Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's Just a Cow Eyeball (not even a whole one, sheesh)

I’ve been informed that the iris (eyeball iris, not flower iris) is a muscle. My son, twelve, came home from school with his very own cow iris and cornea. It was a trophy from his science class dissection of a cow eyeball. My son is not squeamish. He takes after me in that respect, I like to think. He held it in his bare hands. He was really, really, excited. And a little disappointed that his lab partner got to keep the lens, having won it after a round of rock-paper-scissors. The lens is see-through and can magnify stuff. Way cool.

The dried out cow iris, over an inch in diameter, was placed on the kitchen counter while my son went into a detailed explanation of how it was acquired. Did you know one of the differences between cow irises and human irises is that cow irises are oval in shape where human irises are round? Now you know. Another eyeball difference is that cows have fewer eyeball muscles, giving the eye a more limited range of movement. That is why cows have to turn their heads back and forth to look around. (My son gave me a visual demonstration of this. The fact that he is almost 13 and he can still look cute imitating a cow is a testament to his charm.)

I was impressed with the extensive scientific vocabulary he was using. I was not so enamored with his description involving some sort of black substance that gushed out of the eye during the dissection. My son went on to inform me that “icky black liquid” (my term) should technically be referred to as the aqueous humour. That was the moment my husband walked into the kitchen, saw the eyeball piece on the counter and screamed like a girl. I guess he had already been debriefed on cow eyeball dissection terms earlier that day.

Now, when I use the phrase “screamed like a girl” I am referring to the nonsexist version of the phrase. I’m just saying his scream was high-pitched. I’m a girl - my voice is slightly higher pitched than most grown dudes’. Though, I wasn’t screaming. I think that’s pretty normal under the circumstances. Just because my husband is half Italian and the phrase like a girl has a different meaning to his machismo inner-self. Well, that’s just gravy.

He also danced around yelling “Not in the kitchen! Not in the kitchen! I already told you, not in the kitchen!” My son and I stared at him. I won’t tell you whose side I was on, but let’s just say it wasn’t my husband’s. I had a sudden desire to buy him a Big Bang Theory BAZINGA T-shirt off Amazon and punch him in the forehead. He should know better than to mess with the resident science geeks.

“It’s on a napkin,” boy child explained calmly.
“Don’t worry, I won’t accidentally throw it in the stir fry,” I said soothingly. 
Neither of us was able to achieve the hoped-for rational response from my spouse. He really was squeamish. Like, totally grossed out. I resisted the urge to chase him through the house with the eyeball piece. I’m the middle of five kids. Yes, I’m fully grown, but those types of impulses don’t just go away with age. People don’t give me enough credit for the self-control I exhibit on a daily basis. Not near enough credit.

Instead, my son had to removed the eyeball piece from the kitchen. It’s now on my dining table. I’m not sure if I should technically call it a centerpiece or a cat toy. My husband hasn’t figured out where it went yet. But I’m sure we’ll all know the exact moment he finds it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

It's Probably Worth Mentioning

I am not dead. I thought I’d mention that just in case you were wondering, I mean, if you are the type of person who wonders about that sort of thing. I’m that type of person. If I don’t hear from someone, I think, hmm, maybe they’re dead - especially if they’ve been blogging about medical problems. Yeah, makes perfect sense. I Google their name paired with the word “obit” and, if I know the city they live in, I Google that as well. Usually an hour later, after reading about all the dead people who share the same name but live oddly different lives at oddly different ages, I am able to move on with my day - just slightly more depressed. The upside of my dead people research is that most of the time the person that I thought was dead wasn’t dead at all. Like me. As I mentioned, I am not dead. Yay me.

Actually, I’ve been novel writing. I wrote over 136,000 words in three months. I know word count has no meaning to non-writers. I’ve been explaining to those who have inquired about my writing activities and then look at me blankly when I excitedly tell them my word count, that the first Harry Potter book has 76,944 words and Twilight has 118,502. And then they look at me and ask or imply one of two questions – so I’ll answer both of them now. No, the book I just wrote is not a book intended for kids or teens, but for grown-ups, and is nothing like those two books I just mentioned so I am not comparing my work to those books. And yes, I do read literary books, so stop giving me that snobby stare because the words “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” just came out of my mouth as a point of reference. I like kidlit and I’m proud. And who are you to judge? I just wrote 136,000 words. Ha.

Not that word count is any indication of quality writing. I’ve written a few lengthy manuscripts and have actually disliked my finished product. I didn’t even bother revising those projects. They were my practice novels. Or pre-novels. As far as my current project goes, I love my characters, I love the story, and I loved writing it. I’ll be starting my fourth revision soon. So, regardless of whether or not anyone else likes what I’ve written, it has been an exciting and worthwhile few months.

Because I’ve been fanatically writing 10-15 hours per day for months on end, I’ve given my family a slight taste of what it would be like if I were dead. I’ve regularly skipped out on cleaning dirty dishes. The crew has eaten an appallingly large amount of “quick and easy” dinners off of paper plates. These meals usually involve a can opener and microwave and can be complete in less than five minutes. Menu items include: bean & cheese burritos, chili nachos, anything cheese can be melted on.  There goes my future cookbook project; I just gave away all my good stuff. For free. Enjoy. I hope you like cheese.

Sorry, I've been punchy lately, possibly even annoying. I've been sleep deprived, my eyeballs are dried out and bloodshot, and I can barely carry a conversation without embarrassing myself. I'm pretty sure the carpool moms think I've been on a major drinking binge. My family has been strangely supportive. Or they're afraid of me. Perhaps it's a combination of both. Smart family.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Not to Do

If you are considering nominating me for a What Not to Wear episode, stop right there. Don’t. And I mean it. Any self-improvement reality TV show is off limits. Please don’t try and organize me or make me over. It’s just not going to help. And I really am not in the mood to hear Stacy and Clinton make fun of my stretchy jeans on national TV.

I have a recurring nightmare where a TV crew pulls up in my driveway and starts filming me… or the inside of my house… or worse the inside of my refrigerator… or even worse the state of my garage (best suited for one of the hoarding shows).

What am I afraid of? There are no dead bodies in my basement. Actually, I don’t even have a basement. I do have a variety of pet rabbits and hamsters buried under a tree in my backyard.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a nice little home. It just gets crunchy at times. I’m not sure exactly what the kids and animals have tracked over my floors, but I don’t think this is what Architectural Digest endorses when they feature glossy pages of "indoor-outdoor living" house photos. I love that magazine.

Surprise reality TV is not for me. America does not need to know that I keep most of my clothes in a giant basket crammed on a shelf in my closet. (Okay, fine, now you know.) Or that it is probably unsafe to eat any of the condiments on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. And that no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to find a nail color that doesn’t make me look like a hooker or a dead body. Perhaps I should mix them and name my own nail polish “dead hooker”. (Fashion tip: Don’t buy blue polish, unless you want to look dead. It can be quite a shock if you forget and wake up the next morning to cold feet with blue nails peeking out at you from the covers.)

I have my most paranoid moments when I pull on my battered sweat pants, throw my hair in a pony, and run to the market to buy twelve heads of broccoli for my newest diet. On those days, I give a shifty-eyed glance up and down my street for any sign of a TV van or camera crew before I dash to my car. Store employees are scanned for hidden cameras. Of course, I usually run into a well-groomed school mom –uh-hem- you know,  the PTA president sort, whose nails are perfectly manicured and not the least bit hookerish or dead bodyish looking.

For those who find me fashion-challenged, or at the very least unsophisticated - news flash: I do own mirrors. I get it. If you want to buy me new clothes, organize my silverware drawer, or redesign my house, please feel free to do so. Just don’t put all my belongings on the front lawn in specially marked piles for the neighbors to see. And please call first.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Out of Sync

I have a canary loose in my chest. Quite frequently throughout the day, the little pissed-off bird lets me know she wants out. There is a thumping, bumping, fluttering sensation pounding at my inner walls. It is the new state of my heart. My heart, moving to a scattered rhythm of its own, decided one day last month to go rogue on me. I don’t know why.

As a result, I quit caffeine. I did it for the only reason I would ever do such a thing – I thought I was going to die. If I thought caffeine was slowly killing me or doing some minor physical impairment to my body, perhaps I would have stayed on it. I love coffee. And I am not just saying that. I am referring to real – true - love. We’d been together for over twenty years. If it didn’t make me feel like I was dying, we’d still be together.

I did go off of caffeine for my pregnancies. But I confess, I’m pretty sure on more than one occasion my babies nursed latte straight from my breast. There’s only so much a mother can sacrifice. And here I am, in that group I never really trusted or fully respected. I’m a non-coffee drinker. Sigh. I miss it. Oh, and the whole decaf thing is just mean. Mean, mean trickery.

It all started with a simple cup of French-press espresso at 6pm on a Wednesday evening. It was a good brew. Sigh. I had planned to work late, novel-write through the night. No such luck.

The squeezing pressure in my chest came on suddenly and lasted about thirty seconds. It traveled down my left arm.  I felt light-headed as the pressure slowly subsided and the squeezing sensation stopped. My arm felt tingly. Shit. I think I’m having a heart attack. I took two aspirin.

I was slightly dizzy as I walked to my bedroom. My goal: A fresh change of clothes before leaving for the emergency room. I contemplated brushing my teeth. Then it happened again. Another horrible, squeezing pressure in my chest, more pain down my left arm. Damn. My daughter asked what was wrong. I told her I didn’t feel well and was going to have dad take me to the emergency room for a test. She burst into tears. Damn.

My husband and I convinced her it was no big deal “just a flu test”. We got in the car. I had another squeezing sensation in my chest, more horrible pain down my left arm. It was the worst one yet.  I told Lee to floor it.

Long story short, it was not a heart attack. I was having premature ventricular contractions. The contractions by themselves are not life threatening. People get them all the time. Because of the severity and frequency, they were concerning. Radiology showed a small amount of fluid around my heart. At first, they were going to admit me to the hospital for further testing. But as the contractions became further apart and lighter, I felt better. I was told the caffeine probably triggered them and that as the caffeine wore off, I might start feeling better. By 2:00AM I did feel better and I was allowed to go home with firm instructions to see my cardiologist within a few days.

The squeezing sensation has not returned, but has now been replaced by the funny little irregular bumps and thumps that have become a regular part of my day. I haven’t had a sip of coffee since my cardiac episode. With cold and flu season around the corner, it looks like my own personal mix of “mother’s little helper” is definitely out of the question. That would have been real Sudafed washed down with a Diet Coke. No matter how sick I was, the buzz always guaranteed a clean house and new manuscript by the end of the day. Damn.

I’m not known for my medical follow-up. I should probably mention I was born with a couple of heart defects. I had a hole in my heart that eventually closed. I also had open-heart surgery at age four to enlarge my pulmonary valve. At the time of the… shall we call it…  “cardiac emergency room incident”… I hadn’t seen my cardiologist in over twenty years. I told you I’m not known for my medical follow-up.

I did drag my sorry self to see the cardiologist a couple of weeks later. He walked into the room carrying a Starbucks cup and looking a little too cheerful. I have an echocardiogram and a stress test scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving.

And now I’m forced to exercise or be humiliated. You see, the stress test involves exercising on a treadmill while they monitor my heart. I’m in training for it – I’m actually working out regularly on my treadmill at home - since I don’t want a big lecture on how out of shape I am.

And while I wait for my diagnosis, the little canary continues to flutter and pound at the walls of my chest pushing eagerly to get out. It is ignoring my mental pleading to just calm down, to go back to the steady rhythm I’ve known my whole life, to be at peace.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I Am Not Mary Poppins

Though, I do own quite a few umbrellas. But for some reason, I never seem to have one on me when the rain hits. And I’m terribly afraid of heights, so you won’t find me dancing on freakishly pitched rooftops with my neighborhood chimney sweeps anytime soon. And if you've ever heard me sing… well, enough is enough. We are just not going to go there.

I bring up this obvious point because the contents of this blog are not suited, or written, for young children. For those adults who don’t like distasteful bluntness or inappropriately placed humor, this blog is probably not for you either. I have a feeling Mary Poppins would not have approved of this blog one bit. Bummer, since I am a huge Poppins and Julie Andrews fan.

As most of you know, I write picture books for young children. Because of my profession as a children’s book author, people assume I am super sweet and appropriate ALL THE TIME. And I am, with kids*. But when I sit at my blog and unload the not-so sweet elements of my life, I am going to write truthfully. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. It makes me feel better. When I’m done unloading, I go back to my family and children’s book manuscripts and play nice. Sometimes I even pretend to be Mary Poppins - or at least a shabbily dressed version of her that completely lacks the ability to get kids to clean up after themselves.

So, I’ve decided to continue not censoring when I blog. When I censor, I get stuck. And it never makes me feel better. I do promise to sugarcoat things a bit with my awesomely inappropriate humor. To quote Miss Poppins herself, “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Enjoy, and a special thanks to those of you who appreciate both versions of me.

* At least I try to be child-appropriate. Thank goodness for editors. I remember once I submitted a manuscript about a kid being followed by pigs and I wrote something like, "I don't know why the pigs keep following me, maybe it's the bacon I eat for breakfast." I received an e-mail back from my editor explaining some of the reasons the manuscript wasn't working for her. Here is her official response to that particular line: "Do you have a theory for why they’re following him? (I don’t think it’s because of the bacon he eats for breakfast, as mentioned on page 2. In fact, several readers were quite put off by this. And I don’t think they’re even vegetarians! Perhaps this line is a bit too much for some readers?)

It's never a good sign when your horrified editor's response is even funnier than the manuscript.