Author Archives: Mairead

About Mairead

Writer and reviewer.

Where do you find inspiration?

I get this question a lot.  About a nano-second after someone digests the fact that I write, the inevitable question will be about where I get my inspiration.  On hearing my response, I always get the sense that I have let them down somehow.  As though they were expecting some ritual – “I only write on days that end in a Y while drinking Chai Tea, and listening to Mahler” or some logical routine, “I set aside 25 minutes each morning before I get my kids up and write whatever comes to mind” or that I would identify the “get your inspiration shop” just down the street.

Inspiration – for me at least – is not something I can reliably find or count on.  It just is.  (Or in the case of writer’s block, is not.)  I suppose I could make up something that sounds thought provoking and “autho-rish” or I could come up with something suitably weird so that they’d walk off satisfied, but I figure they honestly want to know, so I honestly answer.  Sometimes inspiration comes from the usual places – dreams, events in my life, local or global events that are in the news, and people I meet – but sometimes inspiration is sparked by a random thought or snippet of a song, a smell, a taste, or something I see.  Sometimes I have no freaking clue where the idea came from.  It just pops into my head and I can’t link it to a single thing that I am aware of.

My children inspire me not only in the ways that one’s children tend to inspire parents, but also with story ideas.  My youngest child in particular will be a rich source of inspiration should I decide to start writing post-apocalyptic zombie tales or go down a totally Lovecraftian path in horror fiction.  Nate is 7 and has an extremely active imagination; I think I have let him watch way too many SciFi, Discovery, and H2 shows.   My oldest is 10 going on 30 and he tends to ask hard questions around why things happen the way they do.  His questions have inspired me to jot down ideas for stories in a couple of different genres.  His latest series of questions and answers have been around dogs.  We recently acquired a puppy and subsequently lost our dog of 15 years within a fairly short span of time.  Oliver made some observations about the dogs’ interactions that sparked an interesting discussion around dog’s memories and how they perceive the world.  When we got the puppy, it seemed as though our older dog was “mentoring” her in how to behave with the family – almost a passing on of the care of the boys from the elder to the younger.  Once Khaki was integrated into the family, it seemed Lui’Ka was ready to move on.  “She was staying alive for us, wasn’t she?” he asked one night after she passed away.  He has expressed an interest in writing a story with me told from a dog’s perspective, which I think could be fun.

My job can inspire me.  One of the first novels I wrote (yet to be published due to needing a fair amount of re-writes) was based off of a “what if” scenario with a case I was working on.  It’s a legal thriller told from the point of view of the paralegal, rather than the attorney or law student.  I have another “yet to see the light of day” novel based loosely on some events from a prior employer that deals with the “what if” the company was really doing what people thought they were doing.  In my current job, I can’t say much inspires my writing other than providing material for use in developing characters.  I work with some interesting people, psychologically speaking, and one or two of them may just wind up in my current WIP.

I recently got an app for my smartphone that lets me write notes with a stylus or my finger when I am on the go.  Prior to that, I carried around a small notebook and pen but that wasn’t as efficient as it sounds.  You tend to run out of ink or paper at a critical moment, or worse, one of the kids drops some god-awful sticky thing in your bag and bye-bye notes.  I love my handwrite notes app.  Sitting in traffic and something sparks a thought; I just scribble notes on my phone to be expanded out when I have time.  I can blend my grocery list with my novel notes and sort them later.  Since my phone is with me almost 24/7 I can capture notes easily and don’t worry about carting around anymore additional stuff in my purse.  Heck, my purse is an inspiration in itself.  On any given day, you never know what might be in there.  Need some duct tape? A clean sock? Wax? A dog bone? I’ve probably got you covered.

The latest thing to spark my imagination was coming upon a sign at a bookstore that said, “Words to Inspire.”  Unfortunately, it was on a table with nothing around the sign.  I found it ironically funny at the time but later it took root in my thoughts and it has inspired the beginning of what for the moment feels like a short story.

 

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So what inspires me?  In short, everything.

 

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 business and creative writing collide: the annual performance appraisal self-assessment

It’s summer.  That once magical time of year that, as an adult, I dread.  I’m not talking about appearing in public in a swim suit, although that does have its own share of horrors. I’m talking about trying to figure out how to sum up a year’s worth of work using corporate-speak phrasing and tying my work to homogenized character traits that some HR person believes to represent our company’s model employee.  In short, it’s time to do the annual performance appraisal self-assessment.

I’ve been in the professional workforce for over twenty years now, which means I’ve written more than twenty of these things.  One would think that by now I write a solid self appraisal in my sleep.  Perhaps if I could stuff that side of me that hates bureaucracy in a box and bury it until after review time I would be able to just write the blasted thing and move on.  Instead I seem to find humor in the whole process and fight the urge to give my pervers humor a chance to stretch.

In my young and somewhat irreverent past, I had been known to have fun with them.  Early on in my career I worked for a large law firm on the east coast as a paralegal – or rather as what is now known as a litigation project manager.  In this job, we had to do these rather long thoughtful reflections on how we viewed our career, where we saw ourselves in five years, and whether we felt the firm was using us to our full potential.  In the mistaken belief that no one really read these self assessments – since no one had ever discussed the contents of my assessment other than to tell me what a great asset I was to the firm, I decided to see if anyone was paying attention.  In the middle a long paragraph around where I saw myself in five years, I wrote a sentence that stated that I felt the whole exercise was a complete waste of my time since no one ever discussed what I had written in prior reviews.  When the performance review came up, it was more of the same “great job…valuable asset” discussion.  At the conclusion of my review, as I was walking to the door, the managing partner said, “Oh, and by the way – I do read the self assessments. Every. Single. Word. I predict that with the right boss you will go far, or more likely, your warped sense of humor will get you in trouble one day.”  So, I have learned to be careful of what I write in self appraisals.

Getting started on the assessment isn’t all that different from working through writers block.  I stare at the blank screen until I realize that I have to start somewhere so I just write.  Most of the time, my first pass at an assessment is like a free-form, stream of consciousness list of everything I have done over the past year.  Then I start to make my connections to the key or buzz-words that HR requires.  From there, I begin to craft the actual narrative and justification statements.  Because I do have this irreverent side to me, I occasionally go ahead and write in the quirky, sardonic things I would love to say.  (Ex: I demonstrate tact and diplomacy when dealing with my peers by not commenting that Jane’s presentation could be used as a natural remedy for insomnia.)  But I am always careful to remove them from the final document.  When I think I have the document complete, I set it aside for a few hours to a day before going back and proof-reading.

I suppose I have to admit that the self assessment process has some value other than forcing me to consult a thesaurus to come up with different ways to say “I rock and deserve a raise.”  It does make you think about your contributions to the company over the course of the year.  I can even admit that when my boss and I have not agreed on a rating, it has sparked a conversation around development opportunities or areas of improvement that ultimately serve to make me a better person and a better employee.  I guess the hardest part for me is reigning in my sense of humor when faced with the Dilbert-esque nature of the average self-assessment document.

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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Old Dogs Part 2: The End of the Story

In January, I wrote a blog about Lui’Ka, my Chinese Shar-Pei, and how age was starting to catch up to her.  When I wrote the blog I knew our time with her was limited and the day was approaching where a decision would have to be made or nature would take its course. On Friday, two days before her 15th birthday, she passed away.

Thursday morning, she was an old dog who could move around on her own, albeit a bit gingerly but she was able to get up and go outside when she needed to.  Thursday night, she wasn’t able to stand up without help.

We were getting ready for bed Thursday night when one of my sons came in to tell us something was wrong with Lui’Ka.  “Mommy, her legs won’t work.”  She must have had some sort of mild stroke because she could walk if we helped her get up, but once she lay down it was as if she couldn’t get her muscles to respond to help her stand back up.  Lui’Ka did not want to sleep on her bed, she seemed to want to be outside beside the Koi Pond, so we carried her outside and made her comfortable beside the pond.  It had become her favorite spot in our yard.  She liked to lie on the slate slab over the skimmer and watch the Koi swim.  I personally think she also liked being able to lean over and get a drink out of what she viewed as a large water dish.

We stayed outside with her for awhile before coming in to put the boys to bed and prepare them for what was going to happen next.  I have to admit that a part of me still hoped she’d go in her sleep, but it was not to be that easy.  The next morning there was no doubt that another stroke had happened and the end was near.  A call was made to the veterinarians office to let them know what had happened and that we’d be coming in as soon as they could take us.

Lui’Ka left this world with the feel of my oldest son’s hand stroking her fur and the knowledge that she was loved.

Rest in peace my friend.

Lui'Ka by the Koi Pond

Lui’Ka by the Koi Pond

We plan to move an iris bed from one part of our yard to curve around the side of the pond.  When we get her ashes back, we’ll put them on the irises so that she will always be beside the pond.  I’d like to find a nice concrete statue of a sleeping Shar-Pei to go in the garden in memory of her.  If anyone has seen a statue like this, please let me know.

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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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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Filed under Mairead Wapole, writing