Author Archives: Mairead

About Mairead

Writer and reviewer.

Mean Girls

I thought when I graduated from high school that I would leave the “mean girls” behind but, sadly, my first roommate and suitemates were all members of that breed.  I was a transfer student and they had planned to room together with another girl who had apparently decided to elope with some guy she met over the summer.  So, we got stuck with one another.  While it was fascinating to watch them up close and outside of the public eye – mean girls are sort of like sharks in blood saturated water, they are as likely to take a bite out of each other as their prey – I was sure that once I entered the working world they would be elsewhere.  Alas, after more than 25 years in the workforce, I have come to accept that the stereotypical “mean girl” is as much a part of life as taxes and dying.

As a child and teenager, I was always puzzled by “mean girl” behavior and admittedly, at times, deeply hurt by their barbed comments or actions.  As a young adult, I learned how to ignore them or at least pretend to be ignoring them.  As a seasoned adult, (translation – over 40) I am more amused by them than anything else.  The only thing that has changed is the tracks of time on our faces and the fact that we all need to start thinking about covering those pesky grey hairs.  The faces change but the games remain the same.

Normally I avoid them, but I’m getting quite chummy with a mean girl these days.

Her name is Candee.  She’s a character in my current work in progress and I’m having a lot of fun with her.  Candee started out as just a minor character, but she is taking more and more of the center stage and, though I fully intend to kill her off in a particularly fitting manner, she is helping me work through a difficult scene that was holding up the completion of my book.  In developing her character, I’m revisiting memories of every mean girl I’ve run up against in my life.  It’s been an interesting trip down memory lane.  I’ve also realized that either there are a lot of “mean girls” in the world or I am a magnet for their attention.

The motivation of the stereotype has, in my opinion, been hashed out enough.  Some say the behavior is a manifestation of poor self esteem, herd mentality, a need to control everyone and everything, bad breeding/manners, really bad PMS, or just a general snarkiness in the personality.  I’ve even heard it attributed to eating disorders and low blood sugar.  (That one I can buy, when I’m hungry or my blood sugar is tanking, I can be pretty mean too.)  Regardless of the cause, the end result is the same – somebody gets their figurative hair pulled and spat at.

In my story, the “mean girl” is the perfect foil.  She’s the one who can be just despicable enough in her dealings with others that next to her, my anti-heroine seems reasonable and relatable, yet she isn’t really even evil nor does she distract from my villain.  She’s just really mean.  Candee is something of a demi-villain if you will.  At the same time, she has something that does draw people to her and allows her to get close enough to draw blood – in this case literally and figuratively.  She’s no “bad girl with a heart of gold” – in fact, I’m not entirely sure she even has one and I’m pretty sure her victims would agree with me.

In general, I tend to build my characters on traits or characteristics that can’t be attributable to one particular person.  Under the “write what you know” school of thought, I suppose it could be said that there are usually traces of people I care about in my main characters or hero/heroines but not so much with my villains.  Up to now that is.  Candee seems to be taking on many of the physical traits of one particular person from my past.  It was a bit of a shock to realize that on some levels, I see this person as a “mean girl” because I hadn’t thought of her that way; a bit unkind or careless in how she expressed herself, but otherwise fairly harmless.  As I read back over what I have written, I am seeing her in a whole new light.  I do wonder if it’s time for me to buy that shirt that cautions others to be nice or they might wind up in my next novel.  Or perhaps I need to hire a good attorney.

So, how often do you use or realized you have used a real person from your life as the basis for a character?  And, how far can you go without risking a lawsuit?

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and
contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her
belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres.
Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind
Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com)
or Amazon.com.

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Temptation & Motivation

I’ve been thinking a lot about temptation and motivation lately.  In part because of my weight loss efforts and in part because I am struggling with the “why” of how one of my characters needs to act for the final chapters of my sequel to A Love Out of Time to work.

The surface level mechanics of both temptation and motivation I get.  It’s the deep “lizard brain” stuff that escapes me.  Take the weight loss thing for example.  I want to lose the weight and I believe that I am motivated.  I’ve kicked my addiction to Mountain Dew and all carbonated sodas.  I am well aware of the nutritional information of everything I put in my mouth and just how long I would need to work out to burn it off.  I have a well thought out plan that will pull two pounds a week off me, as long as I stick to it.  Life is going along just fine and I am on track, then a slice of cheesecake crosses my path and the next thing I know, I’m in a carb coma wondering where the hell my will-power disappeared to.

So, how does one resist temptation?  What truly motivates someone to do or to not do something?  And most importantly, what makes sense or what is believable to a reader?  I can guarantee that some of you reading the previous paragraph totally understand what I am talking about and there are others who don’t.  For them it’s a simple equation of want to lose weight, don’t eat the cheesecake.  But that is another topic.

When I work on character development, one of the tools I use is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to lay a ground work for why a character is tempted or motivated to behave in a particular manner.  For the basic framework, it works for writing and in trying to figure out why the heck I do what I do in my own life.  Unfortunately, Maslow didn’t have all the answers.

Given we all have different filters on our perceptions of the world around us and of how other people are acting, one can’t just assume that your motivators will be the same as your neighbors.  Think about the work-place and if you have ever had to manage/supervise others.  What motivates one employee to correct performance issues is not necessarily going to work on another.

Writing about truly evil characters is easy.  They can behave in all sorts of heinous ways simply because we accept that the villain’s actions or motivations will be outside the norm or what we consider reasonable.  If their actions were reasonable, they wouldn’t be such a “bad” character.  Likewise, creating a traditional hero or heroine is pretty easy.  Writing a true anti-hero or heroine is slightly more difficult (and I think incredibly fun) but what I find the hardest is taking a traditional hero or heroine and making them do something that on the surface seems to go against the grain of everything you believe of them.  Some could argue that what you’ve done is simply flipped them to anti-hero status, but I disagree.  It’s more complex than that. Finding that one event, that one temptation that even they can’t overcome, or that motivational need that answers the question of why.  That is my current quest.  (And maybe if I can figure that out, I can apply it to my cheesecake issue.)

What tools do you use to develop complex characters?

 

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead seeks work/life balance and writes paranormal romance. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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Old Dogs

My dog is old.  I knew she was getting up there in age, but I guess the reality hadn’t sunk in until recently.  This past August marked her fourteenth year and, for her breed, this is considered on the far side of the average lifespan.  Lui’Ka, short for Lui’Ka Dem Wrinkles, is a Chinese Shar-Pei.  For breed enthusiasts she is a red dilute brush coat with a hippo muzzle and still has her face wrinkles but not her body ones; unless she’s sitting and then she has a few just above her tail.  Her Mom and Dad were show dogs, but unfortunately, she did not have the requisite scissor bite and had to have her eyes done so she was deemed pet quality.  Fortunately for me, that meant I could afford her.

Lui’Ka has always had a quirky personality.  She loves everyone, once she meets them.  Lui’Ka grew up with cats and tolerates other dogs.  She even seems to have some squirrel friends.  We’ve found her curled up with them in her dog bed on our back porch.  My kids adore her and she’s always happy to help keep their faces clean.  While she doesn’t have the slightest interest in playing fetch – much to the frustration of my kids – she is thrilled to chase them about the yard and be chased.  Her favorite spots to nap are at your feet, in her dog bed on the porch, or on the slate slab we have over the Koi pond skimmer.

Lui’Ka has enjoyed a healthy and happy life to date, but she is showing definite signs of slowing down.

When we took her to the groomer three weeks ago, she wasn’t able to hop up into the van.  She tried, but I was afraid she’d hurt herself, so I picked her up and put her in the van.  Three hours later, when we picked her up, I was struck by the amount of grey in her fur and on her muzzle.  I have noticed a bit of stiffness in her movements and the boys tell me that she isn’t up for playing chase these days.  The past few mornings, I’ve had to give her a gentle shake to wake her up to put her outside for her morning constitutional.  Tonight, she didn’t wake up at the sound of her food hitting the bowl.  My son was afraid she’d passed away but she woke up when I touched her.

Knowing that we’ll be saying our final good-byes in the not too distant future is hard to think about.  The boys start getting teary eyed whenever they think about her passing away.  I find myself getting a lump in my throat as well.  If I could have one wish around her passing, it would be that she would just slip away gently during one of her afternoon naps.  An old dog napping in a sun-dappled spot on a porch.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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December 22, 2012…and we’re still here.

Everyone okay?  No Aliens demanding our assimilation? No Zombies on the front lawn?  The planet’s magnetic poles still where they were yesterday?  No solar flares about to wipe out the electronic age and cause widespread withdrawal from our TV and other devices?  Cool, because it would have truly sucked if the one year when I had all my Christmas shopping done, wrapped, and mailed – without incurring the expedited shipping charges to arrive on Christmas Eve – was the year the world ended.

Now that it’s established that it’s business as usual, I guess I have to finish up my “Christmas Cleaning” and prepare for the family gatherings as well as the wrapping paper chaos that my children will turn my living/family room into on Tuesday morning.  Most people do spring or fall cleaning, not me.  Every year, starting the weekend after Thanksgiving (when everyone else is out shopping), I begin my annual purge/organize and clean.  I throw out what can’t be repaired, reused, recycled or repurposed.  I go through old papers and either shred or recycle.  I donate anything that the kids haven’t played with in a year, things that they have out-grown, or any item that they just don’t like or use.  I go through my own wardrobe and donate anything that doesn’t fit or I haven’t worn in the past two years.  I do a limited purge on my husband’s stuff as well.  Then I organize what’s left and find homes for everything.  What doesn’t have a home after all of this will go to the donation center, and then I clean. Some years my enthusiasm is lackluster, some years I am so energized I could significantly reduce Virginia’s carbon footprint if someone could figure out how to plug me into the grid.

This year, perhaps spurred by a recent TLC marathon of “Hoarders”, I decided to tackle my old “idea file” and see if there was anything that could be tossed.  This “file” is actually two bankers box of papers with no order or system of organization that I used to store my story ideas before I switched to writing on a computer.  The papers are anything from a sentence scribbled on the back of an envelope to a couple of rough (very rough) first drafts of novels.  The quality of the writing or concepts is equally varied.  Unlike some writers I have met over the course of my lifetime, I will freely admit that sometimes what I produce is utter dreck.  So, I spent several hours alternating between mortification, amusement, and wonder.  Anything that would cause my family shame and embarrassment, or my alma mater to request the return of my degree in English, were it to be released posthumously was consigned to the shred pile.  (Not taking any chances of it ever being viewed by other eyes while being sorted at the recycling center.)  Just like there are some things that just can’t be unseen, there are some things that just can’t be unread.

While working through the papers, I found some old notes for a storyline set in 2012 and using the Mayan calendar as the catalyst for the plot that I had written shortly after graduating from college.  The basic story concept I had sketched out has been done in some fashion a number of times by different authors in the last five years, so nothing is fresh about it.  Further, since we all woke up this morning to find we weren’t extinct or in the throes of an alien invasion or the Zombie Apocalypse, the 2012 angle won’t work either.  Regardless of those pretty major flaws, there is some good stuff in those notes that I can repurpose to a new storyline – one I can work on after I deliver the other promised works in progress to my extremely patient, tolerant, and absolute saint of a publisher.

An acquaintance asked me the other day how I get the ideas for my stories.  I told her that ideas come from everywhere when I am in the right frame of mind – current events, historical events, my crazy imagination, conversations I hear snippets of, and from watching people.  I guess now I have to add cleaning to that list.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Last year for my November blog I wrote about how Thanksgiving is becoming less a holiday and more a kick-off to the orgy of consumerism that Christmas has become.

This year it has gotten, in my opinion, much worse.

It is bad enough that Christmas decorations and music entered retail stores as Halloween was being taken down, but now we have “Black Friday” actually occurring on Thanksgiving itself.  The result of these latest examples of “profits over people” and “mindless consumerism” will mean that some families will not be together for Thanksgiving, or their time together will be rushed because someone has to get to work on time, or because someone has to get in line before the stores open so they can score the sale.

The part that I think bothers me the most about all of this is that our economy has gotten so bad people are willing to toss Thanksgiving aside because they need a job.

Some could argue that the consumers need to take advantage of the sales, but that one doesn’t fly for me.  (I knew that MBA would come in handy sometime…)  Let’s use some common sense; the stores need to sell goods to make their bottom lines before the end of the year.  The sales will still happen, just closer to or after Christmas.

I worked a number of part-time retail jobs throughout high school and college.  Most of these jobs were in shopping or strip malls so, of course, I was scheduled to work on Black Friday.  Normally, I enjoyed these jobs.  It was fun to help customers and I even liked working on Christmas Eve, but I hated Black Friday.  Black Friday was a hell that tainted my view of humanity and made me question why anyone would willingly subject themselves to the insanity for an object that chances are the recipient will probably re-gift or take as their due.

When I landed my first full-time job outside of the retail sector, I made a vow never to enter a shopping mall or engage in the madness that I saw on Black Friday.  High school and college were over 25 years ago, but I have yet to break that vow.  The memory of having to deal with the rudeness, the avarice, and the general mayhem of a mall or retail store on the Friday after Thanksgiving is still sufficiently strong enough to keep my vow and out of the stores for the rest of my life.

While working retail, I never once saw someone “happy” or enjoying themselves as they shopped on Black Friday.  In the years since I stopped working retail, I can’t say that I have ever heard anyone who does the Black Friday shopping talk about how much fun they had.  Instead, I hear about how rude and nasty people were, how crowded things were, or how horrible the whole experience was, yet, year after year they still do it.  Maybe things have changed and there are hordes of happy shoppers out there, but I seriously doubt it.  As a whole, we seem to have become a bit more rude and ego-centric as a society so I’ll avoid the whole mess.

As I have said before, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for where you are and for the blessings or opportunities that have come your way.  Yes, it started out as a celebration of having safely come to the New World for some settlers, or sharing the bounty of the harvest with others; but at its base, this is about gratitude that you are where you are and not in some situation that is much worse.  It is not about a sale price or getting your Christmas shopping done.

My family will be gathering at my parent’s house later on this afternoon.  We are a fairly large clan and I believe she said 19 of us will be sitting down together.  While at times we joke and say our family puts the “fun” in dysfunctional, this is one gathering where we put aside the normal sibling squabbles or rivalries and simply enjoy being together as a family.

We work together as a family to prepare and set out the food.  Once the meal is done, we work together to clean up and put everything away so that my parents don’t have to worry about anything but relaxing.  After things are put away and cleaned up, my Dad, the husbands and the older nephew will gather in the family room to watch a game or talk about jobs, politics, and the economy.  The younger kids will convince me or another of the older kids to take them for a walk in the woods that borders my parent’s property.  My older nieces will gather to discuss boyfriends, college, and searching for a job.  The sisters and Mom will talk about the kids, the husbands, and swap advice on dealing with both.

The past five years have been rough for our family.  Several members of the clan, me included, were laid-off from jobs and struggled through job search before finding new ones.  In all cases, the new jobs were not as well paying as the ones that were lost so lifestyles have had to change and “financial belts” have been tightened significantly.  One family member has been through the lay-off scenario twice.  We’ve all seen our carefully built nest-eggs disappear completely or be reduced enough that the possibility of retiring at retirement age is nothing but a dream that will never take flight.  My older siblings have seen their college age kids come back to the nest because they can’t find jobs or they can’t find jobs that pay enough for them to live on their own.  One member of the family has struggled with addiction and homelessness.  We’ve dealt with serious illnesses, the deaths of extended family members, and fear for friends and relatives serving the country in harm’s way.  We’re also dealing with the normal day to day struggles of balancing work and life.

Despite it all, we will gather today and we will give thanks for what we have, for one another, and that we’re together and supportive of one another.  No one will be heading out to the malls and I’m really thankful that none of us will be rushing off to work in a retail store either.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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Excerpt from “Parenting with Hormones & Duct Tape: Confessions of a Failed Super-Mom”

It’s that time of year again, my family and I are getting ready to take our annual vacation and- as usual - I am over-committed and out of time as I try to get us ready to leave.  So, being fresh out of ideas tonight – I decided to post an excerpt of a piece I have been working on for a while.  It is intended to be a semi-autobiographical satire about motherhood.  Hope you enjoy it.

Chapter One – In the beginning, we knew not what we knew not – and it was good.

I think we do our best parenting before we become parents, or at least I’m pretty sure I did before reality made me realize what a clueless fool I’d been.

The clash between expectations and reality occurred the night I brought my beautiful baby boy home from the hospital. For three wonderful days we had bonded in the hospital with no problem.  The emergency C-section wasn’t as bad as I feared when I’d gotten the news at my routine appointment that I was going to have my baby two weeks ahead of schedule – as in immediately. The lactation consultant declared me a natural and my husband got the meconium diaper.  I thought I had this motherhood thing in the bag.  I was clearly in for a rude awakening.

What should have tipped me off that my world as I knew it had shifted irrevocably on its axis was trying to put on the maternity jeans that I had worn to the hospital. I had just delivered a baby and I knew that his weight plus the weight of the placenta and other stuff had to be worth at least 10 pounds. For me, a 10 pound loss used to mean a drop in pant size. Imagine my surprise when I slipped the jeans on and discovered that they were tighter than when I came in! Luckily, a nurse chose that moment to walk in and seeing my tear-filled eyes, pained expression, and the pants figured out what was upsetting me. She gave assurances that I was only swollen from the C-section.  Later, dressed in a comfy pair of my husband’s sweat pants and sitting in the wheelchair holding my son while the nurse took charge of the cart with my bags and the multitude of flowers and balloons, I watched my husband back our car into a concrete barrier as he pulled out of a parking space to come pick us up. And still, somehow, all of this foreshadowing slipped by me.

We arrived home without additional incident and it was perfect. The neighbors had decorated our mailbox and porch with balloons to welcome us home.  As soon as we pulled into the driveway, everyone came by to admire the baby and help get us settled. Previously warned by our assorted siblings, my husband had made sure that the temperature in the house was nice and toasty and there was noise by way of a radio of nature sounds in the baby’s room and the television in the family room. We put our sweet child in his crib and headed to the couch to sit, enjoying our first night in our house as a family. This piece and quiet lasted for about an hour. I was foolishly trying to wean myself off the painkillers and unbeknownst to me, my milk came in.  About the same time that I realized I was a moron for thinking that weaning off of painkillers was a good idea, the baby woke up. My sweet cherubic son let loose a squall that rivaled a thousand fingernails on a blackboard. It was a “feed me NOW!!!” sound that if I didn’t recognize, my breasts did. Unfortunately, my son couldn’t latch on and thus couldn’t feed.  And so began the night that we refer to as the descent into hell. In less than 24 hours I had gone from the poster-mother for breast-feeding to wondering if I could call my neighbor at 3 a.m. to get that sample of Enfamil back without jeopardizing the friendship.

Yes, my reality check bounced in a rather spectacular fashion.

By mid-morning I had reached my absolute lowest point. I sat on the couch, crying since I was apparently such a wretched excuse for a mother because I couldn’t feed my son naturally.  Meanwhile - my husband alternated between his cell phone calling every pharmacy in town looking for a breast-pump to rent and our home phone where he was on perma-hold with the pediatrician’s office trying to get an appointment with a lactation consultant, and my mother and sister tried to (unsuccessfully) offer suggestions. The only sanity was my neighbor who had fixed a bottle of Enfamil for the baby and was feeding my child while hers was sleeping peacefully in my son’s crib. I had waited until a reasonable hour to call her, sort of. Okay, I called as soon as I saw her husband leave for work at 5:30. Being a good friend, she came over immediately to take charge of the situation in case the breast continued to be a bust.

By the time my first child was six months old, we had settled into the bliss of parenthood. Granted, I spent most of the time looking like a grizzled hag with dark circles, frizzy hair, and a slightly crazed look in my eyes due to the lack of eight solid hours of sleep.  My husband will tell you this was the first time in all the years he had known me that he’d ever seen me off kilter and he really doesn’t like to be reminded of those “dark days.”

Just when you are deluding yourself that this whole motherhood thing is coming together and you can, in fact, balance the demands of a baby, a career, a husband, and your own needs, the baby becomes mobile. From the moment my son began to roll, wriggle, and crawl, I started to view my home as a minefield of potential hazards. My obsession led to the purchase of various and sundry items guaranteed to “baby proof” my home and keep my child alive at least until the age of complete sentences. Most of which neither my husband nor I could easily disengage.  In the midst of this paranoia that the baby might – gasp – open the cabinet where the cleaning supplies were kept, scale the shelves, defeat the child lock on the Draino and consume it in the nanosecond that I was out of line of sight; I realized that my housekeeping left much to be desired. This was the first step of many in my quixotic quest to transform myself into a Super-Mom.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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Creativity does not obey a time table

“I don’t understand why it’s taking you so long to finish writing that story,” groused my husband this evening.  “You’ve been working on it off and on for the past couple of years.”

“Sure you do,” I replied waving my hand in the direction of our back yard.

A blank stare.  “No, I don’t.”

“Two words Sweetie, fish pond.”

“Oh…yeah.  I guess I do at that.”

In September of 2003, Hurricane Isabel damaged an 80 foot White Oak tree in our backyard.  It was a wonderful tree and we had hoped that given time, perhaps the tree would re-seat itself and continue to thrive.  The winds were so bad that the tree’s movement had caused the ground to “pouf” up above where the roots lay underground as far out as three feet from the trunk and left it slightly leaning towards our home, which was a mere 30 feet away from the tree.  (You do the math.)  The arborist who came out to inspect the damage and determine if the tree could be saved gave us the sad news and a very strong recommendation to take the tree out sooner rather than later if we were fond of our house.

Two weeks later, I found my husband in the backyard staring at the space where the tree had been.  It was rather sad to look at the barren spot where beautiful old tree had stood.  We talked about how bare that area of the yard was and what we could plant around the stump to make it attractive.  After a few moments of silence, he threw an arm across my shoulders.  “Ya know,” he said, “once we grind up this stump and dig out the roots, we could put a small fish pond here.”

And so began what we call the tale of the fish pond.

It started with his researching ponds while we put aside the money to get the stump ground up.  He researched drop in ponds, build it yourself ponds, and having someone else come do it for you ponds.  He began researching the types of plants and fish he wanted to put in this pond.  When September 2004 rolled around and we still hadn’t hired someone to grind up the stump, but he had reams of notes and hand-drawn sketches of what he had in mind.  He knew what plants we’d have in and around the pond.  He knew what sort of fish we’d have in the pond (goldfish to start – Koi as we gained experience), and he knew that he wanted to dig it out himself and build the pond with a custom liner to follow the footprint left by the tree.  He even bought a garden statue that he felt would be a key element in the design.

The discovery that we were expecting again in September of 2005 diverted our attention, along with any funds we had on hand to grind up the stump or start buying pond building materials.  Then we decided to put an addition onto our house after our second child arrived in 2006, so the stump grinding/pond building was put off another year.  In September of 2007, we finally hired someone to grind up the stump and my husband decided that none of his original drawings of the shape of the pond would fit the footprint left once the stump was gone, and with a new shape to work with, he had different ideas about how the landscaping should look, so back to the ideation stage he went.

In the fall of 2008, he finally started digging.

Somewhere along the way, the pond size grew from a small quaint pond to something that is going to require at least an 11 by 21 foot liner, a king’s ransom in water lilies and assorted other plants, electrical wiring to run the granite and slate waterfall he plans to make from the excavated dirt and all the granite and slate he’s salvaged from neighborhood clean ups and trips to the dump, as well as solar lighting “accent” pieces.  I’m leaving that last one alone because I never thought to hear the words “accent pieces” uttered from my husband’s lips without that distinctly male “snort” that every man uses when confronted by throw pillows and knickknacks.

He’d dig a little bit every day for a few weeks and then the weather, or kids activities, or work would get in the way.  Some days he just didn’t feel like digging.  Some days, he changed his mind completely about how the pond should look and he’d go back to his drawings or research to see if he could find a better idea.  Sometimes months would pass without any digging and when he got back to it, he’d find that the passage of time had filled the hole with leaves and clutter that had to be cleared out before he could begin to dig again.

Over the years, Joe has taken a good amount of ribbing from friends, family, and neighbors about our “pond” – no, he isn’t trying out low cost funeral planning, the kids are not taking up mud wrestling as a sport, and it isn’t a crude tiger pit to deal with the neighbor’s dog who likes to jump fences and leave, er, presents for the unwary.  Any time someone is stumped about a gift to give him, they get him a gift certificate to the nearby garden center that has a specialty section for backyard ponds or a book on backyard ponds and landscaping.  Even the kids had long ago lost interest in helping Daddy dig out the fish pond, figuring it would always be that one project Dad is forever working on but never quite gets finished.  Kind of like some of Mommy’s stories.

Four years, two pick-axes, three shovels, and an incredible amount of patience later, I came home the other night to something that actually looks like it might become a fully operational fish pond before the end of September.

Maybe, when he’s finished, I can take my laptop outside and find an inspiring spot to finish the last few chapters by the waterfall with the solar lighted accent pieces.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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Childhood memories: It’s all about the point of view

I know from experience that memories of childhood can differ greatly between mother and child.  Case in point – my sister and I vividly recall being tethered to a tree during a tropical storm because we were driving the grown-ups crazy begging to go outside and play.  I can still remember the wind whipping my clothes and the sting of the rain and salt water on my skin.  My sister will describe in great detail the feeling that she would be blown away by the wind if she had let go of the rope or lost her footing.  My mother vividly recalls the same storm; it came up with virtually no warning while we were at her godfather’s cabin on Gwynn’s Island in late summer.  She can describe the mad rush to secure everything before it hit.  She recalls how her parents and godparents discussed whether it would be better to sit tight or try to leave the island before deciding that it would be safer to ride out the storm.  She remembers being trapped in a very small rustic river cabin with no TV, two kids under the age of eight, four other adults and a small hyperactive yippy dog, but she only recalls threatening to tie us to a tree if we didn’t quit pestering her.

That incident is only one of many other examples of the different point of view between my mother and myself with regard to my childhood.  It does make me wonder, now that I have children of my own, how different will their memories be from mine?

Of one thing I am sure, at some point my kids will probably start referring to family outings or vacations as “the time when Mom [insert accident description].”  I have an uncanny knack for accidents – usually of the “trip over my own feet and fall requiring a trip to the “doc in the box” or ER” variety.  Sometimes it seems as though my signature fashion accessory should be either an ace bandage or a knee brace.  The latest, and by far most spectacular, was over Mother’s Day.  We decided to spend the day at the boat club with some friends.  The plan was to de-winterize and clean the boat, then put the boat in the water and spend the rest of the afternoon fishing or swimming or just relaxing on the river, followed by grilling out for dinner.  My kids were very excited and while de-winterizing a boat wasn’t really high on my initial list of things I wanted to do for Mother’s Day, their excitement carried me along until it seemed like it might be a fun sort of family activity.  And it was, until just before we were ready to put the boat in the water.

During the fall, I had put together and published a Request for Quotation to have the marina dredged once the boating season ended.  Together with some other club members, we formed a team, reviewed the quotes, selected a vendor to do the work, and then I stepped out of the picture.  I hadn’t been back out to the club over the winter to see the work, so I was interested in climbing up to the top of the silt pond to look over the work.  So up the berm I went and, as the old cliché goes, what went up – then came down.

One of the team members climbed up the berm with me and we walked around the edge of the pond looking at the work and the debris piles.  I could see the kids were getting impatient to go out on the boat, so made my excuses and turned to climb down.  With my first step, I slipped in the loose pebbles, dirt, shells, etc. and did what my oldest child described as sort of the splits (something I haven’t been able to do since somewhere around, oh, 1990 or thereabouts) then, as my youngest described it, “surfed” down the slope on my right shin until I landed in the gravel parking lot at the bottom and, as my husband described it, did something rather like a half roll half topple while uttering words he wasn’t entirely sure were appropriate for his ears much less our children’s.  Everyone was rather amazed that I was able to pick myself up and limp to the truck, since all who witnessed my best impersonation of Jill, of Jack & Jill fame, were sure that I had broken something – if not several somethings.

“Mommy? Are you going to die?” asked my youngest.  “Guess we aren’t going out on the boat now,” mumbled my oldest.  “I think I have Purell in my first aid kit,” offered one of the other boaters who were now congregating around my bloody dirt covered self.  A group that included my mother and stepfather who’d come down to meet us for a boat ride and had arrived in time to see my descent.

My husband chose that moment to come rushing up with the hose he’d been using to clean the hull of our boat and turned it on my leg, forgetting to remove or adjust the spray nozzle.  I turned the air blue for the second time and seriously thought I might pass out from the pain.  “Ohhhh, Mommy. Daddy is gonna wash your mouth out with soap,” replied my youngest.  “Nice going Dad,” added the oldest.  “Here’s the Purell!” called out the wanna-be-EMT.  “No!” I screamed as I tried to move away from the hand holding the Purell above my leg.  “Load her in the jeep, we can take her back to our house to clean her up,” sighed my stepdad with an aside of “try not to bleed on the upholstery” to me.

While I was getting medical attention, my husband did put the boat in the water.  The kids and our guests were able to enjoy a relaxing time on the river, swimming & fishing, followed by dinner on the grill.  Later in the week, I overheard one of my sons describing what they did for Mother’s Day – “It was nice. We bought her a plant and then my mom fell down a hill.”

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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Baseball, little league politics, and bad manners by Mairead Walpole

I was going to write about writing, but this week’s experiences at the ball-field watching my children’s games changed that.  This is going to be something of a vent and one that I’m sure any parent of a child in sports can identify with.

One of my sons plays T-ball, the other plays in the kid-pitch division.  Both of them love playing and while not the “star players” for their teams or in the league, they are pretty solid players and steadily working hard to improve.  From September to the first of November and from March to the end of June, my mini-van is full of baseball gear: bats, gloves, balls, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, batting gloves, extra jackets, blankets, water bottles, and camp chairs.  I may not a soccer mom, but I am a proud baseball mom.

I lose all traces of introversion when my kids’ teams make a good play or the kids are at bat, cheering, clapping, and jumping up and down hugging or high fiving other parents.  For the record, I am equally as enthusiastic for my children’s teammates and have even been known to applaud a brilliant play for the other team or, at the T-ball division, if a very young player on the other team actually hits the ball and gets on base.  What I don’t do and will not do is scream at or abuse the umpires, coaches, other players, or other team’s parents.  This past week I have witnessed some horrible behavior on the part of so-called adults – and sadly, it was all in the T-ball division.

A few years back, the league decided not to display the score for the T-ball division in an effort to curb the poor sportsmanship on the part of parents.  My oldest started T-ball when they still displayed the scores and went up to the next division after they changed the policy.  I can attest that it did help curb the outbursts and shifted the focus of the games on creating a love of the sport in the T-ball players.  This is not to say that it’s a “there are no losers and everyone wins” scenario; after the game the kids are told who won or lost and we do have playoffs with one team winning the playoffs for the division and the size of the trophy awarded is determined by where that team finished.  I think it is important for kids to understand that they can’t always win and that there is honor in losing especially if you have given it your best and played the game according to the rules.

On Thursday night, we had an umpire who was making bad calls for the first couple of innings.  Now, the other team’s parents were perfectly content when the bad calls were directed at our team.  Our coaches were screamed at for talking with the ump about the calls and they taunted our parents if we seemed upset or confused by one of the bad calls.  The players on this team ignored rules, used excessive force in tagging players out – hitting a runner with the ball in the chest hard enough to knock him down, tripping or shoving runners, and my personal favorite – three of their kids standing on the bag so that our runner couldn’t get on the bag and pushing him away if he tried while they waited for their team mates to get the ball and tag our player out.  If anyone, especially our coaches tried to dispute this behavior we had profanity screamed at us.  If the ump did as he was supposed to and made the proper call – then they screamed at him.  This team’s parents even cheered when our “pitcher” was taken out of the game because their batter hit the ball straight at the kids face.  They were also upset because the ump called time and sent their player back to first – he had been heading for third even though time had been called.  Luckily, it was T-ball so the kid just suffered a split lip.  Yes, he and our first baseman are a good team and effective at getting outs, but cheering because a child was injured?  Really?

After the game, as we were walking to the car, we passed a parent from the other team berating their child for bad plays and strongly implying that the kid was why the team lost.  The look on that child’s face just tugged at my heart.  The kid was around 6 at the oldest and yes, he had missed a few catches that would have made the difference between a run and an out, but it is only one ball game out of hundreds this kid may play in the course of his life.

I know from my kids that they are all too aware if they make a bad play or even if they think they made a bad play.  No one has to say a word to them about it.  I’ve listened to play by plays all the way home of how “if only…” and I’ve comforted both of them after a game as they have relived dropping a ball or missing a catch or striking out when the bases were loaded and they were the last out.  I won’t lie to them and say they are wrong to feel that way or that they are mistaken that the play or the out may have been what turned the game, but I don’t give them a hard time about it or let them wallow in it.  I’m very matter of fact about it and we talk about what they can do to change the outcome the next time.  It may sound trite, but my kids are being taught that win or lose, it’s how you play the game that is the most important part, and while you go into something intending to win, the reality is that you are going to win some and lose some, so they must learn to lose and win with graciousness and honor.

In talking with other parents in some of the other leagues around town, I find that this is not uncommon and crosses socio-economic lines.  Just because our league pulls from a mix of low income to upper middle class families, doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the parental behavior.  I have friends whose children play in a league that is predominantly upper middle class to wealthy and they report similar occurrences, although the politics seem to be a bit more extreme.

What are we saying to our children when they witness their parents behaving without any honor or respect towards one another?  When children see parents cheering because another child is hurt on the field, what does it tell them in a society that is trying to fight an epidemic of bullying in our schools?  When parents condone poor sportsmanship and winning at any cost – what message do the children take away in terms of self-esteem or recognizing the rules and authority that a civilized society must operate under in order to succeed?

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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When I grow up, I want to be…

My “if money wasn’t an object or issue” career dream has always been to make a living off my writing, but I am a very long way from giving up my day job.  Also, the frequency of my muse taking off for parts unknown sort of puts a large obstacle in the “support my family with the writing” plan.  The secondary but probably most important obstacle is my lack of engagement in marketing my work.

Some of the writers at Second Wind are incredibly talented in marketing their work and it would not surprise me in the least if one or two in particular achieved sales comparable to the best seller’s list purely from their own marketing abilities.  I read their posts or articles and sit back in awe of how they have jumped in and mastered this whole marketing thing.  Me, with a MBA to my credentials, I understand marketing concepts and theory but when it comes to the practice, I just can’t seem to either find the time, the inclination or both to put myself out there.  The biggest part of this inability stems from being an introvert.  There are those who may argue that I am a borderline extrovert, but I assure you that any hints of extroversion in my personality are totally learned behaviors.

I thought for a time that the use of social media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) might be the way to go but, as I use social media, I find it as draining as being at a large cocktail party or work related social function.  I have to admit that the thought of becoming active on Twitter makes me want to retreat into a cave somewhere in the wilderness far from any Wi-Fi, WiMAX or LTE connection.  Not from fear or a resistance to the concept and technology – I am fascinated by the whole sociologic aspect of it as a medium to convey information, news, or entertainment and from the business perspective – its value as a marketing tool has just begun to be tapped to the fullest potential.  The problem for me is the mass interaction thing and potentially millions of people connected to me in some form or fashion that makes my skin crawl.  If you’re an introvert – you know what I am talking about.  If you aren’t, you probably think I’m nuts.

So what is an introvert to do?  How does one overcome the psychological aspects of introversion to get out there and self-market?

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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Filed under Mairead Wapole, marketing, writing