Writing Challenge: Nature Part 2

Part 1 and an explanation are here.


Our driveway was dirt, with the attendant divots. When it rained, the divots turned into puddles and if one of the cars had gone out or come back, there would be tracks in the mud to make dams and rivers from. When the puddles froze overnight, air bubbles would get frozen into them so when I stomped on them while waiting for the bus, the iced puddle would crack and a hole would open. Sometimes, there were layers of air trapped, and so there were layers of ice to stomp through. It was more satisfying than popping bubble wrap and a great way to anticipate the frustrations of the school day.

Note: I found out after writing this, by chance and serendipity thanks to twitter, that this kind of ice is called cat-ice.


One morning I was running late. The bus had already turned the corner at the top of the hill before my house when I checked out the window, as I always did. I flew through the living room into the kitchen, grabbing my coat and my school bag, and ran out the door. I ran down the steps and the path to the driveway and realized too late that I was running on ice with a thin layer of water on it. I slipped and went down on my right side, the cold water soaking through my clothes, right in front of an entire bus full of other kids, most of them older. I did get up though, and because I didn’t want to bother my mom to drive me 20 minutes in to school, I slowly and carefully walked across the rest of the driveway, onto the road, crossed to the other side, and boarded the bus, where I curtsied and took the remaining free seat.


The year of the big ice storm, we lost one of the two maple trees in our front yard. The weight of the ice on one substantial branch brought it down, grazing the corner of our porch. It was the branch I always wanted to climb to and sit on, but was never tall enough to reach – not even my father could reach it. It was night when it happened, and there was a very loud crash. We were all in different parts of the house – my mother and brother and I all in our bedrooms, my father in the living room – and all gathered to make sure everyone was okay. We went on the porch and saw how lucky we were, the ice could have easily brought a whole maple down on the house, and also how unlucky we were, losing one of those maples. In the spring, my father cut the rest of it down and the house was never the same again.


Writing Challenge: Nature, Part 1

One of my goals for January and the new year is to write creatively more often. Nadia of Cottage Notebook is hosting a month-long writing challenge, with themes and increasing word counts through the month. I’m using it to get back into the habit of writing without having to decide on a theme or a subject. So far, I am writing creatively but only about things I’ve experienced, mainly my childhood and growing up in Vermont – the theme this week is nature, and so it’s an obvious fit for me to write about that. Anyway, here are my first four 100ish word pieces that are sort of connected.


The air has been so cold and dry the last few days, the snow squeaks underfoot. It’s a familiar sound to me – I grew up in the mountains of Vermont. My brother and I spent hour playing in the snow, building sledding tracks, sledding, and building forts in the snow banks. We went out in all kinds of weather, not like it is here in Virginia. The only thing that would keep us inside is a frostbite warning (-19 degrees and below), so there were plenty of times we went out into snow that squeaked as we walked through it.


The best snow, however, was snowman snow. It came down in big fluffy flakes and stuck together so well that we could roll the base of a snowman across the front yard. When the plow came to clear our driveway, it packed banks of dense snow for us to burrow in and make into forts. They always took shape from the random peaks and round bottoms the plow made. The best I ever made was one large enough for two people, with two entrances. I took a mug of hot chocolate and a book out and spent a quiet hour insulated from the wind reading.


In the summer, newts would gather on the damp stones that formed the steps of our walk-out root cellar. The floor of the cellar was packed dirt, the foundation – like those stairs and the walls around the well – was stone probably dug from the Vermont property the house was built on. We used to catch the newts and play with them. You could count on them being in the cool dampness of the stone walkup, even on bright sunny days at certain times of the year. It was until I was an adult that I knew the newts were juvenile salamanders, the algae colored salamanders that inhabited the pond.


One year, my brother and I were out sledding in the woods above the pond. We built a twisting sled path downhill through the trees, with a banked turn up against a big maple. We tamped down the snow as tight as we could for a smooth, fast track. When he took the first run down the path, his sled jumped the banked turn and he hit the old maple, knocking the wind out of his lungs. That was the first time I realized we’re all at nature’s mercy and how a distance can change in an instant, from being not far enough away from home for adventure to being not close enough to home for safety. After that, we made out sled tracks on the hill behind the house, where we could see my mother in the window, at her sewing machine.


Out of curiosity, do they make you want to read more? They make me want to write more, to explain more, and also embellish a little bit to smooth the rough edges over. I could combine the three winter pieces into a larger story, I suppose. Anyway, I’d love your feedback if you have any!

Edited to add the link to Part 2 for easy reading.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

This handsome fellah is 12 today: time flies. I wish I could time travel and snorgle baby Henry (and baby Brandon & baby Ethan). Instead, I’m going to do my best to enjoy every second of every day with him & his brothers.


This isn’t my usual Wordless Wednesday; I need to mark the occasion with more than just a picture. This is my oldest son, Brandon. He graduated from high school last night. He’s always climbed as high as he could; he received a plastic Tyco tricylcle for his first birthday, one with 2 wheels in front & one in the back. One night when I was making dinner, I left B alone with his bike in the living room for a few minutes and when I returned, found him standing balanced on the handlebars, a feat he would repeat until he grew out of the bike much to the shock  and dismay of his grandparents; I had tried to stop him, but he was persistant and insistant and never fell off.

When he was 3, Brandon went out to the car ahead of us by a few minutes and was climbing  unsupervised on the back of our Jeep Grand Cherokee with the hatch closed. He slipped, fell on his elbow, and broke his ulna almost in the elbow joint. Side note: the ortho we saw had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen, and not just because of the contrast between small boy and man hands: this doc needed extra large latex gloves. We explained to him how risky that was and chided him for not waiting for the rest of us. The cast on his arm slowed him down temporarily, but ultimately didn’t make him any more cautious or less confident in his abilities.

When he was 7 or 8, much to the horror of my neighbor, he climbed on top of the playsets in our backyard, not just on top of the swings, but up onto the roof of the treehouse that the slide is attached to and would jump off, down to the ground, after declaring himself king of the mountain. None of the other kids could follow him and believe me, they tried. 

Because of his climbing abilities, my husband started taking him and my 2nd son Ethan rock climbing at an indoor climbing gym near his work, really the only one in our area. B was a raging success, climbing up their 50 foot wall in record time, ringing the bell at the top, and belaying back down. Ethan, on the other hand, could only go up about 20 feet before he froze in fear. They joined the kids climbing team and my husband began climbing also, joining the adult teeam. They all ended up focusing on bouldering and we’d occasionally all go climbing, except for my youngest, Henry, who was too small at the time; he ended up just playing on the climbing mats & running around. Brandon got so good, he became the captain of the kids climbing team. I have video of him climbing one of the bouldering walls 3 years ago with just his arms.

So really, this picture of him on the field goal last night has been a long time coming. He had to do it twice, even – we had camera problems the first time around. As he was jumping down a second time, another set of parents walked by and the wife said sort of quietly to the husband, “That’s a good way to get suspended!” I guess she didn’t register the cap, gown, and diploma. We wouldn’t have been able to stop him anyway and I stopped trying way back when he’d climb up on the handlebars of that bike. Some things are just a fundamental part of your kid and you’ve got to just go with it because fighting against it would be futile & soul crushing. I look forward to seeing him figure this out too, not necessarily with climbing, but with other parts of his personality/being; I look forward to seeing what he metaphorically climbs next.


TBT: Vietnam 1966


My Dad enlisted in the US Marines right out of high school in 1962 and was in Vietnam July 1965-July 1966. These are probably the most scenic pictures he took that I scanned; he probably took more or better scenic pics but I need to have his slides scanned to find out (and remember) for sure. He wrote “Danang Harbor” on the back of the last picture; I’m not sure if the first two are of Danang Harbor or of some other coastal feature.


The Blahs

Today is a blah kind of day. I woke up before my alarm but then after the kids left for school, I climbed back in bed and fell sort of asleep for an hour – a bad habit I started this winter on days when I just couldn’t face the day. I’ve had major depression at various points in my life, but last year was diagnosed with bipolar II, which looking back on everything, fits me better than major depression. But until last month I was in denial, thinking/hoping the doctors had gotten it wrong, not wanting to be bipolar anything because of the stigma around bipolar I, which is so much different from II. One of my best friends in high school had a really rough time when her mother tried to kill herself (again) – she was finally diagnosed with manic depression/bipolar I. And the things I do are a lot less extreme than similar things she had done, but still similar. I just didn’t want to be that. Accepting the diagnosis has helped me recognize the patterns of my moods and handle them better – it’s been easier for me to deal with depression and hypomania (which I definitely cycled into this spring) when you recognize the symptoms and can batten down the hatches. I also know to carefully evaluate my thoughts to see whether or not what my inner voice is saying is true; in depression, I think I’m a terrible worthless person undeserving of anything. And in hypomania, I start projects I’m not capable of finishing or get really irritated with everyone and everything for no discernible reason.


I usually have a knitting project going so I’ve got a creative outlet & something tangible to work on other than my domestic engineering/housework/stay-at-home-Mom duties. Starting this blog and breathing life back into The Yarn Office were are also supposed to be projects that give me a creative outlet, accomplishing something, and moving forward. My therapist would say that I’m not giving myself credit for my accomplishments and that I need to remember that I’m raising/have raised 3 really good boys, keeping them fed & the house clean, and that my marriage is good, et cetera. I’m working on changing that mindset that I fall into when things aren’t going as well as I want them too.

Today I’m in between projects and although I treated myself to Barbara G. Walker’s first 3 treasuries of knitting patterns, I’ve been more likely to check Facebook, blog stats, etsy shop stats, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and cycle through them just in case I missed something. I need to come up with a new project though – my knitting group meets tomorrow. Maybe design an ouroboros scarf? Ravelry only has one in crochet. That’s what I’ve come up with so far in rifling through my Pinterest boards. Or I may just continue my search for a better WP theme and (maybe) pay the $ so I can customize one. Or maybe I’ll get lost in tumblr.

Blah. Time for more chai.


Taking Stock

What follows isn’t entirely proofed. If I wait to proof & edit it, it’s going to be 2012 and I’ll be writing about a hangover, which will be much worse than this, I think.

Last January when I started this blog, I was fighting through another bout with depression. I honestly don’t know that I’ve beaten it. I have good days (like today, where I have a plan & a purpose that I believe in) and bad days (when I get up but end up going back to bed or when I get up & stay up & can’t sleep the following night so that one day includes two sunrises & sunsets) and in between days (of course). Everyone has their ups & downs – I know that – I just don’t want my downs to affect my daily life, such as it is, quite so much.

Really, more than anything, I’ve been looking for a way forward, wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up, and looking for a way to be proud of my past & myself without having to agonize over things all the time. It’s helped to blog, email, and talk about it; I’m really thankful for everyone who’s reached out to me. I’m particularly amazed at how many people have told me their own story and how much talking about it can help us both.

The confrontation in November really threw me off balance. I’m still trying not to feel guilty about how strong my reaction was. I could have been more graceful about it, I wish I had slept on a few posts before making them public, and I sometimes wish I had confronted him with a warning of public exposure instead of just putting it all out there). But what’s done is done and I finally feel a taste of redemption, a way to be good again. (Khaled Hosseini pulled me into The Kite Runner with that idea and I haven’t stopped thinking about things in those terms since reading that first, very short chapter.)

I did a lot of new things in 2011. I’ll be 40 in 2012 and am trying to be nonchalant about it while hurrying to get myself to where I wanted to be in my 30s.

Aside from the blog, I went out of my usual comfort zone and took a class in the spring over 3 weekends at the Art League of Alexandria with Steph & Alana. I drove on the beltway and didn’t die. I met new people and, while I probably made a complete fool out of myself, people liked me, I had fun, I learned a lot, and I strengthened friendships with two strong, funny, intelligent women. I also discovered that beer is quite good if you know what to look for (hops=blech and Guiness is a good go-to in my case).

I started playing roller derby thanks to Misty/electricsoup/Loudoun Dirty. I’d never even considered derby and started mainly because I loved skating in elementary school and wanted to start again. Skating is even more fun when you skate in a circle, work as part of a team, and get to hit people who’re expecting/prepared to be hit. I haven’t felt this good physically for a long time. I’ve also met a lot of people, made new friends, found new heroes. I also learned, again, that not everyone is going to like me and that I’m not going to like everyone – that I don’t have to like everyone and vice versa. It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with me or the other person and it also doesn’t mean that we are arch enemies, although sometimes I think maybe I should have those too (yup, still working that one through).

I briefly had a real job and was a real adult, until I realized that after 7 years of setting my own schedule, a 9-5 job in a windowless office is more than I can handle. After quitting, I vowed that this time, I would start something on my own, something that might eventually make money, not just involve me being parked at a keyboard, and that would allow me to see outside (not that I’m claustrophobic, the windowless office was more demoralizing & dehumanizing). So I started The Yarn Office, which has been hanging over me like a chore instead of my future – I need to put more time & thought into it and really get it going in 2012.

I also volunteered to be the webmistress/admin for NOVA Roller Derby and took it from a cookie-cutter site to more customized HTML (Dreamweaver) to slightly-customized-yet-cookie-cutter WordPress. I took entirely too long to figure out WordPress (& the template files) and was reassured when I finally understood at least the basics. I finally grokked more of PhotoShop & Illustrator this year too and installed OpenOffice on my MacBook so I can stop complaining about how much MS Word sucks.

Then there’s my gig as mother & mate to that guy on the other side of the bed. I could blab endlessly about marriage, motherhood, and the boys, but I don’t want to join the legions of mommy-bloggers. My kids are happy, doing well in school, laugh often, help each other, and are good, responsible people.

While Mr. Q and I have our ups and downs, we’re doing just fine and I don’t feel the need to write about it or get/give advice here,  though he is still exploring permanent employment while consulting: anyone looking for a hard working, highly intelligent, pretty technical VP, look no further.

So 2012: bring it. Whether I’m ready or not, things keep happening to me and I keep waking up every day, breathing and all that – I might as well live, really live, procrastinate and dwell less, laugh and sweat and jump for joy more. And take more pictures! And throw more balls for the dogs! And kiss the boys while they still let me, even if it’s just on the cheek these days! And eat more Smarties because I can never have enough Smarties.