Category Archives: Writing101

#AmWriting

OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

It is so good to have a few moments to write.

Even better: hours.

I have hours. I’m away from the house. Cannot hear the dirty dishes in the sink nor the clothes to be folded calling my name. I have nothing but my laptop and am choosing to ignore my phone and social media.

BLISS.

If you are also a writer, you know what I mean.

And by writer, I don’t mean famous, or published, or even, “manuscript completed and rejected fiftyish times.”

Do keys tapping in a satisfying click-tick rhythm make your anxiety melt?

Words fascinate and enthrall you?

Sentences with perfect balance give you deep satisfaction?

Alliteration, onomatopoeia and entire-paragraphs-sans-adverbs bring you joy?

That’s what I mean.

Writer.

Hans Splinter

Photo by Hans Splinter

 

 

The Doll, Part 3

**So, I’ve done it. Sent the first few chapters to a publisher’s open house. EEEEEEEEEE! Hopefully they’ll slash it within an inch of its life, splattering red ink and making me cry. And then, I’ll pick up the pieces, explain to our resident detective that he is not, in fact, looking at blood spatter, and write it even better.**

 

Continued from Part 2

 

The doorbell rings three times fast, then twice more. Kevin is outside my door spraying “Ocean Breeze” freshener and I almost tackle him on my way to the stairs. That bell pattern means one thing. Grandpa.

 

Kevin races after me and we push past each other, slipping on the steps, grabbing at the shiny curved handrail, trying to be first to the door. I elbow his ribs and get ahead, but he snatches a handful of the back of my shirt and hauls me sideways.

 

We wrestle for the door, shoving each other away, and I hear my grandfather’s voice outside.

 

    “Just open the door. This is heavy!” I yank it open. I know he’s smiling even though I can only see his twinkling blue eyes above the packages. Wrapped in newspaper paper and twine, as always. He says wrapping paper is a waste of money. Something about the Depression and if people would stop spending on frivolous items, we’d all be in a better place financially. I don’t care how he wraps it, honestly. I just want to know what’s inside.

 

Kevin lugs the hard, mint green suitcase to the spare bedroom as Grandpa and I carry the packages into the dining room. I stop, stunned. The room is exploding with decorations. Streamers, balloons, confetti, paper tablecloths—all in our favorite colors. When did mom have time to do this? Wow.

 

    “Where do you want these?” I stare around the room. Poster boards full of pictures of Kevin and me plaster the walls. She must have been working on this for months.

 

Grandpa nods to the small table layered in shades of purple, handing me a shoebox-sized package.

 

    “I assume that table is for you.” He deposits the rest of the packages on the blue camouflage tablecloth, a nod to Kevin’s secondary obsession with the Navy. I feel a little twinge, wondering why Kevin has more presents from Grandpa, but then I remember what dad said this Christmas. “When you get older, the gifts get smaller but more expensive.”

 

My present must be phenomenal.

 

 

Emma is the only friend who showed up for my party. Kevin and I were each allowed to invite six friends. Madison’s birthday is the week after mine, but she planned her party the same day. After I sent her my invitation, which I did two months in advance to make sure everyone could come.


We’ve all been in school together since first grade, when we moved here. Emma, Madison, Shamaia, Brooke, Karmin and I eat lunch together every day, even though seats aren’t assigned. I thought they’d all be here. Instead, Madison betrayed me, luring all the others to her house. They only went because she has a pool.

 

Madison said her mom told her if she wanted a party, she had to do it this weekend because they have too much going on this month. It’s just an excuse. She’s been trying to bait the rest of the girls away for months. She even had a sleepover a few weeks ago and didn’t invite me.

 

    “It was a hard decision, but my mom said I could only have few friends over. I’ll ask you next time,” she promised.

 

Right.

 

Emma pokes me, harder than necessary. I yelp.

 

    “OW! What was that for?”

 

    “Your mom just called you. Twice. Are you feeling okay? You keep staring off into space, like this.” She tilts her head and crosses her eyes. “And then your face gets all scrunchy and—” she makes a monkey face.

 

I shove her with my shoulder.

 

    “Whatever.” I grin, trying to make it look real. “I’m fine.”

 

    “Are you mad that everyone else went to Madison’s?” She squints at me. “At least I’m here. I’ll never desert you. Except for chocolate.”

 

Geez. She’s got her emotional radar cranked to high velocity today.

 

    “Nah. I’m just done with this situation. Do you think I can spend the night at your house? Please, get me out of here.”

 

She grins, flopping onto the couch pillows with the back of her hand pressed to her forehead.

 

    “Dramatic goofball. Stop making fun of me. Seriously, get us a ride. Call your mom. Or your dad. Or your housekeeper.” Her smile falters and I realize she doesn’t think it’s funny.  Before I can apologize, my mom calls again. I push myself off the couch, heading toward the sound of her screeching.

 

    “Colleeeeeeeeeeeeeee—oh, hey.” Mom quirks an eyebrow at me as I slide around the corner. “Can you take these hot dogs to your dad? And also this platter. He’s got almost-burned hamburgers out there, and I can’t get to him fast enough.”

 

I grab the platter and dogs, then jog out the back door. Dad’s ability to burn meat nears legendary. He calls it “blackened,” but I tell him that’s not a thing unless you’re Jamaican. And he’s not.

 

We rescue the hamburgers. Most are okay; a couple are still medium-rare. Several are medium-charred. Banjo, our beagle-bassett mutt, will be thrilled. He considers anything less ashen than cinders to be edible.

 

When I get back to the family room, Emma is chatting up my grandfather. She loves his stories.

 

    “So, after we built the plane, we covered it with fabric and painted it with dope,” he says.

 

I’ve heard this one. The first time we heard that story, Kevin thought Grandpa covered his plane in drugs. Grandpa laughed, telling us that it might be where the word came from, but the dope he used was more like glue.

 

Sitting down to listen, I pick up my pencil and start sketching a princess dress. Lacy and jeweled. I wish I could wear it today, instead of my t-shirt and jeans. I suddenly realize I forgot to change for the party. I can’t believe Emma didn’t say anything, since we were planning to match.

 

    “I have to run upstairs. Be right back.”

 

Emma nods, barely noticing me. She is rapt, listening to my grandfather. I dash up the stairs, slam my bedroom door and drop my clothes on the floor. I grab my cute new sundress and pull it over my head. As I slip back out of my room, Mom waddles down the hall. As she passes, she glances into my room.

    “I know you’re not going to leave those clothes on the floor.”

 

    “Seriously? Not only do I have to clean the bathroom, you’re making me clean my room on my birthday, too?” This is too much.

 

    “Call me a horrible momster, but yes.” She shrugs and grins at her own joke. “Get it? Momster?”

 

I roll my eyes and snatch the clothes off the floor, dropping them in the laundry basket by the door. She smiles.

 

    “Was that so difficult? It took, what, four seconds?”

 

    “My favorite color is teal. Purple was last year.” I don’t know why I feel this need to bring her down off her high, but she’s driving me crazy. Her “happy happy” act is so annoying. No one is that cheerful. No one sane, anyway. I see the hurt flash in her eyes and for a moment, I regret my words.

 

Then she shrugs again.

 

    “Well, honey, too late to change the decorations now. You’ll just have to enjoy the party anyway.”

 

I glare at her.

 

    “Party? Party? What party?” I hear the pitch of my voice reaching unreasonable, but I can’t stop. “You made me clean a bathroom on my birthday, Kevin is doing his best to ruin my day, Dad is too tired, Grandpa is all buddy-buddy with Emma. She’s supposed to be my friend, but she’s hardly even talking to me. I might as well not have anyone here. She probably wishes she went to Madison’s party, but she knows we always have better cake. She can sniff out quality sugar anywhere.”

 

Mom’s eyes focus slightly over my shoulder. She’s not even listening. I try to draw her attention back to my words.

 

    “You know it’s true. I don’t know how she stays so skinny, with the amount of sugar she eats. Your cookies are probably the only reason she comes over here. She didn’t even bring me a present,” I growl.

 

Her eyes widen slightly.

 

    “What?” I ask, then realize someone is behind me. Emma.

 

I turn around, almost nose-to-nose with her freckles.

    “I came to see if you had any cookies in your room,” she said, tone cool.

 

Grandpa puffs up the stairs behind her.  

 

    “Why are we stopping? I thought you were going to show me the gift.” He looks from Emma to me. “Uh-oh.”

 

Emma crosses her arms over her chest.

 

    “Well, I was. But I think I’d rather sniff around for quality sugar.”

 

Grandpa squints at her.

 

    “What?”

 

She leans in toward me.

 

    “I don’t know what your problem is. You’ve been crabby for weeks. You snap at me, at Madison, at our whole group. You’re rude to your mom and nasty to your brother. You crab about your life and how things would be better if both your parents worked so you could have more money.  And I have to tell you, I just don’t get it. At least you have a sibling. At least your parents are home. Do you know who dropped me off today?”

 

I back up a step.

 

    “Your mom?”

 

    “No. The housekeeper drove my mom’s car. My mom is across the country at some big meeting for those stupid scarves she’s selling. They have pep rally meetings and then she comes home all brainwashed and pumped up about how this flowered scarf matches with that houndstooth jacket. It’s unnatural. And she ignores me most of the time, even if she is home. And dad is never around. At least you have a family. You should be thankful. And the reason no one showed up at your party today is because you’ve been such a jerk lately.”

 

Emma takes a deep breath. She’s not done yelling at me. Super.

 

    “You’re my friend, my best friend, and no matter how you treat me, I’ll always love you. But you aren’t even happy I’m here. All you’ve done since I got here is mope about your life. Well, I’ve had enough for one day. I’m going to walk over to Madison’s. Your present is in your closet under a pile of clothes; I brought it over last week when you were at soccer practice. To surprise you. Happy birthday.”

 

She turns toward the steps, then walks over to my mom and grandpa, hugging each of them.

 

    “I hope she gets herself together. It was great to see you both.”

 

And then, she leaves.

The Doll

Here’s the full first chapter.  I’m submitting the book idea at the end of the month, so if you have editorial commentary, now’s your chance. 🙂  

Summary: Colleen, adopted through foster care with her brother, dreams of finding her birth family and learning they are royalty. She hates chores and feels displaced by her adoptive parents’ pregnancy. She wishes her life were different, the life of a princess. A gift from her grandfather might make her wish reality. 

 

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Photo Credit: Justin Lincoln

I am so tired of that woman. She will not leave me alone.

 

I just want to have peace and quiet, but no. It’s bad enough that Mom puts her nose in my school business, calling my teachers, showing up for lunch without warning, bribing my friends with cookies so they’ll like her. But that’s not enough meddling in my life. Nope. She also makes me do work. Like I’m her slave or something. If I forget, she follows me around and nags.

 

“Chores are your duty as a citizen of this great land we call our household,” she tells me.

 

Chores. Ha. More like doing her job for her. Parents are supposed to take care of the house. Moms do the inside, dads take care of the lawn and the cars and all that. Or they hire someone. None of my friends have “chores.” So much for my childhood.

 

“You’re lucky, Colleen,” mom says. “Not every kid learns life skills. When you graduate, you’ll be able to survive on your own. I know you don’t appreciate it all, but chores are good for your character. Be thankful. Your life, even when you think it’s horrible, is someone else’s fairytale.”

 

“Fairytale, ha. Emily and Madison don’t have to learn life skills,” I complain.

 

She laughs. Laughs. Like it’s no big deal.

 

“Well, when they pull their first all-pink load of laundry out of the dryer in college, they’ll wish they did. In the meantime, you still need to clean the downstairs bathroom. People are coming over in three days, and you’ve left it a mess. And then sort your laundry so we can start a load for you. I’m asking you to clean up after yourself. It’s not like you’re Cinderella.”

 

Pink clothes? What does that even mean? And no, I’m not Cinderella. If only. I’d ride off with that prince and live in style.

 

My thirteenth birthday party is Saturday. I will be a TEENager. Almost eighteen. In just five more summers, I can be outta here. A few weeks ago, I said this out loud. Stupid me. She laughed then, too.  

 

“Wait,” she said, doubled over and gasping for air, “you’re killing me. Do you remember how long it’s been since you were eight years old?”

 

I sniffed. “That’s forever ago.”

 

“Exactly,” she said. By this time she was cackling, that annoying snorty laugh she does when she thinks something is really, really funny. “You are not almost eighteen. Trust me, five years is a long time. By the time you hit eighteen, thirteen will feel like ‘forever ago,’ too.”

I’m counting the days, believe me. One thousand, eight hundred twenty-nine, to be exact. In case you’re checking my math, don’t forget leap year.

 

I head downstairs to my bathroom. It’s actually the guest bathroom, but last year I sort of claimed it. Mom said it was fine as long as I clean it. And I do. Most of the time.

 

My twin brother Kevin and I used to share a bathroom. He’s completely gross. Leaving him in his filth was one of the best hygiene decisions I’ve ever made, right up there with deciding to wear deodorant. So he has to clean the upstairs bathroom himself. Now, if we could just get him to shower. With soap. Mom said he’ll start when he finally discovers girls. Like that will happen. He’s got his head so far inside his science books, he’s lucky he remembers to eat.

 

I wipe the toothpaste dots off the mirror. Mom always checks. She says “no one wants to see that.” I rub the chrome until it sparkles, then flick the rag across the counter. If the chrome is shiny, no one notices the rest. After I pour blue stuff in the toilet bowl, I figure the bathroom is good enough. It’s not like party guests are going to use the tub.

My birthday is horrible.

 

I knew this would be an awful day before I opened my eyes. Drops of rain splatter against my window as thunder crashes above. Kevin, always up “at the cracka,” according to my dad, is already adding his ridiculous noise to the cacophony. Apparently my parents gave him his big present early. Of all things, an electric guitar. My parents were thrilled when he started showing interest in music.


“Finally, we’ll hear something from Kevin other than science facts,” my dad winked at me yesterday from his perch on the edge of his favorite chair. Leaning over the Fender’s slick black and pearl body, he finished tuning the instrument and ran through a few chords. “Beautiful music will be a blessed change.”

 

Maybe, but this is not beautiful. Or music. It’s awful.

 

Wrapping a hypoallergenic, fiber-fill pillow around my head, I blunder out into the hall. The pillow stuffing shifts under my hands, soft and puffy. Still groggy, I try to keep it over my ears, skimming my shoulder along the wall for support. Mom appears, carrying a large gift bag.

 

“Happy Birthday, honey!” She crows. Yes, crows, like a rooster. It is way too early for this. I’m pretty sure it’s not even eight o’clock.

 

I narrowly avoid her kiss; it lands on my pillow.

“Can you do something about Kevin? I’m still trying to sleep!” I grit my teeth.

 

She laughs. Why does she always laugh at me? Like I’m trying to be funny. This is serious.

 

“Really, mom. It’s Saturday. It’s my birthday. I should be allowed to sleep in a little.” I pull the pillow tighter, trying to block the noise.

 

“It’s your birthday, Colleen. Plural. His too, you know. He can play if he wants.”

 

“It’s not playing. It’s noise,” I frown.

 

“Well, you remember what your teacher said after the Christmas program. ‘We’re supposed to make a joyful noise. Nobody said anything about talent.’ As long as he’s happy, and he’s making noise…” she trails off, looking at the hall clock.  “ And, hey, it’s already nine. You should be up anyway. I need your help.” She hefts the bag.

 

“Help? On my birthday?” I grimace. Can’t even catch a break on my birthday.

 

“Yes. If you’d cleaned the bathroom properly the other day, you could sleep longer. As it is, you gave it a lick and a promise instead of a good cleaning. So, now you have to clean a toilet on your special day. Seems unfair, I’m sure, but you did this to yourself.” She grins.

 

“I gave it a what?” I imagine licking the tub faucet.

 

“Never mind. Go.” She staggers down the hall under the weight of the bag and her enormous belly.
Yep, that’s right. She’s pregnant. Preggers. Bun in the oven. Having a baby. Knocked up. Mom, laughing again, asked me where I’d heard that last one. It’s so ridiculous, at their age.  I mean, seriously. She’s like, thirty-eight. And do you know what they had to do in order for her to get that way? So disgusting. I can’t even think about it.

 

 

The day she took me to find a dress for the eighth grade dance, she was all excited because she and dad went to the doctor that morning and they found out the baby is a girl. She couldn’t even concentrate on my dress. She said, “that’s great!” and, “beautiful!” every time I tried on something new, but I could tell she wasn’t even looking. Not really.

 

A little blue dress was already hanging in my changing room, the kind they’d never let me wear, so I tried it on for fun. It made me look older. I liked the way it stayed up without straps and barely skimmed my knee. I knew she wasn’t paying attention when I pranced out in front of the mirrors and she said, “wow, cute!”

 

I almost got away with it, but her eyes focused at the last minute and she said, “when you’re twenty-one, you can come back to get that one.”


Finally, she said, “come, on, just pick one already.”

 

She used to spend more time picking out my dress than I did.

 

Before the baby.

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the baby department, looking at frilly baby clothes. Everything was impossibly fluffy and lacy and pink. She gave away all my baby stuff years ago, so we have to buy it all again. And, since baby things are expensive, Kevin and I will have to pick between two weeks of summer camp, instead of getting to attend both. This baby is already irritating. I’m just waiting for her to tell me I have to let it share my room.

 

I toss the pillow back on my bed and pull on my favorite jeans, the ones with colorful cheetah print on the side. By the time I pull a brush through my hair, Kevin has stopped his racket. Thank God. Hopefully this new interest will go the way of his pet hissing cockroach, last year’s birthday present.

 

Mom said it escaped. I’m pretty sure she flushed it.

 

Pulling my hair into a ponytail, I head downstairs to scrub the toilet. Like a slave. On my birthday.

After she made me do everything three times, the bathroom finally met mom’s military inspection. Seriously, no one notices dust in the corners. Ridiculous waste of time. I got all sweaty scrubbing out the tub and had to take a shower, so all that work was for nothing. At least she didn’t make me clean it again.

 

Thirteen. I just can’t stop saying it. Thirteen. ThirTEEN. Finally a teenager.

 

The night before I turned five, I remember thinking I’d be able to reach the kitchen faucet in the morning. When I woke up, I ran to the sink, shocked to find the handle still several inches out of reach.

 

This time, I am a teenager. No question. Height is irrelevant; I am older. More mature. Almost eighteen. Almost out of here.

 

And then.

 

I can find my birth parents.

 

Kevin and I had other parents, but no one knows much about them except our mother was really young. “She loved you so much, she wanted you to have a family with parents who could take care of you.” That’s what they say to our faces. But once, years ago, I heard mom whispering to Aunt Melissa that the social worker said our grandmother forced our first mom to give us up. I think of my birth mother’s mom as a green-faced wicked witch, not a grandma.

 

I bet our mom was from a really rich family and the wicked grandmother just didn’t want to deal with the stigma of teenage pregnancy. We learned about stigma in my psychology elective class. It’s when people get treated differently because of something shameful they did.

 

So they dumped us into foster care for six months, and then Dad and Mom picked us up. A year later, we officially “belonged” to them. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate what they did for us. But some days, I wish I knew about the family we were born into. And borne out of.
When I turn eighteen, I can see the files. And maybe, by that time, the wicked witch will be gone, and our birth mom will be happy to see us, and we’ll get to live like the modern-day royal family we were born to be.

 

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Photo Credit: Theresa Huse

 

Rough Draft of Chapter One

I’ve been a little absent partly because our summer is crazy and partly because I’m writing a Princess story…the main character being a girl adopted from Foster Care. Posting the first chapter since some of you indicated “more fiction!” in a way-back-when poll. Like it? Let me know. Hate it? Well…be nice, but feedback is feedback. 🙂

Wish I’d just go back to researching issues like Preventing Disruption and RAD? Feel free to let me know that, too!

Enjoy!

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Photo Credit: kermitlab

(Abbreviated) Prologue

Everybody wants to be a princess.

Well, everyone who isn’t already a princess wants to be one.

It’s no picnic, let me tell you. Except for when guards shoo the villagers away and you see thirty beautiful people carrying baskets and blankets into the meadow circle…then, right, it’s a picnic.

(…)

Everybody thinks they want to be a princess, and I’ll admit there are many excellent reasons to enjoy princessdom. Princessing? Princesshood? Perks include having people sit and listen to you even when you get off track. Like now. My apologies.

But there are two sides to every coin, and consequences to every wish fulfilled.

Everyone wants to be a princess, and it seems logical, until you understand the Princess Problem.

And here it is: Someone always wants to kill you.

I should have listened to my grandfather.

Chapter One

I am so tired of that woman. She will not leave me alone.

I just want to have peace and quiet, but no. It’s bad enough that Mom puts her nose in my school business, calling my teachers, showing up for lunch without warning, bribing my friends with cookies so they’ll like her. But that’s not enough meddling in my life. Nope. She also makes me do work. Like I’m her slave or something. If I forget, she follows me around and nags..

 

“Chores are your duty as a citizen of this great land we call our household,” she tells me.

 

Chores. Ha. More like doing her job for her. Parents are supposed to take care of the house. Moms do the inside, dads take care of the lawn and the cars and all that. Or they hire someone. None of my friends have “chores.” So much for my childhood.

 

“You’re lucky, Colleen,” mom says. “Not every kid learns life skills. When you graduate, you’ll be able to survive on your own. I know you don’t appreciate it all, but chores are good for your character. Be thankful. Your life, even when you think it’s horrible, is someone else’s fairytale.”

 

“Fairytale, ha. Emily and Madison don’t have to learn life skills,” I complain.

 

She laughs. Laughs. Like it’s no big deal.

 

“Well, when they pull their first all-pink load of laundry out of the dryer in college, they’ll wish they did. In the meantime, you still need to clean the downstairs bathroom. People are coming over in three days, and you’ve left it a mess. And then sort your laundry so we can start a load for you. I’m asking you to clean up after yourself. It’s not like you’re Cinderella.”

 

Pink clothes? What does that even mean? And no, I’m not Cinderella. If only. I’d ride off with that prince and live in style.

 

My thirteenth birthday party is Saturday. I will be a TEENager. Almost eighteen. In just five more summers, I can be outta here. A few weeks ago, I said this out loud. Stupid me. She laughed then, too.  

 

“Wait,” she said, doubled over and gasping for air, “you’re killing me. Do you remember how long it’s been since you were eight years old?”

 

I sniffed. “That’s forever ago.”

 

“Exactly,” she said. By this time she was cackling, that annoying snorty laugh she does when she thinks something is really, really funny. “You are not almost eighteen. Trust me, five years is a long time. By the time you hit eighteen, thirteen will feel like ‘forever ago,’ too.”

I’m counting the days, believe me. One thousand, eight hundred twenty-nine, to be exact. In case you’re checking my math, don’t forget leap year.

 

I head downstairs to my bathroom. It’s actually the guest bathroom, but last year I sort of claimed it. Mom said it was fine as long as I clean it. And I do. Most of the time.

 

My twin brother Kevin and I used to share a bathroom. He’s completely gross. Leaving him in his filth was one of the best hygiene decisions I’ve ever made, right up there with deciding to wear deodorant. So he has to clean the upstairs bathroom himself. Now, if we could just get him to shower. With soap. Mom said he’ll start when he finally discovers girls. Like that will happen. He’s got his head so far inside his science books, he’s lucky he remembers to eat.
I wipe the toothpaste dots off the mirror. Mom always checks. She says “no one wants to see that.” I rub the chrome until it sparkles, then flick the rag across the counter. If the chrome is shiny, no one notices the rest. After I pour blue stuff in the toilet bowl, I figure the bathroom is good enough. It’s not like party guests are going to use the tub.


Should I post more, or are you bored? 😉

Feel free to provide editing notes. I can take it. 

Stupid Bug

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Deer Tick. Watch out for this one. Photo Credit: Ragnhild Brosvik

Can I just say that if I were all-powerful, ticks would rot in hell. 

I sat here on the couch, happily tapping away at my writing project, when

OW! 

the little bugger stabbed me in the back.

I have never, in all my life, felt a tick bite. And, growing up playing in the forest, I’ve had my share of ticks.

My brother had Lyme disease before it was well-known. He got pretty sick, but thankfully the doctor who saw him was familiar with the illness and treated him right away.

One of my blogging buddies, Looking for the Light, blogs about Life with Lyme.

So between the two of these, of course, my hypochondria went into hyperdrive when the stupid jerk decided I looked like prime rib.

Hubby got the thing out of me, but by the time he was done, I was stretched out on the floor. Can’t believe I didn’t pass out. That sucker (see what I did there) had REALLY dug in. Apparently he likes rib meat.

Liked. Now he’s dead. I named him Charlie, so tomorrow I can tell the kids “Charlie BIT me!”

You know you wanted to see that again.

Anyway, I went to the best diagnostic tool ever, The Internets, to find out whether I should be concerned about my own demise.

In looking for information, I came across a great website. Since this is tick season, here’s what you need to know:

TICK BITE OVERVIEW

There are many different types of ticks in the United States, some of which are capable of transmitting infections. The risk of developing these infections depends upon the geographic location, season of the year, type of tick, and, for Lyme disease, how long the tick was attached to the skin.

While many people are concerned after being bitten by a tick, the risk of acquiring a tick-borne infection is quite low, even if the tick has been attached, fed, and is actually carrying an infectious agent. Ticks transmit infection only after they have attached and then taken a blood meal from their new host. A tick that has not attached (and therefore has not yet become engorged from its blood meal) has not passed any infection. Since the deer tick that transmits Lyme disease must feed for >36 hours before transmission of the spirochete, the risk of acquiring Lyme disease from an observed tick bite, for example, is only 1.2 to 1.4 percent, even in an area where the disease is common.

The organism that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, lies dormant in the inner aspect of the tick’s midgut. The organism becomes active only after exposure to the warm blood meal entering the tick’s gut. Once active, the organism enters the tick’s salivary glands. As the tick feeds, it must get rid of excess water through the salivary glands. Thus, the tick will literally salivate organisms into the wound, thereby passing the infection to the host.

If a person is bitten by a deer tick (the type of tick that carries Lyme disease), a healthcare provider will likely advise one of two approaches:

Observe and treat if signs or symptoms of infection develop

Treat with a preventive antibiotic immediately

There is no benefit of blood testing for Lyme disease at the time of the tick bite; even people who become infected will not have a positive blood test until approximately two to six weeks after the infection develops (post-tick bite).

The history of the tick bite will largely determine which of these options is chosen. Before seeking medical attention, the affected person or household member should carefully remove the tick and make note of its appearance (picture 1). Only the Ixodes species of tick, also known as the deer tick, causes Lyme disease.

HOW TO REMOVE A TICK

The proper way to remove a tick is to use a set of fine tweezers and grip the tick as close to the skin as is possible. Do not use a smoldering match or cigarette, nail polish, petroleum jelly (eg, Vaseline), liquid soap, or kerosene because they may irritate the tick and cause it to behave like a syringe, injecting bodily fluids into the wound.

The proper technique for tick removal includes the following:

Use fine tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.

Pull backwards gently but firmly, using an even, steady pressure. Do not jerk or twist.

Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick, since its bodily fluids may contain infection-causing organisms.

After removing the tick, wash the skin and hands thoroughly with soap and water.

If any mouth parts of the tick remain in the skin, these should be left alone; they will be expelled on their own. Attempts to remove these parts may result in significant skin trauma.

AFTER THE TICK IS REMOVED

Tick characteristics — It is helpful if the person can provide information about the size of the tick, whether it was actually attached to the skin, if it was engorged (that is, full of blood), and how long it was attached.

The size and color of the tick help to determine what kind of tick it was (picture 1 and figure 1);

Ticks that are brown and approximately the size of a poppy seed or pencil point are deer ticks. These can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterium that causes Lyme disease) and a number of other tick-borne infections, including babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Borrelia burgdorferi infected deer ticks live primarily in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region (Maine to Virginia) and in the midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin) region of the United States, and less commonly in the western US (northern California).

Ticks that are brown with a white collar and about the size of a pencil eraser are more likely to be dog ticks (Dermacentor species). These ticks do not carry Lyme disease, but can rarely carry another tick-borne infection called Rocky Mountain spotted fever that can be serious or even fatal.

A brown to black tick with a white splotch on its back is likely a female Amblyomma americanum (Lone Star tick; named after the white splotch) (picture 2). This species of tick has been reported to spread an illness called STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness). STARI causes a rash that is similar to the erythema migrans rash, but without the other features of Lyme disease. Although this rash is thought to be caused by an infection, a cause for the infection has not yet been identified. This type of tick can also carry and transmit another infection called human monocytic ehrlichiosis.

A tick that was not attached, was easy to remove or just walking on the skin, and was still flat and tiny and not full of blood when it was removed could not have transmitted Lyme disease or any other infection since it had not yet taken a blood meal.

Only ticks that are attached and have finished feeding or are near the end of their meal can transmit Lyme disease. After arriving on the skin, the tick that spreads Lyme disease usually takes 24 hours before feeding begins.

Even if a tick is attached, it must have taken a blood meal to transmit Lyme disease. At least 36 to 48 hours of feeding is required for a tick to have fed and then transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. After this amount of time, the tick will be engorged (full of blood). An engorged tick has a globular shape and is larger than an unengorged one.

It is not clear how long a tick needs to be attached to transmit bacteria other than Borrelia burgdorferi.

Need for treatment — The clinician will review the description of the tick, along with any physical symptoms, to decide upon a course of action. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) recommends preventive treatment with antibiotics only in people who meet ALL of the following criteria:

Attached tick identified as an adult or nymphal I. scapularis (deer) tick

Tick is estimated to have been attached for ≥36 hours (based upon how engorged the tick appears or the amount of time since outdoor exposure)

The antibiotic can be given within 72 hours of tick removal

The local rate of tick infection with B. burgdorferi is ≥20 percent (known to occur in parts of New England, parts of the mid-Atlantic states, and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin)

The person can take doxycycline (eg, the person is not pregnant or breastfeeding or a child <8 years of age)

If the person meets ALL of the above criteria, the recommended dose of doxycycline is a single dose of 200 mg for adults and 4 mg/kg, up to a maximum dose of 200 mg, in children ≥ 8 years.

If the person cannot take doxycycline, the IDSA does not recommend preventive treatment with an alternate antibiotic for several reasons: there are no data to support a short course of another antibiotic, a longer course of antibiotics may have side effects, antibiotic treatment is highly effective if Lyme disease were to develop, and the risk of developing a serious complication of Lyme disease after a recognized bite is extremely low.

MONITORING FOR LYME DISEASE

Many people have incorrect information about Lyme disease. For example, some people are concerned that Lyme disease is untreatable if antibiotics are not given early (this is untrue; even later features of Lyme disease can be effectively treated with appropriate antibiotics). Many local Lyme disease networks and national organizations disseminate unproven information and should not be the sole source of education about Lyme disease. Reputable sources are listed below (see ‘Where to get more information’ below).

Signs of Lyme disease — Whether or not a clinician is consulted after a tick bite, the person who was bitten (or the parents, if a child was bitten) should observe the area of the bite for expanding redness, which would suggest erythema migrans (EM), the characteristic rash of Lyme disease (picture 3). (See “Patient information: Lyme disease symptoms and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics)”.)

The EM rash is usually a salmon color although, rarely, it can be an intense red, sometimes resembling a skin infection. The color may be almost uniform. The lesion typically expands over a few days or weeks and can reach over 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter. As the rash expands, it can become clear (skin-colored) in the center. The center of the rash can then appear a lighter color than its edges or the rash can develop into a series of concentric rings giving it a “bull’s eye” appearance. The rash usually causes no symptoms, although burning or itching has been reported.

In people with early localized Lyme disease, EM occurs within one month of the tick bite, typically within a week of the tick bite, although only one-third of people recall the tick bite that gave them Lyme disease. Components of tick saliva can cause a short-lived (24 to 48 hours) rash that should not be confused with EM. This reaction usually does not expand to a size larger than a dime.

Approximately 80 percent of people with Lyme disease develop EM; 10 to 20 percent of people have multiple lesions. If EM or other signs or symptoms suggestive of Lyme disease develop (table 1), the person should see a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. (See “Patient information: Lyme disease treatment (Beyond the Basics)”.)

-Linden Hu, MD

So, based on the information above, it appears I will live.

Lucky me.

Also, lucky Hubby. He won’t have to raise two kids by himself.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get him to check me for ticks.

 

 

 

 

Ode to Seuss

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Why I Write

I write because I love it.

I write to keep me sane.

I write when I feel happy

or sad or just mundane.

I write because Hubby says,

“if you neglect to do

writing every single day

your attitude is poo!”

I write ’cause I adore it.

I write because it’s free.

Writing’s a true essential;

costs less than therapy.

I write because I want to.

I write because it’s play.

Sometimes I just write to learn

what my thoughts have to say.

Ask me if I’ll ever stop—

the answer is, I won’t.

And I write because my head

will explode if I don’t.

***

I write because I love it.

Why do you write?


Photo credit: Casey Alexander

*revision from earlier post

Your Turn. Don’t be shy!

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Photo Credit: Michael Brace

 

At dinner with an elderly friend, I asked, “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?” 

“Well,” she said, “my mother used to tell my brother, 

Want a good life? Keep your mouth shut and your pants zipped. 

and that’s probably the best advice I’ve ever heard from anyone.” 

***

I’m working hard on a writing project along with Lynn Love (check out her blog; it’s super) and some other fabulous writers through NaNoWriMo’s April “Camp.” I’d like to open this blog space to YOU today.

We have a bunch of new readers here, and all of you (long-time readers and new) have such great experience.

Please share below one of the following:

  • The best advice you’ve ever received.
  • The biggest thing you’ve learned on your own.
  • If you could have a do-over, what would happen?

And hey, if you want to share a link to your blog, please do.

BIG HUGS!
Casey

P.S. Here’s the best advice I’ve heard in a while (look twice if you don’t see it right away):

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A sign in the Insect Village at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. Photo Credit: sea turtle

 

Write to the Death

Finding time to write is not a problem for me.

Oh, wait.

I meant to post that on April 1…but didn’t have time.

***

Another blogger and I have been kicking around the idea of forcing ourselves to novel with a deadline.

I suggested we call next month Manic May (in which we write like mad) and proofread each other’s work in Judgmental June (because I couldn’t think of a better word starting with “J”).

Upon hearing my idea, Hubby said, “and then, Judgemental July because neither of you will finish writing in May, so you’ll have to push back proofreading.

Then will come Angsty August because you don’t like each other’s novels but don’t want to say so.

During Sad September, you’ll find your friendship ending over red pen.

You’ll try to salvage the project, if not your camaraderie, during Objective October.

Finally, in Nasty November: a fight to the death over grammar, stabbing each other with the Oxford comma.”

Geez. Maybe HE should write the novel.

 

Arrival

Fiction
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Photo Credit: Joshua Farewell

I wake, cheek pressed against a cool, smooth surface beneath me. Breathe in, steady and deep. Out. In.

A slight breeze whispers through my hair, just this side of cool. The air brushes my back.

Light filters bright through the haze above and reflects from facets around me. I move my head just a little bit and the sparkling environment spins. I still, before the nausea causes complete surrender.

I don’t know how I got here. Or, for that matter, the definition of “here.”

I hold myself motionless, allowing my mind to focus.

No memory swims to consciousness.

I stare down, tipping my face away from the dazzling light. Attempting to calm the headache. Grasping for any clue about my arrival. Nothing.

I pull my fingers across the glassy floor, smooth and slow. No nicks or scratches. No bumps, no sand, no crumbs. Perfection. I roll over, my back against the hard ground, to see the shining, sharp edge of a cliff inches from my face. A terrified breath jerks in as I imagine slipping over.

Fear pours down my spine like ice water and I slide in the opposite direction. I want to be far away from that vertical drop.

Managing to distance myself from the edge by a few feet, I rest. This will do for now; movement is a struggle. Once I’ve regained strength, assuming I started with some, I’ll remove myself completely from the danger.

Not that the cliff poses a threat as long as I don’t throw myself over—and that’s not happening. I might not remember anything else, but a healthy fear of heights overpowers my memory gaps.

I listen, eyes closed. What is that noise?

There. To the left. Voices approach. Grow louder. I see them, a knot of slender forms. Everyone moves together. A smaller cluster materializes from the right. Each is wearing the same dark tunic. I squint. My eyes refuse to focus.

“Here! Another one! She’s over here, quick!”

Many hands pull and lift and carry. I realize suddenly that I do not have a matching tunic, but am too exhausted to care. Everything spins.

I embrace the dark.

 

 

Psycho Shower Tales

Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho is classic terror.

And because this is a family blog, I give you….the LEGO version.

Maybe this scene rings so true because we all have a bit of shower insecurity.

A shower once traumatized me…and it wasn’t even my shower.


 

Did you ever notice the words “adoption” and “insanity” have the same number of letters?

This is no coincidence.

It’s been four and a half years since the Wednesday our kids arrived.

Social Services lost our fingerprint results, delaying our approval to foster children. The family who’d housed our kiddos for eighteen months had enough chaos from the two darlings to last a lifetime. They declined to allow the children to stay longer, so the social worker found a foster family willing to provide care for a month, to give time for new prints.

The social worker ignored my suggestion to ask the FBI whether another copy of the results might be available.  After we were re-printed, results appeared very quickly. A miracle, some might say. Or the social worker found them, misfiled…

The interim foster parent, a friend of mine, delivered the children on a mild Wednesday afternoon. At the time, we didn’t know that a social worker was supposed to be present to “facilitate” the situation. The kids had no idea what was happening. Neither did we.

My friend hugged me tight, tears in her eyes. (I was a little blurry, myself.) “So happy for you. Congratulations, Mama!” She smiled and drove away. Upon examining the memory, I think she might have been laughing. 

Married ten years, Hubby and I had approximately 20 years of “kid experience” between us. Surely, we could handle this instant-family situation.

We’d spent the equivalent of two days with the kiddos, then 5 and newly-turned-7. They seemed to like us. This would be a breeze. They were so teeny and adorable.

Like baby jackals. Or, perhaps, hyenas.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”  That Wednesday evening foreshadowed the next two years of our lives with fair accuracy.

We took them to a church spaghetti dinner—I was thrilled at the idea of not cooking. They were thrilled at the prospect of a table full of desserts.

During the course of the meal, they ate bread, salad, pasta and meat sauce with their hands. Utensils seemed utterly foreign to them.

The urchins spilled six (count ’em, six) cups of pink lemonade—including a huge trip-fall-splash that involved about a third of the floor space—and the five year old ate a napkin.

Ate a napkin.

Well, ate might be slight exaggeration. He stuffed the napkin in his mouth, and despite (or because of) our exhortations of “Oh, honey, don’t…don’t do that.” “No, that’s not food. Take it out.” “Spit that out right now.” “SPIT. IT. OUT.” he continued to chew the paper with a “make me” glint in his sweet blue eyes.

Finally, Hubby said, in a display of fearless parenting,

“Fine. Swallow it. It’ll probably stop you up and you won’t poop for a week.”

It worked. The game was no longer fun. He deposited the mass of wet fibers onto the floor with swift efficiency.

We arrived home past bedtime, exhausted, but couldn’t skip bathing. The kids were literally covered head-to-toe in sauce.

Imagine all the cute photos of your friends’ infants eating pasta for the first time. Super cute, that tomato-basted babe. Fast forward five or seven years. No longer super cute.

I started the shower, made sure it was warm, then helped the 7 year old remove her saucy outfit and step into the tub. She gave me a little smile. Then…she collapsed, screaming, on the floor of the tub.

It felt a little like Psycho. (Sans the crazy guy.)

In my panic to find the problem, I left the shower running. “Are you hurt? Did you slip? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

She continued to scream. Hubby stopped entertaining the five year old and cracked the door. “What in the world is happening in there? What did you do?”

More screaming. What did he mean by, “what did you do?” Clearly, what I did was lose my mind and bring an insane, scary, evil-spirit-possessed child into the house.

Finally, as the decibels reached somewhere between ear-piercing and drum-bleeding, I regained conscious control of my hands and turned off the shower. Screaming stopped. No explanation.

“Are you okay?” Nod. “Are you hurt?” Shake. “Did the shower scare you?” Another negative shake. “You have to get clean; will you take a bath?” Nod. 

I filled the tub.

The child then washed the remnants of dinner from her hair, calm and apparently in her right mind.

***

We didn’t attempt another shower for the next year. The younger one spontaneously decided he’d rather shower. Not to be outdone by her little brother, our girl braved the shower the next night, with no complications. Oh, how I love sibling rivalry.

Approximately six hundred showers later, she sidled up to me, posture casual. “Hey, remember that time I was screaming like a crazy person in the shower, on our first night here?”

“Oh…um, I think I remember.” Yes, I remember. My eardrums experience a spontaneous tremor at the thought.

“Yeah, Mama…I was just freaked out about being in a new house. Sorry about that.” Freaked out, indeed…

“Oh, sweetie, don’t even worry about it. That was a long time ago. I barely even remember it.”  Liar, liar, pants on fire…

***

I think there’s a reason God doesn’t let us see the future. If, that first night, I’d known what was coming in the next 24 months—that the shower scene was only a precursor—I might have bailed.

My mom says she doesn’t remember the hours of childbirth because the joy of seeing the baby’s face “erased the memory of the pain.” If you’re lucky, birth happens in hours (or if you’re unlucky, days).

Adoption, especially with behaviorally challenged kiddos, is a little different. Labor pains happen every day.

For years.

And believe me, I remember every single minute.

Good thing we like a little insanity around here.

If you’ve adopted, here’s the good news: you’re not alone.

More good news: you’ll survive. I promise.

 

*This piece is updated from a post written in September 2014.

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