Hello, Peeta

Two blog posts ago, I shared the tragic loss of Bruce/Betsy (my husband’s white Mazda Ford pick up). For those of you who didn’t read that particular post, a red-light runner hit the truck on the driver’s side. My husband only sustained sever whiplash, thankfully, and the other driver was unharmed. But Bruce was totalled.

Anyway, it took three weeks for the policeman who was on the scene to file his report (which included testimonies from witnesses clearly stating that it was the other driver’s fault). It took four or five weeks for us to get an estimate of how much the truck was worth and how much the other driver’s insurance was willing to reimburse us for that rental car we had for two weeks. Even after we were sure we were going to get a certain amount for my husband’s truck, we still had to figure out what car we were going to by and from what kind of seller. This being our first big purchase (and by big I mean more than one thousand dollars), we knew we would need a loan and that the loan would come with a high insurance rate. My husband agonized over what to do for several days before he decided to play it safe and go with a dealership, Sanderson Ford to be exact. I have an uncle who works there, someone we were confident would get us the best possible deal, someone we knew we could trust.

(Not to say all car salesmen are tricksters; we just had a really bad experience with one two years ago when we almost bought a car from a Chevy dealership. That’s why we were so hesitant to go with a dealership this time.)

So my husband found a truck he liked that was reasonably priced, a used 2014 F150 with a crew cab and four wheel drive. He did a test drive with my uncle and loved it. My uncle said he could hold onto the truck for us for a little while, but we still didn’t know when those checks from insurance would come. As we drove home later that day, I said something like, “Should we check the mail? I know we just checked it yesterday and there’s probably nothing in there but…” My husband said it was worth a shot so we stopped by our mailbox. Out loud, as a joke, I prayed, “Jesus, it would be great if there was a check in that mailbox. If there isn’t, I’m sure we’ll be fine but it would still be REALLY great if there was.” And, praise God, both checks were in there! We turned the car around and went straight to the bank to deposit them. We went to Sanderson Ford the next morning. Two hours later, my husband drove his new truck home.

I know it looks red in the picture but its technically “sunset metallic” orange. I’m calling this new vehicular addition to our family Peeta, after Peeta Mellark. This mind-blowing blessing comes with a new payment every month and a spike in the amount we pay toward car insurance. But we’re still on cloud nine. We’ve been praying for this day since the accident happened back in October. God answered in a BIG way. We’re still humbled and in awe of His provision and His timing.

This year, as I’m looking back at everything my husband and I have been through individually and together, I’m calling 2018 the Year of Trust. We needed a new car, a dependable family car. We tried saving for it. Things happened that caused our car fund to slowly be depleted. Then the accident happened. I wouldn’t have thought to provide anyone with a car this way. But God did. Somehow, He knew this was the only way it could happen. Same with how our child came to be. Same with pretty much every aspect of our lives. Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I wonder why things happened the way that they did, why God couldn’t have made it a little easier. But that’s not for me to know, is it?

As I writer, I’ve put my characters through some pretty rough situations. They’ve experienced loss, heart-break, disappointment, injury, danger, and depression. But they always learn something in the end, maybe even become better people as a result. I’d like to think my husband and I are a little bit stronger now that this year is coming to an end, not only as a couple but as individuals. It wasn’t always fun, but I’m glad it happened.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year, readers. See you in 2019!

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White Christmas

For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter, my husband and I went to Wisconsin this year to spend Christmas with his mother. She is originally from Phoenix, like us, but she moved there two years ago for a job. She treated us all by purchasing our plane tickets to come see her. My husband’s three brothers were there longer than we were, but we had five whole days together as a family. There was food, games, naps, Christmas music and movies, lots of laughter, and snow.

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The breakfast of champions cooked by my mother-in-law and yours truly.

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Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend) and I decorating cookies.

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 The fruits of my labor. I don’t think I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon.

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My mother-in-law’s barn.

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A fallen log on the side of my mother-in-law’s property.

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The view from my balcony.

I’ve only been in the snow three times in my entire life and I have to say, this was the best time of them all. The key to comfort in below zero temperatures? The proper attire. Thanks to my mother-in-law, we had snow jackets, snow pants, hats, mittens, and the thickest socks known to man available in many different sizes. We each had a layer that fit us so, when we went outside, we were comfortable. It was great.

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My husband and I, ready to go out into the snow!

While we mostly stayed indoors and enjoyed each others’ company, we did go out a few times…

To see A Christmas Carol, the play.

20171222_153810The Children’s Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, during intermission.

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My husband, the recovering cripple, and I.

To pick out our live Christmas tree.

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BTWs: it was fourteen degrees outside.

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This is where we went to get our tree.

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From left to right: my husband, Devo (otherwise known as Tiny Tim), Donevin and Duncan (the twins), and Dallas.

 20171224_103253My husband and I being all cute and stuff.

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From left to right: me, Joan (my mother-in-law), and Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend).

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Me and my mom-in-law.

As you can see, we had a lot of fun choosing out our tree. This Happ’s place was amazing.

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It was basically an enormous evergreen field.

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Can’t decide between a live tree and a colored one? No problem at Happ’s! They’ll paint a live tree for you.

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Don’t ask me how they do it because I don’t know. But it sure looked pretty!

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This is Dallas dragging our tree to the car after it was cut.

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And this is our tree after we brought it home and decorated it.

We also went to Christmas Eve service at my mother-in-law’s church but I didn’t get any pictures of that. Suffice it to say that we had a lovely time singing Christmas carols and remembering the reason for the season. It was also super cute to see my mother-in-law glowing as she introduced us to everyone.

On Christmas morning, we read about the birth of Christ from Matthew and then opened our presents. (Please excuse the poor quality of the following photos. It might have been mid-afternoon but I was half asleep when I took them.)

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Duncan and Bailey.

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Donevin, Dallas, and Duke (the dog).

 

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Joan and my husband.

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I was there too, see?

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Yeah, we can’t take serious pictures. #sorrynotsorry

We were blessed with new clothes, shoes, books, games, Amazon giftcards, and Star Wars action figures, but I’d like to shed a spotlight on the gifts we received from Bailey.

20171225_124631This talented gal made ceramic mugs and cups for all of us.

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See how the glaze runs and fades into different shades of color? She did that herself! So cool.

And just like that it was over, this long awaited holiday, this merry get-together. My husband and I rolled out of bed on Tuesday afternoon, packed up our gifts and clothes, and got into the car. Two hours later, we boarded our plane and flew back to Phoenix, back to sixty degrees and reality. As we lay in our own bed that night, we started listing the things we already missed.

“The snow,” he said.

“Driving around in the same car with everybody,” I said. (We had the funniest conversations.)

“The sound of my brothers talking in the next room,” he said.

“Not having a schedule,” I said.

[insert big, nostalgic sigh here.]

Now we’ve entered that strange time in-between Christmas and New Years. We’re going to work and slowly getting back into our regular routines, but the upcoming holiday is sure to make things a little screwy again. We usually drive down to California to spend New Years with my family but we’re doing something a little different this year. My sister is going to Europe with her boyfriend so we’ve postponed our New Year’s celebration until the second weekend in January. That way we can all be together. My husband and I are spending New Years with friends for the very first time. We have no idea what we’re going to do but, by golly, we’re going to do something.

And then 2017 will be over.

Wow.

I heard it said once that days go by slow but years go by fast. That saying becomes more and more true the older I get. It’s incredible.

Well, I hope everyone had a fun Christmas! Be safe during New Years! I’ll check back in on the fourth of January.

End of the semester reflections

To quote Albus Dumbledore, “Another year…gone.” Only in this case it’s a semester. I took my usual three classes and managed to swing “A”s in all. (Thank God.)

Intermediate Fiction was by far the most challenging because the teacher had us writing a new short story every month. It tested my creativity, forced me to think outside the box. But I’m thankful for this because it yielded some surprisingly good results, with “Entering the Deep” and “To Kill a Vampire” especially. My teacher also had us students giving each other detailed feedback on our stories. There was a form with questions we had to fill out, which made us stop to think about what we just read. I’m not the greatest when it comes to critiquing. I read books for enjoyment, not with the intent to break them down or analyze them. And short stories have never been my cup of tea, mostly because they lack that character development and fluff of a full blown novel (which I love so much). So giving good feedback was also a challenge for me. But, once again, I’m thankful for this. It helped me develop good critiquing skills.

Planning and Structuring the Novel was great. As the title might suggest, we students were given the opportunity to submit excerpts from our current works in progress to receive constructive criticism from classmates and our instructor. This kind of feedback wasn’t as specific as the feedback I received for my short stories, but I was made aware of some important plot issues with “The Andromeda’s Ghost.” (This is a science-fiction novel I’ve been working on. I’ve posted an excerpt or two on the blog in the past.) This novel is my first attempt at science-fiction so it was great to hear that I was doing a good job so far. My instructor’s thoughts especially were helpful. There’s just something about working alongside an impartial adult, who has studied writing and literature, and genuinely likes your work…I’m going to miss discussing my story with that man.

My Portfolio class was filled with more feedback. I basically submitted all of the short stories I was thinking about putting in my portfolio and the teacher, the Director of the Creative Writing Program, gave me his thoughts. In order to get my Certificate of Completion for the Creative Writing Program at Phoenix College, I have to submit a portfolio with 12-15 pages of original work from two different genres, a letter of intent stating my writing goals, and a letter of recommendation from a teacher. I was asked to provide three copies of this, so I can only assume that the director of the program and two mystery people will be reading my work and making the final decision.

Naturally, I agonized over which stories to submit. The three stories I wrote this semester are my favorites out of my little stack of shorts, but they’re all at least 12 pages long, maybe more. I’d only be able to include one. I’ve written a few poems but I didn’t feel confident turning in any of those. (Although, now that I think about it, I could’ve totally turned in my prose poem about public speaking! Dang it! Oh, well…) In the end, I went with a horror story I wrote last semester and the mermaid story I wrote more recently. Combined, they fell within the page limit so it worked out. For better or worse, I’ve mailed it in. Now all I can do is wait.

I’m not technically done with the program yet. I have one more reading class I have to take, but it’s not available until the summer of 2018. I emailed the director of the program, thinking I’d have to wait to turn in my portfolio. He said I didn’t have to wait. He seemed to think I had a shot at that certificate, which was encouraging to hear.

So my schooling is pretty much over. I’ll be going back for that one class in the summer, but then I’ll be done! [insert girlish shriek of excitement here]

I still don’t know if I want to get a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. A part of me thinks I won’t need it. Another part of me is terrified that I’ll totally flop as an author and I’ll need a backup plan. I do okay in school but it’s not something I want to do for the next four to eight years of my life. I want to be focusing on kids and my writing during that time. But life is…well…to quote Forrest Gump, “Life [is] like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.” I could do really good as an author, really bad, or just mediocre. I want to be prepared for all of those outcomes. I want to have a plan. That’s who I am; a planner. So what will I do if, by this time next year, I can’t make a living off my writing? Do I keep at it? Do I get my Bachelor’s and try to get a job at a publishing company? Do I pick another major?

The thing is, I can’t think of anything else I’d want to study. Sure, for a while I thought it would be cool to be an interpreter. I enjoyed learning American Sign Language and all about the deaf community. But when my job conflicted with the scheduling of the interpreter’s program at Phoenix College, I wasn’t devastated that I had to give it up. I would be devastated if I had to give up writing. But I love reading and writing. I feel like getting my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing will make me start to hate these things I love so much…

Uuuuuggggghhhhhh.

It takes effort to trust that everything is going to be fine so long as I do my best. It’s hard for me to be okay with the fact that I don’t have all the answers. It helps that I have a great, merciful God who doesn’t mind repeating that He has everything under control. It also helps that it’s Christmas time and I have family to distract me. Tonight, my husband and I will be flying to Wisconsin to spend the holiday with his mother and brothers. I’m so looking forward to seeing them and having my first white Christmas. Another semester is over. It’s time to celebrate. That’s what I need to be focusing on right now. After the holidays, I’ll be working on book promotion and finishing that science-fiction novel. What comes after that can be decided later.

If I don’t post anything else before the new year, let me just say Merry Christmas to you all. See you in 2018!

Family

It’s strange, isn’t it? How time and circumstances and distance can change friendships you once thought would last forever? You still love these people, you still care about what happens to them, but when you’re together…you can’t seem to find a common ground.

I used to be so close to my dad’s family. We lived in Mexico until I was eight, within walking distance of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Even after we moved, we didn’t go very far; we crossed the border, drove for half an hour, and chose a house in that little town. We returned to my grandparents’ house monthly for family lunches, sometimes to celebrate someone’s birthday, sometimes for mother’s or father’s day, sometimes just because. And I always looked forward to it. Nana made fresh rice, beans, and tortillas. My uncles made carne asada or pollo asado (like carne asada only with chicken). My aunts brought cakes, sodas, and macaroni salad. We congregated around the table and in the adjoining living room to eat and to talk over the soccer game that always seemed to be playing on the TV.

Then my three younger cousins and I would run outside to play. We invented games and went on adventures, dared each other to try new things. Occasionally, we went back inside to watch the guys playing their video games, or we’d go into one of the guest rooms and play cards. If it rained, we’d play in the mud. If it was hot, we put on our bathing suits and assaulted each other with the hose. If it was cold, we’d bundle up real tight and chase each other until we were warm. We climbed trees, scraped our knees, ran through my tata’s field, rolled down dirt hills, rode our bikes along the canal. As we got older, we spent more and more time inside, playing card games, giving each other make overs, talking about life and boys, watching movies, hanging out around the kitchen table and listening to our mother’s talk.

The three of them made trips to my house too, for slumber parties during the summer. (This was after my sister and I were given our separate rooms.) I would blast my Christian rock music and we would dance or jump on the bed or throw pillows at each other. We’d stay up talking through the night, all four of us squished together on my bed because we couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping separately. We’d spend hours on the Slip-n-Slide in the backyard, and then wash up and play with my Barbies. Sometimes my sister would play dress up with us. We’d use sheets, rubber bands, and clips to create unique, old fashioned dresses. We’d adorn ourselves with clip-on jewelry and pretend to be princesses.

And then I started high school. I hung out with my sister, my big brother, and my older cousins more and more. I started dating and then had my heart broken for the first time. I went through a phase of depression, where the only thing I really wanted was to be older and wiser. I talked less and spent more time daydreaming about my stories, my music, my plans for the future. They ran in different crowds than I did, had mutual friends they wanted to talk about that I’d never met. They had church events and other family events they attended together that I couldn’t. Slowly but surely, this gap began to form between me and my three younger cousins. Then I graduated and moved to Arizona. I still visited home from time to time. I returned to my grandparents’ house for New Years or Christmas, glad to be among my family again. But each year my Spanish was a bit more rusty, my anecdotes a bit more awkward, and our conversations a bit more forced. I wanted to be around them. I cared about their lives and the things they were going through. I wanted to connect.

Why was it so hard?

We had something to talk about when I was getting serious with my then-boyfriend now-husband. My cousins wanted to know how we met and what our plans were. When we were engaged and planning our wedding, I had details to share. They all came, of course. They had to drive six hours one way to be there, but they were there. In the whirlwind that was our wedding reception, I got to give quick hugs and kisses. Then it was off to start married life. I’ve brought my husband for New Years these past two years. He doesn’t speak Spanish so I have to stick with him and be his interpreter. My three younger cousins shy away from him. I can’t blame them; he’s handsome and foreign. That can be intimidating.

I keep tabs on my dad’s family through Facebook and Instagram. My three younger cousins especially. They post pictures and short anecdotes that I like or comment on. We always wish each other happy birthday, sending our love and blessings. The cousin closest to me in age is going to university. The second oldest is so social; she’s always posting pictures of her and her friends going to youth group or camps or conferences. The youngest graduated from high school this year. I want to tell them how proud I am of their accomplishments, how great it is to see them flourish. I want to tell them that I still remember our adventures with fondness. I loved being their leader, despite the fact that I was responsible when one of them got hurt playing one of my ridiculous games. They weren’t just family, they were friends. And I miss them.

Most of the time, it’s easy to get caught up in my life here. I’m working, I’m going to school, I’m learning new things about marriage and being a wife, I’m writing, I’m hanging out with friends, and growing. But every day I go onto Facebook or Instagram and there they are. I can’t help but wonder: Will we ever be as close as we once were? Do they think about me? Do they remember?

Only one way to find out, right?

Stormy weather

Today’s the third day in a row that the skies have been overcast here in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s been raining on and off, and will continue to rain on and off throughout the weekend. Or so the weather forecast people say. I don’t know what it is about this weather but it makes it very hard to work. My desk is situated in a corner; there is a large window beside me and behind me. I have a clear picture of the cold, wet, gloomy world outside. It almost seems to muffle sounds, this invasion of storm clouds. The naked tree branches against the background of misty grey seem to make the sky bigger (if that’s possible). I find my mind wandering to my manuscripts, my works-in-progress, the stories floating around in my head that I haven’t written down yet. It’s almost as if a spell has been cast, a spell to heighten imagination and dim focus.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this weather. I’ll take cold and cloudy over clear skies and overpowering sun any day. But this isn’t working weather. It’s curl-up-on-the-couch-and-read-a-book weather, or have-a-movie-marathon-and-eat-ice-cream kind of weather, or write-while-listening-to-epic-movie-scores weather.

My dad grew up on a farm. His father woke him up before the sun rose to do work in the fields. On cloudy, rainy days, however, my dad was allowed to sleep in and have a lazy day indoors. That’s why he claims days like today make him feel lethargic. I don’t really have an excuse.

Still, I don’t think anyone can deny that there’s something special about rain.

I’ve had some pretty cool moments while it was raining. I used to play in the rain with my little brother. Many an adventure was had while lightning streaked across the sky. It rained for 12 hours while my family took a road trip to Sacramento. My brother and uncle took turns driving through the night and into the next day. I can still remember waking up in the back of the truck, shifting into a more comfortable position, seeing my big brother at the wheel with nothing but gray mist and water to be seen through the windshield. The cars speeding beside us made me nervous but I trusted my brother.

It was summer when I first moved to Phoenix. I was living with my grandparents until I could find my own place. I didn’t know it at the time, but Phoenix is known for their summer dust storms. The natives call them Haboobs. A strong wind will pick up a wall of dust that moves across the entire city, covering everything in a fine layer of dirt. Then some rain will come to turn the dirt into mud. My uncle, living in a rental house next door at the time, came over to take pictures of the dust storm. We sat in my grandparents’ garage, talking life and photography while we waited for lightning to illuminate the dreary sky. My future was still so uncertain but, for that hour and a half, it didn’t seem as scary.

During a thunderstorm, my landlord’s dog got loose and was going crazy outside. I snatched her and brought her into my little apartment to keep her safe until my landlord came home. She lay huddled beside me on the couch, trembling and whining every time the thunder rolled, while I watched a movie on my laptop. I was nineteen and experiencing my first big storm alone. That dog, although annoying, was a welcomed companion that night.

Another storm took out the power while I was working at Chipotle. Food safety protocol forced us to throw away all the food on the burrito line when it got cold. We waited for the power to come back on and then proceeded to cook more food. We were closed for almost three hours before the line was re-stocked again. I can still picture the unfortunate coworker, who had been assigned the job of turning people away, standing just outside the door in her windbreaker, kindly explaining over and over again why we were closed. In the months to come, one of us would look at the other after a particularly difficult shift and say something like, “Today was bad, but remember that one time when the power went out?”

While we were dating, my now husband parked his truck at a stop sign and tugged me outside to kiss me in the rain just because I mentioned I’d always wanted to be kissed in the rain. Also while we were dating, my now husband locked his keys in his truck for the first time during a storm. He spent almost an hour trying to break into his own car before he finally gave up. I let him stay at my apartment until the storm blew over and then drove him to his house for the spare key. We weren’t even talking about marriage yet but he gave me that spare key once the ordeal was over. As if he knew that it would be safe with me.

The first time my husband and I spent the night at the lake together, the weatherman said it would rain. We managed to get the tent up just before it started pouring. Then the wind picked up. It was kind of hard to be romantic newly weds when the cold, wet material of the tent was mere inches away from our faces. It rained so much that it soaked through our tent and our sleeping bags. We were forced to take everything down and drive back home at two in the morning. We were soaked, covered in mud, and exhausted by the time we got home.

It rained Christmas Eve of last year, the first holiday my husband and I hosted his family in our new house.

And it’s raining now.

I guess I feel the same way about rain as Lorelai Gilmore feels about snow. In one of the earlier seasons, it’s the middle of the night but Lorelai can’t sleep. She goes down stairs to throw the windows open and look out. When I was watching the episode, I was confused. Nothing’s happening, I thought. What is she waiting for? And then it started to snow. That look on her face…that look of hope and wonder and enchantment, must be the same one I’ve got on my face right now as I watch the rain fall through the window.

Maybe something wonderful will happen. Maybe something unfortunate will happen, something that I’ll be able to laugh and blog about later. Or maybe the rain will just fall and nothing will happen. Either way, I’ll be watching.