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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

grandpa update

Thank you all for your warm wishes for my grandpa (and me). I went over to see him yesterday afternoon, and if you can believe it, he HAD bounced back, just as I had hoped he would. He was sitting in his recliner, talking a mile a minute. Seriously, he covered the food he'd consumed; described the shirt that my mom wouldn't let him cut open (I'm not sure why he wanted to do this); golf (his own tournaments and some famous victories by some famous golfers--I admit that I don't absorb all of the details even when he tries to glare them into me); his gratitude for my mom and step-dad, who have been caring for him around the clock; and his hopes for getting better. "I hope I'm not being too optimistic," he said, "but I feel pretty good, and I'm planning on feeling even better by the time it warms up."

"That's right," I said. "Dammit."

He smiled and gave me a nod and an almost-wink. "Dammit is right." 

And I left my mom's house shaking my head, not believing his recovery.

But then. But then. We got a call from my step-dad at about 8:30 p.m. Grandpa had passed out and had been taken to the ER. My sister came and picked me up. (I left a wailing Zoë at the door. Later D told me that she hid behind the bathroom door and wept. When he finally coaxed her out, she asked, "Did momma go to the hospital to die?" I nearly wept when I heard that. Poor little button.)

My sister and I didn't know what to expect at the hospital. Had Spencer died? Was all that talking him just trying to get it all out? Those last words?

Well, he was lucid and alive, and actually seemed fine--tired, but fine. So we rotated in and out of his room (only two visitors at a time), and witnessed some of the terrifying sights of an ER: a gunshot wound, blood, lockdown. Finally, my mom mouthed through the glass door (she couldn't get out and we couldn't get in because of the lockdown) that Grandpa would be moving to a room, and that we should go. 

My sister and I finally left, and we were both exhausted, but I slept badly--my dreams those near reality dreams that fill me with anxiety and wake me every ten minutes. 

I don't know what will happen in the days to come. I'll try to spend as much time with him as possible, but I also need to write and teach. Somehow I'll fit it all in. I will, won't I?

Monday, April 25, 2011


I’m sorry I’ve been quiet the last week. (And I’m sorry I was late on drawing names for the autographed copy of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas. I just had one of my fine coffee shop friends pull a name from a bowl, and it’s Cath C! Cath, send me your address, and I’ll get the book in the mail. Thanks to all of you who commented!)

Part of the reason I’ve been quiet is that I’ve been writing. June 1st is just around the corner, and I have a ton of work to do on Use Your Words to have it ready for my editor by then.

But the other thing I’ve been doing is sitting next to my grandpa, watching and waiting. Last week he took a turn—his heart was racing and he felt dizzy. On Monday, he realized he was going to fall before he fell, so he lowered himself to the floor and luckily didn’t break anything. But it took something out of him and he has been in bed ever since, sleeping most of the time, not eating much. And he may have had a mini-stroke on Thursday morning. As I sat next to him that afternoon, watching him sleep, I couldn’t help thinking how small he seemed, wrapped in the cocoon of this blankets, his body undergoing a metamorphosis that I wasn’t fully ready to accept.

I realize that he’s 102. He’s had an amazing life. But still, I’ve been hoping he’ll bounce back (as much as a 102 year-old bounces anywhere). I’ve been in that weird place, so excited about the book, about spring—feeling generally hopeful—and then I sit next to him, and watch him, and hold the straw to his lips, and it’s as if I cannot let the possibility of his death into my consciousness.

Yesterday after egg hunts and before dinner with the in-laws, D and I went to visit him. Grandpa was awake and seemed a little confused, but he was definitely better than he had been a day or so before. He asked whether we thought he had more color than he had earlier in the week. We said yes. Then he asked me to get the mirror from the bathroom, and I held it up for him. He turned his head slightly from left to right and left to right. I’m not sure what he was looking for, what he recognized in the image staring back. I’m not sure if he thought he’d look better or worse than he actually did. Finally I said, “You look pretty good, Grandpa.”

When I put the mirror down, he said in his no-nonsense way, “Sometimes a little bullshit goes a long way.” Ha!

So maybe he IS bouncing back, maybe he’ll be around a little longer. I don’t know. In the meantime, I’ll write and teach and sit beside him as much as I can, and I’ll let some of my hopefulness spill into his room. I’ll spin as much bullshit as necessary, and maybe it will make a difference.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

a note about the Vanda and patience

My favorite plant is the Vanda Rothschildiana. It hangs in the window of our dining room, its long stem twisting around itself, as if it’s reaching for the sun. When it blooms, its huge buds open to reveal lavender petals the size of a child’s hand.

I inherited this plant from Mimi, with whom D and I lived for three and a half years just after we were married. (In exchange for rent, D and I took Mimi for errands and did chores around her house.) My favorite task was watering and caring for Mimi’s extensive orchid collection. Mimi loved her orchids and I, in turn, loved Mimi. So when she died, I asked her granddaughter if I could choose one of the orchids. I chose one of Mimi’s favorites—the Vanda.
But the Vanda didn’t bloom and it didn’t bloom. I assumed our house wasn’t humid enough, and I’d resigned myself to waiting until—someday, maybe—we would have a small greenhouse of our own in which to house it. But then two years ago (three years after inheriting it), I was watering it and wiping down its petals in the kitchen sink when I noticed a long bud peeking from beneath its leaves. I squealed and called D at work, my eyes full of tears. I could imagine Mimi’s excitement, and it was almost as if she was there in the room with me. But that’s not the only reason I started to cry. It was as if the Vanda blooming (finally, after I had almost given up hope) was a sign: we just need to be patient; our hard work will eventually pay off.

I always tell my students that as writers they need to be patient and persistent. Don’t stop after their first rejection (or tenth or twentieth or one hundredth). If they feel they must write, they must not stop. But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to stay perpetually optimistic. To wait and wait and wait, to keep going when it feels you have been going and going and working and working. It wears you down.

The last six months the Vanda has been struggling. Many of its leaves have fallen off; the remaining ones seem dry, wilty. I was worried that I would have to let it go. But I wasn’t ready to give up on it, so I called for advice. I repotted it (twice). Finally, I removed all the bark in the pot, cut away more of the dead roots, and I left it suspended in the clay pot, white roots hanging down like a bleached skeleton. Now I spray it with warm water every morning. I douse it in the sink once a week. And in the last weeks, new roots have begun to sprout along the spines of old roots and it is no longer losing leaves.

Again, the Vanda seems to be trying to tell me something. The truth is that I have been worn down this last year. I have contemplated giving up—or seriously scaling back on—my loves (teaching and writing and editing) because I’ve been tired—stretched—and I thought that not only would it be more lucrative to get an office job, it also might be satisfying to go to an office, to do set tasks, to be paid for these tasks.

But I wasn’t ready to stop. I wasn’t ready to turn my back. And so I continued doing what I do: writing and teaching and editing and waiting—waiting for new life.

I got it.

Last week, I signed the contract for my first book. (I can’t believe I just wrote those words!) Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, the book based on my Mother Words class, will be published by Viva Editions Spring 2012. (Again, I can't believe I just wrote those words!)

Thank you to all of you for reading when I’m discouraged, for writing words that inspire me, for not giving up on your own dreams. This is for you, too. Thank you. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

hot (sweaty) mamas giveaway

I had a wonderful time at the book launch for Hot (Sweaty) Mamas on Saturday night. What could be better than helping friends (and a former student!) celebrate publication? But the next day I started coming down with strep throat, and between that and all my teaching and editing, I haven't been able to post about the fact I actually have a copy of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas to give away. I received an additional copy from Andrews McMeel last week, so now I can share with one of you, my wonderful writerly motherly runnerly readers (and of course you need not be all three). 

So, please leave a comment below by Monday, April 18, and I'll randomly pick a winner. In your comment, I'm interested on how you balance health and motherhood or health and life. Have you found something that works to get your "me" time?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

hot (sweaty) mamas!

I never set out to be a runner. Sure, I ran cross country in high school, but most of the time I hated it. I tried to trip myself during races when the exhaustion became unbearable, and my friends and I often took short cuts on long practice runs. We hid in the bushes or ran to Burger King for French fries while the rest of our team trudged through six miles. (How we got away with this, I have no idea.) In those years, I didn’t consider myself a runner, and when I stopped running after high school, I didn’t miss it.

Fifteen years later, when Stella turned one and I still hadn’t lost my pregnancy weight, I started running again. I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It felt like work—hard work. But when a friend encouraged me to try a half-marathon, and I began running serious distances, a surprising thing happened: the more I ran, the more I liked to run.

I lost a little weight and was able to wear clothes I hadn’t fit into for years, which was nice, but running also made me feel more grounded and less frazzled. There was something in the rhythm of my gait that loosened my mind and allowed me to forgive the Tinker Toys and Little People scattered around our living room. I breathed deeply, and by the time I got home, I felt revived, which gave me the energy and inclination to help guide Stella’s little hands as she assembled her farm puzzle for the gazillionth time in a row. I smiled and cheered for her when she found the right home for the cow and the barn and the tractor and the chicken.

Motherhood made me a runner. And running made me a better mother.

Fast forward a few years: I have run the Twin Cities 10 mile and Grandma’s ½ Marathon. I could spend hours looping the bridges along the river roads in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I love running now more than ever and still consider myself a runner even though injuries have kept me from running most of the last year.

And this still holds true: running makes me a better mother and motherhood makes me a better runner.

One of the things I love most about being a runner is that it helped me become the kind of role model I want to be for my daughters. When they see me take the time to lace up my running shoes and head out the door, I am not only making exercise a priority in my life, I’m helping them see it as a priority in their lives, as well.

But being fit and staying fit when you are juggling work and kids and volunteering and family obligations isn’t easy. (And now that I can’t run, it’s even harder to find time to get to the gym or to find the space and quiet I need at home to do a pilates video.)

That’s why I’m so excited about Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom by Kara Douglass Thom and Laurie Lethert Kocanda. This is not a get-thin book, not an over-the-top fitness book. Hot (Sweaty) Mamas will help any busy mom figure out how fitness can fit into her life and into her family’s life. From prioritizing fitness, helping moms to take much needed “me” time, to how to develop a support network for your fitness goals, Thom and Kocanda take a no-nonsense approach to fitness and family. They are funny, engaging and practical without being preachy or patronizing. For any mother who is fit or wants to be, this book is a must-read.

Come celebrate fitness and motherhood and the publication of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas on Saturday, April 9th at the Herb Box, inside Eden Prairie Life Time Athletic from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s free and open to the public. Come have some refreshments, buy a book, and hang out with other hot sweaty mamas. (And bring your kids, too!)

Where: 755 Prairie Center Drive, Eden Prairie, MN 
When:  4 -7 p.m., Saturday, April 9

And to learn more about Hot (Sweaty) Mamas, visit their website!

Friday, April 1, 2011

what's in a moment?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the moments that I don’t want to forget—moments with my children and other family members, especially my grandpa, who defies the odds at 102, but who won’t be able to forever. (He would give a disgusted grunt at my lack of faith, I know.)

Working from home is tricky—I have more work than work hours—which means that I’m often at my computer even when my children are home. I don’t “clock out” ever. I wake in the night thinking of writing or editing or teaching; yesterday I ended up getting up at 4 a.m. because I had an idea and I didn’t want to forget it. (I know; I could have written it down and gone back to sleep. Instead I got up and logged in.)

I know I’m missing precious moments with my family because I lack strict work/home boundaries. I also know that years from now I will wish I had spent less time at my computer.

Over the last weeks and months, I’ve been reading my students’ wonderful writing about moments with their children, and their scenes, full of rich detail and nuance, make me understand just how much I’ve forgotten, just how little I sometimes pay attention.

Zoë has fully embraced being three—she is defiant and stubborn, changes her clothes twelve times a day, says “I HATE you!” when she’s scolded. She wants to do everything herself, insists that Stella’s size 6 and 7 dresses fit her because, “I’m growing up!”

She is absolutely, unequivocally, three. And most of the time I love this fact. Because she’s also a snuggler. She gives tight, almost painful hugs. She says, “I love you!” and “You’re the best mommy in the world!” She lines up her babies and stuffed dogs and protects them from the “bad guys.”

Yesterday after we had visited my grandpa (our Thursday ritual), she was beside herself, screaming and crying, trying to wrestle free of her car seat restraints because she was “uncomptable!” (And I’m sure she was uncomfortable; she was wearing Stella’s fancy Christmas dress—black velvet on top, stiff white skirt with sparkles on the bottom—and it was all bunched up around her waist.) She wailed as we drove down the River Road. I knew she needed a nap, so I told her we’d go see if we could find some geese, which congregate on the flat plains along the Mississippi River, across from the University of Minnesota. She didn’t care, she said. She saw them yesterday, she said.

But by the time we had reached their gathering area, she was craning her neck, trying to catch sight of them. We found three. They were napping—“in the mud!” she exclaimed, thrilled that any creature would sleep in a muddy field. And the uncomfortable dress was forgotten. By the time we reached our house, she was sound asleep.

Often I read in the car while she sleeps because she doesn’t transfer well, but I had a desire to hold her sleeping body. D has been home on break this week, so he carried her in and passed her into my arms, and I held her there, like a huge baby, her legs draped across my body, her white patent leather “tap shoes” still on. And I stared down are her closed eyes, her chubby cheeks, her parted lips.

“Remember how many hours we spent with her like this?” I asked.

D nodded.

And I just sat there, feeling the weight of her in my lap. I leaned down and kissed her forehead, brushed an eyelash from her cheek. I took her in, my arm quickly growing tired.

I’m not sure if I “captured” that moment. Is that ever really possible? But I’ve written it down, and years from now—when she is a sassy tween—I can scroll through this blog and remember holding her, remember how heavy her thirty pounds felt in my arms that one day when she was three and I didn’t read or turn to my computer—when instead I just held my daughter.

What are the moments with your children that you don’t want to forget?