Chapter One

After 18 months, hundreds of thousands of words, one writing coach, three books about plot, four books about You’re Okay!, a prescription for medication, and countless hours telling everyone around me I don’t know how to do this, I finally bucked up and brought the first chapter of my novel to critique group. Just one chapter. After all that.

And you guys–they loved it.  They really, really, loved it.  I felt like Sally Freaking Fields sitting there, feeling how much everyone loved me. I mean it.  How much they loved it.

So then I drove home, went to bed, woke up, and realized I’m too terrified to work on the novel now. I feel like chapter one was a fluke. Chapter two is a major let-down. If I bring it to critique group, they’ll know I’m a fraud. They have no idea what a mess the rest of the book is or that if someone offered to write the book for me, I’d hand them all my notes then take off for Bora Bora and never look back.

But I fired up the laptop today anyway because it’s what I do, and I wrote a bit, and I didn’t like what I wrote at all, but then I remembered that’s how I’ve felt about my writing nearly every day of the past 18 months, and yet somehow it’s working. I wish this whole writerly life thing were easier for me, but I’ve read enough Self-Help for Authors books by now to know that crippling doubt and a sense of complete disaster is part of the writerly life. Sometimes it feels like it’s all of the writerly life. (The fact that there are so very many Self-Help Author books out there should have been a bit of a clue.) 

It’s complicated, because doing what I love the most is also the thing that frustrates me the most.

But oh, when it makes me happy—oh!

If writing were a boyfriend, you all would be telling me to GET OUT of that relationship, giiirrrrl! It’s abusive, it’s controlling, it makes me feel bad about myself, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. To which I would say, “But I love him.” I mean it! I do. Stop looking at me like that! Whatever.

The thing is, I’m nothing without my words. That’s not to say I have no value without words; it’s just that my whole being, my very soul, is all tangled up with words and it’s an eye stabbing mess, but it’s my mess and to untangle me from my words or my words from me would be to ruin us both.

So I sit here in my big tangle and try to pull out a long, lovely piece of yarn to share with you.  Maybe some day the tangle will be all straightened out and I can book that ticket to Bora Bora.

But I sure as hell hope not.

Florentine Frittata
Garlic beans
Reese’s PB cup cookies

(I wrote this blog post to take a break from writing. I guess that says something about me—that I fill my writing breaks with writing.)

Leo’s 7, Part II

Picking up where we left off…

Leo is a generous, kind, sensitive, screamy, hard-working, emotional, loving boy.  He’s also completely ridiculous, like when we watch the Titan Games. Leo sets up a bunch of furniture and obstacles and when the buzzer dings on TV, he starts leaping and running and pushing and arm-hammering until he grabs the imaginary relic then lays on the ground, a hot, sweaty, panting puddle.  The other night I was so busy watching Leo that I forgot to watch the TV.  I asked Kevin who won and Leo said, “I did!”  Like, duh.

His favorite thing in the world (other than winning the Titan Games and playing video games) is to fight Kevin.  The following pictures depict a typical round of battle.

Rear Naked Choke!


Head Scissors!


Back Rake!


Tree of Woe!


Heart Remover!


Calf crusher! 


(Screaming, screaming, SCREAM!)

Rage Quit!


Out of Order!


The Whine Maker!


(A.k.a. the Screamy Pouty Self-pitying Slumping off)

I don’t blame him, either.  Kevin makes me feel like that an awful lot, too.

Leo loves to give, and it doesn’t matter if you ask for his favorite sticker or his last quarter.  As long as your name isn’t Rocco, he’ll give it to you.

He’s a boy of extremes.  He loves math.  Hates writing.  Loves pasta.  Hates mustard.  Loves soccer. Hates losing.  Loves pudding.  Hates cake.  (Especially hates when we tell him he loves cake.  He says he never did; we just thought he did.  I say I’ve got two years of blog posts that prove differently.  He would have starved to death around age 3 if it weren’t for cake.)

Sometimes I worry Leo’s got my hard-to-manage mood swings and will have as tough a time I’ve had trying to stop my emotions from jerking me from one place to another.  But if he does, at least he’ll have an expert who can help him deal with those debilitating mood swings.  (That would be Kevin, of course.)

Leo has a speech impediment that makes him unintelligible to 75% of English speakers but which also makes him 100% adorable.  (There are times I wish I couldn’t understand him, but that’s beside the point.)  The school nurse called the other day to say Leo had gotten a head bump at school.  It took her ten seconds to tell me about the bump and five minutes to tell me how adorable he is.  She’s probably never put him in a calf crusher before though.

Leo is my snuggler.  He saves a seat for me at dinner.  He crawls into my lap when we watch movies.  He melts into me when I read stories.  I still get a baby fix when I kiss his cheek or smell his hair or hold his soft hand in mine.  He makes me understand that creepy mom in the book I’ll Love You Forever who presses herself up to her grown son’s house to say the “I’ll love you forever” thing.  Leo is turning me into that mom.

Leo, if you happen to read this some day, thanks for all the cuddles.  Thanks for the scavenger hunts, the bad knock-knock jokes, for all the winning, the Eskimo kisses, and the retellings of Garfield comics.  You make me feel like sometimes life isn’t moving forward at breakneck speed.  Sometimes, life is as patient and lovely as an afternoon snuggling and reading to you and your stuffie of the week.

I wouldn’t trade a minute with you for all the quarters in the world.

I’m out tonight, so I’m guessing Kevin gave each of the boys a spoon and a carton of ice cream?

Leonardo, Age 7

I had to double check the the title after I wrote it.  7?  Seven?  The math checks out, even though Leo’s birthday was essentially canceled due to Snowmageddon.  (I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I write that.) 

Yes, we had to cancel Leo’s birthday, but he didn’t care because SNOW!!  He was so excited about SNOW!  On his birthday!  Then I said, “Let’s go outside and go sledding!”  And he wilted.  “Can I just stay inside?”

Still, Leo didn’t even flinch when we told him we had to cancel his birthday party for now.  This kid who goes completely ape when his brother says “meow” to him was totally cool when his Chuck E. Cheese birthday party got canceled.  He’s a mystery.  Meow meow.

He didn’t ask for gifts this year–just donations to the homeless, who he prays for every night.  He says when he grows up he wants to be a millionaire so he can buy everyone houses.  Around these parts, that’s going to make one person really happy.

Even though he didn’t ask for gifts, his family had fun finding things for him anyway, and the gifts say a lot about who he is.

Gift #1: a box of quarters


The perfect gift for a kid who owns a gumball machine, a cotton candy maker, and a claw machine.  Every Wednesday after capoeira, he goes to the quarter machines to do some shopping, and don’t try to tell him he’s throwing his money away.  He’ll hold up a microscopic pink rubber unicorn and smile like a lawyer who just won a big case.  And it’s true.  The joy this kid gest from spending a quarter each week on a tiny piece of plastic is worth the $.25. 


We’re going to have to make sure Leo never finds out about Vegas.


Gift #2: A pink laser gun


It’s his favorite.  After an epic battle in which he kills all the zombies and their mothers, he comes up to me and says, “Some people think pink is just for girls, but they’re wrong.  Pink is for people who like pink.”  Then he shoots the zombie that was just about to eat my brains and tells me to thank him later.

Gift #3: A handful of coupons.


Including, but not limited to: one family royal rumble, double dessert dinner, his favorite breakfast, a few video game sessions, and one week immunity for his duck stuffie, which Kevin frequently punts “into next week.”  I love the look on Leo’s face when he hands me a coupon.  It’s a look that says, “I’m getting away with this, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”  The coupons have an expiration date on them of January 1, 2020.  The night of his birthday, he asked, “Do the coupons start to get moldy on January 1?”  Not even joking.

Gift #4:

A trip to Great Wolf Lodge, presented in puzzle form.


He opened it up to find a box of puzzle pieces, which he tossed to the side.  “I don’t like puzzles.”  We practically had to bribe him to do it, then we all sat there trying not to completely lose our marbles as he made all the wrong moves and yelled at us any time we tried to help.  There were no fireworks when he finished the puzzle.  I think we were all too emotionally spent by then to show any excitement.

Gift #5:  A two pound bag of gumballs


He is very generous with his gumball machine, which may have a little to do with why Rocco wanted to give him a two pound bag of gumballs.

Gift #6:  A sequin narwhal named Arlo


He loves sparkles, sequins, and stuffed animals.  He loves them for exactly two weeks, then gives them to me to watch for him.  I have started calling my bedroom the orphanage.

Gift #7: Garfield attire


He’s obsessed with Garfield comics.  He talks about Jon as if he is a member of our family.  He’ll start laughing in the middle of dinner saying, “You know what Jon did the other day?”  Yes, we all know what Jon did the other day.  He tells us anyway and doesn’t even notice the rest of us have instantaneously fallen asleep.

So the boy who had everything now has absolutely everything.  It is truly a joy to spoil someone who asks for so little.  I’ll post more about him tomorrow, once I run the numbers on his age again to make sure that he really is seven years and that it’s not a clerical error.

Spinach ricotta cannelloni (for us)
Ham and swiss quiche (for them)
Edamame (for everyone)
Blondies with ice cream and caramel sauce (for me, all for me)

Snow Days

Okay, the truth is that the snow was crazy amounts of fun.  Well, the first four days of it were, and since then we’ve all just been staring out the windows as the snow veerrrry slowly melts, like a guest who has overstayed their welcome and who has royally messed up the place.

But before that, it was like the mountains had come down from their lofty place in the sky to grace us with their presence.


Normally when it snows in Seattle we feel equal parts excited and anxious.  Excited because it snowed!  It really snowed!  Anxious because we have three hours to play in it before it melts away and we’re back to a gray world, like, snow?  What snow?  This time was different because it kept snowing and snowing and snowing and no matter how many times we sledded down the hills, there was never a moment of panic that any minute now the snow would disappear and we’d be sitting ridiculously on our sleds in the middle of a soggy, grassy hill.



Around here, everyone is their best self on a snow day.  Neighbors shovel each other’s driveways.  People leave sleds by their doors with signs saying, “Borrow me!”  Those with four-wheel drive text everyone within five miles to see if they need anything from the store.  You set food on the picnic table for the same creatures you normally shoo off the picnic table.



There’s something about a snow day that makes really bad ideas seem like good ones.  Like the time Kevin laid on an inner tube, then I put an inner tube on top of him and laid on that one and we went down the hill like a club sandwich.  Or how Kevin kept filling a Rubbermaid tub with snow to build walls halfway down the hill and kids would aim straight for them, hoping for a good crash.  Or the game the boys invented where ten kids lined up on their sleds at the top of the hill, two kids were it, and everyone else tried to crash into them and knock them off their sleds.  Normally, all of those would be the worst ideas ever.  But on a snow day, they are brilliant, and we laughed and laughed in between the annoying bouts of crying.


I love that snow days make it okay to play hooky and not take the blame for it.  You shrug.  “It was the snow,” and everyone agrees.  It wasn’t our fault; it was the snow.


And so, to summarize:


I heart snow days.

Gnocchi in tomato broth
Strawberries ‘n cream
Cherry charlottes with vanilla ice cream

Captain’s Log, Day 3

It’s day three of Snowmageddon.  Morale is so low I have started using that word.    Water rations are also low.  The soda stream ran out of carbonation and we have to drink flat bath water.  The goldfish were “too chewy” for the kids and someone looted all the marshmallows from our box of Lucky Charms.  We ran out of Oreo cookies.  I will try to make my own today, but no one is holding out hope.  We had to cancel Leo’s birthday party, and to make things fair we went ahead and canceled all birthday parties for the year.  I haven’t seen the children since they caught me watching YouTube videos about cutting hair.  I’m writing this blog post on our last roll of toilet paper.  I don’t know how long it will be before it is discovered and all these words will be flushed away.


(Vincenzo smiles bravely while Leo screams in terror and Rocco eats lunch.)

Someone’s coming. G2G

Unlucky Charms
Nothing Like the Real Thing Oreos

It’s Doing WHAT Outside??!

I live in Seattle, and in case you haven’t heard, it snowed here.  I know, I know!  Get down off the table—this is a thing that really happened!

I refuse to use that word where you combine snow + armageddon to get a word that is trying too hard and that I heard one brony at the gym saying to another brony at the gym, stripping away the word’s last chance at being taken seriously.

Some primal instinct set into everyone around here and we all kept going to the store to buy things.  Tuna!  I only have one can of tuna!  I’m going out!  My two minute drive to the store suddenly became a 40 minute drive.  Bananas were the first thing to go.  You could get plantains, but they are the Cousin Eddy of the banana world and  everyone kept walking past them, trying not to make eye contact.  I filled my cart with all the staples: butter, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, eggs, cream, and these:


The checkout lines stretched halfway down the aisles and everyone kept remembering things they forgot  and running back to get them, only to find someone had toed their cart a few spots back.  One guy made it all the way up to the cashier before he remembered the hollandaise sauce.  He wouldn’t leave his cart.  He called the manager on his cell phone.  “Hollandaise sauce!  I need some Hollandaise!”  At the last second, the manager came running up to the checkout with the store’s probably last jar of Hollandaise.  We erupted in cheers.  We cried.  We shook is hands.

Back home, I ordered the boys to fill up a bathtub of water.  Whenever they’re thirsty I send them to the bathroom.  Vincenzo asked if he could have infinite cinnamon rolls for breakfast this morning.  I yelled at him, “IT’S SNOWING!  IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T LOOKED OUTSIDE IT’S SNOWING!  WE’RE ON CINNAMON ROLL RATIONS!”  I’ve hidden the fish food in case things come down to it.  We’ll eat the goldfish first  and if it is still snowing, we’ll move onto the fish food.  I think we can hold out until 5PM tonight before things get that bad though.


This is what the end of the world looks like.

Raspberries (3 each)
Hard tack (1 each)
My leather purse (free for all)
Bath water (1 cup each)

When He Leaves

Everything breaks when Kevin leaves.  Or maybe it breaks all the time, but I only notice it when Kevin leaves.  Like I go to open my pull-out cabinet in the basement and the shelves collapse on each other.  I go to close a drawer in the pantry and it decides Not Today, It’s Not Closing.  A kid comes out of the bathroom and says the toilet’s wobbly.  Is it supposed to be wobbly?  My I-phone—and this happens the very minute he leaves—my I-phone starts telling me it hasn’t been backed up in two weeks, and it tells me this every freaking time I turn it on for the entirety of Kevin’s absence, just in case I wanted to be reminded every fifteen minutes for three days. Lightbulbs burn out.  Lightbulbs in places I can’t reach, no matter how many safety violations I break trying to get up that high.  The dishwasher starts caking the insides of our mugs with pieces of old food that stick like barnacles and it is better for everyone’s mental and physical health if I just throw the mugs away rather than grind my nails down to nothing trying to clean them out.  Our 7th grader breaks over and over again, and whenever I try to fix him I end up breaking him more.  The clicky button that makes the grill turn on stops working because yes, I am trying to grill in January, but instead I end up microwaving in January and there are no grill marks on our pathetic, bloated hot dogs.   NO GRILL MARKS!  The garbage disposal starts smelling like sour, moldy jalapeno peppers, probably because I put sour moldy jalapeno peppers in it, and the smell won’t go away no matter what I do and now we’ll probably have to move to a new house.  I decide to watch a show on TV and the volume is at full blast and no matter how many buttons on how many remotes, phones, tablets, and laser guns I push, it won’t stop until I finally push one button that makes the screen spin its head around a bunch of times, spew out a plague of locusts, and go permanently black.

Then Kevin finally comes home and asks how my week was.  I smile as big as a crocodile and say it was great.  How was yours?  I say this because I don’t want to dump all this on him the minute he comes home.  I want to tell him I love him and I missed him, not because everything is broken but because he has such a charming personality and  captivating eyes and clean fingernails.  But he knows, he knows.  He looks around and sees the empty mug cupboard, the dimly lit kitchen, the remotes that look as though they’ve been to war and back, the sign on the bathroom door saying NOPE, the gaping pantry doors, the salty, sulky seventh grader staring daggers at me, the Everything’s Fine Why Would You Even Ask That look in my eyes, and he knows.

So his face gets this look that the alpha males get on the nature shows when they know their thing is a sure deal, and he smiles and looks at me with those captivating eyes and I tell him the truth. 

“I missed you.”

African peanut soup (store bought WUT??!)
Chicken chili (store bought I know!  Whose blog even is this?!”
Fresh bread