Halfway to Seventy

35 Today is my birthday! (Self-depecating Sunday will return next week.) I had a wonderful day that started with me eating birthday cake for breakfast. I’m talking HOLY HEAVEN ON EARTH chocolate cake. Now, I know chocolate cake is hard to screw up, but I also know that it’s one of those things that LOTS of people think they’re great at. So, it’s hard to blog about chocolate for breakfast and convince you that it was the most amazing cake in the world. But I’m telling you–it was. My husband truly does make the world’s most amazing chocolate cake. To be specific, it’s a chocolate chiffon cake. I had no idea about this perk when I married him–one of the nice surprises of marrying Josh. Seriously, you think you make amazing chocolate cake, but you don’t. Not like Josh.

I’m the kind of girl that likes (presents and) making a hoopla over my birthday and right now I’m loving my thirties. I wish I could stay in them a reeeeeeeally long time. My twenties were hard on me. See this post. And yesterday’s post. I had kids in my early twenties. I didn’t mean to. Sometimes I just fling myself at life. Sometimes I get flung. But no matter when you have kids, ready or not, I think it’s hard. Oh sweet Universe is it hard!

And then one day you get a birthday card like this.

sorry card frontAnd then you open the present and find some delicious and expensive coffee. Which is perfect for the chocolate cake you’re going to have for breakfast. It makes you wonder why there’s a sad balloon on the card. After a thank you hug, you read the inside of the card. (read each side separately.)

sorry card open

You start up with some more hugging and Eleanor reveals the “cool” present was a book that you’d really been wanting. She looks so sad that  the “special” she wanted you to feel about receiving that book won’t happen, but she’s wrong because you have never felt so loved and special in all your life.

Go Talk To A Stranger

Danger Sign My friend Catherine likes it when I post stories about parenting, so this one is for her, though now that I think about it I’m sure she’s heard this one before. Anyway, many of you know, my daughter Eleanor was a precocious little tot. I think most toddlers are; it seems to me that during those years, they each bring a special kind of Hell into their parents lives at exactly the weirdest moment. When Eleanor was four (almost 5), we were living in the Bay Area in CA, in a suburb that butted up against Highway 1. If you strained, you could see across that highway to a tiny piece of the ocean from one of our windows.

One Saturday, Eleanor disappeared from the fenced back yard. I knew she could maneuver the gate latch (I believe I’d taught her how to unlatch it one day I was irritated about armfuls of groceries and whatnot). Still, I wasn’t very worried about where she might be. It was Suburbia. But after a few minutes of searching in the predicted places, I couldn’t find her. Josh couldn’t either. It was about 4 p.m. By 5  p.m we still couldn’t find her. We’d driven around the neighborhood a few times by then. She was wearing a pink plaid sundress that had straps that tied over her shoulders and little white cowboy boots with silver sparkly stars. I began to imagine telling this to the police. I began to beg the sun in the sky not to start setting. I began to think about her being cold. Or crossing the highway to get to the beach. If she made it across the highway, would she go into the water? Did she figure out she was lost yet? Was she scared? I mean, if I was getting scared, I couldn’t imagine what my four-year-old was going through. I told myself not to panic. Fine, be scared, Jody, but don’t panic.

I asked a woman, a mother, who was sitting on her front porch if she’d seen Eleanor. Yes, she said, but she just assumed that she was running to catch up with someone. It seemed like a weird answer, and I figured she didn’t want to be bothered with someone else’s kid (I’d often heard her yelling at her own three kids). I stopped at a restaurant that was nearby that had patrons sitting in front of the bay window and asked if anyone had seen Eleanor. A young couple said yes. At this point, I was becoming a little impolite. I said, didn’t that seem weird to you? And they said, well, yes. “But we didn’t want to get involved.” They really said that. And that was when the real panic set in. What was wrong with people? Their lack of interest, or fear of being seen as a kidnapper, or whatever it was that was stopping people from getting involved was the real danger. And I was very. very. scared. Josh and I had split up to find her, but we were in contact and when I told him about all the people who’d seen her, he was just as pissed as I was.

It was about half an hour later that I found her. (She’d been gone less than 2 hours) The sun was setting and she was crossing a street not a block away from our home, but at the moment I saw her, a car was breaking somewhat suddenly to make way for her in the street. I ran to her under the dirty look and shaking head of the dude in the car. I did that crying/hugging/yelling WHEREHAVEYOUBEEN thing all mothers do, even though I told myself not to. It’s impossible not to do that, like trying to keep your eyes open while sneezing.

What amazed me was that Eleanor was so calm. I asked her if she was cold. Yes. I asked her she was hungry. Yes. I asked her if she was scared. No. What were you thinking about, I asked. She said she was singing a song to herself that she made up called, I’m Just A Lonely Little Girl. Did you know how to get home, I asked. “No,” she answered,”I couldn’t find you.” She’d been walking for over a mile in a meandering loop around our neighborhood. I called Josh and when he joined us, the first thing he said was, why didn’t you ask someone for help? She shrugged. I’m sure she saw our fear and anger and confusion and relief. And then Josh said, “If you ever can’t find us, go ask a stranger for help. Strangers will help you find your parents, but you have to ask them.”

Those words seemed like strangers. That’s not what we were taught as kids. I wondered if there was a better solution. We could have put a different latch on the gate and protected her from “escaping” again, but I like that we armed her with the motivation to talk to strangers instead. Allow me to be a little bit cheesy here and say that in one way or another and at some point in our lives we all get lost. We shouldn’t fear asking for help. Or offering it.

Stories From Those Who Serve (2)

boondockers Happy Veterans Day!  It’s the perfect day to feature my next interview with a soldier. Today, meet Dwayne. We met in fifth grade but he moved away a couple of years later. We reconnected last year on Facebook. Oh, how I love Facebook. He’s been very helpful and encouraging as I’ve tossed my military questions his way during my book research. He was also the first boy who ever called me on the phone. My dad demanded that Dwayne call him Sir (ironic?), told him it was past my bedtime (9 p.m.), and that I couldn’t talk. I was mortified.  To my delight, Dwayne still talked to me the next day.

Jody: Since we were friends in junior high, would you care to share any memories of our friendship from the awkward years?

Dwayne: Actually, we were close friends in 5th and 6th grade, then I moved. I don’t remember any specific stories (except one, but that’s between us). I remember being in a lot of classes together, being in school plays, and I went to your house for dinner at least once. Sorry, memory has suffered much damage since then.

Jody: I know exactly what story you’re keeping secret and I thank you. Sitting behind  you in Mister Everson’s math class will always be a potent memory. And so will singing, “Frankly Franklin!” in Mr. Chubb’s class.  Now, on to the military questions! Please tell us what branch and why you chose it. Why the military?

Dwayne: During my junior year of high school, I originally chose to join the Air Force; however, have recently switched to the Army. The reason for the military, in general, was partly a fear of a lack of finances for school and feeling that I was much more in need of life experience than a degree could ever provide. Not to mention that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do if I had gone to school. Specifically, the Air Force came from some classes I had the luck to have that focused around flying, airports, etc. I enjoyed the subject matter and liked the opportunities available through the Air Force. Since then, I have recently transferred to the Army as my growth opportunities became increasingly slim on the Air Force side. At this point in my life and career, it makes the most sense for the direction I wish to head.

Jody: Enlisted or officer? Explain your job.

Dwayne: In the Air Force, I was enlisted with two different careers over my 16 years. I first joined as an Aircraft Armament Systems Craftsman and this entailed working on the entire weapons systems on any aircraft in the Air Force inventory; everything from the pilot’s finger to the bombs and bullets. It required everything from electronic aptitude to just straight brute force. I worked specifically on A-10’s and F-15’s and traveled all around the world many times. After about 14 years of that I switched to Information Management. This brought me indoors working on computer software and hardware, various computer systems, record systems, web management and administration, and much more. Now that I’m with the Army, my new job will be Military Intelligence Officer once I finish Officer Candidate School. This will include participating and managing intelligence operations of human intelligence gathering, imagery analysis, cryptography, and other related actions.

Jody:  Active now? When and how long did you serve?

Dwayne: I spent my first 6 years active duty stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona and Spangdahlem AB in Germany. I then switched to the Air National Guard in Jacksonville, Florida and Knoxville, Tennessee till this past summer. I am now temporarily with an Army Guard unit in Boone, North Carolina. During my time with the guard, I have spent many days on Active duty due to trips to the Middle East and after September 11th.

Jody: What was the hardest part about boot camp? Best part?

Dwayne: The shock is the hardest part; the shock of being away from home for the first time and of military life. Best part was the bonding experiences. For us, the only way to have any type of socialization with others outside our flight was to go to church. The chaplains made it a fun get-a-way from the stresses back in the dorms. Of course mail was an invaluable luxury too.

Jody: Do you have any funny stories from your military experience that you can share?

Dwayne: It isn’t a matter of remembering one specific one, but being able to share does throw a wrench in the process. No one big story really stands out, but day to day life needed to be broken-up often by little things. Any day that goes by with a practical joke is a good one, no matter how small. Even the simplest jokes of blocking a co-workers truck tires, grease marker on sunglasses, and doing all you can to haze the new people went far and took away from the mundane environment that can bring you down if you take it too seriously. It is the job that must done seriously and professionally.

Jody: Have you experienced combat?

Dwayne: Luckily only indirectly so far, but am excited about the prospect of going in to direct operations. With the Air Force, I sent my pilots in to harm’s way with the systems I maintained and the weapons I loaded.

Jody: How many places have you lived and which has been your favorite?

Dwayne: Lived…two while on active duty and as I mentioned before they were in Arizona and Germany. Living in Europe has been, by far, the best experience in the military as well as my life. The close proximity to places like Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin was amazing; as well as the overall culture and history. As far as travelling with the military though, my favorite has been Iceland.

Jody: How has serving in the military changed you the most?

Dwayne: It helped me most noticeably increase my levels of respect, leadership, courage, management, ability to handle stress, and so much more. I gained intangibles that really cannot be taught, but must be experienced and developed over time. I have been given opportunities that never would have been imaginable without my service.

Jody: Is there anything else you want to tell us about military life or service?

Dwayne: Service is the highest honor of any culture throughout time. The men and women that serve, no matter their personal reason, are protectors of all aspects of life. They preserve peace, enforce laws, and defend human dignity. Deep down, we in the military are honored more to make such sacrifices than any civilian may be honored by what we do for them.

Jody: Dwayne, thank you for this interview and thank you for your service to our country.


Self-Deprecating Sunday (5)

In which the YA author showcases her teenage years in all their awkward glory. This one is for you, Jennie Miller: Senior Prom 1993.

I got this one right. The last time I double-dated with Jennie at Prom, it did not turn out so well. (There was me in a strapless dress attempting to run up a down-escalator. Need I say more?)

So this was my fourth Prom. I took Brian Taylor–same guy I took the year of the escalator. Perhaps he hoped for a sequel to the first show? Anyhoo, Jennie took Cory Miller, who she eventually married. I had grown tired of the fancy doofy prom dress thing and I wanted to mix things up a bit. Can’t believe I didn’t find a way to  incorporate Mickey Mouse into this outfit. But I think this goes to show that no matter what you wear to Prom, you will always look doofy. Anyway, Senior Prom ruled. We ordered Chinese food and ate out on a secluded lake that had a beautiful deck over it. We walked around the circle downtown Indianapolis and had a horse and buggy ride. We danced. We stayed up all night. It was fun!


Badass Authors, Badass Soldiers, and Me

Not it. Not a badass. I wish I were, really. I’m afraid of bats. And mice. And hell, I’ll just confess it: I’m afraid of slugs and worms, too. I don’t know; obviously I can outrun them, but they really frighten me. In fact, at our house there is somehow some unwritten rule that Josh gets to poke my neck every time I’m insecure. Isn’t he precious. Note: the punctuation there should indicate my sarcasm. Side note: Berk is beginning to inspire me to expand my punctuation usage. SUPER Side Note: This post and all links will have a lot of (really kind of awesome) swears. Now on to the badassery.

A while ago my husband, Josh, told me about an article on Cracked.com about dudes in the military (or lone ranger types) who were so seriously badass that it made “Rambo look like a pussy.” So, yeah. I had to read it. And frankly, you do too. Here’s #5 (I dig this writing):

Simo Hayha had a fairly boring life in Finland. He served his one mandatory year in the military, and then became a farmer. But when the Soviet Union invaded his homeland in 1939, he decided he wanted to help his country. Since the majority of fighting took place in the forest, he figured the best way to stop the invasion was to grab his trusty rifle, a couple of cans of food and hide in a tree all day shooting Russians. In six feet of snow. And 20-40 degrees below zero. Of course when the Russians heard that dozens of their men were going down and that it was all one dude with a rifle, they got fucking scared. He became known as “The White Death” because of his white camouflage outfit, and they actually mounted whole missions just to kill that one guy. They started by sending out a task force to find Hayha and take him out. He killed them all. Then they tried getting together a team of counter-snipers (which are basically snipers that kill snipers) and sent them in to eliminate Hayha. He killed all of them, too. Over the course of 100 days, Hayha killed 542 people with his rifle. He took out another 150 or so with his SMG, sending his credited kill-count up to 705. Since everyone they had was either too dead or too scared to go anywhere near him, the Russians just carpet-bombed everywhere they thought he might be. Supposedly, they had the location right, and he actually got hit by a cloud of shrapnel that tore his coat up, but didn’t actually hurt him, because he’s the fucking White Death, damn it. Finally on March 6th, 1940, some lucky bastard shot Hayha in the head with an exploding bullet. When some other soldiers found him and brought him back to base, he “had half his head missing.” The White Death had finally been stopped…

…for about a week. In spite of having come down with a nasty case of shot-in-the-face syndrome, he was still very much alive, and regained consciousness on March 13, the very day the war ended.

Uh, yeah. And that’s only number 5! The article goes on to compare the best stories that Hollywood could come up with and it’s a hilarious comparison. So then I saw another article called, “Five Badass Authors Even More Badass Than The Character They Created.” The list includes characters like James Bond and King Arthur. Um, King Arthur? How do you out-badass King Arthur? If you’re Thomas Malory, you (among other things) “break out of jail three times, once by swimming across a moat at night, once by using swords, daggers and other pointy objects to stab your way free, and once by somehow getting a royal pardon.”


Stories From Those Who Serve

boondockersWriting a young adult book about a girl in the Navy has made me realize how many (real) stories of those who serve aren’t being shared. It made me want to feature some of them on my blog. Well, sometimes  when you ask someone to share stories with you, it turns out to be pretty amazing. This is for sure one of those of times. Remember Amythyst? This is her story.

Jody: Please tell us what branch you were in and why you chose it. Why the military?

Amythyst: I was in the Air Force. Things were rough for me at age 17. I had been kicked out of my dad’s house, and went to live with my mom. Then her house started fire while we were in it! She barely lived, and I was kidnapped from the scene. When I got away, I was afraid the man would go after my family so I didn’t want to live with them. So…why not the military? I needed three waivers to get in; one because I was a minor, one because I was a dropout, and another because my mother was unable to sign the first waiver since she was still in the burn unit. It was only three weeks from the time that I walked into the recruiting office to my first day in boot camp.

Jody: Enlisted or Officer? Explain your job.

Amythyst: I was enlisted; E-4. I started as an AB, which stands for Airman Basic. It is the lowest rank possible. I was part of an office that managed all of the computers, network, and equipment for the squadron. We also were a mobile communications unit. That means that we were the ones who would be set up in the field during combat or other missions. Behind two cipher locks was our van; a big explosive resistant box on wheels with a charcoal ventilation system in case of bio warfare. Periodically, they would have us load all the vans up on a plane, strap us up to the walls of the cargo bay, and ship us out to what they called an “exercise.” At our destination, the last one being at a base in Arizona, we would set everything up and pretend we were in a wartime situation just to make sure we could do it.

Jody: When and how long were you active?

Amythyst: 1995-1998

Jody: What was the hardest part of boot camp? The best part?

Amythyst: First of all, the Air Force calls it basic training. The hardest part was all of it, really! The mind games got to me the most; not the physical training I could give a crap about that. But, they would deprive us of so much sleep I couldn’t think straight, and then you had to memorize all this stuff from a manual that you had to carry around. It was nearly impossible to study that thing while standing in formation when you were being stared at by horribly mean people in big black hats and taps on their boots. That was a horrible sound…the tapping sound of a TI coming up behind you.

Jody: Do you have any funny stories from your military experience that you can share?

Amythyst: I guess it would be the weekends in the dorms. I remember us playing football in the lawn in the middle of the night with a Christmas tree and another time I walked out on the balcony to see a blowup doll watching the sunset wearing nothing but a SP (security police) cap.

Jody: Have you experienced combat?

Amythyst: Nope

Jody: How many places have you lived and which has been your favorite?

Amythyst: I only got stationed at one base.

Jody: How do you think being a female made your experience in the military unique? Were there special challenges you faced because of it?

Amythyst: Probably but I don’t know really. I never really fell for the whole “I gotta prove something” attitude that some girls did. I thought it was great being in a one to fifteen ratio. I was always considered cute, always the center of attention, and could get away with anything.

Hum….well there is the whole pregnancy thing. It was super weird wearing maternity BDUs, they were like wearing a camo tent! And, it just didn’t seem right. I knew that once I had the baby I would be getting out in about eight months and thought that it would be fine. But, it wasn’t. I had the baby three weeks early and came in the office a week postpartum to tell my supervisors that I wanted out. I just couldn’t do it. It seemed so wrong to have a baby with a job that gave me a three day life expectancy if I went into combat. Well, as it turned out, maternity discharges were only used for women that are still pregnant! My argument was that I was still supposed to be pregnant and that a woman that carries late should not have an advantage by having more time to decide or apply for a discharge. It took five months but I won the case, which put me at only getting out three months early….but still, I won! So, I got a waiver to get out of the military as well and set a new precedent for the rules about maternity discharges.

Jody: How has serving in the military changed you the most?

Amythyst: It empowered me. But, at the same time it gave me respect for order.

Jody: Is there anything else you want us to know about military life or service?

Amythyst: I would like to add that many of the enlisted folks have pretty sad stories. Many joined as a last resort after their lives hit rock bottom. Now, granted, I didn’t meet another person that claimed kidnapping as a reason…..but then again I didn’t tell anyone but my closest friends that story for years either. There may have been others with intense stories that were kept quiet as well. It is scary to make yourself look vulnerable when you are in the military. They take mental health issues seriously and you do not want to get that kind of reputation.

Jody: This has been incredible for me. Thank you so much for sharing, Amythyst.

Self-Deprecating Sunday (4)

Graduation Day: June 6, 1993. We were the Pike Red Devils. According to the crest in the photo, our school valued Honor, Pride, and Scholarship. And there’s me with my mouse ears. Gray Suit Guy digs it. The other women in the photo are unclear about what to think, and Podium Guy does not approve. The thing is, this get-up would have been kind of clever if I was making some statement on Public Education as an institution. But no. I just liked Mickey Mouse. Perhaps this is why I did not graduate with honors? Grades-wise I was fantastically mediocre, but boy did I have flair.

Graduation 1.jpeg

Who Would Play You In A Movie (4)

Welcome back to the movie of my life where I cast Hollywood stars as my friends and family. Today I’m featuring the lovely smart and sweet Jennifer Garner as Amythyst Romero.

I met Amythyst here in Michigan shortly after her family had moved from the Bay Area. We’d recently moved from the Bay Area too. She was kind and friendly and we immediately liked each other. (I think.) She had kids about the same age as mine. And a bonus feature was that she had served in the Air Force. We had a LOT to talk about. While I love these photos, I’m sad I couldn’t get a good match of shots where they are both smiling. Amythyst is has a brightness in her smile and eyes that are magnetic and adorable. Also, look for Amythyst to be interviewed later as part of my Interview With a Soldier series. (hint hint, Amythyst.)

If you missed the other 3 people I cast, you can click through to see my husband Josh, his little sister Kari, and his older sister Heidi.

jennifer garner


Author Interview: Sara Lewis Holmes

operation yesI’m so excited that today I get a chance to interview Sara Lewis Holmes, author of OPERATION YES. When I first heard about this book, I think I actually gasped in excitement. I was thinking, Yay, other people are writing young adult books about the military! And then I saw that it was from Scholastic imprint, Arthur A. Levine, which meant it was edited by the delightful Cheryl Klein. Even better. And then…I read it. And it was better still.

If I had to sum up this book, I’d pick my favorite line from it: Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle. What heart! Of course, I don’t have to sum it up, so I’ll add that what also touched me about this book was the sense of community amidst the transience that being part of the military brings.  Sara created a teacher character that brought  improvisational theater into a sixth grade classroom on an Air Force base, which really lightened the kids lives from the planning/order/structure of what had come before her, and I think what is typical of military life.  And when tragedy struck, the class pulled together to plan something that would not only help their quirky, wonderful, hurting teacher, but also the soldiers who are risking it all: it was called Operation Yes.

I understand that Sara didn’t grow up in a military family, but her husband is in the military. In her words, “When I married my husband, I was most definitely a “new recruit.” But military life is all my own two kids have ever known, so I drew upon our life together for the details of Operation Yes.

Jody: How many places have you lived and which has been your favorite?

Sara: My official bio says 11 states and 3 countries, but that includes some pre-AF life.  I have good memories of most of those places, but not the moves themselves. All moves have some disaster involved with them, be it smashed dishes or lost friends. And I hate the smell of cardboard boxes!

I would live in Germany again—the Bavarian Alps are heaven on earth to me. Give me a large buttered and salted pretzel and a mountain to climb and I’m happy.

Jody: How many little green army men are in your home right now?

Sara: Three full bags. I’m hoping to use them on school visits and at book signings. I haven’t quite worked out my plan, but I’m sure those LGM will think of something spectacular.

Jody: I’m a HUGE Cheryl Klein fan and hope to some day share a cup of Lady Gray tea with her. Have you had the pleasure of doing this yourself?  Please tell us a little about how wonderful it was to work with her.

Sara: Surprisingly, Cheryl and I have never met.  We do all our work via email and the phone. But I’m finally going to get to see her in Austin for an SCBWI conference in January. We’ll drink some tea together then!

Cheryl is an extremely dedicated editor. She readily admits to being “intense” and I agree. Her passion for story is amazing. Working with her is like having  another whole brain grafted on to mine—one that asks just the right questions to release what is not yet expressed on the page. Her ability to see and explain deep structure—she calls it being able to hear the rhythm of a story—is legendary. Plus, she’s quite funny and prone to doing things like sending me a Captain Underpants eraser with which to tackle my line edits.

Jody: Improvisational theater is an important part of your book. I know you’ve done a lot of improv, too. Besides inspiring this story, how has your work in improv impacted your writing?

Sara: I’m not actually an improv expert, although I enjoyed learning more about it for Operation Yes. I first learned about improv in high school when my drama teacher had us do quick skits based on three unrelated words. I was in a group with two boys and our words were: cactus, diamond, and cowboy.  I ended up playing a cactus in distress. My name was Polly Pricklebutt.

Besides those memories, I drew upon the collected wisdom of improv troupes everywhere, including a book from the famed Second City players. I also went to a local theater games night, and got coaching from my yoga teacher, who happened to be a theater major. She’s the one who taught me how to fall down, as Miss Loupe does for Bo.

Knowing about the improv rule “yes and…” helps my writing because when I’m drafting or revising, it reminds me to acknowledge what I already have on the page while striving to add something fresh. Never block yourself. Instead, be kind and look for the one hook that you can use to propel yourself and the scene forward. It’s there. Reach for it.

Jody: Excellent advice, Polly. May I call you Polly? Perhaps that’s going a little far. Thank you so much for joining me today, Sara, and congratulations on this lovely book!

Sara: Thank you, Jody.

Visit Sara’s website and/or blog to learn more and then, of course, visit your local bookstore and buy her book.

Soccer in Style

Magnolia had her last game of the season today and it was cold and muddy. What I love about my kiddo is that while she’s a total badass on the soccer field, she still brings her femininity and style to the game. Check it.

IMG_7721IMG_7718IMG_7710It’s a really cool thing to watch your kid’s confidence growing right in front of you. The first day–try outs–Magnolia begged us not make her play after all; she’d changed her mind thank you very much. Today, she was bummed it was over. Huge thanks to Coach Dave for guiding my daughter to love a sport!