Blogger’s Block

Life has been full of the most fun and crazy things lately, but I can’t blog about any of it! There was a body building competition that I can’t blog about because my thoughts about it are too complicated;  a murder mystery party I can’t blog about because I don’t want to incriminate anyone; an SCBWI meeting I can’t blog about because you probably aren’t interested; a subbing job I can’t blog about for confidentiality.

Oooo, I want to tell you about those things!

But I can’t!

Wait—what? I subbed?

Yes! I subbed! And while I can’t tell you the juiciest stuff from the day, I can tell you that it was fun, exhausting, eye-opening, challenging, refreshing, traumatizing, and super sweet. It brought back that I-was-born-to-do-this feeling, which was such a relief from my writerly I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing feeling.

I subbed in Leo’s classroom and he woke up that morning so excited for me to be his teacher. He was the perfect assistant and my biggest fan all day, and there’s no way I would rather have been reintroduced to teaching. I only made him cry once.

Subbing is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I left teaching. I felt like it was now or never because  once my kids leave elementary school, I’ll lose my motivation. My first day back really was a good day, despite its very entertaining challenges that I CANNOT TELL YOU ABOUT ARGH GRR!! But still. When I got home the sun was pouring through the windows, lighting up the couch where I would have been reading a novel after having spent the day rollerblading, writing, shopping, and baking cookies. I panicked. I can’t sub! It gets in the way of all the things I really want to do! Life is too short, and I just wasted one day of it! What have I doooonnne?!

But then I remembered that subbing is something I really want to do, too. In fact, you could say all those other things were getting in the way of subbing.

I need a week or two to shake off the first day (you saw the word “traumatizing in the list above, right?). I hope I say yes to another day of teaching, but it is so hard to say no to a day of writing.

Okay, wow, did I just write that? After two years feeling anywhere from physically sick to filled with dread at the thought of writing, now I feel a pang when I have to miss a day. I need a moment to sit and look at that wonderful thought.

Here are a couple pictures for you while I have my moment.

A selfie of two VERY INNOCENT PEOPLE from my SIL’s murder mystery party:

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Me: Kevin, what was going through your mind at the moment this picture was taken?

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Kevin: Probably, “I really need to blink now.”

I’m back.

Life is good, and I’m back.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beef stew with polenta
Roasted chantrelles
Roasted parmesan cauliflower
Rice Krisipie sushi

Vincenzo Continues to Age

Fourteen. Fourteen! Fourteen?!

Then why do I remember exactly how I felt at this moment in time?

I still feel like a new mom—like someone who can’t believe I have been given this beautiful, perfect little human to have and to hold dear.

It looks like this now.

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But it feels like this.

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Vincenzo at 14 is not all that different than Vincenzo at 13 or 12 or 11. There must be changes every year because he’s no longer the baby who cracks up at the word “beef” or the boy in a leopard print cape, but personality is kind of like height—you don’t see the differences day to day, but they all add up to something over the years. So today I’ll try to capture a snapshot of Vincenzo’s Personality, age 14.

The best place to start is with his sleeping habits.

He loves to come home from school, put music on his headphones (usually the Tetris theme on repeat), zip himself into his Beddy, play video games on his phone, and drift in and out of sleep until dinner. I don’t get it. But I have come to understand that he needs this time as much as his phone needs to be charged twice a day. Still, it feels weird to yell, “Vincenzo, unzip yourself and come to dinner!”

We call his room the cave and we call him a cavie.

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He nicknamed himself “D” sometime around when I started this blog. We still call him Sleepy D.

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When I showed him the next picture he had no idea who it was and no recollection of having spent a half hour laying on the ground at a public park, looking like a murder victim.

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Sometimes, however, Vincenzo is awake!

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At least I think he’s awake here. He could just be faking it.

Other than being incredibly sleepy, he is also incredibly hungry. (Maybe we haven’t come as as far from his newborn days as I thought.) Mere minutes after eating a gigantic dinner, he asks if he can go get a footlong from Subway. I shake my head because I don’t get it but I say yes because he’s a man of 14 now. He walks to Subway, buys himself a footlong, comes home and says, “I’m hungry. Can I go get a footlong?”

So Vincenzo is sleepy and hungry, but above all, he is a sweetheart. He’s the last one in line for a piece of cake and the first one to offer a piece to you.

(He doesn’t really like cake.)

(Totally kidding—he likes cake.)

(Especially if it comes in the form of a footlong.)

I’m trying to get him to cook more, which is hilarious, horrific, and sometimes delicious. It’s going to take a long time to recover from the Tuna Sandwich Incident of Last Week. I wish I had pictures of what he did to that loaf of bread and the mess that stretched from one end of the kitchen all the way to the Atlantic, but I went straight into disaster relief mode and didn’t take any. The tuna sandwich, however, was delicious.

He hangs out with a group of boys that is the best kind of immature. Not the fart-on-each-other’s-faces kind of immature; the spend-a-birthday-party-playing-hide-and-seek kind of immature. A group of boys that loves being kids so much they figure why stop now?

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Vincenzo babysits. He cat-sits. He sits on a lot of things in general.

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Note that he is sitting on them but not farting on them. That would be immature.

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Vincenzo’s ego never gets in the way of a good time. He’ll put on Leo’s jacket, squat down to lawn gnome size, and chase his brothers around the school gym. He’ll spend hours building forts with his cousins then pretend to sell fancy espresso drinks from them. He’ll come into the living room looking like this, saying, “WASSUP?!”

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I’ll tell him to change; we have company coming over.

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He’s learned that his mom is sometimes reasonable but sometimes also not reasonable. He deals with my unreasonable moments in the same way Kevin does: by making fun of me. Like the other day, when I asked for him to help me lift something in the garage and ended up having to do it myself. We headed back into the house at odds with each other and he said, “What? You asked me to come help you lift some heavy stuff, then you lifted it up yourself and said, ‘Oh ! It’s really light,’ and then you made fun of me for being too weak to lift it.” He wasn’t wrong.

(Also: he skipped over the part where he saw a spider, screamed like a schoolgirl, and dropped the thing I had asked him to hold.)

He has his salty moments, too. Like the other day, he was upset with the soccer sock drawer. “Someone needs to organize this! All the socks are mismatched!” I said maybe he could be that someone and he said he didn’t have time. I said maybe he could ask for it for his birthday, and was genuinely mad. “It’s not funny, Mom,” he said. I said it was a little funny. He sounded very mad when he said again, “It’s not funny!” (In the end, I did not organize the sock drawer because I didn’t want him to be mad at me on his birthday. I’m so thoughtful!)

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Awww–isn’t it cute when your kids pretend they’re smoking?

Oh, and he has a thing for digging.

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So that’s Vincenzo in a nutshell, and also in a gigantic hole.

I think back 14 years to my grueling labor with him, of the flood of people coming into the room, holding my hands and counting my breaths. Of thinking I could, of thinking I couldn’t, of somehow doing it anyway, and of being handed a tiny, squinty-eyed creature that didn’t look a thing like the round-cheeked, powder puff babies of diaper commercials. He was so much tinier and frailer and redder than I could ever imagine a human to be.

The minute they put him in my arms was the minute I realized I had no idea what I was doing.

And it was also the moment I realized there was a lot of stitching going on down there. A lot of stitching.

But that’s beside the point. The point is that I loved that little baby whose heart beat strongest the closer it was to mine. He knew who I was before even I did, and he trusted me with every drop of his being. All those drops amounted to ocean upon ocean of love, flowing this way, flowing that, flowing this way, flowing that.

Vincenzo is all love. All love, a little salt, and the best kind of good there is.

Every time my dad comes over, he says at some point that Vincenzo is a “neat kid.” It’s the understatement of the year, which why it’s the perfect way to describe my boy.

He is sweet, smart humble, patient, kind, ridiculous, good-hearted, and thoughtful.

And just a neat kid.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken pot pie

Pre Funk Photo Shoot

This September I scheduled a photoshoot for our family with my cousin Laura, who takes AMAZING photos. But then a couple weeks before the photoshoot, I started worrying. What if it rains? What if someone gets sick? What if the location is super crowded? What if I break out in hives from ALL THIS WORRYING?!

So a couple weekends before, I dressed the boys up and took pictures of them, just in case. I’m sorry! I can’t help who I am!

I’m the one who turns in my essay a week early, who makes a practice cake the week before a birthday, and now the one who sets up a photoshoot the week before a photoshoot.

It’s a new low.

Of course, the photoshoot weekend came and even though it was overcast and we only had like 8 minutes of time in between soccer games that day, Cousin Laura made some magic happen and the pictures are beautiful. So yay!

That’s all well and good, but I can’t help but ask: Can I get extra credit for the pictures I took?

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken tacos
Lemon meringue pie
8-hour cheesecake
Pear frangipane tart a la mode

(As the menu shows, Vincenzo’s birthday week has begun!)

A Whole Lot of Nothing

Vincenzo brought home a paper he had done in school that asked what his parents do.

Dad: A  software engineer for cloud storage at Google
Mom: Nothing

Spork to the heart!

Nothing? Nothing? Couldn’t he have come up with something? Anything? Even “takes a shower and eats lunch?” That, at least, is something.

Not to mention WRITES BOOKS.

Is it because I don’t get paid for all the things I do? Are you only worth the amount of money you make? (If so, then he should have written “jury duty,” because I have made some money from that over the years. The expression “lightning never strikes twice” does not apply to jury duty. Jury duty has struck like 7 or 8 times.)

Here’s what NOTHING looked like on Friday:

Got up at 6:20 to make French toast for everyone. Brought Leo to speech therapy at 7:40. Brought him and Rocco to school at 8:30. Came home and cleaned up the morning mess, wrote for an hour, read a writing craft book and took notes. Trimmed the wisteria and old-fashioned rose. Treated resulting wounds. Cleaned up all the summer toys from our yard and covered all the outdoor furniture. Made homemade bread so the boys would come home to the smell of fresh baked bread. Threw in a batch of peanut butter cookies too. Folded laundry. Prepped some scrapbook pages. Read a bit of a middle grade novel. Went to the grocery store to buy things for dinner. Picked up books at the library. Answered a ton of e-mails about soccer games, curriculum nights, PTSA stuff, and birthday parties. And that’s all before the boys came home and things got crazy.

At the end of the day I can’t always remember what I did but I do remember eating lunch standing up because I was too busy to sit down.

I could have paid someone to trim that wisteria (or left it to completely consume our house and then the entire world). I could have just bought cookies that someone else got paid to make and someone else got paid to sell. I could have bought bread, too, and when the boys came home the kitchen would smell like the crusty breakfast dishes that I also could have left piled up on the counter. I could have skipped the grocery store and served cereal for dinner (don’t tell my kids because if they knew that was an option I’d never cook again). I could have skipped the hour spent answering e-mails and forego all the parental involvement and birthday parties, let the soccer games go unscheduled and forgotten.

But now I’m doing it too—trying to evaluate my worth, not with the money I make but with the amount of busy I am. If I crawl into bed and read for an afternoon, does it mean I have less value than if I spend half a day volunteering in school or substitute teaching? Is my value restored if I consider that reading time an essential part of being a writer, does it have more value?

I could hire myself out to cook for someone else’s family and that would “count,” but if I cook for my own family, I do “nothing.”

Oh man, I’m really getting riled up now.

For the past couple years I have evaluated my day exclusively on how much time I spent writing, how good my writing was, and how much progress I made. Every single day I came up short of my expectations. I constantly had a cloud over my head and a sense of failure. Each night I’d cry to Kevin about how I didn’t get anything done. I didn’t have anything to show for the day. Kevin told me again and again that my writing is absolutely good enough—it’s just my attitude and crippling self doubt that need work. He also told me I have to count all the other things I do too.

So this year I am trying to count it all, not just the writing. I’m trying not to feel guilty about the crawling into bed and reading part. (I still feel guilty. But not as much.) When I have a day where I was too busy or too fried to write much, I am trying to look not at what I didn’t do but what I did do, and if that includes a long bath or walking with a friend, these are not things to feel guilty about. These things count too. The errands I run are just as important as the words I write. Even more so, Kevin tells me.

My family is #1. My mental health is #2. There are a whole ton of #3s, and writing is one of them. Writing has been #3 on my list since I started writing and I have given it a #3 amount of time/attention in my day, but I have expected a #1 amount of output.

I’m still figuring things out. I still feel a little guilty about my normal day being like someone else’s day off. But I am also reminding myself that  it’s not just what I do that gives me value, it’s who I am. I am a wife, a mother, a friend, a reader, a writer, a listener, an inviter, an errand runner, a gardener, a dish washer, a bath taker, a vacation planner, a TV watcher, a scrapbooker, a storyteller, a good deed doer, and a darn good cookie baker.

Basically, I’m a whole lot of nothing.

And that’s an awful lot.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Rotisserie chicken
Butternut squash risotto
Broccolini in browned butter

Whidbey Weekend

Summer turned to fall quick as lightning this weekend. A whole night of lightning, actually, and thunder and coldness and rain rain RAIN. As I wasn’t quite ready for the 40 days and 40 nights to start up, I am going to relive our last summer weekend here today.

We spent it at Whidbey, where a piece of my heart lives year-round, leaving me with only most of a heart the rest of the year.

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It’s just pretty.

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And funny.

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Important conversations happen at Whidbey when we’re all sitting around the cabin—like this one:

Mom: Which one of you girls had that weird thing on the back of her leg?
Me: That would be me.
Michelle: Oh! I noticed that when you pulled your pants down at the beach earlier today.

Because yes. That happened. Earlier at the beach, Michelle had said, “There’s a spider on your back!” She tried to brush it off and the next thing she said was, “Oh no, it just went down your pants!” I frantically whipped off my pants and did the de-spider stomping dance and then Michelle said, “I don’t see it—maybe it went in your underwear!” which is something my husband would totally say to get me naked, so I knew enough to stop right there. I left my underwear on. I will live the rest of my life not knowing if that spider ever got off of me.

(As for the thing on the back of my leg, it seems like a much smaller deal after the possibility that there may be a spider permanently living in my pants.)

We play a lot of games at Whidbey. The boys holed up in a corner of the attic to play of Dungeons and Dragons for hours. They clearly don’t get the game if they are playing in an attic instead of a basement, but whatever.

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Now, remember back at Christmas when we played Pictionary and my brother drew this picture of a polar bear?

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I guess it’s a genetic thing because we played a similar game at Whidbey and my sister drew the polar bear card:

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I know, right??! Notice how she drew the polar bear in the middle and realized there was a problem with it so she drew it from another angle in the upper right, just to clarify that wow, this really looks nothing at all like a polar bear.

From now on I am going to use the expression “drew the polar bear card” to mean something has gone horribly and hilariously wrong. Like say someone ends up with a spider in her underwear at the beach, you might say she has drawn the polar bear card.

When the boys weren’t nerding out in the attic, they could be found doing the kind of hard labor usually reserved for prisoners of war.

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I bring them to the ocean, I throw wide my arms and tell them to explore the world, to run free, to dream as big as they sky! And what do they do? They build themselves a jail and sit inside it.

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What a bunch of weirdos.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Ginger soy salmon burgers
Corn on the cob
Edamame
Huckleberry pie a la mode

(The dinner menu reflects my desperation to hold onto summer a little bit longer…)

September Blargh

Oh man, here we are again, the first day of school. My boys woke up acting like it was Christmas morning, importantly packing their lunches into stiff backpacks and taking their new shoes out of the boxes. Well, two of my boys were excited, anyway. The third is a bit older and a significantly less in love with this whole school thing, but he was fine once we got him unzipped from his Beddy.

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I wish I felt as confident as they look, but for me, it’s been a tough day. I went to Costco only to find out Kevin never ordered the photos that Rocco needs tomorrow; I went to the post office to make a return only to realize I didn’t have my shipping label; I got in the wrong line at the store and had to wait FOREVER; I bit my tongue at lunch; and anytime I talk to someone I start crying.

It’s partly because I wasn’t ready for summer to be over. We still had things on our list!

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We still had afternoons to spend reading, days to spend at museums, hikes to hike, barbecues to host, board games to play, water balloons to throw. Even though we did so much this summer, there was still so much more to do.

But mostly it’s a hard day because I’m scared of September. Last year I had a huge meltdown when the kids went to school and I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. Having unlimited time is kind of my worst nightmare.  I start expecting so much out of myself and at the end of each day I always give myself a failing grade. I could have done more. I could have done differently. I could have done better.

This chair pretty well sums up how I feel about September.

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I have different things in place this year, so maybe it won’t be so bad. I have a team of therapists, a rhythm to my writing days,and  an ever-growing support group of other writers. I plan to substitute teach at my boys’ school one day a week so writing won’t be the only thing I measure myself with. I am adding the phrase “and that’s okay” to the end of my worries. “I don’t know what I’m going to write about—and that’s okay!” “This chapter doesn’t have a point—and that’s okay!” “I’m just not feeling it today—and that’s okay!” It’s helping. A little.

So anyway, here I am at my computer, blogging and editing photos and feeling already like a bit of a failure. I could be editing a picture book or writing a poem or going to the gym or learning to draw or studying a favorite author or writing my novel, but I’m not. Because it’s been a hard day.

And that, I guess, is okay.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Filet mignon
Hasselhoff Potatoes
Thai cucumber salad
Chocolate peanut butter pie

Summer randoms

I tried drafting a few blog posts but they were all gloom and doom, with the school year looming ahead. (Wow, there were a lot of oo’s in that sentence!) I will save you the wallowing for now and instead post some random pictures from the summer. It has, as always, been a good one. Too good to be true, and so with no further ado…

A child with a box on his head:

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A moment of silence for a deceased goldfish:

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A deceased goldfish:

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A good sport:

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A fashion statement:

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Another one:

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A one-hour operation to rescue a random frisbee we found on top of a pergola:

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Another one-hour operation to rescue the same random frisbee after tossing it back and forth exactly 3 times:

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An optical illusion:

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A scary bear fishing for a carrot:

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A scarier bear:

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A wacky shack:

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A lie:

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A miracle:

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A quiet moment:

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A picture Leo was too mad to be in:

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A depressing harvest:

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A picture that is blurry because my phone fell in the toilet moments before:

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The end of another perfect summer day:

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Minestrone soup
Fresh baked bread
Brownies and ice cream