Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's All In the Details

All of today's lifestyle coaching will tell you to forget the details. You know what I mean, "Keep It Simple Silly", "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" and "Choose Which Hill You're Going to Die On". All sound advice and all things that adulthood and especially parenthood have beaten into me.  However, a few small experiences over this holiday season have turned my thinking on it's ear.

I used to be very particular, almost obsessive,  about the decor in my home, every picture frame and figurine had to line up just so. You can imagine how quickly that changed with the addition of three small children to the family. Not only do I have less decorations, but I just don't care if my end tables are adorned with a mixture of framed family photos, Legos and Barbie shoes. Okay, maybe I care just a little, but I'm not letting it drive me any crazier than I already am. I've even given up control of the Christmas tree. The kids have a complete free for all, my job is just to help fill in the top where they can't reach. No more perfect positioning of every ornament. With my growing wisdom as a parent I have let go of  these details.

But have I stopped noticing details all together? Surely not. Or so I thought until a few weeks a go. Putting laundry away one regular Saturday afternoon, I stopped and looked at the handle I was getting ready to pull on my husband's dresser. I'd opened the drawer at least a thousand times, after all we'd had this furniture almost four years. The handle was upside down. I don't mean someone had pushed against the handle and left it stuck up in the air. I mean it had been screwed on at the factory upside down. Quickly taking in the rest of the dresser I was shocked to realize that six of the 10 handles were upside down. How in Heavens name had we missed this? Was it important in the grand scheme of things? No. Did it scare me a little that I was rushing around so much in my life that I didn't see what was right in front of my face? Yes. I was so disturbed I called my husband.

Understandably he thought I was cracked, as usual. "Are you sure? I can't be that noticeable if we didn't see it in four years."

Then he got home. It was that noticeable.

This little scenario all went down early in the holidays, and got my wheels turning about details I was missing. The frosting on the sugar cookie came a few days before Christmas. As usual we were running late, and it was questionable if we were going to make the school bus. There were extra delays because there were presents to be carried to bus drivers and teachers, lunch ladies and janitors, strangers on the street...To put it bluntly we were rushed. I sent the younger of my twins, Makayla, to get a hairbrush when she became distracted for the tenth time in as many minutes. She gasped and stood staring at our plastic (read child friendly) Nativity set. The night before we'd had a family gathering and while making room for a plate someone had slid the figures to the side. She was horrified.

"Mommy who did this!"

Even though they had arranged the figures in rows and circles all season she asked me as she carefully sorted sheep from wise men.

"How should it be be? How would you like it Mommy?"

My response was already on my lips, I was ready to tell her that it didn't matter and we didn't have time for it. Luckily my brain kicked in. Was I really about to tell my daughter that the Saviour's birth didn't matter and we didn't have time to be respectful of it? Could something so small shape my relationship with her in the future and when she asks for my opinion?

We took the two minutes or less to arrange the Nativity the way we thought best, and we still made the bus. I've decided though for the New Year I'm not going to let the big things take up so much of my thoughts and effort, work, money, school. Those are the things that I'm going to keep simple and easy. Instead I'm going to keep an eye on the details. After all, the devil is in the details.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Husband the Magician

Our summer has come and gone. We've had our share of beach adventures, lightening bug chases and melted ice cream cones. The garden has been chalked up to a learning experience. (I concede to you this year squash bugs, but look out in 2012!) Our beautiful children have grown into new shoes and book bags for the start of kindergarten and third grade. But most impressively as this summer comes to a close I've seen my husband perform a real life magic trick.

As many of you know, back in the spring we started off with a flock five chickens. A rooster and four white hens. Due to, lets say circumstances, we've ended up with two hens and the rooster. Our two remaining hens we call Lovey and Pecky. You can probably guess that Lovey is the more affectionate, and while Pecky is not aggressive she did "peck" a hamburger bun out of Macy's hand and run across the yard with it. If you've never seen a chicken run the 50 yard dash with an entire hamburger bun in its beak, I highly recommend it.

Recently we decided to add two more hens to our little feathered family, since Pecky and Lovey had done so well. These new girls were Rhode Island Reds, beautiful reddish brown with a few streaks of white. Within two days, before we could properly even name the new additions, we were missing two chickens. One red and one white. Our comical Pecky was gone.

Immediately the dog was suspect. After all he had been caught red pawed "playing" with the chickens before. Not to mention he had recently killed and eaten a groundhog, bunny and opossum. It didn't bode well that he was looking particularly healthy through the belly and wasn't eating much of his dog food. With out so much as a trial Buster was tied on his run and the chickens were locked in the coop.

Things went on like this for two days until my husband perfected his magic act. He'd just returned from taking the trash to the dump and was lining the recycling cans up against the garage wall. We keep the trash can lids stacked on the floor for easy access to the cans. This way we can attempt to shoot three pointers with empty plastic bottles from the laundry room door. When Jay lifted up the stack of lids he made a flapping chicken and a pile of eggs appear. Bravo! It's no bunny out of a hat, but I was sure glad to see Pecky. For two days she had been trapped under those trash can lids. We pass by there twenty times a day and she never made a peep. The lids never budged. Was she really trapped the whole time? Or did she magically appear?

Book update: The manuscript is completely edited and I now have queries out to four agents. The waiting game begins!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Piles of Feathers

Nothing teaches children responsibility and the rewards of hardwork like raising livestock. Unfortunately that undertaking can come with some harsh lessons in reality you may not be ready to teach your small children.

Not so very long ago we acquired five white hens. Everyone in the Harris household was quite taken with the birds, and it became a daily sprint when we got home to check the chicken coop for eggs. A nice routine developed. We checked for eggs and fed the chickens morning and evening and they were turned loose while we were at home to free range. At twilight the hens would return to their coop to roost for the night in their cozy boxes, we had only to shut the door. There was no fear of attack from a fox or weasel because the coop was built firm and tight. All was well. Or so we thought.

In the beginning we didn't have a rooster, so our dog Buster looked after our little flock. He doesn't know he's a dog you see. Whenever the chickens were free ranging Buster would stay nearby and keep an eye on things and the birds would follow him around, even into his dog house. Leave it to our family to come across a rooster in need of psychiatric counseling. Apparently this bird lived in a poultry war zone before he came to us and is now suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I'll come back to that.

One spring like Saturday I was off to Mount Vernon with the kids on a field trip and my husband Jay was called in to work. While we were away we allowed the chickens to roam free under Buster's watchful eye and the spastic guidance of Jethro the rooster. Stopping home at lunch Jay found all to be well. Borrowing a tool from our garage at three o'clock, my father-in-law found all to be well. When we all arrived home at 5:30, things were not well. There was not a chicken to be found, only piles of feathers. Four neat piles to be exact dotted across the yard. No blood. No bodies. No trail. The only clue was some matted grass in the hay field next door. Perhaps a fox or coyote had lain in wait and picked off the birds one by one? A single egg was left in the coop, our eight-year-old said it was "for hope".

Our distraught family plodded inside and I began the gloomy explanation of what happened to our chickens when two of the hens staggered back into the yard! They were haggard and half naked, but alive. We placed them in the coop with fresh food and water and left the door open in hopes the others might return. Jethro the psycho rooster was discovered in the rafters of the shed, his PTSD elevated to a whole new level.

An hour later we looked out the window to see the dog's nose buried in the grass, and then suddenly he threw a mouthful of feathers into the air! Buster was holding down a chicken with his paw and ripping its feathers out with his mouth. The chicken was playing dead. The culprit had been found. As much as we hated to believe it our gentle dog was "playing" with the chickens. Try explaining that to your kids!

Several attempts were made to break Buster of his chicken habit, but to no avail. Now when the chickens roam the dog is tied. Sadly we still only have two hens and a rooster, though we hope to add a few more. The ladies have finally recovered enough to start laying eggs again. Jethro the rooster is as disturbed as ever. If you ever drive by around twilight and see the entire Harris family in the yard running in zig zagged circles and waving our arms over our heads, don't worry we're not doing some demented rain dance. We're just penning up a rooster for the night and teaching our kids a few life lessons.

Now for a book update! Reviews from the early readers have been fantastic. I'm really shocked (and pleased) at how positive the feedback has been. I'm taking some vacation time to work on editing based on the information I've received and I hope to have the manuscript off for grammar editing next week. At the same time I will be searching for an agent to represent me with publishers. Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned for details!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Write a Book - Check

I guess I can say the book is done, for now. I've re-written, polished and edited to the best of my untrained ability.

After scraping to find an hour here and there to edit I finally broke down and took a vacation day yesterday to complete the revisions. The final push took thirteen hours. I stopped twice to return phone calls and for potty breaks. That's right people, I didn't even stop to eat! Did you get up off the floor yet? I know I'm not one to miss meals normally, but sacrifices are made when you're in the zone. Regretably the biggest sacrifice was the Girl's Night Out I'd been looking forward to all week. I can't even remember the last time I got my groove on, but I hope you ladies had a blast!

So after a nice hot shower and some fast food my family brought me on the way home from the movies, its amazing how good that tastes when you haven't eaten in the daylight hours, I was ready to be at peace with my book. Who was I kidding?

At 11:30pm I received an email back about a formatting issue. In the process of correcting that I found a few other tweaks to make. At 1:00am the reformatted draft went out.

Yikes! My manuscript is now being read for plotline holes, character disasters and just general suckiness. Guess how well I slept last night?

After the feedback comes in from these readers I'll re-write some more based on their input and then send it off for a professional edit. Last and most certainly not least will be the search for and agent or publisher.

My husband is just proud that I finished the book. As far as he's concerned I did what I set out to do, write a book while juggling a very full life. I can check it off my soccer mom to do list.

Me? I'm not even close to being finished, I've got notes for at least half a dozen more books. Don't tell my husband though, he might faint.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Harris Kids You've Got Talent!!

There are tons of reality TV shows scouring the country for talented fresh faces of all ages. They could really save a lot of time and just come by my living room...because my kids are supremely talented. I know you're thinking I'm biased since I'm their mother. There's nothing more annoying than the Mom that has the wonderfully talented and gifted child. Yes it's fabulous that little Susie could read at eighteen months and do trigonometry by the age of three, but do I have to hear about it every thirty seconds? By the way Susie just set the cat on fire you might want to check on that.

Back to my fabulously talented kids. Really their abilities rank on an almost mystical level that keeps me scratching my head in slack-jawed wonder. If they up their game any further I'm going to have to start looking for magical schools housed in castles in the English countryside in which to enroll them.

Whenever my husband or I travel at least one of our children will become sick. Now I don't mean they get the sniffles or a tummy ache, I'm talking high fevers, asthma attacks and projectile vomiting. The kind of illnesses that test a parent's mettle. I can't tell you how many times I've coached my husband over the phone from some distant location on what medicine to give and at what dose. Nor can I count the number of visits I've made to the pediatrician's urgent care hours while Grandma kept the healthy kids because Dad was away.

We can go months with no major illnesses, but print a boarding pass and you might as well buy the pedialyte. It also appears they are able to intensify their illness based on the complexity of the trip or difficulty of the family's schedule. Case in point, while Jay was on a four wheeler trip he had no cell phone service. The only way to reach him was when he called me collect from his cabin in the evenings. (I didn't know you could even make collect calls anymore, except from jail.) So with no way to reach him you can be certain that one of the children would test their abilities. Caden, our seven year old, had been on antibiotics for three days for a sinus infection. The morning after Dad left Caden spiked a fever and his death rattle cough became so excruciating no one in the house was sleeping. Off to urgent care went to find out my whiz kid had developed a secondary infection in his lungs after the sinus and ear infection, but the antibiotic appeared to be taking hold and would work well against pneumonia too which is where we were headed. An added steroid would help the crackling in his chest.

Super! We had avoided a hospital stay. Now it would only be eight hours until his father called and I could let him know. Maybe it was better this way, what he didn't know wouldn't keep him from enjoying his trip. He had prepared so well to make his absence easy on us, but how do you prepare for the terrific trio and their infectious talents?

I'm curious what talents do your kids have?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When Did I Become That Person?

At some point in our adult lives we all ask the question 'When did I become that person?' For some of us we will ask it many times. When did I become that parent that negotiates with video games? When did I become too old and un-cool to recognize the band that won the Grammy for album of the year? Or most curious for me of late...when did I of all people become a dog person?

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting where they conducted an ice breaker exercise that required everyone to declare if they were a cat or dog person? A side had to be chosen no one could remain in the middle. I have always been, with out a doubt, a cat person. As a child I carried kittens around and read books about cats. I even took pictures of my cat with me to college. However, on a chilly March day in a hotel meeting room in Chicago I found myself floundering over which side to choose and as they say it went to the dogs.

Its natural for some children to fear dogs. I on the other hand had a mortal terror of all things canine. Until I was about twelve years old a beagle could bring me to sobbing hysterics. There had been a run-in with a well meaning collie that tried to herd me as a toddler by nipping at my heals.

So how you might ask did I come to consider myself a dog person? It's all my husband's fault. Three years ago when we moved into our current house we promised our son we would get a dog at some point because we now had plenty of yard space and we weren't to close to the road. As a couple we discussed how to best approach adding a dog to the family. We decided that since our oldest was getting ready to start kindergarten we would wait until we were established several months into the school routine and then we would look for an adult dog that would be calmer and easier to handle. So one Sunday afternoon several weeks before the start of school I came home to find my husband with a puppy.

To say I was an unhappy spouse would be the understatement of the year.

The first words he greeted me with were "It's not permanent, we can try him out for a week as a foster and if he doesn't work out I can take him back." Riiiiiight, I'm going to tell my three bright eyed children sorry the puppy didn't work out we're going to take him back to the rescue shelter that saved him from a life of abuse and neglect. I'm certainly not that person.

Here was the thing about Buster, as the puppy came to be named, he had been abused as I mentioned and had never in his five month life been out of his crate. He was terrified of the kids, open space, his food bowl, toys and his own tail often startled him. Anything and everything frightened this dog into head to paw shaking with one exception. Me. I was the only thing that gave Buster any sort of peace. We would sit together on the deck those first few days and he would just lay against my leg while I petted him. After awhile I was able to introduce him to some toys and the backyard.

Maybe it was that initial bonding experience, but ever since when something that could be emotionally overwhelming needs done with Buster it falls on me. I took him through six weeks of obedience school, I find him when he's lost and take him to the vet when he's hurt.

There's one small caveat to all this, I'm deathly allergic to dogs. I don't mean that if I pet a dog I might sneeze a little. This is more like airways closing I need my inhaler allergies. If you've never seen hives form then you should come on over. Buster just needs to lick me and you can watch the hives magically appear in under sixty seconds. You might say it's a toxic relationship.

Buster is still afraid of everything and I'm still trying to train him. Just this week I sustained an injury while trying to teach him to fetch. When sixty-five pounds of pure muscle plows into you at full tilt it leaves a mark. Then he looked up at me with that pitiful apologetic face and I couldn't help but hobble over to pet him...and then wash my hands. Maybe I shouldn't say I'm a dog person, I might just be a Buster person.

I promised and update on the book so here it is! The re-write/edit is underway. Most of the time I write and don't look back, so the re-write is going to be an interesting journey. I've found some nice little pearls and then I've gone "did I really just start five sentences in a row with the same word?"

Here's a juicy little teaser from the book for you.

The mayhem reached a fevered pitch but Devin knew no medical miracle would save him as she slipped quietly out of the room. She was halfway down the hall when her commander Captain Morris stopped her.

“Dushane! What the hell are you doing? You look like something out of bad horror flick. Get in there and get stitched up!”

She heard most of what he said, but the adrenaline rush was over, the loss of blood was catching up with her and a wave of grief was threatening to crush her. The last thing she heard before she hit the floor was a stream of curses from Captain Morris.

That's all you get for now!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lost and Found

My manuscript is done! I finally found the time, solitude and inspiration to finish the novel...and then I lost it.

Now I don't mean I had an emotional breakdown or I lost my creative energy or even that I deleted a few pages of the book. I physically lost the whole stinking thing.

As every great tale of woe begins, it all started when I was sent to Chicago for training classes. Generally these meetings are brutal ten hour affairs, but I brought along the manuscript just in case I had some free time in the evenings. After all I was closing in on the final chapters. However, this meeting went very differently and on the second day of class we finished at noon.

I scurried off to my room and placed the do-not-disturb sign on the door, breaking my train of thought for fresh towels was not part of the plan. Five hours later I found myself typing the words 'The End'. I swear I heard actual hosannas being sung down from the heavens. Or maybe that was just coming from my phone when I called home. Regardless, the Harris family was doing the happy dance.

I should say we were doing the happy dance. Let's skip forward a few days to when I'm in O'hare airport ready to return home. I've just checked my suitcase and the polite young man at the counter wishes me a safe flight when I reach for my carry-on. I have no carry-on.  The feeling is akin to losing sight of your child while shopping, but I know my bag is not going to pop out from behind a rack of clothes. People around me are beginning to look concerned that I'm going to be ill, that's entirely possible because by now I've realized that I left my backpack on the shuttle bus to the airport and I have not one contact number to begin a search.

Thank heavens for the ability to search the Internet from your phone. I begin by calling my hotel, but they didn't set up the shuttle service my company did. Start over. Call some of the other members of my class to see if they have the head trainer's contact information. No one does, but they'll text me if they find it. Start over. At this point it is after six o'clock on Friday evening and my flight boards in two and half hours. I'm not a crier by nature, my husband could probably count on two hands all of the times he has seen me cry, but I was about to break down sobbing right there in the airport. In desperation I start calling random shuttle companies. Sounding like a lost soul while traveling brings out the helpful side in people, one operator even had me describe the bus so she could ask the drivers what company it might be.

Finally I catch a break and a text with a contact number. I reach the head trainer who finds my predicament very amusing. He thinks I left a suitcase on the shuttle. Really? Do people often dash into airports without their luggage? At least I left a black backpack on a black floor and I did have a purse, bottle of water and a suitcase to carry while I was rushing to catch an earlier flight. We both call the shuttle company and guess what? It's after five and they're closed for the weekend. I vehemently refuse to leave Chicago with out my bag. Not only is the flash drive that my novel is saved on in that bag, with my writing journal I might add, but my corporate laptop is also in that bag. Well that lights a fire under chuckles. He tells me to sit tight he knows a guy that knows a girl that has a cell phone number.

Twenty minutes later we have success and faillure. The shuttle has been found and the driver pulled over and located my bag. Again the heavens open and the angels sing! However, the bus is on its way to a pick-up in Milwaukee and my bag won't be back in the Chicago area until after midnight. I've never been so tempted to hop a cab to Milwaukee. Voices of reason intervened and a representative from the shuttle company assured me they would overnight the bag to me.

Like leaving my fourth child behind I drug myself through security and boarded the plane. Coming home is always lovely, but I was not settled until that box arrived.

Is it appropriate to hug the FedEx guy?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I've Been Outed

For the past two years I have kept a secret. I've indulged in this secret during peaceful lunch breaks and in the quiet hours of the night after children are tucked in bed, lunches are packed and laundry is folded. It is such a closely guarded secret that the few souls that know of it have made blood oath promises to throw themselves upon a thousand sharpened daggers should they ever speak of it. Well...they at least promised to buy me shoes.

All that changed when I attended a simple scholarship charity event. Somehow by the end of the day I had been photographed and interviewed by the local newspaper and my excruciatingly carefully guarded secret was about to be published in a three county area. I am a closet writer. For two years I have been laboring on my first novel and at just over 80,000 words it's almost complete. At least until the re-write begins.

There it's out in the open, but why stop there? Since I'm coming out of the closet might as well go full on drag queen right? So I've decided to start a weekly blog following the often humorous sometimes disasterous tales of my circus routine life, that includes juggling family, church, work and chasing my dream of becoming a published author. You probably won't have to look to hard to find a bit of yourself in this column and that's what is all about...we're not alone, somebody else has been in your boat too. So I hope you enjoy my stories about trying to keep all my balls in the air and the trials and triumphs of writing a book.

Happy Reading