The Book – an update

Lots of things are happening behind the scenes in my writing world, which is why I’ve been scarce lately and haven’t been chattering on about all the exciting things happening in the world of physics, such as the solar flare that may/may not be cause for concern, or the fact that in just TWO MONTHS you can start submitting your application to be one of the original Mars colonists, or the fact that Google just BOUGHT A QUANTUM COMPUTER and forgive me for shouting but I think my head just exploded.

Anyway, here’s what’s been keeping me busy.

As you may know, since January of 2012 I’ve been working on a book manuscript of my Grandma’s story. It’s been a long, hard road. I’ve had to squeeze book work into the few hours a week my littlest is at preschool, plus evenings and weekends at the library (plus one trip to my favorite monastery.) Since I’m writing about events that happened a century ago and I’m bullish about factual accuracy, the project requires a ton of research. Continue reading


On (Attempted) Writing

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Last week, I started reading Open, the autobiography of Andre Agassi. And, jeepers creepers.

This is by far the best sports bio I’ve ever read. Andre’s story is incredible, better than fiction. (The man hates tennis with a passion, always has. The reason he wound up doing it is heartbreaking.)

To write his story, Andre had the good sense to employ the Pulitzer Prize-winner J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, the writer’s own exquisite memoir. According to the end-notes of Open, Moehringer moved to Las Vegas so he could work on the book full-time, meeting with Andre every day (for hours.) He also employed a research assistant and a fact-checker.

And it still took him two years to write the book.

This is the norm: the best and most successful authors pour thousands of hours into their projects. Laura Hillenbrand, author of the fantastically good (and wildly popular) Unbroken, which is still atop the hardcover bestseller lists more than a year after it was published, went nine years between her only two books – and she writes full-time, has no children, and, due to a chronic physical condition, rarely leaves her house. According to his memoir My Reading Life, Pat Conroy used to leave his small children for months at a time; he’d move to foreign countries to write in solitude. Even Stephen King, one of the most experienced and prolific writers in America, can spend a few years working full-time on a single novel. Continue reading

Changes – Mommyish

In 2006, my family changed dramatically – not just once, but twice.

That April, at the age of 35, I gave birth to my first baby, a beautiful boy who stole my heart and completely upended my life. That whole first year was a blur of broken nights, and days spent sitting on the couch in a daze, nursing my son and trying desperately to piece together exactly what I was supposed to do during the next five minutes…and then the five after that…and the five after that.

I was still in a saggy state of confusion when, less than three months after my son’s birth, my brother told me some startling news he’d just learned. He laid out the details matter-of-factly as I sat, gaping.

A couple of weeks ago, after posting my Grandma’s story on their website, the editors of Mommyish asked me to write a piece for them, about how it felt when I first learned the news. I hope you’ll join us here for the rest of the story…

My Swiftly Tilting Planet

On the Tuesday before Christmas, when my husband was on vacation, we took our boys to a water park, located at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville.

This is the place where they house the Spruce Goose and lots of other vintage aircraft, in two gigantic, glass-fronted hangars. Last June, the museum opened an indoor water park in a third hangar. There is a wave pool, a water feature for toddlers, a regular pool (complete with basketball hoops), and four huge swirly slides, which begin inside a hollowed-out, 328,000-pound 747, which is perched on top of the building.

Very cool.

Since our boys are only 3 and 5, hubby and I had to go down the slides with them (which meant I had to get into a bathing suit, which is not quite the jolly fun it once was. Alas.) During my first trip down the slides, I got a very strange, light-headed feeling. That’s weird, I thought. Since I had no other choice, I decided to ignore it.

So we kept going down the slides, and into the wave pool, and into a round section of the regular pool that has jets that shoot you around in a tight circle – hubby dubbed it the “toilet bowl.” All in all, it was a very fun day. The boys were in Heaven.

By 5:00 the next morning, I was in Hell. Continue reading

Minka Disbrow

Update January 2, 2012 – To those of you who have made your way here from the AP article that went viral today…thank you so much for your interest in this story. My sweet Grandma (though very savvy) has no computer, but we are keeping her informed of all the interest and comments. She is more than thrilled that her story is touching so many people. Feel free to “share” on FB, Twitter…wherever. God bless you!

This summer, we visited my maternal grandmother in California. After a motel mishap left us stranded, I called Grandma and asked if we could “crash” at her small apartment near the ocean. When we drove up at dusk, a few hours later, Grandma was just coming back from the grocery store, where she’d gone to stock up on food supplies for us.

Her place was as neat as a pin, as it has been for as far back as I can remember. That night, after I’d tucked all my boys in bed, I went into the living room to keep Grandma company. I sat down with a book. Grandma was filling out a word puzzle with a ballpoint pen.

“I like to do something like this before I go to bed,” Grandma said. “It helps me unwind.” About 45 minutes later I sleepily called it quits, leaving Grandma sitting in a small circle of lamplight, still working on her puzzle.

Sometimes I think this woman will outlive us all. Continue reading

The Mountain

On the third Saturday of May, in 1980. a thirty-year-old scientist named David Johnston headed up the gorgeous Toutle River Valley in Washington State, one of the prettiest places on God’s green earth. Johnston, who worked for the United States Geological Survey, had agreed to fill in that weekend for a colleague, manning an observation camp on Coldwater Ridge in the Cascade Mountains.

Although Johnston had earned his PhD just two years previously, his short career had already taken him around the country, and he was already considered an expert in his field. For the last two months, he’d been based in the Pacific Northwest, monitoring a troubling series of earthquakes and phreatic activity. He and his co-workers had been so alarmed by what they’d seen, in fact, they’d successfully lobbied to close the large, tourist-heavy Toutle River area to the public (a move that did not sit well with local authorities.)

After “making the rounds” that day, Johnston settled into his “home” for the next 24 hours – a small, well-worn camper parked on top of a mess of rocks, surrounded by piles of broken tree branches. Not a luxurious setting by any means…unless you factored in the location.

Spread out at Johnston’s feet was the kind of view that eats million-dollar views for breakfast. As far as the eye could see (and that happened to be mile after mile, from here), there was not a single man-made object.  Below his feet, the ground dropped away into a wide valley that was ringed by towering, snow-capped peaks. Everything sparkled in the sun like jewels: the silvery river threading its way down the center of the valley; the deep emerald-colored evergreens blanketing every square inch of flowing mountainside; the nearly sapphire-blue sky.

Although Coldwater Ridge was at an elevation of more than 3000 feet, and it was only the middle of May, the day was postcard-pretty – so warm that Johnston was dressed in his shirtsleeves and a pair of jeans. Continue reading

One Good Month

On a semi-regular basis, the hubby and I look at the boys playing, look at each other, and say, “One good month.” And then we both kind of shake our heads.

The only reason our youngest is here, is because back in the Fall of 2007, I had one good month. And I cannot tell you how grateful we are, for that.

Before I gave birth to my first son, I suffered three miscarriages – bad ones, as they all are, although thankfully they all happened early. And then the fourth time, when my body finally held on to a baby, I felt the full force of the powers of hell unleashed.

Okay, no, but that’s sure what it felt like.

The pregnancy was a nightmare from beginning to end. Every “bad” side effect that the books warn you about, I had, from crippling, never-ending nausea to grotesque weight gain to severe edema.

By the end, I looked like a crying, moaning Michelin Man.

When the pregnancy finally ground to a halt a week past my due date, I slogged through 25 hours of labor (18 of those without medication), and 80 minutes of pushing. At the end of it, while I lay hemorrhaging and nearly blind with pain, my hubby leaned over me, stroked my head, and whispered, “I never want you to have to go through that again.”

The first year with my new baby (whom I adored) was a long, exhausting blur of confusion and constant nursing. And then, just as I was weaning him, I got pregnant again.

That pregnancy was worse than the last one. Worse nausea, worse fatigue, worse pains, worse everything. At my first doctor’s visit, nearly 3 months in, I sat on the exam table and wept, sure that I was dying.

I wasn’t, but my unborn baby had. And right then, my husband and I vowed never to go through all that again.

But once my body had recovered from the miscarriage, something happened. I had that one good month.

This was around October of 2007. For the first time in over two years, I was neither pregnant nor nursing a baby. I felt fantastic. I started thinking about how nice it would be for my son to have a sibling. And one day, we went to a little park near our house and sat on the grass, and the sun was shining in that way that makes you feel stupid and happy, and crunchy leaves were scattered on the ground, and everything felt so perfect, that I told my husband I wanted to try for another baby.

This did not make him happy. “Are you sure?” he kept asking. He hadn’t forgotten the hellishness we’d been through.

I hadn’t forgotten, either. I just really, really wanted Cameron to have a brother or sister. And once I get my mind around something, well…

Within a month, I was pregnant, and Lord have mercy. Evidently I hadn’t seen nothing, yet.

I really am not a good enough writer to describe how bad that pregnancy was, I can just tell you this – when I was only four months along I frog-marched my husband to the urologist’s office for a vasectomy. In between crying jags, I told him, “If you don’t do this, I’ll never be able to have sex again.”

I wasn’t even kidding.

The urologist was a little hesitant – “Are you sure?” he asked. “Most people wait until their pregnancies have reached a ‘safe’ stage, before they do this.”

“You don’t understand,” I said. “If I ever go through this again, it will kill me.”

A week before my due date, my doctor induced me, because I couldn’t have survived another week. Blessedly, this delivery was much easier than the first one – although the newborn stage, that next year, would again be terribly hard for us.

All that aside, though, I was – and am – so grateful for my boy, who is so different from my first. He is a handful: as curious and as stubborn as the day is long. And I love him with all my heart.

He turns three years old next week. Here are some thoughts I jotted down when he was exactly three months old.

When you break into my sleep each night
(at one, or two, or three)
I stumble to fetch your medicine
A nursing pad
A burp rag

After Daddy changes your diaper
I receive you onto our nest of pillows
watch your eyes close
Your palm brushes my chest as you drink
And I am so utterly exhausted
that I fear I will drop you;

My need for sleep is so desperate

And yet

When you are done, and nestled on my shoulder
I pat your back
and smell your head
Move my lips against your fat cheek
Then cradle your gentle weight in my arms
And long past the time I should return you to your own bed
I watch you sleep
Feel your delicate breath moving against my belly

The need for sleep subsides
every time
I hold you, and watch you
just a little longer
My heart in my throat
My love for you filling the room
Filling the house
Sailing out into the night

My boy
My love
My last baby