Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nanohoho Report

Day 15 of Nanohoho. Word count to date: 16,660. Discovered along the way: a working title, several promising throughlines, characters who continue chatting with me after I've made my daily quota.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NanoHoHo Anyone?

I gained so much momentum during Nanowrimo last month that I'm embarking on another writing push this month. In deference to the holidays, my goal is more modest (and realistic): 25,000 words. I'm calling it NanoHoHo.

Word count after this morning's butt in chair time: 1,446.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giving Thanks

1. For the fact that we celebrated our extended family Thanksgiving the Saturday before the actual holiday; otherwise, E's most recent illness would have cancelled yet another celebration/holiday/activity/fill in the blank.

2. For the power of antibiotics.

3. For the fact that E felt strong enough to venture out of the house on Saturday for an afternoon showing of Tangled.

4. For Nanowrimo which gave me a gold ring to strive for and capture!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNoWriMo Interrupted

E's temp worsened. So did her cough. Instead of finishing up Nanowrimo yesterday, E and I spent the majority of the day in the doctor's office, doing tests at the nearest hospital, juggling barf buckets while driving, following up with various physicians, and visiting the pharmacy. Operating on three interrupted hours of sleep max. Spent a good part of the night with the baby monitor plastered to my head, straining to hear E breathe after giving her the first dose of a heavy-duty cough med labeled with all kinds of warnings. Fortunately, the med kicked in blessedly fast. Unfortunately, it did nothing to silence my writer's brain which, in hyper drive by then, conjured up countless scenarios of how things could go wrong. Need sleep.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nanowrimo, Thanksgiving and More

Seriously? Based on the current count on my Nanowrimo novel, I'll be finished with my requisite 50,000 words by Wednesday! I honestly didn't expect to get this far. Blessing the Powers that Be, pinching myself, and praying that E's temp doesn't go any higher, which would mean a break in the momentum. But even if I have to take some time off, things might work out. Technically, the contest goes until the 30th.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo Report

Did I mention I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year? The last few months have been so crazed that I didn't intend to do it. I mean seriously. Why add more stress to my life when between illnesses, school IEP "adventures", and attempting to navigate the very broken adult disability services system in Illinois, I have more than enough to go around?

But then as November 1st drew near, some fellow critique group members (you know who you are) encouraged me to go for it. In a moment of weakness, I jumped into the deep end, thinking that even if all I managed to write by the end of the month was a couple of thousand words I'd be content.

To win Nanowrimo, a participant must write 50,000 words (the equivalent of a novel) by November 30th. Today, I passed the 30,000 word mark! As much as I dread dragging myself out of bed at o-dark thirty every morning to meet my quota, it feels SO good to have made it this far.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Checking In

The school year started out so well. E was finally plugged into a promising program, one with a talented team committed to helping her reach her goal of going out into the community to tell her story and talk about service dogs.

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks into the school year, something caught E and she ended up with the horrid cold everyone else on the planet got. It wasn't so bad at first. Her spirits were high and her fever was manageable. But then the stupid cold morphed. Suddenly, the sinuses took center stage. Then a virus came to roost, and then bronchitis and another sinus thing.

If you've been wondering why this journal has stayed silent for so long this is why.

Days of illness turned into weeks. I tried keeping up because after all, I'm the point person on the homefront. It's my job to keep up, right? I wrote, revised, advocated, juggled, planned, prepped, coordinated, you name it. Until lack of sleep and the stress of the on-going illnesses made it impossible to do anything well at all.

Out of necessity, I cut my to-do list down to the most critical tasks. At the top of the list: getting E well enough to go back to school.

It's probably no surprise to anyone on the outside that my writing suffered during this couple-months-long-and-then-some period. Days went by without a chance to write. Other days I sat down at my keyboard, but my characters refused to play. Or I was interrupted by thoughts of all the things I should be doing instead of writing. Laundry. Dishes. Meals. Bills. You name it.

Then doubt came to roost, courtesy of the mugwump, the matted, hate-filled monster that serves as my inner critic. In recent months I had managed to cage and muzzle it. But it found a way out, and on my rare writing days, it perched in the corner of the office, whispered in my ear, eroded my confidence even further.

One day in particular, the mugwump nearly got the best of me. Rather than perch atop one of the bookcases, it alighted on my shoulder.

Seriously? it said. You're still working on that book? I hate to break it to you. It doesn't have a chance. But you know that already, don't you? You know how I know this fact? Your fear. It permeates the room like a sweet perfume.

By now my fingers had stopped typing. My characters had fled and my train of thought derailed.

The mugwump purred as it rubbed its quills against my cheek. You've been at this how many years? Through how many revisions? Why do you persist in torturing yourself? Think how much easier your life would be if you didn't have this book hanging arond your neck like a noose. Give it up. Do it now. No one would fault you if you stopped. Give. It. Up.

The truth is it almost had me that day. E is no stranger to illnesses, or hospitalizations for that matter. But this latest round of illnesses was different. I can't tell you why, but this time around I came closer than I've ever had to giving up on my writing.

I saw the line. I nearly crossed it. I was convinced that doing so would make life so much easier.

I didn't cross it. For reasons I bless, but don't yet understand, I couldn't do it.

There was no epic battle between good and evil. There was no divine intervention. To this day, I can't explain why I didn't do it.

E returned to school a couple weeks after that. She eased her way into her day, a few hours at a time. I eased my way back into a routine. I reaquainted myself with my characters. I determined their story was still worth telling. Along the way, the mugwump lost its voice and toddled back to its cage, its barbed tail between its legs, suffering me to lock it back in.

So here I am. Back in the saddle. It feels good to be typing again.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Reading & Writing by Candlelight: Interview & Book Giveaway with Author Becky Levine!

Wondering if you're in the right critigue group? Don't miss this excellent interview with Becky Levine, the author of The Writing & Critigue Group Survival Guide. Reading & Writing by Candlelight: Interview & Book Giveaway with Author Becky Levine!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Free Online Kidlit Conference August 10

Say what? A free online kidlit conference? It's true. Check out this link to WriteOnCon for more info. The schedule is impressive. So is the list of agents and editors who will be in attendance. Better yet you can attend from the comfort of your own home in your pjs.

Butt in Chair--How I Fight for It and Win

I didn't realize how good I had it when pursuing my Vermont College MFA. Back then, there was no need to fight for my butt in chair time. I wrote for hours at a time, often immersing myself so far into my story that I learned to set the alarm so I didn't forget to pick up my girls from school.

These days, I consider it a good day if I write two pages. Yep, you read it right. I do a happy dance after writing two pages. I learned the practice from my third semester VC advisor Jane Resh Thomas.

The day Jane recommended the concept, I remember thinking, "Two pages? That's all?" Now that VC is behind me, and life's "little" interruptions have crept into my writing time, I understand the wisdom of the practice.

1. Two pages a day is realistic and achievable. I can imagine sitting my butt in chair long enough to make it happen. I can envision getting up early enough in the morning to do it, or carving out writing time while waiting for E to finish her therapy. Expect a higher page count and the idea would overwhelm, making it much more difficult to find enough uninterrupted time to meet my quota.

2. Two pages is just far enough into my story to keep my characters close to the surface so that when I sit butt in chair for the day, they're ready to work and play. Stay away too long, and they're less cooperative and often crabby. Another incentive to write each day.

2. Two pages a day isn't gridlock. Or giving up. It's forward progress. And it's measurable. Think about it. Two pages times 30 days is 60 some pages in a month. Sixty pages times six months is a children's novel! My life is filled with things I can't control. My two pages a day quota is one area I can affect. Seeing forward progress is a huge incentive to schedule butt in chair time daily.

3. Two pages a day feeds my muse and muzzles the mugwump, making me a happier and more effective mom, wife, advocate, health care manager, cook, chauffeur, etc.

4. Two pages is the target, but it's not written in stone. If I write more that day, I celebrate. If I write less--or nothing at all--I don't beat myself up. It's part of the process.

The goal is to keep moving forward. As long as I keep an eye on the horizon and never stray far from my chair, I'm honoring my story and myself two pages a day.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Fighting for My Writer's Life, Part I

My trip to the Vermont College mini residency mid last month was awesome, inspiring, invigorating. In the wake of the long weekend, I've been thinking a lot lately about writing, the creative process, my process, and what makes a successful writer.

Take, for example, the act of sitting butt in chair for the hard work of writing. While listening to lectures and readings by Tobin Anderson, Gregory Maguire, Holly Black, Tim Wynne-Jones, Franny Billingsley, Sharon Darrow, Kathi Appelt, Jacqueline Woodson, Coe Booth, and more, it was so easy to imagine immersing myself in my work-in-progress for weeks at a time.

Then I returned home.

Vermont College weaves a wondrous spell during its residencies. You get to immerse yourself in the craft while someone else cooks, someone else arranges your schedule, someone else worries about where the kids need to go, wear, eat, etc. But let's face it. Unless you have a wife, the life of a writer outside of the VC bubble is less idyllic and a lot more complicated.

I'd love the luxury of wearing my writer's hat full time. I can't. I'm a writer mom of three girls, two with special needs. On any given day, I've been known to wear multiple hats at once: mom, personal assistant, medical coordinator, educational advocate, disabilities advocate, cook, chauffeur. Some days, there's no room for my writer's hat, no matter how hard I try to keep it on.

I'm not saying this to complain. I sharing this in hopes of giving perspective to fellow writers who may be feeling the same way I do; who worry that they'll never finish their projects; who fret that they'll never find an agent, editor, fill in the blank; who look at their growing to-do lists and the people and things that keep them from sitting butt in chair, and wonder why they even try.

More often than not, the simple act of sitting butt in chair for the hard work of writing is anything but simple. But fresh from VC, I'm inspired to fight for my time in that chair.

So today marks the first in a series of posts about my writing process, what works for me, and how I'm fighting for my writer's life.

Next time: Butt in chair time. How I fight for it and win.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Amusing the Muse, Refilling the Well

All writers need inspiration. My family is mine. And so are the experiences we share together. Our recent trip to Nashville was no exception. Just a few of the things my muse is amused about:

1. E has a twin. Doesn't matter that A is younger than E by 6 years. Doesn't matter that they live in different states. The two look so much alike that people were calling them by the wrong name all week. It was a hoot, and, to E, must have looked as if she were staring at herself in a mirror. They have the same nose. Same silky black hair. Same almond eyes. Same attitude and sense of humor. When the two met for the first time, E stared at A for a few beats then declared, "We-ell, she has different glasses than me."

2. Nashville serves a mean pulled pork sandwich. We discovered this our first night there. We ate at a place called Jack's Barbecue, a hole in the wall located along Broadway in the heart of the entertainment district. It was 9:30 at night by the time we went out looking for dinner, but the town was hopping. The sidewalks teamed with people sightseeing, shopping and hopping from one nightspot to the next. Band's played in store front windows. Music poured out into the street. At Jack's, we waited in a line 20 some people deep to get our family-style meal of pulled pork sandwiches, mac n cheese and beans. The meal blew my Weight Watchers points for the day, but it was SO worth it.

3. Little People of America LPs know how to party. In addition to back to back programming all day, there was a dance every night. We wore our dancing shoes every night we could. The dances didn't start until 10, but that didn't stop E and S from going strong. Can you say power naps?

4. E participated in the talent show. Her act: she spoke to the crowd of 2,500 strong about her service dog Jewel. Hubby P accompanied E, serving as a kind of interviewer to help get her started and keep her on track. They both did an amazing job.

5. S learned how fun it is to play elevator tag in a 30+ story hotel.

6. P & I relived our BC (before children) days by stopping at Mammoth Cave on the way home to do some caving. The decision was totally spontaneous, which was a breakthrough for us. We haven't been that kind of spontaneous since before E got so sick. As you might imagine, few caves are handicapped accessible. So, P, bless his heart, carried down the trail to the cave entrance. And then he carried her 80 steps down into the cave and 80 steps back up again when we were done. E loved it. S did, too, after she realized that the bats and other cave critters were more scared of us than she was of them.

7. Our glasses fogged up after we left the cave.

8. I need a vacation from the vacation but will need to hold off until after my Alumni Mini Residency at Vermont College. In addition to the editors and agents who will be there, Fantasy Day guest speakers include Holly Black and Gregory Maguire. I leave Thursday, and have to say I'm seriously looking forward to refilling the well.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Dancing Shoes, Little Red Suitcases, and the Courage to Write

We're heading to Nashville soon for the National Little People of America Conference. My little red suitcase is nearly filled. It's waiting on the bed for a few last-minutes toothbrush, my slippers, my journal, a book, and notes for a new project.

It's a story I began years ago while studying for my MFA from Vermont College, but I didn't pursue because I didn't have the courage to write it. Now, it seems, my muse is ready to face that dark attic; so, in the notebook will go. Then it's down to the kitchen to finish gathering up the rest.

On the to-do list there:

1. Mobile medicine cabinet and equipment--some of it for P & I, most of it for E who requires round the clock meds and monitoring for various conditions.

2. Portable pantry and cooler--again, most of it for E, whose sodium-restricted diet (she can have 1000 mg or less a day) requires MAJOR creativity on the road.

3. Service dog gear--for E's service dog Jewel. Food, check. Bowls, check. Leash and a couple toys, check, check. And, lots of baggies for poop patrol.

4. Dancing shoes--The conference will include meetings with physicians who specialize in E's form of dwarfism. We'll also hear from people on the cutting edge of research on primordial dwarfism. There will also be frank talk with physicians and families about the sobering prognosis for anyone with this form of dwarfism.

The hard reality is none of the boys have lived past twenty and less than a handful of girls have lived to 25. E is 18. I imagine if any one of the parents in our group stopped long enough to think through the short time God has loaned us our children, we'd find it hard to get anything done. Which is why we need the dancing shoes.

There's a dance at the convention each night. The girls have packed a dress for every one of them.

And we've all packed our dancing shoes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer daze. Summer Craze.

This week at our house:

1. S begins her second week of Fresh Start, a fantabulous get-to-know you orientation for all incoming Freshman. She was leery of doing it at first. But after the first day she raved about it. For a child who struggles with expressive speech, this was huge, and a sigh of relief for me.

2. E continues her second week of summer school. On-going health issues require a later start time, and jockeying of my work schedule. But seeing how excited E gets each morning about this new location and program makes the hassles worth it.

L winds up her trip to Italy. What an awesome opportunity for her to be able to go along with a friend. L called yesterday to wish P a happy Father's Day. She made his day. She's in Florence today and tomorrow and returns Wednesday. As of yesterday she'd taken more than 700 pictures, 100 in Pompeii alone.

3. I continue wearing multiple hats at once. I've been unable to put down the Advocacy hat. It's been needed for both E and S as we tie up loose ends from last school year and set the right tone for this summer. I'm wearing my teaching author hat, too. Friday is the second in the Teen Writers Summer Series. Jenn and I have prep to do between now and then. Writer's hat? Um, yeah. I'm wearing it. And I've been doing lots of prewriting stuff, making notes and whatnot, but I need to carve out actual butt in chair time. Does this post count? I'd like to say if it keeps the brain matter moving, yes.

I'm also wearing my read-like-a-writer hat so I can begin wading through the books I need to read prior to alumni mini residency at Vermont College next month.

Mini rez didn't make my radar until last week. Or to be honest I didn't let it make my radar because with E's health the way it is the last year it's been a lot easier--and more realistic--not to make plans. I owe my hubby big time for buying down the cost of hotel and air travel with frequent flier miles, and, more importantly, for giving me the push to go.

It's only been a few days since I officially registered for mini rez. But the more I prepare for it, the more I realize how much of myself I've lost in E's care giving in recent months, and how crucial it is to refill the well.

Current read: Undead Much? by Stacey Jay. Amusing so far with a strong voice and sassy heroine. I like.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Amusing the Muse, part 2

Two innings up. Two innings down. The Miracle League baseball game at the JackHammers Ballpark this past weekend was short and sweet and just E's speed.

Didn't matter that getting ready for the game and driving there took as long or longer than it did to play it. Didn't matter than we should have been cutting the lawn, weeding the garden, shoveling out the basement, fill in the blank (we should have been doing it).

What mattered was E's chatter as she donned her Cardinals T-shirt and packed her pink mitt and ball before the game. What mattered was seeing her face after she met her new teammates then stepped onto the field with Jewel by her side, drove the ball into center field on the first swing, and took first base amidst hoots and hollers and cheers.

My muse was much more than amused. It was inspired and energized.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Morning Cup of Character Anyone?

Some people need their coffee to get through the day. I need my butt in chair time, aka writing.

Doesn't matter if all I manage to create is a page or a paragraph. If I time it right and E's well enough to stay in school that day, something amazing happens as I commune with my characters. They take center stage and the chatter from my ever-present to-do lists drop off my radar. So does the constant worry that the next call will be a summons from the school because E is sick again, a scenario that happens all too often.

I've learned the hard way that I can't predict when the next call will come. Nor can I completely shed the worry that the next illness will signal another hospital stay, or worse. However there are things I can control, like making it a number one priority to wake up early enough each day to enjoy a morning cup of character.

I live to write and write to live. The process feeds and sustains me. Deep inside the flow of story, nothing else matters. I am in the here and now, and anything is possible.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Amusing the Muse

Although butt in chair time will be hard to come by this weekend, I'll have plenty to keep my muse amused. Some of the events on our to-do list include:

1. Opening day for Miracle League--This is the awesome volunteer-run baseball league E tried out last Fall and begged to play in this Spring. The league gives children with special needs the chance to play baseball on a minor league field (the Joliet Jackhammers in our case) with cheering crowds, concessions and the Star Spangled Banner at every game.

2. Dog Day afternoon--E and her service dog Jewel will represent MidAmerica Service Dog Foundation this weekend at a regional Pet Expo and share her story with the crowds.

3. Major spring cleaning--S's room is the focus. We plan to ditch the carpeting and make the room over, adding a family room to the first floor. The plan is to finish the job before Memorial Day. Why? Essentially, we've been living on the first floor ever since E's aneurysm rupture left her unable to do stairs. With our oldest daughter L moving back in after graduation (and no job offers yet), we need the extra room.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

When 3,000 is Not a Word Count

Nope. Three thousand is not the number of words I wrote today. Nor is it the amount of money we're getting back from the IRS. Three thousand minus a few tens is the number of miles I drove E last year to her various doctors and therapy appointments. No wonder finding uninterrupted butt in chair time was such a challenge.

And yet, somehow last year I...

1. Managed to write an entire novel during NaNoWriMo in November.
2. Joined a fab online critique group that helped me stay focused by helping me set deadlines, and by providing honest, inspiring and insightful feedback.
3. Cranked out a series of articles for Family Time magazine.
4. Led multiple writing workshops for teens.
5. Established a presence on Facebook.
6. Connected with like-minded writers through Romance Writers of America and SCBWI.

And then of course I depended on what's become my mantra of sorts: Patience. Persistence. Perseverance. And lots of prayer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thumbing My Nose at Chaos

I reclaimed my O-Dark Thirty writing routine last month. This means that instead of lounging in bed until the last possible minute, I get up every day at 5:30 to write.

My goal is modest: two pages per day. Most days I write more. Some days I'm lucky to bang out a page. If I don't make my quota, I don't sweat it. Either way I'm moving my story forward.

What makes this routine work?
1. Except for Kirby the hamster, no one else is moving around that time of day which means my writing time is my own.

2. The regular routine keeps my story close enough to the surface that when I'm ready to play, my characters are, too.

3. I live to write and write to live. If I go too long without communing with my characters, they get cranky and I get crabby.

4. Writing every day is my way of thumbing my nose at chaos and keeping the mugwump muzzled.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Earthquakes, Aftershocks and Uninterrupted Writing Time

Somehow, despite all the chaos that is my life these days (ie the issues with E's teeth in January, her hospitalization in February, two IEPs that need re-visioning, etc.) I managed to write 10 pages in 24 hours. Ten!

Nowhere near editor ready, said pages are more in the vein of what Anne Lamott refers to as the "shitty first draft." But here's the thing: those 10 pages represent forward progress, and proof that I can still write.

I've been doubting myself a lot lately. My ability to write. My ability to edit. My ability to be anything other than caregiver and mother.

No surprise where these feelings originated. E's health. It's impacted our family on many levels, and my writing on multiple. But in a strange and twisted way our unpredictable schedule had become predictable.

In a way, it's like we've been the victims of a series of earthquakes. Each time we try to assess our situation in hopes of finding a new sense of normal, another aftershock the form of a new symptom, doctor, test, or challenge at home or at school.

I'm certain it doesn't help that that in the aftermath of E's hospitalization and all the docs we must now see (she's up to 11 who see her regularly), I'm on point for coordinating and managing E's care. Nor does it help that because of this shift in responsibilities I've experienced first hand the very real, very palpable erosion of my uninterrupted writing time.

In recent weeks, I've been lucky enough to squeeze in a couple hours of writing time every now and again. Sometimes all this means is that I've succeeded in staring at the screen long enough to pluck out a paragraph or two.

I've been trying to honor the process. I've been trying to remind myself that even if all I have time to produce is one lousy paragraph, that lousy paragraph had to be written in order to get to the good stuff.

Those 10 pages I produced earlier this week? They're the good stuff. My next challenge is to figure out what needs to happen in order to write more.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Weekend With My Muse

Tonight marks the first night of a weekend away with my muse courtesy of P.

With E so recently out of the hospital, I've been reluctant to take advantage of his Christmas present. But somewhere around midweek, I began warming to the idea.

A constellation of events came together this week to help change my mind. E continued to improve as the week wore on. Yesterday her neurologist set in motion the beginnings of a workable care plan. Today E made it through her first day back at school since being discharged a week ago Thursday. What's more, my cell didn't ring once with a call from the nurse's office to come get her early, not in the middle of Jazzercise, nor while catching up on email. I began packing. Mini Dell, power cords, Kindle, note cards, reading material, colored pencils, markers. I've packed anything and everything I think I'll need in order to coax my muse from the place she retreated when all heck broke loose. I'm hoping that with enough uninterrupted time together she (and I) will dare risk getting excited about M&R again.

As I type, I'm printing off M&R Nano, the book I wrote in November for National Novel Writer's Month. My plan is to read it in one sitting then cut out my favorite scenes and literally lay them out on the floor of the hotel room in story order. From there, I'll identify scenes I love, and holes to fill (or back fill) as needed. Then to start writing.

Looking forward to an uninterrupted night's sleep (in which I don't need to listen to the baby monitor in case E needs something), ordering in breakfast, and setting to work. Then, if the weather's good, I hope to break for lunch and scout out the Bean and/or the Art Institute, both of which are walking distance from where I'll be staying.

Then back for round two. And, hopefully, when I return, my characters will meet me at the door.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Report from the Trenches

In full battle gear these days, not by my own choosing. Last week we found ourselves in the hospital at E's bedside.

The saga began a week ago last Monday when E's aide called to say that E had fallen asleep at her desk soon after arriving at school. By the time I arrived at school, she'd fallen asleep again, this time at her scooter while waiting for the elevator to come. Even more worrisome, as she drove up to meet me at the main doors, she could barely stay awake, let alone carry on a conversation.

It hurt to open her eyes, she said. Everything was blurry and the light hurt. This isn't right, I remember saying. Something is very wrong.

I left the scooter at school, carried E to the parking lot (thanking God she's a little person), and called Children's from the car.

E didn't wait long in the ER, not with a history of aneuryms and symptoms like extreme, sudden-onset fatigue and blurry vision. The folks at the hospital moved quickly, admitting E and running a battery of tests to help understand what was going on.

The good news is E's home. The bad news is we find ourselves living in an unnerving in between place. We know what the episode wasn't, but we're not yet certain what it was, and we don't yet know what this all means for the long term. Tomorrow we meet with the first of what feels like a million doctors who, over the next couple weeks, will help us put this puzzle together.

Writing wise, I didn't have the time or energy to work on M&R during this latest saga, although I brought my mini Dell with me each day hoping I'd find the time to do so. For what it's worth, I did manage to keep a journal. Writing in it by hand the old-fashioned way seemed to work best.

Reviewing it now, I realize how much I'd forgotten about the last time we were in the hospital for days at a time. After each big ass test, the not knowing was the worst, because at least with the knowing, you can begin to assess and acknowledge the road you will be traveling on next.

And then there were the other details, the alarms and smells--some antiseptic, some not, and the haunted faces of the parents who passed me by in the hallways. After a while I got to know their faces, and after a while I realized that I probably looked as tired and stretched as they did.

We're returning to normal now, if you can call the place where we're at normal. E is getting stronger each day, able to stay up longer before she needs a nap. I'm slowly digging out of piles that grew while we were gone. What seems to be working best lately is to let the big A To-Dos prioritize themselves.

Yesterday, the big To-Do was an IEP for S where we talked high school and Freshman classes. Not a trivial meeting this one. I'd love to say we felt fully informed about the choices we were making for her. We didn't. A number of items that came up during the meeting remain open issues as far as I'm concerned, and they're on my list to pursue as soon as today's big To-Do is past.

Today the big to-do is my teen writers workshop. The topic: Characters You Love (and Love to Hate). I'm looking forward to tonight for several reason. The first is that I will be joined by long-time friend and writer extraordinaire Jenn Knoblock. The second is that in the past I've left my workshops feeling invigorated and inspired.

Toes and fingers crossed that tonight is no exception to the rule because my muse can really use the boost.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Straddling Two Worlds

I'm straddling two worlds. One is Chester's Mill, Stephen King's fictional town from his most recent book Under the Dome, the other is reality. Less than 200 pages left, the plot threads are coming together, the town evil doers are finally getting their due. But our heroes are still in peril, and all I want to do is ignore homework, dinner and bedtime so I can finish.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Writer Mom Rant--Advocacy, Armor, and Other Reasons I Need a Good Blacksmith

As the writer mom of three active girls, two with special needs, I wear many hats. Lately, the hat I've been wearing most is the advocacy one, not out of choice but out of necessity.

To be honest, the little number is less hat and more helm. And I've donned it for so many encounters in recent months that it's in serious need of repair.

I used to think I didn't need to wear my advocacy armor when dealing with our girls' IEPs. I used to trust the system to do what was appropriate and meaningful for my children educationally. Then E got well enough for us to escape our bunker mentality, and I found the uninterrupted time to examine our girls' IEPs for substance, progress, and accountability.

You know that old adage that says agreements aren't always worth the paper they're written on? There's truth in those words. After reviewing our files, I realized I've got years worth of IEPs to prove it.

That's not to say that all of our IEPs have been ineffective. There are a few glimmers here and there. But thinking about them now, I can admit how innocent--and uninformed--I was about the process.

I wish I had known then what I know now. I wish someone in the know had taken the time to pull me aside all those years ago, and forced me to listen to the hard truth about having a kid in the system. Now older and more informed, I've commiserated with enough parents of kids with special needs to know the drill, hear the stories, and, unfortunately, experience many of the system's flaws first hand.

What do I wish someone had told me coming up through the ranks? Raising kids with special needs is hard work. It's stressful, exhausting and time consuming. If you're lucky enough to find free time outside of parenting your son or daughter, the last thing you want to do is bird dog your child's school. But you can't leave things to chance. If you have a child with special needs, you have to learn the law. You have to learn what it is you don't know. Don't assume the school is going to tell you what you don't know. If they do, they're the exception to the rule.

And then there are the really big revelations, the ones that kick your feet right out from under you.

One contact's chilling inside view of the system: "I'm not just the parent of a special ed kid. I was a teacher once. I was told by administrators not to offer services even if they were in the child's best interest. I was told not to follow IEPs. You have to be involved. If you don't ask, if you don't know the law well enough to know what you don't know, it won't happen, even if it's appropriate for your child."

Why the rant? The big IEP for S happened last week. While E and I were in Detroit meeting with specialists about her latest health issues, P sat at the IEP table advocating for S.

The concern? In addition to on-going speech issues, S continues to struggle with the ability to read to learn. It's become so problematic that we spent the last 6 months collecting and tracking data to back up the fact.

We came to the table asking for an intensive program to help close the gap between S and her peers. This isn't the first time we made the request. We were prepared to go to mediation if the team didn't respond. We'd even scheduled mediation through the state for a week later if we needed it. We've never been pushed this far, but with S about to enter high school, the stakes are too high.

The team proposed a solution. There's enough potential in it that a six-week trial made sense. Progress will be monitored and reported the first week of March. The team will evaluate whether or not to continue the program at that point.

Sounds good on paper, doesn't it? Sounds like we're all finally on the same page. Unfortunately, the first week of the trial ends today, and as of the end of the school day yesterday, the computer my daughter needs in order to begin the trial wasn't yet in her hands.

Had I not asked questions about status earlier in the week, I would never have known this little detail. Hence the dents in my helm.

Counting the days until my February writer's retreat. Oh, and before I forget, anyone know a good blacksmith?

edited: 1:01 p.m.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Back from Detroit

We returned from Detroit yesterday afternoon. The trip was a whirlwind, but worth it. Monday we drove out and stayed at Ronald McDonald House. Tuesday we met Dr. R, who is known in the Little People community for his experience with primordial dwarfs and their dental issues. We also met with Dr. S, who will likely tag team with Dr. R.

One of the first things Dr. R did after examining E was put us at ease. What he saw, he said, is consistent with what he's seen with other kids like E. Yes, she needs work, he said. A new set of teeth, in fact. But we have room to breathe. Enough time to do it right. We left with a plan. By summer this should be behind us. I wore my book around my neck the entire time. It reminded me of who I am outside of being a mom and caregiver.

More later after I have a chance to decompress.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bringing my book with me

It's all still a bit surreal that this all is happening. But as long as the cold/cough E has been nursing continues to improve, we plan to head out to Detroit tomorrow. We're targeting a noon departure and with good weather and luck should roll into town with enough time to check in to Ronald McDonald House, decompress, grab dinner and crawl into bed at a decent hour.

I've downloaded M&R to my memory stick and I'm planning to wear my book around my neck. I don't know whether or not I'll have the time or brain cells left to work on revisions, but I have to try. No, delete that. Quoting a well-known sage: Do...or do not. There is no try.

Do not is not an option. I have to write. Even if it's only a couple of pages. Or a paragraph. Or a snippet or two of dialog. Even if it's all drivvle, I have to write something each day. If I don't, then I will have given up. I refuse to give up.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

An Unexpected way of Detroit

The last of my children returns to school next week. Christmas break will be officially over, and my schedule will be my own again. I'm looking forward to the luxury of getting down and dirty with my revisions to M&R. It's also the week of THE IEP, in which P & I will hear results of the latest evaluations that were done on S, and chat with the team about the appropriateness of the current educational program. Unfortunately, it looks as if that's not how the scenario will actually play out.

Something's come up for E healthwise. This means my revisions are on hold and P will be on his own with the school while I'm on point with E, seeing her through the first leg of her latest journey.

This time it's E's teeth. We've known for a long time that loose teeth are a hallmark of primordial dwarfism and that eventually they'd need attention. We just didn't expect we'd have to mobilize this quickly. Even her pediatric dentist was surprised by how rapidly things have changed.

Early next week, E & I head to Detroit to meet with Dr. R, a prostodontist who specializes in working with kids with E's type of dwarfism. He is the only specialist of his type in the country who does so. Thankfully, he's within driving distance. We're looking at a 4 1/2 hour drive if the snow belt is clear. Not a lot of answers yet at this point. Hopefully by this time next week, we'll know more.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Loose Ends, Pantsers, and Communing with My Characters

Wow. Time has flown since I last posted; so, I'll just dive in and see where it takes me. Fellow writers in one of the groups I attend monthly call the diving in kind of approach being a "pantser." It's a short-hand way of saying one writes (or works) by the seat of his/her pants. Suits my style right about now, and has rarely led me astray.

Wrapping up some loose ends:
The article I was on deadline for in November can be found on newsstands in the latest issue of Family Time magazine. It's about the top five causes of teen deaths. It's a heavy topic but the article offers encouraging advice for parents.

On deck this week while wearing my writer mom hat:

1. Posting my crit of T's manuscript (which is fabulous as always) to our online critique group.

2. Posting my latest installment of M&R for critique by the end of the day Thursday. The challenge in getting it done in time will be deciding what to send. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now have a completed manuscript. But I haven't worked on the story since early December, and I'm afraid it's rather rough in the NaNoWriMo kind of way. Still, there could be worse not having anything to work with. Looking forward to getting down and dirty and communing with my characters. One child returned to school this week. One returns next Monday. Keeping my notebook close, and stealing writing time where I can find it.