#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 30

Looking back, I must admit I didn’t reach the summit on this Whole30 climb.

Dairy: I kept my distance! No milk, yogurt, cheese. I never once desired a shake or sundae. The only bummer came when it was time for chili and I couldn’t have sour cream. Honestly, that’s the only dairy I truly miss. Even the clarified butter’s grown on me so that I don’t miss the typical wad of butter thrown into veg or mashed potatoes.

Gluten: Another success. It helps I had started cutting down on grain intake since Christmas. Sure, I like cookies and brownies. I loooooove tasty banana or zucchini or rhubarb bread. And PIE! Ah, sweet, sweet pie.

But these aren’t “typical” grains, like bread or pasta. Those I never missed, not one day. I used to eat oatmeal in the morning, but some reheated sweet potatoes have become an excellent substitute.

Sugar: So about those pies and other sweet treats…

Yes, I’ve successfully avoided desserts. This month has shown me just how often I’d dip into those cookies, brownies and jars of oh-so-honeylicious creamy peanut butter. But my one “cheat,” my one thing I just couldn’t give up, was coffee creamer. Almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk–the consistency messes with my brain, and the taste feels like it’s embittering the coffee more than anything.

Out with the blech, in with the YUM!

I know I’ve talked about my resolutions already, so I won’t repeat that. What I would like to say is how deeply proud I am of Bo.

For a guy who used to shrug at health issues with the mantra of “We’re all doomed to die anyway,” he made this amazing mental 180 and has not only stuck to the Whole30 FOR the whole 30, but he has every intention of sticking to many of its guidelines. Yeah, we’ll probably award ourselves with pizza tomorrow to celebrate his completion, but we’re talking a slice, not a whole pizza. Sure, Bo’s going to enjoy creamer in his morning commute tea, but he’s sticking with salads, protein, and fruit for work instead of returning to sandwiches. He can feel the weight loss in how he sits and moves; I know it by how little he snores. It’s a change that was hard, will continue to be hard, but he’s not giving up.

No, I didn’t complete the sheer climb up the Whole30.

But Bo did.

I am more than happy to wave to him from my own road to the summit, whistling as I go, knowing that Bo’s more than ready to encourage me every step of the way.

So, this concludes my 30-day blog-a-thon! Now I’m going to spend the next few days climbing a new mountain–a far sweeter mountain–of likes and comments from you, kind readers. To each and every one of you who has followed my Whole30 journey in words: thank you so very, very much for walking this road with me. Cheers to you, Kind and Noble Company. May the Road ahead be one of adventure, laughter, and hope.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 11

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Well, here I sit with my coffee cut by unsweetened almond coconut milk.

Sigh.

But I’m a third way through….okay I’ve already technically failed, but Bo is a third way through, and that’s what counts! He’s been scouring Alton Brown’s Good Eats episodes for different ways to prepare vegetables and meat, and has found a few that can fit under Whole30 with a little tweaking…not that I remember their episode names. But I will recommend Good Eats to anyone who loves good food and is curious about the science that makes food good in the first place. Alton’s popcorn recipe’s a great introduction to his show’s style.

In these days of sugar withdrawal, it’s really damn hard to focus my brain. I can see the scene, but then there’s that need to transcribe the color and emotion and my fingers are tripping on the keyboard. I may as well be Biff going “;ALISHASL;IGBAS’;OFASDJKLFG;’OTY23PORKNG;SALDFBHASDLKFASKULTROU” on the keyboard. “I’m super-typing, Mommy!” Twice now I’ve stuck my coffee in the freezer to warm it up. I’ve tried sticking the milk in the oven, stopped only because the gallon jug’s too tall. Here’s hoping I don’t try to eat the food toys Bash left on the table from the Feast he made for the Transformers the other day.

The dread of yet another snow storm coming in the night’s not helping my mood, either.  Oh, God, you do have a sense of humor aaaaaaaaaaaaaall you’re own.

I did have a sweet moment of solitude outside, though, in that moment between seeing Blondie off on the bus and getting Biff and Bash ready for school.20190211_071202

Birdie tracks!

We have lots around the front of our house, but there was something about seeing this lone bird’s tracks stamped all around the porch, over the sleds to the old tree stand and back. The boys will wreck these tracks when they come out for school. Heck, I’ll probably wreck them when I take out the garbage.

So I snapped a shot, a good reminder that I need to refill the bird feeder before the storm arrives. We’re apparently the only feeder on the street, for anywhere from 6-15 birds will huddle in the bushes by our house and fight over chances to perch on the feeder. A hawk’s worked this out too, and has left the remains of his breakfast on our front yard more than once. He even tried to snatch a bird one afternoon, but they escaped. He sat on our porch railing, then, for a good ten minutes, waiting for the wee ones to return. He flew off, yes, but I have a feeling he’s just hanging out a few yards down, watching and waiting.

Those predators, folks. They cannot be denied.

Speaking of, I’m rather proud of the predators in my novel and free fiction. Care to check them out? You’ve got six free short stories to choose from, the first of my free exclusive stories on the site, aaaaaaaand my novel, which is currently on sale for a wee 99p. Spread the word to your fantasy-lovin’ friends!

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 9

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Well, it happened. Not this morning, when I guzzled four or five cups while catching up with school work. It happened with that last cup, that after-lunch cup I intended to drink as I struggled to make up all that lost novel-writing time this week. Bo was going to keep the kids upstairs so I could huddle with the computer in the basement. He was just coming up after hanging up his autographed picture of Cloris Leachman as I was coming down, coffee in one hand, notes in the other.

“What did you use in your coffee?”

“Oh, nuthin’.”

“Pretty light for nuthin’.”

“Dunno what you’re talking about.”

He halts. “Is that creamer?”

(insert noncommittal verbal utterances here)

He gasps. “You cheated?”

(more verbal utterances)

“HEY!”

I flee into the basement with his laughter and cries of “You poop!” rockin’ and a’rollin’ behind me.

After an afternoon of writing and blues, I did apologize…sort of. Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t stick to the guidelines as hardcore as Bo, but I’m not sorry for using something up before it goes bad. He listened to me, and thankfully believed me when I explained I hadn’t had any other non-Whole30 thing this whole week (which IS true, painful as it’s been when the kids throw away crusts gobbed with peanut butter or crusts of gooey grilled cheese).

So to make it up to him, I took charge of cooking supper tonight: Whole30-compliant turkey meatballs with zucchini spirals for noodles and compliant marinara sauce. The meatballs fell apart without the normal bread crumbs for a binder, but the veg spirals and marinara were actually pretty good. Now if only it wasn’t so damn costly to eat healthy…

No, Jean, no more griping. This is important. Bo NEEDS to lose weight. Your workload keeps you sitting waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much in the day for you to dismiss your health. This is important for you both. Suck it up, buttercup, and make that almond milk-coconut milk-vanilla bean or something-cinnamon stick creamer-substitute.

Go shake a tail feather, girl, and fly!

And while I go shake a few jars of this not-creamer creamer, check out my totally free fiction here and here. If you dig that stuff, you can snatch my novel right now for just 99 cents. Whatcha got to lose?

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 5

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

How the heck am I supposed to cheat with the good creamer when Bo’s home from work?

It’s taken a lot of stealthy sneakery, let me tell you. I put him on tooth-brushing detail before the school bus came. I’ve waited until he’s checking something on Facebook. I’ve listened for him to shut the bathroom door.

Aha! Creamer! It’s mine, I tell you, MIIIIINE!

Ahem.

And then he had to go into the kitchen to make his lunch. Can’t he cook somewhere else? Use the grill, most of the snow’s melted by now.

Dammit, now I gotta use the cashew milk.

BLECH YUCK BLECHITY BLECH

Ahem.

So why is Bo off of work? Biff and Bash have a concert this afternoon during their school day. It’s themed “All Things February,” only without anything Valentiney for some reason. Who wants to sing about Valentine’s Day when you’ve got American presidents, groundhogs, weather, and nonsense words like “skinnamarink”?

Buuuut it’s a bunch of kingergarteners, so therefore it will be cute. So long as they’re not singing about poop or farts, I’m fine.

What, don’t your kindergarteners sing about poop and farts? Don’t your third graders? Mine do!

No, I’m not subjecting you to that nonsense. If you want a taste of their humor, go check out the best-selling Middle Grade comic series Dog-Man.

515fAmmGpEL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_In the meantime, I’m trying to broaden the kids’ horizons with a little poetry. I found a gorgeous picture book edition of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes. Every line receives a painting rich and passionate, so you move slow through the poem, savoring every line.

Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. Reading him is always a journey of multiple senses, twisting and turning down the white-space of the page, feeling both the cut of the language and the long echo of the visual.

Just listen to this.

My favorite lines:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.
...
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

“When dawns were young”…what a magical phrase, infinite and divine.

Not that my kids would listen.

“Look, Mommy, I made Bumbleebee fart on Starscream!”

Sigh.

Give’em time, Jean. They’re kindergarteners. You’ll get them there in time.

Go read Langston Hughes this month. Read him out loud, too, so others can be touched by his language.

Buy my book, too, or you can read my FREE fiction here or herebut only after you read some Langston Hughes.

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 3

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Today’s been a day of mist, slush, and boiled eggs. While I trudge through term-opening hello’s and how-do’s with students, Bo cleans the kitchen and boils 3 dozen eggs for he and I to nosh on during the work week.

“Think popcorn is okay?” he asks. “There’s got to be something snackish that’s safe.

“Dunno,” I say while trying the cashew milk in my coffee.

Bo watches me sip. And grimace. “Well?”

I smack my lips. “Well, it’s, um, it’s there.”

“Yeah, that was how I felt about the coconut milk in my tea last night.”

Behind him is the door of the fridge. Behind the door of the fridge is my creamer. My GOOD creamer. “You’re gonna finish that cashew stuff off, aren’t you?”

Bo’s not making eye contact. “Yeees.”

“Good,” I say in a snit and snoot on out of there. Our grocery bill exploded for this diet. Meat’s pricey enough, but six bucks for a small jar of mayo? Robbery, I tell you!

And because Bo’s hardcore into this diet, he bought two jars. Multiple salad dressings. Multiple nut milks. We have to keep checking what’s “Whole30 compliant,” and of course none of these things are easily found, let alone cheap.

Here’s the site we’ve been using, in case you’re interested: https://www.oliveyouwhole.com/category/whole30/

When I look our fridge, my stomach churns. Is our tax return just going to end up funding this diet?

It’s a nauseating thought.

But I want Bo to want to be healthy, and for the first time in years, he does. He can’t just eat meals of pasta and bread anymore. I can’t be stuffing my face with chocolate chips anymore. Our kids deserve better role models of moderation and health. If they can face their fears atop the highest sledding hill by their grandma’s house, zipping down that slope no matter how nasty the previous wipe out, then dammit, we can survive a month without peanut butter and milk.

Oh! Speaking of which, we survived that mountain yesterday!

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Clockwise: Biff and I sailing down, Blondie just before her hat flies off, Bash and I wipe out, Bash narrowly missing another saucer kid 

You should have seen the broken sleds littering its bottom, like ships crushed by the rocks along a perilous New England shore. Ye gods, I thought I was going to pass out. But all three of the Bs trekked up the slope–surely the length of home plate to the outfield if not further–and just FLEW. Toppled a lot, too. One girl did careen into Biff early on, and Bash got a nasty face wash when we wiped out together, but nothing bad happened. No bloodshed. No screaming for the ER. Just mad giggles of delight.

So even though I couldn’t touch my mother’s pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, it was, in the end, a good Saturday.

A perk to this day? Seeing that my Tales of the River Vine bumped back into the top four slots of free YA Monster Fiction again. WOOHOO!

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To all who grabbed a copy, thank you! To those who haven’t, grab one now! They’re free, after all, so even the most meager of budgets can afford a quick read into a dark fantasy. 🙂 I’ve another short story free on my site for newsletter subscribers, too–click here for more info. 

And if you dig those short stories, you can check out my novel for just a buck!

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

Some days my #family shares amazing #writing #inspiration. Other days, not so much… #marriage & the #writinglife

In posts past I’ve mentioned I get inspiration from my kids–something they say, for instance, or a struggle they’re facing in school. 

There are other times, however, when inspiration is the last thing I get from my family.

Take this month. Writing’s been a tough racket, what with preparation for a new term, snow days, and teachers cancelling school for “professional development.” But I am a hearty Midwesterner and shall prevail! I continue working on the third Fallen Princeborn novel while prepping the first novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, to go on sale for ALL OF FEBRUARY.

(Oh yeah. Watch out for that price drop. Tell your fantasy-lovin’ friends!)

we have all of us had our bloody days, charlotte. for many it is easier to remain in them than to change. to change requires to face a past stained by screams. (14)

I’m also brainstorming up some fresh’n’FREE Tales of the River Vine and a few other stories to be shared exclusively with newsletter subscribers.

(What? You’re not subscribed to the monthly newsletter yet?

*GAAAAASP* Fix that now!)

Anyway.

So I’m developing another project, one I alluded to a while back: a fantasy adventure story featuring twins who need to learn the strengths of brotherhood. (Can’t imagine where I found the inspiration for that story…)

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There goes Bash of the Yukon on another expedition…

I had an epiphany about what to name the brothers, but realized the names would require permission from a big-time person in order to pull it off. That meant having a title and rough synopsis worked out. Typing up a wee synopsis was one thing, but the title…ugh, the title. This is a title that must reflect fantasy, adventure, and NOT romance. For once, let’s have a story where protagonists don’t find love and/or sex in the plot. The title needs to reflect that absence. Something strong…otherworldly…

I poke the back of Bo’s neck, for surely Blondie’s math homework doesn’t have to be reviewed right this minute.

Hey. You’re a guy.

“Yeeees?”

I need your take on a title.

“Shoot.”

Race the Bronze Breath.

Bo’s face twists. He stifles a laugh…then gives up and lets it out. “Seriously?”

What? It’s racing. It’s fantasy.

Bo’s still laughing. “What’s that even mean?”

I…I dunno. I just thought it sounded cool and steampunky.

“Well racing’s fine. Racing says something’s got a time limit, and it’s, you know, tense. But what’s bronze breath?”

Okay, I get it, it doesn’t work. What kind of fantasy adventure title would work for dudes?

Bo without blinking: “Not Game of Thrones.”

That is not a title.

“Says you.”

I think about my brainstorm of race names, the current YA titles out there that are really long, a touch blunt.

How about Break the Centurion or Die Trying?

Bo throws down the pencil: “Again, what…are you trying to be Sergio Leone?”

Well then YOU think of a cool dude title.

“Racing Adventure with Marathon Quest.”

O-kay. But that doesn’t sound really dangerous.

“Super Killer Race of Deathly Death.”

No.

“Bloody Hearts of Death Kill the Dead.”

NO.

Blondie looks up from her fraction muddle. “Bloody Heart of the Dragon’s Throne!” 

Hush, that doesn’t…well, hmmm. I write it down anyway, even though I wasn’t planning on having any dragons this time round. Time for a squeeze and a kiss for my eldest.

Thanks, Kiddo. Now back to those fractions!

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A picture of Blondie and her bottle snowman, just because. x

Bo follows me as I scribble in my notebook, all the way down the hall where I plop down on our bed. I click the pen in that fast, annoying fashion Biff adores, and say:

The problem is I do want a bit of camp to it, like Death Race 2000. Suppose I can’t call it Lethal Prix or Killer Run.

“Not if you don’t want Roger Corman to sue you…oh hey! Let’s Get Sued! Great title. And then I can get an autograph.”

That would be first on your mind, wouldn’t it?

BloodDeathKillQuest. All one word.”

NoIdon’tthinkso.

A Good Day to Die Hard…oh wait. That’s kind of taken.”

Yyyyeah.

Killing Starfighters of Justice. Keep it vague on purpose so people question if the starfighters are killing people, or if we’re killing the starfighters.”

The grammar humor of Airplane! likely ain’t gonna translate to the teen male audience.

“Well then there’s only one title that’s going to reach those readers.”

What?

Amazonian Thrill-Whores.”

Boob Race.”

Okay, okay. I give up. Forget I asked–

Outpacing the Inevitable….wait for it…Boobs.”

OH WOULD YOU JUST STOP IT

Sooooo I’m still working on that title. It’ll come to me. Hopefully without the aid of Amazonian Thrill-Whores, but who knows…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

 

 

Lessons Learned from John Kaag: Re-Route, Re-Root.

Salvation can’t be accomplished in isolation.
-John Kaag, American Philosophy: A Love Story

Words have a tendency to change meaning from profession to profession. In the world of  university adjuncts, for example, you may hear the words “professional development.”

We adjuncts hear “do this or ELSE.”

51Ek3onp4tL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Such was the situation to bring John Kaag’s American Philosophy: A Love Story into my hands. I had to fill at least an hour of professional development OR ELSE, and I was tired of “how to keep students focused” kinds of webinars. A different department was holding a monthly book club, with Kaag’s latest being May’s choice.

I had “studied” philosophy in college, and by “studied” I mean I audited the 400-level course without any previous credits in philosophy courses. Yeah, not my brightest move. But it promised deep discussions with at least two really cute guys and the teacher was one of those rare men who by all appearances balanced philosophy and faith with ease. I was intrigued then. Don’t remember a lick of it now. But Kaag’s title brought that old intrigue back. Why not? I liked stretching my lit boundaries, and it would earn me a PD hour in the process. I contacted the PhD in charge: I’m in.

~*~

At one point, philosophers like Pierce could determine the very language we use. They had the power to define reality. (25)

“So yeah, I guess it was pretty good, but I had a hard time sympathizing with the narrator.”

“It was informative, but I just couldn’t root for the guy, you know? I mean, he left his wife. Why should I cheer for that?”

The Google Hangout felt way too much like grad school for comfort. It was the dust bunny-addled classroom all over again with cracked plastic chairs and classmates declaring a book unworthy of them solely because they didn’t like the main character.

I was stymied, and conflicted. Why such shallow comments? Why wasn’t anyone looking past this need to “cheer” a hero and not see the journey Kaag risked showing us? Because I understood this kind of journey. Any one buckled under by depression would.

“Yeah, I mean, talk about a first-world, white-privilege problem.”

~*~

May was not a good month in my house. Family crashed upon us in waves for not one, not two, but three parties for Blondie’s birthday. The church threw some extra duties my way because apparently no one thinks anything has to be done until mere hours before a major retirement dinner. Friends got married upstate, which meant more family gatherings to butter up the baby-sitting and to travel and to get back and to grade final projects and to START a new term and and and AND.

And, it was not a good month. When you’re an introvert, and would love nothing better than a few uninterrupted hours to read and write, this social storm nearly drowned me. Many nights ended in tears. My children noticed: on the “My Mommy” cards Biff and Bash made with their teachers, it was revealed that this is what Bash remembers more than anything:

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How did I respond? With sobs on the front porch. Fuck the neighbors, let them watch, it’s not like they have yet another conference about their sons kicking and fighting the teacher again, Mrs. S forgot this at church can you get it again, Jean we need to talk about the party food again, I need to clean the house again I need I need I need

I. Needed. Out.

So did Kaag. He does indeed leave his first wife, and he does indeed write about his alcoholism. Yet while my colleagues saw these as reasons to put the narrator down, I couldn’t help but think of my own postpartum depression, how my own marriage struggled with the arrival of children. Unlike Kaag, I couldn’t fathom writing about the purgatory my marriage wandered in for years.

Maybe another well-meaning American philosopher would find the library, but not the books. Maybe, on the drive back to my unhappy marriage, I’d get in the fatal crash I often imagined. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to find my way back. (38)

I thought nothing of salvation and immortality at Durgin-Park, opting instead to drink myself senseless. At the end of the night I stumbled home and tried to convince my wife I wasn’t drunk. I was looking for help in all the usual places, all the wrong places. (14)

Motherhood: some days, it just fucking strangles the soul.

When that kind of feeling wraps round the heart, I knew I had to get out. If I didn’t, all the poison inside would dig itself in and suck my love dry. I lived through that once. Not going back there.

I envied Kaag his ability to simply uproot and begin again. What started as a small conference away from Harvard diverted to an exploration of self and of William Ernest Hocking, himself a philosopher who gathered thousands of books and letters that together charted the roots and growth of American philosophy. In Hocking’s library, surrounded by old lives and skittering rodents, Kaag felt something new:

Alone in an empty library, in a deserted wood, in a nearly forgotten field of American philosophy, I felt momentarily at home. (32)

I’m betting that, for the first time a long time, he could breathe.

I’m familiar with such a moment.

~*~

But eventually I came across, quite by accident, what I desperately needed to find. (31)

Another fun piece to May was the road work that cut off my town from the town where Blondie’s school is located. Thank God for Google Maps–a new road to the north, and a cut through hilly farmland. On the way out of town I passed this sign: Charles Langer Family Park.

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A park? Where? Farmland as far as the eye could see. For the kids, invisible = nonexistent, so we continued in our new ruts.

Then one day–in May, for like I said, all things happened in May–Blondie had to attend yet another birthday party, but this one was rather short. It wasn’t worth going home just to rile the boys up with “WHERE’S MOMMY GOING!?” when it was time to retrieve the girl. I could drop Blondie off and–gasp, read! But where to read? The library was packed with their book sale (not worth it). The riverside park was packed with geese, who don’t much care for human beings.

And then I remembered. And knew.

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I watched the tractors work before driving on.

Where would this road take me? Considering the proximity of Madison, a small part of me hoped that I, too, would discover a forgotten library, or at least some literary treasure of equal awesomeness.

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I parked. The place looked popular, but…no playground? At least the nature trail looked promising. Once again, I’m out before spring’s taken full effect. Oh, Wisconsin, you are so temperamental. Yet you cannot dim the sun’s magic cast upon the water and the leaves, nor can you silence distant birds, calling together. Perhaps that’s why these rocks were set up as an auditorium: for nature talks.

Ting!

I think nothing of the goofy metallic noises and watch the river.

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I walked on.

The point, if one could call it that, was to experience the sublime in the mundane. And this experience, so common yet so rare, had intrinsic value, the sort of value that made a life worth living. (70)

Ting!

What the–

20170513_145030

DISC GOLF?!

You mean to tell me that my town, unable to support a grocery store or a pub or any normal amenity, can maintain a large, gorgeous disc golf course?

I couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, I pissed off one couple, who seemed to be doing this as a date (she sure looked thrilled) and a group of hipsters from Lord-Knows-What-Suburb.

I kept walking, and laughing, probably looking a little crazy, surely feeling a little crazy, but the more I walked along old tree roots, the less I felt like drowning. I was on dry land after all, with life still moving forward if I didn’t clean that day, if the retirement table wasn’t ornate enough, if the cake wasn’t to my in-laws’ preference. The kids would fight, but they’d hug, too. They’d wrap their little arms round me so tight, so strong, and hug until I laughed myself out of breath.

kids

And it occurred to me: I was breathing.

Ting. 

For all the love and wonder we hold for words, there is a time when words are the last thing we need. Sometimes we just need to pull ourselves up and away to a place so utterly outside of our normal, we can’t not take it in.

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Salvation is revealed in the long road of freedom and love.
-J. Kaag

Expectations & Derailments

The railway lines of Wisconsin are old and fragile, like the veins on a grandfather’s hand. Few are used for freight, even fewer for people. One runs parallel to the county highway I drive weekly to take Biff and Bash to school. Unable to work with a dead laptop,  I milled about, catching a few lousy photos on that lousy grey day.

When Bo had decided to take a few days off, I told him I needed him to do more with the kids so I could work. I expected swathes of time to revise the website, write several chapters of Middler’s Pride, and establish realistic writing goals with essay revisions and book proposals. “I need BIG chunks of the day. Six to eight hours, at least,” I said. “Okay,” he said.

Well, guess what didn’t happen. Did I let Bo know it? You bet your ass I did. Every night: “I needed to get that done.” “You’ve got to handle the kids more.” “Can’t you take them out? I need to get stuff done.” “Dammit that should have been done by now.” The days sped by, and what happened? A little bit of reading, barely any writing. And of course, if lack of time wasn’t enough, both computers had to up and die.

Enough pictures. The wind hurt my cheeks like matchbox cars wielded by angry sons. Where was I even going to put these? It could be a week before we have a computer running properly at home. Never mind writing, how the hell was I going to teach?

Fuck never mind. Who was I kidding? Even when Bo had off of work, I couldn’t accomplish shit because the boys hoisted everything at me. How in Heaven and Hell did I think I could make a writer’s life for myself when my family needs ME, and needs me NOW. I may as well have picked up the rails at my feet, slung them over my shoulder, and plopped them by the Rock River to make a fun little bridge, perfect for a child’s adventure into another…

Stop it. The Motherhood Line never veers from its goal. Any car that runs its rails better be Mother-related, or it gets left on a siding to rot.

~*~

The lousy day turned to a lousy night. My black mood put Blondie on edge. She hovered on some invisible border, watching for an in. “Mommy, can I do the dishes?”

“No.” I didn’t even look at her as I clanked a new pile into the sink. “They’re fragile.”

“But I wanna help.”

Clank. Rinse. “You can help by keeping your brothers out of my hair.” Clank. Rinse.

She slid back to her chair, face down.

Bo came over from laundry. “I can do that,” he said with a hand full of clothes.

“What are you–” I snatched what was in his hand. “These can’t go together. This is a delicate, and this needs to go in a bag first.” Back to the clanking, rinsing. Thoughts washed in gunk that stuck fast: He PROMISED to help and he fucking DIDN’T, HE failed me, it’s HIS fault, I could have done more if Bo would have fucking stepped the fuck UP

Everything grew so rank inside I couldn’t even read to Biff and Bash. Instead, I complained about what never got done, what has to get done tomorrow by some miracle of God, that I was stupid to think I could even do this writing shit in the first place–

Bo rushed the kids to bed, hardly closing Blondie’s door before hauling me into the living room, kicking the boys’ Thomas trains aside to make room for my ass. “Stop. That. NOW.”

I rolled my eyes at him. He didn’t get it, of course.

“For the love of GOD, dear…look. Just…why don’t you go somewhere tomorrow and work. Do your website,” he practically growled the words, “do your writing. Get out and do it.”

Huh? He had wanted his last day off to be for the two of us. Mom was taking all three kids for the day–no small offer, I promise you.

I could just see it: me in a silent place, new computer all set to go, hours for my work…but…”Don’t you want to go out tomorrow?”

“YES! Of course I want to go out with you! We haven’t gone on a date since what, July? But…fuck you’ll think me an asshole…but why should we bother?” He tossed a piece of train track into the bin, such a loud THWACK would surely wake the kids, if they’re not up anyway. “All you’re going to think about is what you didn’t get done. That’s all you’re on.” THWACK. “It’s like you can’t see how far you’ve come in one year. I mean, you got the blessing of Pete Townshend. You get to use songs by The FUCKING Who for your story.” THWACK THWACK. “You’ve got thousands of people on both sides of the planet”–THWACK–“reading your stuff but all you look at is what you should have done by now. Like nothing you do is ever good enough.” He wiped his eyes on his sleeves as he shoved the bin of train tracks aside. “I believe in you, Jean. But it’s fucking hard when you don’t even believe in yourself.”

My mind and lungs froze on the formation of those words from his lips: I believe in you.

Never had Bo said those words. When I started this all in 2015 he saw it as something to quiet my whines about not writing. Whenever my motherhood/teacherhood/depression threatened to quash it, he would go silent, blink it off, wait for the threat to solve itself, or for me to solve it.

But today, Bo believes in my writing. My writing, and of all crazy things: me.

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I had always thought this writer’s path, muddy, cold, and unknown, to be a lonely one. The further I’ve gone, the more I’ve met on this same path: others struggling against the elements of their lives to still press on and discover the treasured language we know is hidden up ahead.

That night, I found a hand I could hold, physically hold, on that path. I grabbed it then. It grabbed me back. And for a good long while we held ourselves together, glued by love, tears, and snot.

I’d given up long ago on finding support for my writing from within my family. I was faith-less, and without that faith, I was blind to the growing support Bo wanted to give me. He may never understand my stories, but faith isn’t built on logic, is it? It comes from Hope. Love. Joy. Sacrifice.

Jesus once said that if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

I’ll settle for rails.

And through the mist you’ll find hope

The first of October was meant to be The Day: the day which I met with The Monster, and talked to him face-to-face about the past, and how we needed to be in the present for the sake of a civil future.

He was sick.

Well, dammit.

Not that the meeting was the only item on the day’s agenda: an old friend from church was getting married that afternoon, so we had already arranged with my in-laws to watch our brood.

“What about Holy Hill?” Bo asked as he stroked my hair. I lay curled up against him, still choked up from crying (again). “You’ve talked about going there. For pictures, right?”

I nodded. Another booger streaked his shirt. Oops.

But it was true: I’ve always wanted to have a photo post dedicated to Holy Hill. As a child, I occasionally caught site of Holy Hill from the highway on our way to various relations. On a clear day you can see the steeples from dozens of miles away, vice versa for standing in its observation tower: my first time was in autumn, and all of Wisconsin’s countryside was firey bright, a patchwork of crops, city spires off among the clouds–

And October began tomorrow! We’d be able to see the color changes! I could feel my despair shift. No, the day would not be what I had wanted, but it would most certainly be a day worth having.

~*~

Rain.

We dressed the kids as they fought over banana bread (“NO, I HAVE THE MOST CHOCOLATE CHIPS!”) and drove to Milwaukee with minimal toy-throwing.

I hated the dimness of the day, the lack of definition to the expanse overhead. Hell, it wasn’t even dramatic, like The Nothing from The Neverending Story. It was just…there. Cold and misty and there.

Well, dammit.

We passed circus-size tents where Christian rock thrummed in celebration of the St. John Bosco Youth Festival (Catholics, you’ll have to help me on this one. Lutherans don’t get the saint-fest stuff.). This was supposed to be a quiet autumn day. Colors. Sun. Life. Not a desperate summer green shivering beneath the gathered mist-drops.

 

 

Why the HELL did we come today? I can’t even see past the hillside!

 

And yet. Yet there’s something rather cool about the crosses atop the spires being lost in the clouds. Of losing the world to the mist, and finding oneself in a place of faith. Of soul.

Bo and I eat in the monks’ dining area (yes, there are still monks there) and head for the main basilica…only to get befuddled by all the visitors, and wind up in a strange concrete atrium with a utility door fit for a moving truck. Through what looks like a chapel door, and we find ourselves in a sort of basement sanctuary. Small, bright windows, and a very pain-filled Christ. Where was everyone?

 

 

Aha! The scenic tower, where I could touch low-hanging heaven…

Nope. Closed due to fog. (And youth, I bet. They keep throwing things like apples for some reason. Rowdy Catholic teenagers.)

 

Well, dammit.

On the main terrace, I struggle to get what shots I could. Having but a meager camera phone, I couldn’t possibly capture the basilica in one shot, but I tried anyway.

 

 

Families abounded. I found…huh. I found I didn’t mind. A church should feel this kind of life, what with toddlers whining, fathers chiding, and old ladies kissing. Yes, there was goofery about, but a respect, too, even from the teens, when one reached that entrance.

We stepped through, only to find the main doors shut. Mass.

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“Do we wait?” I couldn’t bear to get this far only to be forced back into the mists.

Bo checked his watch, shrugged. “We’ve got time.”

So we watched the closing pageantry. Listened to the choir, so light, so in tune (we Lutherans are not known for our singing.). Watched an older lady stick her water bottle in the holy water to…um…save some for later? Should one be drinking that stuff, or was she preparing for a showdown with a vampire?

Mass over at last, we go in.

 

 

 

 

I can’t do this place justice, of course, nor its parishoners. Arguments of religion being the opiate of the masses have no sway in such a place, where crutches and braces are left by the miraculously healed, and light itself sings as it passes through the colored glass. Where saints and God mingle with the incense. I looked into the eyes of those here, and saw faith. When a priest can speak to the struggling, and ignite a hope another can sense even at a distance…that’s true faith.

 

~*~

A new church…well, for you. An old church for me.

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This was my father’s childhood church. Even his kindergarten teacher still attended in a wheelchair. Decades later, while Dad was serving in central Wisconsin, she wrote to him in delicate cursive, begging him to come and heal their church before it was too late. After a formal Call from the church’s council and weeks of deliberation, Dad felt Milwaukee’s north side, full of poverty and racial tension, was where God wanted him to be. He served here eight years, even officiated my marriage to Bo here, then moved where God called him, and called him…until He called him to his heavenly home.

I sat in a pew my father likely used as a child, and wanted to cry.

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Dad would never be in that pulpit, or any pulpit. Loss, so much fucking loss. I clutched Bo’s hand, desperate to sense a soul again.

Wedding music. Bridesmaids, flower girls throwing autumn leaves.

A pause in music. Now a delicate melody. My friend, radiant in lace and pearls. She’d gone through her own thorny trials with love. Today marked her triumph over all.

I cried, clapped. Pretty sure I whooped at one point. By God, did it feel good to cry for something other than pain.

~*~

These past several weeks have seen me struggling with boxes of old memories. The Monster’s presence inside those boxes had finally leaked through, and turned all they touched black-green with rot. I couldn’t experience anything in the present without that taint.

At last, I found something new: A box of memories The Monster couldn’t wreck. It took physically stepping into the past to open it, but once there, the painful anxiety of moving into that which I had feared dispersed like mist in the sun.

The world glistened for the first time in ever, and I found I could not stop smiling as I held those memories to my cheek and remembered their loving touch.

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Their hope.