This about sums it up

My grandma has little plaques with cute proverbial sentiments hanging in random places around her house. At least, I think they’re random. You’ll turn a corner, or look up above a door and voila! — a brief little fortune-cookie phrase set in Art Nouveau-style lettering, adorned with 60s-style birds and flowers, illuminated in fading colors like mustard yellow, seafoam green, and robin’s egg blue. It’s kitschy, sure. But it’s Grandma. And who am I to judge, anyway — just because I keep my collection of quotations and proverbs hidden in an unmarked spiral-bound journal for no one to see?

Behind a door in the kitchen, there’s a stairway leading down to the basement and Grandpa’s workshop. The walls are lined with faux-wood paneling, and the worn wooden steps creak and groan. The moist, cool air from below mingles with the warm, dry air from above and stirs up the melange of dirt and dust from inside and out. The last time I vistited, I opened the door to follow the stairway down to take some photos in Grandpa’s workshop, but before I could even think about hammers and chisels and miniature table saws, I was forced to pause. A pale lemony-yellow plaque was hanging there amid a bulletin board full of papers, and rows of dog leashes and collars, of shoes and raincoats. It was staring me in the face from the most unassuming corner, not of a room — a real, living and breathing room — but a passageway, meant for transient presence — not for lingering around to ponder the profundities of existence: “Life is too SHORT to be SMALL.

But there it was. And here it is, reminding me that while I have no trouble dreaming big, I do, apparently, have trouble accomplishing anything. Is it wrong to feel like my life is one big waste so far? Is it awful to feel that it’s going nowhere and I can’t get it to go anywhere — why? — because I seem to be unable to accomplish anything in the first place? Deep down I know why, and I think you do, too.

In the past year, I’ve been faced with more than one excellent opportunity. I always start off excited, thinking, Hooray! This is just what I’ve been looking for! But as I start to fix up my resume, or put together a portfolio, I start seeing all the gaps and flaws in my character and experience. I shrink back. I procrastinate. And eventually it comes to the point where I’ve convinced myself that it’s not really an ideal opportunity after all because I’m simply not good enough — why?! — because I AM NOT PERFECT. AND I MUST NOT FAIL. And then whoosh! it’s gone.

It’s to the point right now where I have another potential opportunity (two, actually) waiting for me to act, and I’m apprehensively excited about the possibility of either. But I don’t want to tell because I don’t think I can bear the agony of not accomplishing yet again. But if I did accomplish either, and everything worked out, I have no doubt that I’d feel less small. Maybe. I’d at least be glad that I tried. Unless the universe explodes.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to slide down into frowny-pants moping. Make no mistake: I don’t want no sympathy. I’m fully aware that we each possess the skills we need to make our lives into the lives we want to live, and are entirely capable of using them to that end, blah blah blah. Me? I’m going to start by giving myself a visual smack on the back of the head.

If you’ve made it this far, I hereby bestow upon you the honor of sainthood according to the rites and traditions of the Book of Sarah. (No, really.)


December 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment


Bright orb in the sky
Quietly glides through the dark
Dancing with the Earth.

December 2, 2009 at 5:30 pm 3 comments

November, November, November. Oh, November.

So we’ve been doing some work on our house — renovating and redectorating — and this is how our living room is coming along:

Just kidding. I mean, this really is how our living room looks right now, but it’s not going to stay like this for long. Obviously the fridge really would work better in the corner to the left of the television. Then the stove can scootch to the right a few feet, after we put the island on the wall opposite the TV. Then I’ll be able to cook and bake while catching up on episodes of Bones. Because watching Bones always whets my appetite.

Anyway, it’s That Time of Year: when we’re supposed to reflect on life’s blessings and remember to be grateful for our little joys, and share peace and gratitude and goodness with those around us. When we give and give and give, and do and do and do, and does it feel nice to spend time with family, decorating and eating and getting into the holiday spirit? Sure! Does it feel good to have a new tile floor, thanks to your in-laws’ generous hard work, and a new couch, thanks to…well, thanks to the Columbus Day sale at Macy’s? Absolutely! But I’m terribly far behind in my novel because of an avalanche of unforseen circumstances, and seeing as I’d have to write something like 8,000 words a day from now on to actually make it, I’m getting a little down in the dumps. *sigh*

So I’m thinking there’s one thing that’ll get us through the week. And that’s more chihuahua.

* * * * * * * * * *

Winchester Wilcox the Third was summarily startled out of his boots — if he’d had boots, that is — thanks to Thaxton’s other terrible habit of slamming his fist down on top of his desk periodically and for no apparent reason during heated telephone conversations.

“Blast it, Murnighan! I know who’s going to be there! And believe me, I’m not really worried about offending the foremost punctuational experts in the world — it’s going to happen anyway. No — listen — Just make sure I’m on the agenda, and as near the end as possible if you can swing it. I’m counting on you to make this happen.”

Which Winchester Wilcox the Third knew naturally meant, Make it happen or die. Thaxton started to slam his fist again, then held back at the very last moment, taking a deep breath instead.

“For heaven’s sake, T.J.,” Thaxton leaned forward in his chair, and the leather cushions rubbing together made a low and luxurious creaking and crinkling, “It’s a conference on punctuational research. Have you found any rule against –”

T.J. Murnighan was a worrywart, and Winchester Wilcox the Third didn’t understand why Thaxton continued to keep him on as his aide, except maybe for his exceptional schmoozing skills and large family. T.J. had managed to help make Thaxton the most well-connected councilman in Enid; Winchester had heard the wife of a councilman from Santo Bourbono explain it to the wives of councilmen from Toronto and Boncarbo. Winchester heard all sorts of wild things at Nurlene and Thaxton’s parties.

Like the rumor that Councilwoman Storelle Droverson from the sparkling city of Nouveau Paris was carrying on a steamy affair with Ethan Honeywell, the editor-in-chief of Golden Mean magazine. And that Councilman Wait Stringfellow from Manhattan and Amber had become involved in one of Merrick’s juiciest scandals, which involved an art heist, insurance fraud, and six cases of peanut butter.

Winchester, of course, assumed it was all mostly nonsense — people were highly inventive with their stories — but then his canine instinct told him that there was some truth buried deep within. And Winchester Wilcox the Third always trusted his canine instinct. Chihuahuas must always trust their canine instinct! his father taught him.

“Alright, T.J., you just work your magic, okay? Call that cousin of yours. I know you’ll make me happy!”

Thaxton, off the phone at last, sat back in his chair and rested his fist against his mouth. He shifted his eyes down and looked at Winchester, who was momentarily busy attending to an itch behind his ear.

When Winchester finished scratching his ear, he sat up straight and waited a moment before casually looking back over his shoulder at Thaxton.

Thaxton chuckled softly. “What do you think, Winchester?”

Winchester Wilcox the Third studied Thaxton’s face and thought that whatever Thaxton was up to, Thaxton believed it was important, and that no matter what he, Winchester Wilcox the Third, thought, T.J. Murnighan would knock at the front door later that evening after supper, Nurlene would conveniently come down with a terrible headache and feel horribly sorry for having to run off just as T.J. was arriving, and the two men would sit in the living room on the creaky-cushioned leather couches discussing Thaxton’s magnificent plan for blowing the socks off the citizens of Enid.

Thaxton would recline comfortably back into the corner of one couch, leaning on one elbow with his fist resting against his mouth and the other arm stretched across the back, legs crossed. T.J. would sit on the facing couch, right smack in the middle, perched nervously on the edge. No matter how much scotch Thaxton would pour, T.J. would never relax and stop nattering on and on about this detail or that issue long enough for Winchester Wilcox the Third to get some sleep. Perhaps it was for the best – T.J. was annoying, yes, but increidbly bright and really quite harmless.

And anyway, after Thaxton finally dismissed T.J., insisting he’d done a good job as always and that he, Thaxton, would now take care of the rest, don’t worry — Thaxton would collapse into his chair with one last glass of scotch, and take a long, deep breath. Then he’d look into the wisened eyes of Winchester Wilcox the Third — who would be looking back at him, dutifully — and ask with a sigh, “What do you think, Winchester?”

Winchester Wilcox the Third thought Thaxton knew exactly what he was doing, and he didn’t need anyone else — not even his most trusted companion — to tell him whether it was right or wrong.

So, having thought so, Winchester Wilcox the Third yapped and wagged his tail. Thaxton laughed, dropped his hand from his mouth, uncrossed his legs, and stood up from his chair.

“Alright, friend,” Thaxton said with a scratch on Winchester’s head, “let’s scrounge up some lunch, shall we?”

Now this, Winchester Wilcox the Third thought, was a very excellent plan.

November 24, 2009 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Liquid happy

Because I’m 10,000 words behind. Because my dining room is torn apart from water damage. Because my husband and father-in-law are tiling this weekend. Because horrifying messes always get worse before they get better. Because I’m looking forward to the day when my father-in-law can come over to my house and not either (a) tear my house apart or (b) evaluate how he’s going to tear my house apart.

Because not twenty minutes after my father-in-law called this evening to say he was coming over to tile this weekend, our friends Mike and Sherye called to say they’re coming to visit this weekend. Because our guest room? Torn apart! Because as it turns out, November is an inconvenient month to write a novel.

Because of all the photos I looked through on my search for calm, these are the only ones that spoke to me. Because the holiday season is approaching with the grace and mildness of an avalanche. And they make these mood-enhancing substances for a reason.

November 17, 2009 at 8:20 pm Leave a comment

Dear Dad, Chief Petty Officer, US Navy, retired

I found a photo in a box, tucked away with a hundred other photos of family and old friends, places I’ve gone to which I may never return, things that must have seemed important at the time but now have lost all meaning. But this one,


it tugged at my heart. Not because I remember this moment at all; I don’t know how old I was, exactly, but clearly I was more interested in the action going on around me on that rainy day, than in that first long embrace from a sailor returning home to his young family after months — his daughter’s lifetime — at sea. Did I know who you were?

My dad is a retired United States Navy Chief Petty Officer.

I say that out loud and I feel my heart glow with a warm, golden light; it feels like a badge of honor on my soul. I’m so proud.

I’ve listened to your stories with awe and delight, and in doing so I’ve realized that it’s an incredibly brave act to enlist in the military: to voluntarily put aside the life you’ve always known, to leave your parents, to arrive by train in Great Lakes late at night with shipmates you barely know, not knowing where to go or what to do, to try to function on too little sleep, too little time to eat, too little time to think, just trying to make it through, trying to do the right thing. Trying to do the right thing.

Does that make it any easier — the discipline they teach you? Focus. Fortitude. Fraternity. Is that what makes it possible to stand courageously at the ship’s rails, watching your family and your homeland fade into the horizon? Is it the salty wind on your face, the uniform of your country on your back, the colors flying proudly above your head — are these the things that give you faith that the world will be better for your sacrifice? Non sibi sed patriae.

You’ve instilled those core Navy values in me, whether you know it or not. But never through words. Your life has taught me — shown me — no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office and whatever battles we are waging at home and abroad, that patriotism — the unconditional love of country — manifests in the selfless commitment to actively making this world an easier place to live: trying to do the right thing. And to do it requires honor to recognize what needs to be done, the courage to do it, and the commitment to see it through. Though the world is thick with storm, you keep your eyes to the sun. And that is the standard by which I try to live.


But what is the right thing to do? What’s the difference between trying to make the world better as we, individually, believe it should be, and making the world better as it, at the moment, needs to be? Your career of selfless service to others has offered me that lesson, too: Doing the right thing has little to do with what I think is right. It is, rather, what’s right for those who need my help. Not for self, but for country. Not for myself, but for those who need me.

The reach of your commitment, your service, and your patriotism extends much, much farther than you know.

So I’ll let another shopper with fewer items (or more kids to corral) get in front of me in the checkout line; I’ll be friendly with an exhausted and grumpy cashier; I’ll keep trying to be patient and understanding, trusting and kind. Though it will never live up to the service you’ve given to your community — your country — I know, deep down, that it stems from the same place. I know because it was you who planted it there. And though my acts may be infinitesimal, you should know that when I do them, I do them in honor of you.

“I hope my achievements in life are these: That I will have fought for what was right and fair, that I will have risked for that which mattered, that I will have given help to those who were in need… that I will have left the Earth a better place for what I’ve done and who I’ve been.” – C. Hoppe


With love,
The proud daughter of a retired United States Navy Chief Petty Officer

November 11, 2009 at 11:30 am 1 comment

Nine-thousand words, a chihuahua, and a lot of nonsense

You may or may not know that I’m currently in the wild throes of National Novel Writing Month, which is to say that I’m throwing an entire month of my life away in an attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which is to say that it’s all complete nonsense. After one full week, I’m hovering a bit under 9,000 words — a bit behind the recommended daily average, but this year seems much more promising than last, as I only ever made it to just under 13,000 words. And I still have no idea what I’m doing.

So I thought I’d share a piece of it with you, because there’s an excellent chance that this is the first and last time these crazy words will ever reach the public, and if you choose to read it, it should only be so that you can forget that you ever read it. Nevertheless, please don’t steal this crap because, well, I care about your reputation.

The full synopsis (and other inane excerpt) is on my NaNoWriMo profile (under “Novel Info”). Forgive me. And cheer me on, baby!

* * * * * * * * * *

Winchester Wilcox the Third just didn’t understand Thaxton and Nurlene’s terrible habit of waking up at the crack of one hour past dawn. If he had a word for it, his word for it would have been “obscene,” because Winchester Wilcox the Third preferred to sleep at least until the crack of two and a half hours past dawn. Yet, because he was forced to endure the nuisance of living with two people who liked to get out of bed so obscenely early, it was of no doubt to Winchester Wilcox the Third that it had been written in the stars and he was destined to suffer premature ear droop. His fur was already losing its golden luster – he just knew it. Yet it was a fate, he decided one afternoon as he was sitting in the window watching a butterfly flutter from flower to flower, that he would bear with nobility and grace.

That’s not to say that Winchester Wilcox the Third didn’t try to sleep in. His downfall, ultimately, was that he preferred to sleep with his slate blue velvet pillow next to the grassy green drapes. It reminded him of the outdoors – somehow, as he had only ever been out to see the front yard – and every night when he curled up to sleep, he imagined that he was a pioneer chihuahua, exploring vast unknown territories, sleeping in caves and fighting off unimaginable dangers, making friends and enemies with equal mastery.

But because he slept on his blue velvet cushion next to the grassy green drapes, he was doomed to endure the pouring in of light on his chestnut face every morning at the crack of one hour and five minutes past dawn, when Thaxton would pull open the drapes and stare out the window, contemplating the day ahead of him as though it was standing there in the street waiting to be let in. Winchester Wilcox the Third would stir, begrudgingly, and turn around with his back to the window and try to bury his face under his paws.

Then, every day, at the crack of one hour and ten minutes past dawn, he would feel the cool, gentle breeze created by the swooshing of Nurlene’s silken robe, and hear the light shuffle of her satin leather-soled slippers. She would be carrying a cup of fresh, hot coffee for Thaxton, who would say, “Ah! Thank you, my dear, now the day can begin,” and finish with a peck of his dry lips on her porcelain cheek. At which she would reply by combing his hair down across his forehead with her fingers, then smooth out the top of it with her palm with a smile. And before she swooshed back into the bedroom to get dressed, she’d stoop down to the blue velvet pillow bathed in light and vigorously scratch Winchester Wilcox the Third between his ears.


Which would naturally cause anyone to involuntarily lurch out of even the deepest, most peaceful repose and exert a long and vehement shudder.

This day was no different. And Winchester Wilcox the Third, having shaken himself thoroughly from head to tail, stood stock still with his ears perched, his black eyes darting from corner to corner, evaluating the situation. He saw the billowing tail end of Nurlene’s robe slither through the doorway, and then click! the door promptly closed behind her. Winchester Wilcox the Third took two steps forward, then turned around to ensure that Thaxton, too, was where he was meant to be, doing what he was meant to do.

“Morning there, Winchester ol’ chap!” his clear voice boomed from above. Thaxton’s words reverberated through the cold tile floor, and up through Winchester Wilcox the Third’s tiny feet and legs. The chihuahua shivered. Then, seeing Thaxton’s face beaming down at him, Winchester Wilcox the Third turned himself around and trotted a few steps toward the man, stopped a few inches from Thaxton’s navy felt slipper, and wagged his tail as an added friendly gesture.

Thaxton smiled, and nudged the chihuahua under the jaw with his slippered foot. The force of it knocked Winchester Wilcox the Third backwards and sideways a few chihuahua paces, but he wouldn’t complain – Chihuahua strength and chihuahua pride! his father would have said if his father had words. And Winchester Wilcox the Third lived by the implied words of Winchester Wilcox the Second, which (Winchester imagined) were the implied words of Winchester Wilcox the Original; they reverberated in his soul like Thaxton’s voice through his legs. These were the things that moved Winchester Wilcox the Third: his raison d’etre.

Then, as every morning, Winchester Wilcox the Third lightly sniffed the floor immediately in front of him. Finding nothing, he looked back up at Thaxton, who was already staring back out the window with his mind fixed elsewhere. He looked sideways across the room – nearly completely bathed in sunlight now – to the glossy white bedroom door, which was still closed. He twitched his ears in the door’s direction and heard Nurlene’s cheerful humming as she brushed her auburn hair and painted makeup on her face. Winchester Wilcox the Third felt a familiar gurgling, hollow feeling in his belly, and so he turned again – away from the window – and strolled toward the kitchen where breakfast was waiting in a silver dish, leaving Thaxton alone with his rapidly cooling cup of coffee.

November 8, 2009 at 3:57 pm 3 comments



I came across some photos (on film!) of my college campus in fall. As it is for many people, fall has always been my favorite season and I’m reminded of how lucky I was to experience it in the mountains of Western Maryland for four years, walking through campus every day to and from class, work, and my room. Now the season seems to come and go with barely enough time for me to notice, and I don’t think it’s because Earth’s orbit around the sun has gotten faster.


November 7, 2009 at 6:15 pm 1 comment

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