A Stroll Down the Nature Walks of My Youth

Bee. Flower. Yep. Seen it.

Nature walks, Indian mounds, forts and gardens we visited when I was a kid: 547

Average temperature (in degrees F) when we visited: 97

Amount of whining involved in any trip with me as a child: too much

I went on a field trip with my son’s fifth grade yesterday. We were at the school at 6 a.m. to get on the buses and arrived back at 8:30 p.m.

When I am nominated for sainthood, please vote for me.

We visited a battleship, an aquarium, the beach and a fort. I was in charge of four boys. We spent the most time at the battleship’s gunnery set-up, with all four of them crawling over the various killing implements, trying to figure out which one would do the most damage in the least amount of time.

Here are my thoughts and memories about sightseeing; about being a kid and being an adult with kids:

1. Nature walks. My parents were much better than I am about taking us around to see whichever sights there were to see. Their favorite was nature walks. Nature walks are, well, free, and they are extremely nature-y.

As an expert now in the area of nature walks, I can tell you that no matter what the venue, there will be a nature walk nearby. The Washington Monument? I’m sure there’s a nature walk. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse? There’s a nature walk within spitting distance. Grandfather Mountain? I can definitely attest to that one, because my husband and I started walking on it, and I had on flip-flops. It wasn’t exactly a flip-flop kind of nature walk.

When I used to whine about nature walks, the air being stagnant and 98 degrees, the bugs getting all excited at the tribe of four dumb humans stumbling onto another feast opportunity, my parents would always say, “I bet your kids are gonna love nature walks!” Then they would laugh maniacally.

They do.

I recently took my kids to a little lake nearby to throw a frisbee and jump around. They ran up and down a hill for 30 minutes. Up. And down. And up. And down.

Then…  they volunteered to go on a nature walk. I know. Weird, right? We started walking around that lake, and it was all nature-y, and I was fine because it wasn’t too hot, and I had on running shoes, and we all talked and had fun. And after almost an hour and a half, my daughter said, “Do you think we’re almost there?” And I assured her we were, although I was starting to doubt it myself.

They never once complained. That, my friends, is some kind of weird karma.

2. Forts. I love history. Really, I do. I almost majored in it in college.

However, forts are not my most favorite thing in the world. Yesterday, we visited a fort with my son’s class.

We listened to a guy talk about weapons; he was pretty entertaining, talking about murdering people and how the bayonet they had back then was designed to kill you slowly after causing copious infection. Now, it’s been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

I wanted to throw in that AK-47s might be the real reason bayonets aren’t today’s most popular killing machine, but I restrained myself. It was thrilling; the boys were completely silent.

But then we started walking around this path that was basically around this bunch of odd little hills, and then there was a marsh (ahem, wetlands) and lots of wind.

My son pulls on my sleeve and whispers, “This is pretty boring, Mom.”

To which I said, in a totally grown-up and appropriate way, “I know.” I even added an eye roll. “My mom and dad took me to lots of forts, especially when it was really hot.”

He looked at me with pity and said, “Dude.”

Precisely.

3. Battleships. Boys like battleships. I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s the same kind of thing like when Lyle Lovett was asked, “You seem to attract a lot of women. What’s your secret? What have you learned about women?” And he said, “Women like to eat outside.”

Battleships have claustrophobic little rooms and labyrinthine passageways where you lose track of which direction is fore and aft. The bathrooms offered no privacy, and there was only a tiny surgical room, even though the movie they showed described several of these ships having enormous holes blown out of them.

They reek of war and salt water and metal, and every boy I asked said that the battleship was the best part of the field trip.

We were eating lunch, and I overheard some of the boys talking.

“Dude, did you see that well? Like, what if you fell into it?”

“Dude.”

“No, well, actually, if you read the plaque, it said it wasn’t a real well. It said…” the boy broke off in mid-sentence, sensing the metaphorical sharks circling. It was the sound of his popularity in serious jeopardy. “I mean, I didn’t really read it, but the name of it just…. nevermind.”

4. The beach. I am firmly of the opinion that beaches are for getting wet. There is, like, all this water and stuff. Looking at all the water without getting in is like looking at a thick slice of homemade chocolate cake and saying, “Well, that’s some nice cake.”

Guess where we went yesterday? The beach. It was in between lots of other activities, and the teachers had prepped the kids for weeks, telling them they absolutely, positively could not get near the water.

Yep. You guessed it. Several of them rushed the water like malicious little lemmings.

And I just want to say, I almost did, too. It’s a pain to be a grown-up sometimes.

5. Gardens. Gardens are pretty. They have lots of flowers. And nature. And they’re peaceful.

They’re not great places for kids.

My parents took us to lots of gardens. And now, in a kind of hazing mentality, I have taken our kids to gardens, too.

We went a few weeks ago when they had the day off school. My friend and I took our four (combined) kids to the nearby Duke Gardens. It was hot that day, just like I remember.

She started out by yelling, “Don’t run!” as they dashed away down the garden paths. Isn’t that silly?

Garden paths are not walking paths for kids; they are mazes, designed for getting lost. Quickly. Let them. The funny thing about kids is that eventually, they get hungry. Or thirsty. They’ll find you.

Our kids managed to completely destroy the lunch of at least one college-aged couple in love who thought the gardens would be a great place for a peaceful, romantic lunch date.

One day, that will be my kids and their dates. And I hope they will remember how dumb they used to think people are when they’re in love. Karma again.

I hope you have enjoyed my meandering journey down a nature path. The next time you go, remember to bring water, wear sturdy shoes and never, ever tell your kids to walk. There will be plenty of time to walk when they’re 40.

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Extroverts Anonymous

Wanna be my friend?

Chip time for recent half-marathon: 1:55 (a PR!)

Chip time for yesterday’s 10-miler race: 1:28 (a PR!)

Pace for both (odd coincidence): 8:51

Hi, I’m Anne. And I’m an Extrovert.

Much has been written in fellow writers’ blogs about writers and how so many of us are introverts. I thought maybe I could share an extrovert writer’s experience, just to Represent.

My entire childhood was a lesson in getting ahead socially while remaining unconcerned about academic possibilities: my dad was fairly horrified when I told him before first grade that I was looking forward to going back to school after the summer because of the social implications.

In kindergarten, I got a few friends excited about cutting our hair with safety scissors in the kitchen center. I may not have been able to tie my own shoes (come on, people: there were these things called buckles), but I had leadership qualities.

In first grade, I affected the future math prospects of a few large group of students who drew monsters with me instead of learning borrowing in subtraction.

In third grade, I was Witch #1 in the class play, which was a very important role, full of dramatic nuances. I had three very pivotal lines, which I’m sure people remember to this day.

When we moved to Atlanta the summer before fourth grade, I was nervous. I didn’t have any friends.

Then I met my best friend on the first day of fourth grade when she looked around the empty classroom and deduced that we were the only two people still left to get on Bus 1084. She said, very profoundly, “Are you on Bus 1084?” And because of that, we were friends and read “Little Women” together and decided to go to neighboring universities when we were 18 and switched clothes  and danced to David Bowie at Putt-Putt Golf when our class went on a field trip to Savannah.

The issue with being an extrovert is that social agenda often takes priority over, well, anything else.

Introvert writers have pointed out that being an introvert is helpful because writing consists of sitting in a chair, persevering while being alone for many hours at a time.

I’m not actually that good at that part. But here is a summary of the pluses and minuses involved in being an extrovert.

1. Running. I’m really fit right now. For me. (My triceps still wobble when I point at things, but I’ve found I can get around it by not pointing; just nodding my head towards things in a meaningful way.)

This is not to brag, but to point out that the reason I’m really fit is that I have a running partner. If she didn’t run with me, I’d still run, just not as much. And I wouldn’t enjoy it in the same way. And I wouldn’t laugh like I do when we run together, because that would just look weird and slightly maniacal.

Running is a solitary activity by its nature. But this spring, I realized that my aerobic capacity has increased dramatically. Wanna know why? Because we run for lots of miles while talking. Constantly. Then, when I run by myself, I feel like I have lots of extra air.

Slight negative: I never used to get Personal Records (PRs) at races, because I talked the whole way. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Races are like super-charging an extrovert. It’s like running, but running on crack. People! People who like to run! People I can talk to while I run who I don’t know yet!

It’s a problem.

The races I’ve done over the past several years have made me best-running-race-buddies with: a 55-year-old surgeon who smiles a lot, a marathon pacer who my running partner dubbed Justin Timberlake (JT), a fellow mom whose kids were in college… the list goes on and on.

I ran the half-marathon recently by myself, and I talked to no one on purpose. It was weird.

At this weekend’s 10-miler, a race I’ve collected friends at in the past, I had to talk to myself: “Run your own race. Run your own race. Run your own race.” I was in front of the 9-mile pacers when we hit the Hill Challenge that goes on for one whole mile between miles 8 and 9. I felt low. I was tired. I started to walk just a little because other people were, and it looked really fun. And relaxing. And then the 9-mile pacer chick comes up behind me and says, “Come on, girl, you can do it.”

And for an extrovert, it was just what I needed to hear. We talked all the way up the rest of the hill; it buoyed me. And I heard all about her job, and how she recently got married, and how fast she usually runs… okay. Maybe this extroversion thing is a bit like an addiction. But it got me through.

2. Writing. I interview a lot of people, which means wanting to hear peoples’ stories and tell them in words on paper. It is rare that I interview a boring person. Part of this is because I find people in general very interesting. I like listening, I like calling people, I like talking to them… it’s a weird extrovert thing.

It helps the breadth of my writing. While sitting in a chair by myself for hours to get a certain number of words on a page can be a bit like eating a can of beets, I have so much experience to draw from. I have gone out to schools and spoken with children, teachers, business leaders, volunteers, crossing guards, musicians and chainsaw artists. They energize me.

I’ve heard how they speak as much as what they say. When I write, the people I’ve met inform my words. The stories are character-driven, with lots of dialogue; exactly what you might expect from an extrovert.

But if you call me and invite me to go to lunch, my characters have to wait. After all, they’re pretty patient, and who knows when I’ll get the chance to go to lunch again? Oh! Someone just emailed me about lunch on Wednesday, too! Oh, well. More fodder for my novel!

3. Networking. Networking is a kind of dirty word. When I got out of college, I wondered how something like networking worked. It seemed like a secret society, full of special handshakes and code words. But I’ve realized that a lot of networking is simply getting older and accumulating experiences.

Whether you live in the same area for years, as I have, or traveled the world as many other people have, you meet a wide range of people who have varied skills and super-cool intellectual property.

An extrovert will jump at the chance to meet a new person, to talk to them about their unique situations and life lessons. Someday, you may find that you can help someone get a job or that you know someone who knows someone. And maybe someday, I will have a book that someone wants to buy, and she will tell someone who will tell someone else.

I’ve gotta go… there are places to go and people to call. Oh–but you want to tell me about the time you fell off the tire swing? Oh, no, I’m not busy…

 

Cheating Cleanup on Aisle 2

Cost of large sweet tea at Smithfield’s: $2.08

Miles I run with my running partner per week: 22

Miles I run by myself per week: 3 to 5

I’ve never lived in a small town. I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, and no one really knew my business or checked up on me or told my parents all the bad things I (mostly) wasn’t doing. The whole Agatha Christie/small Southern-English-Swedish town thing works so well in books, and I always wondered what that would be like.

Now I know.

One weekend afternoon, my running partner was hanging out at her house, reading deep stuff like Health magazine and eating chocolate carrot sticks, when her husband walked in with something upsetting to tell her.

“Umm, Honey?” he said, after slinking in from the garage. “I, uh, saw Anne running. Out. By herself. Is that… okay?” He didn’t stand close to her in case she lashed out and slapped him (okay, I made that part up).

I was cheating on her. With myself.

She nonchalantly flipped a page in her magazine. “We’re allowed to run alone on the weekends,” she told him. “It’s okay.”

Then she checked outside the window to see if I was doing sprints or hill repeats or 6 x 800s or whatever. (I made that part up, too, but mostly because it’s too silly to imagine that I’d be that motivated.)

We live in the suburbs, but our town is only 10 square miles. Not much gets past this bunch. And it’s a little annoying, because I have to put on makeup to go to the grocery store. It’s pretty certain that when the grocery store is right out in front of your neighborhood, you will see someone you know. And without makeup they’ll probably make that comment like, “Wow. Are you all right? You’re looking a little tired.” And I would sigh and think, “Eye makeup. Don’t ever go to the store without eye makeup again.”

So I’m a little bit careful how I leave my house and when I indulge in my vice(s). You never know who might be watching.

Like the times I drive to Smithfield’s Barbecue in the summertime (okay. Sometimes not in the summertime, too.) because I cannot go another second without a large sweet tea. I know it’s not good for me, and I know it’s a waste of a perfectly good $2.08. So I’m on edge as I make my way to the drive thru.

[iPhone blues riff]

Me: [Shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot.] Hello?

Our neighbor, on the way back from preschool pick-up: I see you, getting sweet tea in the drive thru line.

Me: What? No way. [scanning the nearby road for familiar cars]

Our neighbor: Does your husband know you’re gettting sweet tea?

Me: Busted.

Or there’s the haircut cheat… I’ve been a faithful client of my hairdresser’s for the past 10 years. I’ve followed her from one salon to her own salon to her doing haircuts in her home. She even made a chocolate milkshake for my kids when they had to sit and wait for me one time.

But I got in a bind one summer when she was out on a kind of medical leave and my hair started falling in my eyes and desperation set in. I almost gave the frou frou salon down the street a fake name. What if someone saw me? What if they told my hairdresser I cheated?

Yep. I saw someone I knew.

So when I got back on the straight and narrow, I confessed to my hairdresser right away. And she took me back and didn’t even punish me by cutting my hair all wonky with parts sticking up in the back.

I actually love living in a pseudo-small town now. Hours after my family got on a plane for England a few years back, fire engines pulled up on the street beside our home. All of our neighbors knew we were gone. And at least three of them headed towards the potential disaster to see if they needed to take action to save our house. It was a gas leak at a house two doors down. How awesome is it that they had our backs?

In the big city where I grew up, you cultivated a don’t-look-’em-right-in-the-eyes attitude. Here, I’m pretty sure they’re looking. I have to admit, there’s a certain comfort in being seen.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband walked in from the store.

“Hey… I just saw… your running partner. And she was… running. Were you supposed to be… running with her?”

“Cheater!” I screamed. Just kidding. She’s allowed to run without me on the weekend.

But during the week? She should probably know that I have my sources.

Mining for Truth

This unrelated photo is my way of begging my husband to draw something, anything, for my blog.

Novels I have written: 1

Posts I have written: 50

Articles I have written: I’ve lost count

When I was in middle school and extremely excited about getting to (finally!) wear some makeup, my mom would always meet me at the front door to tell me goodbye.

“You’re going to school like that?”

“Yeeaahh,” I would say, letting my eyes roll up in my head. Mothers. Honestly.

This was her way of drawing my attention to the ridiculous, copious amounts of green eyeshadow I insisted on wearing for at least a year. She was trying to tell me the truth in the way only a mother can.

Later on, in college, I was forced to took a course in philosophy: The Philosophy of Art. We went around and around in circles about truth and beauty and truth and art, and it made my head hurt. I did not go on to become a philosopher.

But I finally got it, years later. All of us: artists, writers, actors… we are all truth-tellers. Amen. End of story. (That class could have been condensed into one concise sentence and saved me a lot of angst.) Obviously, this is the truth as we see it, as we hear it, as we feel it, as we remember it.

As a non-fiction writer, I get to interview people and use their own words to tell the story of their volunteering, disease, job or performance. Truth telling (on my part) is assumed. Truth is the goal.

Writing about my own memories and life is a way to tell about the world as I see it: the truth of my experiences, the interactions I’ve had, the stories I’ve been told.

As a fiction writer, I get the opportunity to climb inside a character and see things from his or her perspective. It’s one reason I love first person narration: as the writer (and reader), you can see all of the flaws in that character’s logic and viewpoint that you may not be able to see as clearly in your own life.

Last night, I was reading out loud to my kids The Hunt for Dark Infinity, the second book in the 13th Reality series by James Dashner.

A bad guy masquerading as a good guy was urging the Realitants to do what he asked… as the spinning, angry noise of things approaching grew louder and louder. And they were still approaching. Still getting louder. And the guy was still talking. And the kids/Realitants were deliberating and arguing.

“It kind of bothers me in books when something bad is about to happen, but there’s a long time between the characters knowing it and anything happening,” my daughter said. “It’s not like real life.”

Impending doom should feel more imminent, not leave you time to tie your shoes in a double knot before you run.

Or maybe it’s like when I was driving in a parking deck one time and went around a corner and my Coke started to spill and a car started coming towards me and instead of worrying about the car, I grabbed my drink to save it from spilling and the whole thing took about two seconds but felt like two hours.

When I sit at the computer to put my thoughts in order, the essence of what happened is the goal: the truth, and if possible, the humor that goes along with it.

Because life is funny, sometimes darkly humorous, sometimes light and fluffy, and sometimes unexpectedly. It’s the reward at the end, the cherry on top, the homemade whipped cream, when you spend your time mining for truth.

Never Say Never

This photo (from Boone, NC) has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

How old you have to be to finally learn life lessons: older than I am, clearly

Age my son was when he said he would never buy a Mac: 7 (I asked him to sign and date this proclamation, like any good parent would.)

Age my son was when he changed his mind and said he wanted an iAnything: 9

I am almost 40. You young people out there might think I am aged and now know everything. I might even think that myself sometimes. But it is (mostly) untrue.

One thing I do know: never say never. It’s kind of like a reverse of that drinking game from college, “I Never.” Except that it’s about “I Will Never…” Yeah. Both of these things will lead you down a bad road.

1. Jeans wearing. I think I was about 14 when my friend told me that her mom said bell-bottoms were going to come back into style. I laughed. I said, “Never, ever will I wear jeans that flare out at the bottom. Seriously? Jeans makers would never be that stupid,” as I peg-legged my jeans. (Note: for the uninitiated, peg-legging was absolutely essential to looking cool circa the mid-1980s… it involved folding over the bottom hem of one’s jeans and making it as tight as one possibly could, then rolling those jeans very, very tightly up one’s leg.)

Jeans didn’t start flaring out for several years after that, especially in the non-fashion-forward places I chose to live. But it happened. And yes, I bought some jeans that weren’t tight at the bottoms. And life was good.

Until I said, “I will never again wear unflatteringly tight jeans that come in at the bottoms.”

Yeah, that happened, too.

Then I started wearing a lot of dresses.

2. Aging. Just so you know, aging happens to other people.

Until it happens to you.

This is unfortunate. When I was dewy-young, unblemished and unwrinkled back in The Day, when my 30s were a far-off, imaginary thing, I used to laugh at dry-eye commercials. That pretty actress from Northern Exposure who said she couldn’t produce tears? I laughed at her.

Note: I do not recommend this behavior.

I think I may have said something like, “That will never happen to me.”

Then my 30s came, and I was a washed-up, aging, wrinkled, sun-overexposed, dry-eyed person.

I would cry about it, but I don’t have any tears.

3. Running for more than 3 miles. I distinctly remember calling my mother on the day my sister ran her first half-marathon and saying, “Who in the world would choose to run for two hours? Two hours?”

If you’re getting the gist of my post, then yes, that was later to be me. Almost five hours? Yeah, that was me, too. And, as one of my favorite bloggers pointed out, I paid money for the pleasure.

4. Writing about my life for people to read. My sister got worried about this one when I started writing fiction. “So, uh, are you going to, uh, write about your life?” Which I kind of wondered at the time if it meant, “Are you going to write anything really embarrassing about me?” And I thought and thought and thought about it and couldn’t think of anything embarrassing enough to write about her. So then I said, “No, never. I’m not that interesting.”

But then I discovered blogging, and I’ve gotten to mention her a lot. And I still can’t think of anything embarrassing to write about her. Dangit!

5. Changing technology. On a near-daily basis, I hear other people saying things like, “Oh, they’ll never stop making hard copies of books.” I shudder and make a secret sign of warding off evil when people make loud declarations like this.

When I was in fourth grade, they showed us a (VHS) video of technological advances scientists were working on for the future. I was already pretty jaded, since re-runs of The Jetsons had made me think we were supposed to be a lot closer to living on space stations, having robot maids and driving in flying cars. So when they showed footage of people in some city in Japan testing out automatic cars with maps that guided them to their destinations, I think I muttered something cynical like, “Well, that’ll never happen.”

And now, although current GPS routes take friends and loved ones on a roundabout course through various apartment complexes instead of on normal streets to get to our house, I guess we made it. Technology has arrived.

So, Life Lesson #243, which I may never learn, is to avoid the use of “never” in any and all verbal discourse. That counts 20 times over when you write it down or make a video. When you catch yourself using this verboten word (examples: “I will never…” “They will never…” “It will never happen…”), take a drink. Maybe that way, you and the people you know may never remember what you’ve promised never to do.

You Think You Know Someone

Do we really know this little lizard? I think not.

Miles completed today: 4.5

Times I got strep throat as a kid: at least 21

Times we kicked my good friend’s parents out of her living room so we could watch movies during my high school era: 213

I tried to give away a copy of People the other day. No one on my street wanted it.

These are my neighbors, the ones who I’ve shared a drink (or two) with over the years. This is very vexing: who doesn’t want to know that Michelle has moved on after Heath’s death and that Matilda may one day have a loving step-father? Are these the same people who, if asked to fill out a personality test, would bubble in “Agree Strongly” to “I find filling out complex tax forms exciting and satisfying” or “I do not care for Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs; they are the scourge of our society?”

I am not sure I know these people.

Other eye-opening moments have occurred over the years. See if you recognize these people in your own lives:

1. Pooh-poohing hundreds of years of medical advancements. My parents are Intellectuals. They enjoy reading things like Smithsonian and Archaeology Today. My mom was a chemist for a brief, shining few years, until every single project she worked on kept running out of grant money and her boss went through a sex change operation and called his/her own kids his sister’s kids and things got very confusing. That’s when my mom threw up her hands and became a piano teacher.

But I digress. My point is, these are people who read about science and smart things and would probably, yes, turn down a free issue of People. (I know. Weird, right?)

One day in early spring a few years ago, I was visiting them with my young children. My kids wanted to go out and play in the backyard. Might I remind you that kids feel hot all the time? That when you are sitting in the wind, shivering, collecting icicles on your eyebrows, they are in tank tops and feel hunky-dory?

My dad: Get some coats on those kids!

Me: It’s 65 degrees, Dad.

Dad: They’re going to get sick.

Me: Look at how fast they’re running. Sick can’t catch them.

Dad: They’re going to get a cold.

Me: Dad, you do know you can’t just get a cold from walking outside on a cold day, right? There are these things called germs.

Dad: (air expelled in a disparaging way) Germ theory. Whatever.

Vexing, I tell  you. It was as if my dad had told me the world was not actually spherical.

My friend’s dad also gave us something vexing hilarious to think about:

2. Returning to the Middle Ages. Let me give you some background on my good friend’s dad. My friend and I have known each other since middle school, and her dad is just about the most mild-mannered, friendly, low-key dad I’ve ever met. He was not at all an ex-military-type guy. He took pleasure in setting out Christmas vignettes across their wall-to-wall bookcases, and he bought her a cool, black Mustang with red interior that she was so terrified to drive that he had take it back and let her drive the poky family Buick. But still. He tried.

When she was living by herself in an apartment in Chicago, he had a talk with her about personal safety and how a woman living alone should have some sort of protection. (My dad had the same talk with me and took me to the shooting range, then handed me a gun when he was content that I understood where the barrel was and could aim in the general direction of a target.)

My friend’s dad suggested a crossbow.

Sometimes when I am alone in my car, I start laughing to myself like a deranged lunatic when I picture her wielding a crossbow in that tiny apartment. Deranged. Lunatic.

3. Deleting key years of one’s life. When we were visiting my mother-in-law in England a few years back, she told us that my husband’s half-sister, who is much younger, would soon be applying to colleges. (Note to non-English people: college is generally two years, then they go on to University. My husband lived at home and attended a local college before leaving for University.) Here is the conversation that followed:

My husband: Cool! Where is she applying?

His mom: I think she wants to go to Barton Peveril.

My husband: That’s where I went! Great!

His mom: You did?

Please note: My husband lived in her house for those two years it took to complete Barton Peveril. Two years that apparently were forgettable ones for some members of the family.

4. House cleaning victory. My BFF is a Super Cleaner. Her house is so clean that if you wanted to run your tongue along the baseboards, they would probably taste really good. Her floors qualify as a sterile environment for all surgical supplies. (At least before they are licked.)

My floors are used as the “Before” picture on commercials. My husband is very proud.

Guess what, though? She didn’t know that you’re supposed to vacuum under the refrigerator. Yeah. I knew that. She didn’t.

I’m not saying that I vacuum under our refrigerator, but I definitely know you’re supposed to.

I thought she was a Super Cleaner. But I’ve demoted her to Grand Cleaner Extraordinaire. I’ll inspect her fridge next time we visit when I pull out the ol’ pinot grigio.

You never know the secrets that might be lurking underneath someone’s educated exterior. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

In Between the Goals: Embrace the Process

Work vs. Play. Please note that my grocery store labeled Cadbury's Mini-Eggs "produce."

Words I have written in new novel started yesterday: 1,207

Words I need to write by October: 69,003

How many ways this is a bad idea: 42 million

My son got his first goal at a soccer game last night. The look on his face was a tremendous blend of “I can’t believe I just did that!” and “I just did that! I wanna do it again!”

I can relate: I have a goal-setting problem. This may come from the same gene as my list-making one, as if by simply writing down “Mueslix,” on a grocery list, it’s as good as done.

I absolutely love short-term goals: blog posts (check!), the newspaper articles I write (check!), essays (check!), getting a 10-miler or other long-run distance done each Wednesday (check!)… but the long-term ones are both my saviors and my nemeses (is that the plural of nemesis?).

I have come to view winter as a time to buckle down and work: the kids are at school (unless they’re sick, which can happen quite a bit in the winter), the weather is too cold to beckon me into the outdoors much, and Things Get Done. This winter, in between shivering and squinching my shoulders and threatening to move to The Islands, I did some novel queries, wrote and researched a couple of longer articles, trained for a half-marathon and felt generally productive.

Summertime, on the other hand, is my favorite season. After the kiddos get out of school, they fight with each other roughly every 5.3 seconds for the first two weeks. Then they settle in, and we go to the pool, visit the family, go to the beach, eat lots of ice cream, watch movies and go on bike rides/runs. Not a lot of goal-doing gets done. Short articles, and this summer, maybe short blog posts will get completed. Don’t bet on productivity. It’s a 16:1 spread.

Then there’s this wonky time in between the two seasons: the feeling of being untethered. The half-marathon over (but a 10-miler race next weekend!), the long, hot summer stands before me. The first novel written, the next one a shimmering possibility turning over and over in my mind. Completing a goal is a complicated mix of satisfaction and… what now?

Back in my last year of college, my then-boyfriend spent some time thinking I was uptight when the end of college was looming. Senior year, for me, was like the image old cartographers recorded of getting ready to step off the end of the world. I didn’t have the problem of having no goals, because my goal was to get a job. Preferably one that didn’t involve asking the two questions: “Would you like fries with that?” or “Would you like to put this on your credit card?”

(I’m rethinking about whether this is uplifting story, since I did end up waiting tables for seven months. And I’m a little peeved that I never got Employee of the Month.)

Some form of redemption did occur when my then ex-boyfriend (remember how unsupportive he was about my freak-out? I kick butts and take names, and don’t forget it.) came over and told me he finally got it. He finished college a year later and experienced the same form of untetheredness.

I did go on to get a job, and then another job, and another job… all goals, all checked off and satisfying. But always, there is the feeling of “what’s next?”

As a goal-setter, I’m trying to learn to embrace the process; the inevitable, in-between time… the time when thoughts are swirling but nothing is getting on paper or legs are covering shorter distances with no goal race in sight. Of course, the novel will get written, the race will be registered for.

I think about the goals themselves at my son’s soccer game: there’s the whole field, lots of running, and people serving as obstacles; the goals are a pretty small fraction of the whole game space. But when the ball sails in between the posts because you had something to do with it… satisfaction.

I’m setting new goals for the fall, even if there will be some slacking off during the summer months. And I have a new tool in my arsenal: Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs are now categorized as “produce.” I can’t imagine anything more motivating.