Monday, February 25, 2013

Updates...

Hi friends. Holly and Jenn here. We have been getting the sweetest messages from wonderful friends like you, checking in on our progress. Almost two months ago, we decided to reign in our vices, namely sugar and Diet Coke, in an effort to feel better and take care of our bodies. ("You're welcome, 50-year-old self.") We appreciate the words of encouragement and love and tips to help us make it through. Truly, we do. So here's how it's been going:

Holly: Well, I'm happy to report that sugar is still my friend. There were days when I hated it and its hold on me. There were some rough days. Days when all I could think about was how I couldn't have that ice cream sandwich or that handful of Hot Tamales that got me through stress or boredom or whatever.

Like the day I took my son to Krispy Kreme to get doughnuts for his birthday and was tortured for the 15 minute ride back to school with 5 boxes of HOT Doughnuts, filling up the car with their delicious scent! I wept all the way home and cursed my ridiculous addiction and really wished my jaw could be wired shut to make it easier! Crazy times.

But now on the other side of it, it has given me focus. I really do love it still (HOT Krispy Kreme doughnuts? I mean come on!) but I don't NEED it now, which I will count as some serious progress. I try to replace my desire to have a sugary snack on a daily basis with my desire to WRITE on a daily basis. When the feeling comes over me for something small and sweet, I give myself permission. If I have given permission already that day, I sit to write about it. It may only be a few sentences or for a few minutes, but it is a welcome distraction from putting something in my mouth. My hips are thanking me and I get closer to achieving my goal of publishing. Now if only I could invent a healthy doughnut...

Jenn: OK...giving up Diet Coke was really hard, at first. REALLY HARD. In fact, I fell off the wagon pretty early on. The interesting thing is, that "slip" didn't send me back to square one. Actually, my bubbly old friend wasn't as fulfilling as I had expected, and that took the sting off the guilt and made it a smidge easier to climb back on that wagon. I went back to giving up Diet Coke with renewed determination.

Then, something else happened. I was given the news that my job was changing. Same work, different department. BIG, scary change! (You can read more about that here.) In the past, that kind of stress would have sent me running for comfort food and my fizzy friend, but I was ok. Instead of focusing on missing my Diet Coke, I was immediately distracted by the job change. It was good. I was strong. Really, I was.

And since then, Diet Coke doesn't have quite the same hold on me. I have even allowed myself one or two, a sort of test of will you could say, and I've performed well. A D.C. every once in a while is just enough of a sweet indulgence to make me smile and it proves that I've come pretty far. That feels good, friends. REALLY GOOD.

So how are you doing with your resolutions? We're cheering you on!

{H&J}

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Climb Out

Happy Valentine's Day friends! Today is the first post in a series of ours we are starting about marriage and relationships that make us who we are. We would love to hear your stories about struggles, difficulties, unforgettable moments, and of course love! Of all our relationships, the one with our spouse can be the most fulfilling and the most challenging. It can give us some of our best and worst stories to tell.

Let me ask you something. Have you ever become painfully aware that your most meaningful relationship has somehow come to a difficult, maybe even formidable season? Have you wondered at your lowest moments whether it’s worth it to keep trying? Do you choose to hold on and move forward or give up and let go?

I met my husband when I was 23. After our first kiss, I had the romantic notion that I would marry him but I really didn't know. I didn't know lots of things back then. Like how hard marriage really is. That the lows can be just as miraculous as the highs. They both can take your breath away. Thinking back, I don't remember what my thoughts were about getting married, I just remember wanting to. I wanted to be just with one person always to share a future and a family and forever. Mike was that for me.

Fast forward almost 17 years and three children. We have shared many things and made it through this far, sometimes I wonder how. We both have a mean streak. We are not very nice to each other sometimes. Neither one of us really knows how to say "I'm sorry" the way the other can hear it. The burdens of life can be too much sometimes and we can feel it pulling us under. We don't deal with stress very well and our life has been one big ball of stress for the past three years. But somehow, we have made it this far.

When I was growing up, no one ever talked to me about marriage. The examples of marriage in my life were not happy. My grandparents were married for over 65 years but they didn't like each other very much, and we all knew it. My parents were married for 18 years and somewhere along the way they lost respect for each other and it all fell apart. Basically I was NOT prepared to get married and be the wife I needed to be. My romantic notions were not a good foundation for building one of the most important relationships in my life, and that became apparent quickly.

I became a Christian after my first son was born, before my husband did. The good Lord saw fit to bring him around a few years later. I wish I could say it was partly my good influence, my kind actions and holding my tongue that brought him to Christ, but alas, I am imperfect in so many ways. I wish I could say that the first few years of marriage were the hardest but in our case years 14, 15, and 16 have kicked our literal butts. Our path led down into a valley and wouldn't let us go. Financially we struggled and that struggle brought a strain that created such disillusionment, it makes me cry to just write about it. What do you do when you look at the partner you have chosen for your forever and you don't know if you can even make it to tomorrow? It’s binding, blinding and suffocating. Sometimes it feels as if there is no way to climb out of a hole that deep.

You know how we’re doing it? Very slowly, on our knees. We decided one afternoon that our family was worth fighting for. Our kids deserved so much more than what a divorce would give them. So instead of packing a bag, we picked up a phone and asked for help and then got back on our knees and got to work. The work is hard and sometimes quiet. I am selfish and don't like change. When I sat and listened, the still voice of Jesus whispered to me that if I started to love my husband the way He did and listened to what He had to say in His word, I would be free from all the pain and the disillusionment would be lifted off my veiled eyes. I needed that. So, I started a transformation from the inside out. A painful, introspective transformation, where I had to admit what my faults were and what I had been contributing to the breakdown of the relationship to my children's father. I don't know about you, but I don't like looking at my faults. Even worse, I don't like thinking that my stubbornness, selfishness or lack of empathy would point some of the blame in my direction. What? It’s my fault too? Ugh.

I don't know about you but it's hard for me to show my husband love when I really just want to ignore him or talk him to death, telling him how he can show ME love. I have to set him straight right? Isn't it my job to tell him what he is doing wrong and how he can fix it? Well...no. I had to admit it to myself. Pointing out his faults hasn't worked, not in 17 years and I can't imagine that will ever change. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I was going insane and I needed to try something different.

I really had to step back and figure out what I could change about my marriage. Since it was my fault too (I guess...) what could I do differently to stop the feelings of suffocation and pain? It goes against my nature to do that, so it was hard, even to just think about it. What did I need to change? The way I react to the actions of my husband. That was it. I realized, after introspective chatter and discovery (and prayer), that in many situations I was over reacting because of past history or something that I couldn't let go of. I discovered I'm really good at holding onto stuff that needs to be let go. I'm not so good at recognizing that it needs to go. I wear circumstances like badges of honor and use them to my advantage. How awful. How selfish. That's no good. Enter change, stage right.

It's really true what they say about not being able to change other people. I can only change myself. I do not want to act selfishly. I do not want to put the blame on others where it doesn't belong. I do not want to hold on to the past so it smothers my present. Those are the things I am working to change. I am a work in progress. So is my marriage.

My husband and I are not out of the valley yet, but the difference now is that we are holding hands, helping each other to find the best foot holds to climb up and out. We take small steps every day. Sometimes they are backwards, but mostly forward. We talk. Communication is key. We are still not very nice sometimes. The change is that we are listening differently. Our intent is to offer help to each other and to understand, not just to get our own point across or to be "right." If you are always "right," if you always "win" the argument, then your spouse always loses and who wants to be married to a loser? We remember to look up. If your focus is on the waves threatening to drown you, they will. Change your focus to what can save you and you will be saved. We pray. And pray some more. It helps us work from the inside out. We try and picture ourselves in 30 years. What do we want to see? Children and grandchildren sitting by our feet, with the one we chose for our forever sitting close beside, wrinkled fingers touching. Holding hands with the one who understands me best of all and has stuck by me anyway. That thought of that future gives me hope. One more foothold that helps me hold on in the hard moments.

If you are in a hard or troublesome place in your marriage, or with your kids, or even a friend, can I humbly suggest listening to that still quiet voice, opening your ears and your heart to the possibilities of what you may need to do differently? Sometimes it may be about changing the way you talk or changing your focus. Sometimes it’s all about getting on your knees. Maybe it's about changing your thoughts from the present darkness around you to the hope that shimmers in the future. Sometimes that can be the light that leads the way. Trust me, the climb is worth it. {H}

Monday, February 11, 2013

Let's freeze that sucker off!

My son has a skin tab, but that's the LEAST of his problems. My son can't admit he is wrong, ever, or that he's messed up on a homework assignment, or that he's lost his lunch bag, again, or that he has a WART on his finger. In his world, it's a skin tab. WHAT?

So when we discovered this tiny annoying growth, he got really mad when his siblings identified it as a wart. In fact, he went to school, spoke with his teacher and tried to find an alternative diagnosis. This is when he came up with "skin tab." Now maybe she said skin tag - that's an actual thing - but he was convinced it was "tab" with a B. Really, it's a wart with a W-A-R-T but he just couldn't bring himself to admit that. These were his exact words: "It's not a wart. Warts are gross. Frogs have warts and I don't want people to think I'm like a frog. It's a SKIN TAB!" Red-faced, he was about to lose it, so we just told him calmly that there was nothing wrong about having a wart and that we would take care of it. Off we were to CVS for a "Skin Tab Removal" kit.

When Noah was four, we thought he was really adorable when we found him at 5:00 a.m. the day after Halloween taking a lick off each of the lollipops he acquired the night before...there were 8! What wasn't so cute was how he denied it vehemently, "I wuz just wooking," with sticky sugar smeared across his sweet cheeks. It wasn't like we were going to beat him or take away all of his candy as punishment but he just couldn't come to terms with doing something wrong. He denied it so many times he actually believed it. Little did we know that this would become his struggle.

When Noah is in any sort of trouble, usually of the arguing-with-brother or not-using-shampoo-when-washing-hair variety, he shuts down. If his dad or I use a scolding tone of voice, if we are disappointed in him, watch out, he just loses it. Now don't get me wrong, he doesn't turn into a psycho-child, destroying whatever is within reach, but he turns off his ears and can no longer listen to the wise words swirling around him. He repels criticism and correction of any kind. It's terribly frustrating.

You may be wondering, "What kind of environment does this poor child live in that makes a minor observation of disfavor seem like a branding iron?" and I can appreciate that. (I used to judge too.) You might think that his dad and I can never be pleased, that we ride him constantly or strive to make him feel like a bad kid, but I assure you, that's not the case. In fact, we have two other children who don't hold their breath until they're purple when they get a time out or lose access to electronics. They can handle the consequences whenever they're corrected or disciplined. They're proof, right?

Here's my theory. I blame you! Yes, you heard me, YOU, and you know who you are. You are responsible for my child's inability to take criticism, admit he's wrong, accept responsibility or deal with any level of failure.

Meet Noah...here he is at two:

Here he is at four:

Here he is at six:

Here he is now...

(This is his GREAT friend Ella...Holly's daughter.) Isn't he just the cutest boy EVER? (Despite his current state of "I-can-do-no-wrongness," I love him to pieces! He may even be my favorite. Don't tell my bigs.)

All of his life, he has won the favor of everyone around him. He is a charmer and he is sincerely sweet. He looks at the world with unabridged joy. He is AWESOME!

Over the years, Noah has been made aware of said AWESOMENESS everywhere. In preschool, the teachers and moms all lovingly touched his head of curls telling him how handsome he was. The preschool director would even let him pick from the treasure box just because. He loved the attention and didn't realize the level of "spoiling" going on around him. In Kindergarten and first grade, he was frequently forgiven when he forgot an assignment or only gave half his effort, hurrying through so he could get to the fun stuff. That's normal for most kids, right? Even in sports, he could just show up for the snack and he was a star. If I'm honest, I'm sure we perpetuated the love at home too. We did with all our kids but, alas, different personalities make different little people.

The last two years, though, have been a little hard for our sweet Noah. His teachers actually expect him to do work, and do it well. In Taekwondo, he has to know his form and break a board if he wants to advance belts. At home, he is required to pick up all the (flippin') legos before he does anything else. And when he doesn't do what's expected of him, well, the reaction he gets is anything but favorable. Noah doesn't like that.

"Wait a minute," he thinks with a dumbfounded look, "You mean, if I don't try my hardest, do my best work, and put effort into the things I am responsible for...you mean, I'm going to disappoint someone? Unacceptable!" (Well, I can't claim to know his inner dialogue but I think it goes something like that.)

This is what we're working on. In fact, one of Noah's resolutions for 2013 is to admit when he has done something wrong, either intentionally (= laziness or lack of respect) or accidentally (= not thinking or carelessness), and then deciding to do a better job next time. Most importantly, we're trying to help him LET IT GO. Our mantra: "You are not a bad kid, you just made a bad choice and you can fix it but you have to admit it first." (It's like he's in a 10-step program..."Lord, grant him the wisdom to know he's occasionally wrong.") He's a work in progress. Aren't we all?

So here is my point. Children need to constantly hear that they are wonderful and they are works in progress. Parents need to commit to growing great human beings, and that includes the hard work of holding high expectations and dolling out discipline, when appropriate. If we shield our children from the stinging truth of criticism in an effort to preserve their little self esteems, they will never become practiced in failing and trying harder next time. If we constantly sing their praises and ignore their opportunities for improvement, they will never experience the great pride in setting goals of betterment, aiming for, and sometimes even achieving those goals. If we tell our kids they're perfect in every way, they won't learn how to hear that they've done something less than perfectly and they may not recognize the lessons that teach them their best effort is all that's expected.

So we have work to do, don't we? First on the agenda: a doctor's appointment where Dr. T. will inform my child that he does indeed have a wart. And then we'll freeze that sucker off.

(By the way, if you see Noah, please don't mention his skin tab. He's a little sensitive about it. Thanks!)

{J}

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Beginnings...

Two days of writing and editing and reading and blogging are done. We had a very productive weekend and we're planning to stay in the zone when we get back home. Thank you to all our friends who have been cheering us on along the way. You motivate us! We'd love to hear your opinions about our writing samples. What do you think? Do you like? (Please say yes, please say yes...)

An excerpt from Jenn's project

Prologue

“Thank you for the escort, my friend.” Simone and I arrived at our building ten minutes early, so she walked with me into the vast, theater-style room and stayed with me until I found a seat toward the back. As I got settled, she warily looked around.

“Do you want to switch classes? Majors maybe?” I playfully inquired.

Her English Lit class was just upstairs, so she could linger for at least another nine minutes. I knew she was taking it all in, assessing the room, every student as they entered. She noticed everything. What she didn’t see was their reaction to her. The guys wondered why she hadn’t taken a seat. Maybe they should stall in the off chance of strategically positioning her in their line of sight. The girls, those who noticed her, all hoped she wasn’t staying. The competition among female college students was fierce. No, she wouldn’t notice those signs on a normal day, but today, she was especially distracted. She was occupied by something else, a looming threat.

“Gwen, don’t move an inch. Garrett’s at the north entrance scanning the room. God, what’s he doing here?” If the softness in her voice could make her invisible, she would have disappeared.

She discreetly reached into her book bag for something. It was unnerving that he was here, true, but I was sure it was just a coincidence.

“He probably has a class in the building, Simone. Don’t go breaking out the pepper spray.” (Pepper spray had become popular in the self-defense world a few months earlier and Simone was proud to be leading the trend. And she really wasn’t afraid to use it.)

“Gwen, this isn’t a joke. He’s up to something. He looks like a madman.” Her panicked tone spooked me.

“I’m sure it’s nothing. He always looks irritated lately,” I replied, trying to calm her down.

I grabbed her wrist, silently urging her to sit. At that moment, her face dropped. Despite her warning, I turned to see what had made her pale. He was there, a deranged, hateful look on his face. His eyes bore into mine. He mouthed something, but I could only hear a deafening ring in my ears. Then he shifted on his heels and shoved an unsuspecting senior into the doorframe. Simone fell heavily into the seat next to me as I began to shake. Seconds later, another loud pop behind me and it all went black.

Chapter 1

February 1995: Rain.

Unending wet and gray gloom. That was how we were welcomed back to campus after six weeks of holiday bliss. I was just beginning to understand the importance of time off, of the three R’s: rest, recovery and rejuvenation, when another semester crept up on me and demanded my attention.

“Karly, do you have an extra umbrella? I think Garrett still has mine and I’m not about to call him. I’d rather show up to class looking like a drowned cat!”

Karly was one of my roommates and best friends. Simone completed our trio. We were all in our junior year at Shoreline University. It’s amazing how three lives on different paths could collide and meld into a mutual sustenance. Simone and I had been friends since middle school. We met Karly at orientation. In just over two years, we’d become inseparable, relying on each other for everything: class notes, carpool, peanut butter, wine coolers and today, weather-proof gear. We were as close as sisters, none of us having any naturally, and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

“Gwen, you just need to call him and tell him you’d like your stuff back, including your umbrella! You don’t want the rain to ruin your perm or your weave,” Karly playfully asserted.

I stuck out my tongue. She knew perfectly well I was naturally curly and naturally blond.

“You’re just jealous that I look good in hats!” I jeered back as she returned a sassy look. Regardless of the weather, Karly’s hair could not be tamed.

“But I have one you can use until you get up the nerve. Do you think you’ll run into him again today? He sure has been popping up in strange places lately. It’s like he’s trying to track you down. It’s kind of freaky.”

Karly handed me her extra umbrella. I wasn’t thrilled that it was covered with cats. She smiled smugly.

“Beggars can’t be choosers. We can grab one at Target later. We need toilet paper and wine coolers for this weekend.” I was thankful for the chance to spend most of the day dry.

“Thank you,” I smiled, trying not to reveal any sign that I was spooked by my ex’s behavior.

Truth be told, it was a bit menacing how often he’d just show up where we were. Even more disturbing was his perpetually angry glare, although it wasn’t surprising to me. My roommates had never seen the dark side of Garrett and they were perplexed by his menacing behavior since our break-up two months ago.

And I was ashamed. I had never told them about our last encounter, when his deranged outburst offered me a chilling glimpse of what he was capable of. I could still see my sunglasses on the ground, one lens crushed into tiny bits of glittering dark glass. They’d broken that day when he’d slapped me. The slap hadn’t hurt much-not physically anyway-but he made it clear he wasn’t done with me. I had tried to forget it all, but his frequent appearances made that difficult.

Yesterday we’d seen him as we were leaving the Laundromat, baskets of our favorites fresh and clean. His apartment building had a laundry room. I was processing this thought, pulse quickening, when Simone came in the kitchen and grabbed a crisp Granny Smith.

“Hey, you can use that umbrella for self-defense if you do run into Garrett and he tries anything. He’d never suspect you’d attack him with something covered in sweet kitties.” Simone giggled as she peeled off the sticker and twisted the stem of her breakfast. Was she going through the letters of the alphabet with each turn? I still did.

Simone was brave, in almost every way. She wasn’t afraid of the prospect of fighting off men, literally. She had made sure of that. She was striking: tall and lean with glowing skin, the kind that looks bronzed even in the dead of winter. She had long, sleek chestnut-brown hair and perfect, almond eyes enhanced with beautifully thick lashes. Every male, in any room she entered, fell victim to her auspicious appeal. It was as though the air in the space around her became lighter, infused with hope and happiness, when she entered. Fellow students, guys and gals alike, were naturally drawn to her. She was regularly approached by men of every persuasion, especially on campus. It was quite interesting to witness.

One guy in particular, a grad student she’d gone out with earlier in the year, became verbally aggressive, calling her constantly after she’d declined his invitation to go out again. It scared her. He lost interest after he reunited with an old fling, but she took the threat seriously. She'd found a self-defense class at the local gym and had been training ever since. Karly and I hadn’t shared the same urgent need to equip ourselves with life-saving skills, but Simone disapproved. Maybe we’d pick up some of her tricks once we got settled in school and had some free time. It couldn’t hurt.

“I’m going to escort you to your classes today, just in case,” she said, between bites. I tried to dismiss her, dissuade her with false confidence, but inside I felt better. Loved. Protected. The way she always made me feel. She had been taking care of me since the day we met, on our first day of sixth grade, when she boldly informed an imposing and intimidating seventh grader that he was blocking a bunch of lockers, one of which was mine. My locker was right next to hers and, unfortunately, right below Bubba’s. I would’ve never made it to first period in time had she not spoken up. She was my savior that day, and from then on, my best friend.

First on our weekly driving schedule, Simone grabbed her bag and coat and shuffled us out the door, with plenty of time to spare before class. She was tentative, at best, behind the wheel. Driving was not reflexive for her. It made her jumpy to navigate such an imposing fusion of metal and steel. Add a rainstorm and we had an overly anxious driver leading our unit. It was quite a contradiction. Her confidence in her self-preservation skills was pronounced, but her certainty in her ability to drive us twelve miles down the coast faltered. She was aware of her own limitations, especially driving. Maybe that was her secret: she learned to trust her intuition, therefore enhancing her skills of self-perception. Today, she wasn’t taking any chances. We left an hour early to complete the short drive.

Karly took the front seat and control of the radio. Our latest obsession was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Retro disco was all the rage, made even more popular by emerging disco nights at all the local hot spots. We spent hours deciphering the lyrics and writing down the words, a frequent undertaking. That way we could put to memory every inflection, every twang, mastering our favorites so we could belt them out at the tops of our lungs. Our motto: “If we’re going to sing, we’re going to make ‘em proud.” As though we’d ever be likely enough to encounter Donna Summer or Andy Gibb at the exact moment that we were harmonizing to one of their hits, impressing them so much that they'd instantly offer us a lifetime membership to their fan club and unlimited access to concerts and memorabilia. (Girls can dream.) Today, it was the Bee Gee’s “More Than A Woman,” but we kept the volume down to avoid distracting our apprehensive driver.

Karly sang along while she added the finishing touches to her messy bun of curly brown hair. Other than a coat of lip gloss and a dusting of sheer powder, she rarely applied make-up to her pale, freckled face. Instead, she used any extra primping time to tame her wild hair.

Our threesome was uneven. Karly was the mom, maternal beyond her years, and she took care of us. She had her finger on the pulse of our household. She knew exactly when we needed restocking, whether it was nail polish remover or groceries or girl time. She scheduled everything and taught us how to use a calendar. Shamefully, I admit, the concept of “future,” whether that be next weekend, next month, next quarter, had been somewhat abstract to me before college. Karly changed that.

Simone did too. She was the motivator in the house. Karly would develop a plan, Simone would make it happen. She was born with that gift and we were lucky to have access to it. Simone oozed sincere encouragement, and people around her yearned to please her. Including me. She could propel even the laziest, most selfish slacker into charitable acts. They say every village needs a chief; every kitchen needs a cook. Well, where Karly and Simone were concerned, they had it all covered. Our dwelling was a constant flow of energy and inspiration.

That brings us to the final leg in our tripod: me. I wish I could say my role in the house was as impactful and robust, but I don’t believe it was. I was playful and impulsive. The silver lining to such traits was that I was often the life of the party. I wasn’t the most responsible, but my protective roommates made sure that I stayed on track, in school, at my part-time jobs, with my funds and finances. My actions weren’t always appropriate, but thankfully, my regrets were few. I had moved from one set of parents to another. Karly and Simone, my new and improved caretakers, were also patient and forgiving, nurturing and wise. I trusted them implicitly. And during our years together, unbeknownst to me, I grew up. My two best friends, like my parents before them, deserve all the credit.

When we arrived on campus, the downpour had waned, leaving a heavy mist in its place. The gusty conditions added an eerie effect. Students were moving quickly from their parked cars to the nearest overhang to check and recheck a class schedule, verifying they were on the right track. We were no different. Halfway across the university grounds, Karly veered left to find the building where her Political Science class was held. Simone and I trudged forward, holding tightly to our umbrellas in an attempt to deny the wind its chance to upturn them. Our first class was in the same building.

“Why do I have to take Ancient Philosophy at 9:00 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” I protested again this morning, “when I could take it at 4:00 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays?”

Two months ago, as we gathered around the dinner table one Tuesday evening for tacos, we had the same argument.

“What in the world do you mean, you’d do better in the Tuesday/Thursday class? That makes no sense. It’s exactly the same class!”

Karly was using her authoritative, scolding tone of voice to gently influence me. Her question was rhetorical. She didn’t really want me to share my reasoning. I was annoyed.

Simone sensed the tension and gently explored my rationale. “Really Gwen. What’s the difference?” In an effort to pleasantly placate her roommates, she squeezed it out of me.

I would have been happy to pout for a bit longer, my passive-aggressive attempt to convince Karly to give in, but Simone was ready to play mediator.

“Well, to be honest,” I replied, “I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m not the best morning person. My brain doesn’t function at full capacity that early in the morning, especially three days a week.”

Even as the words defensively marched off my tongue, guns firing, I knew my defense was weak.

“Plus, the cute guys don’t take classes at 9:00 a.m. They’ll fill up the afternoon classes and I’ll miss any chance of getting over this haunting break-up.” My attempt at sympathy-invoking reasoning didn’t fare too well either.

We continued mapping our semester out like a retired couple scheduling every detail of their vacation. Really, where’s the spontaneity? But Karly argued the convenience of mutual lunch and library breaks while Simone preached of our environmental duty to share a tank of gas. In the end, the three of us finalized our courses so our schedules coincided conveniently; the thoughtful organizers in my midst had fashioned an adult version of the steadfast and proverbial buddy system. I didn’t know then that it would save my life.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Weekend Writing Retreat

So far the weekend has been full of a creative flow of energy! We are working our way toward our goal of moving from writers of ideas to published authors! With a little sugar rush to keep us going and music for inspiration we are on our way!
Wanna taste? Read on friends! Leave a comment and let us know what you think! {H&J}

An excerpt from Holly's work Candyland

Candyland

I looked at the ruby red color and thought of Spain. The way the light passed through the bottle. It was a comfort to me. It took me to a better memory and I needed something to distract me from the pain.

My best friend was dead. I couldn't wrap my mind around what that really meant and how I was supposed to feel. I was numb. It didn't make any sense and no matter what anyone said I couldn't accept it as true. My mother gently touched my shoulder, "Grace, we have to go".

My black dress was laying on my bed. I couldn't get up the courage to put it on.

"Please get dressed honey," she paused "do you want me to stay up here and help you?" I felt five again in an instant. I wished that my mommy could still kiss me and make the pain go away. "Can you just hand me my shoes in the closet please?" My voice was shaky from crying.

I slipped the black dress over my head and pushed my hair back from my face. Claire was always trying to give me tips on how to make my hair behave. My curls were out of control and it always just looked messy. Tears welled up again as I thought of her reaching out to smooth down a stray curl sticking up off my head. She was so kind. Now she was just gone.

Claire and I had met in second grade. I was the new kid, just moved to this tiny seaside town from the Midwest and realizing, even at the age of eight, how different I was from everyone else. I hated it. Claire thought it was cool. "Did you live on a farm?" When you say you are from Kansas, people expect that at one point you've milked a cow. "No." I was noticing her clothes and how the sparkles on her tennis shoes matched the bow in her hair. Her jeans were cuffed and showed her tan ankles. I felt awkward in my jean shorts and white shoes. Claire never made me feel that way. She accepted me as I was from the beginning. Even I knew, at fifteen, that she was a special friend that doesn't come along very often. Most people would give anything to have a friend like her. The fact that she was gone was too overwhelming and my heart was broken.

"Hi! I'm Claire," she stood in front of me on the swings, her hair in a perfect braid and her bow that matched her shoes. I immediately wanted to be friends with her. "What's your name? Are you new?"

"I'm Grace. I just moved here. I'm in Mrs. Gill's class."

"Mrs. Gill is SO nice, you're lucky. I'm in Mr. Tower's class, he's OK, but he really likes Science and bugs, Yuck!"

After that we were inseperable. Claire had plenty of friends but she had chosen me to sit with at lunch and she looked for me at recess. She made me feel special and she liked that I wasn't like everyone else. We were very different too. My father was a Pastor. Her father was a business man that she hardly ever saw. I had four brothers. She was an only child. Her parents were divorced. My parents had a "date-night" every week no matter what. She liked being at my house even though it was so small. Her house was big with five bedrooms. The "compound" we liked to call it. At my first play date at her house we played spies and hide and seek. It took me almost twenty minutes to find her because her yard was so big. I thought it was the greatest house ever! My three bedroom house was cramped and I always felt like I needed more space. Someone was ALWAYS there, and I think that's what she liked. Claire did not like to be alone and she never had to worry about that at my house. She always wanted to eat dinner with us and in forth grade she started spending the night on Saturday's and coming to church on Sunday mornings. Her mom, Savannah (she didn't like being called Mrs. Phillips), came a few times.

"A miracle," Claire laughed and rolled her eyes.

Claire's mom always looked like she walked out of a fashion magazine. Her hair was long and curled in all the right places. She always had her nails done and her clothes were always immaculate. I was amazed that she was a mom. The one thing that Claire and I liked best was her homemade chocolate chip cookies. She was funny and liked to tell us stories. But Claire said she was lonely and was looking for a husband. Claire's own dad was wealthy but worked so much they had eventually divorced and Claire never saw him.

"At least he sends me birthday cards and I get to see him in the summer," Claire shared with me one day. Boy did she get to see him in the summer! She had been EVERYWHERE! A cabin in the mountains, a beach house in Carmel. But my favorite story was her trip to Spain. In seventh grade her father took her to Europe for three whole weeks. She brought back a hand painted tile and a red bottle that she had gotten from a farm that grew olives. She gave me the bottle because she said that she knew I would like the color. She was right. I kept it on my shelf by the window in my room so the sun would shine through it and cast red light over my bed. It always made me happy. I would day dream about going to Spain with her and traveling across Europe together. I was saving my money for that.

The church was bright from the sunny Spring day. The stained glass windows lit up from the outside. Peonies were everywhere. Claire's favorite flower. Her favorite song from church was playing softly in the background, Josh Wilson's, "See You." I almost couldn't walk forward. I just stayed where I was and listened to the words:

"Maybe this is how it starts, I find you when I fall apart....I'm praying for the pain to pass...."

Even in death she knew what I needed to hear. How would I ever make it without her? I sat in the nearest pew and put my head down. I opened my eyes when I felt someone walk up to me. I saw manicured toes and perfect un-scuffed heels. I looked up into Savannah's face. It was amazing how much Claire looked like her mother.

"Grace," her voice was full of tears. I stood up and hugged her. We just stayed still like that for a few minutes. "She loved you so much you know. You were the sister she never had."

I knew that and it made the tears come a little faster. We let each other go and stood back, watching other people file into the church. I looked up and saw my father standing by the alter, directing people and grabbing hands, nodding, and smiling. He had done so many funerals. But only one other of someone so young. Usually it was someone's grandmother or grandfather. Claire was fifteen. We shouldn't be doing this for her. It all felt wrong. Savannah grabbed my hand and led me down to the front of the church. My father met my eyes and held them there for a moment. He winked at me. His way, since I was little, of letting me know that everything was going to be OK. This time it didn't give me the relief that I wanted. But I loved him for the gesture.

I took my seat in the front and waited for the service to start. I tried not to think of anything because I was tired of crying. I looked around and saw our friends sitting quietly and some whispering to each other. Shock on their faces. My friends Melanie and Brooke sat close together crying. They saw me watching them and cried a little harder. I turned away and tried to think of what Claire would say right now. Probably something about how puffy everyone's eyes were going to be tomorrow. Something to make me laugh. In spite of myself, I smiled. Claire always knew how to make me smile and would work hard to point out silly things or say something that made no sense. Just to get a giggle out of me.

One movie night we were watching one of our favorite's, Return of the King, and I told her, all serious, that she was my Sam, always watching out for me. She said she was glad her feet weren't that big and she would never fight a giant spider for me, "just sayin'." It was moments like that I never wanted to forget.

The rest of the funeral was a blur. I don't remember it and I really don't want to. Her mom and dad had everyone over to her mom's house and had a catered buffet of all Claire's favorite things, including her mom's cookies. I grabbed a few and when no one was paying attention, I snuck upstairs to her room. I slowly pushed open the door and took my shoes off to feel the thick carpet under my bare feet. Claire always said her room was too pink but I loved it. She was getting ready to totally redo everything. She had picked out new colors and new pillows. She wanted it to look more grown up so she had decided on blues and shades of brown. She wanted a "beachy" look. On her desk was a mason jar filled with beach glass and shells that she had collected from different places. She had a huge canopy bed in the middle with ruffled pillows and a pink chandelier that hung in the corner. The carpet was a light pink color and the furniture was all white. It was the princess room that I had always wanted. Posters of Harry and Niles from One Direction hung on the walls. One wall was pink and white striped. For that reason, we had started calling her room Candyland when were young and the name had stuck. So many great memories in that room. I was glad that it hadn't changed yet. I wanted to remember all the slumber parties and movie nights we had shared in that pink room. Thinking that we would never have another moment together brought me back to reality. Candyland was gone forever anyway, with no new paint or pillows, it had disappeared forever along with my best friend. I sat still and closed my eyes, quietly listening, wanting to hear her voice one last time, wishing that it wasn't too late.