the emotional galaxy
To The Old and The New

I began 2013 with the same breathtaking view that I behold as I ring in 2014. Tucked into a hotel room with a perfect, unobstructed view of the ball drop at Times Square I wonder, can 2014 ever measure up? More importantly, should I want it to? I truly believed that two thousand thirteen’s somewhat lavish beginning could never be topped and certainly never duplicated, yet here I sit again. Amazed. Grateful. Reflective.


I’ve read several “good riddance” messages on social media about the year that will end in a few hours. I know that for many, it was a difficult and even devastating year. I’ve had years like that, plenty of them, and at the end of each, I’ve done as most do and used this last day of the year to declare the coming year as a sign of hope. Truth-be-told, there were a few scary bad moments for me in 2013 as well. But I have been very fortunate in this year that is ending, so what does one do when she is somewhat melancholy to see the old year pass? What does one hope for in a new year when the one that is ending was pretty darned wonderful? Is it fair to hope for more of the same, and is my sincere gratitude even enough?


We as a collective people tend to revel in the negative and cast a suspect eye to the positive. We don’t trust it. We’re afraid it will end. For some reason, we choose to trust the negative, the Dark. I am as guilty as anyone. In the recesses of my mind, I’m afraid that 2014 is going to be a year of doom since 2013 was so amazing. Only in the recesses, though….because if the dim days in the past have taught me anything, it’s that life is too freaking short not to soak up the good things. To love them. To cherish them while they’re with us so that we have sweet memories to wrap ourselves in when the days turn murky.


I know that many of you have suffered in this year that ends tonight, but tomorrow reveals a new, blank canvas. For everyone. What’s past is past for the good as well as the bad, and the pristine palette we’re all presented with holds the possibility for something marvelous for all. Let us all raise our glasses to that…to hope, to love, and to endless possibilities.


Goodbye 2013. Some of us hated you, and some of us loved you, but we’re all happy to see you go. It’s the future that holds our hearts.  




Sappy Birthday, Baby Girl

I can’t stop crying. Happy Casey’s Birthday to me. Happy Birthday to my baby. Warning to my kids if you choose to read this…it’s about you. All of you.


I never thought I’d have another baby after the trauma that was Troy. Not the kid; the experience of giving birth to him. That was a rough one…my only c-section, the nasty infection that followed, the post-partum depression, and the complete and total lack of help or understanding. A few special people in my life tried, but as I said…that was a rough one. Danny and I took care of business after that, made sure Troy would be the last and went about raising our four beautiful babies.


But times change and situations change…relationships change and realities change. We found ourselves wondering if we should try again several years later, and so we did…undid what had been done, took some chances, rolled the dice, and got pregnant again. I had a miscarriage, a late, nasty one, and we really thought that was it. We were wrong. Two months later, Casey was on her way. I skip over the details of all that no good, very bad stuff not because it wasn’t important. Losing that baby after all we went through to conceive her, was devastating (we know she was a girl, and her name was Faith). The thing is that after going through all of that, we had Casey, and there is nothing about having this child who celebrates her fourteenth birthday today that can possibly be bad. Nothing. Everything that happened to that point, brought us to the day when Casey was born. Everything.


Next to me here on the wall is a note that Casey wrote me last December while I was writing one of my final papers. It simply says, “You can finish mommy!” and she drew a smiley face beneath it. When she gave it to me, it was on a tray with a glass of Nestle’s strawberry milk, a candy cane, and a few other snacks which she gave me because she knew they “made me happy.” I will never forget that moment or the sincerity on her face when she presented that gift to me. Casey…is a gift to me.


Casey and I watched very little TV during her first two years. I’m no purist, no TV basher. Lord knows I’m addicted now to those few shows I have time for and need them like I need fresh air these days. But back then, I’d get the other four off to school, and Casey and I would just…be. I’d carry her around, more than I probably should have, and I’d talk. We’d talk. I’d tell her about my day and what I was doing and what I was thinking, and she’d laugh and respond and “talk” back. I recall so vividly one snowy afternoon. The house was silent, and 18-month-old or so Casey wouldn’t nap (a common theme with my kids). So I carried her from window to window and told her about the snow and how the flakes are all different and how Aunt Gretchen and I were both born in snowstorms and then I told her that I’d read a recipe of Martha Stewart’s for “Black and White Cookies” that Rae had also mentioned and probably made and that I wanted to make them. Casey thought this was the funniest notion, and she clapped her hands and laughed like I’d tickled her. The sound in the house at that moment is crystalized in my mind forever, and it was beautiful. There are times now when the house is silent that I hear the echo of that laughter and smile, or cry, or simply laugh out loud at the absurdity of the fact that I have retained that memory when so many, much grander events have happened in Casey’s life. Dance recitals and talent shows and concerts and milestones, but I remember laughing with my baby about a cookie recipe on a snowy day.


It’s those kinds of moments that I remember most about all of my children. The sleepless nights when Allison had the chicken pox, and the worst night of her illness, the best night, when she laid in my bed with me and told me through her tears that I was the only thing that would ever make her feel better. The night Danny and I drove to New York City to pick Summer up from her trip to Japan. We stayed in a hotel that night before heading back to Pittsburgh. Danny slept in one bed, and Summer and I stayed up all night talking in the other. All night. Until it was light. How excited Valerie and I got at the Nickelback concert just a year and a half ago when the band’s satellite stage landed them within an arm’s length of us. I didn’t have to hold back because Valerie didn’t. I could just be me. With Valerie, I can always just be me. Up until a week ago I would have mentioned the days and days of blanket forts Troy and I used to make when it was just the two of us at home on the girls’ school days. I loved our forts. Troy said I made the best ones ever. But last week Troy reminded me that we are very like souls who cry easily and love fiercely. Troy trusts me with his heart.


Today, however, is about Casey, about the later-in-life child who reminds me every, single day of why I ever wanted to have a child…me…who never even held a baby until Allison was placed in my arms.


Casey is tall and thin and wiry and looks nothing like me, and yet I hear my voice in hers every time she speaks. She has a penchant for babbling about the things she loves just as I do, and at times we gab on and on about nothing really. Silly stuff. Girl stuff. Casey is always in motion, dancing, kicking a ball, leaping. She hates kisses but loves hugs. She texts me at school every day when she gets home. She lets me do my homework when I have to and gushes with me about movies and cute boys and her pointe shoes when she can. She gets herself up every day to her alarm, and this year she even has a smile on her face in the dark of the early morning. She rarely rolls her eyes at me. She rarely gives me reason to so much as raise my voice to her. I just….I just love her so damned much.


It is my job to raise my children just as it is their job to leave me. I don’t like it much, but I understand it. I strive for it, actually (even though my older four don’t believe that). Their independence is, in its own way, their acknowledgement that maybe, possibly, perhaps I’ve done some little tiny thing right in raising them amongst the nine million things I’ve done wrong.


With Casey, I have these last few years to…to what? To raise her. To love her. To cherish her. And to help create and absorb those rare and beautiful moments of her dwindling childhood that make motherhood oh-so-worth-it.


Happy Birthday, baby girl. I love you.    


Iron Thoughts on Iron Man 3

School is out. I seem to have passed. And it’s time to explore the season of mind mush that falls between college years. Except…no. Not letting my mind go soft this “off-season.” Not this time…

I begin my quest with something smart, something that really made me think: Iron Man 3.

(Sarah…go see this so we can talk about it, and Spiderman!)

SPOILERS AHEAD!!! STOP NOW if you haven’t seen it! You’ve been warned!

Tony Stark is a human being, and as such, the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that he suffers after the cataclysmic events of Avengers…makes SENSE. This reaction of a HUMAN BEING to the out-of-this-world battle that included one god prodding him with a supercharged scepter while his brother first battles him then stands next to him in battle, all the while single-handedly escorting a nuke into the heart of the  alien chitauri…it’s human. It’s as real as it’s gonna get in Marvel-land.

When the movie began with Tony’s background monologue about the changes he’s experienced, I had an “uh-oh” moment, worrying that Tony was going to slip back into being old Tony, before he embraced the better parts of his Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropic persona. Indeed, the first few moments included a few, tense, classic amidalooine-esque moments of worry about our hero’s intentions. But that was put to rest quickly. This Tony, IM3 Tony, is scared of what just happened to him, and to me, that makes total, perfect sense.

I thought for sure I’d hate the kid when he was introduced, but by films’ end, I loved that element. I also loved Ben Kingsley’s stunning turn (and I mean turn) as Mandarin, and Pepper’s burning up ass-kicking. I mean, yeah…did we know she’d end up OK in the end?? Of course we did. Maybe that part was a tiny bit hokey, but who cares? This film gave the oft-neglected Pepper her due.

I started out wanting to dissect the movie in total, element by element and maybe I still will after I see it again. For now, this film is like a good glass of wine. I just want to let it lay on my taste buds while I savor it and my reaction to it. I also want to think some more about a friend’s reaction to it and give myself a chance to think some more about what he said on Facebook about it. I’m analytical that way (thanks, Tom!).

Oh. A couple more things. The Thor 2 trailer is as hot as it gets, and do NOT make the mistake of leaving before the credits have all run. The expected little extra tidbit at the end is perfect..

Hockey First. It Happens.

Every once in a while I read something someone else writes and am inspired. To rant. It’s not that Liz Snyder’s Post-Gazette (Feb. 22, 2013) piece about her love of sports and her particular fondness for the Pittsburgh Penguins wasn’t touching or that it contained grievous errors. It didn’t. I am always thrilled to read a woman’s intelligent point-of-view about sports, and the pictures Ms. Snyder painted of her experience with her big brother on the night of the Penguins’ first triumphant Stanley Cup win on May 25, 1991 were vivid and touching. It’s the third paragraph that got to me.


Ms. Snyder wrote, “Because I was born in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have been and always will be my first love…”


Another one bites the dust.


Why is it always necessary for Pittsburgh sports fans to make this disclaimer?


Through circumstances beyond my control, I am not technically a native Pittsburgher. My parents were both Philadelphians, the first in their large families to move away from the general vicinity of the eastern end of Pennsylvania. At the time I was born, they lived in Harrisburg, and though my early years were spent largely in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, we moved to Pittsburgh when I was five, and I consider it home.


Like Ms. Snyder, I too, love sports. I’ve damaged my vocal cords yelling at live sporting events, my idea of the perfect televised “background music” in my house is whatever is on the NFL Network, and I have traveled by car and plane to different cities with the sole purpose of attending at least four different professional leagues’ events (not to mention my own children’s various tournaments). I was the only girl at my Catholic elementary school who could spout sports stats faster than The Lord’s Prayer, and Rick Kessel was my first, favorite Penguin.




Although I am a rabid Steelers fan, they are not my first love. The Penguins are. Some people in Pittsburgh really do love hockey before football.


I’m told that I attended Hershey Bears’ games before my parents moved from Harrisburg, but it was my first experience at a Pens game in 1970 that sold me for life. I was seven, and my younger sister was four, and my parents took us to an afternoon game as a treat for my mother’s birthday. The Pens played the Oakland Seals that weekend afternoon, and the Pens came from behind to either tie the score or come close, 3-3 or 3-2 was the final. I recall my sister being scared and overwhelmed by the cheering crowd when the Pens scored, but what I remember most is Michel Briere scoring a beautiful goal that is etched in my brain forever. It’s crystal clear, still, forty-three years later.


From then on, the Penguins were my team, and hockey was my sport. Sure I had my ear glued to the radio as Franco Harris made the Immaculate Reception, and I cried along with the rest of the city at the horrible news of Roberto Clemente’s death, but as The Steelers tore through the mid-to-late 1970’s to dominate football and the Pirates sang We Are Fa-mi-ly, I pined for televised hockey games and spent any hockey night in Pittsburgh nestled close to my AM radio listening to the Pens. I was there when Ed Westfall broke Pens fans hearts and almost single-handedly threw the Pens into bankruptcy at that fateful game 7 in 1975. I was among the few at the old igloo in the early 1980’s to watch a young phenom named Gretzky visit for the first time, before the 99-66 debate existed. And attending the Cup clinching game 7 in Detroit in 2009 ranks with the births of my five children as the highlights of my life.


I am now (and have been for many years) a Penguins season ticket holder. When I tell people this, they assume that the tickets are my husband’s or that he was the catalyst for their purchase. I cringe. When I first met my husband, our shared love of sports was a deal breaker either way. For me, making him a hockey fan was a deal breaker, too. Like most Pittsburghers in 1980, when we first started dating, he’d never been to a hockey game, so I made it clear: no hockey, no relationship. His first love remains the Steelers to this day, but after 30 years of marriage, he celebrates hockey right along with me.


My point is this: Why is it assumed that EVERY Pittsburgh sports’ fan’s first love is the Steelers, and is it possible or even worth my irritation about it to try to change that perception? Maybe I should just leave well-enough alone and be thrilled that Pittsburgh is the model hockey town it has become. Ratings don’t lie, and the Penguins rule them over other hockey markets. It’s just the principle of the thing. Even respected sports personalities in this town make Steelers disclaimers. It’s my contention that if they continue this trend, it will never change. It’s as if no one wants it to. Maybe it’s just me.


It wouldn’t be the first time.







A very quick rant about what I do and do not know about algebra. Sort of. I just came from reviewing my most recent algebra test, on which I got a 60.5%. Terrible. Absolutely unacceptable. Except that there is a ray of sunshine in that bleak grade: I most definitely DO understand the material….


A very quick rant about what I do and do not know about algebra. Sort of. I just came from reviewing my most recent algebra test, on which I got a 60.5%. Terrible. Absolutely unacceptable. Except that there is a ray of sunshine in that bleak grade: I most definitely DO understand the material. Between the Teaching Assistant, Nick, and me, we came to the conclusion that other than an answer for which we’re fairly certain the professor mistook my dash for a negative sign (hey it was only worth three points, but I may NEED those three points come final grade time), a good bit of what I missed was actually the result of basic math errors…adding, subtracting, the stuff I did easily in my head for my entire adult life until I was forced by said algebra class to use electronic means (aka: a calculator). The kicker is that we were not permitted to use the calculator on this test.

You know the scene in the movie Shawshank Redemption where Andy tells Red that it took Andy’s being in prison to make him a criminal? That’s how I felt this morning while Nick and I were going over my Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Test. In the movie, innocent Andy is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, and he doesn’t actually break the law until he is IN prison, forced to cook the books by the crooked warden. It’s kinda like me and algebra. I was really, really good at adding the stuff of everyday life in my head when necessary, and as my husband will readily attest, I scoffed at using any kind of electronic device to do what I should be able to figure out for myself (Danny calls me “Uni,” a love term for “Unibomber” which means simply, “Pam wouldn’t use a Garmin for directions if she were forced to chew her own arm off because she was lost in the wilderness.”). At the grocery store? Add that total right up. Figuring out tips at restaurants? No problem. It’s not that I oppose technology! Ummmmmm…no. I LIVE for my cell phone, have written code for a website and served as its webmaster, and I can figure out most of the quirky roadblocks my laptop throws my way. But for everyday stuff like adding and subtracting, I like to do it the old-fashioned way.

It took algebra to force my near-criminal need for the calculator.

And then we weren’t allowed to use said device on the test.

I must run to my next class, a Literature class that requires me to do nothing more challenging than read Renaissance English plays, understand them, and write really long papers about them….

Maybe they can invent a device to calculate the best way to do that!

What I Know

I used to trash the things I already know, the knowledge accumulated over the twenty some odd years I spent being JUST a suburban housewife and mother. Who could possibly ascribe any value whatsoever to the ability to change diapers on two different children while a third child pooped in her Little Mermaid undies, feeding an infant between innings on bleachers at softball games on three different fields in three different locations, standing up and speaking at a Band Boosters meeting, or a demeanor that allowed me to stay calm when one of my daughters was threatened by an unstable boyfriend? Every mother on the planet does this stuff, right? No big deal, right?


Flash forward to yesterday in my Intermediate Fiction Writing class. We are workshopping classmates’ short stories, something I genuinely enjoy. I can’t think of a better way to learn my chosen craft than seeing what other authors write and learning from them. Both seasoned, published veterans on bookshelves everywhere and newbie writers in college classes have something to teach me, and I am eager to absorb every lesson . I learn about writing from my 13-year-old daughter who, bless her heart, loves to write almost as much as I do. Sometimes what I learn, however, is what not to do. Yesterday’s lesson: never, EVER typecast a character as a “generic suburban housewife.” Yes, generic classmate. I’m calling you out. I may have been a lot of things during the years I spent at home cookin’, cleanin’, and raisin’ babies, but I was much more than some generic cardboard cutout, a flat supporting character whose sole purpose was to make the protagonist look intriguing, and the things I learned during that time have at least as much value as that piece of paper I’m busting my hiney to earn at the University of Pittsburgh.  


Yes, every mother does the things I listed above, cares for her kids and wipes excrement from her children’s bodies and manages to feed her children no matter how many places she’s supposed to be at the same time and volunteers at school and stays calm when the urge to wield a machete at anyone who hurts her kids is almost overwhelming. And that knowledge, those learned skills, have specific, intrinsic value. I learned that the things that matter in life require me to get down and dirty and wallow in some shit. I learned that there is always a way to get done the things that MUST get done, no matter how stressed out about it I get. I learned that speaking up for my kids takes guts and skill that just might translate into decent Public Speaking. I learned to deal with heartbreaking situations with as much finesse as I can muster, that I can’t control others but most of the time I can control my reactions. Like every other mother who does these things, I learned a whole lot.


The first paper I was tasked with writing on the first day I returned to college last year was to be a research paper on the subject of my choice. I will never forget that professor for assigning what seemed like such a difficult subject. I mean, what could I possibly research and write about, coming off decades of domestic monotony? So I wrote what I knew, what interested me, what I was passionate about. I wrote a paper entitled Middle-Aged Women’s Extraordinary College Challenges. That paper, with its A+ grade is hanging here on my wall, a reminder on days like yesterday, at times like these past few weeks that I’ve been extraordinarily stressed out, that I can do this, that the knowledge I’ve stockpiled in the years I’ve spent raising my children, does matter.


Right after my Fiction Writing class, I must sprint from one end of campus to the other to get to my Saints East and West class in fifteen minutes’ time. Yes, it was poor planning on my part. Out of breath and panting, I was joined in the elevator by my Saints professor. I love this woman and am taking a class of hers for the second time. Last semester, she told me that she got her doctorate while her two children were very young, so she completely understands my situation. She asked me yesterday how it’s going. I almost burst into tears but managed to play it cool and simply say with a smile, “I think I’m too old for this.” She looked me in the eye and responded, “Soon you will look back on this and it will all be worth it.”


For this generic suburban housewife, it is.



Worth A Thousand Words

One hundred three days into a summer break that only has sixteen days remaining, I finally began work on the one, big project that I set out to tackle: organizing a lifetime of pictures. I knew that twenty-seven-year-old, chubby-cheeked baby photos and awkward teen smiles chock full of metal would tweak my exceedingly sentimental side. I mean, I remember not only the date of my first brush with a first kiss but also what I was wearing that night and exactly how my stomach felt when it flip-flopped, and that was just the brush with the kiss, not the actual event. I have pictures. My emotions have taken over this little project of mine to be sure, but what I didn’t anticipate was the stress involved.


More years ago than I realized until today, I purchased several pretty photo boxes and organized what photos I had by year. My four children were primary school-aged at the time, and number five wasn’t yet an idea. I sorted my pictures by the usually regrettable hairstyle I had forced on them or when that wasn’t specific enough, by the frilly outfits I dressed them in. Frilly can also apply to my son who was forced to play princess with his sisters on several occasions. Organizing my pictures was a relatively simple task then. Now, not so much. Life has evolved, and the years blur into each other as I struggle to recall the dates for the unmarked pictures. How could I forget this particular Halloween or what year this daughter dated that boy? I unearthed a group of pictures from a day at an amusement park, and though my stomach still lurches like it did then, remembering what was going on in my life that day, I can’t put a date to it. How can one organize emotions? Then again, how I possibly forget the dates of events so significant to me that I remember the nausea?


Probably the most significant question is why I chose to start this now? Perhaps I need to pull out the paddles and shock my brain back to life. I just didn’t realize I’d shock my heart as well. My emotions are part of me that never need resuscitation.

High-five lines

My current short story reading obsession has turned to an author whose work I read in my Intro to Fiction Writing class, Aimee Bender. Of all the short stories we read, and there were many, the imagery and specific lines of Bender’s “Fell This Girl” have stuck with me the longest and with the most intensity. I don’t just remember specific lines, or even remember them at all as I am terrible at verbatim quotes, but I remember the way my stomach wrenched or my heart leapt or my own twisted psyche high-fived with recognition. Anyone who has read “Fell This Girl’s” opening paragraph knows exactly what I mean, even if they won’t admit it. (Intrigued? Read the story.)

I haven’t even finished “Call My Name,” also from Bender’s first collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, but it already has a line that I would  make my Facebook status, if only it were true. “I bet they talk about me at the dinner table - I give boring people something to discuss over corn.”

I literally sighed just typing that line. I didn’t even do it on purpose. Who doesn’t want to be striking enough, oozing with self-confidence enough, quirky enough, to be discussed over a perfect stranger’s vegetable selection? 

It is stories like this that play fanfare for my love affair with literary fiction. In just a few pages, few enough to be read while my daughter is having a tooth filled, my adrenaline pumps and I want to write. NOW! Aimee Bender’s words bitch slapped the pity party right out of me. Who cares if I’ve got a few things in my mom-Pam life that are weighing on me? I’m a writer, dammit, and it’s all I want to do. I haven’t felt this way since finals week. I realize that most college students want nothing more than to escape the stress of finals week…forever…but I live for that stuff. That adrenaline rush. The feeling of cheating on mom-Pam with student-Pam. Mom-Pam needs a wake up call more desperately than most complacent marriage partners do, and Aimee Bender’s stories howl with more ferocity than the shrillest alarm.

Well whaddya know? I just used for the first time in weeks. Hallelujah!

The point is that I must remember who I am, a woman whose full life encompasses even the facets of me that I am now in a position to embrace, not just someone to somebody else but someone all my own, the kind of woman who “gets” Aimee Bender’s stories, no matter how jarring, and high-fives the characters with a knowing smile.

Balance and Thread Counts

If I still had my blog, the inhabitants of the galaxy far, far away would serve as my sounding board. And my voice. The one that I don’t have anymore. But I’ll get to that. From their perspectives, I would ponder the dreams we have as children and what our expectations are at different stages of our lives, what is typical for any given group to expect out of life. White picket fences around the moisture evaporators on Tatooine? OK, maybe not, but it’s an interesting thought. Maybe. Possibly (spoken ala Obi-wan)? I know my blog entry would discuss balance, balance in the Force between what we want and what we have.


I was changing the sheets on my bed earlier this evening, having dutifully vacuumed under the bed more thoroughly than I have in months, excited to put my brand spanking new sheets on the mattress. I bought good sheets this time. You know, the ones with the high thread count? I don’t really even know what that means, only that when I lay on good sheets I feel as if I’m a slab of chocolate nestling on a marshmallow pillow in the soft sweetness of a s’more. Glancing at the tag on my new treasure, I saw the fabric combination: 60% cotton and 40% polyester. POLYESTER?? I’d failed again as a shopper, yet again, and it bothered me. I obsessed for a few minutes, considered returning them, whined to my daughters about my gaffe, and then my friend, Richard, texted me about a book he’d read and some writing he’s done…

REALITY CHECK! Thank the maker.

In this, the first summer I’m experiencing a break between two full years of college, I’m having a dreadfully difficult time finding balance between student-Pam and mom-Pam, the woman who cries over classmates’ short stories and the poignant performances of student actors and the woman who cries at recitals and the sight of my children’s cars pulling out of the driveway.  I desperately need this break, and yet I long for the inspiration of writing assignments and classmates to power my pen. I haven’t written anything , decent or otherwise (this most definitely qualifies as “otherwise”) in weeks, yet when I do get a moment, I slip into the routine of watching DVRd episodes of Chopped. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

It’s just that when Richard texted me, mom-Pam remembered her alter ego, so here I am. Surely there’s a happy medium somewhere between thread counts and word counts. Surely I can find it, even with the irony of what I found out at the doctor’s office today. Apparently my “full time college student lifestyle” (doctor’s words) is messing with my stomach acid, which is in turn messing with my throat, which fought back with some sort of benign lesion that has messed with my voice, so now I must lose the college student vices that keep me going in the wee hours…

Seriously? Seriously. Balance. Must find some balance. And I decided to start here, crappy ass blog entry and all.

Thanks, Richard.