Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Got What I Wanted!

Or, Best Panic Attack Ever! I was going to call it that, but it seems overly melodramatic.

And I don't do melodramatic. I just do dramatic.

So, anyway, what did you want for Christmas? Did you get it?

The toddler didn't. He decided two days before Christmas that he definitely wanted Santa to bring him a bike. Sadly for the toddler, this revelation occurred three days after he punched two girls in his class in the face (and left a mark on one!) and then shoved paper towels down the daycare sink until it backed up. (Hubby's response? "What got into him? I mean, besides the paper towels. That I can see.") Santa, I have explained repeatedly, only brings bikes to boys who do not punch girls, or classmates in general. Besides, there's a layer of ice on my sidewalks about an inch thick. He'll get one when he turns four in May.

But I did.

I got my big surprise present two days early - an email from an agent (who shall, for the moment, remain nameless) who said she would "love" to read the full manuscript of the Noseless Cowboy book, officially known as A Part of Her. You can read an excerpt at my website here. It's the fourth book in the Emerson series.

I know we're all still waiting on the editor to get back to me on Marrying the Emersons, which is the first book in the Emerson series. But I couldn't put all my eggs in one basket. And my dear friend Pauline Friday has all these agents sniffing around her How To Be A Spinster in 29 Years, mostly because the book is awesome, and also because she sends out query letters in batches of 20 or so.

But I stalled, hoping the editor would get to the bottom of whatever pile I was in. Plus, I had no idea how to sell the whole series - as a family saga, or one book at at time? If I did one book at a time, what about the two books for Lily and Bobby? Together or separate?

So I took the path of least resistance. I queried A Part of Her. It's the same family, but it's much more a stand-alone book. Plus, that whole Noseless Cowboy thing (read that blog here) is highly visual - and easier to condense than 35 years plus the Vietnam War. (I tried to condense it. Trust me, it didn't work. That's why it's two books.)

I sent out six. I got two rejections within three days. I figured, well, that's that, at least until after the New Year.

And then, this afternoon, as I'm sitting here in a funky mood because I had to chase a three year old down in the sleet (nutty kid!) and I get an email.

She wanted the full manuscript. Two weeks after I sent the query.

BEST PANIC ATTACK EVER! My chest is still tightening up like a boa constrictor's giving me a big ol' friendly hug.

Even more so because, long ago (February) when I first started querying Marrying the Emersons, I set a moderately unrealistic goal of having a contract by Christmas. And after a few bruising rounds of rejection, I scaled that back to having an agent by Christmas. And after a few more bruising rounds, I reminded myself that most editors are already planning their 2010 releases, and that there just might not be much happening right now - and that was before the economy tanked.

And now? I still have no editor. I have no contract. I have no agent.

But I have a foot in the door. Which is more than I had before.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Moment

Before we get going today, I'd like to invite you to stop back by my website at www.sarahmanderson.com to see what all I've been up to with that Authorial thing. My Web Honcho (aka Craig) has updated the synopses and excerpts for all four books in the Emerson series, and there is also a sneak peak at what's coming up next.

Okay. Back to this regularly scheduled Blog: The Moment.

Do you remember the moment? The moment you stopped being a child and started being an adult?

Maybe it was when you stumbled downstairs for a glass of water and caught your mother stuffing stockings, nary a Santa in sight. (Yes, that happened. I had to promise not to tell my sisters, but I think Leah already suspected.)

Maybe it was when you didn't get the pony you'd asked for under the Christmas Tree, despite being an extra good girl all danged year long. (Sadly, that pony never did materialize.)

Maybe it was the winter the river flooded the town, and your father, being a big, jolly kind of guy, took charge of the toy collection for those who had no home in which to have a Christmas, rented a Santa suit, and packed all those totally awesome toys into the Charger and drove away to give them to other children, not you. (Yes, he did this. It was my first real lesson in helping those in need. Sucked for the first-grader I was, though.)

Or maybe it was the first time the meteorologist predicted five inches of the fluffy stuff and instead of jumping up and down on the bed because you weren't going to school for the next day or three, you threw a hissy fit because you weren't going to get to see your current flame - or worse, you'd have to take the bus and leave your heap of a car at home. (Not that I ever threw hissy fits. Never. Honest!)(And seriously, did that meteorologist say up to 1 inch of ICE today? JEEZ!)

Whenever your moment was, this season is ripe with low-hanging fruit that screams "Grow Up." Which is somewhat ironic, given that most of us embrace a child's simplistic joy and excitement. With such high expectations, there are bound to be crashes that leave some children's concept of what they thought they knew in the world in smoldering ruins.

But there are other moments. Moments that pull you back into childhood and hold you there in a mama bear hug.

Maybe it was the first year you really weren't sure if Santa was real or not, and came down Christmas morning to find sooty footprints all over the place. (That stroke of genius bought my parents another year of Christmas grace.)

Maybe it was the time that Santa left a baseball bat in your stocking, because he knew you weren't a typical girl. (Understatement of the year.)

Or maybe it was the moment when one of the kids in your class, who was living in a hotel room on Christmas Day because her house still had eight inches of mud in it, came back to school and breathlessly told everyone that Santa had personally delivered the Sit n' Spin she'd always wanted, and threatened to punch anyone who tried to convince her that Santa wasn't real. (Oh, how I had coveted the Sit n' Spin. But it got a good home.)

Or maybe it was the moment when your son lined up all his trains just so and then informed you that they were reindeer, and named them. In order. (Kid can't even count to twenty without looping past 14 a few times, but reindeer? No problem.)

Those are the moments that we strive to cherish and protect. Those are the reasons we take children to see Santa, even if that just leads to a screaming fit of mild terror (the toddler actually sat on his lap this year, without crying! He didn't talk, but he did sit!)

Perhaps as adults who have harvested that low-hanging fruit, we realize what has gone before us, and are desperate for things to be that simple again.

The moment comes for us all. But as a parent, I hope that it comes later. For now, I just want to have meaningful debates about which chimney Santa comes down. My moment is very much his childhood.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How to Wrap a Present in 29 Easy Steps

In my capacity as Authorial Mom, I thought I would offer these 29 steps to easier, more beautiful presents. Just follow this easy program to achieve the same kind of Christmas Satisfaction that the Authorial Mom basks in practically year-round.

1. Buy awesome gifts that your child(ren) will love, like the aircraft carrier complete with die-cast planes and helicopters, real aircraft sounds, and a control tower.

2. Hide it in the garage and pray your child(ren) won't notice it.

3. Assemble your wrapping supplies: Festive paper, sharp scissors, and clear tape.

4. Realize someone used your best scissors to mutilate crayons. Decide to forge ahead anyway.

5. Heft aircraft carrier out of garage. Realize that it's 2 1/2 feet long and 9 inches tall at the tower. Not exactly regularly shaped. And because you bought it for a song at a thrift store, it did not come with in-store wrapping, or even a box. Its only covering is a garbage bag.

6. Begin frantically tearing through your insane stash of boxes accumulated over a lifetime of hording for something big enough to fit an aircraft carrier.

7. Repeat process with festive holiday bags. Again, come up short - literally.

8. Decide to make your own box, just like your father-in-law does.

9. Mutilate six boxes trying to find enough matching parts to encase an aircraft carrier.

10. Give up trying to match box sizes after giving yourself the mother of all paper cuts. Go get a glass of wine and a band-aid. Several band-aids.

11. Newly fortified, return to the battle scene. Begin taping box parts around aircraft carrier.

12. Realize control tower isn't removable. Remove it anyway (using the tips of your ruined scissors) and tape it to the side.

13. Run out of tape.

14. Get another glass of wine while tearing the house apart for more tape. Settle on packing tape. It's still clear, after all.

15. Return to the battle scene. Experience a pang of liberal guilt for giving innocent child a war toy for Christmas. Finish wine and get over it quickly.

16. Begin wrapping festive paper around jerry-rigged box-like covering.

17. Run out of festive paper, leaving a three inch gap between edges.

18. More wine as you debate how to cover the gap.

19. Settle on using different festive paper. Reason that Santa has to improvise, too.

20. Another paper cut.

21. The secret to beautifully wrapped presents is the crisp creases on the edges. Realize that there are no edges on your aircraft carrier you can crease the paper on without poking the tower out through the side.

22. Poke the tower out through the side.

23. Begin rooting around for Christmas ribbon to wrap over the hole the tower made.

24. Find acceptable ribbon. Begin wrapping around carrier.

25. Run out of ribbon.

26. Realize that all children like bows. Dump out whole bag of bows and apply liberally.

27. Stand back and, glass of wine in hand, admire your dedicated handiwork.

28. Overcome by holiday spirits, go lay down until Christmas is over.

There! Wasn't that easy? And the true reward for all your hard work will come Christmas morning, when your child(ren) will rush down, see the highly festive package under the tree, demolish the whole thing in under three seconds, and spend the rest of the day building sheds for trains he already has out of the mutilated box parts and bows, leaving the aircraft carrier to collect dust in the corner. Finally arrive at:

29. Next year, all the presents will be in garbage bags. With a bow.

Is it Christmas Yet?

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours went pretty much like expected, although the rolls were only minimally over-browned this year. WOO! Ah, the turkey - the apple juice secret turkey - was amazing.

But there was one thing that happened off schedule. It snowed on November 30th where we were - at my in-laws' house. The old wives' tale, as my hubby repeated it four thousand times, is that since the first measurable snow occurred on the 30th, we will have 30 measurable snows this winter.

The toddler was ecstatic. I, of course, had not packed for an inch and a half, so my wonderful mother-in-law and I scrambled to find stuff that would keep me, my hubby, and my kid from getting pneumonia. So we crammed my 3 1/2 year old, who's wearing 5T footie sleepers, into a size 7 pair of snow pants. With the suspenders cinched all the way down, it actually worked. The mittens were more like socks on his hands, so we just disregarded the thumbs. At least I was a good-enough mother that he did have a winter coat, but we had to resort to - this is so bad - baggies rubber-banded around his feet.

Yup. I'm that kind of mom.

Of course, I'd packed only a light jacket, suitable for shopping in enclosed malls. So I wound up wearing my mother-in-law's boots and my father-in-law's coat and gloves. Same for my hubby (he wore his father's boots, though) but at least he looked normal. And out we went.

It wasn't really sledding snow, but that didn't stop my men. And of course, we did a snowman. It was snowman snow.

The kid did the ears. He was real proud of the ears.

Now, this was all well and good, but my kid is three. Three and a half. He took one look out the window Sunday morning at the snow falling and said, "Santa's HERE!" Never mind that I haven't even gotten him to the mall to see the Big Guy yet. Snow, in his mind, Equals Santa.

It snowed here yesterday. It was snowing when I picked him up from daycare, and he was just convinced that Santa was coming as soon as he went to sleep. He's all ready for stockings - he's even hung two different ones for his pooh bear.


I bought honey sticks for a stuffed animal's Christmas stocking. But he has been a very good bear this year. I'm that kind of mom.

What makes this even funnier is that the kid is not having what you might call a smooth month. He's getting into trouble at daycare, talking back to me and the hubby, and trying to body-slam my wiener dog. He's made a snow=Santa connection, but he's got no concept of the Nice List or the Naughty List. It's just not sinking in. Not even a little.

I told him IF he was good today, we'd go to the Mall tonight and see Santa. But it's a big IF. So we'll see. We already have him more presents than he needs, so if he doesn't shape up, they go back into the gift closet for his birthday. Trains keep.

So we'll see what kind of Christmas we have around here. Will the pooh bear get better gifts than the kid? Will I get anything but coal for being the world's meanest mom? (Okay - I know the answer to that one. After all, I have a car and a credit card). Will my poor hubby survive until then?

Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks

Here's how our holiday breaks down.

Wednesday Afternoon: we swing by and pick up my gram and head down to my folk's house. The house is already a Thanksgiving disaster - it's the one day of the year my sister bakes pies, and she cuts loose and gets in touch with her inner Martha Stewart. My dad puts the toddler in charge of something fun, like the apple peeler/corer/slicer. We all try not to trip over the myriad of animals dancing around the kitchen. Then, completely whipped from making food, we go out to eat and then collapse in front of the t.v. Gram and Dad will fall asleep sitting up while the rest of us do the preliminary Black Friday battle plan.

Thanksgiving morning: Dad has been up since four. I usually get up between five and six - not quite early enough to figure out the secrets of gizzards, but more than early enough to have the apple juice secret down pat. There may or may not be a toddler helping, and again, assorted dogs just praying to their little doggie God that Dad will drop that bird at any time. (It's never happened, but a dog can dream, right?) Once the bird is in the cooker, I do clean-up/damage control while Dad makes cinnamon rolls. Various family members begin to trickle in and kind of flop around, like sleeping until 8 was just soooo challenging for them. (I kid, but they are pretty useless until they've had their coffee.)

Cooking continues apace. My hubby, God bless him, has stepped in to help out with some of the cooking - he does homemade mashed potatoes (adding both sour cream and cream cheese . . . oh, so good) and keeps an eye on the portobella mushrooms and mac and cheese. I fry apples and try to keep an eye on the rolls, but they will over-brown, every single year. They always do. Finally, as everyone else has gotten cleaned up and is getting hungry, Dad hefts that bird out of the oven and nicks off a piece for Mom to nibble. Mom always gets the first nibble, and promptly pronounces it Dad's best turkey ever. I make gravy while Dad carves, and then it's dinner, buffet style, usually by 2.

Gorging occurs.

A food-induced coma occurs.

By 6, people are beginning to perk back up. The Black Friday battle plan is nailed down, the brave try all five kinds of pies and my homemade maple nut cheesecake, and Dad snores from his recliner.

Friday Morning: we live out in the country, so to be anywhere by 7 a.m. we all have to leave the house by 6. One year we tried to be at an opening at 6, and we just couldn't do it. We're dedicated, but not completely insane. We abandon the toddler to the Gram and Dad and head out. Black Friday is like a date for me and my hubby - we eat meals out, we walk around holding hands, we talk - all without a kid. It is a bit of a damper than my sisters, brother-in-law, and mother are there, but it is close enough to a date for us. We do all our Christmas shopping. (My sisters and I buy each other clothes. We try stuff on, and if one of the sisters likes how that looks on me, she says, "I'll get that for you," and I do the same. It's a little like What Not To Wear, Christmas Edition.)

We all straggle back home at some point between 2 and 5 to find the house a fun-house disaster of toy explosions from Pawpaw/Grandkid fun. We decide we don't care, eat more turkey, and all go to sleep by 8. We get up the next morning, drive to my in-laws' house, and repeat.

Every year, I am thankful for these rituals. I'm thankful that my in-laws let my family have this holiday (they get Easter). I'm thankful that I know the apple juice secret. I'm thankful that my toddler gets to cook with his Pawpaw, and then spend the next day just hanging out with him. I'm thankful Gram makes it to another holiday. I'm thankful that my hubby good-naturedly laughs at all my Dad's jokes, even the ones he's already heard dozens of times. I'm thankful for getting to hang out with my sisters, and I'm thankful that the brothers-in-laws are cool about all our family's quirks. I'm thankful that the day is filled with laughter, food, and love (with the occasional cursing at over-browned rolls).

Even in these difficult times, there is something to be thankful for. I'm so grateful I'm here, and that you, Dear Reader, are here, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dude, Where's My Holiday?

Okay, that was a bad joke. Sorry.

But seriously, where did Thanksgiving go? And is there any way to actually teach my toddler about it in the face of overwhelming marketing?

The hubby has been working rather long, bordering on insane hours recently, giving me plenty of Mother/Son time. And one of my favorite coping mechanisms is to go to our local mall. A year and a half ago, they took out an underused seating area, padded that bad boy, and stuck in some soft climbing structures. Voila, instant play place. I swear, I'd carpet my house in that stuff - so soft and squishy underfoot, and it absorbs a lot of sound. Sometimes there are other kids there, and my kid runs around at top toddler speeds screaming and throwing his little bod around. So much better that all that energy is not contained in my 1892 house. It's especially vital in the winter.

Anyway, I have been at the mall a lot recently. I know the play area was designed to increase the amount of money I spend at the mall, because I'm certainly there a lot, but the mall people never counted on frugal German stock. At most, I window shop J.C. Penny.

Two weeks ago, part of the play area was fenced off, with sparkly Christmas trees behind it, and presents stuck in the philodendrons. Three days later, evergreen boughs (Tangent: I love that word. It's a darned shame it only gets trotted out once a year. Say it out loud about five times. Bough. Great, huh?) were everywhere. They still have the decency not to break out the actual Santa yet, but everything else is a go.

To a three year old, it's Christmas, plain and simple. The only real vestige of Thanksgiving that exists in his world is the pilgrim name tags at daycare and the promise of a trip to Mimi and Pawpaw's to pet kittens. Thanksgiving is a brief interlude between candy and presents.

And, to be honest, I'm not helping. We have a big house and a lot of decorations. Two trees. And did I mention the hubby working insane hours? So the toddler and I are doing the decorating piece meal.

He's hilarious. He's really into hanging ornaments, but they all have to be families. Three candy canes on a branch - the mommy, the daddy, and the baby candy cane. My hubby's Dan Marino ornament has to be next to a baby in a crib - I think a snowman is standing in for Mom there. Everything is grouped.

But with the daily barrage of gift catalogs filled with stuff I'm never going to spend the money on, the toddler wants it all. Flip open a toy page, and he jabs that finger onto every single item, "I want that, and that, and that . . ." ad nauseum. We have a house rule - if you can't tell Mom what it is you want, you can't have it. He said he wanted the Indiana Jones Action Sounds Whip. I said, "Can you tell me what that is?" and he said, "Um, I want that." No Action Sounds Whips. No Light Sabers. No wrestling Action Figures.

Beside, (Mary, did I get it right? No 's'?) the kid is only getting three presents from Santa, plus a stocking, plus maybe another three to five things from us like books. The hubby said Limits, and I said, Sure. Cheaper that way.

This is all well and good, but even in this blog, where did Thanksgiving go? You'd think with all the GPS technology we have today, we could keep better track of it ... but no.

I used to teach English as a Second Language in Chicago. I really liked it, and it was a good outlet for the vast repository of useless knowledge I've accumulated between history teachers for parents and graduate degrees. I taught them about Thanksgiving, and about Black Friday. If you were new to this country, you'd want to know why the evening news showed near riots breaking out at Best Buy over Wiis, right? National Shopping Day was how I described it.

Useless trivia fact: Did you know that FDR tried to move Thanksgiving to the second week in November? He was trying to boost the economy by lengthening the holiday shopping season, and it backfired pretty badly on him. People didn't want him messing with traditions. Back then, in the darkness that was the Great Depression, people were thankful for what they had.

Ironic, then, that today we have so much more to be thankful for. We live longer, have better stuff and far more comfortable lives these days than the huge chunks of the populace that didn't have running water or electricity until the 1940s. (Yes, I know about that, too. Features heavily in Marrying the Emersons. Live with it.)

But with all this modern convenience and wonder, we are less thankful. More spoiled, my Gram would say - after all, she lived through the Depression. Much as FDR tried, now marketing and consumerism has moved the holiday shopping season up to 12:01 a.m. on November 1st. What legislation couldn't do, the American People did themselves.

So, until the official Thanksgiving Blog next week, take a moment to stop and think about what you have to be thankful for while you hang your ornaments or buy your Christmas gifts. I'm not saying don't do those things, but don't forget the fact that you can do those things is, in and of itself, something to appreciate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris!

I don't have much today - heck, I even forgot it was Thursday, so sorry this is late getting out, faithful lunch hour reader. I mean, things are happening. I'm mailing Marrying the Emersons out for the Golden Heart contest this afternoon. I'm in the final tweaking stages of the other three, and I'm confident they'll all be out before the deadline on Dec. 2nd. I'm drafting a friendly, "Howdy! Remember Me?" letter to the editor, as it has officially passed six months since I initially mailed the partial. I'm already writing the next book in my head.

And I've got a son whose imagination has caught fire recently. He's discovered the Toy Story movies. The other night, we heard frantic screaming after he went to bed. So I went flying upstairs only to hear him say, "You okay there, buddy?" in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Buzz Lightyear. And then he answered in the voice he uses when he 'talks' for his Pooh Bear, with another frantic sounding scream, followed by another "You okay there, buddy?" And he's discovered his father's 15 inch Star Wars Darth Vadar and Luke Skywalker dolls (ahem, Action Figures). So he's running around with "Dark" Vader and "Skyler" creating scenes that sound like Toy Story 2 again - where Buzz finds out Zurg is his father - even though the kid has NEVER seen Star Wars!

So it's not like there's not stuff going on. But to pull together a cohesive blog out of that? I got nothing. So we're just going to go for a blast from the past today.

I've mentioned my Gram at various times in this blog. She's 93 (and a half) now, older every day. She's an interesting woman, my Gram. Whether it's remembering the noseless cowboy or over sharing about my grandfather (who died when I was two, God bless him), she's always got a story ready to tell. This is one of my favorites.

I was 18, Gram was 82. 82 - an age when a vast part of the population has already died, or faded past fun - but at 82, Gram decided it was time to go on vacation. This is something she's done almost her whole life. She's been a part of every travel revolution, from Route 66 to Howard Johnson to the incarnation of air travel, and 82 was no good reason to give it up. But she's not blind to the hard facts of aging. So, whilst she still could, she decided she wanted to go to Europe, just for one last time.

But she didn't want to go with her friends. They were too old, and wouldn't be able to keep up with her. Mom was busy, and we won't get started on my aunt.

That left me. And I had no money.

This did not deter Gram. She offered to pay my way - everything but the souvenirs, basically, on one condition: I had to carry all the luggage.

Now, that might not sound like a bad deal - and really, it wasn't - but you have to keep in mind that my Gram will pack four good-sized duffles for a two night visit to my mother's house. She had eight bags for ten days in Europe - with a few empty ones tucked in there. I had one bag, and no purse. I actually threw my back out in Rome hefting it all.

Undeterred, she signed us up for a tour group with her college, Hannibal LaGrange - where she'd graduated with her bachelor's degree about the time she turned 70ish (I remember the party, but I was pretty young). Did I mention that Gram is an interesting woman?

So we loaded up and headed out with the group. Her old English professor. The president of the college and his family. A rather large gathering of other retirees. One other mother/daughter pairing. We picked up some more tour members in England, where we started.

Oh, I loved England. I'd committed my soul to Victorian literature before the trip, but this just cemented that decision. And I loved the English tour guide we had - tall, blond, his Master's in History, and spoke six languages - yum. Again, just like with the noseless cowboy three years later, if only I hadn't been on vacation with my grandmother . . . . but that's another story for a novel.

We finished the tour in Italy, which was just an art history minor's dream come true. I actually saw the Pope at an outdoor mass - from half a mile away, but still, I saw him! Gram sat in a cathedral in Florence, reading - I am NOT making this up - a Reader's Digest so she wouldn't 'slow me down' as I ran around at top speed, going 'Oh, MY GOD! I studied THIS!" We saw the Nave in Assisi, later severely damaged by an earthquake. And I highly recommend the Isle of Capri for honeymooners.

But in between, we went to Paris. I had just finished four years of remedial French in high school and college, and I was pumped. I have two things that I remember as clear as day from Paris - the reason I'll always have a fond spot in my heart for the city.

First, we went to a restaurant for dinner, and there were only five water glasses for the six spots. I collared a waiter and said, "Un autra ver, si vous plait," which is, 'another glass, please.' My French teachers would have been so proud, because that waiter snapped to and promptly fetched another glass. The tour group was - and I'm not exaggerating - in awe, and my Gram was so proud she nearly burst. You'd have thought I'd won the presidency or something. But I spoke French, or something close to it.

That evening, we were getting back onto the Metro - the subway - but the train was about 15 minutes off. A grouping of the older ladies decided they would like a restroom break, and Gram decided to go with them. I was good, so I decided to stay and admire our tour guide from a distance some more.

13 minutes later, the group came back - sans Gram. "Where's my grandma?" I asked.

"She's not here? She decided she didn't want to pay for the toilet and headed back!"

Instantaneous panic. The Metro was about six layers deep of platforms, escalators, and French people - none of which Gram was all so equipped to handle on her own. As our train pulled in, I hollered for the tour guide, who spoke flawless French. Quickly, the president of the college took the rest of the group on to the hotel while the guide and I split up. After all, we were the only two who spoke French. Or, in my case, almost French. He went down, and I went up.

So, I'm running around the Paris Metro, accosting strange Parisians going, "Pardonne moi, ave vous voir une petite grand-mere?" Which is roughly, "excuse me, have you seen a little grandmother?" No one had. I went up and down about fifteen escalators when I caught sight of a helmet of little-old-lady hair headed down a different escalator - and the wrong direction from where we needed to be.

"Gram!" I hollered, flying down after her. She was fine, of course, but totally, completely, and thoroughly LOST. I have a much better sense of orientation and quickly got us back to our platform, where the tour guide shortly joined us.

It remains one of the few times in my life where I have ever seen my grandmother deeply, personally embarrassed. Even now, 11+ years later, if she's driving us batty about any number of things (Mulch is a good example. I mulch my flowerbeds with wood chips. She's convinced I might as well open up a termite bed and breakfast, and reminds me of this constantly.), that's when I'll say, "So, Gram, you remember Paris?" and she will blush, which is no mean feat for a woman her age, and start talking about traveling, and the next trip.

There will always be a next trip. That's the way she raised my mother, that's the way I was raised, and that's the way I'm raising my son. It's a huge world, after all. Sometimes, you just have to go out and get lost in it. But it helps to know French when you do.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Drink and Be Merry

Okay, so the polling feature didn't go over too well. Don't have to do that again unless everyone just demands it. For the record, The 24/7 Media Cycle scares the most people, all three of you.

Anyway, moving on! I've been thinking about wine a lot recently. First, Sam's Club opened up in town, and we bought a bottle of Riesling that was so big we had to rearrange our fridge to get it to fit. I think it's three bottles worth, all for $11.82. And what with election coverage and stuff, a glass (or two) of wine at the end of the day has been kind of nice.

Ironically, though, I've been working my way through the final re-writes of The Best They Could, where the hero Bobby is struggling to put his life back together after wallowing in the pits of alcoholism. (He does. Eventually, like in all my stories, everyone gets a happily ever after. Eventually.)

And I've been to two book release parties and one Halloween party in one week alone (usually, that much socializing would last me months), and liquor was prominently featured at all three. But, as you may recall, my hubby is technically blind, so I'm the permanent sober driver of the family. Emphasis on the sober.

We go to this Halloween party every year, but in the past it's been held at the hosts' house, three blocks from where we live. No driving, no sober driver, see? It's really the one party where I get to cut loose and get sloshed. But this year they had it at a hall. (Honestly, can't blame them. I wouldn't want drunken revelers running amok through my house wearing weird outfits either.) So I drank water.

Usually, when I walk to and from this party, I talk to just about everyone, wine glass in hand. And, because the other vampires and pirates have also got wine glasses in their hands, they listen and even laugh at the weirdness I spout. (For those of you who know me, you might realize it only gets weirder when my inhibitions fall to the wayside. I won't take it personally if you shuddered at the thought.) A win win, really, except for the hangovers.

But at the party this year, water in hand, I talked to almost no one but my hubby. We did manage to talk to a few other people, but that was maybe twenty minutes out of two and a half hours.

Last night, we went to the book christening party last night for Saadia Ali Aschermann's new volume of poetry, Words Gone Wild. (Yes, I expect you to read it. The poems are short, easy to understand, and crackle with an erotic edge that you just cannot get from Robert Frost.) But this party only emphasized my social lameness. We were at a wine bar, for goodness' sakes, with other people sitting around drinking, and besides talking to Saadia (who I already know), I managed to compliment a woman on her necklace, and she said "Thanks." Another woman took our picture and showed it to us. "I think it's a nice picture," she gushed. "You two aren't having an affair, are you? This is going up on Saadia's site." She was quite relieved that we were married - to each other - and moved off to take other pictures of other people. That was the extent of my conversations with other people.

So I'm sitting at the bar, wondering how on earth I'm going to ever be able to network and schmooze like Saadia does, and I starting thinking about me and wine. When we'd gone to see my old friend Erik in Minnesota this summer, he'd been shocked - really, truly shocked - when I had three hard lemonades during and after dinner. "I didn't think you drank," he cautiously asked. "Didn't used to," I answered.

And I didn't. I had two, maybe three SIPS of alcohol before I turned twenty one. In college, I was the sober walker (you know, the person who knows which way campus is at all times and makes sure none of the group gets left behind in a gutter) when I went out with my friends (which wasn't often). Part of it was that I didn't like losing the control. When I watched other people drink, they all wound up looking, acting, and sounding like loons. I had no desire to look more like a loon than I already do, and they were plenty entertaining on their own. Part of it was (and is) that I do not like the taste of beer, the college beverage of choice. And part of it is that booze costs a lot of money, and I'm damn cheap (ahem, I meant frugal).

After I did turn 21, I had to rely on friends like Erik to order for me. "What should I drink?" I asked on the occasions when I was going to plunk down the money. "Um . . . . ." and they'd scratch their heads. "Amaretto sour? That's fruity." I swear, I probably only drank amaretto sours for maybe five years, and still probably only had 20 of them. When Erik came back from the Peace Corps (you should ask him about that), he and Joshua and I broke into a 19 year old bottle of whiskey - the really good stuff. I got one sip down, and that gagged me. (True friends, they laughed hysterically.) Seriously, my first hangover was the first one of those Halloween parties. That's right. I didn't have A Hangover until I was 31.

My hubby, in his foodie capacity, has been diligently working on introducing me slowly to wine over the last eight years, and I still can't handle red. But I find that I do drink much more now than I ever have. All those flavanoids, I like to reason. Wine has been scientifically proven to be good for you in small doses (true, red is better, but hey, can't win them all). Riesling, hard ciders and lemonades - maybe its that I've found something that tastes good. Maybe it's being run ragged by a three year old. Maybe it's knowing that my hubby is always near, so if I lose some that control I always hated to let go of, he'll keep me from doing something foolish.

But at least a small part of it is the realization that a glass or two of wine erases the nervous pit from my stomach, eases back the social anxiety that has me fidgeting constantly, and lets me just talk to a stranger. It worked best at the conference I went to in April, where, with one glass of Riesling, I was actually able to strike up a conversation with the editor at the bar and not (I most sincerely hope) stick my foot in my mouth. I was practically paralyzed with the wine - without, I'm sure I couldn't have done it. Sure, maybe I talked a little bit louder or faster than was ideal, but that was one of those times when talking too loud is better than not talking at all.

I hope. After all, it's been six months since I mailed the partial. I hope every day that that conversation at the bar did me some good. I'll let you know when I find out. And then we can celebrate over a glass of wine!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Let's count it down. There will be a quiz, assuming I can figure out how to work the little polling feature on this blog.

What's the scariest thing right now?

1. The Authorial Mom attempting to utilize 'new' technology, in this case, a polling feature. If you hear a loud "BOOM" in the near future, that will be the sound of me exploding my laptop. Or my head. Possibly both.

2. Ghosties. I mentioned recently that the toddler is going as a Construction Ghostie - a tablecloth with eye holes and a construction hat. Well, now we are locked in one of those age-old mother/son battles, namely: Do ghosties have eye holes? He's insisting that, no, they don't, and I'm insisting that ghosties without eye holes do not get to walk up and down the sidewalk and get candy. And let me tell you, nothing strikes fear into my heart like a three-year-old temper tantrum from a kid who didn't go trick-or-treating because he didn't want eye holes. Can you imagine the years of therapy needed, just for that thing alone? It's going to be bad enough when we go to a Halloween party tonight and he sees all the other boys in the nice, expensive store bought costumes. You know those spreads the parenting magazines always have on cute Halloween costumes you can make? Total b.s. Loving parents go and drop 20$ to 45$ on any one of 8 different models of Spiderman. (You think I'm kidding? I counted 8 completely different Spidermans last year - three with built in muscles.) My kid is going to get one look at a Spider/Iron/Super/Bat Man tonight and realize that I'm the meanest mom ever. And then I'm going to eat his Reese's peanut butter cups.

3. Candy. Two years ago, we handed out Flaming Hot Cheetos. Last year, we did Pop Tarts. I figure that, if we give out cool, different candy, our pumpkins won't be violated. Stands to figure. But I forgot the other, primary reason we started doing that when I let my hubby buy the deluxe chocolate mix - two huge bags worth - at our new local club store. There is CHOCOLATE in my house - worse, it's in the form of Reese's peanut butter cups. AND if there is chocolate in the house, I will eat it. And that has lead to the horrible specter of even more jiggly cellulite haunting my nights. It's terrifying.

4. The Presidential Election. Good Gravy, is this thing over with yet? And I don't even live in a state in play! I live in Illinois. I'm a white woman with a Master's degree, in English Literature, no less. We have compost bins by our garage (yes, that was in the plural) and we eat arugula whenever possible. If you haven't figured out who I'm voting for yet, let me just mention one more thing. I drive a Prius. So no one has much bothered us, but we live on the edge of the state with Missouri, and we are getting a lot of blowback from the Missouri races. I'd vote against some of these people just for irritating me if I could, but then I'd be arrested for voter fraud, and no one wants that. I mean, seriously! Last night, I had to watch a Political INFOMERCIAL, for goodness sake!!! PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!!!!!

5. When Politics and Halloween Merge. Oh, there is nothing quite as horrifying as when your 93 year old grandmother calls you up because she's had a flash of inspiration. Frankly, any flash of any kind from Gram is mildly alarming, but the flashes of inspiration can be downright devastating. I knew I was in trouble when she started giggling. "I was watching t.v.," she began, and I knew I was doomed. "I was hearing about this man who that Palin is always talking about - what's his name?" Oh, I already knew the answer to this question. "Joe the Plumber?" I asked, knowing that things were already halfway down the hill. "Yes!" she replied, giggling again. Not that my gram isn't a happy kind of senior citizen, but this impish kind of giggle is not her normal mode, and it's unsettling. "I think you should go as that Palin woman and Jason should be that Plumber!" Ouch. That one hurt.

And finally, 6. The Evening News. Aside from 9/11, I've never been so terrified of the evening news as I am right now. It seems to be the penultimate combination of all of my deep worries into one convenient talking-heads segment. Tainted food and candy. Politics 24/7. That stupid Joe the Plumber. The economy trying to excise a cancerous mortgage/debt growth. Death, pain, and suffering. You'd think, given that I spent my entire morning taking my hero through the painful process of sobering up and taking responsibility for his actions while drunk that pain and suffering wouldn't get to me, because I live it in my mind with my people over and over and over again. But it does. At least when my people suffer, it's in my power to fix their problems and give them a happy ending. When it happens in real life, there's not much I can do. I'm only all powerful in my head, after all. I think that may be the most scary thing of all.

So, what scares you these days?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Lucky One

No, this isn't a blog about the editor. But nice optimistic thinking!

What is luck? Is it as simple as right/wrong place, right/wrong time? Is it the ability to do something stupid and still walk away? Is it the foresight to avoid doing something stupid entirely? Is it fate, karma, angelic/divine intervention, or superstrings stretching? (No, I don't understand superstring theory. But extra bonus points if you know what it is!)

Exhibit 1, or The Ability To Do Something Stupid and Walk Away: My boss yesterday related the story of how he nearly chainsawed his knee off about 20 years ago. Complete with visual aid of the 6 inch scar tissue. "I was lucky," he said as I focused real hard on not throwing up in my mouth. "I could have lost my leg."

Now, really, the man cut down several inches with a chainsaw into his own leg. My father would say that being lucky would have been not needing six LAYERS of stitches in the first place, but my boss knows he's lucky he can walk.

Exhibit 2, or Right Place, Right Time: Freshman year of college, I signed up for a general world lit class, and after the first class was informed by the teacher that, as an English major, I couldn't be in a general lit class, didn't I know that? I had a bad two days of feeling somewhere between a fool and an idiot not cut out for college before I found a professor who was willing to let me into his junior level Victorian Lit class. Talk about intimidating - I was the only freshman, and the prof, one Dr. Woodcox, had a Ph.D. from Oxford.

I seriously thought my luck couldn't get any worse. I knew I was going down in flames, in front of upperclassmen no less. Ugh. I began imagining my life as a Wal-Mart cashier. Not pretty.

Except that the total opposite thing happened. Dr. Woodcox was one of the more brilliant teachers I ever had, and he eventually forgave me my chronic dependence on the passive voice. Not only did I take five or six more classes from him in the next three years, I worked as his office assistant, helped him prepare papers and presentations, and edited a collection of essays he was working on. More than any other person, he prepared me for a life of academia and beyond (thank God for the beyond part). He even came to my wedding. Plus, extra bonus, I met one of my long-time guy friends in that class, and he introduced me to his social circle. These are people I still count as my closest friends, 13 years after the fact. Some of the best luck of my life, all because I was dumb enough to sign up for the wrong class.

Exhibit 3, or Wrong Place, Wrong Time: I was having a pretty pissy morning this morning. Had a lot of trouble falling asleep last night due to that darned persistent joint pain. Toddler wandered into our room at 4:30 and 5:15, and then had to be dragged out of bed at 6. Never did go back to sleep after 4:30 because the hamster in the wheel that is my brain woke up, and my body hurt. Toddler was whiny. It was raining.

As I said, pretty pissy morning. But stay with me here.

So I was struggling to get the toddler out of the vest he'd spent 5 minutes trying to zip up himself and into the raincoat when there was a huge crunch. Made me jump, and stunned the toddler out of the whine he was in. I looked outside, but didn't see anything, so I figured it was the city using the bulldozer to scoop up leaves from the gutter (yes, they do this at 6:30 a.m.). So, raincoat mission accomplished, we head out to the garage. And that's when I notice that in the front of our house, there are headlights pointed at a tree across the street. Even if there was a car parked in front of our house, the lights wouldn't be pointed at this tree.

"What?" the hubby asks as he straps in the toddler.

"I think there's a car in our front yard," I reply. So we hurry into the car and drive up front.

Sometimes, I hate it when I'm right. There's a truck in our front yard, with a not-nearly-as-hysterical-as-I-would-be woman sitting in the cab, calling 911.

"Are you okay!?!" the hubby and I ask in unison.

"Did you see who hit me?" she replied, looking slightly dazed. "He didn't yield - didn't even stop to see if I'd been hurt. Didn't even stop!"

My neighbor Joe - a registered nurse - came out and began asking nursy questions, but the woman really didn't seem hurt. A cop showed up, and began to take stock. The back end of her truck was a sight to behold. The axle was more pretzel than car part, and even though the hubby and I helped the cop look for her wheel, we didn't find it (it was dark and raining). There were bits of bumpers and wheel fragments all over the intersection, and the fire hydrant was a good 10 feet away from its base.

But talk about luck - the cop did find a license plate. The non-yielding, non-stopping, non-caring car's license plate.

So, having my point of view successfully realigned, I got the heck out of my pissy mood, because this is just one of those times when I feel lucky.

1. The woman was not seriously hurt. She's going to be sore, but she narrowly missed being t-boned, narrowly missed our sizable ash tree, and probably narrowly missed being rolled over and trapped in that truck. Sure, her truck is not going anywhere anytime soon, and this was a really crap-tacular way to start a Thursday, but it could have been so much worse.

2. We live next to a nurse, who's a great guy. There's something about having a competent, trained medical professional within earshot that makes me just a little bit more relaxed.

3. The sucker who hit and ran - less than three blocks from a jr. high where about a third of the students walk home past my house, on a corner where five kids and two dogs live within 15 feet of the intersection - is going to be caught and charged with felony leaving the scene of the crime.

I don't want to think of luck as a zero-sum game, and not in the least because I'm not too sure what that concept entails, but in this case, the woman's bad luck turned out to be not as bad as it could have been, and the sucker's luck is just about to get a whole lot worse.

That's the kind of luck I can live with.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The First Kiss

Ah, the first kiss.

If you read enough fiction, you know that this electric moment when lips meet is the most important moment in the whole story. The first kiss is when the electricity starts to crackle, the blood begins to surge, and these two people realize there's something deeper going on. Sure, they might not know each other, or maybe they don't even like each other, or the set-up for the kiss is forced and contrived ("Oh no! My old boy/girl friend is coming! I can't let them think I'm available! You! KISS ME!"), but it's that moment that boils down to a physical love at first touch upon which the whole rest of the book is based. And frequently, girls who grow up and find their true love still fondly remember their first love, their very first kiss. It's a moment that lasts a lifetime.

It's a damn shame it doesn't work like that in real life.

My son is three and a half, and I know he's had at least four serious girlfriends. The first was High Maintenance Girl, but she moved to Arkansas. Then The Girl Next Door, but he moved into an older class and met The Tomboy (my favorite one so far - takes one to like one), so The Girl went on the back burner. Then The Tomboy's mom decided to stay home, so the next best available choice was The Princess. The toddler and the Princess were real tight for a while, but The Girl Next Door recently graduated up to his class, so he's back in a love triangle of epic toddler proportions. Tuesday on the playground, The Princess seemed quite miffed at him. It may be over. Or not. All may be forgotten by next week.

And I can't help but wonder, how many of these girls has he kissed? I know I'll never find out, because he won't remember.

I certainly will never remember my first kiss. The only reason I know it took place is because my mother has photographic proof. The story has far outlived the experience.

Here's what happened. I was two - towhead, quiet, and fond of exploring the forest we lived in. Timmy was two, too. He had reddish hair that curled. My parents were good friends with his parents - our fathers taught at the same school. His parents may have even been my godparents there for a while, but I'm not sure about that. In any respect, our families were close. And I just know that our mothers were hopeful that the family bond would only grow with time, much as I thought it would be nice if The Tomboy, whose dad raised horses, would be a nice addition on a permanent basis to the family. (And yes, I'm embarrassed to admit I see weddings for kids who are two and three. I'm a mother. So sue me.)

So one bright, warm day, Timmy's family came over to hang out. There was probably a barbecue going, and beer around, but that's not what concerned Timmy and I. No, what had our attention were the sandy dunes exposed on the hills behind my house. See, these sandy dunes were a popular night spot with the local frog population looking for love, and frogs aren't too focused on birth control, if you get my drift. So there were easily hundreds of little froglets - no more than half an inch long, if that - hopping all around in the moist sand, testing out those new legs and lungs they'd just grown.

See? See how I'm not a normal girl? I was back there with Timmy, grubbing around in the sand for slimy frogs, for crying out loud! The Princess and High Maintenance Girl would have run screaming! (The Tomboy would have been fine. Not sure about The Girl Next Door.)

Well, I wasn't having any froggy luck. I couldn't catch those squirmy little guys for the life of me (another future indicator - not graceful or smart enough to outwit amphibians with a brain the size of a pinhead). And then, according to my mother, the magic began.

That's right. Timmy gave me one of his frogs.

These days, I expect something more along the lines of diamonds, or at the very least chocolate, but I was two, and Timmy had me at "cchirrrrrrp!"

So I kissed him. And my mother had a camera.

And the story has never faded from anyone's memory. Anyone's, that is, but mine. I don't think Timmy remembers it either, but in the few times we met at social events as we grew up and our lives went in drastically different ways, he always looked just as uncomfortable around me as I felt around him. I always got the impression that before my family showed up anywhere his family was, his mother rehashed the tender, touching frog scene for him. Each and every time. I've heard it so many times that, as you can tell, I can tell it like I do remember it, but this whole thing is my mother's story.

And can you imagine? Having to learn about your first kiss from your MOTHER? Luckily, mortification is a pretty natural state for me. Like breathing air.

There were other first kisses. Playing house at daycare lead to a lot of kisses, not just for me, but for just about every kid there at some point. It's true there was a really long drought between about first grade when I discovered boys had cooties and maybe ninth when I realized they didn't and my father unchained the lock on my room and let me out. (TOTALLY KIDDING. Dad's Great! And he survived raising three daughters, God bless him!) There were a few boyfriends in high school, and The High School Sweetheart. Maybe three boyfriends in college, none in grad school, and then I met my hubby.

Frankly, his first kiss is the only one that matters anymore. The rest just wash away into the absent-minded stream of my brain, never to be seen again.

Except for the one my mother keeps framed on a desk.

The first kiss. For a frog.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Point

So, what's the point?

I've had a few new readers (I LOVE new readers, even if they email me constantly) reading the blogs and the short stories on the website. And more than one person has read the short stories and asked me, What's the point? People generally seem to like the stories (DO NOT READ THEM AT WORK. THEY ARE "SAUCY," to quote a friend), and want to know why the stories are there, and what happens to the people in them, and why they aren't books in development.

In other words, what's the point?

The point is, I got this idea that wouldn't let me go, and it spiraled out of control. Here's what happened. I packed up my posse for a road trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. My posse was, at the time, my 92 year old grandmother and my 2 year old son. That's how I roll. I bring the party with me where EVER I go. So we drove down, stayed with some family friends, had a great weekend, and headed back just before a toddler's nap time. Now, Gram doesn't hear as well as she did when she was 80 or anything, so the radio playing really kind of bugs her (unless it's a Cardinals game. She likes Mike Shannon.), so I had a long 3 1/2 hour ride before me that I hoped was going to be silent. (Gram never naps. She just rests her eyes.) With the toddler and the Gram hopefully recovering from their crazy weekend of fun and no radio to hum along with, I knew I'd need major help.

Yup. Mountain Dew.

I drink a Dew maybe once every 3 years, because I personally feel it tastes like malted battery acid. But desperate times call for desperate beverages, so I drank one and packed another for the road.

I daydream. A lot. I take situations and spin them out, and then get distracted and my mind races off somewhere else. Always have. So I was daydreaming while hopped up on Dew in a silent car speeding through the back hills of Missouri, trying to stay awake.

And I thought of two people fighting in the rain. Why were they fighting? Because they loved each other. But why were they fighting, I wondered. Because they weren't supposed to be in love. The scene with the hero (hunky, of course) grabbing the heroine (delicate, of course) and kissing her really resonated. But why weren't they supposed to be in love?

This was the caffeine. Usually, my daydreams meander aimlessly with no point. But I wanted to know why these people were locked in this important battle. And frankly, I had another 2 hours to go, so why not think about it? And then I realized he was her brother-in-law. And he was a lot younger.

Things got interesting. I spent the next two hours imagining the farm they lived on, the reasons behind their complicated relationship, and how it would all work out. You can imagine a lot in 3 1/2 hours on two cans of Dew. A Lot.

So I finally deposited the 92 year old back at her house and tucked my 2 year old into his crib and tried to forget about the interesting tensions between these nameless people in the rain (and no, it wasn't raining on the drive home) as I told my hubby all about our crazy road trip. Usually, the daydream would be gone by morning. Ethereal things, daydreams. And I don't have the short term memory to hold onto much, more or less imaginary people. Hell, most days, I can't remember how old I am. I have to count. (Typical internal conversation when someone asks me my age: Okay, I was born in '76, and it's - um - 2008? Yeah. So that's, uh, that's 32, right? I'm thirty two?)(No, I'm not exaggerating.)

But they weren't gone in the morning. They were still there, waiting for me when I woke up. And the next day. Those people waited around all week for me to get off my duff and think about them some more.

So I decided that I had to get them off my chest. If I wrote their little story down, my OCD mind would stop obsessing about them, right? Sure. Twenty pages became 60, 60 became 200, and 200 pages spawned 548 freaking pages of love and loss and love again in the middle of the Great Depression. When I hit 300 pages, I realized I had a book in there, a real book with a beginning, middle, and end, and it was coming out whether I liked it or not. And then my people had kids, and hell, they got their own books, and the grandkid did too. Seriously. Nearly 2,000 pages of one family's saga in just over a year.

Now, the website. I thought about my hero's parents. I even started a prequel book for them, but I couldn't make a beginning for them that wasn't both dull and depressing. (When it bores me, why would anyone else read them?) But the actual action was pretty interesting, so I decided to do it as a short story - straight to the point. The result is "The Widow of Emerson Farm." And then I thought that the stories might be a good way to capture readers and drive them to the site - readers like me, who never bought books, but checked them out from the library. So I asked a good friend (same guy whose house I roadtripped to and from with my posse - same guy who provided the all-important Dew) to build me a site. And I love it. He's bravely going to teach me to maintain it some myself so I can post my own stories without bothering him (he hates it when I say that).

But the point is, the stories are extras. The stories on the website didn't make it to book form, and they probably never will. Instead they are rewards for people who liked the books enough to look me up online. And they are a marketing tool. That's why you have to enter your name and email address. I save those, and you lucky people then get emails about blogs and - I'm optimistically confident here - future book publication announcements.

It's really backwards. The stories are meant to be read after the book, because they fill in several blanks the books leave open. But, currently, no one but select family members and the Lovely Mary, Grammar Goddess, have read the books. And everyone has access to the stories on the website. So I understand your confusion. And I remain optimistic that one day, the blanks will be filled in. Hopefully soon, because natural patience is not something I have in abundance. But I'm working on that whole Zen and the art of waiting thing. Really. Ohm.

So stick with me. Things are getting interesting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fall, Fell

Okay, I'm busy cleaning house (again - amazing how once is never enough with a three year old around). All of us in the house are feeling better and looking forward to houseguests this weekend, thank goodness! So I'm just going to do a quick and dirty list here.

Reasons I Love Fall:

1. Long Pants. On a toddler. I have spent the last three months chasing down a screaming kid who's just skinned his knees (again), wrangling him as he screams even louder three inches from my ear because he doesn't "want me to touch his boo-boo," liberally applying antibiotic creams (more screams), and applying cartoon character bandaids to make it all better (none of which ever stay on long enough for anything to actually heal). While cooler weather doesn't mean he won't keep kissing the ground at top speed, it does mean that there's that all important layer of fabric between unforgiving concrete and too-forgiving skin. (I don't even want to talk about how my knees weep in sympathy to watch his joints tangle with every solid surface. That's another blog.)

2. Jackets. I'm what you might lovingly describe as "all woman" - as in, shopping in the Woman's section of department stores. And while I've really come to grips with most of my body issues (who has time to obsess when bandaids have to be reapplied?), summer is not my best fashion season. There are lots of people in this world who look really good in shorts and a tank top. I am not one of these people. But give me some well-cut trousers and a structured jacket, and I'm ready to take on the town!!! (and yes, I love "What Not To Wear." Love it!)

3. The Impending Death of Mosquitoes and All Their Blood-Sucking Relatives. Oh, I know, they don't really die, they go into some cruel form of hibernating stasis, because they have to come from somewhere on that first day the temp hits 70 in the spring. And they all come to me. This year was spectacularly bad with all the flooding on the Mississippi (Second only to the Great Flood of '93, by less than an inch) (Have you donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund yet?). Seriously, it was 60 degrees out last night, I talked to my neighbor putting up his Halloween decorations for five minutes, and got two mosquito bites. Plus, they discovered the toddler this year, so we were both miserable. Nothing says "hot" in a tank top and shorts like open sores that itch. And yes, it was that bad.

4. Halloween. Yes, they started putting out candy three months ago, before even the back to school sales got really going, but now it's time to get serious. And serious is the toddler insisting he's going as a "construction ghostie" this year (a tablecloth with holes a la Charlie Brown, but jauntily topped off with a hard hat I found at a yard sale for a quarter.) It's like Bob the Builder died and came back to haunt me this year, and I can't wait to share that with the world. And I can't wait for the toddler to share some of his candy with me. (Oh, come on. You know you do this too - rifle through your kid's loot. You spy your weakness - mine's those big Reese's Peanut Butter cups - and unilaterally declare that you're kid isn't old enough to eat the big kid candy. And then you eat them all before that poor kid notices you swiped five of them.) (You do too!)

5. Fall Color. This is an obvious, obligatory mention, but I really do groove on maples that explode in reds and oranges over night. And then I rake the leaves with the 'help' of a toddler who's none-to-clear on the concept. And then I throw him in the leaves. And repeat until bath time, because by then, we've both got leaves in our underoos.

So there you have it. Reasons to love fall.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fun, Fun

Let me tell you, there is nothing like mixing pleasure with illness. I say this as I slowly wait for the snot to drain out of my head. I've been waiting for four days now and alas, minimal drainage has occurred.

This started on vacation. Actually ON vacation.

So the hubby and I loaded up the toddler after dropping the wiener dog off at the dog hotel. (Which we HATE to do - he is a rescue dog, after all, and definitely doesn't like being left behind. You'd think after all these years, he'd figure out we're coming back to get him, but no. Who knew a three-legged wiener dog could dish out the guilt so effectively?) This is the first hotel-based vacation we've taken with the toddler since my sister Hannah got married two years ago in Denver.

The toddler was 1 1/2 then, and I was only packing his little tush onto a plane once, so we went a week early and made a vacation out of it. I think the most consecutive sleep we got in the whole 9 days was 4 1/2 hours. The night staff at the swanky hotel we stayed at knew us by name before we left, because I was usually down in the lobby around 2 a.m. where the toddler could scream a bit more freely without waking up the hotel.

See? There's a good reason it took us another 2 years to try the hotel thing again.

So we headed up north to Minnesota to see one of my oldest friends, Erik (he of the wedding story) and his lovely wife and baby. Our kid is older, so we did the driving. The first night we made it halfway up Iowa and stopped at a hotel with a pool.

I grew up with a swimming pool, but man, I don't think I've ever been so glad to see one as I was that Thursday night. The toddler, completely stir crazy after 4 1/2 hours in the car, kicked around that pool (with alternating parents holding his head above the water) for a solid 45 minutes. I got tired just watching him. Then we went to dinner at some Texas Road/Steak house thing - the one with buckets of peanuts on the table - well, that was a huge hit. Then we headed back to the hotel and did something the toddler's never gotten to do - watch TV in bed.

I love TV. I don't understand it, but I love it. We watched the grown up version of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood called How Stuff Is Made, and then an American rip-off of a Japanese game show called Hole in the Wall - doofuses in silver spandex body suits have to contort to fit through a cutout in a foam wall or be pushed into a green pool of water. Silliest thing I have ever seen, and the toddler loved it. We'd only been on vacation for 7 hours, and already the toddler was having the time of his life.

It only got better. Next morning we bought donuts and ate them in the car. Even the toddler started saying, "We're on va-ca-tion, Mommy!" We made it to the Mall of America by 11, and then the real fun began.

They've got a new theme park in the center of that mammoth mall based on Nickelodeon characters like Spongebob, Blue, and Dora. In his shoes, the toddler was 42 inches tall, so he could go on all but 4 rides with Daddy, because Mommy sure as heck was going to spend that time shopping. After all, the Mall is about 8 times the size of our local mall (with 8 times the number of Hat Stores. Seriously. 8 different hat stores?)

Needless to say, the boys had more fun than you could shake a stick at. Just look at the expressions on their faces on the log flume:

What? Can't see their faces? Trust me, they were having the time of their lives. The log flume was the toddler's second favorite ride - believe it or not, my three year old enjoyed shooting "ghosties" in the haunted house most of all - he even went by himself while the hubby rode the "big kid" rides (seriously - the Spongebob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge? Most terrifying thing I've seen in a long time.). The third place went to Big Rigs, a small loop with cars that looked like - you guessed it - Big Rigs. Big Rigs with Bicycle horns. He had a blast. And I got a totally awesome pair of jeans. The mall was a big success all the way around.

After another hotel room with TV first thing in the morning (Oh, the toddler loves vacation!) we headed up even farther north to see Erik and family. They live in a cozy little house near a lake (I know, hard to imagine in Minnesota). One of the problems with being friends with a guy as opposed to a woman is that, in 8 months, I'd only gotten one picture of his baby, the birth announcement. So I was dying to see this kid - and, frankly, see how Erik was handling Fatherhood. (Answer: Wonderfully - except for the part where he sat the baby on the ground and told him to eat leaves. The baby was only too happy to oblige. This is how outdoorsmen get started, I understand. Eating leaves. The kid's got great things ahead of him, no doubt!)

Erik and his lovely wife showed us all the sights - the Festival of Foods grocery store, the Mighty Thirsty liquor store, and the local lake, where the toddler walked around in 2 inches of water chasing ducks who were clearly too old for this kind of thing. But mostly we hung out, got caught up, and ate Mexican while all that fresh Minnesota air settled into my sinuses.

Yes, the perfect way to end any vacation is an 8 hour drive with a squirmy three year old in the backseat and a rising tide of sinus miscreance. But I got us home.

We stopped in Charles City for lunch (really - just outside a windfarm - the toddler LOVED the big windmills.) If you're ever in Charles City, you have to find the vintage park tucked up behind Dave's restaurant (great fried chicken). Vintage 1960s swings and merrygorounds. Weirdest swing I've ever seen there - a diamond shaped humpty dumpty with two swings attached, and the whole thing rotated like a tetherball. Needless to say, the kid loved it. It made me dizzy (which was sort of the point, I gather).

We are still recovering from this vacation. Both the hubby and I are muddling through our snot, and the toddler is struggling to come back down to normal reality. At least the dog has stopped turning his butt to me. He even jumped back on my lap last night. Only took him three days.

But the vacation was a success. The toddler slept in hotel rooms through the night (and stayed dry to boot!) we did tons of fun things (the hubby strongly recommends the Air Bender ride, whatever that is), and had a superb time with old friends. Can't really ask for much more than that. Except another box of Kleenex. I'm all out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blame Oprah.

I was going to do it. The logical progression of stories goes Hubby, Dog, Toddler. I was going to write about the toddler, and only the toddler.

Then I caught Oprah at the Y. First time I've been in months. First time I've seen Oprah in many months. And she's doing A Very Important Show on child sex abuse.

I can't do it. I'm too paranoid at heart - deeply, deeply paranoid in that OCD kind of way - to put the toddler out here. So he's going to stay a background character in this crazy little story called my life. And I'm going to tell some more Dog stories. Blame Oprah if you thought you were getting Toddler stories today. Sorry.

But Hey! Look on the bright side. Jake's story went over really well. People LOVED reading about the wonder wiener. So welcome, new readers! Keep passing this on to your friends!

The Continuing Adventures of Jake the Three-Legged Wonder Wiener!

Now, as you might have gathered, Jake isn't too terribly bright - that's how he lost his leg in the first place, I reckon. But he has moments of Dog Brilliance that are astounding.

You might think that a dog who is physically incapable of seeing a bunny ten feet from him is just not that into predation, but every now and then, Jake surprises me. The first time his Inner Dog came out was on a trip to Petco up in Chicago. I was rummaging around the sale bins (of course I was!) and Jake was distracted by something under the aisle shelf. I just figured he'd sniffed out a treat and was trying to get to it (thereby proving that there are some things that are too low for a wiener dog to get under).

So I go to leave, and I'm having to drag that dog away from his aisle. We get to the end cap, and Jake brakes left, then right, and before I can rein him in, darts so hard that he's almost half wedged under the end cap. Now, I'm snapping at him while I'm trying to reel him back in on his retractable leash, and finally I get him and his wiggly little butt out from the shelving.

He spins around, his tail going at top speed and his ears perked.

"Jake!" I quietly yell. "What are you . . . what is that?"

That would be something about 3 inches long, white and thin, hanging out of his mouth.

"What the? Jake, drop it!" Oh, the look of pitifulness on that dog's face. He didn't drop it.

"DROP IT, Jake!"

Now, even the dog knows that I Am The Momma, and that tone of voice is not to be taken lightly, so begrudgingly, he drops it.

It's a little white mouse. A dead little white mouse.

Now, I didn't scream, but I did come close as Jake starts dancing around. You could almost hear him saying, "Didja see? Didja see what I caught? Huh? Huh? Huh???" while I'm turning shades of green.

So I go up to the nearest cashier and say, "Cleanup on aisle seven."

The cashier - some bored, underpaid high schooler, no doubt - goes, "Pee?"

"No. Dead mouse. My dog just killed . . . it." By the time I finish the sentence, he and two other worker-types are back by the dead mouse, examining the clean kill and debating which mouse tank the recently deceased had come from. And they're touching it!

Maybe it's a guy thing. The cashier came back up, rubbed Jake's ears, and gave him a treat. Jake was on wiener dog cloud 9 for days after that, and anytime we go into a Pet/co/Smart megastore, he vigorously checks all aisles for vermin. Maybe not quite as dumb as he looks.

That was five years ago. When we moved to our nice, old house in this nice, small town, Jake got to break out his vermin eradication skills again. Every fall, we get rats in the basement. (Hey, this house is 115+ years old. Breaches are inevitable.) He's alerted us when something is rustling back behind the cabinets or in the crawl space we refer to as "Rat Club Med" and once chased rats out of the living room and the kitchen, but he'd never gotten close.

Until this summer. We excavated some bushes under the kitchen window, where the hubby had long suspected that the mortar in the foundation had been eroded, and he filled them in (love that spray foam stuff - however temporary it may be). And one afternoon, I let Jake out.

Instantly he was on wiener dog high alert. Tail stiff, moving in tight little circles, hackles up, ears cocked for movement.

"Go get it!" I urged, not sure what it was.

The answer was a rat, half hidden under a tarp. Jake pounced with as much wiener dog fury as he could muster on his three little legs. The rat headed in my direction, apparently trying to get down an old sewer pipe.

This time, I did scream. But I also grabbed a hoe that was luckily right there, and I came up swinging.

Now, I'm not sure if I stabbed it or just got its body between the tines, but the rat decided that he'd rather take his chance with the dog.

Bad call.

Jake darted left, then right, and then dove under the tarp.

Man, I hate the sound of rats screaming, don't you?

Jake came out with rat in mouth and began to shake. Now, all you wiener dog lovers out there, you know what I'm talking about. These, after all, are dogs designed to hunt and kill - badgers, primarily, and anything smaller. And they do that with amazing jaw strength and neck muscles that don't give up. Wiener dogs shake so hard, so fast, that they snap necks and backs in seconds. Watch one play sometime. You should see Jake 'kill' his blanket. And remember that cute scooby doo picture?

Let's just say scooby met an unpleasant end, because Jake was the head Dog in that house.

Seconds were all it took for the rat. It took me four times as long to pry the dog away from his trophy as it did to capture and kill the danged thing. Because I sure as hell wasn't touching it. I leave that to the Man of the House, God bless him.

But Jake hasn't forgotten his latest victory. Every time he goes out now, he does a quick perimeter check, because the ground squirrels (or chipmunks, for those of you not from these parts) are getting cocky.

He's tangled with a squirrel or two, and my in-laws and I do not speak of the time he broke the leg of their favorite kitten. (That was life four for that kitten. Sadly, she did eventually use up all nine of them, but at least Jake wasn't the final blow.) So, although he spends most of his time snoozing on laps and couches or ignoring bunnies, it's important to remember that he's still a dog.

Because he'll never forget.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Three Legged Wonder Wiener

So, I gathered from everyone's responses last week that the How I Met My Hubby story went over real well. Darn it all, I hate it when my sister Leah is so right all the time.

But I thought I'd keep the quirky story thing going this week by talking about my dog, Jake.

Jake the Three Legged Wonder Wiener.

That's right. Three legs.

This is Jake's story. Everyone has one, even the dog.

So Jason and I had gotten married and bought a house. And you know what that means for young professionals on the fence about starting a family right away - yup. A dog.

I grew up with wiener dogs and wanted to get one. Jason didn't care a whole lot one way or the other, but he wanted veto power. My mom's wieners were a handful back in the day (known as the terrorists from the family we adopted them from) and Jason didn't want to be sued by people who'd had their ankles broken by a tiny dog with an size complex. And being a frugal bleeding heart liberal, I didn't want to pay $500 for a purebred when there were plenty of perfectly good dogs in shelters.

Thus, the quest for a dog began. We lived in Chicago, which had a dedicated dachshund rescue organization. But for every wiener profile I brought home, Jason found problems. Not good with kids (pretty common for wieners). Antisocial. Kills bunnies in the yard. (Although, Jason fondly thinks of Red Fred, the dog who killed bunnies, when Jake sits 10 feet from a bunny and has no idea it's even there. What he wouldn't give for a bunny hunter these days.) Every dog was not right for our family.

So I broadened the scope of the search. Wisconsin wiener dogs. Indiana wiener dogs. Missouri wiener dogs. And Jason found problems with each and every one.

I kept searching. I enlisted the help of my sister Hannah. Hannah has the unique gift to find the most pitiful animal available and fall in love. So she started trolling Petfinder.com, where she'd gotten her high-strung cat, Dulcie (Love you, Dulc!). And I got an email from her. "He's so cute!" she gushed. So I clicked on the link, and saw a cute little red wiener dog.

With no left front leg.

"He's missing a leg!" I wrote back.

"But he's so cute!" she repeated.

So I printed Jake off and took him home to show Jason. And the man went, (and I quote), "Awww."

Problem was, Jake was in Tennessee, and this was December. So I contacted Jake's keepers, Jerry's Rescues, and they agreed to hold him until April (our vacation) if we paid $125 to cover the two for one cost of leg amputation and neutering. Oh, and we had to have a home visit to make sure we were appropriate people for a wiener dog.

Jason still rolls his eyes at that. We had to be interviewed by other wiener dog lovers to make sure we we're some sort of deviant wiener dog fanatics. Although he did make them cookies. . . I love that man.


Vacation time approached. We planned our vacation around a trip to Tennessee. A few days in Nashville, then on to Lewisburg where Jake was at. We ate pralines and saw Little Jimmy Dickens do his thing at the Grand Ole Opry. And then we left the touristy parts behind and headed for the hills.

Literally. Lewisburg is a small burg, famous only for the Tennessee Walking Horse Hall of Fame, which is an actual Hall between the lobby of the National Tennessee Walking Horse Association building and the secretary's office. A hallway with pictures.

And we had a few more hours to kill. We spent them in the Piggly Wiggly. And then we drove out to The Middle of Nowhere.

Cue freaky banjos playing ominously in the background.

Jerry's house was way out in the hills, several miles from paved roads. No one but about 100 dogs were home when we got there, and they were all barking. Jerry apparently subscribes to the never-throw-stuff-away philosophy, popularized during the Great Depression, because there was stuff everywhere.

The banjos got a little louder.

We waited for an hour in our little car, rain pouring (of course rain was pouring). Finally, Jerry showed up. Picture Grizzly Adams holding a chihuahua, because that's what he was.

"I'll go get that Jake for you," he said after we exchanged nervous pleasantries. "You don't wanna come in the house . . ."

Somehow, I figured. I didn't even want to imagine the carpet stains.

So he directed us to what looked like an outhouse with a shower curtain. "You stay here, out of the rain."

I swear to all that is holy, there was a chainsaw in there. I knew we were agonna die, all for a three legged wiener dog.

But we didn't. Jerry came out with a mildly nervous 12 pound wiener dog and told us the story.

A church secretary had found him tearing into the garbage behind the church, his leg dangling useless. He was on the verge of starving. She kept him for the day, but then took him to the city pound. Now, I'm not saying the pound people are heartless, but they have a job to do, and a mangled, half-starved wiener is not high on that to-do list. He was going to be put down that night because he was in bad shape.

Enter Jerry. "I stop by the pound every night to see if there's someone who needs savin'" he explained as I only mildly quaked in terror in the shed with the chainsaw. "And, boy, did this one need savin'. Figure he only had another 15 minutes on that clock." As you might have gathered, Jerry is one big softy beneath that Grizzly exterior.

Yup. 15 minutes. That close.

Jerry's vet took off the leg - "jes' a dangling by a tendon," Jerry explained as my stomach turned - and tossed in the neutering, and three days later, put Jake's picture on the web. Hannah found him two days after that.

It seems that Jerry had found Jake's original people, but they didn't want him back. I'm not sure if they dumped him at the side of the road, or if he ran off after the UPS truck (because let me tell you, he's got it out for the UPS guy, bigtime), but he'd been hit by a car.

I like to tell the kids who say, "Hey! Did you know your dog's missing a leg?" that he forgot to look both ways before he crossed the street. For the younger ones, I toss in how he forgot to hold his mommy's hand.

Jason likes to respond by gasping dramatically and saying, "He is?? OH NO! Where'd it GO!" But he's funny like that.

Every year, we send Jerry's Rescues a Christmas Card and a check for saving our dog. They're good people doing good work.

Now some of you might think I have a predilection for those who might be termed "special." But it's not just me. My sisters have dogs (and a cat) that all belong on a far shorter bus than Jake does, but we love them anyway. And just because he's special doesn't mean he doesn't get tortured. Just look at the things I have done to my poor dog.

He drives.

I love his ears. The toddler does, too.

His ears get cold in the winter. I tried to keep them warmer. He hates it.

And this is my favorite picture of my dog. 12 inches of snow can be pretty daunting for a pup who's only 8 inches tall.

We love Jake. My son calls him "Jakey Wiener Dog" and will stop mid-stride to hug and kiss him. Jake's pretty okay with the kid, too, if only as a primary food source.

But there was one time he almost didn't make it. And this just drove home the fact that Jake was lucky to have us.

Being purebreds, wiener dogs are suseptible to a variety of genetic flaws. They have a lot of back problems, what with being long and low. And we accepted that Jake's problems might be worse after the accident and missing leg thing.

And true to form, he slipped two disks. Couldn't walk, couldn't stand, couldn't even pee. I was 3 months pregnant and not exactly rational, but I refused to let them kill my dog. He'd come so far, I just couldn't do it.

So we plunked down the $3,000+ smackers to have that dog fixed. So much for vacation that year. And you know you're screwed when the surgical center has a 10,000 aquarium tank and marble countertops.

But they fixed my dog. And left him with another scar.

Jake's probably about six, maybe seven now. He's mellowed as he's aged, unless someone rings the doorbell or the UPS guy drives by. (Nothing beats the UPS guy ringing the doorbell, in Jake's opinion.) I don't know how much time he's got left. Maybe he'll live to be 10, maybe 13. But I knew that going in - his time was shorter than a puppy's might have been.

But that's okay. Because he will have spent that time with us.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Everyone's Got a Story

My sister Leah is a real pain. Thank goodness I love her, but still. Outside of Mom, she's the one who nags me the most about this whole "being an author" thing.

"What are you wearing to the conference?" I pull out the brown slacks. "No," she summarily dismisses my best pants. "That's not the story you want to create. What do you want your clothes to say?"

That sort of thing - good for me, but still makes my eyes roll back in my head.

And one of the things she harps on the most is this blog. What usually happens is I tell her what I'm going to write on for the week, and she says, "But that's not showing any romance. You've got to create a tale that proves you know romance."

And I roll my eyes.

She's really good at this - she teaches drama and could set a scene in her sleep. So today I'm going to do what she says. Again.

Everyone's got a story. This is mine.

My dear friend Becca was marrying another good friend, Jim. Black tie formal, interfaith ceremony. And I had a date.

Oh, not a date. Erik is one of my oldest guy friends going back to a marathon floor hockey game, and we were all good college buddies. But still, I wasn't going to my first big social outing in Chicago - my first big outing in over a year - alone. I had a date.

And then I didn't. Erik got himself a girlfriend, and I was escortless.

I knew exactly two people in Chicago, and they were marrying each other. I had only been at my first post-grad school job for 2 months, and the office was mostly populated by women and Mike, the married accounting manager.

I did not want to go to a black tie wedding alone. I had had exactly two almost dates in grad school - including one with a bouncer named Creature, but that's another blog - and both had ended in a handshake.

I believe desperate is the word to use here.

In a fit of despair, I found myself explaining this to Mike and his assistant, a lovely older woman named Robin, in the kitchen. I was whining, sure. But Mike - with a mouth like a sailor - was actually listening - to a woman who wasn't his wife complain about men.

Even then, I knew it was odd.

And then he said the magic words:

"I know a guy you could take."


Mike went on to explain that there was a guy who used to work there who was single. Nice guy, Mike says.

And Robin got that excited look on her face and said the best line I've ever heard:

And I quote - "You mean Jason?" She turned to me and said, "Oh, he's perfect for you! He's blind!"

Let that sink in a bit. He's perfect for you! He's blind! Okay, ready to move on? Good.

Mike hissed, "I wasn't gonna tell her that!" as I whimpered, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Robin quickly backpedaled as she blushed so hard I thought she might faint. "I didn't mean that - I could barely tell he was blind at all - he can see and stuff - I just meant -"

Mike interrupted. "I'll give you his number. He's a great guy. Not that blind."

Not that blind? What the hell??

A blind blind date. My dad still thinks this is the best joke he's ever heard.

I sat on the number for a week. My mom called, and I told her about the whole pitiful story. "Are you going to call him?" No, Mom, I'm not going to call up a strange man who may or may not be blind and ask him to my best friends' wedding. And Mom, God bless her, said, "But honey, when was the last time you had a date?" This from a woman who wouldn't let me call boys I already knew in high school.

But she had a point. So, pitifully desperate, I called. And hung up on his snarky answering machine. Same thing next night.

The third time, still getting the machine, I gave up. "Hi, my name is Sarah, Mike gave me your number. I'm sorry I've been hanging up on your machine, but if you want to call me back, here's my number." And then I went shopping for supportive undergarments for my dress for the wedding.

I got home an hour later to find that he'd called me back 10 minutes later. He'd been screening his calls, and my number came up as unlisted, he explained. And he promised he'd pick up if I called him again.

So I spent several long minutes taking deep breaths while trying not to hyperventilate. And I called.

We agreed to meet at a small coffee house, and I would drive us to dinner - he knew a nice Chinese restaurant. "Would it be okay if you drove me home afterward?" he asked, sounding a little nervous.

The big white blind elephant in the room.

"Not a problem," I replied.

I spent the rest of the week spazing out about my closet. I had a very interesting conversation with my sister Hannah, who insisted I clean my apartment, just in case I brought him home with me. And Leah, as usual, told me what to wear.

Friday rolled around. I got no work done. I went to the coffee shop feeling like I was going to throw up at any second.

He was already there. Taller than I am, with close cropped dark brown hair. Slim, with a nice striped shirt. And his eyes moved a little funny, but he held the door for me. No cane, no dog. I directed him towards my little red car, and he found the door without feeling around or anything.

Not that blind, apparently.

After we made it to the restaurant, he read the menu and asked for chopsticks. Once the tea got on the table, things began to flow.

He'd left the company in April, two days after he got his MBA. He had a good job as an financial analyst with a big company I had heard of. He was impressed about my MA (I did leave out the porn part, just so you know).

He was funny. Intelligent. Nice. And seemingly not that blind.

The date went well enough that we hit a Starbucks to talk some more until they closed. On the drive down to his apartment (My brain swirling - my first time driving in any of these places - how the hell was I going to get home? And was he going to try and kiss me? I am NOT going into his place - you never know - what am I going to wear on the next date? Will there be a next date? How blind is he?), we drove past a billboard for Unbreakable - that Bruce Willis movie.

"If you want, we could see that next time," Jason said.

A second date! Let me tell you, I hadn't had a second date in damn near three years. "Okay," I replied, trying not to giggle. We shook hands and he got out of the car. Didn't even try to convince me to come in. Nice guy.

I went home and called everyone. The order for every single person was, Did you have fun? Are you going out again? How blind is he? Yes, yes, and I don't know. He read the menu.

Next morning at work, I looked up the movie - and it didn't open for another month and a half. AIEE! Does that mean we aren't going out again until November? AIEE! Massive brain panic in full swing just as Mike walks back. He'd just gotten off the phone with Jason - and had the exact same panicked conversation.

"He wants to know if you want to go out again and see another movie."

And just like that, I'm back in junior high. So I pass on the news that I do want to go out and will see any other movie.

We saw Legend of the Drunken Master II. Jackie Chan rules! Only once, during a fight in the dark factory, did he ask me what happened. Awkward hug at the door of his apartment. No kiss.

Same phone conversations. Did you have fun? Are you going out again? How blind is he? Same answers. Yes, yes, and I don't know. He watched the movie.

Third date - the week before the wedding. Sunday morning, he wants to go to the Art Institute and see the Japanese scroll exhibit. I'm game. This is it, though. Third date in three weekends. Big wedding next weekend. My brain is spazing big time.

We went to the Institute, where he showed off by reading some of the Japanese scrolls to me. And I was impressed. We had dinner at a diner, and that night I kissed him. While Jimmy Buffet sang in the background.

Did you have fun? Are you going to take him to the wedding? How blind is he? Yes, I don't know, and I don't know. He reads Japanese!

I decided I liked him. A lot. And I decided that I didn't want to take him to the wedding. A loaded setting, taking a guy you are just getting to know and throwing him into a commitment-laden environment. I didn't want to put that kind of pressure on him. If I had thought it was a doomed relationship, I would have taken him and then dumped him. But I didn't. I went stag and had a great time.

And a year and a half later, I married him. I knew I would after the third date.

And he's not that blind. Just so you know.