Monday, December 28, 2009

I never...

I never thought I would_______ but I did.--Prompt taken from The One Minute Writer

I never thought I would be happily married, but I am. I know that sounds cynical. But I never grew up daydreaming about a wedding or being a bride. Marriage didn’t particularly appeal to me. I thought I would be single until I was about forty or so, and then maybe get married. I just didn’t believe that any man would be mature enough. I swear those were my exact thoughts. I was such an old lady college girl! I had spent too much of my college career witnessing guys who only seemed concerned about where the next fraternity party would be. My hope was to find someone who was more passionate about life and how they chose to live it, than the amount of beers they slammed at Nick’s last night.

I never thought I would be really able to swim, but I can and I enjoy it. I think if I spent more time swimming I would be really good at it too. This fact brings me so much pleasure considering I cried more than once in the workout center parking lot after a session of sucking water. My body wanted to sink. Panic swept over me if someone swam too close and threw my concentration off. I felt like I would never be comfortable swimming freestyle. Now, I feel calm and beautiful in the water, much like a whale, but in a good way.

I never thought I would live just a few blocks away from my parents, but I do, and feel grateful for it. I never thought I’d want to stay in Indiana, but I really find that I like it here.

I never thought I would NOT want to be a full time stay at home mom, but I don’t. I realized years ago that it doesn’t work for me. I had to find a new balance for myself. This meant redefining what being a good mom means to me.

I never thought I would be writing or wanting to write like I do, but I do. I didn’t meet my New Year’s resolutions this year with that. Part of me wants to use this space to berate myself for that, but a bigger part would like to give myself a gentle pass. I feel a little disappointed, but I am working pretty hard in other areas of my life. I know that I cannot do it all, all the time. I am focusing on my master’s degree right now. I still try to write each day, it is just more journaling than anything I would submit anywhere. I figure I have my whole life for literary greatness.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Breaking the rules

I really don't know what I am going to write about today. I guess I can start with a confession. I already bought the Uniball pens. We stopped by the random Halloweeen store in a nearby strip mall to get the final piece for E's costume and the Office Maxx was right there. Sooooo, I popped inside and bought not one, but two sets of Uniball pens! Then I couldn't resist. I came home and journaled with a fresh, wonderfully smooth new pen.

Technically, this should be my last post in the week of 15 minute writing. The pens should've stayed hidden away until this posted. But what the heck! I am a crazy lady throwing caution to the wind!

There is a poster hanging in my room. It has hung in every room or home I've lived in since my freshmen year at the University of Illinois. The poster pictures four African American women picking apples off a tree. Two are standing with their backs to me, reaching both of their muscled arms to the pink sky to pluck apples from the tree. The other two at directly in front of the standing women, yet they are bending over to pick apples off the ground. All of the women are wearing simple dresses, and their hair hangs down in braids. The artist's name is Anthony J. Smith. I loved this poster from the moment I first laid eyes on it at the Krannert Center, on the U of I campus. This is the same place I went to see James Galway from my previous post.

Somehow, I feel as if these solid women protect and guide me. It is like they are standing in that field, watching me sleep at night and saying to each other, "Well, that was quite a day huh? I don't know just what she was thinking by doing that, but I am not at all surprised." The huff and roll their eyes, but still look upon me lovingly. I imagine them whispering their favorite Maya Angelou poems in my ear, their dry lips brushing up against my check allowing their voices to rise and fall deep into the night. I know it's just a poster, not even an original piece of work, but I feel a strange connection to it all the same. Some objects seem to take on a life of their own.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

I need to prep for my presentation tonight for class, but while the main computer is restarting, I will sit and type out my 15 minutes. The kids argue back and forth upstairs, yelling from room to room while they get dressed. “Do you have your PANTS on?!!!” Kai yells, always with the endless questioning. “NO!” Elizabeth responds, annoyed. Now, both are howling, “No” in different octaves, playing with their voices as instruments. I am wondering, “When is fall break over?”
James Galway and The Chieftains are playing on my kitchen stereo. I went to see James Galway and his golden flute in 1994 at The University of Illinois. I bought myself a front row ticket. I believe this was my first performance I attended by myself. It turned into a habit I continued throughout my college careers. I attended many wonderful shows completely by myself and felt not one ounce of sadness or isolation about that fact. If anything, I still consider it a badge of pride that I did what I wanted regardless of company.
Having played for a few years, James Galway served as my inspiration. I listened to his version of Flight of the Bumblebee over and over. When my flute teacher, Mr. Porth, as me what piece I would like to learn, I immediately knew that was the one. I was delighted and somewhat disappointed to learn that the song, an impressive rush of notes rising and falling with rapid speed, was essentially just a series of scales. This meant it was much easier than I thought to master. It never failed to impress my fellow band members though. Quickly memorizing the piece, I zipped through it upon request and then basked in the admiration that undoubtedly followed.
Marching band forced me to quit playing the flute. In our high school, one did not separate the marching band from the regular band. If you wanted to be in band, you HAD to participate in the marching band as well. Marching band practiced at the same time as the fall sports. Tennis was a fall sport. I was dying to try out for the team. Reluctantly, my parents allowed me to drop the flute and pick up a racket instead. While I loved playing tennis, my guess is that I would’ve had more success with the flute than with just about any sport.
Sitting in the front row, watching Mr. Galway caress his flute, I wondered if I could pick it up again. Yet, by then, college stretched out before me. The other day, I pulled my flute out and played a few notes for my kids. Both of them watched wide-eyed. They took their turns, puckering up their soft pink lips to force weak streams of air through the small hole.
Once again taking it apart, I remembered my teacher, Mr. Porth. I took classes from around age 12 until 15. What I liked the most about my private lessons were the conversations we had. Mr. Porth stood at about 5’ 10” tall. He sported more of a honey pot than a beer belly. He wore glasses that were often slightly smeared and his beard and mustache were mostly white. We spent most of the class time talking. I asked me about performing in the Chicago Symphony. He explained how all the musicians perform behind a screen, to ensure that only their musical ability was being judged. I looked forward to our conversations more than the actual playing. I cried the day I told him that I was stopping lessons to play tennis. I wish I had seen him perform just once, to hear him not just play alone in that tiny room, but in tandem with the entire orchestra of players that were chosen by skill alone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I still...

Note to reader: I am giving myself props for writing today. I am feeling pretty sick. But I want those Uniball pens! So here goes:

Today while riding the spin bike, I reflected upon how much I am enjoying riding more, but I still really miss running. I remain determined to just let it go for the fall and winter, but it got me to thinking about the phrase, " I still..." I thought it would be a good prompt for today. Things change so much, so quickly, and yet I find a lot of comfort in what stays the same.

I still...
* have my teddy bear Cuddles. He is stuffed under my bed. I cannot seem to stuff him in a box and send him up to the attic.
* know most of the words to all the older Indigo Girls songs.
* don't put the lids back on containers very well.
* prefer to wear tennis shoes.
* lay in the grass and stare up through the trees.
* love to dance by myself.
* have the ruby ring my high school boyfriend gave to me before he broke up with me.
* think eating dessert before dinner is the ultimate adult prerogative.
* wonder if we will be foster parents someday
* think shaving my head would be incredibly liberating
* don't have one eighth of the courage to shave my head!
* wish I would've traveled to Europe after college.
* think John Travolta is amazing.
* love French Silk pie, but don't often eat it, which is really a pity.
* don't like New Year's Eve
* want to kick some guy's ass who is around my age, in some, heck, in ANY, sporting event.
* daydream about having a room that is all my own and painting the walls a soft lavendar.
* think its a shame that dandelions are considered weeds.
* am probably too sensitive.
* love the Pippi Longstocking movies
* enjoy spinning in skirts.
* hear "The Rocking Chair Song" every night.
* hate to brush my teeth at night.
* love to read almost more than anything else.
* wonder what life would've been like if I had a little brother or sister.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Adoptive Mother's To-Do List

I just finished watching a YouTube video about the Chinese Summer Culture Camp held here at IUPUI. The camp is for ages 5-12 years old. I watched the video of children of all races dong morning exercises to the counts of Mandarin 1, 2, 3. The kids learn calligraphy, dance, Mandarin and as well as Chinese games and crafts. This sounds perfect for any child to learn more about the Chinese culture. It would seem especially wonderful for a child like Kai, who was adopted from China. Perfect, with one exception, Kai has a hard time sitting still for any extended period of time. He is at times more than just a “wiggle worm”. Right now, we are trying to figure out if this is just part of his development or if it is more of an issue than just some catching up. It’s been a tough process trying to figure it all out.
To compound the issue, I acknowledged the importance of raising Kai with an understanding of his Chinese culture and heritage. With extreme guilt, I must confess, we’ve done little to nothing in this regard so far. This is not because I haven’t looked into programs for Kai. I have.
When I first researched the Families with Children from China group, known as the FCC, we were in the process of completing the adoption paperwork. The group seemed ideal. The FCC fosters a positive self-identification for adoptees from China. It allows the parents and children to relate and interact with each other as well as provide a system of support. I had every intention of hauling our new little family to each and every meeting of this group. Then reality set in, we brought Kai home. We were exhausted. Imagine bringing home a 2 and a half year old boy who speaks minimal Cantonese and is suddenly thrown into a new family of people who do not look like him, smell differently, talk differently and eat totally different foods. While we were thrilled to have Kai home, it was a huge adjustment accompanied by various follow-up doctor appointments that were a relief each time to clear.
Tests were done to make sure he didn’t have several different diseases, infections or parasites. The likelihood of him having any of these things was minimal, but to be sure, the medical professionals had him screened for just about everything. I lived in a not so subtle state of panic that the next test would come back affirming that he did in fact carry some lethal disease that would need to be addressed. Meanwhile, Josh and I assured friends and family that he was progressing well. Which he was, but Josh and I continued to support each other through the intense stress of the transition.
I share this to explain why we weren’t jumping on the FCC bandwagon right away. Our plate felt full. While many well meaning acquaintances gently scolded us for not taking him to a Cantonese tutor or signing him up for the next Chinese Moon Festival, we knew we were doing the best we could at the time. Still, at times, I fight the nagging feeling that maybe it isn’t enough.
And so today, with the understanding that he is getting old enough to participate in more activities. I got back on the FCC site, watched the Summer Camp video, and once again felt distressed. How do I navigate Kai’s cultural needs vs. his developmental needs? How do I reconcile the guilt I feel for essentially NOT being Chinese. There are times that I feel like an evil white conquistador, that Josh and I somehow swooped in and stole part of Kai’s identity. I wonder if other adoptive parents struggle with this issue. How do they resolve it? How much of it depends on the child’s personality as far as the timeline of events goes?
Right now, we are addressing more of Kai’s developmental needs. I remain a determined mom. I’ve gorged myself on various topics and am finding some answers. My personal research, coupled with the views of various professionals, has been draining, intimidating, enlightening, thrilling and exhausting. Kai will be fine. While some issues exist, so far, they seem to be fairly minor. I remain a determined mom. I’ve gorged myself on various topics and am finding some answers. To balance my zeal for information and the desire to formulate a “plan”, Josh remains calm and level headed.
I know we’ll get to the cultural piece. I am planning on going to the next FCC event with some fellow friends who have adopted from China. Yet, the fact that as of today, we haven’t done so , reminds me that while I may need to put Chinese Culture Camp on the backburner for the time being, the issue of ethnicity and cultural heritage cannot be forgotten.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kneifel Meal Planning

This chalkboard makes me feel very happy and accomplished. Sometimes it displays really well-thought out meal plans, and other weeks it is filled with grilled cheese and spaghetti. I spent probably 45 minutes last night, searching through cookbooks trying to find some new recipes that I wanted to try.

Looking at this particular menu, you might wonder if my kids will eat most of these meals. I am pretty lucky in that, I do not mind if my kids don't eat. Yup, that's what I said. What I mean is, I am more than willing to try new foods and meals. If the kids don't eat them, my stomach does not turn in knots in fear that they will starve or that I am abusing them by refusing to make them a different meal. I know people who have a really hard time with this, letting their kids not eat. I suppose I am just selfish about food. Yet, in my defense, my kids have grown into pretty good eaters.

In addition to my harsh nature, I do try to include the kids in the meal planning. This seems to take care of many possible food issues. Elizabeth especially likes having the meals posted up on the board. This saves both of us from the endless question, "What are we having for dinner tonight?"

Since I started my masters program, our meal planning and grocery shopping has taken a beautiful turn for the better. Josh is now doing the grocery shopping! I cannot tell you what a huge blessing this is. I don't need to explain any further if you are a young mother or father who is accustomed to hauling your children to the grocery store each week. Simply going to the store by yourself is a luxury of the grandest proportions.

Here's our new plan. On Sunday, I type the list into our Grocery List template on Word. The list is broken down according to the store layout. So, since our grocery starts with the produce, that is the first section on the list, then frozen foods, etc. The template includes all of the items we need each week, like milk, eggs, cereal, etc. I put a star next to the items that need to be organic. Then I add the specific items needed for the meals I chose for the week.

After compiling the list, I save the document and send it to Josh's blackberry. He retrieves teh list and stops by the store on the way home from work. He gets to do the shopping blissfully by himself. Finally, he brings the bounty home, my true knight in shining armor! Men, take note: You need not worry about diamonds or flowers. Learn to grocery shop and even cook and you will reap the rewards! (This may not be true for some women, but I would argue it is true for most!)

Once all of the goods are safely in the house, I set out to prep the week's meals. This means chopping all the veggies that need to be chopped as well as cooking up any grains that will save. I like to make a big batch of brown rice in my rice cooker to use for quick stir-frys or to add to soup.

If all of this is NOT done, I get pretty cranky. I believe I've confessed my food obsession before, so this is nothing new. But for this week at least, we're all set.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dancing in the locker room against my will

Yesterday, I showered and got ready at my fitness club. After drying off and lotioning up, I headed out to get dressed. I’d brought jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt. As I pulled the jeans out, I realized that they were freshly washed. This coupled with the fact that I haven’t worked out quite as much lately left me there to do the jeans dance in front of anyone in the locker room.
We all know what the jeans dance looks like. I think it was a Levi’s commercial from years back that made this move famous. If you’re lucky, you don’t do it often. At the very least, you don’t need to perform the ritual of the shimmy, squat, squat, pull and suck to button , in front of anyone but your spouse or significant other. I remember a friend of mine sharing her fitness goal with me. “ I just want to be able to fit into my jeans when they are fresh out of the dryer.” The drier can steal a half a size away from you. It is a known fact. In order to get that real-estate back and your butt comfortable, gotta stretch those suckers out.
I faced two decisions, a. swallow my pride and do the jean dance in front of the tiny teenage who was methodically straightening her hair a few feet away from me or b. put my sweaty bicycle shorts back on and just change at home. While I pondered my choices, the slight smell of burning hair and the swirled under my nose as the girl continued to primp. Suddenly, her phone jangled to the tune of a rap song I’d never heard of in my life. After checking to see who it was, she promptly turned it off. Her parents I bet.
My gross shorts trumped my pride. I opted for the jeans. Trying to be as blasé as possible, I slowly pulled and pranced about, yanking my jeans up in a completely ineffective way. My careful consideration of my pants as I put them on seemed to say, “Oh yeah, these jeans, they fit. They just do this sometimes, shrink that is. No biggie. I’m cool.” Normally this process occurs swiftly, like ripping off a bandaide. I yank them up and fall into three quick squats and bam, you’re done.
The girl looked at me out of the corner of her eye from the mirror on the wall. I could see her thinking, “ I see you know. God, I would never do that in public!” Yeah I know, I thought. You and your skinny butt with your rapping phone and your hair straightener, you do your dance at home or not at all. Next time, I’ll either bring my fat jeans, or only pack these jeans on the second day of wearing them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

15 minutes

This blog is haunting me. I keep thinking, " I need to sit down and write. Is this quitting? Is that what you are doing? What about the rest of your rejections for the year? What about that? You have time, don't even try the time deal. You are the one who always says, 'You make time for what you want to make time for.' Which is true by the way. So, what's the deal? When are you going to at least make some kind of effort again?"

Today. Now. Fine.

Here's what I am going to try. Note, I say "try" because in the past I've seen just how quickly all of my resolutions swirl down the drain with quiet abandon. The plan is, I will set my microwave timer for 15 minutes. And for 15 minutes, I will type and try to get something out. Note: this all may very well be crap, it may all be crap anyway, but this is beside the point. I just need to feel that I am addressing this somehow. Today, on Saturday night, with my sick daughter up in bed, I start this new plan. If I make a week I will be thrilled. Actually, how about I buy myself a new set of Uniball pens if I make it 7 days in a row? Who wouldn't want a new set of the best pens ever?


Today, I crawled across the floor in the way I remember my mom doing so many times as a kid. I was putting all the pieces of the quilt I've made for Kai together. A quilt is really like a big fabric sandwich. The pieced together colorful part goes on the top, the fluffy batting in the middle and a sheet for the back. I do all my quilting by hand. In order to assure that the pieces don't slide around as you work on getting all the quilting in, you make large basting stitches in black thread in the shape of an X across the top. To to this, you must lay all the pieces out flat on the floor, then crawl across it with a threaded needle, placing all of the basting stitches. Once the quilting is finishes, you simply nip the thread and pull it out.

I haven't worked on a quilt for too long. Sewing calms me in a way I wish meditation would. I've failed at that too many times to count! I come from a long line of quilters. I would have to check with my mom, but I think I am the third of fourth generation of female quilters on my mom's side. My grandma made beautiful quilts. I actually got what I think of as her last beautiful quilt. Everytime I look at it, wrap it around me, I can almost feel her smooth dry hand over mine.

I started Kai's quilt before we brought him home. My mind felt so scattered. I longed for some organization. If I could not stitch my thoughts together into a straight line, well, I would stitch pieces of fabric together instead. After several attempts to produce what I felt I wanted, I gave up. Even sewing cound't calm the storm in my mind.

Today, as I sat in our over-sized blue chair to being the quilting, I felt such a sense of calm come over me. Elizabeth was curled out on our couch, flushed with a fever. She looked over at me and said, "Mommy, can I cut the string for you?" She needed to keep her tousled head on the pillow, so I told her, "How about tomorrow if you are feeling better?"

I taught her how to use the sewing machine this week, just as my mom taught me years ago. There is something so potent about passing on these basic skills to your kids. I felt such a strong tie to my mom, my grandma and the women who I never met in our family who sat before sewing machines, piecing together their next creation, deciding what fabric to use or which pattern to try next.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Welcome! hell

Each day, on the way to drop Kai off at preschool, I pass a peculiar little white house. It’s a small ranch home, built in the 1970’s. While a fresh coat of paint wouldn’t hurt it, the siding and the black trim are more faded than cracked or peeling. Here’s the thing about this house, it has a dangerously ambiguous front porch. On one side of the front porch sit two sling backed soccer chairs, the ones that fold down into torpedo-like shapes that all self-respecting suburban citizens must own. Over the chairs a bamboo wind chime sways in the breeze. This side of the porch seems to say, “Come on over. Have a seat. Contemplate life with me as two people of this universe. Listen to the wind sing her mystical tune through my earth-friendly Buddha chimes.” On the other side of the porch, perched precariously on a pedestal of some sort, just to the left of the front door is a massive hissing devil-like ghoul the size of a bloated goat. This side screams, “The devil is real and he’s about to spit poisonous flesh eating venom all over your face.” It’s as if within the space of three feet, these neighbors are hoping to lure you into their lair, only to spat and snarl at you as you move on to ring the doorbell.

My own home falls into this sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phenomena, on a slightly more subtle scale. Earlier in the month when Mums started popping up at garden stores all over our town, I bought several to fill our pots and flower boxes in the front of the house. I immediately came home and planted the canary yellow, red and orange flowers. Stepping back, I couldn’t help but feel that my Martha Stewart mother would be proud of her daughter’s work that day. Just a couple short weeks later, the mums are all dead. If you walk up to my house, you will see a small chalk board the happily chirps. “Welcome” on it. And yet, if you look below the board, you will me my charred mums. The mums seem to whimper, “If you require water for survival, do not enter this residence. Death awaits you!” This is an ongoing problem of mine. I love planting plants. Watering them, well, that takes a bit more planning and foresight.

If you come to visit, you need not worry that an evil demon will greet you, but you might be wise to ask for a drink if one is not offered to you.

Friday, August 14, 2009


It’s been a few weeks since my mini reunion trip to Colorado with four of my high school girlfriends and one of the guys. While I secretly daydreamed of a golden hued reconnection that included swelling music as it’s soundtrack; I also felt nervous that the trip would bomb, exploding uncomfortable moments all over my face. The famous quote “You can never go home” bounced around my head with reckless abandon during the days leading up to the trip. Jamie and Jill and I had already met up last year for one night. We’d had a great time a year ago. I knew seeing them would be fantastic. But the other three, I wasn’t entirely sure. I hadn’t seen Karla in almost fifteen years. Jessica and I saw each other a little in college, but nothing substantial. I’d seen Curt a few times but it was about ten years ago. At least a decade separated the majority of us on the trip. That’s a long time to go and then attempt a reconnection.

Jessica master minded the entire plan. We’d all found each other with the help of Facebook, and she thought a get together in Colorado would be fun. Surprisingly enough, we all readily agreed and booked our flights. I arrived at the Denver airport first, followed by Karla. She and I met in the agreed upon restaurant. I marveled at how much she looked and acted the same. Her facial expressions, tone of voice, body movements, all came back to me. As we talked and shared stories I wondered, where had all of that information been stored in my brain all this time, and isn’t it interesting how it all comes flooding back with the slightest nudge. I don’t know what happens with stored memories and what rusty neurons were firing, but I laughed at the wonder of it. Karla moaned about cheerleading and hating to wear her skirt that last year, how it was way too short. I immediately remembered her walking down the hall, books in one hand, the other pulling at the back of her polyester pleated skirt, it just barely covering her behind. I could hear her sighing with annoyance as she yanked it down.

The same idea rang true for everyone else as they arrived and pulled up a seat. Hidden areas of my brain lit up as Jamie made sarcastic wise cracks while Jessica tilted her head just a bit to the right to show she was listening. Like a slot machine, the familiarities kept falling into place, dinging loudly with recognition. We eventually made our way out of the airport. We met up with Curt later that night at a Brewery in Breckenridge. His presence, sitting comfortably next to Jill across the table from me, brought me back to our senior year where we’d all sat around together just like this someone’s house, late at night, laughing about who knows what, just as we were at that moment fifteen years later.

It’s amazing to me, how certain people can throw you back decades. How those people can just at the sight of them, hurl you into the past, to sit among parts of yourself you thought were long gone. Most of us would probably agree that all things high school have evaporated into the cosmos, along with the geometry theorems we were forced to memorize. Headed off on this trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. In the end, it was all that I had hoped for and more. I discovered that many facets my personality still exist, even if they remain mostly dormant for now. I found that people do change in some ways, but at least in this case, the core stayed the same. To be known from so long ago and then be reintroduced and connected once again, it was a delightfully comforting gift to behold.

On a lighter note, here’s a short list of other life lessons I walked away with following our trip:

•one bag of Doritos is not enough for four women for three days
•coffee and 3 different creamers are an essential for morning success
•There is one mom on every trip, and in this case it was Jamie
•There is one person unprepared on every trip, and in this case it was me.
•Hanging out in your pajamas in one person’s room in an impromptu slumber party never gets old.
•inside jokes really are the best, i.e.-cookie dough balls, first experiences, and wanna be cowboys.
•sitting in a hot tub during a hail storm is a lot funnier when there is a pregnant lady huddled in the corner under an umbrella trying to be a good sport.
•connecting with old friends from you past can feed your soul, but it can make the trip feel very short and will have you daydreaming about the next one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm putting my brake pedal down

July 27, 2009

Dear Kate,

I am writing to you today to register a formal complaint. We’ve been together almost 7 years now. I believe the time has come for me to air my grievances, because apparently change isn’t inevitable after all.

First of all, let me state for the record, that I do appreciate your verbal loyalty to the Honda family. I’ve overheard you many times tout Honda’s reliability as well as our quality of service. Unfortunately, such comments fail to materialize into actions of appreciation. I cannot reciprocate a similar positive sentiment in reference to you, Kate Kneifel, my fateful owner.

Let me take a moment to remind you of my current list of achievements:
•provide great gas mileage
•continue to run smoothly despite the missed maintenance checks
•my body paint hasn’t rusted, chipped or cracked in light of the fact that I’ve only been through a car wash a handful of times.
•my engine doesn’t rev, clunk or tick

Yesterday was the final straw. Now, I understand I belong to family with children. And to be completely honest, I even like your kids. I try to take the crumbs and broken Happy Meal toys that litter my floor all in stride. They are, after all, just children. You my friend, are not though. By all typical accounts, you are an adult. Spilling that entire jug of water in my trunk and then just leaving it over night to stink me up, well it is no wonder I reek of mildrew this morning!

I huffed to myself in total indignation when you turned up your nose this morning and whined, “What is that horrible smell?” That smell is your carelessness! I have to be with myself all day long. You just pop in and out. Imagine my frustration with your high pitched complaints!

Do you think it’s easy being parked here in your garage next to your husband’s immaculate car? Don’t for a minute think that a Lexus is too classy for mockery. I won’t bore you with some of the rude comments that are made after your close your mudroom door. But that car has a mouth on it.
All I’m asking for is a little respect, a shred of attention given to my upkeep now and then. Seven years of service should amount to at least a monthly car wash, maybe even an air freshener or two. Open up my trunk and air it out, vacuum my carpets and give the windows a wipe down.

I’ve nobly ignored the remarks of your “other” car for long enough. I can’t hold out forever. To be completely clear, let me put this in terms even you can understand. I would hate for you to find yourself hours away from home on a call for work, only to discover my timing belt has gone out and there you are, alone and stranded.

I’m not here to hand out threats. As always, speaking as your loyal mode of transportation, I am simply looking out for your best interest. I’d hope you would return the favor and start doing the same for me. Who knows how long I can endure such treatment without dire consequences? I look forward to a bright new future in the coming weeks.

Sincerely yours,

2002 Honda Civic

ps-Some owners name their cars you know. I am particularly fond of the name Candace. Give it some thought.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I’m getting ready to go to a yoga class this morning. My feelings surrounding yoga are mixed. I found myself interested in yoga after Elizabeth was born. When she was about 3 months old, I fell in our walk in closet while taking off my jeans. I just lost my balance. As a result, I slammed my head against the molding of the door and landed squarely on my tail bone. My doctor informed me that I had cracked my tail bone and prescribed some heavy pain killers. The pain killers made me feel loopy, so I stuck to ibuprofen and continued to run. Cracked butt bone or not, I was determined to whittle my backside and stomach down to it’s pre-pregnancy state. And like all unwise decisions, my persistent running exacerbated the problem. My hip flared up in protest. I ended up in physical therapy and unable to run for half a year.

I decided to take up yoga instead. I did what I always do. I hit the library. Scanning the shelves, I checked out everything I could find regarding the practice of yoga. The whole idea appealed to me. Concepts of peace, acceptance, not pushing, embracing your breath, were all ideas a new mother like myself could use each day. The books pictured tight, lean, mellowed out Gumbies, bending their bodies with blissful serenity. I’ve always wanted to obtain such a humming sense of peace and grace in my body. Speaking as someone who can’t even take her jeans off with ease and grace, I knew yoga would be a stretch (no pun intended).

I read the books, checked out videos, bought my own sticky mat and practiced at home. Yet each time I tried to bend, reach, and follow my breath to embrace the yin, the yang begged me to put on a pair of boxing gloves and jab the crap out of those buzzing black flies of anxiety thumping against the carefully placed screens in my mind.

I’ve gone back to yoga since then at different points in my life. When we were in China I brought along Rainbow Mars and her yoga videos. (Yes her name is actually Rainbow Mars). The routines helped combat jet lag and the intense stress of the trip. I figure my difficulty in fully embracing yoga means that it probably has something to teach me. I could use a little mellowing out for sure. So, Josh has taken the kids to the park and I will try this yoga class. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I won’t twitch at any point in the class.

Later today, Josh and I are going to play some tennis. So if deep breathing and stretching doesn’t do it for me this morning, smashing a little yellow ball on the courts for an hour should be fun.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


A while ago, I wrote about why I write. Lately, the opposite question has popped into my head, “Why am I not writing?”

A couple of years ago, my mom decided to clean out their basement. Old lamps, aquariums, glass vases, dusty baby toys, and my box of high school memorabilia were listed on the eviction notice. Back at my house I hauled the box into our attic. Peering into it, I scanned the contents: dried up corsages, all four yearbooks, shoe boxes filled with notes passed during classes or between them, and framed pictures of my much younger face coupled with that my boyfriend or a group of giggling girlfriends.

Picking through the box, I came upon the special senior edition of our high school newspaper. The news staff asked many of the seniors what they hoped to be doing in 10 years. Groaning inwardly, I skimmed through the responses, looking for mine. I’d said, “I want to be making a difference.” A cheesier line could possibly be found by watching a Miss America pageant, but I doubt it. I cringed, imagining my fellow classmates gagging on their index fingers after reading my reply. And yet, here’s the tricky thing, perched over that box of memories, the attic light bulb shining above my head like a spotlight, I knew I meant it. Puffing up like a proud mama, I felt pleased with my younger self, cheesy or not.

Somehow after graduating from college, getting married, teaching for five years, giving birth to my first child, struggling through infertility, adopting our second child and starting two different masters programs, I still meant it, I just didn’t want to do it anymore. The difference I wanted was a now a little validation, a bigger salary, more respect and some positive attention. In the sentence, “I want to make a difference.” The main idea shifted from ideal of change in the world to a need for break and some time to think.

So, why haven’t I been writing? Frustration and confusion are not always my favorite topics. I know of people who can convey these issues with a clever sense of humor and wit. I wasn’t feeling it though.

I felt like someone who was walking around with a dislocated shoulder. There were things I could do that wouldn’t make it hurt, but try to throw a ball and YIKES! Step back people. So I just kind of held it and rubbed it for awhile. Except instead of my shoulder, it’s been my purpose that felt dislocated. I’ve been working on the courage to pop it back into place. A couple of weeks ago, that happened. It snapped back in and a surge of relief followed. I still feel a bit sore and am trying to be gentle with it, but my purpose seems to be back.

This fall, I am heading back to my masters program in social work. I don’t plan to stop writing. In fact, I believe I will write more once I am back in school. My goal of 5 rejections for this year remains.  But the fact is, I’ve realized that I need more. I’ve come to terms with the money issue. I probably won’t ever make what I feel I should as far as money goes, and yes, school will be expensive. Gold stars will not be handed out for what I will do. Yet, at the core of who I am, I know I need to do it. All of the other things I’ve played with this year, owning a bike shop, being a bike mechanic, writing for a career, they won’t work for me on their own. They are great as a supplementation, a way to balance out the rest, but not as a means to themselves.

This all brings me back to the initial question, “Why have I not been writing?” Well, I had to snap my shoulder back in place. I had to learn exactly how to do it. I didn’t want to do it wrong and make it worse. The pain could no longer be ignored.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seven words

I saw this question posted on another blog, and I forget which one. But I thought it was fun...

Describe your current life in seven words:

Searching for some adventure between time outs.

That seems to sum it up. At least for today. Anyone else want to give it a shot?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Next week this week

Imagine you will be sitting down a week from today to describe how your week went. What do you hope you'll be writing?-Writing prompt taken from The One Minute Writer

I went for a run today and my knee didn’t hurt at all. Instead of taking the medium route on my bike ride, I took the long one. I rode 50 miles without having to stop to go to the bathroom. I passed two other riders while climbing a hill and was able to keep a 16mph average even with the wind. I rode my aerobars without the slightest wobble on the bumpy parts of the road. I borrowed my mom’s small digital camera and took some amazing shots on the ride, the white barn, the magenta holly hocks in front of the green picket fence, my own shadow sliding along the road in front of me. I will frame the one of the barn and in our family room. Josh and I exhibited massive amounts of patience with both of our kids and managed to have a few conversations of our own. I did not drink a Diet Coke on that sweltering hot day and SURPRISE, my face didn’t break out. Clear skin is as easy as refraining from Diet Coke for me, which means it is hard. Thankfully, I never formed an addiction to anything stronger. I don’t think I have the stamina for quitting.
I cracked funny, quick witted jokes with my friends, making them chuckle with intelligent humor. I serviced all of my accounts for work AND came to a firm conclusion about my future career path. All of this, while staying on my Clean Eating plan for more than one meal, rising at 5am and getting to bed early as well. Not a bad week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


The heavily ashed cigarette hung out of his mouth at a relaxed angle. He held onto it loosely, tucking it into the corner of his mouth as only a true smoker would. Anyone with less experience would purse their lips just a little too tightly, fearing the small burned hole in their perfectly worn jeans if the cigarette were to fall. I’ve never met this neighbor, but as I drove past his half-mowed lawn dressed in my black pants and wrinkled white blouse, I resisted the urge to pull my car right up to the end of his driveway. For a moment I saw myself carefully placing my car in park, opening up my car door to introduce myself as the neighbor down the street. Upon which, he would turn off his lawn mower, offer me a seat on one of his black rockers on the porch and we’d sit and smoke a cigarette together, commenting on the rain this week. “Great for the lawn, if it could just stay green and mow itself, everyone would be happy.” I would take a long inhale off of the cigarette and nod my head in perfect agreement.

A few weeks ago, as my family and I sat around my sister’s dining room table I made a decision. “I smoked in college.” There, it was out. Now, I waited and scanned my mom and dad’s faces. My sister, already privy to this information, stopped scraping food off the dishes in the kitchen and gave me the raised eyebrow expression. My Dad had just finished telling us the story about his “business associates”, that is what he always calls them, not people from work, or the fellows he works with, they are business associates, period. This particular group of business associates happened to want to end a night at a cigar bar. Dad, who quit smoking years ago, had to decline. “I really wanted to go in there and have a cigar. I really wanted to. I knew I had to go home. There was no way I could go in and say no to all those cigars.”

I’ve actually had more than a few nightmares that I catch my Dad sneaking a smoke somewhere. I find out he never really did quit and I am horrified. My Dad just looked at me from across the table and smiled, “Are you kidding?”


“Wait,” my mom jumped in. “Did you inhale?” Who knew Bill Clinton and I would encounter the same questions someday.

Offended, I answered, “Of course I did!” What kind of baby smoker did they take me for anyway?

My Dad looked at me in total disbelief. Perhaps he was thinking of the famous letter I wrote to him when I was about eight. Growing up, my Dad smoked two or three packs a day. Each morning he would shuffle downstairs wearing his once navy robe over his pajamas, grab a lighter and his pack of cigarettes and head to the garage for the first cigarette of the day.

In the letter, I begged him with my elementary handwriting, to quit smoking. I even included my own little cartoonish fuzz ball creature. The bubble over his round little body said, “I know you can do it. Just think of how proud of yourself you will be once you quit!” With my mom’s encouragement, we folded the letter up and sent it to his office at work. My mom knowingly felt that such a plea would resonate with more vigor if it were to be received unexpectedly.
So he quit. He transformed into a bear for a few weeks, snapping and growling at anything that moved. He quit cold turkey. My hacking cough the pediatrician blamed on the second hand smoke stopped, and my sister and I no longer covered our noses on the way home from church when my Dad would gratefully light up, but not allow more than one window to be cracked open.

I hated it when my Dad smoked. I loved it when I smoked. I still miss it. I miss sitting somewhere with someone and just counting the inhales, how many you have left before you snub it out. I smoked because I couldn’t really drink. Drinking just made me silly for about 30 minutes. Each time I attempted to drink with any purpose, I ended up vomiting. The entire day afterwards was always ruined. Plus, it was pleasurably rebellious for me to smoke. People’s faces lit up with genuine shock when they saw me light up, “You smoke?” they would shriek.

“Yep,” I would answer taking an extra long drag to prove it.

Smoking was my way of saying, “You know what, you don’t know everything about me. I am not as predictable as you think. Don’t label me Miss Goodie Two Shoes. There are lots of surprising things about me. Hang around and you’ll see.” The fear of course was, maybe I am not so surprising. In reality, I am pretty predictable; it’s been my nature for as long as I can remember. I go to bed early, floss my teeth every morning, try to eat a healthy as I can, take my vitamins every day, pray and try to stay on a budget.

So, as I drove past my neighbor, who I don’ t know, on my street and watched him smoke that cigarette while he trudged up and down his lawn, painting those neat stripes across it, I pushed aside the desire to jump out of my reliable Honda Civic to chat and bum a smoke. Instead, I pulled into our driveway, grabbed a pen. Writing down my miles for the week’s expense account, I gathered up my work bag, the file folders stuffed inside, proof of my work for the day, and headed inside.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Back in the saddle

Yesterday I took my bike out. This is the second ride I’ve headed out on all by myself, the first time occurring last weekend. That first ride almost didn’t happen. As I rushed around the house trying to find my orthotics to shove into my bike shoes, and my biking gloves, which I never did find, and take my bike off the trainer to get it outside, I thought, “This is why people don’t get into riding, there is too much crap to put on and get out!” For as much as I appreciate nice gear, it can sure spread out quickly.

The clouds gathered heavily outside our front door. Frowning, I thought, “Why am I doing this? I’m just going to get stuck out in the rain and slide off the road somewhere. I will probably hurt myself too.” Right on queue, Elizabeth yelled down a request for something from her room upstairs. “Ask Daddy,” I told her and stepped outside.

It was now or never. I knew why I needed to get my butt on that seat. It didn’t matter if I only rolled a mile away from the house and then had to turn around, I needed to get on the bike and get out on the road because it intimidated the crap out of me. Waiting until tomorrow wouldn’t make it any easier.

I remember when getting out on the roads by myself wasn’t a big deal. Visions of cars side swiping me or of being kidnapped by a strange man in a pick-up truck didn’t cross my mind. That scary movie didn’t play because the real scenes of freshly painted barns, shiny green corn stalks and the blissful swatches of cool shady wooded areas took up all of the space instead. In those days, I pushed my pedals and felt my strength and independence rise within me without any surprise.
And so despite the pit in my stomach and the incessant fear that I would get stuck in my pedals and eat the pavement with my much appreciated teeth, I clipped in and headed out. We live in an area with a lot of round abouts. Knowing that riding through one would scare me, I headed for the closest one right away. My heart rate monitor beeped at me as I approached the tricky intersection. Following all of the road rules, I entered the round about and promptly got honked at by an angry driver. Apparently, he or she wasn’t pleased seeing a biker on the road. “Okay, so I got the round about and the pissed off driver out of the way in the first five minutes, not bad,” I thought. Sure enough, my heart rate monitor confirmed that my heart was still beating, I was still alive. A sense of adventure and freedom once again started to seep into my pumping legs. “Honk if you must, but I, Kate Kneifel, am out here on the road, like it or not!”

I knew there were ride markers on the road, starting at Elizabeth’s elementary school, so I followed those. As I pedaled farther and farther away from the subdivisions of our town and headed more and more out into the country, my spirits lifted. On that first ride, it never did rain. I saw two blue birds, with their brilliant indigo coloring, and each time I shouted with glee. “Oh my gosh, it’s a blue bird!” I love blue birds but have only seen them a couple of times in my life. I remember wanting to try to build one of their special houses when I was in girl scouts. I never did make one, but on this ride I saw them twice! Then, at one point in the ride, the clouds parted and a brilliant ray of sunshine streamed down upon a white barn sitting peacefully in a golden field of wheat. “Wow, “ I exclaimed to no one. “Will you look at that! Isn’t that just beautiful!” Smiling, pleased with myself as if I had created all of these little surprises myself, I rode on.

I’ve lived in Carmel for almost 15 years. Here was all of this beauty just a few miles by bike, and I’d never seen it or experienced it. It felt like a mini vacation, a little mini adventure in my backyard. And that experience alone, it was like being a little kid again. Almost as if these child-like experiences were a just smooth white shelled eggs nestled in my gut, just waiting to be picked up and cracked open.

Yesterday I chose a new route. I had no idea how far it would take me, or where it would take me. I could’ve looked it up on the internet or driven it first with my car, but that seemed beyond the point. Once again, I came home feeling rejuvenated and alive with the feel of the road, the smell of the burning wood, the rotting moss, the heat of the growing crops now enveloped in my body. It amazes me that how if I can manage to push the fear aside, other sensations will fill that space until there is just not much room for fear and anxiety.

I keep trying to find people who want to go out on rides with me. But it seems people have either had painful sore butt experiences with bikes and aren’t thrilled about the idea of reliving them, or they are zippidy fast and I don’t want to hold them back, sucking air the whole time trying to keep up with them. Perhaps I am just meant to ride alone for awhile and it turns out, I don’t mind at all.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Today I dropped my kids off at Vacation Bible School, I raced my guilt about not volunteering this year to the front doors. I won. Leaving the guilt behind to catch it's breath and latch onto another mother, I drove my smeared windowed Civic to Menards.

I've been wanting to plant more perennials in the back beds, but just haven't had the time lately. As I walked through the nursery with my list, my heart pounded as if I were embarking upon a new romance. I thought to myself, "This is me. I get butterflies imagining what I can plant in the dirt behind my house." I'm not sure if this is an admirable passion for life and the simple parts of it, or low expectations.

Pure joy hits you from behind while your not looking. It stuns me like a kick in the butt, but instead of being angry and shocked, when it is joy, you jump at the sudden impact and laugh. An Annabelle hydrangea plant sat shot gun. Kai's car seat held with lavender plants. The floor filled up with yellow rose bushes. The back end of my car sunk under the weight of several bags of black top soil and mulch.

No one was hungry. I didn't have to worry about putting a blanket down for dirt and water. It's my car. I am allowed to get it as dirty as I want. As I hopped into my car, I could almost hear the plants smile, sighing happily to themselves as well. There is a quietness knowing you will be loved. If I had a bigger car, I would've bought too much, felt sick to my stomach. Neatly folding the receipt and slipping it into that hidden pocket of my wallet I would have returned them the next day.

I will take a picture of this when I get home, I thought as I arched the front wheels out of the parking spot. This is pure happiness for me today. So I did, and there it is.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Giving up the Gold Star

I keep thinking about posting something, writing more, and then I don't. I do the laundry, start dinner, get caught up on paperwork for work, and think of other projects, something easier.

I keep thinking two things, first of all, that nothing worth having is ever too easy. And two, but maybe I am wasting my time. I had a big in depth conversation with my friend Heather about careers, life, etc. She asked me why I am writing, what I like to write, etc.

A year ago I started take more time to write because I enjoy it. I've kept a journal since I was about 11 and find that writing lifts me up. It leaves me feeling full and light at the same time. But as we continued talking, I realized that lately, I'd fallen into the "Gold Star" trap. I was writing to get the Gold Star. I wanted someone who wasn't a friend or family to read my blog and find it interesting. I daydreamed of an agent or publisher finding something I wrote worth a second look. And as the rejections came in, I lost that spark and worse, the fun evaporated as I replayed my own sense of embarrassment over and over in my mind.

Heather left me a card the next day. It is a yellow note card with a little pink star on it. "I couldn't find any gold stars, so you got a pink one on a gold card!"

I haven't been writing much this month. But maybe it was time for a break, time to take a breath, to let go of worry and stop trying so hard.

There is a woman at my club and she is teaching herself how to swim, just as I did last year at this time. Each day, she straps on the flotation belt and churns up and down the swim lane. Stopping half way down the lane, her chest lifts and falls, I catch her eye and smile. I want to say, "WAY TO GO! You are doing so much better than just two weeks ago!" But I don't, as I need to watch myself that I am not too friendly. She smiles back proud of herself. I didn't have to say a word.

Me, I plan to backstroke for a bit. I did a bit of revising on my Princess Hazel story, but that's it. I am just struggling going back to it. I'm not trying to make writing my career. It's funny, I can do marathons, cycling events or swim and not care at all if I am slow. Instead, I find I feel completely delighted each time I finish and don't puke. I wonder how I can transfer that attitude to other areas? Maybe drink Gatorade while I write to get me in the mood? Do push ups between sentences?

For now, I'm going to try to let go of the Gold Star Status, breathe and let it be fun again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where is my Madonna poster?

I am the golden retriever of people. We owned a golden retriever for years. His name was Jak. Whenever the doorbell rang, Jak rushed to the door and shook with great enthusiasm . The minute I opened the door, Jak dashed ahead of me to make immediate contact. Most people don’t mind a welcoming dog. What people mind is what I call The Sloppy Velcro Dog. The Sloppy Velcro dog doesn’t go away after a few pats. He leans himself up against your leg, panting and drooling. He might drape his stringy saliva across your freshly pressed black pants each time he nudges your hand for more attention. As a guest, you politely pretend not to notice, not to care, while secretly hoping that this lovely pet is an “outside” dog and will leave to romp in the yard any minute now.
I should have known not to attend a meeting with so many letters strung together. SCBWI, what in the heck could that stand for? I didn’t find out until I came home and Googled it. It turns out it stands for Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. This information probably would have been good to know prior to the meeting.
I barely made it to the meeting in the first place. Today was the day a literary agent would give a presentation about why an agent is important, how to get one, and what they do for you. This woman had also offered to critique a draft of a children’s book or novel for a small fee. I jumped at this chance, as I still need 4 more rejections to make my New Year’s Resolution of acquiring 5 rejections. And secretly, I knew it would motivate me to finish one of my drafts that have been taking up memory in my computer.
I worked on my story, revised it, read it to the kids, reworked it again and finally submitted it to the agent. I knew it was just a start, but I enjoyed developing the story, playing with the settings and deciding how it should end. Kai requested to hear it again and again. Secretly I wondered, “Could this be it? Will something come of this?”
And yet, I tried to also prepare myself for the worst. People get rejected all the time, I told myself. You need to practice just persevering, practice just allowing others to read what you write, just be proud of yourself for going to the meeting, for writing what you did.
So I arrived early that Saturday morning and sat in my parked car with the windows down, breathing deeply, trying to keep my nerves in check. Other cars made their sweeping turns into rectangle parking spaces. I watched various women look up at the gray building, cross reference their written directions and then confidently march inside.
I eventually slid out of my car. I was starting to feel like a undercover cop waiting around for the action to drop. Following the signs, I walked up the rainbow colored stairs of the community theater into a room filled with folding chairs facing a miniature stage.
With my name tag firmly affixed to my turquoise cardigan, I chose a seat. “What do you write?” asked the woman sitting in front of me. Oh, shit. I hadn’t thought of that question. What do I write? I write whatever comes into my head. How about that? What the hell am I doing here? What do I write? Is there a wrong answer to that question?
“Oh, I am pretty new,” I said, trying to feel my way through, “I submitted a children’s picture book to be critiqued.”
“I write Middle School aged chapter books. I have one book published right now, but it’s with a small publishing company, so that’s one of the questions I have for her today. I’ve got another book I am trying to get published, but so far no luck.”
And there it was, that word, “published”. Suddenly, as this woman continued to share her writing history with me, I heard it bouncing around the room like an overzealous bouncy ball. “…she called me about wanting to publish a Cajun version of my story. There is no way I am giving permission for that…”
“…my agent says that they’ve had a run on boys books lately…”
“ I published a lot in the eighties and am now trying to get back into it…”
Have you ever had one of those “Holy crap” moments, when you realize you are totally in the wrong place, out of your league, and there is no way for you to quietly exit stage left? I felt like someone who was just starting an exercise program and somehow landed myself in the Olympic village.
Oh, please no one else talk to me. Please let this thing start on time. Of course it didn’t. But after another 5 minutes or so of small talk, and a brutal round of “Introduce yourself, where you are from and what you write, “ I was off the hook for two hours. I learned quite a bit about agents, writing a query letter, how the publishing business works.
Afterwards, the agent handed back our critiques and people lingered to chat. A few other women from Carmel approached me. “Oh, we should get together to do some critiquing sometime.” And of course, I cheerfully agreed and with that, like fastening your harness on a roller coaster, my nerves took off. The two women introduced themselves. I proceeded to pepper them with every question I could think of, anything to keep them from asking anything about me. My voice rose an octave. My eyebrows were probably rooted into the base I thought I’d hit the jackpot when one of the women mentioned that they owned a bike shop in town. “A bike shop! “ I squealed, “bikes are my second love!” Yes, I thought, let’s talk about bikes, not writing, not publishing, not agents, bikes. Let’s get into components, wheels, trails maintenance, and good group rides in the area. It was as if this poor woman unsuspectingly pulled a ball out of her pocket and I kept knocking it out of her hand to retrieve it. Isn’t this a fun game? Huh, huh, throw it again. Here let me show you how… I swear, thank God I don’t have a tail, it would have been noisily thumping the wide paneled wood floors.
Any good dog knows when he is losing the attention battle and eventually leaves to lay down and wait for the next opportunity. I could tell by the woman’s somewhat averted gaze that she thought I was a not- quite- bright- overly perky- highlighted -light weight. She was published. She had the book to prove it. Me, I was acting as if I had just downed three Red Bulls with a chocolate cake as a chaser. I made a few more attempts to redeem myself, then excused myself. I cited my work to do today and sang a final, “Nice to meet you!” before sailing back down the rainbow stairs.
Hoping back in my car, my cheeks flamed. I felt like an idiot. Why can I not just shut up? Why do I have to be the overly friendly chirpy girl? It’s okay, I thought as I looked at my folded up critique. I got what I came for and it was sitting right next to me. There it was, a judgment on my story. It could change everything. I drove home as quickly as I could and went upstairs to read it by myself.
I took a deep breath, sank into the welcoming plaid chair next to our bed and began to read. It wasn’t so good. Basically, she kindly and politely told me I have quite a bit of work to do. Then she gave me lots of concrete examples of how to make the story better. At this point, I’d like to write, “And I was okay with that.” I would like to tell you that I took her suggestions in stride, that I said, “Okay, those are great ideas and I’ll get to work on revising this story right away.” Technically, I can say that. I took it very well and was very well adjusted for about 10 minutes. Then, I cried. I felt so stupid. What was I thinking submitting that story? Really, what do I think is going to happen here? What the hell am I doing?
Despite my ridiculous crying, I needed to work and it had to be done that day. I called my sister. I called V. I called my mom. They were all wonderful and supportive as all good friends are. They took all of my fears and concerns out for a walk and smoothed out my bruised pride. I am not going to quit. I didn’t even feel like quitting. But here is the thing. It sounds so good to say, “Do what you love!” “Go after your dreams!” But when it IS something you love, when you are trying to grasp the dream that lives in the quiet, private corner of your mind, it hurts like hell when you fall on your face. It feels like everyone can see the scabbing scrapes on your nose and is thinking, “Does she really think that will work out for her?”
To overcome this feeling, I’ve established a new philosophy going forward. So, I may be a crappy writer. Fine. Let’s start there. Well, is Madonna the best singer in the world? No she is not. But she has a hell of a drive. She’s passionate. She‘s made herself an icon with that passion and determination. And so, I am adopting Madonna as my new, “You don’t have to be the best to make it work” philosophy.
I just want to write. I’ve got three more rejections to go. Game on, I may be a golden retriever and that’s fine. Throw me the damn ball and let’s get this thing moving again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stranger at the stoplight- AKA Poodle guy

There are many everyday things that bring me joy, identifying a bird by their song, mowing the lawn, watching people sing in their cars and of course, good hair day. Today, while waiting at a stoplight on my way to a swimming lesson, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Turning my head to look at the car waiting in the lane next to me, I saw a teenaged guy who looked just like Troy’s best friend in High School Musical, fluffing up his poufy hair in his rear view mirror. His hair reminded me of a poodle’s fur, soft, brown, curly and most of all, big. It sprung out from his head with a sort of reckless abandon. If he were a friend of mine, I’d put my face squarely in that mass of curls, just once. I’m guessing it would tickle and smell like some kind of overly scented shampoo that teenage boys seem to favor in the quest to smell manly. I watched as he peered into his rear view mirror, fluffing his hair out just so, trying to obtain that fragile balance between, styled and slightly tousled hair.
Poodle guy, perhaps sensing my gaze, turned to look at me. Laughing, I smiled and blushed for being caught snooping. He smiled back, wide and easy with lots of white teeth. From behind his lightly tinted window he laughed at himself and shrugged his shoulders. I turned away, embarrassed. I studied the red light with a sort of ridiculous intensity. But then again, out of the corner of my eye, there was more movement. Poodle guy waved his hands back and forth across the window in a sweeping X motion, trying to recapture my attention.
Turning once again, he raised his eyebrows and rolling his eyes up towards his halo of curls. He requested my input by signaling a thumbs up sign or a thumbs down sign to me through his window. It was now my turn to smile widely. I gladly gave him my best thumbs up sign. He gave an exaggerated sigh and leaned back in his seat, obviously pleased with the given approval. The light switched to green. I quickly made my turn.
As I drove down the street alone in my car, I couldn’t help but smile broadly to myself. What a funny and sweet guy. There are many times a day when I have to remind myself to not take everything in life so darned seriously, to “lighten up” as my Dad sometimes demands of me. Poodle guy did just that, he didn’t take himself or his hair too seriously and laughingly appreciated my own noisiness. It made my day. Who knew a good hair day for someone else could jump start a stranger’s day without one word exchanged.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Family Mission Statement

In our family love is a big blanket. It covers all of us and never goes away. Words and actions matter in our family. We problem solve. Ideas and feelings are shared and listened to. We look out for each other.

In our family, we are allowed to be cranky, angry, frustrated and upset. It will pass.

In our family we grow our dreams. We help each other tend to the fragile seeds of our dreams, caring for them each day, celebrating together as they grow.

In our family we sing, play music, read, dance, explore, pray, imagine and create.

I've wanted to write some kind of mission statement for our family for awhile now. We're trying to have weekly family meetings and I feel that the kids are old enough to start to get and appreciate just what being a family means. As we talk about issues during these meetings, I keep coming back to these central themes. We'll see how it goes down. I tried to write it in a way that my 6 year old and 4 year old could relate to easily. I wanted something in thee about service to others as well, maybe I'll do another draft, but for now we'll see how this one flies.

Does anyone else have a family mission statement? Want to share? Or do you have family meetings ever? This is new for us.

On other fronts, I did submit a draft of a children's book to an agent who is coming to speak next weekend in Carmel. For a fee she will read it and critique it for you. This was a pretty big step for me, as she could totally hate it. Here is the thing, at this point, I feel okay with that possibility. I imagine all of this submitting like weight lifting. Rejection is a heavy blow, but it will build up the strength of my determination. Each time I "hit the weights" again, I will get stronger and the muscle will grow a fiber at a time. I may get sore, but that's okay. No pain no gain.

**Note to friends and family--remind me of this bravado later when I am feeling crushed! :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Five Questions

So often, when I meet and am getting to know someone new, I find myself asking them what they do for a living, or where they live. I find this habit interesting, as it doesn’t really tell me much about the person. For example, I work for Papyrus in sales for their Wholesale division. My basic line is that that I am a glorified stocker of greeting cards. My current position sheds little light on who I am. These are the 5 questions that I would really like to ask people, both new acquaintances and friends.

1. What were you like as a five year old?
2. What music album never grows old for you?
3. If money were no object, what would you be doing right now?
4. Where are your favorite places to be?
5. If you had to pick a theme song what would it be and why?

Answer those questions and I’ll certainly know more about you and who you really are. I’ve asked these questions of many people, specifically #3. It’s exhilarating to hear what others secretly dream and long for in life. One friend wanted to open her own store and run the business with her sister. She is doing just that today. Another, an attorney, dreamed of owning a dairy farm. Among my friends there are budding student advocates, bed and breakfast hosts, painters, musicians, art critics, owners of summer camps, forest rangers, photographers and writers, just to name a few.

I’ve come back to this question quite a bit this week. As with so many people, I’ve received news about my job, our company has been sold and we’re all feeling just a bit nervous about whether or not we’ll keep our jobs through the transition. What will I do if I lose my job? I’m weighing my options. My hope is to stay as close to my dream job as possible.

And if money were no object for me, what would I do you ask? I would write, learn to play the guitar, sing in my family room and take dance classes. I would join a storytelling group and perform stories to groups of children wherever they would listen. I would walk through my days with a camera around my neck to take photographs. I would learn to build bicycles and work in a bike shop. I’d start a writer’s workshop for adolescent girls to foster a sense of empowerment and community.

That’s a start at least.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A cup of coffee

It is a few days after Easter, and as it goes with my job, I’ve been busy. As with much of retail business, the tide rises and falls with the given holiday. The day after Easter I am out working 14 hour days rushing around to get Mother’s Day set for all of those over achievers that must choose their greeting card way ahead of time.
I walked into my Target store in Kokomo with my normal stride and efficient manner. This particular Target is attached to the local mall. Almost every time I’ve been there, a man who looks much like a version of God, with long white hair and matching beard is sitting in the café area. I say he looks like God, but he really looks like a dusty God. A White Bearded wise man that started out clean at some point, but managed to collect some dust and dirt along the way, a God that shrugged off the white robes and pulled on some worn demin jeans and a soft royal blue flannel shirt. His hands are thick and callused, dirt sits under his nails, but they are clipped in smooth ovals.
Each time I walk into the store, I look for him, just as I am always shocked by the overly tanned older woman who works the service desk. Her burnt orange skin the result of countless hours in the nearby tanning bed a few stores down. He sits facing the registers, usually alone in the café. I’ve smiled at him several times in a way that makes me somehow feel like a overly perky cheerleader for life and living it. He does not return the smile.
I’ve often thought, I should offer to buy him a cup of coffee, maybe even get a cup myself and sit with him and talk. But quickly my inner critic takes over and says, that is so offensive to assume that he cannot buy his own coffee. My mind wrestles with the two view points, one quietly prodding me to approach this man, the other screaming that I am a naïve person who is simply oversensitive.
I’ve looked to the Target employees for signs. None of them look at him; don’t even seem to notice him sitting there. It is like he is a fixture in the store, another endcap that just never changes. I refuse to do that. I make eye contact with him each time even if he doesn’t smile. He doesn’t seem dazed or confused. He just sits and watches the Target customers flow in and out of the store.
The last time I was at the store, he sat with two younger people. As I walked past I could smell the cigarette smoke wafting off of their clothes and I heard the woman say to “God” , “So, is this what you do all day? Just sit here?” in an angry, frustrated tone. Slowing down just a bit to hear his response I heard him calmly say, “No,…” but I didn’t catch the rest.
I am guessing that the woman was his daughter and the man her husband, stopping in to talk to him. He is someone’s father, was someone’s son. For some reason, I can’t stop thinking about this man. I am trying to work up my courage to buy him a cup of coffee the next time I go there, maybe even sit and talk with him if the moment lent itself to a conversation. The thought of him haunts me at times as I cannot imagine feeling like I was not being seen, of sitting in such a busy place, and having everyone ignore you, look past you in order to buy that egg wreath to put on the door. He isn’t disruptive, isn’t smelly, he’s just a little dusty.
It reminds me of the day my sister and I were getting on the train in Chicago after hearing Maya Angelou speak downtown. It had been a dream of mine to hear her speak, and I felt light and energized by the evening. As we rushed to the train a homeless woman eyed my doggy bag hungrily from The Cheesecake Factory and asked us for any change. We uncomfortably said no and go on the train. My stomach turned as we sat in our seats waiting for the train to leave. “I’ll be right back,” I said to my sister. “I’m going to leave this with that woman.”
I ran down the corridor of the train station back to the woman sitting on the floor. “Here you go.” I said. She looked up at me and said, “Thank you.” And I ran back to catch the train. As I remember that incident, I wanted to help her in that moment, but offering my leftovers hardly seemed honorable. Maybe it was the right thing, maybe it was really an insult. Maybe I should have insisted we purchase a sack lunch for that woman and take a later train home. We all struggle with those issues of what to do when we’re faced with someone else’s hardship. I guess in my mind I welcome that struggle because the alternative is to ignore or blame others for their problems and just breeze past using those excuses to minimize others’ pain.
Next time, though I know it will take some courage, I will offer a coffee. The worst he can say is no.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Moving right along

Hello there! Did you think I abandoned this blog? Nope, I am still here, just busy working on projects. Per my New Years Resolution, I am working away on rejections #2 and #3. I received my first rejection of the year a couple of weeks ago, and TA-DA, I survived!
The best part of it, is that is has really motivated me and helped me get on the right track I believe. I am working on a particular children’s book right now. A literary agent is coming to Carmel in May to speak. She is offering to critique drafts of books for a small fee. She also just happens to specialize in Children’s Picture books. I’ve done many outlines and drafts of books. So, I went back and chose one to really work on. Hopefully next week it will be ready to submit. I cannot express how alive and joyful I feel just to have the ability to do all of this, and give it a shot. Hopefully each rejection will lessen in it’s sting, but at least I am taking the chance and for that, I am proud of myself.
Elizabeth took a trial electric guitar lesson this week. When she walked out of the lesson, she wore her characteristic blank face that comes out around new adults. Once the instructor bid us good-by she looked up at me with a huge smile and said, “Ask me how it went!”
“How did it go?” I laughed.
“It was AWESOME!” She proclaimed, her eyes twinkling in a way I’ve never seen before. I thought to myself, this could be it, this could be another creative outlet for her. That sparkle and joy radiating from her, that is what I want for my kids, for myself and for Josh. Josh and I have talked so much over the last few years about what we really want out of life for ourselves and for our kids. Here it was, shining in my daughter’s blue green eyes. Creativity, passion and joy to express oneself in the world, that is our goal, not a bigger house, not a stunning wardrobe, not plasma televisions. In our own way, we’re all working towards that goal right now and although it can be frustrating and daunting at times, it is also thrilling.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chew Stick Update

When I went to pick Kai up from school, his teachers told me that the stick worked like a charm. "He chewed on it a lot of the day and didn't put anything else in his mouth." His teacher glowed. Then, giving me the thumbs up sign she said, "Way to go on finding that little thing."

So, I felt better. Ironically, the very next day, yesterday, he wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, when I asked him if he wanted it he said, "No, we return it."

I am not returning it. It will be another tool to use if he needs it. It's funny, it has really gotten me thinking about how we all have out little regulating strategies. I'm the queen of self-regulation actually. I have to get up early for alone time in order to not want to snap people's heads off each morning. I need to eat frequent small meals or else again, snapping people's heads off. I often feel like I'll explode if I don't get outside or workout for an hour each day. Kai is much the same, as is Elizabeth, in different ways. As their mom, I just need to help them find the activity or timing that helps them to feel better. Like me, Kai's an eater. He needs plenty of good food a the right times to avoid meltdown.

In other "Kai" news, I've finally started writing his adoption story book. You'll remember this was one of my New Year's resolutions. I struggle with how to verbalize his story in an age appropriate manner. I plan to scan pictures into Snapfish and then make a real book for him to read. I have a rough draft of it as of this morning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Chew Stick

Peanut butter and jelly and a hot mug of peppermint tea should do the trick. That’s what I eat when my stomach is nervous and rejects the idea of any other source of nourishment. This morning it stubbornly refuses to settle down. I cannot decide if it is a result of nerves or a flu bug of some sort. Probably nerves.

Last Friday Kai’s teacher pulled me aside to talk to me about an “issue” in class. No parent wants the quiet confidential chat in the corner of the room. Sometimes it occurs just outside of the classroom door. It means your kid did something he was not supposed to do, signaling the “Uh-oh” response in every parent alive.
In this particular case, Kai apparently decided to lick the length of his neighbor’s arm at circle time last week, picture a deer at a salt lick. “Yuck!” I said. “What did the kid whose arm he was licking do?” I believe in natural consequences. I hoped she would tell me that the kid yelped, “Grooooooss! Kai is licking me!” and Kai would then stop. Either the kid didn’t mind the impromptu cat-like bath or his teacher didn’t want to get into it, because she gently waved the question away as if a sudden puff of smoke had blurred her vision.

“Kai seems to put a lot of items in his mouth,” she went on in a soothing soft tone. “I spoke to the assistant director about this and the licking. She wondered if maybe be might have a vitamin deficiency?”

“Yes, we’ve also noticed that Kai is very oral and puts everything in his mouth at home. For some reason we’ve also noticed an increase in the mouthing of different objects in the last week or so.”

His teacher listened intently and nodded her head in agreement. I love his teacher. She has smooth cream colored skin and bright hazel eyes. I imagine Kai pressing his cheek into hers enjoying the velvety sensation against his own rounded cheek. Her boys are grown. I can tell she sees the magic of childhood with experienced eyes. Openly embracing all of the children, she tries to frame even the most horrible behavior in a gentle manner.

I went on. “I don’t think it is a vitamin deficiency though because he had a ton of blood work done when we brought him home a year and half ago. Plus, he is a really healthy eater and takes a multi-vitamin already.” She didn’t quite look convinced, but at the same time I could see she wondered if she should press the issue.
“I’ll call his pediatrician and check up on it, see what she says. We have noticed this issue at home too but when we asked his doctor about it she felt that it was a result of being in the orphanage for the first two and half years of his life and that he is developmentally trying to catch up since he was never able to go through that phase of mouthing objects as a child.”

“Oh,” her eyes widened with patient understanding. I didn’t really want to be talking about it all here suddenly. I don’t like to think about Kai in the orphanage. I felt flooded with memories of visiting the orphanage days after getting Kai in China. How he screamed with grief when he mistakenly thought we were bringing him back. How we aren’t sure how he came out as adjusted as he is. How we were told he was taken home by a caretaker often. How he called her mom. We met the caretaker that day and we have a picture of her with Kai, her eyes looking straight at the camera, not smiling. Did she want to adopt him? Could she? How tough it was to see his steel barred crib, with just a wooden slab to sleep on and imagine him there all that time before we arrived. How most of the children in the orphanage had a range of special needs and this overwhelmed and scared me. How my reaction of fear flamed up, my face hot with shame.

Sensing my pause she said, “That sounds good. You let me know just what you hear from her.”

I left the classroom holding Kai’s hand, lost in my own thoughts. I would call the doctor as soon as we got home. I would get this stored out. The thing was, Kai DOES put a lot into his mouth. I jokingly refer to him as our little goat when I talk about it to friends. I laugh about it, but at times it has been frightening. It isn’t just the small parts that you have to worry about. He once was playing in his room with Elizabeth and she came running to find me. Kai had bitten the night light bulb and broken it. Luckily no one was hurt. For Christmas I bought him a huge dry erase board to hang on his wall in his room and color on. We opened it up, and in about one nano-second he was putting a nickel sized magnet into his mouth. It came with the board and I didn’t notice it until that moment.

After I unpacked Kai’s bag and put the snack out, I dialed the pediatrician’s number. After explaining the situation to the nurse, she consulted with the doctor and agreed with my initial reaction. No, his blood work is fine and recent enough, but it is probably a delay as a result of the orphanage, talk to his speech therapist and she should be able to help you.

I did, I spoke to the speech therapist, my sister and my mom, well I left my mom a message. It turns out that my sister helped the most. She recommended something called a “Chew Stick” for Kai. Basically, it turns out that some kids need a lot of oral stimulation. They call it oral motor. These kids need to get a lot of exposure to chewing in order to feel regulated. Apparently, if I provide enough opportunities for Kai to get the chewing and exploratory mouthing in, then he should be able to “catch up” to where he should be in this regard developmentally. His speech therapist thought it was a good idea as well.

So, I ordered one for him as an experiment. It arrived last Thursday. I will admit, I felt a little skeptical about the whole deal. Despite all of my reading about the brain development and delays associated with being in an institution like an orphanage for any length of time, I just wasn’t sure I bought it. When I gave the chew stick to Kai and explained that it was meant for him to chew on or put in his mouth, and he could do so as much as he wanted to, he went right to it. I mean immediately, like a dog to a bone.

At first this validated me and I felt like a good mother. “Ok, well he obviously needs this, so good for me for finding it and getting him one.” But that thought quickly turned into, “Whoa. He obviously needs this. Is this a problem? Are there more delays the doctors missed? Does he have sensory issues? How long will he need this chew stick?” And those thoughts were quickly followed by, “He looks like he is autistic, like he has a disability or something, chewing that stick. People are going to wonder what his problem is. “ And that was followed by a rash of self-bashing for thinking such thoughts. My mom is a special education teacher. I have an endorsement in special education and have worked hard as a teacher and as a parent to not discriminate, to value how we are all different learners, value the diversity of the brain. Here I was getting paranoid about my son with a chew stick! Again, I felt fear balance by shame in regard to my first gut reactions.

Today is the first day he has the chew stick at school. Hopefully it helps and isn’t a distraction. I have been so humbled by this experience. It can be really tough to do the right thing with your children. Goodness knows I am trying my best, but some days the negative self-talk that can kill you. I understand in the grand scheme of things, this whole chew stick deal is small beans. Kai is a sweet, loving, healthy young boy. He’s been doing find in school and his vivacious personality is contagious. Everywhere we go, people remember Kai. He is such a huge blessing in my life and has already taught me so much.

We’ll see what happens. It may be that the extra mouthing exposure will help to catch him up in this instance, and then that will be it. We may find out that there are other adjustments in other areas that we need to make down the road. We’ll have to wait and see. I would be lying if I said that I am not really all that concerned. Still, for today, I’ll drink some peppermint tea, take a few deep breaths, write a little more and pray that the day went well. Then I’ll pick him up and I’ll hold his hand in the parking lot and come home.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My bicycle maintenance class

I remember my Dad saying he quit playing golf because he wanted to play for fun and relaxation, but got so frustrated that he ended up leaving the course angry and wound up tighter than John McEnroe after a questionable call. I am finding myself feeling the same way about bicycle mechanics. The more I read about cycling and repair the more I want to learn how to do all of those things myself. Recently, I read an article about a sixty-one year old woman, who rode her bike to work every day in Boston! She got on that thing and rode through the snow and the rain and all the mushy, messy weather that is New England. The bike she rode on her daily excursions she made herself!!! That woman picked out every aspect of her bike down to the type of fenders hovering above her tires. With her own two hands she pieced that puppy together. Am I the only one who thinks that is incredibly and amazingly cool. I doubt it. After reading that article, I slapped the magazine across my legs with a firm determination and thought, “Well, darn it, if that woman can do it at sixty-one, then I should be able to do it too.” HA! So far, it turns out age has very little to do with mechanical ability. At thirty three, I was hoping for somewhat of an edge over this woman. Unfortunately, I am not proving to be much of a mechanic.

To my credit, here is a list of bicycle maintenance items I currently perform fairly well:
• Remove my front and back tire
• replace a flat tire
• Pump my tires
• Put on brand new tires
• Adjust my breaks (I just learned this in my class this weekend)
• raise and adjust my saddle and seat stem
• clean my chain
• lube my cables
• adjust the tension on my pedals
• install my own cleats

As I write all of that down, I’ll admit, I do feel a little bit better. It reminds me of all my years of teaching and how we were always told to approach our students with a “strengths based” attitude. In essence, start with what they know and can do well first, then more onto their “challenges”.

My challenge is that the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing. For example, before this weekend I thought my bike had Shimano components. Don’t ask me why I thought this. I just never thought to look at my components on my bike to double check. It says about 5 times on my bike, Campagnolo Veloce. Not Shimano, but Campy components. As it happens, these are pretty decent components.

Also, as long as I am coming clean, before this weekend I had NO IDEA that the cables on a bike not only work the breaks, but TA-DA, they also are what shift your gears up and down! And it works strictly by adding or releasing tension, which was really cool for me to learn actually. How did I miss all of this? Do you people know this? Not only have I missed this in the past, but I asked our poor instructor about 46 thousand follow up questions to really understand how it all works. Let me tell you, that was one patient man!

Maybe the secret in life is that I should feel like a dumb ass for at least part of the time, just to remind me that yes, there is a lot out there that has been right under my nose that I never took the time to learn about. Really, if I take the “I should know this…” factor out of it, it’s really like being eight years old again, playing in the garage and seeing just what will happen if you loosen that bolt and pry off that washer?

The thirteen year old boy in our bicycle class this weekend was by far the most confident and the most at ease with the new material. He patiently played with his bike as his Dad, my Dad and I all frowned at our mounted frames, silently mumbling to ourselves as we tried to perform the tasks we’d just been taught. I’m hoping that learning more about bikes and what makes them work doesn’t leave me like my Dad and golf, throwing tantrums and cursing into the wind.

Instead, I’ll try to remain “strengths based”, and look at my “I can do these things “list frequently. So even though I can’t seem to figure out how to raise my threaded stemmed handlebars, at least I can say that I know the difference between a threaded and a threadless stem, for the most part at least. From what I can tell so far, the one I don’t have would be easier to adjust!