend with a sassy M.

3. I wrote a lot in 2015, and not just on the blog. I did Project: Food Budget again; I participated in #30DaysofJournaling; I wrote two stories (with more to come in 2016) for kidsburgh.org; and I completed the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is 50,000 words in 30 days. I still have to finish the book, and I am getting there, but, yeah. I used lots of words this year, and that feels good.

4. I got a new niece, and we went to see her for Thanksgiving! (The rest of my family was there too.)

5. The Christmas Eve baton was passed, and I nailed the Seven Fish meal.

I had my struggles, too, but the great thing about having a blog is that I got to work them out.

1. I walked out of church one day. It turned out okay; I went back.

2. We put the girls in public school. It was the right decision, but it resulted in some adjustments.

Kate's first day of school, 2015.
Think positive! Kate on the first full day of third grade.

3. We dog-sat for a week, and learned that one of our children is ready for a dog; one is not; and the other is indifferent.

4. Flora asked if it was hard to be a mom. I said no, but the truth is, it’s complicated.

5. A message for the ladies: Stop saying sorry!

My Five Favorite Posts from 2015

I am sincerely hoping that 2016 turns out to be as much fun, as productive, and as positive as 2015. I’m sure it won’t be without its bumps, but as always, I’m confident the good can outweigh the bad.

Happy New Year, from the RPM family to yours!

Family portrait
I mean, c’mon. Not only do we have a good time together, we’re a pretty good-looking family!

What was the highlight of your year?

Random Thoughts: The Whatta Weekend Edition

I have so much to tell you!

1. I attended MomCon on Saturday for the first time, and it was amazing. Inspiring. Affirming. Just incredible. I brought things home to my family, and I’m going to tell you about some of them too. I need to get myself together a little bit.

2. I am 11,000+ words into NaNoWriMo.

In eight days, I have written MORE THAN ELEVEN THOUSANDS WORDS.

I am doing the thing. It is as hard as I suspected it was going to be, and it is exhausting — I’m going to bed too late most nights because I don’t start until after 9 p.m. and you know what, I DON’T CARE.

3. Right here (ha, I just typed ‘Write’) I have to give props (do people still give props?) to my husband and love of my life. When I told him I wanted to take on NaNoWriMo, he didn’t say, “Do you think that’s a good idea?” or “What about this that and the other thing?” or “Do you really have time to do that?” (We both knew the answer was No to that one, but here we are almost 12,000 words in.)

Last night, I said to him after dinner — as he cleaned the kitchen, mind — “Do you want me to bathe M now or start writing?” Without even thinking about it, he said, “Start writing.”

I ran into the office, and cranked out 800 words before helping remake the beds and putting the children to bed.

He has never, not once that I can think of, been anything less than supportive of my creative ideas.

Dan and I selfie
Me and my boo.

“I knew who you were when I married you,” he said last night when I thanked him for saying yes with me to this endeavor. “You’re a creative person. Go create.”

4. The other thing that made me feel good this weekend, made me feel that we are pointed in the right direction, was shopping.

Just simple grocery shopping made me happy — which is not always the case. After not having a good meal plan the past couple of weeks, I managed to put together a 10-day plan, and then shop for it without breaking the bank.

When I checked out of Aldi on Sunday, my total was $68. I just looked at the cashier. “Is that it?” I had bought basic stuff — canned beans and tomatoes, eggs and milk, some vegetables, some meat. The stuff in my cart would’ve cost $150 at the Big Bird.

I said to him, “You wait, once people figure out how great prices are here, this place is going to take off.”

I was being ironic. The store was packed — and still not an unpleasant place to shop — and a new Aldi pops up every other week.

We also had to make a Target run. Looking over my list, I estimated that we would spend at least $150 there — we had non-foodstuffs to buy too. Now my trick to shopping at Target is twofold: their mobile app Cartwheel and my debit Red Card, which takes 5% off my total no matter what I buy.

So, after getting almost everything on the list (I couldn’t find shell pasta for stuffed shells), plus some impulse buys — hi, scented candles and a new purse for me that was on sale for $24 — my bill started at about $180, but Cartwheel plus the Red Card dropped it by $10. And I spend 0 minutes clipping coupons. (Cartwheel does take a little effort — I would estimate that searching through the app adds about 5-10 minutes to my shopping trip. Totally worth the time.)

I again raved about the savings to the cashier. I should’ve been a customer testimonial this weekend.

Plus, we are going to eat good this week. My meal plan is full of quick delicious dishes. I’m excited to get cooking. Which is not something I often say on a Monday.

What’s your favorite meal that you are making this week?

The 8 Things I Learned During #30DaysofJournaling

1. I like writing every day. Even when I had to do it at the end of a long day, I appreciated the exercise, the discipline. It was in some ways a low-pressure exercise as well because I wasn’t racking my brain to come up with something to write about. The prompt was waiting for me in my email. It was akin to having a meal plan — it’s not stressful to journal when you have something that’s going to help you fill up a blank page.

2. I like writing something that is just for me. It’s possible that one or two or five entries from my journal will make it onto my blog as posts. It’s also possible that one or two or five entries will be turned into poems that will get around to workshops when I start doing that again. But in the meantime, the primary reason I decided to participate in 30 Days of Journaling was to just write for me.

Nearly all of what I produce in writing is seen, edited, commented on, consumed, judged. And that’s fine; I’m a writer, and that comes with the territory. But writing in a journal is a different way to write — it’s just writing. Whatever comes into my head comes out onto the paper. I can write things I would never say and never put out there for public consumption. It was very refreshing to write that way again. It’s been years since I wrote like that.

3. I like writing on paper with a nice pen. I have two very nice fountain pens, both of which were given to me by my husband. They turn journaling into a sensual exercise. Plus, the journals I purchased for this exercise were pretty! (I filled one and a half.)

Journal One.
Journal One.

4. It’s okay to feel while writing and let those feelings inform the writing. I was cranky sometimes, and let myself be cranky. One of the prompts had me crying afterward. Most left me in a meditative or thoughtful mood, but some of them sparked something deeper. It was an exercise in letting the feelings happen and even writing more because of them.

5. Grief, man. This 30-day exercise reminded me once more that it’s never ending.

6. The book that changed my husband’s life is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Which also, oddly enough, ended up on my “Books I want to read…” list.

7. I still got it, baby.

Which is to say: I still have an internal life. I still have a life worth examining in quiet space and writing about in a conversation with myself.

Some days it seems easy to be lost. Being a full-time, out of the home, professional paid writer, and a full-time in-and-out-of-the-home mom to three busy kids, and being a good wife to boot, and the invisible work — cooking, cleaning, collecting laundry, teaching my children to do all of the above as well — sometimes the urge is to turn off my brain with a book or TV show.

So it’s been nice to see that even if it was only for 15 to 20 minutes a day, I could write about NONE of that overwhelming stuff.

8. I like writing every day. I like writing every day so much that I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) officially for the very first time. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce a novel (about 50,000 words) by writing Every. Single. Day. That’s about 1800 to 2000 words a day.

Which I discovered last night takes me about two hours. November will be interesting. And exhausting, probably. But I’ve had a novel rattling around in my head for a few years now (what writer doesn’t), and this is a good exercise and a good opportunity for me to GET IT OUT.

So I expect I will disappear from social media for a little bit. I am going to aim for posting here at least twice a week, but don’t hold me to that. When you realize you need to put 2000 words on a screen, you tend to want to hoard them.

Did you journal for 30 days in a row? Or NaNoWriMo/NaBloPoMo for a month? Tell me about it in the comments! Solidarity!

Best of the Burghosphere: YaJagoff!

Banner BoB
Best of the Burghosphere

In the Category of Blogger Most Likely to Enjoy Being Called a Jagoff at the End of an Interview, we have the esteemed Ya Jagoff!

Okay, “esteemed” might be overstating it a little bit. Well-respected? Well-regarded? Well, he’s a guy, and he’s from Pittsburgh. I can definitively state that.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, let me introduce John Chamberlin, main writer and interviewer at Ya Jagoff!, and the guy who has set about single-handedly calling out the jagoffs in our midst. Comedian John Knight is regularly featured in the section “What Aggravates Me”, and the videos are filmed and edited by 321Blink.

A jagoff, according to the Urban Dictionary, is “a rude, assholelike person.” The word originated right here in the ‘burgh, and is a family friendly way of cursing out Pittsburgh drivers, people who park like jerks, and anyone else who meanspiritedly makes life in the ‘Burgh a trial instead of a pleasure.

I never thought jagoff was a controversial word until the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette banned it from its newsroom in 2012. I use it regularly in front of my children, usually in traffic, avowing that it is not a swear word.

It is Ya Jagoff’s sworn duty to call out jerks so that the rest of us don’t look bad. To that end, he is doing a great job. Actually, he might be doing too good a job, as local-boy-made-good Billy Gardell points out in the following interview.

John accepts entries from around the globe* of Peter Parkers, Cluster Trucks, and other miscreants in the ‘Burgh and beyond. Let his blog be a lesson to all and sundry. Don’t be a jagoff!

*I’m sure most people write in from around John’s neighborhood just to make him feel useful.

Most Wanted Fine Art is pleased to team up with Pittsburgh Bloggers to acknowledge and honor the contributions of bloggers through Pittsburgh’s blogosphere (aka “Burghosphere”). For information about this unique take on blogging in the ‘Burgh, see details here. Thanks to Sue Kerr and Nina Sauer for coordinating this!

Introduction to Poetry Pages

So, I went through my binder of poetry last week, trying to pick The First Poem for this category.

Poetry Binder
It’s a big binder.

And I couldn’t pick one.

Don’t worry, I’m not teasing you.

I stopped regularly writing poetry as poetry when I was pregnant with Flora. I journaled a lot — I have journaled regularly since I was in sixth grade — but I wasn’t writing poems any longer, and I wasn’t attending workshops, publishing, or doing any readings.

In my 20s, I regularly did all these things: published, read in public, workshopped.

It’s been a long time. The last poetry reading I did was on my birthday in 2004.

One thing that runs as a theme through my poetry is the idea of body; my words of poetry as deeply rooted in my experience as a physical being.

And, er, quite a bit of it is about teh sex, especially sex with certain people who weren’t Dan, sometimes in passing, and sometimes explicitly. That’s going to be awkward I imagine, for my family members who regularly visit this blog (hi, Dad!). I will issue disclaimers. I’ve set this site up to exclude poetry as a category from the blog. Which I think means you have to visit the category to view the content.

Like I said: WIP.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is:

1. I wrote this poetry a long time ago.
2. It’s not necessarily family friendly fare.
3. Some of it contains profanity.
4. A lot of it — most of it — is about the experience of being embodied as a woman.

Your mileage will vary.

Work In Progress

If you came to see my new site… Well, welcome!

I moved into the new house, but I haven’t gotten around to decorating. I haven’t even taken a complete tour yet!

So if you’re looking for big changes, you’ll just have to wait until I figure out things like themes, categories, and plugins.

Thanks in advance for your patience. 🙂

Construction sign.
Watch your step. Image credit: yupiramos

Site Under Construction

Remember that question I asked last week?

Well, it turns out that in order to implement it the way that I want to, I need to move my blog.

Construction sign.
Watch your step. Image credit: yupiramos

See, my blog very happily lives at WordPress dot com, and to do what I want to do vis-a-vis poetry and prose, I need to create a self-hosted site at WordPress dot org.

In non-technical terms, it’s like I’m renting right now, and while I have some freedom, there’s not too much I can do to my apartment. Moving to the dot org will be like buying a house. Except way less expensive (WAY less — right, Andy?). I’ll be able to paint the walls and add new rooms and decorate it however I like.

Now — and I’m sure someone can correct me here — for YOU, dear reader, it shouldn’t mean any change in your experience at all. When you navigate to redpenmamapgh.com, lo and behold, my site will still be there.

I think. Maybe you’ll get redirected. We’ll see.

I have been told that it’s time for me to “move away from the kiddie table.”

Challenge accepted, bitches.

The plan is to keep the majority of my categories (Parenting Is Hard, 2015: The Year of Commitment, RPM Rants, The Critic Thing, etc.) front and center on the site. The category Poetry will be visible on its own tab, as will the category Prose. I’m doing it that way for a lot of different reasons, not the least of which I’m sure my parents don’t want to read any of my erotic poetry. (Hi, Dad!)

My blog is my personal site. It’s not what I do for a living; it’s a hobby, a place to flex my writing muscles in ways I don’t get to at work. I like WordPress dot com because it’s easy and it gives me lots of options, but doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting.

I have a meeting Saturday with someone who knows how to do this (the aforementioned Andy), and he assures me (repeatedly) that it’s not difficult, and there are lots of advantages. I’m sure there are challenges too, and I won’t lie: I’m apprehensive about that.

Home ownership is not always everything it’s cracked up to be, as anyone who has had to pay for a new roof knows.

But I guess it’s time to put on my big girl pants and take the next step with my site. After nearly nine years, it might actually be overdue.

With any luck, I’ll be cutting the ribbon on a new Red Pen Mama on Monday.

Send good bloggy wishes my way!

A Question for My Readers

Question Mark
Image source: quka

I have been toying with an idea for some time now, and I am curious what you think.

I would like to add two pages to my site, one for prose and one for poetry.

It’s been some time since I wrote poetry, but I could go through what I have written and post things. Maybe it will inspire me to write new stuff as well.

I am far less adept at prose (fiction / creative non-fiction) writing, but it’s a muscle I want to start flexing. I have a couple of pieces started, and having a place to put them may give me the impetus I need to finish them.

Admittedly, it’s something I want to do for myself. Marketing copy writing has been good to me (more or less; it helps pay the bills), but it doesn’t scratch a creative itch. And I’d be curious to know if you’d venture to read it.

On a related note, I signed up for another Emily Levenson project, #30daysofjournaling. You still have time to join if you like.

I started journaling in 6th grade as part of a class room project, and it’s something that solidified my love of writing and expressing myself through putting thoughts to paper. Who knows, some of my journal content may end up here.

Writing more is never a bad thing.

What do you think of the idea? If you read, please comment yay or nay. I am truly curious if it is something you would check out.

Love Letter

Dearest Daniel,

Our 14th wedding anniversary is here, and it finds us both a little beat up and stressed out. You are still gimping around from your second Tough Mudder, and I am not adjusting to the stresses of the new school year very well.

I haven’t even managed to buy you a card for today.

I recently contributed a guest post to a Pittsburgh blogger who wed last week. Remember when we were asking for my parents’ blessing, and my dad said, “Marriage isn’t 50-50; it’s 100-100”? And then asked if I was going to cook you meat?

Yeah, that’s what I wrote about over there.

And I just want you to know that I know you have been in 100 percent since… well, since we started dating, probably. And I cannot tell you how loved that makes me feel; how safe and secure. And I also want you to know how proud I am to be with you, to stand as your wife. I am proud of you, and of your continual hard work as a husband and father, as a therapist, as a Tough Mudder!

You married an anxious lady, dude. And I appreciate it when you are patient with me; and I forgive you for being impatient with me too. I get it — I’m a little impatient with my hand-flappy self, too. I fluster easily, and I, much like at least one of our children, do not adjust to change very quickly.

However, since our first date, since before our first date, we have had the top three things that make our relationship work:

1. Humor
2. Kindness
3. Chemistry

You are patient and you are kind. You make me laugh every day. You make me feel loved and desired every day. I hope I do the same for you. I certainly think we do not disappoint each other when it comes to the third thing on that list.

I’m so glad I said, “Yes” and then, 14 years ago today, “I do.”

I love you, 100 percent, all in.
Your ever-loving,
Dawn

Back to School: The All About Me Edition

Three days into the new school year, and I already have a scheduling conflict. C’mon!

I will say that the girls have adjusted thus far very well to their new schools. Flora came home Monday and declared, “TODAY WAS PERFECT.”

Flora on her first day of school.
First day of fifth grade!

Of course, my cynical little brain voice said to itself, “Great. It’s all downhill from here.” But I smiled and gave her a hug, and said out loud and with sincerity, “I am so glad to hear that.”

Kate is having a bit of a rougher time. Her Monday orientation went well — I swear her homeroom teacher is all of 23 — and she was excited. She says her first day was fine, but then burst into tears because she forgot her lunch — I owe her teacher $3 — and she doesn’t like the little boy who sits next to her. She says he wouldn’t leave her alone, and said he was going to eat her brain. So. We will have to keep an eye on that.

Kate's first day of school, 2015.
Think positive! Kate on the first full day of third grade.

It’s quite an adjustment for Dan and me, too. Flora’s bus comes at 7. Which means I am hitting snooze at 5:30. In order to continue with my workout routine, I have to get up even earlier than I have been. Which means bed by 10 p.m. I am not good at early bedtime, but I am going to try harder. On the bright side, I am often at work before 8 a.m., and even an open office is pretty damn quiet at 8 a.m.

It also means that Dan is getting Kate and M out the door, which is a big change for him. We do get a lot ready at night — lunches packed, clothes laid out (I have to get into this habit myself), papers signed, book bags ready. Again, three days into the routine, and it’s been going pretty smoothly. Flora lets me walk her to the bus stop; she even holds my hand crossing the street.

One of these mornings I will stop getting choked up when the bus drives off. Right?

Michael has a whole new schedule this year, too. He’s only going to daycare on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. His pre-k class meets those days starting after Labor Day. Tuesdays he goes to Tadone’s and Thursday he stays home with me.

Thursday will be known as pajama and Minecraft day. Because mama’s gotta work.

Next up for me will be meeting new parents — again — and finding ways to get involved in the school — again. The mere thought makes me very, extremely tired. Plus: TWO schools! (Three if you count M’s.) I mean, how am I gonna do that? Plus soccer for Flora — community league, not through the school — and we have to find an activity for Kate.

I do have one completely positive thing to report. Okay, two.

First, the week before school started, I declared that Sunday through Thursday, all screens are going off at 8 p.m., and we have stuck with that. They don’t have to go straight to bed, but this starts the transition to bedtime. Screens off, snacks finished, everything prepped for the morning. Showers for everyone, M first because he’s the youngest.

And then — and this is BIG for me, HUGE — I get M in his pajamas, read him a book, play him a lullaby, kiss and hug him, AND LEAVE THE ROOM.

I stopped laying down with him while he was supposed to be falling asleep. We talked about it a couple of times — not at bedtime — and my focus has simply been that he is a big boy and old enough to fall asleep on his own. It hasn’t been a completely smooth transition. He still sometimes cries that he is scared. I gave him a radio, and we leave the door open to the hallway. I give extra hugs and kisses. But I am getting an entire hour back at night by not laying in bed with him waiting for him to fall asleep.

Again: so far, so good. Flora has been getting up on her own with an alarm — another HUGE change from last year. I wake Kate and M before I leave, try to get them moving. So far, I have managed one Pilates workout, and one workout with my trainer (Jillian Michaels), and we have been on time for the bus. Even though as of Wednesday they moved the pickup time up by 10 minutes.

Sure, no problem.

Only nine months to go!

How is back to school treating you?