Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why "Sequential Vortex" Is So Apt

It started out with my daughter's closet.  Just earlier this week, I posted about how she hasn't been able to use the magnificent closet in her room because it's stuffed with my stuff, and today, my husband and I emptied the closet out completely (emptied it right into the room next door- the Room of Requirement, now more than ever!), and I cleaned the walls and vacuumed and mopped the closet floor, and hung up some of Zoe's outfits that have been tossed everywhere in her room.  It was a great feeling.

However, in the midst of getting Zoe's closet all emptied of stuff I need to sort and send on its way, my husband and I realized just how sad and pathetic our own closets are.  I suggested that we just get a closet designer to help us make the most of the space we have in our sad little Victorian-house closets.  He mentioned something about adding on to the house to make our bedroom, master bath, and closets bigger, and having a really good wood milling place replicate more of our fancy Victorian trim- after all, as he said "we had the porches put on, and with the trim, they look like they were always here!" 

He's right about that.  But porches and gingerbready trim are one thing to get right.  It's another thing to get an addition onto what I think is already a perfectly-shaped house, without it looking like a nesting box stuck to the side of a parakeet cage. 

I want a better closet more than anybody, but I think messing with the footprint of the house would take away from it.  So I suggested making the space between our bedroom and the door to the master bath a sort of "walk-through" closet.  And then, when I went into the room to see just how little space we really have to do something like that with, I mentioned that we could finish off the part of the attic that's directly above our bedroom, and make a really nice little entry area at the top of the stairs in the attic, then have a really big closet in that part of the attic.  It wouldn't be something we'd access every single day, but it'd use some of our attic space that right now is just a dumping ground.

So we'll have to see.  What started out as a simple project to get Zoe's closet cleared out of my stuff and her stuff moved in has opened the discussion for add-ons, renovations, closet designers.... This is a sequential vortex in action.  It'll be interesting to see where it takes us!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why Haven't You Published Anything?

Remember how, on the Back to the Future movies, George McFly was always writing his science fiction stories in notebooks?  But he wouldn't let anybody read them, because he was afraid they weren't good enough; he was afraid of rejection. 

I get that.  I mean, I totally get that.

I'm not one of those people who is squeamish about letting people read my writing.  I had lots of writing workshops in undergrad, and then graduate school was half made up of writing workshops.  I never thought my stories were perfect the minute I had a draft done. In fact, what I was pretty much known for was taking my first draft, lopping its head off about to its waist, massively re-writing, and having a barely recognizable second draft.  And then all bets were off in subsequent drafts.  I've never had a problem "killing the darlings."

I even got a big kick out of reading my stories aloud at readings.  If I were a total pansy about letting people in on my work, you'd think having a live audience would have just about done me in.  It didn't.  It was my favorite part of both undergrad and graduate school.

And it isn't even like I don't believe in myself.  I DO think I'm a fairly decent writer.  I know I can get a laugh when I want to.  And I've read and panned a lot of books as a reviewer that are actually published.  I know I can do better than that.

However, I haven't published anything.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I wrote a piece about my house for the county historical society, and it was well-received.  I've always wondered, though, if people honestly liked it, or if they were telling me it was great the way people at a church always tell the special music they were "just wonderful" even if said special music couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, much less a bucket two octaves higher than where they really should be carrying the tune. 

This is how my head works.  When it comes to my writing, I sort of wonder if every compliment is someone just being nice, afraid to hurt my feelings.

I never had to wonder that with my mentors in undergrad.  In fact, thanks to them (and I really mean thanks to them!), I learned to divorce my emotions and feelings from my work the minute I was finished writing a draft.  During the writing, letting those things guide me was fine. After that, there needs to be distance.  I learned quickly to trust what my mentors had to say.  They were tough but honest.  They'd encourage and even praise when it was warranted, but when something was just wrong, wrong, wrong, they didn't pause and hem and haw and dance around it in order to save my high-strung ego.  They'd just come out with it, and I respected them for that.  I respect that kind of criticism to this day, because it only makes me better at what I love to do.  I remember one time, I wrote a piece of historical fiction for writing workshop, and when I had my conference with my mentor before workshop, I saw the look on his face when I stepped into his doorway, and without him having to say anything, I snatched the story out of his hand, shit-canned it, and told him I'd have a new, non-historical fiction story in his email inbox by the next morning.  And I did.  A fifteen-pager.  It was the seeds of the story that became the novel I wrote for my undergraduate thesis.  I guess I was the first student in my program to write a whole novel for their final requirement.  There've been lots since, lots much better than me, I'm sure, but apparently I was the first.  And to be honest, I did it without breaking a sweat.  I can spin out a long story in very little time.  The short-stories, which are the bread and butter of any writing workshop I've been in, just about kill me.

But I'm selective about what I let people read of mine.  Even in college and grad school, I had my stuff I wrote for workshop or for a reading, and then I'd have the stuff I'd write for me.  I've re-written Johnny Tremain at least a hundred times since I first read it and disagreed with the ending in eighth grade.  And that never sees the light of day.  The story I originally wrote that became my undergraduate novel-thesis, I'm still kicking around all these years later.  At the core, the characters are the same, but in a lot of ways, they've become different people since I first wrote about them at age 20.  They've become like old friends I can visit when I need something familiar, and in return, they let me play with style, and voice, and their lives, trying out endless "what-ifs" and alternate storylines.

But if I'm writing that stuff on my computer and somebody (my pesky husband) comes up behind me, I switch the screen to Farkle on Facebook.  Not because I'm writing anything "dirty," or anything- I'm no prude and read what I read of those damn "Grey" books without batting an eye (it was the writing itself that put me off them, not the smut), but because one time when we were both in high school, he made fun of something I wrote, and I haven't quite forgiven him, even a decade and a half later.  It was easier to let the relative strangers in workshop read my writing, because they weren't constantly reading to see who they could recognize, and then go and read in other things.  I'd like to make this perfectly clear: writers are thieves and magpies, and while I do constantly keep an eye out and an ear tuned while I'm with people, I don't do one-to-one translations of people I know in anything I write.  Everybody's a composite, kind of a mish-mash amalgam of lots of different people and different characteristics, and some added out of nowhere, just to make their storylines more flowable.  Even in fiction, I think characters need to behave a certain way to advance the plot, and things have to make sense.  We all know that in real life, nothing's predictable and things don't always make sense.  Something could happen, and we could all live through it, but if I were to write everything just as it happened, it probably wouldn't be a good story, not without a little hand-of-God tweaking, editing out some things, assuming others, editorializing, putting words in mouths.  In short, artistic license.  It's just how it is.  Even in the newspaper, you're not getting the actual complete story.  What you read in the paper or in a magazine or another news outlet- it's been edited for space, edited for flow, even edited to slant toward or against a particular publication's political leaning, depending on whether the editors want to raise up someone or make them look like an ass to the readership.

So I always find it a little tedious when I DO let someone read something of mine, and they always ask "is this what you really think about x" or "is this character so-and-so?"  Or if I have a particularly lively character: "Have you really done this?"

Bloody hell.

But too, what this all comes down to, why I take the time to make all these lame excuses, is that at the heart of it all, just because I've had work rejected the few times I've submitted it places, it doesn't make the rejection any easier to handle.  It sucks to get the short form letter that says a place can't use a story.  And as I've touched on earlier, I don't write a lot of shorter works.  I go for the long, marathon-y pieces, and even though I write them fast, they're still a bigger investment of my time than a short story would be, and I can't get past how much it would hurt to have a novel, a whole entire novel, rejected everywhere.  I mean, have you seen some of the shit that's been published and is sitting on shelves at Barnes and Noble across the country? Petty April seethes whenever I run across a book like that, and I hear myself asking "why is this shit in print, and not my stuff?"  Well.... um, those people had the stones to submit, and you flip to Farkle whenever someone might be reading your work over your shoulder, Ape.

It all comes down to good, old-fashioned insecurity.  Terminal perfectionism.  It's a fool's errand, trying to revise and revise and revise until the story is Perfect and above reproach, but the thing is, I could work until I'm 90 to make a story Perfect, and there'd still be someone who would pan it because it was too light and fluffy, or too dark, or had too many swears, or was too pandering to a certain demographic.... it's always something.  And I need to get over it.  I need to just prepare some kind of smartass answer for the people who'd read my work and try to puzzle out who in the story is who in real life, and try to make me out to be quite scandalous, assuming I've tried out doing everything my characters do.  It's not like I'm not good at smartass answers.  But I think that when all is said and done, despite all the training in divorcing myself from my writing the minute it's been turned over to a reader, the truth is I'm kind of funny about it.  I'm not afraid of having my feelings hurt.  I can tell when someone's criticizing to be constructive and when they're just being an ass.  But it is kind of awkward, answering questions, which is why smartasses were invented.  We try to bluster away the awkwardness by being glib and sarcastic about it.  Other than just cowboying up, which is a tall order, I'm not sure what to do about this.

The thing is, George McFly punched out his bully Biff in the Back to the Future movies.  And then he had all the confidence in the world.  It takes something like that to change the course of a life.  The mouse that roared sort of thing.  So what I need to do is figure out who or what my Biff is, go back in time, punch him out, and come back and submit my work, and it'd probably be published.

So do you or anyone you know own a time-traveling Delorean I could borrow?

Friday, September 28, 2012


I'm having a good laugh at myself.  I don't know how or why, but I somehow ran across my Topsy-Tail from 1992.  Do you remember the Topsy-Tail?  It was this hairstyle creator that was just a plastic loop with a needle-like extension on it.  You pulled your hair back into a ponytail, poked the Topsy-Tail down through the hair, just scalpside of the ponytail holder, stuffed your ponytail through the loop, then pulled the ponytail through itself.  The variations and therefore the styling possibilities were endless!

I remember I bought the thing at Widman's, but I never used it much.  First of all, in 1992, EVERYBODY was Topsy-Tailing their hair.  The more resourceful among us made their own Topsy-Tails by somehow mutilating a skinny magic marker and grafting a wire loop onto it.  Duct tape was probably involved.  I don't know.  I liked my magic markers intact, so I could magic-marker things up and draw magic-marker tattoos on myself.  So with the proliferation of Topsy-Tails, and the very distinctive look they produced, I avoided.  Nothing was worse than going to school and seeing fifty other Topsy-Tailed hairdos walking down the hall, and then having one of the snotty girls (who, may I point out, had also Topsy-Tailed her hair) say "Ooooooh!  Look who used her Topsy-Tail today!"  Because in junior high, things like that MATTER!

Another reason I didn't use my Topsy-Tail much in 1992 was that it hurt like a sonofabitch to pull this giant mutant needle stuffed full of my curly hair back through my hair to make a foldy-looking ponytail.  I'm not tenderheaded at all, but there's something about the way that Topsy-Tail always pulled just right that made me resent it, and opt instead for a high ponytail, nothing Topsy about it, and the Topsy-Tail company could take their variations on the Topsy-theme and all their styling possibilities and shove them!

Plus, you can't forget than in 1992, at least at my school, those glorious, huge, puffy crispy-bangs were still very much in style.  (And we all lived in fear of rainy days and gym class!)  Remember how they never worked well on clean hair?  You had to get a few days' worth of hairspray on those bangs, to ensure just the right amount of crispness and hold.  I had a method down.  Three curls back, one curl down, some swipes with the brush, hairspray, metal pick and diffuser, and voila!  Bangs curled'n'crisped to perfection!  The thing was, it took a relatively long time to do the Crispy Bang just right, when you consider you're talking about a junior high school girl trying to get ready in the morning before the bus arrived.  After all that, there really wasn't much time left to try to figure out the Topsy-Tail.  Not if I wanted to also get my heavy-handedly applied makeup on and enjoy my Carnation Instant Breakfast at a leisurely pace, there wasn't!

So when I found my Topsy-Tail while looking through a box of mine from the '90s (what WAS I looking for?  It definitely wasn't an Ace of Base mix tape or anything like that!), I snorted and almost tossed the Topsy-Tail in the trash.  But something stopped me.  For once in my life, I actually have long hair.  Really, really long hair.  And I wondered if my hair was long enough to do the "Inverted Topsy!" that always eluded me in junior high, because I was always chopping off and growing out my hair in Grades Seven through Graduate School.  But I've been on a good, solid Growing Streak now since 2008, and I decided to take the ol' Topsy-Tail downstairs and try out the Inverted, but instead of doing it at the nape of the neck like we were to do in 1992, and where it just looked stupid and a little obscene compared to the Basic Topsy, I did my usual high-up ponytail, stuffed my hair through the eye part of this giant plastic hair-needle, pulled it through itself, fluffed it out (the best I could- it was still sort of wet), and was not unhappy with the result:

I know it doesn't look like much.  But it didn't take me long to do and it's a fun variation on my usual "oh-what-the-hell-I-have-a-kid-and-just-don't-care"-looking ponytail.  It also shortens up my hair a lot.  This is important, because it's now at the length where, even in a ponytail, when I'm doing my jumpy-jumpy aerobics, sometimes, the ponytail switches me in the face, which pisses me off and makes me think with nostalgia on the days where I had supershort hair.  And that supershort hair is only a short drive to the salon away, but the regret coming from such supershort cuts will last for years for me.  So if all else fails, I have a new way to do my hair for my workouts.

A lot is different in the world from 1992.  Even Crispy Bangs are mostly extinct.  But some things stay the same.  It still hurt like a sonofabitch to pull that Topsy-Tail through my hair.  But maybe twenty years later, I'm more patient about a little pain for a reasonable payoff, or maybe it's easier to stomach since I didn't just spend 20 minutes trying to get the perfect level of volume on my crispy bangs.  Maybe it's because now, if one of the snotty girls looks at my hair and sneers "somebody Topsy-Tailed today!" I'm more inclined to tell her to piss off and go about my business.  I don't know.  For this moment, though, I'm kind of glad I came across this blast from the past and that I didn't toss it out.

But please hear me on this:  If you see me out and about, and I have my hair all done up in a Scrunchie, and I appear to be listening to Ace of Base on a Walkman, please stop me.  Some things are in the past, and that's where they deserve to stay!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My First Amazon Purchase, Ever

My first order from was in the spring of 1998.  Even though I've ordered bazillions of things from Amazon in the last twelve years, I'll always remember the first order I ever placed there.  Back then, there was something novel and magical about ordering things from the World Wide Web.  I still think there's something novel and magical about ordering things from the World Wide Web, don't be fooled.  Also, I was a sophomore in college, and at college, when we got parcels from UPS, which is the shipper Amazon used exclusively back then, it involved getting a notification in your mailbox instructing you to go to Central Receiving, which was all the way on the edge of campus, across the railroad tracks, even.  Getting a UPS parcel was a great, big deal!

The cool thing about in 1998 was that they were still pretty shiny and new, and with every order, you got neat Amazon swag.  My friend Ben got an Amazon thermal travel mug.  I saw it one day when he brought his SleepyTime Tea to our 10-11:35 T-Th Study of Literature Class.  Nothing against the professor, but Ben admitted around 10:45 that putting SleepyTime Tea in his free Amazon thermal travel mug before leaving for Study of Literature was a mistake.  I always thought Ben's free Amazon thermal travel mug was really cool, I thought.  All I ever scored were bookmarks and a few Amazon-branded pads of Post-it notes.  I'm not complaining.  Every so often, I run across one of those bookmarks in a book from the late 90s, and it makes me smile.  And I'm a Post-It note fiend, so it didn't take me long to have Amazon sticky-notes stuck all over everything in my dorm room.  The point is that I kind of miss that part of the nineties.  Free Amazon swag with every order.  But also in the nineties, Ace of Base was in heavy rotation on the radio, and we had to pay for shipping.  So Amazon swag aside, maybe it's better now.

I'll always remember my first Amazon order that spring in 1998.  I ordered two items.  Here they are:

The first was "James Cameron's Titanic," a behind-the-scenes guide to the movie.  It was 1998, and "Titanic" was the big movie of the year.  It was pretty to look at, Billy Zane was in it, and we hadn't yet realized just how tedious the whole thing was.  Please don't judge.  Now, it's fun to get it out and giggle and facepalm about what impressed us so much back then.  Geeze, did that movie ever take itself Seriously!

The other thing I bought in that first Amazon order was a thing called "The Observation Deck," which is a boxed set made up of a deck of cards with a word or a shape or some other writing prompt, and a little book that gives a little more on what each card is meant to prompt.  It's been a handy way out of writer's block over the years.  I get it out and use it when I know I need to write something, anything, because there are all kinds of ideas agitating around in my head but I can't get them out.  Often, all it takes is getting started, and then the block is over.  For me, I need to be able to write as much as I need to be able to hit the gym just about every morning.  Too many days of skipping either, and I'm practically homicidal.

Maybe because this particular thing, this particular boxed book and its silly little deck of observations to use as writing prompts, was half of my first Amazon order, and because that silly little boxed set has helped me out of so many writer's block jams over the years, I'm devoted to Amazon for life, why I remember with such stunning clarity what was in my first order, why I can close my eyes and see exactly that cardstock Amazon bookmark that was my swag in the order.

Amazon won't replace actual brick-and-mortar shopping for me, but when I'm looking for something specific, Amazon is my first stop.  There are no ignorant people driving their motorized shopping carts slowly down the middle of the aisle I need.  There are no surly sales associates going out of their way not to answer my questions or ducking out of the way to avoid actually having to talk to customers.  When I'm ready to check out, I just hit the check-out button and it's done.  I didn't have to wait in a long line or compete with a cell phone with texting capability for the teenage checker's attention or have to put up with that checker rolling his or her eyes at me when I suggest (okay, command) they "put the damn phone back in your pocket and do your job!"

I shop at other places online besides Amazon, but Amazon is usually my first stop.  I just type in what I need or want, and there it is.  If I have a question about the way a product is supposed to perform, or I wonder if a book is really as good as all the hype, I check with Amazon.  Chances are, there's a customer review that addresses just the issue I'm looking to find more out about, and if not, when I find out the answer, I can post my own review, in case someone coming along behind wonders the same thing I did.  And in the interest of serendipity, I get the biggest kick out of their recommendations that wait for me when I stop in at  I still think it's pretty magical.  That's just me. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's Powerful

Whenever I smell Oil of Olay and CoverGirl Pressed Powder, I think of my Grandma Evans.  She swore by Oil of Olay to keep her looking young, and she was always powdering her nose with the CoverGirl Pressed Powder.  And when I was growing up, I was lucky enough to always have her around.  At the time, though, I didn't always feel so lucky.

Grandma Evans and I both were similar in the temper department, and appeared to be each other's triggers.  So there was a lot of fighting with her when I was younger, and especially when I was a teenager.  But still, she was always in my corner when it mattered, and even though I remember a lot of the fighting, looking back now, I remember that she was so much fun, and was one of the most generous, least pretentious people I'll ever know.

My sister and I, whenever we get together, always get laughing about something Grandma Evans would say or do that burnt us up at the time.  For instance, when we were little and in cranky moods, Grandma Evans would ask us "Did you have a bowel movement today?  Was your poopy soft?"  That question would irritate Colleen and me every time, and if Grandma and I were in the wrong mood, it'd set off a fight of atomic proportions.  But now as adults, I think it's safe to say that I, at least have come to appreciate the connection between a happy colon and a good mood.  And if my sister and I have been around each other too much at the wrong time these days, and get pissy with each other, one of us will ask the other "Was your poopy soft?" and then we get giggling like a couple of idiots. 

Gross?  Yes.  But we all know it's true.  It is what it is.  If you're still annoyed with me for relating that story, go eat a bran muffin and some prune juice and come back in a little while when you're in a better mood.

As irritating as I could find my Grandma Evans sometimes, she really was good-hearted, and she could have a soothing effect.  When I'd be home sick from school with some stomach ailment (my mom called it 'nervous stomach;' Dr. Davis called it 'ulcer'), Grandma Evans would always make me food that wouldn't upset my stomach.  I wouldn't want to eat, but she'd always insist that it'd make me feel better, and most of the time, it did. 

And then in the winter time, when a lot of Grandmas would be content to watch the grandkids ride downhill in the snow from the comfort of the warm side of the windows (heck- that sounds like a plan to me, and I'm in my thirties!), Grandma Evans bundled up and would ride downhill with us.  When Colleen and I stayed all night at her house, she'd let us make French fries from scratch, using her potato press, and whenever she would watch us for a Saturday when Mom and Dad went somewhere, we'd go on fun field trips.  I remember going fishing at Beechwood Lake.

She was a person to really make the best of things.  She lived for hard work.  After Thanksgiving dinner, you'd find Grandma Evans out at the kitchen table, picking over the bones, to get every scrap of meat off.  When Mom would decorate cakes, Grandma kept the decorating tips washed up.  At canning time, she'd cut up the green beans.  Pain-in-the-butt little things the rest of us didn't like to do.  She taught me how to make a bed with perfect hospital corners.  [That's something I am a stickler about, to this day.  If the sheets are baggy on a hotel bed, I have that thing ripped apart and made up properly, even if my husband is horrified by this.]  And when she moved to the nursing home in 2000, she had her doctor sign a paper saying that working in the home's laundry room was good for her mental health.  Some people implode when they go to nursing homes, but Grandma Evans made the best of it, socializing with the other residents, making the most of the Activity Room, and working in the laundry until she couldn't anymore, physically.   That ability to make the best of everything is something I work really hard to emulate.

I want you to understand the kind of person Grandma Evans was.  We lost her in 2006 when she was seventy-nine.  It was one of those things where it wasn't so much of a surprise- she'd had a bad stroke in 2002 and had numerous bouts of congestive heart failure, and  she was suffering.  So at least she wasn't suffering anymore.  But it still felt like a kick right to the throat when I found out.  And then you know how it is.  Someone passes away, and you get thinking about your history with them, and if it was kind of a complicated relationship, the things that stand out were all the times you were a complete and total ass, and you know you could have handled things differently.  At least that's how it was for me.

So I tell you all those things so I can get around to this.  In January 2011, I found out I was pregnant.  It wasn't a completely unplanned thing.  My husband and I had been married for 10+ years, I was 31, and we'd stopped trying not to have kids, but things weren't looking promising that we'd have any of our own, at least not without medical intervention.  And then over Christmas and New Year that winter, I felt worse than I ever had in my life, and I was temperamental, even for me.  So eight days into the new year, I took a pregnancy test on a lark, and damned if the stick didn't turn blue.  I had five minutes of sheer joy followed by a good two-week stint in the Bell Jar.  I blame a lot of it on stupid hormones, because they'll do a number on you.  But also, I was freaking out like a lot of people do when they find out they're having a baby.  I mean, we'd been married for ten years and some change.  We had a good routine going.  We could just pick up and go whenever we wanted to, without considering diaper bags, feeding schedules, school... Plus, a lot of the kids I'd met over the years hadn't impressed the hell out of me.  In fact, we were in the company of a particularly bratty one the night before I took the pregnancy test, and I remember when the parents finally took the overtired kid home for the night (at 11:30 pm!), I went upstairs, relishing the silence and that my husband and I weren't the tag-team of mewling, simpering Mommy-martyr and douchebag Dad that had just left our house.  I was really afraid we'd turn into that as instantly as the stick on the pregnancy test turned blue.

I had a week to let all the worries stew in my head before I could get in to my doctor to confirm what we already knew.  I was nervous all week, and when I'm that kind of nervous, all food tastes like styrofoam and mudwater to me, so I wasn't eating.  And you know how when you don't eat, you get nauseous and moody anyway, and then you add pregnancy hormones to that, and I kept worrying that my New Year's Eve martinis I drank before I knew I was pregnant would mean that I'd be carrying some kind of devil-spawn with horns and a tail.  Even though everybody at my doctor's office denies it, I'm pretty sure my dead-pan reaction to the "wonderful news" took the nurse aback majorly that day.  I think I even humped up and bawled, right there in the exam room.  As far as I was concerned at that moment, my life was pretty much over.

I got over it, of course.  The following weekend, my husband and I took a trip to the mall to look at baby stuff.  At least I stayed in character, having a shopping trip pull me out of my funk.  And my sister sent me a "Congratulations!  You're pregnant!" card in the mail, and it made me happy.  A couple weekends after that, we met up in Pittsburgh with her and her husband, and our cousin, who turned out to be expecting her second child right then, too, and my sister, who has a lot of friends who've had kids, took me maternity shopping, and my spirits were brightened up after I'd come to the realization that I wasn't going to have to look like a walking tent for the rest of my life.  Again, the shopping trip picked me up out of my funk.

And then things got really gnarly.  I came home from Pittsburgh with a terrible cold, and then on Valentine's Day, I went for my first semester prenatal screening and had the test done that screens for genetic abnormalities.  (And I'm not opening up the floor for debate on prenatal genetic testing.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  If your opinion differs, excellent.  Don't try to bludgeon me with your argument, I won't bludgeon you with mine, and we'll agree to disagree.)  Of course, I'd studied up on the Nuchal Fold Test, so I knew the thickness the ultrasonographer was looking for, and my baby's nuchal fold was a whole millimeter thicker than it should have been at that gestational age.  And she tried to reassure me that the nuchal fold was only one component of the screening, and they still had to send the ultrasound measurements and my bloodwork to the lab, and "every baby's different, and this doesn't mean there's an abnormality," but in my head, I already had the baby in my head as severe Down Syndrome, and what would we do out here in the middle of the country where there are very few support services, etc., etc.  Two weeks later, my fears were confirmed:  the screening results came back with a 1 in 78 chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome, and I had a meltdown in my doctor's office. I've never done that in my life, and I'm still embarrassed about it. 

My doctor is really amazing, and as I was blubbering and leaking snot all over the place, she and my husband (both in scrubs, I might add), were trying to explain to me that the test was a screening, and that 1 in 78 was a CHANCE, not a confirmation that the baby had any abnormality, and that there were people who'd take 1 in 78 as GREAT odds and be done with it.  BUT, the normal was 1 in 350 for my age, and I couldn't get past it.  So we started talking about amniocentesis, and going to Children's Hospital of Buffalo for the amnio, and the risks associated with all that, the risks of finding out for sure.  And I elected to do the amnio.  I wanted to know for sure.  My husband said we'd love the baby no matter what, but I needed to know everything I could, because I wasn't sold on loving the baby "no matter what."  (Again, this isn't an opening for debate.  This is how I felt.  If you think I'm a shit for admitting that, so be it.  Mrs. Hanky, right here.)

We had to wait until March 15th for the amnio (what better day of the year to let someone jab you in the abdomen with a sharp object than the Ides of March?), to reduce the risks to the baby, so I had a good couple of weeks to let my worrying spool way out of control.  I read everything I could get my hands on about amniocentesis, risks, mortality rates, chromosomal abnormalities.  My husband, a dentist, went so far as to take all his developmental biology books and hide them at his office, so I wouldn't read them and make myself even sicker with worry.  And he thought about blocking WebMD from coming through to my computer. 

In short, I went to a really, really dark place for a little while between the results from my prenatal screening and when I went to Buffalo for the amnio.  But somewhere in those couple weeks, when I had myself whipped into a frenzy before my husband got home from work over all the what-ifs, I was sitting on the couch in our family room, bawling, soaking Rozzie's coat with tears and snot while she bemusedly sat curled up against me, something happened, which is where the sense of smell, and Grandma Evans comes back into all of this.

I was sitting there on the couch, and all of a sudden, I caught a strong whiff of Oil of Olay and CoverGirl pressed powder.  I don't wear Oil of Olay or CoverGirl pressed powder, and as far as I know, Yankee doesn't make a candle with those scents.  There was no reason to smell those particular smells right then. But I know I did.  And then a thought came into my head that said "Stop your crying.  You know everything is going to be all right."  And I felt really calm, the best I'd felt in weeks.  The best I'd felt since five minutes after that stick turned blue, actually. 

I couldn't stop thinking about Grandma Evans after that.

I don't know what it was all about.  Maybe I thought I smelled the Oil of Olay and CoverGirl pressed powder because I really wanted someone to be there to calm me down right then, or maybe it was the remnants of the bad cold and flu I'd had a few weeks earlier.  Or maybe it was Grandma Evans reaching through The Veil to snap me out of it all.  I don't know.  I do know that I felt alone in a dark place before that moment, and afterward, I didn't feel alone or scared or in a dark place.  And I'm going to thank Grandma Evans for that.

Everything did turn out better than fine with the baby.  Even at the amnio, the ultrasonographer at CHoB said she didn't see anything abnormal about the (girl!!!!) baby.  The amnio itself went off without a hitch, and at the end of March, it was confirmed that the genetic tests all came back normal.  But long before that, I'd stopped worrying.... about that, anyway.

Ever since Zoe was born, Colleen and I have both noticed little flashes of Grandma Evans in her.  Her hands remind us both of Grandma Evans.  She's unsinkable like Grandma Evans was. She loves to eat.  I have this picture of Zoe holding a squirt-bottle of mayonnaise, and when Colleen saw it, she said "Zoe reminds me of Grandma Evans in this picture!" 

It's her expression, I think.  But Grandma Evans always liked mayo.  We're not saying Zoe IS Grandma Evans.  Not in a million years.  But we can definitely see that they're related.  Different things come down through generations and across time.

And if, if, if Grandma Evans was manifesting herself somehow that day when I'd spiraled about as low as I could, I'm really glad she chose the scents of Oil of Olay and CoverGirl Pressed Powder, and not Ring Bologna and Limburger Cheese.  I'm really glad about that...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clean This House, I Will

Under Armour has this slogan that goes like this: "Protect this house.  I will."  It's been going through my mind as I wander through my house, except with a slightly different spin.  My house is in the middle of the country, and isn't really threatened by anybody or anything except the occasional flock of birds that comes through on a strafing mission.  So "Protect this house.  I will."  seems a little dramatic for my actual house. 

My slogan right now is "Clean this house.  I will."  And it's a more daunting thing to me than Under Armor's "Protect this House..." See, I already can spend an hour or two in my home-gym "protecting this house"-I interpret this as "being as physically fit as possible," which is something I have no problem working really, really hard to do. I can curl 20-pound dumbbells in each hand.  I can take on the club step for routines that last well over an hour.  You get the picture.  When it comes to fitness, I live by the rule that "If something's important to you, you make the time for it; if it isn't important, you make excuses."  And I get really impatient with excuse makers on this front.

But when it comes to picking up things around the house, putting them away, dusting, scrubbing, shining, and polishing, I'm the biggest pansy.  I can come up with all kinds of excuses and lies I tell myself, the biggest of which is "The ol' place isn't lookin' too bad!"  I mean, for the most part, the floor's passable.  You can walk from the front door, through the dining room, through the kitchen, hang a louie at the back staircase, and get to the door we use.  The clutter is confined mostly to horizontal surfaces and smacked up against walls.  It's funny how I don't see the dust bunnies as "too bad" or the dishes and containers on the kitchen counter as "too bad."  Until somebody comes to the house, especially somebody I don't know very well, or somebody whose opinion I sort of value.  Then it's like "Holy crap!  This place is a MESS! And ERMAGERD, THERE'S PEOPLE AT THE DOOR!"

Clean this house, I will....

There was a brief and glorious time, waaaaaaaaay back in Ought-Seven, a month after we moved in, when this house was spit-shined.  We held an open house so everybody could see how we renovated this old place.  It really was a hellhole before. And the teenage daughter of someone I think very highly of, someone I wish I could be more like, said to me: "WOW!  You definitely don't need to be on Clean Sweep!"  It was one of those moments where I'm sure I luminesced.  I did not need Clean Sweep in Ought-Seven, right after we moved in, and we had our open house.  There was a very brief period of spit-shininess here again, in 2010, when we re-financed.  We needed to make the place look all great to impress the appraiser, so she'd give us a high value and there'd be mathemagics at the bank, so we'd get a lower interest rate, or something like that.  It was all too numbery for me to really understand, but the point was, the object of our game was to make the house look as nice and shiny as possible, and it meant two weeks of what FlyLady calls "Crisis Cleaning" and what I call "Assbreaking Manual Labor" and I swore "never again" would I let this house get so bad that I'd have to "Crisis Clean!"

Pffffffft.  That lasted all of thirty seconds.  I don't know what it is with me.  When the house is nice, I coast, until it gets so flippin' bad that I'll do anything to avoid having people see it.  My daughter has the best damn closet in this house, and she's not been able to use it for her things, because I've got crap piled in there from when her room was my office.  She's only a year old, but still.  I think her life and my life would be greatly enriched if I could hang her little outfits up on hangers, like I've seen my friends do, rather than have them folded and stuffed into dresser drawers.  So there's one thing I need to get crackalacking on before too much longer.  There's just no excuse.  And all the stuff in her closet?  I haven't had my hands on it in over a year, so apparently it doesn't need to be readily accessible, or maybe it doesn't even need to be here at all.

Clean this house, I will....

I have a lot of kitchen cabinets, and yet I find myself struggling to find places to put everything.  Do I use the stuff in three quarters of the cupboards?  NOPE!  But I have a hard time letting go.  In my head, I feel like as soon as I get rid of something, I'm going to need it.  It happens, but not every time I get rid of something I don't use.  You'd think that being able to see the pretty black granite countertops in my kitchen would be enough of an incentive for me to hoe out everything in the cupboards.  You'd think it would.

Then there's the room upstairs that's supposed to be our guest bedroom.  We don't get many guests.  I can count on one hand the number of overnight visitors we've had since we moved in.  Therefore, the guest bedroom has become part stopping place for things to go up to the attic (hello, Christmas decorations from last year!) and part dumping grounds for things I don't know where else to put them, but can't bear to throw out, donate, or put up in the attic.  The room is a mess.  It's the Room of Requirement, to borrow from JK Rowling and also from one of my friends from college, who says her second bedroom is also her "room of requirement."  The worst part of my upstairs "Room of Requirement" is that it smells like dust in there, which makes the whole upstairs smell like a dusty old suitcase, too.  It can really bring a person down.

Clean this house, I will...

So maybe it's time to stop talking about it and stop making excuses about it.  I'm really lucky to get to live in such a nice house.  It's time I stop being so adolescent about it and waiting for a cleaning lady who's never going to show up for work.  I need to cowboy up, or "cleaning lady up," arm myself with garbage bags, Pledge (lemon!), Windex, Microfiber cloths, mops, and Clean.  This.  House.  TheHellUp!"

Clean this house.  I will!