Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: December 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Great 365 Day Purge - Day One

January 1, 2014

Well, my eldest sister has organized what she calls "The Great 365 Day Purge of 2014." This sister...both of my sisters, in fact...are incredibly organized, with beautifully-decorated homes, always pristine. I suspect this sister of mine alphabetizes her daily to-do list and our middle sister rises at five AM for her Pilates class before heading off to the business she owns with her husband.

I do not share this penchant for organization with my siblings. On good days, I make my bed and brush my teeth (hair is optional). But the rules of participation are simple enough for even the queen of chaos to agree to: You must commit to ridding yourself of one thing a day, every day, for a year.

Of course, I signed on immediately. I like these sorts of things, these attempts at self-improvement. Turning over a new tree, as my brother likes to say (His to-do lists are computerized). Just thinking about this project makes me feel lighter. Freer somehow. Perhaps a smidgen organized.

Apparently pets are ineligible for giveaway, which is unfortunate because between five pets; the litter; two scoopers (blue and white); the forty-pound bags of cat food which we use to feed not only our own felines, one of whom adopted us three months ago, but also five neighborhood friends who stop by for a daily snack...between the leashes and the collars; the dog licenses and the rolls of blue scented poop bags that invariably fall out of my coat pocket and unfurl all the way down the street while the dog is yanking off my right arm trying to get to a squirrel...between the flea and tick medicine and Blind Cat's laxative and tummy pills (don't ask)...between the food and the water bowls and the upside-down lid my son uses to give Grey Cat Half & Half every morning before school...between the dog beds and the cages and the vet and boarding bills...Between all of that, I'd easily get through January.

And getting rid of the dog hair in my house would take me through March.
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Just keep trying.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge. We were to write a three-word resolution.

Resolutions are a yearly tradition in our house. As we eat our New Year's dinner, each of us shares our intentions for the new year, while I document them on my computer. The best part of the year is reading aloud the previous years' resolutions and examining our successes (and failures).

Last year, my son had thirty-eight resolutions, my daughters had thirty-four and twenty-four. My husband had three, one of which was move. I also had three, each of which involved exercise, writing and weight loss.

I find it funny that probably the most difficult resolution made last year--move--was the one we kept: After ten long years of being away, we are again at home. And so, this year, I'll just keep trying with my other resolutions, celebrating small successes and not mourning those failures brought on by writer's block and soothed with an extra cookie or three.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Growing Pains

Thanks to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop for publishing my very first blog post on their site today... Growing Pains.

Talk to you soon!

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How to be Cruel

Nick, not that anyone's asked. Eighteen years.
People spit on him. Kick him. Tell him to get a goddamn job. Hold their breath as they pass.
Occasionally a kid'll toss a quarter his way, his parents wearing torn expressions: pride colored with embarrassment that their child saw what they did not; anger that their son has given away his bubblegum money, their money, money they actually worked for.
Or those those holier-than-thou bits, white turtlenecks neat beneath Christmas sweaters dancing with reindeer and jolly elves, even the big guy himself.
Not God, of course. Nobody wears a sweater knitted with a picture of God.
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Friday, December 20, 2013


Lilla Mae and Holly kneel on the bench and stare out the window, their breath fogging two small circles upon the glass. Holly points. "I don't like the look of those trees. They look like arms reaching out to grab us."

Lilla Mae laughs. "Trees don't grab people, silly."
Holly shivers. "What does then?"
Lilla Mae studies Holly, this woman-child who seems so much older and wiser than a typical nine-year- old. She's certainly more mature than Lilla Mae's sister, who celebrated her tenth birthday just before Lilla Mae was brought here. "A good school," her parents had reassured her, they in the front seat of their old car, she in the back, right in the middle so that she could lean her head forward and speak over the roar of the engine. "You'll get a good education--better than you could ever hope to have in the village."
"But...it must be expensive."
Her father had looked at her in the rearview mirror then. "They gave you a scholarship, sweetie."
And it's this image that has remained with her: Her father's eyes, reflected back to her, smiling yet a bit tentative. There was some emotion he'd held back. Something he was trying to hide.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Every year, right around Thanksgiving, or, likely before, my sisters would begin planning the cookie exchange. This annual event filled me with terror: While my mother and sisters birthed perfect creations, each cookie so lovely, eating it was almost a crime, my yearly contributions always fell a bit short of the mark. Rather than being festive, my cookies looked a bit wilted and sad: Either the tips of the stars I'd painstakingly cut out would break off or, worse, they'd curl, giving the stars the look of a hippy, happy starfish, the effects of which no amount of stoic, starry frosting could counteract. Or I'd roll out my cookies wrong: So thick that a saw would be required to break them or so thin they'd be nearly translucent and burned at the edges.

It's not just cookies that elude me. I am, in fact, rather inept at most things domestic. It is easy to identify me in old family photographs: I'm the one with the messy hair or the gaping zipper or the shirt tugged on inside-out. My infrequent attempts at sewing usually bring me to utter words not often heard in our house. And I've knitted the first two rows of a sock thirteen hundred times, only to drop a stitch, or drop the needles, or to lose count while chatting and have to pull out the stitches and begin again.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rooftop View

Gloria Santos turns a page of her book and adjusts herself in the overstuffed chair--the only thing she got in the divorce settlement, and only because her husband had always hated the color. She tucks her feet beside her. She is pleased that, at fifty-eight, she is still able to accomplish this small feat. She attributes it to her lifelong practice of yoga.
Her telephone rings. She signs and picks up, marking her place in her book with an index finger. "Hello, Howard."
"How did you know it was me?"
"Who else would bother calling me on Christmas?" Or ever, for that matter.
"Marie wants to know if you've changed your mind. I can pick you up."
"I'm fine."
"What are you doing?"
"Talking to you, at present, but prior to that I was reading my book. Curled up in the inglenook." She smiles, delighting in her brother's spare vocabulary. "It's a nook. By the library fireplace." Just to clarify: The condo she purchased (cash, of course, she'd told Howard) six months ago has four thousand square feet and three fireplaces. "Did the children have a good haul?"
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Monday, December 16, 2013


Midnight: Calico paws at eggnog; discovers brandy.
Five AM: "Santa's a cat!" The children indicate paw prints scattered beneath the tree.
"Don't be ridiculous," Dad says. "Santa's human."
"He's an elf," Mom insists.
This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge.
Charles Dickens, in A Christmas Carol, wrote “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” We are giving you exactly 33 words to make us laugh out loud and spread some festive cheer.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For Good

"Try it now," Dink shouts from the roof where he's just finished installing a dish swaddled in a flannel pillow case, of all things. Betty Lewis's flannel pillowcase, to be exact. "To protect it," Dink had said, by way of explanation, when he'd come through the door last last night bearing his apology.

Doreen shoves Frodo from her chair, the Victorian parlor chair with red velvet upholstery that she scored curbside fourteen years ago. She sits in the space vacated by Frodo and notes that it's warm. "Well, at least you're good for something," she tells the dog, who circles around three times before curling up in a tight ball at her feet. Spring is here, but every so often, it decides, like her husband Dink, to skip town for a few days before settling in for good.

Doreen picks up the remote and aims it at the flat screen television, the second part of Dink's apology, now hanging on the wall like a massive trophy.

"Anything?" Dink comes into the room, wiping his hands on the back of the Levi's Doreen had found at the thrift store for three dollars a pair.

"Hold your horses," she says, jabbing a button, shoving the remote towards the television, as if to give it a boost. She leans forward in her chair as the screen comes to life.

Magic fills the cabin: Lights and sounds and colors, the likes of which she had never before seen.

"Looky there!" Doreen points. A man from Ohio is announcing his candidacy for Congress, his wife and children arranged neatly behind him. "His face is full a' wrinkles." She frowns. "I ought to send him a jar of my wrinkle cream."

Dink snorts and half-perches on the chewed-up armrest of Doreen's chair.

For years, Doreen has refused to disclose the secret recipe for the wrinkle cream she sells for fifty cents a jar. The only information she's ever shared, which seems rather self-evident, is that it involves copious amounts of horseradish.
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Spring Thaw

Doreen poured a cup of coffee and sank her chair: the Victorian parlor chair with red velvet upholstery that she'd scored curbside fourteen years ago. "Didn't pay a dime for it," she told visitors staring at this throne parked in the center of the cabin. She ran her hand across the armrest where Frodo had been allowed, nay, encouraged to chew freely and with gusto.

"My boy's teething," Dink would say, every time Doreen protested. She shook her head. That damn dog had been teething for nigh eight years.

"This chair is the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. And Dink, loyal vagrant of a husband, that part-timing, two-timing, constant-whining lazy-ass of a husband had let Frodo destroy it.

For three days, Dink had been gallivanting, rustling the skirts of the pretty young things that dotted the mountain like wildflowers. Every spring it was the same: Snow dissolved into rivulets. Robins appeared in the oaks. The soil loosened itself. Dink, hoeing the garden plot, would all a' sudden get that look in his eye. The look that said, I ain't getting any younger.
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Friday, December 6, 2013


Tree roots cup snowmelt, miniature basins gathering light and returning it to the
stars, a dazzle of sunshine guilding the frosty air. I pass, myopic, intent on the cell phone jangling my pocket.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge:

On to the weekend prompt. This weekend we're asking you to add thirty of your own words to the following three words for a total of thirty-three. Good luck!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

How to Dismantle a House

The old farmhouse was sided in pine. It leaned...just a bit...to the right. Six months ago when they'd first looked at this place, the real estate agent had said it was an eyesore, interfering with the beauty of the pretty little farmhouse at the top of the hill. Tish and Paul had ignored her and stepped inside, Paul making excited plans and sketching out blueprints in the dusty air.

"You know your father wanted to turn this into his workshop," Tish says now, running a hand across the old boards, the wood weathered and grey.

Timmy nods and bites his lip. "You ready?"

No. "Yes."

"You sure you want to...?"

In response, Tish climbs the ladder and began working, worrying her crowbar beneath a piece of siding.

"Be careful, Mom."

"I'm fine." Tish snaps out the words like old nails breaking beneath her hand. She glances down at her son. His dark brown hair. His squinting eyes. "I'm OK, Timmy. I'm sorry."
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dreaming of Possibilities

I just finished a book about Harlan and Anna Hubbard, a couple who chose to live a simple life on the banks of the Ohio River. Written by Harlan, Payne Hollow details how the Hubbards lived their day-to-day lives: building their home mainly from scraps offered by the river and the woods; foraging, gardening and raising goats for food; chopping wood; canning; doing laundry by hand.

Harlan has this to say about their choice:

"To buy bread and coffee, beans and bacon from the store and pay for such inferior provender...does not appeal to us at all. We catch fish for our own eating, get all our living by as direct means as possible, that we may be self-sufficient and avoid contributing to the ruthless mechanical system that is destroying the earth" (page 162).
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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tasting the Sun

Miles Snyder clicks on the email and frowns. "Sorry, Milo, but we need you in town over Christmas. Business is booming!" Miles sighs and closes the email. Shit. Being in town over the holidays means being in town for the company party.

Miles hates parties, hates having to blah blah blah his way through the buffet line, trying to recall the names of spouses, picking up a little of this and a little of that with dainty silver tongs, hoping to God he doesn't spill something or that his entire plate doesn't tip over with the weight of the pretty little hors d'oeuvres balanced thereon: Greasy olives. Cubes of cheese impaled upon frilled toothpicks. Pigs in a blanket. Stale croissants wrapped around thick slices of ham, a disgrace, he thinks, to the simple elegance of the croissant.

His mouth waters, as he recalls the trip he made to Paris, right after college. The hostels. The melamine bowls full of tepid cocoa. Crusty bread and marmalade. Apricots and coffee. Croissants that melted in his mouth.

Paris. Three months of good food, good wine and good painting.

He turns his attention to the spreadsheet on the monitor. But he can't deny that it's there: While he lines up numbers in a column, arranging them just so, getting them to agree to work together and paint a flattering, if not entirely accurate, picture of the company, it is there, in the background, thrumming: The blues and the oranges. The pinks and those lovely, lovely yellows. Miles loves color. Miles loves paint.

He gets along moderately well with numbers. But he's never actually tasted one.
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Monday, December 2, 2013

Freely Given and Eternally Kept

A female cardinal sits in the branches of my magnolia tree niggling at somethingnext year's flowers or a bit of this year's fruit, suddenly exposed. She turns upside down in order to reach her treasure before fluttering her wings to right herself again.

Small buds adorn the branches, promises neatly bundled and held tight until spring. Like a kid awaiting Christmas, I'm anxious to see the tree in bloom: It will be my first spring in this house.

On Saturday, I went to the fabric store to get some thread and elastic to finish the pajamas I'd promised my children and husband. This promise of pajamas was made in a weak moment, brought on by the feel of soft flannel beneath my fingers and the vision of what it could become. But I am not a seamstress of any note, unless you note the errors that I make.
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