Thursday, December 29, 2011

Early Mornings


Early this morning I finished a book--not required reading, not reading aloud to my kids. Months ago a good friend loaned me her copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It was not the first time she had pushed a book in my hands insisting I read it. Based on her previous recommendations, it was surely a treasure. But when? My list of things to do exceeded the time available; pleasure reading was not even on the list.

Until this morning, that is. I curled up under an afghan on the couch while the house slept. With nowhere to go, no tasks to do, I turned page after page in blissful silence. The only sound was the occasional purring of a coiled cat on my lap or the sporadic snoring of the dog at my feet. In relished peace and quiet the beautiful story of a racecar driver narrated by a dog called Enzo unfolded. I laughed, I cried, I cheered him on.


Glancing down at my dog, I wondered what happens behind those golden-green eyes. Did he see his world with the clarity of Enzo or was he simply dreaming of fried eggs? I wanted to believe he was both--a loyal friend and protector along with a playful pooch enjoying a simple life. And this morning I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a great book.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Traditions


The final push of the semester is over with this post and I have twelve glorious days of freedom from school—both teaching and my classes. I have stockpiled a few projects to tackle in the break, but the deadlines are my own to meet or miss.

This year marks my first fall semester and the holidays have snuck up on me. It is the perfect time to reflect on our family traditions and maybe start some new ones. My proactive friends have strung up the lights, checked off their shopping lists, sent out the beautiful photo cards, baked the cookies and tied the bow onto the last wrapped package. Well, good for them—show-offs.

The lights were strung in early December thanks to my nine-year old son, Spence. He is on top of the Christmas decorating each year. I love it when a kid gets convenient. Shopping officially started last Friday; might need a little more work in that department. The late start is not a new Hartman holiday tradition. Thanks to Pat, the UPS guy for delivering the good stuff. Somebody tell our vet the dog is porky because of Pat’s treats and not the dirty plates I let him clear.

I am a few years behind on the photo card front, but March is a great time to send a little cheer around the country. Besides, cards sent in December get a smile in return. Cards in March get letters and phone calls in return. I know this because 2012 will not be the first year I miss the December mark. Hey, hey! We are already celebrating new traditions.

Now we rock in the cookie department. Chocolate chip cookies have been baked more times than I can count. We send out at least 6 dozen cookies a month year round. Cookie exchanges, bake sale fundraisers, by requests, classes and one soccer celebration in the past few weeks have yielded over 30 dozen cookies baked in our ovens. Well okay, I guess I counted. My fifteen-year old daughter produced more than half of the lot and sometimes even washed the dishes to boot. Child labor rules!

It would be rude to expect completed gift-wrapping at this point. Frankly, it should be clear by now that it simply hasn’t happened. My eleven-year old son and I did wrap the gifts together for my family in Colorado. The freeloading kitten was a big help, so those gifts have a little extra love enclosed. It really shouldn’t bother anyone those packages were the only items purchased months in advance, but shipped on the 20th. Checked off my list, hurray!

My favorite new tradition I copied from a friend—imitation is the highest form of flattery. For the last several years I have found ornaments for the kids that reflect their activities or interests. My youngest son loves making smoothies, so he got a blender ornament. Another kid's ornament celebrates the two Ravens games he attended. My avid Harry Potter fan got an ornament that depicts the famous trio fleeing the fiendfyre. The ornaments have initials and a year, are stored in individual kid boxes and will go with them when they start their families.

Old traditions are plentiful. We hang the ornaments from good friends year after year and we make room for the new ones. We read the same Christmas book each Christmas Eve, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. As the kids get older, we add to the mix with Christmas movies like A Christmas Story and Scrooged. We set out cookies, grandma’s fudge and carrots for Santa and the reindeer. As long as we are together, we will make new traditions as we go.



Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Caricature



Early Thursday morning I am driving home after getting a kid off to school. My cell phone rings.  It’s my neighbor, Ann, in a panic with her dogs yipping in the background.

“Valerie, there’s a cat on the deck crying at the door. The dogs tried to get it, but it won’t leave. What should I do?”

I picture her pair of black and brown miniature dachshunds and am not worried. Still, it’s odd the cat would hang around that racket and Ann is pretty worked up.

“I am on my way home now, I will be back in about 15 minutes. Can you bring it in and keep it warm until I get there?”

“In the house? Maybe I should go out and wrap it in a blanket,” she offers.

“No, no. They don’t like that,” I respond.

“I can put it in a cage,” she counters. I envision a not-so-clever cat locked in a smelly dog crate.

“No, they don’t much like that either. How about you just keep it company until I get home? Just go outside and sit down. Let it come up to you,” I try to instruct her.

“Okay. I’ll get my coat. See you soon. Bye,” and the call ends.

I pull up in Ann’s driveway to her holding the sweetest little orange face sticking out of her jacket. I don’t even get out of the car and she hands me a kitten through the window. So much for thinking it might run off if she went outside.

I take it home and up the stairs to my youngest son’s bedroom. Spence wakes up to a 12-week old orange tabby kitten mewing. He puts on his glasses in what has to be his fastest morning wake-up ever.

“Keep an eye on our guest for me. I am going to get him something to eat, keep the door shut until I get back. Okay?” I check to see if he is awake enough to follow directions. He is staring at the cat with his hair sticking out in every direction. He nods once, never taking his eyes off the kitten.

The kitten eats, drinks, purrs and mews. Spence is thrilled to be the only kid home, he gets the little guy all to himself.

“What are we going to call it? Is it a boy? Can I name him? Where did you get him? Did you tell Jordan and Jacob yet?” he peppers me with questions.

It is a full thirty minutes before I notice his paws. Oh no-absolutely not. This cat is not staying. He has a full, fur-covered extra toe complete with toe pad and claw on the inside of each front foot. We already have a collection of misfit cats: anxious Sadie with her weepy eye, cowardly Oakley with his mangled fangs and missing patches of fur, raspy Frodo with his chronic breathing problems. I am not keeping this cat!

I don’t define my pets based on their oddities, any more than I would label a person by their differences. We all have quirks, some more obvious than others. If we only recognize the prominent positive or negative features, our views are reduced to caricatures rather than full creatures, whether cat or human being. Caricatures fall short of engaging and entertaining both our lives and our stories, while complex characters spring to life and enrich our existence. No one deserves to be viewed as a caricature.

  
Free to a Good Home: Adorable male kitten approximately 12 weeks old. Orange tabby colorings with white socks and white chest. Affectionate people-loving cat gets along well with kids, cats and our dog. Clean bill of health from vet, will be neutered with all shots. Just in time for Christmas!



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bon Appétit


Today my youngest child Spencer stayed home from school. Though not feeling well, he does have an appetite and is ready for comfort foods. I normally restrict dairy products to the occasional pizza, so the kids were thrilled with my menu proposal. Dinner tonight is pancakes, bacon and Quiche Lorraine. Well, the recipe is called Quiche Lorraine. I may alter the ingredients just a bit.

I do not have any fresh green onions, so in goes the dried onion powder. At least my kids will not complain about the chopped green discs—bonus points for me. I don’t keep Swiss cheese on hand, but I had Gruyère left over from a fabulous onion soup. So I suppose I am cheating Lorraine by instead slipping in a Swiss cousin. Adding insult to injury, I add a cup of shredded cheddar to boot. She might have forgiven me before, but now I am crossing the line with an English cheese.  

The recipe calls for whipping cream. We don’t need that much fat in dinner—who does? Don’t tell Lorraine, but instead I pour in half and half. I sneak a thick, hot piece of applewood bacon while the kids are not looking. Red pepper? No thanks. White pepper? Sure, I double it and add a pinch of unrequested black pepper. Nutmeg, where is the nutmeg? Oh yeah, the apple pies from Thanksgiving last week wiped out the nutmeg. No nutmeg.

The recipe calls for ten ingredients. I omitted or substituted six and even added one not on the list. So I did not follow the recipe exactly. Maybe I am not so good at following directions. But the kitchen smells good. The boys set the table without being asked and want to know when dinner will be ready. I swat at their attempts to sneak a piece of bacon.

The pancakes are steaming. The orange juice is poured. The plate of the sick child is loaded with bacon. All three kids like the quiche—more bonus points for me. Sometimes it is okay to ignore the directions, to bend the recipe rules. The real trick is figuring out which directions to follow and when to make your own rules. Bon Appétit.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Purple Jersey


Baltimore Ravens Terrell Suggs #55
A month ago I popped into a local sporting goods store a couple of hours before the Sunday football game. We were heading out to the Baltimore Ravens versus the Tennessee Titans game, my first NFL game since the Oilers were playing in Houston. Flipping through the rack, my eyes land on a jersey chosen for one pivotal detail--it was my size. My son approved the oversized pair of fives emblazed on the front and back.

“Cool. Terrell Suggs plays defense, like me,” he said. Excellent. Jersey in hand, we headed to the registers.

“Has this one ever been arrested?” I nervously asked the sales clerk. He shook his head no, looked down and stifled a laugh.

I like football; I watch a few games a year on television. I love it when both teams play well, but our team wins. I hate to see any team fall apart and make costly mistakes. I think about the players in the locker room after the game, reading the newspapers the next day and facing their coach the next week.

But stadiums are filled with football lovers. Fanatical fans whose mood and even life outlook hinges on the final score. The intensity is tangible and infectious. I looked forward to the game and to the high-energy in the stands. Go Ravens!

The next week I was still pumped up from the game and ready to don new attire for my first Ravens Friday. After seven football seasons in Maryland, it was time to join the ranks of my kids, friends and community in support of their favorite team. With a couple of hours to kill at the mall, no one else seemed to be in Ravens gear. I even started noticing funny looks from strangers. Turns out the team played on Monday night. Real members of the Ravens fan club had probably already planned their weekend around the football schedule. So my first Friday as an official fan was a bust.

The following Friday I tried again. This time I see purple jerseys everywhere. Grocery store, elementary school, pedestrians in town, both kids and adults were geared up for the game. Touchdown! I got it right. But then the questions started. ‘”How ‘bout that play last week?” and “You think Flacco can…?” and “”Got big plans for the game?” Even in Pennsylvania they were suddenly rooting for the Ravens in the upcoming Steelers game. “I sure am glad Roethlisberger isn’t comin’ in here today.”

I don’t know. Is this because of past accusations or some recent decrease in his performance on the field? I don’t know much about either. I never worried about small talk before, but I never wore the uniform of a knowledgeable fan either. Really, I just wanted to fit in. Wearing the jersey was not a lifestyle choice, just a way to show a little hometown pride. I longed to have a team to root for, to belong. How was I in over my head just wearing a jersey? I left it hanging in the closet for a few weeks. I don’t have time to check the football schedule and watch every game just to wear a purple shirt.

They played twice this week, on Sunday and again on Thanksgiving Day. With no worries I wore my new jersey, purple socks and front-zip Ravens sweatshirt on Black Friday and stayed home with my family. No one asked me a thing about football. Go Ravens!

Images courtesy of my husband, David Hartman.
Visit David's Photo Site to see all game shots.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why Writing?

Writing is powerful. Writers have the choice of what, how and when to share, along with how much of themselves to pour into the words. I am learning to craft the sentences, purposefully placing words for balance, rhythm and emphasis. Building the scenes, enriching the lines with vivid details, hand-selecting each variable to bring a story to life. I am learning to write with purpose. Somehow I am starting to master the techniques and mechanics. Once mastered, miraculously, I may even have something meaningful to say. Then I will be ready. Ready for what? I am still not sure, but ready for certain I will be.



The kids at Longwood Gardens
last Sunday.
started grad school not only wanting to know how to write, but I wanted to know what to think, or rather, what I think. In this often muddled mess in my mind, distracted and pulled in countless directions simultaneously, forcing concrete words onto paper will at least solidify what I think at one point in time, a snapshot of clarity in an otherwise blurry scene of rapidly passing days. Solid writing will no doubt increase the number of clear and totally focused scenes in my days, increase the opportunity to pause and reflect, I hope.

I raise my children: we laugh, we eat, we walk, we read. We practice multiplication facts, Spanish, and spelling words. I sign planners and tests. I wash their clothes and their dishes, prepare their meals. And each day I do it all again, hoping they end up happy adults, able to support themselves, and making confident choices that make sense for them. Good people with strong minds and soaring hearts that make their worlds better places to be, bring joy to their loved ones and bring out the best in themselves and those around them. I work at this labor of love each day and each night, with a tenacity to rival the wealthiest workaholic, but is it enough? If the dishes are scattered around the kitchen, have I failed? When the cat is curled up in the pile of clean laundry still not folded (again), my work is not done. If the child is rude, unhappy, or hungry, my job is not done.

With writing, at some point, the piece is done. It may not be good, it may not leave my desk, but it will be finished. Clarity, purpose, drive, goals, and proof – it will be written down. The words will live so that I can touch them, see them, hear them, relive them again and know that I have accomplished something real, something meaningful, even if only to me. And that is enough.


The last hibiscus bloom of the season.
Fall foliage covered in snow.
Photo credit to my husband, David. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is it Real?


Camera strap around my neck, I wanted to photograph a red leaf floating in water. Along with my eleven-year old son Jacob and his friend Will, we set off to find a woodland stream in the afternoon. Both boys eagerly helped on my quest for colorful foliage. Jacob found a red maple leaf along the path and Will shared an orange leaf shaped like a three-pronged t-rex footprint, probably from a sassafras tree.



They led me to a stream off the path. We wove between the thick brush and thorns to reach the gentle rippling water. The boys jumped down several feet to the soggy eroded bank. The sandy streambed was wide, thick with downed branches and lined with open tree roots. What little remained of the stream since the heavy rains earlier in the month was then shallow and less than a couple of feet across. I carefully climbed down after the boys to a bank that was recently underwater.

Jacob stepped over the water and scouted the ideal spot for the leaf to hit the water. As he dropped the leaf, he insisted that our floating leaf was not the truth.

“It isn’t real, Mom,” he said.  “You cannot make nature how you want it just for a picture.”

Snapping a few shots, I argued the leaf came from this forest.

“The leaf could have landed in the water. Just because we moved it does not make it a lie. Does it?” I asked. He shook his head again.

“You can’t mess with nature and pretend it just happened,” he said.

I followed his eyes and saw the moss-covered waterlogged rock just after he did. He scooped out the leaf and carefully positioned it on the rock.

I asked him, “I’m not pretending. Is it real? Is this fiction or is it nonfiction?”

He looks up with a puzzled expression, processing the question or maybe trying to figure out if I am mocking him.

“It is real leaf. It fell from a tree in this forest. Other leaves have fallen into this stream. What’s wrong with this one?” I asked.

He kept shaking his head, and then both boys ran off to play downstream. I watched my red leaf and thought about what is real and what is close enough to real. All I really wanted was a picture of a red leaf in the water.

Climbing out of the sandy streambed I clambered through the brush and thorns back to the path. A bright orange leaf caught my eye, a little smaller than the first one. I picked up the leaf and moved it just a few feet and put it on a football-sized rock surrounded by crunchy brown curling leaves. The leaf was absolutely perfect; the breeze probably brought it down while we were at the stream. But somehow it looked out of place on the rock surrounded by dead, drying leaves. It was not real; the breeze did not drop it here. It looked false and orchestrated. Maybe Jacob was right after all. I no longer wanted a picture of it.

I turned away from the lie I created and called out, “Time to go, boys.”

I walked ahead. Jacob came back to the path first, while Will lingered a few minutes.

“Hey, mom! Come check this out!” he hollered.

Backtracking along the path, I find him squatting down over a rock with the bright orange sassafras leaf.

“What do you think? This is real nature, Mom. It’s beautiful,” he said and looked up at me.

“I did that, but I couldn’t even shoot it! I knew it wasn’t your version of real.”

Laughing together, we walked away and continued our debate about real and staged, or to me, about creative nonfiction and fiction. A few minutes later, Will emerged out of the thorns and brush.

He calls out, “Ms. Valerie, come check out this leaf!” We turned around and saw him standing at the same orange leaf on the same rock.

It was real because it caught all of our eyes. It was real because we marked it as special out of thousands of leaves. It was real even if I chose its resting place rather than chance or the breeze. Without my hand placing that leaf on the rock, we would not have paused, would not have noticed it at all. It would only have been another dying leaf on the forest floor.

We walked out of the forest together, laughing and debating the artful leaves around us. Though my image of that orange leaf on the rock remains, I forgot to go back and take its picture.

Friday, October 14, 2011

LAX, Little Girls and Acorns


From here I can see the open fields behind the elementary school. Behind me the covered pavilion with tables, the little country church, the library, the elementary school, new playground and the smaller sport fields surround me. I am back on my favorite bench under the oak trees; the bench I did not realize was a favorite until tonight.


The game is well-under way by now under the bright field lights. The kids’ games are during the day, but the Over 35 Lacrosse league claims the fields on weekend nights. Two teams of middle-aged men in either black or white jerseys wage a battle across the close-cropped grass. The physicality of their play shocks me, off the field they are so mild mannered. Their bodies crash into each other, aluminum sticks clanking at impact. A long-stick defenseman pushes off the attack and the white ball sails down the field. The goalie surely has the last beams of the sun in his eyes, but his form looks intently focused on the action. For once the big boys are having fun on the fields.

v



The baseball diamond directly below me is deserted tonight. This is not a surprise in September; it has been deserted for months. In the next field a lacrosse game rages. The individual shouts of instruction and encouragement are indistinguishable from my vantage point as the voices mingle to form a small roar.


Three little girls I don’t recognize are playing together, sent along to make sure their fathers come home soon after the game. The leader of the group has long blonde hair with a clip securing the wisps out of her face. She is zipped up in an aquamarine sweatshirt, too thin for tonight’s chilly air. The next girl is taller than her friends, but eager to follow through with the leader’s ideas. Her light brown hair falls to the shoulder of her open purple jacket with last winter’s ski-pass still dangling from the zipper. Her bright pink bottoms are easy to spot even as the sun goes down. The last child wears a red t-shirt with a glitter decal with a small fuzzy coat. They are all three in sneakers, ready to run and play.

Mostly they collect acorns and chatter about finding the squirrels. They toss them in the air and clap when they like where they fly. Sometimes they stomp on the metal bleachers down the hill. After singing a song from the radio and running around the park, the leader has them collect the acorns and they line them up on the seats of the bleachers. The pieces go flying as their feet grind them into dust. The squirrels forgotten, they will have to find their own dinner tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bench, Part 2



Sitting on a weathered bench on the high hill overlooking the rolling fields, I watch the sun dropping just over the trees. Often I have sat in this spot on this hill watching the boys’ practice. This short bench does not look like much, but it provides summer shade under the grand white oaks and a picturesque place for friends to gather. Moss and mildew-covered concrete braces support now charcoal-shaded wood planks also discolored by time. A crisp autumn breeze blows through the trees surrounding the fields, reminding me why I love the change in seasons. The trees now in silhouette almost block out what is left of the day.


Just above the tree line a large flock of black starlings black out the sky. My eyes follow their path across the sky as the hundreds of birds jockey for position. They remind me of a smaller group of birds circling over this field. Just over a month ago I watched her mother release fourteen white doves, one for every year of her life. I have lived in at least a dozen homes in over half as many states. But in this place where I watch my children play, where I sit and watch the sunset, where I feel the triumphs and tragedies of a community, in this place I feel at home.

v

I stepped away for a few quiet minutes of reflection. Behind me a group of fifteen to twenty boys are playing with a football. The deep sand of the volleyball pitch mutes the thundering herd of barefoot boys wrestling each other to the ground. The sand does not mute their screams and squeals; sometimes I make out the voices of my sons in the melee.

My bench sits high above the lower baseball diamonds and soccer fields. Without warning a loud buzz comes from the field. Bright lights atop four metal poles towering over the full-size field flicker as they warm-up. The first players arrive for an evening lacrosse game. Their voices carry but not their words as they suit up in bulky pads and gloves.

Three little girls with sweet voices, probably seven or eight years old, run up to collect acorns from the tree by my bench. Farther away, the coach of the boys’ fall baseball team belts out instructions. The evening breezes graciously take the sounds of all their games away. No one is talking to me. I listen to only the wind and the crickets. The peaceful silence is beautiful; the only clear voice is mine.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Bench



Sitting on a weathered bench on the high hill overlooking the rolling fields, I watch as the sun is just starting to set. I did not set out to watch the sunset, but I am pleased to have chosen a spot with sweeping views of the rural countryside. A mature deciduous forest surrounds the sports fields. In a few weeks the leaves will be painted all the shades of the season. The early evening air is crisp and clear. Pulling down the sleeves of my sweater, I open my journal to write.


Spindly daddy-long-legs share the bench with me. Our two-year old yellow lab, Remington, is checking out the new smells, trailing his black canvas leash a few feet away. I turn to check on him just in time to see nature call smack dab on top of the leash. I close my journal, collect the dog and head over to the pavilion to find a bag. After a quick rinse of the leash, together we retrace our steps and remove the offending mess in the grass.

v


Back on the bench, the sun has dropped lower and the trees are swaying in the evening breeze. I open my journal to write, the pages flapping underneath my hand. All of my senses are tuned to the crisp autumn air whispering through the leaves of the white oaks around me. It is an ancient sound, a timeless gift too often taken for granted.


Not a minute goes by and I hear the deep rumble of his car pulling into the parking lot. Moving from hot and humid Houston, he bought the black convertible for autumn evenings like this. I close my journal again. I call for the dog, again, and we head over to greet him. The dog gives a far better greeting, pulling at the leash, wagging his entire body, and whining in anticipation.

Eager to show off the new audio work in the car, the music surrounds the car and fills the immediate area. He pops open the trunk. The vibrating subwoofers are full of energy and rich bass undertones. His energy level is as high as the volume and he says, “Let’s go for a drive!”


Friday, September 30, 2011

A Purple What?

A purple gallinule is a water bird I had never heard of before this week. They live in marshes and wetlands of Florida, Central America and Brazil and walk on top of lily pads and other floating plants. They can also be found clambering around in dense shrubbery. They use their long toes to tiptoe across the top of vegetation and don’t really care if they look like a chicken doing it. It is not that they can’t swim, because they can and they do. They swim like a duck, run like a chicken and sport amazing colors. Blue, green and teal feathers accentuate their wings and backs. The head, neck and belly are covered with deep purple plumage.


Photo by Blair Wainman with permission,
Colombia 2006.
So why am I telling you about the purple gallinule? I spent three (count them three!) weeks searching for a suitable title for this blog. Something, anything, that would resonate with me. When push came to shove and the delivery deadline dropped, the purple gallinule won the high honor. Am I trying just a little too hard? Absolutely. Am I taking this just a little too seriously? Perhaps. But I do like the purple gallinule, now that I am getting to know her.

Complex and mysterious, purple is a special color combining both warm reds and cool blues. Purple is associated with royalty and with spirituality. Purples in nature are represented with delicate and precious blooms: violets, irises, orchids, lilacs and lavender. Purple stands out. My favorite colors have always been the soothing greens of trees and meadows, the crisp blues of a clear sky. But more so than ever before I am leaning towards the brighter shades of bold colors rather than the peaceful shades that blend into the background.

Photo by John Schwarz with permission, Florida 2006.
www.birdspix.com 
The purple gallinule spends her time on the surface of the water, only diving deep underwater for the occasional tasty treat. Her long toes allow her to run across the surface of the water without sinking. I can almost hear my husband half-joking that I must believe I can walk on water. Well, I do have really long toes. But mostly, I am expecting that my writing will likely resemble a chicken running around whether on water or not, at least for now. But the more I dive deep into the water, the better a writer I will be.

Purple signifies empowerment to me, specifically empowerment of ideas and ideals. The gallinule is a reminder to just do it, even if I look like a fool. I am currently both a student and a teacher, so I am learning every day. Today we learned about the purple gallinule. Class dismissed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jumping In

This day was inevitable. For years I have been pale and scared, peering out from the woods near the sandy shoreline, fully covered complete with sunglasses and a hat. Sooner or later, I knew, I was going to have to get closer to the water. I looked forward to abandoning the cold fears and just writing, one word after another. Well, really I look forward to having the confidence, having the clear thoughts, having something meaningful to say.  Getting started comes down to deadlines – internal and external. It is time to sink or swim.

Just over a decade ago I worked for an international arm of a Fortune 20 technology corporation. Managing the hardware specifications of desktop and laptop computers for twelve markets spanning South and Central America, I was entrenched in new technologies months before they hit the retail markets. And I loved my job. With the birth of my second child, my young family needed me more. Fast-forward eleven years and I am woefully out of date on the technology front. These days I am entrenched in the family life, complete with carpool schedules, soccer practices, and volunteering at their various schools. I have avoided blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds; I balked at finding the time for even Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Last fall I accepted a part-time position teaching Computer Technology at my daughter’s middle school. When a fifth-grade student developed a website on his own, it was clear I had some catching up to do – and fast.

Returning to a corporate environment felt like ignoring the last ten years of my life, as if staying home with my children was nothing more than an embarrassing gap on the résumé. So, in January I began graduate classes in the Professional Writing program at Towson University. Writing provides the opportunity to incorporate all of the phases of my life and move forward. I thrive on the deadlines, discussions and readings. I have not even dared to write for myself, so writing for public consumption is terrifying. I have still only shared my work in class or with professors, as required.

This brings me to this blog, actually, this blog assignment. This day is inevitable. I am standing on the sand with my shoes kicked off, pants rolled up and toe pointing towards the water. It is time to step into the water.