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Monday, April 30, 2012


In case it's unclear from the title, this post will probably be gross. Actually, it's definitely gross. Funny, too, but if you don't like zits, this is probably not the post for you. It's also fairly long. Don't say I didn't warn you ;)

I have an obsession; an obsession with zits.

                I don’t know what it is, but ever since I popped my very first zit, I’ve been hooked. As soon as I’d see one of those little red bumps, I’d poke it, prod it, rub it in anticipation for the time it was ready to pop. Waiting for that little white head was like waiting for water to boil; it was never done fast enough.

                It’s not that I like zits; quite the opposite. I’ve done everything imaginable save limiting my chocolate intake to combat zits. My acne was never nearly as bad as most hormone-saturated teens’, whose faces sometimes looked like warzones, deep red craters from old, popped zits filling the space between the new ones, sprouting from the skin like bubbles in a cauldron ready to burst at the slightest touch. But my vanity, or perhaps my perfectionist tendencies, would not tolerate a single blemish.

                So in seventh grade, when the zits’ invasion of my face and shoulders threatened to end in the obliteration of what little self-esteem I had, I begged my step-mother to take me to the dermatologist, who proscribed a special facial wipe and some type of cream.

                The results were catastrophic.

                 We picked up the prescription on the way home, and I used both immediately. I absolutely loved the burning sensation as I purged the impurities from my skin; I imagined little germs fleeing in panic, screaming “Noooooo!!!” in tiny little voices, cartoonish little microbes with scruffy little beards shouting “The End has come! Head for the hills!!” as I cackled like a mad god.

                The next day, however, my skin paid me back for the abuse. I woke to find that my face had found something in common with cooked lobster. A deep red stain spread across my entire left cheek and up toward my forehead. The right side was only slightly better, blotches in the same dark crimson like blood spatter crawling down my cheek and neck.

                I put it to my parents that there was no way in hell I was going to school like that; they disagreed, with the straightest, most serious faces I’d ever seen them use, and gave me a tube of moisturizer to soothe my skin, which at this point felt like a nuclear test site.

                Though I have always been at war with my hair, forcing it into a tight ponytail every morning, that day we formed a truce. I left it down to at least partially cover my face, and the kids at school were either polite enough or horrified enough not to mention it.

                Throughout the day I kept the tube of lotion on me at all times, re-applying almost every five minutes, as the burning sensation got worse and worse. The lotion was not enough to save the top few layers of my skin, which sloughed off in little pieces, preventing anymore lotion from sinking in. So when I got home my step-mom gave me a new bottle of some really expensive uber-hyper-super lotion from Mary Kay, which she usually sold to really old women whose skin had all died years ago and still hadn’t gotten the hint. But by this point, my vanity would be a long time recovering, and I didn’t care who it was intended for—my skin was as dry and cracked as the surface of Mars, and this new lotion felt like water.

                It started working almost immediately, and I came to a wonderful and terrible realization: if this lotion could keep my skin from dying and turning that awful red, I could keep using the acne wipes and cream as much as I wanted.
                Though I did eventually stop using them, my skin was probably irreversibly damaged; I still have to use the same lotion twice a day to keep my face from drying out. But I still pop my zits. I know they say not to, that messing with them only makes it worse, and perhaps that’s true. I just can’t help it. Not popping a zit is literally about as possible for me as not breathing.

                I do have a small amount of self-control. If I didn’t I would probably have multiple restraining orders out on me. I can keep from attempting to pop other people’s zits, but only at the expense of my attention. Anyone with a zit or two on their face can count on the fact that I am giving them only about two percent of my attention. The rest will be split between pretending I am not looking at their zits and self-restraint.

                The biggest zit I’ve ever seen belonged to a boy I knew in the seventh grade. It had taken up residence at the tip of his nose, and proceeded to grow to epic proportions. He refused to pop it, and I’m not sure I blame him—by the end of the year, we might have had a second Pompeii on our hands. I don’t know whether he ever popped it or not, because we moved on to high school, which was a much bigger place, and I never saw him again. But, though I knew him for years before it appeared, when I look back all I can see is his zit.

                Then there was the man I sat beside at my husband’s graduation from basic training. He didn’t have any particularly large zits, but he had a lot of them—every pore of his nose, in fact, was a zit. But they weren’t blackheads, which is what you usually see on the nose. They weren’t even whiteheads, because they didn’t have heads—there was so much pus it oozed out of his skin like icing from a tube. Thanks to him, I have almost no memory of the graduation ceremony whatsoever; it was the first time I’d ever seen something so disgustingly fascinating.

                Though most people think all zits look the same, the possibilities go beyond just ‘blackhead’ and ‘whitehead;’ it all comes down to how they pop. Blackheads usually all come out the same, but with whiteheads, the possibilities are almost endless. Sometimes the pus comes out in thin little streamers, like snakes. Sometimes it all comes out in one big explosion, leaving a deep red hole in the skin like a crater. Sometimes there’s a hardened chunk blocking the rest, which may even have to be pulled out with tweezers, and then the rest pours out like water. Then there’s the color; sometimes it’s white, sometimes yellow, green, or even black. Sometimes they bleed after they pop, or expel some kind of clear liquid. 

                There are even different techniques required to pop different zits. Only about fifty percent will pop with the most common method, pinching it between two fingers. Some zits have too large a surface area to ever form a head—the pus never gets close enough to the surface to be squeezed out. For these, I’ve found a pin usually works.

                But the best tool for popping zits is what my husband and I have creatively called the “zit-getter.” The zit-getter is probably one of the best inventions in history, right under air-conditioning and Eggo waffles. It’s a fairly simple design; a metal rod about three inches long with metal loops at both ends, one flattened and slightly larger than the other. The loop goes around the circumference of the zit, and all you have to do is press down. It hurts much less than pinching with the fingers, and works much better on deep blackheads.

                My husband was the one to introduce me to the zit-getter. When I first met him, l liked him well enough, but when I first met his back, I knew we were meant to be. The entirety of his posterior was a minefield of hate-filled pustules no one with any desire for self-preservation would want to look at funny. Yet my worst fantasy involves him, enough chloroform for a few hours, and the zit-getter. 

                I guess I take the whole marry-a-guy-with-problems-in-the-hope-that-you-can-fix-them thing to a whole new level. Obviously, I have issues. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Ever since I got married, I've felt like a yo-yo, bouncing back and forth between my new family and the old. I'm a people-pleaser, and there are now twice the number to please-though some are much easier than others.

Now, having a baby, it's both better and worse. There's even more of an obligation to spend time with both sides, but she also keeps me grounded. Growing up is difficult, especially when your parents don't really see you as an adult. I don't think you can ever blame them for it--after all, 18 years is a long time to set your state of mind--but it's never easy to think of yourself as a grown-up when you're not treated that way. Having Olivia, though, has given me the courage to stand up for myself, at least mentally.

But sometimes, I still wish I could get away with being selfish--it would be nice to just get away, move somewhere far away from everyone and everything, where my only responsibility would be to my daughter and my husband. Things would be simpler, in a a lot of ways.

But family is family, and no matter how frustrating they can be, I'd miss them-especially when I need a free babysitter.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X Marks the Spot

So, I have to admit, I have absolutely no idea what to write about for the letter 'X.' It's past midnight, I'm exhausted, and I don't even feel like searching for inspiration, let alone digging it up once I get there. I'm not much for planning-any time I ever 'try' to come up with something good to write about, it always turns out cheesy, underdeveloped, or just uninteresting. Inspiration is something that's always just come to me. Like a bad boyfriend, it shows up unannounced, gives me something wonderful, and vanishes without even a phone call the next morning.

So it's probably best for everyone if I call it a night. They may say one man's junk is another man's treasure, but all you'll find here are old broken records and dust covered shelves.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What to Expect

There's a lot of information out there on parenting. There's a lot of advice, both good and bad, both in books, videos, and from friends, family, even mere acquaintances. When I learned I was pregnant, the doctor recommended What to Expect When You're Expecting, and it really was good in a lot of ways. It covered the entire pregnancy in detail, and even the first year of a baby's life, addressing real peoples' questions. It even tackled the hard stuff, like what to do when something goes wrong. 

But I there isn't anyone, any book, that can cover everything. No matter how many books you consult, no many how many people you talk to, there will always be surprises. Every baby is a brand new person, and completely unique, and I really don't think there is one "right way" to raise a child. Each needs something different--more attention in some areas, less in others, even within the same family. Maybe even especially within the same family. For example, I've always been great at school, and I always did my homework without my parents' supervision or prodding. My sister, on the other hand, wouldn't do it unless she was forced to, and even then, she struggled. 

Nothing can ever prepare you for the way you feel when you first see that little person who's been growing inside you. When it comes to parenting, there are no road maps; each and every child is undiscovered territory, and each experience, even those you can prepare for, is like sailing in uncharted waters. 

All you can do is ride the wave, and hope you don't make too many mistakes along the way. It's a hard realization, maybe. Especially for a control freak like me. But I, for one, am going to try to sit back and enjoy the ride--because they only grow up once. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


People say that it's important to pick your battles, and I believe that's true. There are a lot of little things that bother me--heck, there are a lot of major things that bother me--but I am one of the least confrontational people in the world. It's not that I have difficulty with confrontation, though that is true, because I think many people have that problem. It's just that, for the most part, I'm a pretty patient and forgiving person, a combination that makes me very difficult to piss off.

I do have one pet peeve, however, something about which I am quick to anger: my hair. My hair is off limits to all but a very select few. The only time I have ever hit anyone in anger, in my entire life, was when someone messed with my hair.

I was probably 12 or 13 years old, and I was at summer camp with kids from my grandma's church. It was the second or third year I'd gone, and I was the oldest kid in our cabin, so our cabin leader put a little more trust in me. Now, every year the best part of camp was the nighttime pranks. No one in my family did pranks, so this was the most anticipated part of my year.

When we got to camp, however, the cabin leader told us that we weren't going to be allowed to do any pranks until after family day, which was halfway through the week, because last year the cabin ended up too messy, and she wanted everything clean and nice for when our parents came to visit. To make it up to us, she said we'd have a huge shaving cream fight as soon as our parents were gone, and everyone was pretty satisfied with the arrangement.

Everything went fine until Tuesday. We were on our way to go swimming when one of the youngest girls, maybe seven or eight years old, said she'd left her swimsuit at the cabin. Since I was the oldest, and I've generally been very mature for my age, our leader asked me to walk the girl back to the cabin to get her suit, and meet them at the pool. When we got to the cabin, the girl asked me if she could play a prank-she wanted to put rice in someone's sleeping bag. Always a classic.

I reminded her that we weren't supposed to pull any pranks till Wednesday, but said that if she wanted to, it was up to her; I wasn't going to help, but I wouldn't tell on her either. So she went ahead and did it, and we headed to the pool.

Now, there was a girl on the camping trip who was just about my age, named Wendy, who I'd known a long time. We met on my first day in the church daycare, and though we didn't go to my grandma's church anymore, I still saw her every now and then when we went to visit, and at camp. So I guess you could say we were friends, and usually the two of us banded together at camp, as the two oldest kids by a pretty big margin.

During the summer in question, however, she'd brought her cousin along, so I was a little out of the loop. Which was fine--I understood. Her cousin had never met any of us before, so Wendy was the only person she knew, and it's hard for kids, I think, to work the whole third wheel thing. But we were still on good terms, until we all returned to the cabin after swimming, and Wendy's cousin discovered rice in her sleeping bag.

If you didn't already know, eight year old's are terrible liars. So when they asked who had pulled the prank, she got scared, and fessed up. And when asked why, she said I'd told her to do it. Though that wasn't the case, it didn't matter. For some reason, Wendy was seriously pissed off about it, and neither she or her cousin would talk to me for the rest of the week.

The next day was Family Day, and it went well. So that night, as promised, our cabin leader brought out the shaving cream, and told us to be nice and have fun. Before the melee began, I got the group's attention. I told them that I was totally fine with being smeared with shaving cream, but I would really appreciate if they'd all stay away from my hair, because it really bothered me. They all agreed to stay away from my hair, and we had a great time.

When it was over, though, and I was at the sink rinsing the cream off my arms, Wendy walked in with a huge handful of shaving cream and, without a word, smeared it in my hair. I didn't immediately freak out; I reminded her that I'd asked everyone to stay away from my hair, and asked that she please not do it again while I began to wash it out.

In rebuttal, she brought forth her other hand, also full of shaving cream, and smeared it in again. In that moment, all self-control left me--I'd slapped her right across the face before I'd even consciously made the decision to do so.

Needless to say, she left me alone for the rest of the week. But it was a hollow victory. I didn't like that it had had to come to violence, even as minor as a slap in the face, before she left me alone. I'd lost the one almost-friend I had at my grandma's church for good, and I never went back to camp.

Like I said, I've never been a confrontational person, but that situation made me even less so. Since then, I've learned to deal with people touching my hair, and it turned out to be a good thing--because hair is Olivia's favorite new toy.

Monday, April 23, 2012


I was watching Bones the other day, and something they said really hit me. I'm sure this idea is not originally from Bones, because I'm sure I've heard it before, but that's where I heard it last.

Bones said to Booth that "a substance that's impervious to damage doesn't need to be strong." The idea, I guess, is that even if something is very strong, it is still breakable; for example, stones are very tough, but even diamonds can be broken. But if a substance is untouchable, its strength doesn't matter, because nothing is able to affect it.

I've always been a very touchy person. It's difficult for me to take criticism of any kind, though I understand it's often in my best interest, and I'm willing to take it if I have to. But when people yell at me, I cry. It's not something I can control--believe me, I've tried. There have even been times when I didn't feel anything emotionally, and in my head, I kept thinking "why am I crying? I don't even care." But it doesn't matter. I'm easily hurt, and easily offended. Most people probably don't realize it, because I'm not usually the type to lash out, and I've gotten good at hiding disappointment and sadness. But it's there.

When I was a kid, it was a major problem. When my dad yelled at me, I cried, no matter what it was about, No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop. But he never did understand that, and he somehow got the idea that I did it on purpose, to make him feel bad, or to get him to stop, so when I cried, it just made him madder.

So I spent years attempting to harden my heart, forging a layer of under-armor just beneath the skin. Every time I hurt and wanted to cry, I imagined my heart as a hunk of stone, cold and hard, and the words were like rain washing against its surface. But, given enough time, water can chip away at a stone until all that remains is a handful of sand. And my heart was no different. No matter how hard I tried, I never could keep myself from crying; it only made things worse when the shell finally broke.

And I realize it's because I wasn't addressing the real problem. I was treating the symptom, the crying, rather than the source. It's like telling a teenage girl that people are only making fun of her because they're jealous. It might help a bit, but the true problem is the self-esteem; she will never stop being hurt until she looks at herself and thinks that she's beautiful. Because then it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.

Unfortunately, I still don't know what the source of the problem is. It may be that I'm just a touchy person, but that's not who I want to be. I don't want to have to be strong anymore. It's hard, tiring work. It's like patching a dam. I want to be impervious, so I can focus on other things, like raising my daughter, writing a book, enjoying life.

 I may never discover what makes me so touchy. Maybe it's impossible. But I guess all I can do is try.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just a Taste

So I could not come up with anything for the letter T that I hadn't already spun into some other letter. Which is pretty sad, since 't' is probably one of the most common letters. So, though it's not really in the same genre as my usual posts, I decided I'd give people a taste of one of the novels I'm working on. It's a hard decision for me, because I'm so paranoid about people stealing my work, but I'll give it a shot. This is an excerpt from chapter one:

                The voices were at it again.

                Gerrik could hear them arguing in the back of his head. They’d kept him awake every night since he fled the city, and he was tired. They made no effort to whisper, and by the sound of it, sleep would not be a possibility anytime in the near future. It was like they were keeping him up on purpose.

                Would you knock it off already?  He grumbled.

                The voices took a moment to sound chagrined, then resumed their argument at a slightly lower volume.

                It would have to do. At least they weren’t involving him this time. Usually he tried to avoid their notice, but right now he was too tired to care.

                Sleep fell on him in a fury, a raging river battering him on spears of jagged memory. He reached for one, any one, in his panic, and he was standing on a city street.

                It was night, and the sky was clear. Stars lit the city, brighter than a million candles, and a hundred times more beautiful. He was in a park, and he could see every tree, every flower, in perfect detail, except that they seemed washed out, faded, as if even color slept this night.


                He  jumped. He was not alone.

                He turned, and she was there, brows furrowed, a hand laid gently on his arm. All of her colors were awake. The rich green of her eyes, hair the color of rich red clay. Her skin, warm and smooth as honey, vibrant and alive.


                “Are you okay?”


                “You were about to say something, and you stopped,” she said. “Are you okay?”

                He looked down, and there was a ring in his palm. He’d spent weeks carving the intricate lily design, her favorite flower, out of the soft white wood. Tears sprung to his eyes.

                “I love you so much,” he whispered.

                He could hear her smile without looking up. He loved that about her. So expressive, her emotions affected everyone around her. It wasn’t magic; it was her. Just her.

                He was afraid to look up.

                “Will you marry me?” he asked tentatively.

                She smiled again. “Of course I will, silly!” she said, just like she had that night.

                He finally looked up.

                Blood pulsed from a gash in her throat, soaking the white sheet that wrapped her body. Her eyes were hurt, accusing.

                “You said you’d protect me, Gerrik. You promised.”

                He opened his mouth to apologize, and water filled his mouth. He was drowning. The river pulled him under. It was noiseless, and it was deafening. It was dark. So dark… He couldn’t see the surface. He knew it was there, just out of reach, but the current beat at him from every angle. He stretched out a hand, reaching for something, anything to hold on to, but it was useless, so useless.

He was useless.

 He tried to scream, and suddenly he was awake, gasping. The voices sounded like they were trying not to sound vindicated.

You guys could have warned me, Gerrik grumbled. You know my head better than I do.

The voices shrugged.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012


The only thing I love more than food, which I really, really love, is sleep. I still haven't grown out of the habit of sleeping 12+ hours as, I assume, most people do once their out of their teens. If I could get away with sleeping all day, I probably would most of the time.

As you can imagine, this became a problem when I had Olivia. Not that it was unexpected, but there's not a whole lot you can do to prepare for waking up every two hours, except for waking up every two hours--and that was so not happening. I slept more than ever when I was pregnant, up to sixteen hours some days towards the end, and I was loving it. Since I couldn't eat anything I wanted (the best perk of pregnancy) due to gestational diabetes, which is loads of fun, let me tell you, I figured I at least deserved as much sleep as I wanted. And at least four baths a day.

Anyway, when we brought her home, I actually had trouble sleeping for the first time in my life, and not because of her--she did wake us up most of the time every 2-4 hours, I couldn't even all asleep for the first couple days. Before she was born I scoffed at all the people who were so psychotic about SIDS that they had to go check on their baby every five minutes. But afterwards, as is usually the case, I realized I was an idiot.

I've mentioned before that I have terrible vision, and usually I am very strict about taking out my contacts at night, because it absolutely ruins the next day for me. They always get all dry, and it feels like wearing acid on your eyes which, as I'm sure you've guessed, really f-ing hurts.

But for the first four days after she was born, I couldn't take them out. I was so worried that she'd just randomly stop breathing, and if I had my contacts out I wouldn't be able to see far enough into her crib to check. But because I didn't want to seem insane, and because the logical part of me knew that if I gave in it would become a habit I'd be hard-put to break, I forced myself to stay in bed, squeezing a pillow, just waiting for that little cry that would tell me she was okay.

I eventually got over it, though even now I still like to go check on her every once in awhile. She's absolutely beautiful when she's awake; the way her little face lights up every time she sees me will never cease to bring tears to my eyes, but while she sleeps...I honestly don't know how to describe it. Sleeping babies are the most peaceful, beautiful thing in the world. I envy that level of blind trust and relaxation.

Anyway, I don't get as much sleep now. Even though she sleeps about twelve hours, I've gotten used to staying up late, so I might only get six or eight hours, depending on how needy the cat is feeling. But I can honestly say that it really doesn't bother me when she wakes me up, and it never did. Anyone else can expect to get a foot in the face, but for her, I'd do anything. So, though I'd have called anyone cray for telling me I'd ever say this, going without a few hours sleep is an easy sacrifice to make.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rough Draft

I've mentioned on several occasions that I really don't know much about 'science.' But I did take a few classes here and there, and the most interesting topic to learn about, for me, was genetics.

I don't believe in 'evolution' in the sense that many people define it--the idea that we all came from a single, common ancestor--but I do believe in change over time. How could I not? It doesn't take much 'science' to look back over the years and see how far we've progressed as a species. Perhaps not much physical change has occurred, at least not outwardly, but socially, emotionally, intellectually? We've come a long way, and we continue to change and grow at an amazing rate. And a big part of that is genetics.

When I look at Olivia, I see all the best parts of myself and the best parts of her father. It's an amazing, almost mind-boggling concept to think that every generation, every child, is better than their parents. In a way it's like she's a better version of myself, Noelle 2.0, and in another way she's a completely different person.

It makes me feel as if I was just a rough draft for this perfect little person. And you know what? I'm okay with that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The first time I really began to believe that I had a shot as a writer was during my Junior year of high school. I was in Mr. Baumstark's AP Language Arts class, and I was loving it. When I look back at the essays I wrote back then, I'm amazed at just how much I've improved since then, but at the time I thought my writing was awesome, and it probably was for 11th grade.

Anyway, every year the St. Louis Symphony has a writing contest called "Express the Music" for high school students in the St. Louis area. They record themselves playing a piece of music and send it out to the high schools. Then, to participate, students write something, 250 words max, which...well, expresses the music, I guess. It's pretty self-explanatory. It can be anything-a short story, poetry, anything.

And Mr. Baumstark decided that he would make it a mandatory assignment for everyone in the class to participate. I decided to write a poem. As I listened to the music, a story unfolded, and I wrote it out in a simple Quatrain form-you know, abab, cdcd, etcetera. It was a simple poem, really, about a princess who had waited too long for prince charming to come, and decided to take matters into her own hands.

The coolest part about it was that I matched what was going on in the story to the music, if you read it at the right speed. A line of descending notes was her running down the stairs. A pause was her hiding from a guard. Things like that.

Do you have any idea, by the way, how difficult it is to write 250 words or less based on a piece of music? Because I didn't. I wrote the poem, and it took me hours to take out words, one at a time, so it was under 250. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and I had no idea just how useful it would be.

I think a lot of people struggle more with writing enough, at least to begin with. In high school, people would go to crazy lengths to add space to an essay--taking each punctuation mark and making it a larger font size was my favorite. It was really difficult to notice, and added at least half a page. But eventually I got to the point where I always wrote way more than the required length, and most teacher/professors were really psyched about that, until I started taking my upper level major classes. Then, it was more important to make each individual word count than toss out a bucket of words and hope that a meaningful message ended up in there somewhere.

Anyway, I wrote the poem, but at no point did I ever think "Hey, this might actually be good enough to win!" I didn't try to put some deep, meaningful message in there. I just wrote a silly poem, and turned it in. So I was genuinely surprised when I found out that I was one of the 20 finalists in my division. There were actually quite a few people in my class who were finalists, including my best friend. And I thought, "You know what? That's pretty cool. It's awesome to be able to say I was a finalist in the first writing competition I've ever entered."

So I decided to go to the award ceremony, which all the finalists were invited to, where they would be announcing the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. We sat in a group on stage, and I was just enjoying being there, whispering to Sarah, my best friend, about something, I don't remember what. So I wasn't even paying attention when they called my name.

"Second place goes to Noelle Johnson."

I've turned out to be pretty full of myself at this point, and I always think it's crazy when I don't win the writing competitions I submit work to now (I haven't won anything since). But back then, I had no idea. I mean, I got all A's on my papers, so I knew I was a good writer, and I was just beginning to think that I might, eventually, want to write a book or two. But the thought that I might actually place had never even crossed my mind.

I would never even have entered the contest if Mr. Baumstark hadn't made it mandatory. Without that little push, my life might have turned out completely different. So, Mr. B., if you ever happen to read this--thank you.

I won $250 dollars that night, which was a huge boost to my car fund (though the one I ended up buying totaled itself six months later, and I have still, today, never managed to save enough for another-that's a story for another day). But the best thing I won that day was a glimmer of hope. I let myself begin to believe, for the first time, that I might actually be able to make it as a writer.

And, though I haven't quite made it yet, I think I've got a good start.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Another sample of my poetry, since a few people seemed to like it. It's been published in Truman State University's 2011 edition of Windfall. It's a bit darker than my usual tone for this blog.

Holly berries fill a Styrofoam cup,
Picked illicitly
From the top of the
Grey, peeling propane tank in the yard,
For wild onions pulled from the
Where Grendel was buried,
Underneath the old pine tree
Which heard the cowboys And Indians
Huddled ‘round a campfire
A whispered song, half forgotten,
By the sound of shouting--
A battle seen through the gaps of
Her fingers--
while sirens
The sound of screams.

Who love the children
Whose parents couldn’t even
Love themselves
Comfort them with penny-pancakes.
But even Bugs Bunny knows what
“Their mother was on-“
“Shh, not in front of the kids!”
Who look around,

There are no kids, only
Overcooked bacon, sandwiches
with crusts.
The piggies don’t have blankets.
How are they supposed
To go to the market?
They ask
A silver knight
With rainbow shoes
All colored in the lines
On the fridge
For when mommy
comes home.

And on the porch
A spilled cup of
into Memory.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Olivia was the only name my husband and I agreed on. I wanted something unique and beautiful, like my own name; he wanted something simple. My main concern was the 'unique' part. I wanted to give her an uncommon name so she wouldn't be the third 'Sarah' or 'Ashley' or 'Brittney' in her class when she was old enough for school. I don't know why, but it was really important to me.

Unfortunately, I found out later that Olivia and May are some of the most popular names right now, so there's a good chance it won't matter. But there's something about the name that suits her perfectly. I don't know if it's just me, but I've met a lot of people whose names just didn't fit. The first was a guy I met when I was little, one of my mom's friends. I have no idea what his real name was, but for some reason I really wanted to call him Allen, because he looked like an Allen to me.

I wonder how that works? How is personality or appearance tied to a person's name? It's a strange phenomenon. If names are meant to identify us to other people, why do some people hate the names they've been given? Is it because they are dissatisfied with something in themselves? Something in someone else with the same name? Or is it as simple as disliking the sound of it?

I have no answers. But I've always loved my name, and I hope Olivia feels the same when she grows up.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nap Time

Nap time is my favorite time of day, hands down.

Don't get me wrong--I absolutely love playing with my baby, and watching as she learns new things, which she does almost every day. It's absolutely amazing.

But play-time is almost as tiring to me as it is to her, mentally speaking. By the time she's ready for her first nap, I'm so ready for "me" time. Being a stay-at-home mom is nowhere near as easy as it sounds, even for someone as lazy as I am. It's especially difficult for the first year because, as you may have guessed, you're at home. Alone. With a baby who can't even form a single coherent sentence. As cute as those little coos and squeals are, for an amazingly talented and intelligent person such as myself, it's incredibly difficult to go without intelligent conversation for 12+ hours a day.

And Nap O'Clock is the only chance I get to talk on the phone, or online, or even watch TV, with people who have larger vocabularies.

I'm not ashamed of it one bit, because even my patience does, at times, come close to an end, and I think nap time is a necessity both for baby's mental development, and mommy's mental stability. I can't be a good mom tweaked out on stress all day every day, so I'm glad God thought to include that internal pause button.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


So, I'm frantically trying to get this done at 11:35. I totally forgot about the challenge today, running around doing errands and such. But! Because I'm so awesome, I think I can pull this off. I was looking through my previous work trying to find something that could possibly fit with the letter 'M' so here goes. If you don't like poetry, you will probably hate this.

“About the universe and infinity…”

Our bodies are maps,
but you won’t find L.A.
in the genes--
Escher’s Atlas,
the most logical paradox.

La réalité est l’illusion la plus persistante.

I’d like to think
my hair can be described
with more than four letters,
but we are not that creative;
Not even Einstein
could hide his sources completely.

We are reasonably sure
the universe won’t collapse
under the weight
of our own morbid curiosity.
We are uncertain
what is it we’re standing on,
but we are afraid to look back.

Science has a bloodier past
than Kali.

Religion without Science may be blind,
but Cassandra would tell you
that Sight is overrated.
La vue manqué l’inspiration.

But I digress.

Life is like an onion,
or maybe that was Earth.
Either way, there’s more to it
than a few pieces of protein--
Gravitation is not responsible
for people falling in love.

I’m not sure what is,
but it has to do with hate,
and maybe a bit of dirt.

Nothing is fair about magnetism.

There’s something to be said
about the universe and infinity.
Our slate is not as blank
as we’ve been led to believe,
but neither Nature or Nurture
can account for stupidity.

Whatever it is,
we will never be perfect
until they can incorporate
those last 22 letters
into our DNA.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I'm not sure why I feel like my days are so busy. I get at least 8-12 hours of sleep a day, and Olivia takes pretty long naps. I'm always surprised at how much I can get done in a day when I put my mind to it.

Maybe it's because I somehow always forget to take care of myself between taking care of her and doing my fun writing, work writing, cleaning, laundry, and watching Netflix. Not that any of that is particularly difficult or time consuming on its own, but I never really have a dull moment, and it's not uncommon for me to realize at the end of the day that I forgot to eat, or to do some errand or another.

Fortunately, those are not really noticeable things. If I forget to eat, I might get a little...testy...but otherwise you'd probably think I was pretty on top of things to look at me. Unfortunately, the thing I forget to do most often is brush my teeth.

Yeah, I know. Gross.

Fortunately, I discovered these cute little mini bottles of Listerine you can keep in your purse, and it's quite possibly the most ingenious idea someone else has had. It may take half a bottle to completely make up for the halitosis, but in my opinion, it's money well-spent, and I'm sure anyone unfortunate enough to have to interact with me on a busy day would agree.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


My first real encounter with history was when I was five years old. It was my first day of Kindergarten at Good Shepherd, and I was dressed in a horrid little navy jumper. Tights, too, probably, because tights really suck.

I don't remember what time school was actually supposed to start, but my dad always left for work really early in the morning--I mean, still-pitch-black, might-as-well-be-midnight early--so, of course, I was up too, since he was dropping me off.

Before we left, he picked me up and took me outside. We walked around the yard, and he gave me one of those "you're-growing-up-so-fast" speeches that usually mean very little, if anything, to the kids, and everything to the parents. I don't remember much of it--only the part about the Indians. (Native Americans? Back then no one really cared about PC, so I'm writing Indians). He pointed out a tree in the yard, a towering cedar I'd always wanted to climb but even now don't have the height to reach even the smallest branches. He told me that tree was a hundred years old at least, probably more, and that a long time ago, when the cowboys and Indians were sitting around their campfires, looking up at those same stars in the sky, that tree was there. That tree saw it all, all the amazing things that had happened before even his parents were born, and it would be there after even we were long gone.

A pretty deep discussion for a five-year old, perhaps, but that is one of the few good memories I have of my childhood--that light-bulb moment when I just barely started to grasp at the concept that the world was larger than my backyard.

As I thought about that memory today, trying really hard to figure out how to talk about something that started with a 'K' and also somehow related to babies, I had another light-bulb moment:

I think kids are like trees. Little baby trees we plant, and cultivate. We watch them grow, and then we die, but like that cedar tree our kids are there, at least for awhile, remembering the days we sat around the campfire watching the stars.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jefferson Barracks

So, just a heads-up: this post is pretty long, and it's not strictly within my usual theme. I wrote it during my last semester of school, and it's the only thing with a 'J' I could think of using for the challenge. Sorry! Hope you like it anyway :)

If you look up Jefferson Barracks online, you will find it listed under many headings. Military Post, National Cemetery, County Park. Constructed in October 1826, the Barracks was both a training center and Hospital complex during the Civil War, and it served as a major gathering site for troops and supplies until World War Two. Stretching two miles along the west bank of the Mississippi, it covers almost 2,000 acres of rolling wooded hills on the outskirts of St. Louis City.
Make a right at the intersection of Kingston Drive and South Broadway, and you’ll drive past a little grey stone gatehouse and short, matching stone walls at the corner of Grant and Gregg as you enter the park. It’s hard to believe they actually existed when the Post was in use; they’re too pretty, too clean, too ornamental to have provided any real defense. But to the uninitiated, it must seem as if you’re driving into history itself.
This is the only concession they’ve made to the past, however. Throughout most of the Barracks—the parts open to the public at least—it’s out with the old and in with the new. New trees, new roads, new buildings. There are shaded bike paths, covered picnic tables, baseball fields and volleyball nets. Every once in a while you might spot an older-looking building, but most of these are inaccessible, and few, if any, are actual remnants of the once-important Civil War base.
Every year, though, in Spring, Jefferson Barracks hosts reenactments of famous battles of both the Civil War and World War Two, and the last weekend of April is World War Two Weekend. Hundreds of reenactors come from all over the country in authentic WWII gear representing US, British, Russian, Canadian, German, and Italian Forces. Some arrive with authentic working tanks, trucks, half-tracks and jeeps, driving through the park like emissaries of history itself. From Friday to Sunday afternoon, there are both Allied and Axis campgrounds set up with period correct displays. Green, Brown, and Orange canvas tents flutter in the breeze, surrounding small campfires. There is the constant ringing of hammer on metal as stakes are driven into the ground, securing the tents, and booming gunfire from weapons and tanks.
Many reenactors actually live the experience, sleeping and eating in camp—period-appropriate food and drink only in camp, of course—for the whole weekend. There are weapons and equipment demonstrations, the sale and trade of gear among collectors and reenactors, and, of course, the battles. None of the reenactors, vendors, or other personnel are paid for their part in the event, and there is no admission cost for any of the 20,000 plus attendees.
My dad got into WWII reenactment in 1998, when I was about eight years old, through a friend of his at work. He was British Airborne, a paratrooper. He started off with a gun and some gear, borrowing everything else he might need from friends. Ever since, our basement has slowly accumulated period gear and weapons, framed newspaper clippings already yellowed and fragile with age, and books about WWII planes, ships, battles and weapons. Descending those stairs almost feels like time travel; even the furniture down there looks old. And every Spring, we’d loot the basement of its relics and head to Jefferson Barracks for WWII Weekend.
Friday was set-up day. It was always my least favorite part of the weekend: the part that involved actual work. Those old tents aren’t really any harder to set up than modern ones—in fact, the whole set-up is much more intuitively designed--no instructions required. But the thick, musty canvas, though much warmer at night, was also much heavier than today’s flimsy nylon or polythene, and by the time we were old enough to camp out with him—I might have been about twelve, my sister nine—we were not quite old enough to be patient with the process.
It took an hour or two to set up camp, maybe longer, depending on how cooperative my sister and I wanted to be. In addition to the tent we each had canvas cots to sleep on, some of them with men’s names printed in faded ink, and dark spreading stains I never worked up the courage to ask about. We also had small green-painted foot lockers in which we stored our clothes, shoes, food, non-period contraband like Gameboys and CD players, and a space heater for the cooler nights. For light, we had a couple of old oil-lanterns, one painted red, one a dark forest green.
One of my favorite items was a heavy old cooler, made of some thick green-painted metal, where we kept cream and black cherry sodas in glass bottles. These were the only drink we could have outside the tent, since they looked old enough to be period appropriate, at least from a distance. We never kept soda at the house, except for holidays, but for this one weekend in April we ran around on a caffeine high, spying on the ‘Germans,’ flashing fake Morse code to each other through the trees with old, heavy metal flashlights which had red, blue, and white lenses you could change out.
My dad says it’s changed now, but our campsite was always at the end of Gark, right before it turns South and becomes Bagby Road. We had an area all roped off, as if dividing past and present was as easy as that. As a kid, I always took so much pride in the fact that I was allowed to pass that boundary at a whim, to pass in and out of history like a ghost. I remember every once in a while lifting the rope to my shoulder, standing with a foot on either side of the line, defying the constraints of time. It was a powerful thing at an age where most children feel frustratingly powerless, and I loved WWII Weekend much more than I’d ever have admitted because of it.
Unfortunately, with age came a loss of childlike wonder and a new awareness of personal hygiene; by the time I turned fifteen, I refused to do anything that would prevent me from taking a shower every morning. I actually began to care about all the dirt and bugs in the tent and, most horrifically for me, the bathroom. I remember walking into the little bathhouse across the street, and backing right back out again. There were spiders everywhere. Big ones. The sticky webs spread across every stall. They hung from the ceiling. It looked like the place hadn’t been cleaned since it was built. I figured that it was time to quit camping when you’d rather squat outside than use the toilet. No amount of cream soda, even in neat glass bottles, could make up for that.
So I packed away Jefferson Barracks and WWII Weekend with other fond childhood memories and left it behind for, I thought, ever. Despite the odds, however, I did eventually develop a relationship with the second part of the Barracks.
My husband joined the National Guard the year before we were married, and when he had finished his training, he was stationed at Jefferson Barracks. I hadn’t even known until then that that park of the Barracks existed, let alone that the Barracks was still in use by the military. But now my husband travels there once a month for duty. I’ve only been inside myself a couple times, but it still fascinates me, though in a different way than the park and recreation area did years ago.
Make a right at Telegraph and Sherman Avenue, and you’ll travel about a mile past subdivisions full of cute little houses, and an assisted living center for veterans, before you get to the base itself. There are no concessions to history here. No pretty, clean stone walls. It’s surrounded instead by tall chain-link fences with rolled barbed wire at the top, and the little guardhouse is a sturdy, light red brick. Up to the guardhouse, at least, there is a bit of decoration; a small crescent shaped garden with a few dark red bushes and a light stone sundial, grey to match the stone walls around the park. To the left there’s a cute little fighter jet of some sort, polished and painted in splotchy green and brown camo. On the nose, white script reads “Rose’s Gang” above a painted red mouth full of sharp white teeth.
Inside, a row of matching red brick office buildings, many of which are no longer in use, stand in front of the rest of the base like pawns on a chess set. I’ve only been inside two of the buildings. One was new, a pretty red brick to match the rest, with three sets of double glass doors, and columns supporting a balcony above. Inside, it’s all clean white linoleum and paint, stark but modern. Solid, evenly spaced doors line the halls, portals to some office or another, with little signs outside on the walls to label the function of each.
We attended a military ball there last Fall. It was a lot less interesting than it sounded at first; there were a lot of inside jokes and little games that only the officers would have understood, but it was expected that everyone play along. Each place at the long white draped tables was set with a list of rules, and for the longest time we couldn’t figure out whether they were serious or not; there were more than twenty of them, some reasonable and some just plain confusing, and there was no heading on the page to explain that it was a game.
There were a lot of long speeches, and the food was, well, military. If you’ve never had military food, imagine your grade school cafeteria. It was a strange contrast to see people in sparkly ball gowns and tuxes eating off Styrofoam plates.
My husband and I ended up sneaking out early. He was required to stay for the whole thing, but neither of us is particularly social. We tried the front doors, at first, but I didn’t think I could pull off being ‘sick;’ I’ve never been a great actress. So we went out back, with the excuse that we needed a cigarette—neither of us smokes—then we slunk around the side of the building, through the shadows, and ran, backs hunched, through the parking lot to the car. On the way home, we stopped at Borders, and the funny looks we got browsing Sci-Fi in formal wear were much more fun than the ball itself.
The other building I’ve been in matches the rest from the outside, the same nice red brick, but inside it’s all dark wood. The creaky hardwood floors are scuffed and worn, and the walls are covered in old photographs of soldiers who have served at the Barracks at one point or another. This building was where we went to get my military ID, so I’d be allowed on base without having my husband with me. We were led through a dark hall of old wooden doors with tarnished handles to a room with a couple of desks and some old computers which, despite being ancient, seemed comical surrounded by the even more ancient wooden walls.
I remember having to run back and forth from this room to the car, gathering different forms of ID or paperwork, hoping we had everything we needed, because it was a Monday and I had class in Kirksville that afternoon, three hours away. We had our bags packed and thrown in the car, and our cat was frantic for being left alone, though it was nice and cool outside, so every time I opened the door to dig through my bags I had to fight to keep her inside.
We left with my new pink ID after a couple hours’ frantic back and forth. My picture made me look high on some substance or another, and I was too late for class, but as I had at WWII Weekend as a child, I felt included in something larger than myself. Back then, Jefferson Barracks was a gateway to the past; now, through my husband’s service, it’s a connection to my country.
I can’t say I have a very strong relationship with the Barracks’ final aspect. My grandfather is buried in Jefferson Barracks’ National Cemetery, but so are hundreds of thousands of other peoples’ grandfathers. I’ve only visited his grave once in my life, but it is a beautiful place. Row upon row of matching, evenly spaced white headstones stretch for miles across gently rolling hills, the fields dotted here and there with tall, shady oaks. In some places, the headstones reach up to the backyards of houses, like pale, silent ghosts forever on guard against some unseen foe.
Over time, places change, as do our perceptions of them, and the function they serve for us; so it’s been for me with Jefferson Barracks.  I don’t know what the future may hold, but I won’t be surprised if, years from now, this last part of the Barracks’ becomes as dear to me as the rest.