Oy , what a week!

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If we were having coffee, I think this might be one of those days when the coffee needs a shot of something stronger than Coffee-Mate. At this point, however, I’m not sure if that “something stronger” should be whiskey or antibiotics.

Yeah, it’s been a weird week.

My son, my ex-husband and I keep passing around what appears to be a case of the plague. We don’t even live in the same house anymore, but the three of us can’t seem to kick whatever this is. On any given day, at least one of us is either coughing up a lung or throwing up our insides.

On those few days when I’ve been somewhat healthy, I’ve had to deal with a dead car battery. Finally had to give in and buy a new battery, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the battery ended up costing me more than the car is worth at this point.

Seriously, it’s a sad statement on my life when the most expensive thing I own is a new battery for a 2001 Kia Spectra with 200,000 miles on it.

It’s an even sadder statement on my life to realize that I had started to feel a bit envious of the old battery because it was getting jumped so often.

One of my co-workers asked me why I don’t just buy a new car. After all, she reasoned, I must be raking in the big bucks with my books, right? I just stared at her with my jaw on the floor as she raved about the millions of dollars she heard that authors make. She wondered what I do with tens of thousands I make every month. I tried to explain to her that it’s really not like that, but she assumed I was being modest.

I finally told her I spent it all on a villa in Italy. “Please don’t tell anyone,” I whispered. “I don’t want the IRS to find out.”

Hey, it wasn’t a total lie. I had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant a while ago.

Okay, it was a Fazoli’s drive-thru ten years ago, but it still counts.

On one of my dead-battery days, my downstairs neighbor was kind enough to take me to the school to pick up my boy for a doctor’s appointment. That particular neighbor’s vehicle isn’t much better than mine, and the passenger door doesn’t open from the inside. He had to run around and open my door for me so I could get out at the school, which evidently caught the attention of the school secretary.

“Who was that who drove you here?” she wondered. I told her he was my neighbor, and she raised her eyebrows at me. “Is he a nice guy?”

Folks, I am possibly one of the world’s most oblivious human beings. “Sure, he’s nice,” I told her.

“He’s a real gentleman, isn’t he? Any man that opens the car door for you is a keeper!” she winked at me.

Swear to God, I still didn’t get what she was trying to say.

So, here I am on a Saturday morning, drinking room-temperature Vernor’s and wrapped up in every quilt and afghan I can find. I’ve got the barf bowl, the Netflix remote, and a box of tissue within easy reach, and I don’t plan on going anywhere except down the hall to the bathroom when absolutely necessary.

Which is apparently every four and a half minutes.

But the high point of weirdness in my life this week is the steady flow of phone calls and messages I’ve been getting all morning from friends wanting to know more about my hot new boyfriend that I am about to run away with to my secret villa in Italy.

At this point, I don’t have the energy to correct anyone. I think I’ll just tell them all to pack their bags and meet me at the airport.

As soon as I’m done in the bathroom.

 

 

 

 

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Impediments

When it comes to cliques, they aren’t all bad.

Today’s blog post isn’t going to be one of my usual ones. I need to take care of a little business, and this week’s prompt about cliques seems to be the perfect opportunity to do so.

First, I’ve been really lucky about finding work this summer. Unfortunately, none of the jobs are full-time, so that means I’m working several part-time jobs.  That also means that I am so busy I’m sort of expecting to meet myself coming or going on my own doorstep one of these days.

One of those jobs has involved painting with a group of really nice people who have been incredibly supportive of me as I learn which of my physical limitations to respect and which ones to ignore. I’ve been bending, stretching, reaching and yes, swearing, and I’m figuring out that I’m a lot tougher than I gave myself credit for.

There’s a woman on the painting crew who likes that say that different things are “impedin’ the progress” whenever we run into a problem. She says it with a grim little smile and a laugh, and then she dives back in to work around whatever it may be that’s impeding her progress.

I’m trying to learn from her wonderful attitude, and that’s what I need to talk about today.

I’m a writer. I am forty-nine years old, and I am finally writing and publishing the books that I have wanted to write since I was four years old. That’s forty-five years of dreaming, finally coming true.

Sort of.

Stay with me here. I’m going to make my point soon.

I started blogging because I needed to gain some discipline as a writer. Somewhere along the line, I also figured out that I have a pretty good sense of humor. I learned about marketing and terms like “engagement” and a lot of business-y stuff that I had never really thought about. I met a lot of wonderful bloggers and writers, and I found out that I really get a lot out of staying positive and surrounding myself with helpful and supportive people.

In short, I started having fun.

At the same time, I finished two books in my “Beach Haven” series and added a short novella as a sort of a prequel to the series. I figured out how to format, how to work with an editor and take suggestions without being offended, and I think I also became a better person through the steady contact with a nice little “clique” made up of just the right people.

I also met a couple of writers/bloggers who delight in tearing others down as well, but I’ve made the choice to ignore them. Life is too short to worry about the opinions of people who are focused on the fact that I am fat, middle-aged, and not exactly a beauty queen.  Stressing over that would just be impeding my progress, especially since none of those things have any bearing on whether or not I can write.

As Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.”

In recent months, I’ve learned about different groups of writers who work hard to support and defend each other. In a way, they make up an exclusive clique that works very hard to exclude those who choose negativity and cruelty over support and camaraderie. So yes, even though the word “clique” can have a negative connotation, I am proud to be a part of this particular one.

I am a writer. I’m not the best or the most successful, but I’m writing.

The problem is that I’m not writing my next book.

I’m ghost-writing a few things for very poor pay. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s money. That’s right: I’m prostituting my writing skills to pay the rent. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.

I’m writing my blog, which is fun but doesn’t help me finish my book or pay my rent.

I’m doing little tasks at Amazon Mechanical Turk for pennies at a time. It doesn’t help much, but I need a lot more pennies.

I’m babysitting, cleaning houses, working, working, working. All the time. And I’m not making it. Not getting the book finished, not making the rent, not even making enough money to say I’m “squeaking by.”

And I am trying – really, really hard! – not to sink into a puddle of anger and self-pity because my neck injury forces me to work twice as hard to earn half as much. I don’t want to impede my progress by giving in to that anger. I want to stay part of the Positive Clique.

Which brings me to my point.

I’m going to have to cut back on blogging. I used to aim for three posts per week; I’m cutting back to a goal of once a week. I hate to give it up, but the very little time I have for writing needs to be devoted to jobs that are going to bring in money to support my writing. I don’t ever expect to get rich from my little romance novels, but I’m hoping to someday reach the point where I can only work one job while writing them. And to do that, well, I have to write them.

I’ve got to prioritize. I’ve got to stop impeding my own progress.

I’ve also swallowed my pride and added a “donate” button to my page. I’ve seen other bloggers do it, and I’ve always scoffed at them for begging for donations on a free blog. Well, I’m not scoffing any more. I’m right there, begging with the best of them.

I am a writer. I’ve waited a lifetime to be able to say that, and I am honored to be part of the small, exclusive clique of writers who strive to be kind to each other. I’m proud to be part of the blogging community as well, and incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped along this journey to making me a better  person as I become a better writer.

As I wrap this up, I want to leave you all with a link to a truly uplifting and astonishing video I discovered last week. The speaker is an old childhood friend of mine who has always understood the value of kindness better than most. She is a good soul, a dear friend, and an all-around wonderful person.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to cliques . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Jill from Ripped Jeans and Bifocalsand Michelle from Crumpets and Bollocks.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Coffee Time

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If we were having coffee, I’d start by apologizing for the mess in my kitchen. I’d pull out the mismatched cups from the cupboard and haul out the giant canister of sugar for you, since I’m just not the type to keep sugar in a dainty little sugar bowl. That’s all right, though, because I’d have to offer you the entire gallon jug of milk since I’m not big on using the dainty little cream pitcher, either.

I take my coffee black for a reason.

Let me tell you about my week, because it’s been an emotional one. My oldest child graduated from high school at the end of last week, and this week has been all about adjusting to the idea that she’ll be leaving home in a few months.  She’s done a lot of sleeping in and I’ve done a lot of nagging, and I thought I might possibly be well on my way to a stroke the day I came home from work and found her sunbathing in the front yard – with the TV blaring inside a house full of dirty laundry and dirtier dishes.

I also had my last day of work in the school lunchroom this week. Oh, sure, I’m planning on going back in the fall, but this was unexpectedly emotional. I didn’t expect the kids to hug me good-bye, and I certainly didn’t expect to miss any of them so soon.  Even more than that, I didn’t expect the ending of the school year to feel like the ending of a chapter in my life. This was my first real job since my accident, and it’s been all about finding the balance between pushing myself and knowing when to step back.

In a way, this job was a huge step toward understand who I am now and learning to thrive in my new “normal.” It was a step that was every bit as terrifying – and hard—as those first steps on the walker nearly four years ago. And I did it. I made it. I survived all the way to the end of the school year.

This was the week I interviewed for a second job to help me make my bills. It’s a front-desk position at a local hotel, and it would be a godsend. I did my best at the interview, but it’s hard to tell. I am supposed to hear something on Monday. Either way, it’s good to know my resume is good enough to get me an interview, and the interview itself was good experience for the next interview.

This was the week I finally conquered a really stupid fear and wrote my first real novel synopsis. That, in a nutshell, has been my biggest reason for self-publishing:  I was afraid of writing a synopsis to send to a traditional publisher. As much as I love self-publishing, I still want to explore my options with a traditional publisher, just to see what’s out there. So now I’ve done it and sent it out and I can check it off my “bucket list.”

Who knows – I may soon get my first real rejection letter and end up checking something else off the ol’ bucket list.

This week, I signed the lease on my house for another year. I had really expected to be able to buy it by this point, so it was a little disappointing. I love my house; I want to stay here forever. I just thought I’d be farther ahead by now. Money is trickling in too slowly and flowing out too quickly, and it hasn’t gotten any better this first year on my own.

The week ended with a two-day college orientation trip with my daughter and ex-husband. I hadn’t realized she was so grown-up until I saw her mingling with all of the other young adults on WMU’s campus, and I hadn’t realized just how ready she is to go. I’ve heard all the clichés about “spreading her wings” and all that nonsense, but I never really understood it until this moment. It’s almost time to let her go.

This week, I realized that I am not ready.

If we were having coffee, this is the point where I would break out the peanut butter cookies that I’m supposed to give to the neighbor who mowed my lawn. I’d top off our coffee cups and tell you to drink up before my kids wake up and invade the kitchen, because this is one of the few chances I’ll have to spend one-on-one time with another adult and I want to enjoy every minute of it.  And I think we need a little distraction, because I’m not quite ready to say anything more about my daughter moving out or the fact that I really enjoyed spending those two days with my ex.

Besides, I’ve been talking about myself this whole time, and now it’s your turn to tell me about your week. What have you been up to? What challenges have you faced and how did you deal with them?

Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share.  Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!

Dollar Dance

I can’t believe how much it cost to enroll my daughter in a dance class.

She was four years old.  The class was $35 per month.  Harmless, right?  Then came that first pair of ballet shoes, the first leotard and first pair of tights.  Soon, there was the recital, with costume fees and ridiculously overpriced tickets to watch my kid spin and stumble around on the stage for 90 seconds somewhere in the middle of a three-hour bit of performance art, the memory of which still has the ability to make my head pound.

The Princess loved it.  She thrived on it.

That one little class ballooned into two, then three.  When she was seven, she wanted to audition for the competition team.  When she was nine, she started begging for pointe class.  Luckily, her teacher doesn’t allow her students to begin pre-pointe until age eleven, so we got a couple years respite before having to invest in pointe shoes.

Just as a side note, I want to mention that my beautiful, wonderfully talented daughter inherited her mother’s big feet, which means that her pointe shoes have to be custom-ordered. Can you hear the cash registers going cha-ching?

Competition fees are ungodly.  I’m sorry, but there is just no other word to describe the astronomical amount of money that parents and dance studios have to shell out for these events. We’re talking hundreds of dollars every competition season, and we’re pretty small potatoes out here in Michigan.  I can’t even begin to imagine how high those fees must run in some of the bigger cities.

Gravity?  What gravity?
Gravity? What gravity?

My heart really goes out the parents with more than one kid in competitive dance. We’re talking second mortgages here.

And the costumes!  Big, big bucks.  Sometimes, it seems like the cost per costume is directly proportional to the amount of fabric involved: less fabric seems to equal more money.  We’re lucky that my daughter’s teacher is a very smart woman who tries to stretch our costume dollars.  She often orders one “base” costume and adds hats or collars and cuffs or maybe a little skirt for the different numbers to help keep the cost down.  She’s also been known to recruit dance moms and senior students to save a few bucks by gluing on the sequins and spangles ourselves.

If I think too hard about what the costumes might cost without her money-saving tricks, we may need to dial 9-1-1.

Then there are the recitals. This same dance teacher works tirelessly to hold fundraisers and find inexpensive places to host the recitals, but she still has to set the ticket prices well above what I would pay to take my family to see a performance by a professional dance company.  Okay, a professional dance company wouldn’t be oozing cuteness, like when the four year-olds forget what they are doing onstage and start waving at the audience. Those tickets are worth every penny, especially as the years go by and I get to see those stumbling four year-olds develop into graceful dancers alongside my daughter. But it’s still physically painful to hand over a wad of cash twice a year for these shows.

Has it been worth the cost?

Absolutely.

My daughter hopes to continue dancing after she graduates this year.  She wants to teach, and she hopes to own her own dance studio some day.  She had the confidence to audition for a highly competitive college dance program, and she’s got the inner strength to be okay if she doesn’t make it.  Dancing has played a big role in making her the amazing person she has become.

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I have to be honest and say that it’s not just dancing itself that has been so good for her.  We were blessed to find a dance studio run by a woman who has become a role model, a mentor, an advisor, and in some ways, another mother.  This is a woman who refuses to dress her students in the overly sexual, age-inappropriate costumes that are so prevalent at dance competitions. She rewards her students for their hard work, ability, and attitude; she talks to them about healthy eating but never about dieting or weight loss. In short, she takes care of “her kids” in ways that go far beyond just teaching them the right steps.

I don’t allow anyone in my house to watch the show “Dance Moms” because I find Abby Lee to be an utterly reprehensible human being.  I guess I was spoiled by having my daughter dance with a good teacher; teachers are supposed to guide and lead by example, not by shaming and belittling their students.  If my daughter had gone to a studio with an instructor who treats the children the way Abby Lee treats her students on that show, I would have yanked her out of dance and put her in an activity less likely to do lasting harm, like football or rugby.

If I had it to do again, would I still enroll my daughter in that $35 beginning ballet class?  Yes.  She’s my baby girl, and this is what she loves.  I’d do the same if my son’s STEM club meetings came with this kind of cost, because that is what he loves.

But I’d go into it with my eyes open to the eventual cost of her dreams, and I would budget for it a lot better.  I’d try to be better prepared.

In the meantime, I’ve got a six year-old son who wants to try dancing like his big sister, and I’m just not ready to shell out $35 for his first class. I just keep hoping he likes football.

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This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the prompt “I cant believe how much it costs to . . . “

A Million Dollars, A Million Dreams?

If I had a million dollars, I wouldn’t go crazy with it.  Oh, I’d buy myself a Mother’s Ring with my kids’ birthstones, and I’d probably splurge on a Little Gracie quilting frame, but those are pretty small purchases for a person with a million bucks.  After that, I’d be very practical.

I’d buy a house.  Not a fancy house, not a showplace.  Just a simple house with enough bedrooms for my kids and me.  It would have to be near town, close enough to the school and grocery store that I would never again have to worry about being trapped at home in bad weather.  My dream house would have a good furnace and central air, a dishwasher, and a big enough yard for me to have some peony bushes and a small vegetable garden.

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Isn’t this the sweetest little dream house? At $65,000. it might as well be a $1,000,000.

 

It would have to have a heated toilet seat too.  Hey, I live in Michigan and I have a big butt.  Enough said.

I’d buy a van.  I miss my van.  I hate our Expedition and am more than happy to let my husband keep it; my little Focus wagon is a very nice car that is safe and sturdy and handles like a dream, but I just felt safer in my Windstar.   A van could carry my kids and their friends; a van is bigger and heavier on dangerous winter roads without feeling like I’m driving a school bus.

I’d set up a small scholarship fund in my mother’s name for girls graduating from her high school.  She always told us that she was denied the right to speak as Valedictorian because of her gender, and was subsequently denied a scholarship for the same reason.  Whether her story was true or not, I like the sound of the Kay M. Kirk Memorial Science Scholarship.

I’d make a sizeable donation to some of the local food pantries, and to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission.

After that, all I would want from the money is enough to live on for the next year.  Groceries, living expenses, nothing special.   Enough to be able to stay home and write for a year without having to stress about finding a job.  Enough to take care of my kids without asking for child support – not that their father would ever try to get out of paying.  It would just be nice if he didn’t have to pay.  We are really trying to do this “friendly divorce” thing, and there’s nothing friendlier between exes than the words “no, I don’t need child support”.

I’d keep the rest in a “rainy day fund” and hope for sunny skies.  I have three very smart kids who are all going to want to go to college, so I have a feeling the money wouldn’t last long after those essentials.

That’s basically it.  Yes, I am a very boring human being.  I wish I could fantasize about tropical vacations or out-of-control shopping sprees.  But really, I’d be bored on a beach and I detest shopping at crowded malls.  I just want a home and a car, and a chance to give a little something back.

Although a trip to Scotland would be pretty cool.

No, I’d better stop while I’m still being practical.  No need to overspend my imaginary money.

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, and this week’s starter sentence was “If I had a million dollars, I would. . . ” 

Thanks, Dad

My father didn’t leave me any money.  I didn’t get his height or his broad shoulders or even his pretty blue eyes.  I’m sort of glad I didn’t get his hook nose, although I have to say I’m not really happy with the one I ended up with.   And I breathe a sigh of relief whenever I think about how awful his deep chin-dimple would have looked on the sharp, pointy chin I inherited from my mother’s family.

In short, all I got from Dad – other than the gene for alcoholism – was his sense of humor.

In the immortal words of Robert Frost, “That has made all the difference.”

I get depressed quite often.  Maybe more than the average person.  So sue me – It’s my divorce party and I’ll cry if I want to.  But when I’m done crying, I have to find things to laugh at.  Sometimes, I laugh while I’m still crying, which is sort of messy and tends to make people eye me warily, as though questioning whether or not they should start Googling phone numbers for the nearest distributor of straight-jackets.

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion.  I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

— Kurt Vonnegut

My search for a place to live has been a mess.  It has become something my soon-to-be-ex-husband would refer to as a Goat Rodeo, which is apparently only a step or two removed from being a complete and total Cluster Fuck.  At the rate things are going, I fully expect to enter all-out Cluster Fuck territory any day now.

I made an offer on the perfect house.  And by “perfect” I mean “enough bedrooms, great location, within my price range, needs some work, has a creepy pet cemetery in the back yard.”   I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.  I then called a different Realtor – a smart woman with whom I graduated – and followed her advice.  I made another offer directly to the Seller’s Agent . . . who hemmed and hawed and made excuses about why the bank wasn’t responding.

Meanwhile, the house went up for auction.

I looked at another house, which was described as having renovations that were “85% complete”.  It had a gorgeous layout, including a built-in greenhouse window in the kitchen and a set of French doors leading from the Master Bedroom out onto a deck.  It also had garbage piled up throughout, holes in the floors and walls, no bathtubs or toilets or kitchen cabinets, and ivy growing on an inside wall.  The big red “Condemmed” notice on the front door was a bit of a surprise, as was the raging river gushing through the basement.

Good thing I majored in English, because my poor math skills make it impossible for me to calculate where the “85% complete” factors into that particular equation.

In short, things are not going as well as I had hoped.

I can’t even find a three-bedroom house to rent.  I’d settle for an apartment, but there are no three-bedroom apartments in a town this size.  And forcing my children to change schools is not an option.  I may end up finding a two-bedroom apartment and sleeping on a couch in the living room until my older children graduate.  Not a pleasant alternative, but possibly my only alternative at this point.

I have cried so much in recent weeks that I just feel sort of . . . done.    I can’t cry any more.  So when I laugh at my housing problems, I am not in denial; I am not avoiding the situation; my amusement is not a sign that I am not taking this seriously.  I am taking it seriously, believe me.

But come on – ivy on an inside wall?!  A raging torrent of water in the basement of condemmed house, and some  moron actually has the chutzpah to ask $20,000 for it?  A Realtor who assured me that she understands that I have bad credit, no job, limited funds – and then sends me details on houses that cost upwards of $70,000?

I have to laugh.  It is simply too preposterous not to laugh.  If this situation isn’t funny, then it has to be tragic, and I just can’t do tragic right now.  You know the old saying about how “someday we’ll all look back on this and laugh”?  I can’t wait for someday.  I have to laugh now.

It’s in my genes.

Not to sound ungrateful, Dad, but you couldn’t have just left me thirty grand instead?

Comedy is tragedy plus time.

— Carol Burnett