Back in the Days of Dinosaurs (Not Really)…

The other day I was talking to my eight-year-old twins about growing up without Netflix, Amazon Prime, or even DVD players, or as they like to call it “the days of the dinosaurs.” They listened in amazement when I told them about adjusting rabbit ears on a television set and only being able to watch movies when they were broadcast. My twins, Cupcake and Chunk, sat with their mouths open as I discussed how the family would stop everything the week of Easter to watch the special, limited commercial interruption version of The Sound of Music. If you forgot “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” was on (complete with commercials for those delicious Dolly Madison donuts), you had to wait until next year. As a kid, I loved the anticipation of getting to see Julie Andrews spin around the Alps with her beautiful voice bursting out in song. As an adult, I love having technology at my fingertips. Whenever I feel like watching the fictional version of Maria von Trapp, I can simply pop the DVD into the player or even watch it on my computer screen. As a parent, though, it’s taken some adjustment to get used to this new phenomenon.

On the one hand, I love movies. I love sharing the movies I loved growing up with my kids. Some of them hold up rather well. Others not so much. When I was a kid, I cried for a week straight when I outgrew my Benji sneakers. Then I showed the movie to my oldest daughter and I nearly cried because the movie was nowhere near as good as I remember.

On the other hand, I miss the anticipation of waiting for something special to arrive. My mom would count down the days and that night, we’d pop popcorn, turn the lights down and pretend we were in a movie theater together. Without the wait and the special effort to make the living room more special than normal, something seemed to be missing.

Then I realized. Nothing was missing. Even though there’s no longer the anticipation of waiting for something, there’s something in making family movie night special. Old favorites can join new favorites. As a parent and adult, I can turn the lights down, I can pop popcorn, and I can make the evening special. The movie itself was only part of the experience. The people mattered. So I gathered my kids and we watched Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt’s version of Cheaper by the Dozen. Even Chunk, who insisted he’d get bored and leave ten minutes into the movie, stuck around until the ending credits.

The best part about the present, though? No commercial interruptions.


Family Saturday: But That Costs More Than My Undergraduate Degree

17637780-green-icon-growing-currencyThis isn’t a rant about the cost of living. Okay, maybe it’s partly a rant about the cost of living, but it goes deeper than that. One recent study says that it can cost anywhere between $150,000 and $450,000 to raise a child without factoring the price of college tuition. My WH and I have four kids. You can do the math. My point isn’t so much about how much it costs, but where does the money go? Some of what we spend is necessary. All four need food, clothes, and shelter. Some of what we spend isn’t necessary. Private preschool? Cell phones? Entertainment? So why do we spend money on these items.

Preschool. All four of my kids have attended private preschool. My WH did the math. It costs more to send our twins to private preschool than it cost for him to go through pharmacy school. Why do we do it? A little bit revolves around my new career. I’m a writer, and in the past week, my home state has been hit with a flurry of bad weather, bad enough to cancel school for my two oldest for four days and my youngest two for two days. On Wednesday, I attempted to work in the basement. Kath kept asking me if I wanted to play with Gandalf, our bunny who lives in our finished basement. MJ came down several times to escape the twins. Cupcake and Chunk came downstairs to play with the bunny and stayed downstairs to “help” me. Yep. Lots of warm fuzzies, not a lot of editing.

A little bit of why we send them to private preschool revolves around socializing. With five of us being introverts (sorry, Cupcake, you’re the lone extrovert), getting acclimated to being around other kids before preschool has been a good thing. Before Kath started her pre-K class in her private preschool, the dayschool director pulled me aside. She wanted to know if I wanted to keep Kath in this particular class because there was a child with Down’s Syndrome in the same class. My answer was swift and without hesitation. Yes, I wanted to keep Kath in this class. Beyond any doubt, I want all of my kids to love people and embrace life.

Cell phones. I’m pretty old fashioned. Kath, our teenager, has a cell phone. MJ, our tween, does not. Wherever MJ goes, there should be an adult and that adult will either have a cell phone or access to a landline. There may be some people shaking their heads at my line of reasoning, but as of now, MJ doesn’t need a cell phone. Kath does not have a smartphone. She has a perfectly good, serviceable cell phone. And with it come stipulations. If we go out to dinner, she eats with us and doesn’t text or talk on her phone. If we go to her grandparents’ house, she talks to them rather than her friends on the phone. At Disney World, I gave her some time to use her phone, but most of the time, she couldn’t. It was a family vacation, and she’s family. We do know, however, that she has an active life and a cell phone is a necessity. There are often times she has to text me saying practice is done early or an event is going to be on time or not. For her safety and my peace of mind, the cell phone has become a line item in our budget with the understanding that there are times she can use it but there are times, like the dinner table, that the cell phone is not welcome.

Entertainment. Being a family of six means that we don’t go out to movie theaters a lot. But that’s not an excuse for not doing family activities together. When I arrived home last night, the five of them were playing Settlers of Catan. They are already talking about playing the Seafarers expansion pack tonight. We try to have movie nights. Bringing Up Baby was a mixed success. Cupcake had the line of the night: “When are they going to switch to color?” So every so often we splurge a little. Last year, we all went miniature golfing on vacation. Chunk so wants to go golfing again. He wouldn’t mind if we went bowling either. The twins are getting older and once again, some entertainment options, like bowling and miniature golfing, are becoming viable. Splurging? Yes. Memories? Priceless.

That’s not to say I don’t try to look out for free entertainment options. Cupcake and Chunk already prefer one local library branch to the one closest to us. Books and DVDs are available for free rentals. Free, of course, being one of my favorite words. A world of music, fictional venues, and movies is at our disposal whenever we go to the library. We go often.

Today would have been my grandmother’s eighty-sixth birthday. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Gram. From the name everyone knew her by-Jinx-to her generosity, she was one of a kind, and I’m not just fortunate to have had her as a grandmother, I’m also fortunate to have known her. I’m getting tears in my eyes just thinking about her. When I think about raising her great-grandchildren, I realize there are times I think about what things cost and then I let it go. Gram was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. The memories I have of her are priceless. So sometimes I do need to drop everything and take all of them to the zoo. When Kath called me from Boston, I was thankful for her cell phone. And on Monday, when all four of them are in school, I’ll be editing my latest book, remembering how proud Gram was of me and my cousin and how much she loved her family. So yes, it costs a lot to raise children. But now, I’m going to wrap this up and go home early and give them a hug for Gram.

I always end by trying to think of some interactive question for those who take the time to read my blog (and a huge thank you to those who read this very long blog). What’s been the biggest splurge in your life lately? Let me know.

Family Friday: Hello, January; Goodbye, Christmas Carols

14881390-old-turntable-with-vinyl-record-having-blank-label            I grew up with music all around me. My official job when I was seven years old was the record flipper. Whenever the record finished with Side A, my job was to flip it over to Side B and be careful with the needle not to scratch the record. My parents loved music. My mom loved what would be termed as pop or light adult contemporary. When it was her turn to choose the record, it would be Roberta Flack or Barbra Streisand or the Beatles. My dad liked rock and roll. When it was his turn to choose, the songs would be from The Eagles, The Rolling Stones or Cream. The first song I ever sang was Moonshadow by Cat Stevens. I remember vividly one Christmas when I was about seven asking for the 45s of We Don’t Need No Education and The Rose. My parents gave me full albums Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Bette Midler’s The Rose. At an early age, I was exposed to a lot of different rock songs and ballads and knew the words to quite a few songs other than Christmas carols. I always thought that if I had kids, I’d play a lot of music for them. But even though I have iPod playlists, the Pandora app, and tons of CDs, I haven’t surrounded them with as much music as there was in the house when I grew up. Today Cupcake started to sing Jingle Bells and asked me if she was singing it correctly. I told her that now it is January, maybe we should sing some other songs. She looked up at me with her big blue eyes and asked me to teach her a song. While she knows the childhood standards of Twinkle, Twinkle and Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, I wanted something a little more advanced for her age. Goodbye, Christmas Carols. But what song should I teach her?

Songs started flooding my mind. I listen to a lot of alternative music. From classic alternative bands like REM and U2 to the modern sounds of Mumford and Sons, this is usually the type of music I turn on first. I took a deep breath and started going through my catalog of songs. Sunday, Bloody Sunday, while a great song that I love, might not be the best song to teach a five-year-old. I dismissed that one. Little Lion Man, a newer song that I also love, might not be the right fit. Images of my getting a phone call from the preschool director when Cupcake sang the song to her teachers floated through my head. I dismissed that one. It’s The End of the World As We Know It? The Freshman? Time to think outside the alternative genre.

I started to think about songs from the record player. The Beatles’ Yesterday. I know the lyrics to that one. A little sad for my Cupcake who is a sprite at heart. So I traveled a little further back in the annals of music. I smiled and remembered the times my Gram would pull out copies of sheet music to sing to my first cousin and myself. She would sing Swingin’ on a Star and Oh, Yes, We Have No Bananas. I sang the refrain of Swingin’ on a Star to Cupcake followed by Accentuate the Positive. Then I told her about the Bananas song. She didn’t quite understand the title and told me we don’t have any bananas because she and Chunk ate the remaining two last night. We headed over to the laptop and I found the lyrics and sang them to her.

After that, I turned on the Bing Crosby radio station on Pandora and she listened to San Fernando Valley and proclaimed it just “all right.” When Pandora switched to Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon, Chunk asked if he could play a game on my iPad which made me remember why I don’t play Pandora for them more often (inevitably, one child always asks to play a game on my iPad if I turn on music). Then Cupcake asked if I would teach her more songs this afternoon.

While I was getting them ready for their dentist’s appointment, I started thinking of more songs to sing. Of course, Disney songs came to mind this time, but I think I’ll try to think of more standards. I wonder what Cupcake will think of Blueberry Hill and What a Wonderful World (IMHO, one of the few songs ever written which gets the rating of perfect). It’s time to start playing more music in our house. There are too many wonderful songs waiting out there to be heard and sung.

When no one’s around and you sing to yourself, what songs are your favorite and most likely to come out of your mouth? If you have children, what songs have you taught them?

Writing Monday: Where do you write?

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Where do you write?

Romance writers often fall into one of three categories: plotters, pantsers, and plotsers. Plotters plan out the road map of their novel before they write with tools such as an outline, Scrivener, syllabi, index cards, etc. Pantsers usually fly by the seat of their pants but usually start a book with a firm grasp of the characters and the inciting incident. Plotsers are a combination of the two. They may start off with an outline and veer off course or they may start off without a clear outline but sometime in the course of the novel, they outline the rest of the scenes. Although there are labels by the method of writing authors utilize, there aren’t clear labels about where an author writes. Some writers I know get up early every morning, head for a specific area in the house, and write. No matter where the office is located in her home (bedroom, closet, actual office space), she is consistent in her morning routine. Same goes for writers who stay up late at night. These writers have a consistent routine and a dedicated space for writing. I wish I had that determination to wake up early or stay up late, but unfortunately, I do my best work after I’ve consumed some caffeine in the morning and I don’t do my best work after I’ve yawned more than three times at night. Although there’s not a label for writers like me, I’m the type of writer who tries to carve out a portion of time each day and during that time, I write.

I tried to work at home. I really did. There are a lot of writers whose children grasp the concept that once Mommy or Daddy dons her or his writing hat, she or he is not to be disturbed unless there’s blood or a broken bone. Yeah. I admire those writers. My kids haven’t grasped that concept yet.

So my wonderful hubby and I have adopted a split plan. When he’s off, I go somewhere and write. If (or like the wonderful president of my local romance writing chapter likes to remind us all, when) I’m ever published, my acknowledgement page would read like a list of local restaurants. Thanks to my local Panera Bread, Starbucks, Moe’s, Corner Bakery Café, and so on. The fast casual and coffeehouses tend to let you work longer, have access to free refills, and work without interruption, and I take advantage of their generosity (unless it’s crowded and then I move on). I also feel like I should be on a first name basis with the librarians at four different branches. I’ve worked in libraries, restaurants, and parks all over my metro area.

But now I’ve, unfortunately, had to add a new location. Doctor’s offices. It’s a little too choppy for me to write in a doctor’s waiting room, but they are great places to get some ancillary work done. I’ve written critiques in a waiting room. I also like to use the time to catch up on my craft reading, whether the latest craft book I’m reading or RWA’s monthly magazine. I’m going to try writing my weekly blog there as well. I was proud of myself for editing in MJ’s podiatrist’s waiting room this past week.

All four of my children will be going to school full time this fall. For the first time since I’ve started seriously pursuing writing as my career, all four of them will attend local schools. I won’t have to drive ten miles one way to take two of them to school. Two of them won’t only go for four hours a day. And once again, I’ll have to readjust where and how I write.

But until that happens, I’ll continue to write everywhere I have a chance to write. And even though I don’t write at the same time every day, I’m writing. I’m the one with the laptop writing in a parking lot, a restaurant booth, a park bench, a library table, and so on. So as far as where I write, I’m more the equivalent of whatever a pantser in that I pick up my laptop and go find a spot to write.

What about you? Where’s your favorite place to write? Let me know.

Family Friday: Eleven Hugs and Kisses

Eleven hugs and kisses. Whenever I leave my home to go somewhere else to write, my youngest son, Chunk, asks for eleven kisses and eleven hugs. His four year old self stands there while I bend down and deliver a kiss and a hug, a kiss and a hug, and so on until I reach the number of eleven. He makes me count out loud in case you think that I might be able to get away with only five or even ten. As soon as I reach eleven, he runs off, secure in the knowledge I will come home and give him more hugs and kisses.

My family is a little unusual in that I have a wide age gap between each child. Kath turned 16 this week, MJ is 10, and Cupcake and Chunk are twin 4 year olds. When Kath and MJ were younger, I stayed at home with them and enjoyed it. I volunteered at school, went on field trips and picked them up from school. Now I am attempting to launch a writing career. On days when my wonderful hubby is off from work, I head to a library or a restaurant or anywhere I can go to try to write without kids coming into my room with a little office in the corner and asking questions. Life is different now. Cupcake and Chunk are growing up with a mom who writes. As a result, they make sure I kiss them and hug them before I go write. It’s a new experience: going off to work and leaving them at home (with my wonderful hubby who is also a wonderful father).

Of course all of this makes me think about how each of my children is different in terms of affection. Kath, my oldest, dictates the terms of affection. She gives out lots of hugs and kisses but on her own terms in her own time. MJ, the middle child, loves to cuddle. For a long time, he was the baby of the family and we had lots of time to cuddle and read books together. Now he scoots into a cuddle, having figured out that sometimes he just has to assert himself and dive right into a hug. Cupcake, the older twin, likes to cuddle in the morning and asks for Cupcake Cuddles. Chunk, the younger twin, spreads out affection through the whole day and puts his whole body into a hug.

I don’t mind giving Chunk the eleven hugs and kisses because being the mom of a teenager, I know how quickly the years pass and that soon enough, he won’t be asking for the eleven hugs and kisses anymore, but for now, I like knowing that we are starting a little ritual. I’ll let you in on a little secret: those eleven hugs and kisses help me get through my workday a little faster and a whole lot sweeter.

Do your kids have any goodbye rituals before you leave for work?

Family Friday: Movie Theater Candy

ImageMy wonderful hubby and I don’t go to the movies very often anymore. When we started dating in college, we went to the movies all the time. We were both members of a cinematic group at our college and if we helped with the showings, we received free admission. Pre-marriage, you could find us at the college theater most nights of the week. We feasted on classic movies and newer ones. Pre-kids and post-college, we still went to the movies although not as often now that we had to pay theater prices. I remember being eight and three-quarters’ months pregnant with Kath and going to see As Good As It Gets with my wonderful hubby. Amazingly, I didn’t have to leave to go to the bathroom once during the movie.

Now that we have four kids and I’m a write-at-home mom who hasn’t been published yet, we don’t go to the movies as often. The last four movies we’ve seen together as a couple are Harry Potter 7A, Harry Potter 7B, Skyfall and last week, we went to see a retro classic showing of Holiday Inn at a downtown movie theater (that was simply dripping with personality-wonderful scarlet and gold draping in the screening room, a huge sitting room outside the bathroom with a little Christmas tree and big, comfy chairs). While we were buying our tickets, I looked down at the display case holding the candy. I realized that each of my four kids are like different brands of candy.

Kath is a little like SweetTarts. She’s sweet and tart at the same time; you might have figured out from the As Good As It Gets reference that she’s a teenager. One minute, she can be waxing eloquently about her bunny or something else that she loves. The next she can deliver a zinger and you wonder when she changed from the dancing figure on the fireplace mantel to the slightly sarcastic teen that she is. Nevertheless, she throws her whole heart into certain endeavors that she still reminds me of SweetTarts.

MJ is probably most like Raisinets. He’s a preteen boy (do I need to say more, but I will write more). On the outside, he wants to be slightly tougher now that he’s growing up. On the inside, there’s a gushy layer that still wants to stay little for a little while longer. He still likes his stuffed animals but wouldn’t admit that to his classmates. Another way that he’s like multi-layered candy is that he doesn’t like showers and he has a multiple layer of dirt attached to his ears that comes off when I pester him so much that he finally takes a shower. MJ does have a sweet side that made sure that he took his own money to school to buy his siblings presents for Christmas. There’s hope for him yet.

Cupcake (who is the 4 year old twin of Chunk) is like Sno-Caps. She’s sweet when she wants to be. In the morning, she wants Cupcake Cuddles until she is hungry and then she wants her breakfast that exact moment. She does have those little extra surprises that stay with you for a little while after you finish your first bite of candy. Cupcake is the more physically adept twin, but sometimes she’ll make little comments that make you realize she’s listening to every word you say. She also remembers a lot of little things. If I start a word game or a number game to help get through the morning traffic on their way to preschool, she’ll ask me to play it with her for the next two or three months until something else catches her fancy.

Chunk is like a Hershey’s chocolate bar. At four, he’s usually the most straightforward of the four kids. He loves food; he was so happy when Santa brought him a watermelon. He likes to cuddle, especially when he’s sleepy. Usually what you see is what you get, especially like a chocolate bar. It’s not the fanciest type of chocolate, but it’s dependable and you know what you are getting. Yes, he’ll get frustrated when he doesn’t get something Cupcake has, but he’s still relatively distracted if you try to get his mind focused on something else.

As a mom of twins (and singletons), I was asked (when they were babies) how do I tell them apart? I’m not lying. People would ask me how I tell Cupcake and Chunk apart. Although my mind wanted to say that I just take off their diaper, I usually politely reminded that person that one is a girl and one is a boy. The important thing with my family is that each member is unique and brings something different to the table. Just like there are so many varieties of candy in a movie theater display case, our family has unique voices that each strain to make themselves heard.  As a mom, I just have to remember they are each different and I hope I make each of them feel unique and special.

What about your family? Do any of your kids remind you of different types of candy even though they aren’t necessarily sweet all the time? Let me know.