Category Archives: children

My Yoga Mat Is My Life Raft

So, I’ve told you guys about my new pet cozy series coming soon from Severn House. Some news … I’ve learned the first book is slated for hardback publication in the UK this August, the US edition and worldwide e-book will be out the first of December.

I can’t wait for you guys to meet the main character, Elle Pressley. I think you’re going to love her story! Today, I want to give you a little insight into her world (and mine) by talking about something Elle and I have in common: the use of yoga as a life raft.

Someone else is pretty fond of my mat, too.

Someone else is pretty fond of my mat, too.

I love my yoga mat. When I unroll that sucker and smell the faint scent of rubber, I’m reminded of the saying “where the rubber meets the road” and it definitely fits. But yoga is more than exercise for me, and nothing brought that fact home quicker than this past year of recovering from a serious medical trauma which in turn triggered fibromyalgia.

Because of this, spending time with just this small rectangular space and my own body has become difficult. First of all, there are so many things to overcome now just to get in that space (like joint/muscle pain and fatigue that could take down an elephant). So much to work through not to give up. Frustration. Anger. Grief. So many negative thoughts to let go of in order to stay present and pay attention to my new physical boundaries so I don’t cause a flare up. To be kind to myself. Why is it such a struggle to truly be kind to ourselves?

Yoga has become a vital part of my well-being and the lessons I learn on the mat always translate to life off the mat. The biggest one:  I must show up.

You’d think that would be the easy part, right? Nope.

The importance of this “showing up” has been a valuable lesson for me off the mat, too.

Like my writing. Whether I feel like it or not, I must show up in my writing space every day. I have no boss, no one clocking my hours. But to experience the version of life I want to experience I must write. I must show up. And not just sit at the keyboard and stare out the window, I must be mentally present.

Atlas feels the need to show up with me

Atlas feels the need to show up with me

My kids. Same thing. If I don’t want to wake up one day and realize they’re surly teenagers who would rather walk on hot coals than have a conversation with their mother, I must show up and be present with them now. While they struggle to learn new things, when they fail and fall, when they hit their first homerun. I must show up. Be present. Pay attention.

The family who oms together stays together.

The family who oms together stays together.

Who would have thought a six foot strip of rubber could be such a life saver? But there you have it.

Fortunately, I don’t have to show up to solve a murder in real life like Elle does!


(If you want to be notified when the new book is released, please sign up for my newsletter on the sidebar —>)

So, what things in your life demand you show up and be present? Have you tried yoga? Loved it? Hated it? Please share?

 

 

 

 

 

A Night at the Circus

We took our twins to the circus for their seventh birthday. It was all of our first time at a real Barnum and Bailey “Greatest Show on Earth” experience. I was excited. We were going to introduce the boys to the magic and mystery of humans conquering gravity, fear and doing the impossible. They were going to gain a love and awareness of animals. They were going to giggle at these animals doing tricks. Tigers sitting on chairs, waiting to amaze us with how domesticated they could be. Poodles dancing with each other. Horses twirling in sync. Elephants…

Yeah. The elephants.

Here’s where the spell was broken for me.

As the dozen or so large gray bodies filled the arena, a wave of sadness hit me. It hit me so hard, I was suddenly blinking back tears. Sorrow. That’s what I was feeling and then panic, because I had no idea where it was coming from or how I was going to keep from scaring the kids around me by breaking down. I held my breath and concentrated on the steel scaffolding and lights above me. When I got the tears under control, I worked on breathing through the suffocating, oppressive emotion. I told myself to feel it and let it go because this is what I’ve been practicing.

It helped. It helped me look at the elephants again. We were in the front, so I could see right into one big brown eye. I made myself keep looking. Made myself see. See the gentle soul within that massive body. My heart broke for him. I promised him and myself that I would research their living conditions. That if there was something I could do to change their lot in life, I would do it.

I enjoyed other parts of the circus. Watching the humans, who had a choice, perform mind-boggling acts of strength and grace. I enjoyed the boys’ wide-eyed innocence as they watched the daring tight-rope walkers, the clown on ten foot stilts, a girl shot out of a cannon and the acrobatics that rivaled the Olympics.

Girl being shot from a cannon

And I’m glad that I experienced something else. I’m not quite sure what it was, really. I’m not even saying the elephants don’t live a great life full of peanuts and massages. But the pain was real and it wasn’t mine. Until that night.

“Having no idea is the doorway to realization.” Karen Maezen Miller 

I’ve only begun to look into their story so I can’t claim to know any facts. But if this is something that speaks to you and you’d like to help you can sign this petition. I don’t know if it will make any difference but it’s a step through the door.

How do you feel about animals in the circus? Have you ever experienced anything like this? Please share.

 

 

Friday Flash: Breaking the Mold

When she was small, we created people out of cookie dough, Jell-O, stories, clay and mud. There were molds of almost every shape available: holiday gingerbread men, scarecrows, ghosts, Barbie. There was no mold for a little girl or a perfect mother. Those things have to be specially crafted, shaped by hand, cooked on low heat so there is no searing or melting involved.

She grows taller, breaks the mold. Becomes a sailor. The horizon is closer than you think, but you can’t convince a sailor because they know the world is round, life is a circle. They know the ride is sun-soaked, full of sea-winds whipping through the insignificant parts of the journey.  I will be back around some day, she says. I stay close, dipping my toes in the sea. Water is an excellent conductor, of energy and also of ideas. The idea that insignificance is a mirage, for instance. A silvery fish slips beneath my foot, a caress. It is enough. Drifting used to be enough for her, now she is steering.  An island where the waves lap at white sand glints close by. Another mirage? Only she can know. I am on a different shore.

Funny thing about little girls and perfect mothers. They are one in the same and yet neither. They are their own mirage, ideas of our own making. Ghosts shaped by matter. Shaped by each other’s dreams, shaped by bird songs, molds of words, ideas, wars and passion long gone, the whisper of fate. Shaped by hope that, like the potential flower curled up in the tiny seed, bursts forth to create and destroy its own container.

It’s a Sunday morning when the meaning of life occurs to her.  She is gray and lumpy from all the kneading, the twisting, the falls during her journey through space-time.  Eyes open wide, pupils dilate, laughter percolates, gains speed and force and rips the reigns from her bone thin fingers. The freedom startles her. She hears the white-crested-laughing-thrush in her own cry. She no longer cares why the caged bird sings. Or the free bird. She no longer cares why waves crest and foam, why the sun’s light is gentler from the moon, why the unpredictable nature of life is the only foundation worthy of a little girl or a perfect mother. It just is.  It just does.  And it is beautiful.

(photo credit: Marius Fiskum)

Friday Flash: An Angel Gets His Wings

My name is Griffin. I’m eight years old and I’m an angel. No one believes me until I show them the wing knobs on my back. Then they look at me differently. They treat me special. I still remember the day mom told me. I was watching the bees on the clovers. I really love bees. Mom called me over, her eyes were watering from the bright sun and she hugged me so tight. She said I would always be her angel. I, of course, reminded her I was a boy and she got that funny smile and rubbed my back.

“You feel these two bumps,” she said. “This is where your wings were. God had to remove them when He gave you to me so you wouldn’t fly off the earth.”

A little while later my mom did fly off the earth. I guess she was an angel, too. I miss her lots still. I miss her smell. She smelled like clovers and wind. My new home smells like old socks and baby diapers. But it’s warm and I have new friends. Well, the boys aren’t very nice. They like to pinch and make red spots on my arms. I’m not sure why they think this is funny, but I laugh with them. Mom said I had to try hard to act like other kids so they didn’t take me away from her.

I miss the bees, too. When I grow up I’m going to make bees out of glass. Glass the color of their honey and clear glass for their tiny wings. Miss Joan calls this daydreaming. She says its time for me to go into the real world. This is called school.

The school bus picks us all up at the mailbox. I step into the bus but get stuck right there next to the big sweaty man driver. He is staring at me. “Get moving,” he says. But I can’t. The noise is a wall, I can’t think to move my feet. I wish the kids would stop being so loud all together. My mouth is stuck, too. I begin to cry and the sweaty man tells the girl behind him to move over and he nods. “Sit there.”  After that the boys call me Sniffin’ Griffin.

We each have our own desk at school. Mine is cold and hard. Miss Gregory is my teacher. She stares at us through purple framed glasses and makes little sighing noises. I don’t think she’s happy. I want to make her happy. I try really hard. Only, I have never played the game Seven Up before so I don’t know to keep my head on the desk and she says I was cheating and I am now out of the game. Then she tells the kids to stop laughing, that it’s not funny and I’m glad she doesn’t think it’s funny either.

At lunchtime Big Rob accidently spills cherry Jell-O in my hair. I’m allowed to go to the restroom and wash it out. It takes a long time to dry and so I don’t get to eat my own Jell-O. On the bus ride home, the girl keeps saying “gross” when my stomach makes noises. The boys start to hit me in the back of the head with their books. The driver yells. I feel frozen again. I think about my glass bees until it’s time to get off the bus.

I am good with numbers. I make a chart to show how many days until Christmas. My mom used to say Christmas is a time for miracles. I’m asking for God to give me my wings back so I can go find my mom.

Christmas morning I am waiting by the mailbox. I don’t know why the other kids are watching me in the window and laughing. They must think it’s funny they are going to miss the bus. My nose and fingers are numb. I make buzzing bee noises and this seems to warm me up. Then bells join in. Ding. Ding. I jump, surprised by how loud they are. Church bells, I think.

I step out to hear them better. I don’t see the car.

There is a loud screaming from the car and then no more church bells. No more noise. Just light. Light is burning my eyes, soaking me with heat like the hottest sun and then she is there. My mom, with that funny smile, is hugging me.  She smells like honey and heaven and slips her hand into mine and I feel my own wings lift me from the ground. Happiness fills me like a balloon because my wish has come true.

This is the best Christmas ever.

Friday Flash: The Word Eater

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The word ‘normal’ tastes like soured milk. My best friend, Anna, is coconut flavored. The machine they called a ‘SonicSite 4000’, which will prune my crossed neurons with pulses of sound, tastes like pea soup with too much pepper. The word strap tastes like cold molasses.

“Won’t it be nice to read a book without all those pesky associations?”

My eyes move to the vanilla crème nurse above me. Her voice is warm, but her fingertips are cold as she presses them into my scalp. Or is she pressing bits of metal onto my head? I don’t really want to know. The large, round donut machine they’re going to stick my head into is scary enough.

Are they pesky? I don’t think so, but everyone else seems to. To me, they just are. As a square has four sides, the word book tastes like buttered toffee.

“I don’t know,” I sigh. “If you couldn’t taste apple pie, would you still eat it?”

She was light and thoughtful. “Well, I suppose not. Wouldn’t be worth the effort and hip expansion.”

My doctor would have said, “Tasting an apple pie is normal, tasting a book is not.” Which is why I’m here. To become normal.

The word sad tastes like black licorice.

“You may feel a slight pressure on your scalp. How are you doing? Is the valium kicking in yet?”

My face crinkles involuntarily.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Valium is onion flavored. I wish they would just call it a pill. Tart grass, much nicer. I am trying to relax, doing breathing exercises, having faith in those who know better. Those who know what normal is.

Faith. Tastes like perfume. Now I recall the one that really got me in trouble. The one where mom found out I wasn’t normal. The Lord’s Prayer. It tastes like raw bacon. I threw up on the children’s choir director in front of three hundred horrified church goers.

I hear the doctor’s soft shoes on the linoleum before I hear his voice.

“Is our girl ready?”

“Yes, Dr. Bryant.”

“Dr. Bryant,” I repeat. I savor the taste of lemon cheesecake; let it linger on my tongue. A tear slips, slides down my neck. My legs begin to shake.

I close my eyes and let go.

Friday Flash: A Family Ghost Story

hands2

Much of my life has played out in one rehab circle or another, so you can take my story or leave it. All I can do is tell it, tell the truth…and the truth is, I’m not even sure I believe it.

My mother was one of those people who collected souls. Vagrants, husbands kicked out for the night, down and out relatives, everyone and anyone was welcomed to grab a meal or a bed in her old farmhouse. As you can imagine, this opened up our world–me and my two brothers—exposing us to endless possibilities through stories and illegal substances. Instead of our minds being stuffed with skewed parental beliefs, closed off and capped…we soared, we expanded, we soaked up lore and logic, creating an environment where anything could happen. And eventually something did.

It began with a dream.

I could see myself sleeping; blanket tossed on the floor, one arm thrown over my head, chest rising and falling in soothing slow motion. Then I could see the wall alongside my bed breathing; white plaster pushing out, sucking back in. IN. OUT. Eventually, the bulge expanded like a balloon and began to move. It slid toward the adjacent wall and turned the corner, ending up behind my headboard. I watched beads of sweat form on my sleeping self’s forehead. My breathing became jagged, more like panting. Suddenly, large hands pushed through the wall as if the wall was giving birth, stretching out, reaching for my sleeping self. Blood trickled down the arms in thin channels, rolled over the knuckles and dripped from the fingertips onto my white pillow. I tried to scream, ‘Wake up!’ No sound would come. My sleeping self whimpered as the hands wrapped around my throat. I wheezed, my air cut off, my eyes bulging under the pressure.

Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.

Startled, I jumped up and slammed my hand down on the alarm, knocking it to the floor. Something wet remained on my face. I ran into the bathroom and collapsed in relief. Tears….no blood. I checked my neck.  No signs of being strangled by some lunatic behind the wall.

“Just a bad dream.” I reassured myself. “A really bad dream.”

My hands were still shaking as I buttered my toast at breakfast.

“You all right, Joan?”

“Fine, Mother.” I rolled my eyes. Why was she always so observant?

A week later, I wasn’t feeling so fine. I was still having the dream, only it was starting to cross some kind of barrier. What do I mean? I really have no idea. All I know is, it was becoming stronger, breaking through to the physical world. The hands were beginning to leave marks. Finger imprints on my neck that I would wait to fade before heading downstairs for breakfast.

I decided to move my bed to the center of the room.

There was a new guy at the table that morning. He looked like I felt: sleepless and scared out of his mind. I glanced at him as I reached for the butter.

“He’s your cousin, Marti, from New York. Say hi.”

“Hey,” I waved. He looked fried. Mother smiled and began to make small talk with him about his bus ride, some family up north, whatever. I was just glad she had someone else to worry about that morning. I was in no mood for her scrutinizing. I glanced at my older brothers, realizing they were unusually quiet.

“What’s wrong with you two?” They both looked drained of blood.

“Nothing,” Jacob answered without looking up. Bobby ignored me.

No snappy comebacks or cut downs? Something was definitely wrong.

Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.

I jerked up, gasping for air. It hadn’t worked. The bloody arms had just stretched, gotten longer to reach me. This time they tried to drag me from my bed. I ran from the room and slammed the door behind me.

That morning at breakfast, I had an idea.

“Mom, I think Marti should sleep in my room. I’ll sleep on the couch for awhile. It doesn’t look like he’s getting much rest.”

“How thoughtful of you, Joan.” She beamed at Marti, who really did look like he could use somebody to knock him on the skull and put him out for a few days. Anyway, I knew this would work because mother was always trying to instill unselfishness in us. She looked at my brothers and I noticed her smile wane.

“You two sick or something?”

“Can’t sleep, stupid nightmares,” Bobby grunted. Jacob reached over and popped him in the arm. “Ow!”

“Jacob, don’t hit your brother.”

At this point, I had dropped my toast and my jaw. Nightmares?

“Hands?”

With that one word, I had silenced both my brothers and watched terror widen their eyes for the first time in my life. I nodded. It felt good not to be crazy, at least.

A week later there was a new guy at the table. He was tall, pale with minty, round eyes; almost otherworldly.

“This is Samael.”

We all stared at her. Just ‘Samael,’ no long lost cousin, uncle, friend, grocery store bum?

       “You all right, Mom?”

“Yes, of course.”

We glanced at each other and then at Samael.

He was calmly reaching for the butter, with mom smiling beside him like she was on something. I felt my face drain, my heart begin to race. His hands were large, each knuckle and vein very familiar to me. I glanced up the stairs.

“Mother? Where’s cousin Marti?”

“I don’t know.” She looked confused suddenly. “I guess he decided to move on.”

Samael’s eyes gleamed. My brothers and I excused ourselves from the table, making our way upstairs one at a time, trying not to draw Samael’s attention.

Then we all stood around my bed, staring at the blood spots dried brown on the pillow. Bobby began to cry.

Bobby doesn’t remember it happening like this. He became a psychiatrist.  Jacob remembers it being worse. He became a priest.

And me? Well…I became a writer.

(photo credit: Hendrike)

Friday Flash: Outsourced

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Bernard Smith lowered his suitcase quietly onto the porch he had lovingly repainted this summer.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to his family.  Nothing had changed on the outside of his life; the sun hung dutifully behind their house, birds chirped, a slight chill let him know Fall had arrived. Nothing could stop the flow of time, the changing of the seasons. The world would go on. But he knew inside the cozy Cape Cod, in the world he and his wife built for their family, everything was at a full stop. There would be no more Friday paychecks, no more security.

He was back from training his replacement and his job was over, his career was over. He had spent the last month posting and reposting his resume on Monsterjobs, Dice, I.T.-Jobs-R-Freakin’-Us. Fifteen years of experience and no calls.

“Hi, Honey,” he forced a tired smile. “I’m back.”

She was stirring oatmeal at the stove, staring out the window. She turned slightly and let him kiss her warm cheek. He wanted to slide his arms around her, bury his face in her dark, almond-scented hair, but he knew this would only scare her, make her worry.

He was going to try to squeeze out something sunny and hopeful, but he suddenly realized something didn’t seem right. He looked around the kitchen and it hit him. His entrance had been way too quiet.

“Honey, where’s the dog?”

“Oh,” she said, briefly smiling. “Duke required so much money for you know…food, vet care, grooming.” She turned back to stirring the oatmeal. “I got rid of him. We now have a fish.”

Bernard stared at the back of his wife’s head in disbelief. “But…but fish can’t bark when someone’s at the door…or…play with the kids…and you can’t pet a fish to relieve stress.”

“We have to think of the bottom line, Bernie. Fish are cheaper.”

A tall, skinny teenager wondered into the kitchen. “Hey, Mom. Breakfast ready?” He glanced at Bernard.

“Say hi to your father, Dear.”

“Hey, Dad.”

Bernard walked across the kitchen and stood next to his wife with his arms folded.“Honey?”

“Yes?”

“Who is that?”

“Mitchell, our son.”

Bernard tried not to yell or shake his wife. There had to be some explanation for all this madness. “Okay. Honey. Eleanor, when I left two weeks ago, we had one son and one daughter. Our son, Mitchell, was only nine months old. This is not our son.”

“Well, of course not, silly. He couldn’t have grown up that fast. But I replaced him. This way, we skip all the cost of diapers, baby food, doctor visits.” She turned suddenly, flinging oatmeal as she waved the spoon at him. “Do you know they say it costs a million dollars to raise a child! A million dollars. Mitchell is almost seventeen. Do you know how much money we’ve saved?”

“But he’s not our child! Our responsibility is to OUR child! This boy has his own parents…” Bernard began to look around the room for a hidden camera. “Oh, I get it.” He smiled at Mitchell. “Right.” He decided to play along. “The bottom line.” That did sound like a good name for one of those hidden camera shows.

He peered around the corner into the living room, where their four year old daughter is usually playing on the couch with her dolls. “And Lilly? I suppose you replaced her, too? Seeing as how she would require so much more money to raise than say…a hamster?” He chuckled to himself, wiping the sweat from his brow with a dishtowel.

His wife turned to stare at him. “I didn’t even think of a hamster!” Just then, a fuzzy ball of fur with mischievous blue eyes sauntered in and rubbed itself on his pant leg. “No, no, I went with a kitten like the Jacobson’s next door. We have to stay competitive in these times, right Bernie.”

Bernard began to tremble as he studied his wife’s face for the first time: the permanent smile, the vacant stare that reminded him of a wave less ocean. Yep, Eleanor had left the building.

He reached out and gently took both her hands, turning her toward him. “Eleanor. Where are our children?”

The teenaged Mitchell was nodding from behind Eleanor. He stuck a finger in the oatmeal and popped it in his mouth. “Sacrificed on the alter of the bottom line, dude…I mean, Dad.”

An image of his children strapped down to his corporate boss’s desk was the last image in his mind before his wife’s smile blurred and his head hit the tile floor.

A Different Kind of Victim

cautionsign

I’ve been following a different kind of serial killer case here in Florida. A case of serial cat killings in Miami.  An eighteen year old by the name of Tyler Weinman was arrested for these cat killings and charged with 19 felony counts of animal cruelty and 19 counts of improperly disposing of the bodies, among other charges. (Disclaimer: he has not been proven guilty yet)

If you haven’t heard about this, here’s a few facts about Tyler:

–His parents are divorced.  His father is a dentist in Palmetto Bay and his mother is a life coach in Cutler Bay, these are the two neighborhoods where the cats were killed.

–He told police he despises his father.

–Miami-Dade Police Department’s psychological services concluded that Weinman fits the profile of a sociopath.

–If convicted of all charges, Weinman could get up to 158 years in prison.

Now, the thing that fascinates me the most about this case  is reading the reaction of the public.  Words like “subhuman” and “evil” were being used. People wanted him hung, skinned alive, locked up for life.

Well, okay…I can see the locked up for life thing. I was just as horrified by the cruelty of these acts as everyone else and killing animals does put him at a higher risk for moving up to people.  Besides, we Americans feel that our pets are members of our families. It’s not like it is in countries, like China, who consider cats livestock. (And don’t get me started on China)  So, the outrage is justified.  But there’s something else here to remember:

This is a child that WE failed as a society.

This is a child with deep, deep psychological problems. A child without the ability to feel empathy, to feel guilt, to feel love. If he feels anything it is rage. Who’s fault is that? Who’s responsibility is it? His parents? His kindergarten teacher? His doctor, neighbor, friend, aunt, coach, boy scout leader? I’m willing to bet someone along the way noticed the fact that this kid was in trouble.  In fact, I’m willing to bet a lot of people along the way noticed and turned their backs. Not their responsibility.

Would you want your son to end up like this? Because somebody’s son did. We owe it to our future children to figure out WHY.

So, yes–the deaths of these family pets breaks my heart and I hope the victims of these crimes can find peace in their good memories.

But the life of the human being named Tyler Weinman is one that we should all be mourning, also.