Medal No. 17, Stranger Things 2, Halloween, NaNoWriMo

In the interest of time and space, here’s a recap of how I ran 13.1 miles in the pouring rain and ruined my phone, how we celebrated Halloween and Salem’s Supposed 10th Birthday, and why I’m taking another stab at National Novel Writing Month with my third novel.

My goal to run 20 half marathons by the time I turn 40 is moving along nicely. On Saturday, the day it monsooned in East Tennessee, I ran my 17th long-distance race. Before readying my cell phone for a wet run in ziplock baggies, I snapped this photo of the windshield.

Oh, the irony.

Fast forward two and a half hours and I crossed the finish line fully drenched but pleased with my run. It wasn’t until I was safely back in the car that I realized water had seeped into the baggie and, therefore, into the phone.

{insert expletives here}

I tried to make a call and couldn’t. The camera wouldn’t work. The speakers wouldn’t work. I was so mad at myself for deciding to run with the phone. I thought listening to an audiobook would distract me from the rain (it did!), but I also thought I’d taken enough precautions to keep my phone dry (I didn’t!). I drove home and immediately put the phone in a bag of dry rice for 24 hours.

The screen is streaked and the phone works fine, from what I can tell, but the forward-facing camera still does not work, which is the CRUELEST IRONY OF ALL for a photographer.

Still, I earned Medal No. 17, and I plan on getting Medal No. 18 in two weeks.

In between the race and Halloween, Chuck, Jackson, and I binged the second season of Stranger Things. (Jeremy opted out.) I loved it as much as I hoped to, but I was disappointed in the amount of profanity in the second season, particularly since Jackson was watching. Every episode I reminded him, “We don’t talk this way, remember?” It was just too much, and frankly, unnecessary. That complaint aside, I thought the plot of Season 2 was an excellent continuation from Season 1, particularly with the inclusion of Max. (I could’ve done without Max’s brother and about 85% of Episode 7.)

This, by far, was my favorite scene. I melted:

Halloween rolled around and we took Jeremy (as Ron Weasley) and Jackson (as Big Nate – his imaginary best friend and book character) to our friends’ house to trick-or-treat. I don’t have a photo of them because I didn’t bring a camera.

Actually, that’s not true. Here is a photo from trick-or-treating:

Only the front camera works (i.e., the selfie camera), and it’s actually terrible.

Oh well.

Before Halloween got away from us, we took a few minutes to celebrate Salem, our wonderfully fat black Halloween cat. As I’ve mentioned before, we have no idea when his actual birthday is, unlike Major, whose birthday is December 9. So, we selected October 31 for our favorite feline and celebrated what might be his 10th year on Earth (we aren’t sure about that either) by giving him a can of tuna.

Finally, since today is November 1, I am making a second attempt at finishing my third novel during National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated three times before and was successful in both 2013 and 2015. Last year was a wash, but here’s to trying again! (Maybe I only write novels on odd years?) I fully admit to starting the month ahead of schedule because I still have 3,000 (or so) words from last year that I’m recycling. There’s only one story to tell right now, so I’m not starting a new one.

Crawling to summer

This is how the school day begins:

Crawling from the bed to the floor in the school room. Lounging until the last minute. Taking advantage of Mom’s fatigue because I don’t want to start school either.

Let’s start at 9. No, 9:30. Okay, 10.

How many more pages in math? Okay, just do two. Take your time. Yes, go on the front porch. It’s a beautiful morning. Yes, you can finish that later. Go play basketball and listen to your audiobook. I’ll be in the garden.

The day is so lovely! Go play outside.

We’re in the hardest part of the school year. Summer is RIGHT THERE. We can almost touch it. Lazy days of sleeping in and goofing off are within arm’s reach. It’s immensely difficult to stay focused, and while I grant the boys (and myself) a lot of slack, I can’t let us slip too far because we’ll only regret it in August.

But man oh man, how I’d love to just slack… slack like Salem on an afternoon nap.

We will finish the school year in two weeks and check the boxes for fifth and seventh grade. I will wrap up my first year of teaching at our co-op, which has been light years better than I anticipated. (I prepared to struggle. I did not prepare to love these kids as much as I do.)

Our plans for the summer are minimal since I am fiercely protective of our time. With school on hiatus, I’ll have more time to devote to writing fiction, which I’ve missed. There’s soccer camp and a wedding to photograph and time with my nephews. I’m crossing my fingers for a trip to Amarillo to see Michele. There are other things I’d like to do or the boys want to do, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

For now, though, we are crawling. Inching. Looking into the bright light at the end of this short tunnel.

See you soon, summer. We’ve missed you.


“I’m sorry I have no good news.”

This is how our veterinarian began the conversation. For the second time, Salem is being hospitalized for being unable to urinate. Common in male cats, the muscles of the urethra spasm and constrict, making it impossible for him to relieve himself, which, if left alone, would kill him.

Why is this happening, you ask? The first time there were crystals found in his bladder, which helped create the obstruction along with the muscle spasms. He spent three days at the vet sedated with a catheter. This was the week before Christmas. He came home with two types of muscle relaxers and a special diet.

Then, Monday night, I found him in the bathroom sink trying to pee, the same behavior he exhibited in December when the urethra was completely closed. Bizarre behavior. A sign of desperation.

Sure enough, the urethra was locked shut because of a spasm so he hasn’t urinated in nearly two days. Salem will spend another three days at the vet sedated with a catheter.

When I asked why this happened again, the doctor said it might be because of stress.

I am so tempted to argue that remark and echo what Chuck said last night, “What in the world does that cat have to be stressed about?”

My reply, in a word, “Major.”

No, they do not get along. It used to be that they tolerated each other, ignored one another, and kept to themselves. But Major has grown bolder this year, challenging Salem with a keen eye and pointed stance when he walks by. This prodding results in Salem hissing, running away, and retreating to a spot where Major can’t reach him.

Only late at night can the two lay on either side of me, resolving to share my attention.

But I’m not sure his stress stops there. If it’s true that our animals and children sense negative energy in the house, that they will siphon it and project it in their own behavior, then I am just as guilty as Major for causing stress in this house.

worryI am so nervous and high strung that little invisible stress-filled balls of anxiety escape my body at random, swirl around each room of my house, and supplant themselves in people and pets. It’s true that women have the power to set the mood of the house, and in this house of all men, I’ve created so such apprehension that even the cat can’t pee.

I’m not making light of it, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Anxiety is why I can’t sleep, why my stomach is upset so often, why I get headaches, why I snap at the boys, why my shoulders are up to my ears even now. I take medication, I exercise, I eat mostly well. I’m not sure what else to do. There is no switch to turn off my brain.

Salem will stay at the vet for the rest of the week. Hopefully I can bring him home on Saturday. It will cost an obscene amount of money and he will be on medication the rest of his life.

And if we can’t get a handle on this, then that’s another story altogether.

When dogs and cats go shopping

My sister and I didn’t grow up in a household that taught us that Santa Claus was real. We knew full well that our parents purchased every gift under the tree and that the idea of Santa Claus was derived from the real Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. Yet that didn’t stop my parents from making a grand reveal on Christmas morning or my mother from writing a myriad of oddball names on the gift tags. For many years sister and I received presents from Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Tweety Bird. We’d also receive gifts from whomever our pets were at the time — Peanut, Heidi, Rascal, Max — all names written in my mother’s distinct printed cursive.

In my youngest years, I thought it was funny, but when she continued to sign packages this way when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes. (Of course I rolled my eyes!) Why didn’t she just sign Mom and Dad or even Santa, which was far more relevant than Daffy Duck and Goofy? However, without fail, the pets always gave us gifts, and I always found it endearing.

All this being said, you can imagine the surge of nostalgia I experienced the other day when sorting through a mishmash of recycled wrapping paper in a holiday gift bag and found this little gem:

To Jen from the cats

After the nostalgia wore off I paused to consider the fact that I’d hung on to a gift tag from the late 1990s. Both Precious (my cat) and Rascal (Mom’s cat) have been dead for more than a decade, and if this gift was given from them as a pair, the last time they lived together was just before I got married in 2000.

Let’s pause to consider that maybe I should clean out the bag of recycled wrapping paper more often.

“Like Mother, Like Daughter” doesn’t always apply to my mother and me, but when it does the phrase refers to our smiles, our laughs, and our persistent love of animals. Oh, and our habit of giving gifts on behalf of our pets:

To Jackson from Major

To be clear, Jeremy already rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head as he tears open the gifts from Salem and Major. Jackson, on the other hand, believes his pets have a genuine interest in giving him gifts and he always thanks them properly.

I’d like to say that I’ll stop writing gift tags this way sometime soon, but if I had to make an honest bet, I think our pets will be shopping for the kids as long as I’m alive.

A story from the other writer

Y’all, we have another writer in the house. I didn’t edit his story, but I did format it properly. Jackson has been really into writing over the summer and lately he’s been begging me to type his stories out on the computer. As if I’d say no!

Super Cat!
by Jackson Miller

Super Cat

One night a cat was playing with a ball. He was A TALKING CAT! He heard a (bang) then a (clang). He went outside.

Oh, he thought.

The next day he went to Target to get cat food and some books. Then he went down the new movie aisle and he saw tons of them: Lego Movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: the Winter Soldier, all kinds of them!

After that he started going home and then he heard a scream again! It was the evil teddy bear!

“What are you doing?” Super Cat asked.

“DESTROYING STUFF!” he yelled.

Super Cat ran home really fast! He had super speed! He found a package and scratched it open: TADA! It was a suit with a mask and a cape! It had the letters SC on it. When he found evil teddy bear he said, “You are no match for me!”

And then he killed him.

The End.


Must Paint

I think this is pretty typical of creatives, so I know I’m not alone in my absurdities. There are times, which feel mostly random, when I cannot function with any sort of productivity because I’m distracted by the urge to make something. My left brain halts and retreats while my right brain strips down and streaks across the ball field. My hands fidget while they wait to be utilized and I become overtly irritated if I can’t find something for them to do. I’ll pace and snack until I give over entirely to my creative energy. I write, I cook, I rearrange furniture. I’ve been known to storm about the house looking for things to organize. This is generally when the boys’ toy bins get an overhaul.

But sometimes that’s just not enough.

When I got back from Santa Fe, I told Chuck that I was feeling overwhelmed with the burden to MAKE and DO STUFF. I wanted to run 20 miles, I wanted work on my novel, I wanted to paint the library…

Oh yes! Let’s paint the library. In a day. By myself.

The boring dark brown walls of the library weren’t a regret, but they weren’t inspiring either. I love color, lots of it, particularly in an enclosed creative space that’s entirely mine. I’ve always had pops of color in this room, but against the brown walls, it still felt dull.


Brown, brown, boring brown.


I woke up yesterday morning and started pacing the house almost immediately. This was inconvenient since I have two papers to write (one five-pager, one ten-pager), plus plenty to read, but I couldn’t focus on any of it. MUST MAKE STUFF, growled my right brain. FINE, I said.

The boys and I were back and forth from Home Depot in less than an hour. I got all the furniture moved out of the room in another hour. By noon, I was painting the walls plum (called “Baritone” by Behr).


YES! Color! My right brain danced a jig.

I painted all day, sorted through homeschool curriculum while it dried, and moved everything back in the room after dinner. By 10 p.m., I was back at my desk checking message boards for graduate school. My shoulders, while sore, had finally relaxed. The creative energy was expelled and I could focus on everything else without my right brain stomping and screaming like a toddler.

purple and orange wall

The empty wall space behind the desk is for my graduate degree. Fingers crossed.

my corner

The plum walls look bright in the evening and dark in the daytime, which just shows you how important lighting is.

Corner with portrait

I think Salem needs a throw rug, don’t you?
Aw Salem


My other boys

One of them was happy to take a photo this morning and wish you a happy weekend. The other pretended not to hear me. Forgive his rudeness. He doesn’t care about you or your weekend or what you think about his lack of caring. You can move along now.

Fur babies



Pining for Summer

This family is ready for summer, as in no school, lots of sun, extra sleep, and some sort of liquid. Ocean? Pool? Sprinkler? Patio cocktails? Yes to all.

Jackson has finished all of the curriculum I had planned for him, so he’s doing a Summer Bridge book to complete the semester. Jeremy has a final test in math this week, which leaves only Zoology on the To Do List for him. They ask me every day how much longer they have until summer break, which is a funny question since they are pretty much able to dictate that time frame themselves. Work harder and faster, I tell them. You’ll be done sooner. It’s that easy. Realistically, it’s not easy, because working harder and faster is hard.

Speaking of harder and faster, I start another summer semester of graduate school on Monday. This marks one full year that I’ve been chipping away at a Masters degree. If I continue this pace, I should graduate in December. More importantly, the novel will be finished since I’m using it as my capstone. Even though I’m not working on it as fervently as I was last semester, I think about my characters every day. I imagine what they’re doing, wondering if they are waiting for me to return. It’s that schizophrenic parallel I told you about a few months ago. Not sure how to explain it any other way. Put simply, I miss them when we’re apart for too long.

In conclusion, that blob of black fur on the boys’ desk is Salem enjoying a sun ray. I suppose he’s ready for summer too.


My Favorite Scene – and a poll!

Our first assignment for Performance Writing was to transcribe in proper format our favorite scene from a movie. As soon as I read the instructions, I knew what scene I’d choose. It was a no-brainer.

It took about forty-five minutes for me to type out a two-minute scene from Stranger Than Fiction and I’m confident that it’s fraught with errors. I’ve already posted it to the online classroom and it’s currently being ripped to shreds. I’m not offended in the least. I don’t know squat about screenwriting, so it’s only through trial and error that I’ll learn.

Favorite sceneI’m also in the middle of writing my first short story of the semester. Depending on how it turns out, I might post it here. Of course, I need to know if anyone would be interested in reading it.

[polldaddy poll=7777267]

Salem appreciates your feedback.

My nighttime lap buddy

Bird Watching and Typing

We’re studying winged creatures in science and our backyard is a great space for observing them. The new lens I got for Christmas allows us to zoom in closer than ever. We caught a glimpse of this lovely critter yesterday. Blue Bird Someone else was watching too. Salem watching birdsThe boys have also started typing lessons, which is  something I did not officially learn until ninth grade. I got tired of seeing them poke around the keyboard, and considering that modern life is built upon technology, I figured it couldn’t hurt. They are loving it!

Now I’m getting 10 to 15 emails a day from the boys, who are sitting across the room on another computer.


The Birthday Boy

Of course, we don’t know if Halloween is Salem’s actual birthday, but that’s when we decided it would be a few years ago when he came to our family. If a black cat’s birthday isn’t on Halloween, then it should be changed so it is.

Here is Jeremy taking a break from school, listening to A Wrinkle in Time, with Salem tucked in at his side.

Listening to Wrinkle And here he is begging me to finish my Literary Theory outline so we can hurry up and go to sleep. My late-night writing is highly inconvenient. Someone needs attentionI hope Halloween isn’t a total washout, but there’s a chance we won’t make it outside at all due to rain. Still, we’ll be spending the evening with friends, which is better than trick-or-treating anyway. I’ll post pictures tomorrow.


Because Salem is my favorite

On account of the day, let’s take a minute to fawn over the favorite.

I secretly root againstsalem as artsanto-shea black catsalem and I skateBlack cat artTwin black catson the stepsfavorite piece

Cheers to the black cat in our family, who will cross our path a dozen times today with an attitude of indignation. We are lucky to have him. baby pantherhappy friday the 13

The Patio Party that wasn’t.

Despite our five-month-long effort to prepare the backyard for a big bash celebrating my father-in-law’s 70th birthday, we spent the entire evening inside on account of rain.

Of course it rained!

Yet, there is still much to be grateful for. Above all, Bill was surprised by the event and had a wonderful evening, which was the point. And even though we were not able to enjoy our backyard for the party, there will be other opportunities for that and the work needed to be done anyway.

Do you remember the sand pit? The previous owners of our house left an empty space where they used to have an above-ground pool.

Original backyardToday, you would not have known such a wreck had existed. Though we had help from landscapers, let me brag on Chuck for building that wooden retaining wall entirely on his own.

The Patio Party that wasn'tThere will be other parties and gatherings to enjoy in this space, but it wasn’t meant to be Saturday night. Instead, we sang Happy Birthday and socialized inside the house, which was fine in the end.

Happy 70th

Blowing out 70 candles

Bill in Vol Pants

Miller Family, 2013

August 17, 2013

Actually, there was one in the family who enjoyed the patio Saturday night, yet he was small enough to fit under the eave and stay dry.The only one who enjoyed the patio party

Canoeing, Fireworks, and Salem

But not all at once.

Our week with Jacob ended with a rainy Fourth of July Hurry-Up-and-Light-the-Sparklers extravaganza. The weather was dreadfully wet, but we managed to squeak out a quickie-canoe trip on the river on Wednesday and one more swim on Thursday before storms forced us inside for the rest of the day.

Then we swam to Dayton, Ohio, to swap Jacob for Jeremy, and swam back to our house Saturday evening. I’m so over the rain and I miss Jacob. Whether he realizes it or not, the true gift of this week was having my 12-year-old nephew all to myself.

He’s a great kiddo.

Canoe trip

Jacob canoes for the first time







At the end of the week I asked Jacob to rank his favorite things from his time in Tennessee. No. 1 was time spent in the river, which I expected. No. 2, however, was a pleasant surprise. He said he really enjoyed the pets. That makes sense, though, since he and Salem were best buds every night during movie time. (Major was mostly tolerable, which is pretty good considering…) _DSC0101In third place, for those wondering, was all the food he enjoyed eating with his non-vegetarian aunt Jennie. We ate well and often. Nature and food = Tennessee. 🙂

He’s the boss of Major.

This mischief happened earlier in the week. I considered it a challenge of authority:Major on the tableBut then this happened shortly after, and then I was reminded of who’s really in charge:Who's the bossIn other news, I saw something on Pinterest that I had to try. Actually, there are dozens of things on Pinterest that I’d like to try, but this seemed doable. Instead of tossing my romaine lettuce cores in the garbage, I stuck them in water and placed the glasses on the window sill. I was surprised to discover that the lettuce leaves actually grew back.

Growing lettuceThey aren’t spectacularly long lettuce leaves, and it’s taken a while for them to grow, but nonetheless it worked.

And finally, I got word today that the insurance claim to cover Jeremy’s hearing aid was denied. This is a very expensive denial, so I will be putting on my boxing gloves and going into the ring to fight it.

The Perfect Pet

A few nights ago, on the eve on Chuck going out of town, I let out a big sigh, groaned in exhaustion, and jokingly asked, “So which kid are you taking with you tomorrow?”

He paused, then answered, “Salem.”

Yes, after three months of wrangling a blue tick puppy and nearly ten years of parenting, even Chuck prefers Salem, which is how I always knew it would be. He finally sees it my way.

Salem may be fat and irritable, but he is the most fabulous little being in this family. He doesn’t require much from us and he occasionally brings us presents. The boys love asking me to rank everyone in order of who I love the most and I answer consistently with, “Your dad, then Salem, and you two are tied for third.” It makes them laugh, they know I’m (mostly) kidding, and they’ll ask me to say it again a few days later.

But seriously. He’s awesome.

In the tree

the hunterWhat about Major, you ask? Yeah, he’s on the list. Somewhere near the bottom. Because when he’s not scratching my legs or chewing a Galactic Hero or barking at nothing, he’s doing this:

Lounge chair

The Boss

Salem is the only one with power in this house. He is the boss of us, particularly of Major, and now that the dog has started howling and baying, Salem is having none of it.

It all begins with this adorable face:

And then he starts this nonsense:Loud

Salem is usually napping comfortably until he is disturbed:
HushAnd then he’s just pissed:AnnoyedThe boys continue to have fun with their houseguest, though my little Jack is often excluded. I remember what it feels like (Becky) to be unwelcome in my older sister’s bedroom (Becky) when she had friends over to visit. I adored my sister (Becky) and she mostly liked me, until she had a sleepover, and then I was no longer worthy to be included (Becky). I’m not pointing fingers or anything (Becky) but rather acknowledging the natural order of things when you’re the youngest child. I clearly harbor no resentment.


Storms are coming tomorrow so the kiddos will be outside for as long as possible tonight. Then I will shove them in their beds by 9 p.m. because it will take them another couple of hours at least to stop chatting long enough to fall asleep.

Salem the Dog Whisperer

Look at the confidence. Salem is so certain that Major will stay right where he is that walking across the backyard is old news. No biggie. No threat. Life is good when you run the place. He who chases his own tail! Imbecile!

The Dog Whisperer

Major is still a challenge for me. He is loving and cuddly at night when bedtime is near, but the rest of the day is managed chaos. The only person who can control him is Chuck, who is second in command after Salem, and I’m desperately trying to assert my inner Pack Leader. It’s not working. My hands look like chew toys. To the stranger in the check-out line, I must look like I stick my hands in blenders.

The dog won’t be neutered until May, so I know I’ve got this amped aggression to deal with at least until then. My hope is that after we sever that testosterone he’ll calm down a bit. Even the vet recognized how dominant Major is, so I know it’s not just my pansy demeanor we’re dealing with.

In other news, we woke up to snow this morning and it reminded me that I never posted a photo from our weekend snow. Despite its beauty, we’re all very ready for spring.

Weekend Snow

Major and Smokey

This is Chuck’s old Smokey stuffed animal. It mostly stays in Jackson’s room. When I saw it under the bed I remembered we also had one of Chuck’s old Tennessee t-shirts which Jackson has recently outgrown.

So then we played dress-up. Smokey and MajorMajor has gotten significantly bigger in the last two weeks. He has to be more than ten pounds now, and I’m happy to say his potty training is going well. He’s even stood by the door a few times to signal he has to go outside. The biting is still an issue, but our hope is losing his milk teeth will lessen that problem. He certainly doesn’t lack for chew toys.

PoseSunday night was horrific for Jeremy. Vomiting and other stomach activities raged on for hours. He couldn’t even keep down water. After a rough night with a fever, he rested most of yesterday. By last night he was able to keep down food. Today he seems fine but I can tell by his pale face that he’s worn and weak. Another day of rest might do him good.

Like the awesome cat he is, Salem kept Jeremy company in bed most of the day.


The Puppy and the Panther

Yes, I know I should be talking about my boys here, but hang on. We’ll get back to the humans next week.

In two weeks time, Salem has conditioned Major not to cross his path. The cat will perch on whatever piece of furniture he can in order to look down upon the rambunctious eight-week-old puppy. He watches the dog with keen, steady eyes and when Major finally notices that he’s been watched, he’ll stop, stare back for a few seconds and then back up slowly. Essentially, when Major locks eyes with Salem, he backs away to give Sir his space.

When they’re outside, it looks like this:


There have been a few occasions when the pair have been within a few inches from each other and all was well. Salem is always aware, Major not so much, and I’m eyeballing the whole thing to make sure the 16-pound panther doesn’t skin the eight-pound puppy with one fell swoop.

So far, so good. And then, this morning happened on my lap:


sleeping together

Yay for progress! Happy Weekend!

Five seconds of peace

It was quiet for a smidgen of a minute this morning during school. I had to capture it so this would be what I remember from our puppy days.Peace for five secondsIt’s cold and rainy today, which is no fun for taking a dog outside to pee every 20 minutes, but ideal for watching movies and snuggling on the couch. Cheers to another pot of coffee and a wonderful weekend to you.