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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For the moms: Say your name. Now repeat it.

Sappy and sentimental - that's me. But I've learned to let go and that's the key. Read my column posted several weeks ago on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter:



Reaching a moment that you strive for is like taking a drink of water when you are parched beyond measure. For me, it was that moment when you see your kids leave the house for college, or for a job that will take them somewhere that you don't see their faces but several times a year. The house settles into its bones, moving and sinking into a comfort that doesn't hold racing up and down the stairs, or the shaking that comes with sibling fights and rivalries. Like the house, solid and cozy, I let myself sink in and accept my creaks and groans — the settling of a body that's housed three children and bore each fight, scar and tear. I envelope the silence around me, gather it into my palm, and move ahead to what my now entails: words written and organized, songs played against a blank canvas of time and the silent slurp of my spoon dipped into a bowl of food I prepared for my taste buds only.
 
It's surreal and it's right. Our kids are meant to leave, and not readying them and ourselves will leave us with our hands in our laps, fighting back the tears of a life only lived for someone else. 

Peering through the vapors of time, I see myself with three kids under the age of 5 — each one vying for my attention in different ways. Nights of crying that bring milk-stained memories, rife with emotion and a new mother's worries – tiptoeing out of rooms and lying down to sleep dreamlessly.
 
First words and steps, racing to grow and smile. Mornings filled with chocolate milk and Barbie dolls, or Power Rangers and Legos scattered across the floor. I can recite every Rugrats episode from memory, hearing the lines and giggles as I moved throughout my day. Days spent with Rollerblades strapped tight around ankles, zooming through the rooms of our tiny house and falling repeatedly, or the whoosh of the bikes as they flew down our neighbors hill and into our driveway. 


 
There were seconds of time that I longed for the solitude of one moment, just one bathroom break without the banging of the door and the screaming of, “Mom! Mommy! Mom!” piercing my eardrums. There was no Instagram or Facebook to document it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Etched inside me are the warm dusky smells of tiny necks, sleepy and holding me tightly as they fought the sandman at every turn. The endless drinks of water that were needed before bedtime, and the stacks of books beside their beds that needed read over and over.
 
And when morning arrived once again, I would fry dippy eggs and cut the warm buttered toasted into tiny squares, just right for tiny hands to sop up the runny goodness. 

I see you, young moms, struggling to get to the grocery store and make it through without a meltdown. I see the endless tiny meals and snacks you prepare, trying to get them to eat something — anything.
 
I see you wishing for a quiet moment that enables you to remember who you are, what you want. 

I see you, moms of teens, who look at the growing faces of their offspring and wonder what planet they arrived from. Who took over this child who once needed to sit in my lap every day? Where is the child who cried when I left to get groceries, tiny faces pressed up against the window as I backed away, and me — grabbing a moment to settle myself in the rows of a superstore for one blessed moment. First dates, proms, games that involve some sort of ball, graduation, and your heart — beating bloody drops outside your body — as they drive away to their futures. 

If I can give you a word of unsolicited advice, it would be this: Make more chocolate milk, eat more cookies fresh from the oven, let them smear the chocolate on their faces and kiss them while doing it. Stop striving for perfection — it doesn't exist.
 
Give yourself the gift of a day to go shopping by yourself — you need it to remind yourself who you are. Say your name and don't forget the sound of it. Don't rush home because you feel guilty for leaving them. That guilt is false. Let them cry themselves back to sleep. When they come home late for curfew listen to their reason instead of screaming. Never say my child would never do that, because half the time they did. Be their advocate because no one else will. 

I've earned the solitude I find in my home. I smile, though, when I scroll through the pictures on Facebook and see the babies, toddlers, and the moms who find it hard to laugh some days. I love the pictures of elementary kids, the tweens and the teens whose parents are grasping on just a bit harder than they should. Ready yourself, because your arms will soon be empty. It's startling and it takes your breath away, but it is exhilarating. Repeat your name often. Write down your dreams. Ready your kids to fly, because they do. Abandon yourself to motherhood, but leave a lifeline — one day you'll need it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Inching this holiday season forward

Newest column freshly posted on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter:


I just rolled off the weekend – Thanksgiving weekend – and I do mean roll. 

The table at our family gathering was heavy-laden and food was partaken of at a rapid clip. 

The dressing, glorious in its vintage enamelware pan, is the heaviest of all. In all its fried glory, it is the most anticipated part of the meal – at least for me. I don’t make dressing on a regular basis — who does? If you do, I’m sorry, but there are certain foods I savor on the holiday – unless I’m eating in a local restaurant and get a bug for bready goodness. A dish appears on our table every Thanksgiving called cranberry salad, and lots of noses are turned up. I take a small helping because for one, I like its tart goodness and the way it cleans the palate and enables more food to go down. Bad reason? Nah. Thanksgiving only comes once a cycle. 

With Thanksgiving tucked away, that means one thing – lots of sales! Even though this is true, it also means that my Christmas spirit has arrived. While lots of people get crazy decorating for Christmas on November first, I still find myself in the spooky-fallish-themed-glare of October. It takes me weeks to get on board and realize that Thanksgiving is coming. I will not skip it, jump over it, bypass it, or pretend it’s just a ruse to get to Christmas. I will plant my ceramic turkey on the table and enjoy it until it’s time for him to go. I’m a weird stickler for enjoying each day as it comes, and that means relishing in each holiday – one trick or treat bag or turkey leg at a time. We ventured to a tree farm to pick out a tree the day after Thanksgiving (Go visit Fencerow Productions outside New Bedford), and as we were putting it up — with N’Sync blaring “Merry Christmas Happy Holidays” in the background — I was covertly pitching pumpkins away as the pine was drug out. Bring one in, usher one out. Just as it should be.

My gift lists are not yet made — and nary a longed-for item has been bought — but the coffee is hot as it slides down my throat this morning. I’m not panicked because I decided years ago that I would not let it touch me – that I would not let the madness of the season take over and turn me into something that I’m not. I would much rather shop online for a few things, as well as venturing out into the fray when I decide to and taking advantage of the insanity of markdowns. And oh, are there markdowns. I’ve also been scratching the itch to think outside the gift-giving box and shop at tiny collectives, boutiques, and mom and pop stores. There is a vibrant community outside the glow of the big box stores, and at times we need to detox from their warm lights. While I do and will haunt the big box stores – because who doesn’t need a good pair of jeans marked heftily down – I am making a commitment to finding other things that will tickle the fancy of the gift receiver. 

I stare at my Christmas tree, warm lights tucked inside its Frasier-furred branches, and I ponder. Only half the ornaments are up and it looks a little bare, but I treasure the light that spills from it around the room. There are bags filled with décor that sit patiently, as well as piles of gold and silver trinkets that await their place on the tree. The manger scene is sitting on the desk with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus haphazardly lying in a pile with sheep and wise men, tangled and expectant. Soon, I’ll arrange them carefully on a surface in my home, thinking of years past when the little hands of my children had this job. I once entered the living room to find the wise men and camels spread out all over the room. When I asked why they weren’t in the manger scene, my son cocked his head and looked at me like I was crazy. “Mom,” he said, “they’re traveling. They haven’t arrived yet because it’s not time.” It made me catch my breath. That particular year, every single day, he inched them closer and closer until they arrived at their destination. That will be me, this month, inching forward day by day. Preparing, nesting and making ready. I wouldn’t want to jump ahead of myself and ruin it all. Instead, I’ll be sipping my coffee and savoring each minute, because each piece I put out has its place – just like each season.

Friday, December 4, 2015

I'm back. Let's catch up.

I'm back writing my column! I've missed it, so swing by The Holmes County Bargain Hunter and have a read. Life is weird, but doesn't that make it interesting? 



Herrera is back and ready to catch up

Friends, I’ve missed you. Life takes a swing and you’re off on another venture, sometimes leaving behind something that was near and dear. This column was near and dear, but I had a few other things to do, so I was gone for a while, stacking up words neatly in piles. I’m bringing them out and dusting them off to let you know what I’ve been up to since we last chatted. 

I’m writing my novel and it’s almost done. 

It was a weight that sat directly on my chest, mostly taunting me through the years to finish. I’m nearly 60,000 words in and can see the finish line — albeit hazy in the distance. The last part of it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, and that’s not for lack of being a fast typist. I do have typing medals to brag about from Oscar Miller’s class that I wore proudly on my letterman’s jacket but, um, does that date me? Regardless, my classes were in typing, not the newfangled term keyboarding, and I still position my hands over the correct letters before I start. No pecking one finger at a time for me. I value those typing classes every single day when I sit down to write. I’m sure Oscar would be proud of me today, although he might just chuckle and tell me I typed too fast and made too many errors. This is where I like the technology of now — no whiteout to correct mistakes — just backspace and move on. 

In September I traveled solo to Mexico and took part in a writer’s residency I was chosen for. It was a place that sat high in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and is available for all types of artists to apply their craft. The novel is about my husband’s life, and he is from Oaxaca — can I say match made in heaven? All I needed was a spare room, a desk and a view to sit in front of. I had all that and more as I punched my way through every single day, for three weeks, watching my word count rise and the story evolve. I made several trips to town to do research and visited places that he had been. Emotions and an amazing experience were what I found. The majority of the book was written in that tiny third floor room, and I’m writing as much as I can, now that I’m home, to reach the end. I honestly can’t take in the fact that I’m almost done. It’s been such a far-off thing — an unattainable dream — I short sold myself on. I didn’t believe in ME and my ability to finish. Things happen, friends, when we believe in ourselves. 

Life is a blur of days filled with words and love. My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary back in May, we sent the younger two kids off to college in the fall, and my house became empty once again. I’m learning to enjoy the silence. Making a pot of coffee and sitting in my chair, while dust motes float through the slices of sun that break through the windows — isn’t this life? Most days I kiss my husband goodbye as he leaves for work, then sit down and begin my freelance work at the kitchen table. Now I can fold in one more thing to that list – this column. Until next week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Unlearning

Mostly, we ramble along in life doing things the same way because nothing tells us to change. We've always done things a certain way, so we keep on doing them. 

What if something comes along that nudges us and says, "Hey, this is wrong. We need to rethink this. Maybe we need to change how we do it?" There will be stubbornness and whining, because we have to learn a new thing. It's like a child, performing tasks and making mistakes until they learn to do it correctly. They find it annoying, but it's part of life. 

Isn't it the same with us? Everyone is saying we've become too sensitive and touchy - that we call racism and are intolerant of those who "don't really mean anything by it." Either by the words they say, or their actions that speak one way and do another. 

But...

What if we've been doing it wrong all these years? 
What if it's time to change and learn a new way?
The cries ring out, "We used to do it this way! Why does it have to change?"

I'll tell you why. We were wrong. 


Monday, November 16, 2015

Love




This. 
This is what I can muster for today.
Love casts out fear.



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The short story // She still waits for me in the words of her book

What's the haunting season without a few short stories to make that chill run up your spine? I offer you a story I came across, that upon reading this morning, has stayed with me. If you tell me you don't read horror, but still read Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti, then you read horror. It's that thrill you're seeking.  I make no apology for my love of horror movies and books, just like I don't apologize for reading romance or science fiction. Read on, if you dare.
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She still waits for me in the words of her book


I sleep soundly, in my cozy, comfortable bed. Most nights I climb in and am asleep within minutes. Other nights I read. I'm not talking of e-readers, those that lull you to the other side with their easy interfaces and slick controls. Real books are what gather me up, the ones you can grab on to and feel the pages as the story leaps to life. I want to feel the spines of books that give you purchase to hold and grip – to become lost in pages made of paper.
Books mean a lot to me and I have read voraciously since I was a child, really at a very early age. By first and second grades I was reading proficiently at an adult level. In my rush to reading my interests expanded to genres that included spine-tingling novels, and by fifth grade, I was reading full-fledged horror novels.
Where were my parents?
They were there, and they were readers as well. Never ones to censor much of what we read, watched, or listened to - I was able to get my hands on deeply disturbing tomes that called out to me when I passed them in the bookstore. My eyes were drawn again and again to that section that held black-spined books with names like The Omen, Ghost Story, and The Amityville Horror.
I devoured them word by word.
My novels, piled intricately on a shelf dad had built me, were aligned according to my eleven year old mind. When I went to bed at night my bed was facing the shelf, that way I could always see them. My books, you see, were as important to me as any collection. People collect things. I collected books.
Books were attached to me, as any avid reader knows, and at any given time you could find me in a corner taking in words and sentences as if they were water. It was just that now, the words I was taking in were tinged with the blackest horror, the thin edges of madness, and scratchy whisperings that floated under my door at night. My mind was awash with ritual slayings and rites of satanic cults that slid down easy, easy into my soul. Mesmerizing, they were so mesmerizing. And I couldn't stop.
The purchase of a book called Audrey Rose brings goose bumps, raised high, to the surface of my skin. As I write this, my hackles slowly raise and I glance outside my dark window. I pull my sweater a little tighter, just a little closer for comfort, or what I don't know. The night presses in and whispered fragments, or words, travel up the back of my neck and fall gently into my ear. I turn and brush them away. I can't let them in. Had I known what the book would do I would have dropped it and run.
I delved in, always reading by night, and I consumed each word, letter by letter. I'm not sure when things started....changing. At school, as I sat numbly in my seat, I could sense the slightest blur at the edge of the classroom door. If I looked twice it was just a door, firm and blue, standing guard as it always had. The fringes, though, were alive with murmurings and activity. If we were playing on the playground at recess I could sometimes glance in the distance and see a small, dark figure standing just on the edges of the grass. I squinted hard and nothing was there. When I used the restroom during class, I would sit on the edge of the toilet seat squeezing my eyes shut tightly. The dark corners of the bathroom threw their shadows towards my stall, and inch by inch crept underneath the door.
The book, you see, had come alive.
It was as if I was running a race to finish it, to feel and render the book into the very depths of my being. I could feel her in every crevice and crack of my room as I read and read and read. When the last words were absorbed and the book was over, I breathed a silent sigh, a nearly imperceptible washing through my body of relief. I crept to my shelf and placed the book carefully in its place - the place it would reign with all my other books filled with horror. I lay down and turned off the light and an instant dread filled me.
She wasn't going to let me go.
My room became black as night and I could feel the tomes on the shelf reaching out to me, their pages yearning for me to slip inside of them and be lost forever. The door to my room....oh the door....swung silently open creating a vortex of mindless swirling in my heart. My body lay rigidly still, and I could smell the sweat from my fear dampening my nightgown - a nightgown that an eleven year old wears to bed believing she will wake up in her room safe and sound.
My eyes were frozen open in soundless horror as I could feel a presence enter the room with authority and float silently towards me, the hole in its center ever-widening. My chest became tight and I knew without knowing that it was on top of me...pressing the air from my lungs - keeping me from the good that I knew my life should be. Images of every scene of horror I had read slowly played in my head, like a silent movie, as the face of evil, disguised as Audrey Rose, tried to steal the very breath of life from me.
I shut my eyes and mouthed, "Please God, I'm so scared. Help me."
I woke up with a start and the morning sun was throwing its light softly through my white, frilly curtains. I sat up and looked around the room in stark horror as the juxtaposition of my safe surroundings screamed in protest to what I knew had happened last night. I never did know how I fell asleep and evil fled. I only hope that a bigger God had rescued me. My eyes fell on my bookshelf, those black-spined books staring at me in restful repose - their edges lined up like soldiers ready for war.
With my nightgown still damp from sleep and terror, I gathered all the books of horror...those novels filled with evil reckoning and restless spirits...and I stumbled outside in the early morning dew to the fire pit in our backyard. With match burning in hand, I lit those books up until all I could see were the twisted faces of the covers burning in the flames. I could feel Audrey Rose screaming for me, the smoke stifling her shrieks. And then she was gone.
My flesh, shivering with the writing of this tale, has finally been warmed with a blanket I've thrown around me. Though I am now married and have raised children, reading is still one of my first loves. Deep in the dark, with book in hand, I climb the night. It takes me to places that nothing else can, and I soar with the thrill the words bring me. Yet still, I sometimes feel the tiniest of breaths on my neck and a thin whisper calling me. I glance outside and on the periphery of my line of sight I can see her, a dark shroud that will always stand just outside of what I can comprehend. She waits for me to pick up her words so that she can live, once again, through me. I resist her, for now, and fervently hope that I can stay away from the words that would lead me to her.

This book does exist. It came out in 1977.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sliding out of obscurity

Every year, a few days after my birthday grants me another notch, I sit down and think about the new number I've been assigned. After I turned forty, I didn't care what the number was, just how I was living. How I was breathing.




That air was so fresh after forty.
Forty-seven is even fresher.

When I look at pictures of myself in my twenties and thirties, I see someone who hadn't yet claimed herself. I feel a sharp pang knowing the confidence I have now compared to then, but I don't mourn her. I took her for what she was and have shaped her into the woman I am now. My step feels lighter and my vision clear. My fingers move nimbly over the keyboard as words and phrases fill me. The clarity that comes from added minutes and hours to your life do not come at a price. They come as a gift that must be opened at once and used until spent. 

Don't wait to use your gifts. 
Spread that goodness to the ends of the earth and never question it.
Not once.

Where I hesitated in my younger years to do what I knew I must, now I'm like a freight train barreling down the tracks. Boldness comes with knowing yourself and what you're made of, the cowering fear of stepping out of the box brushed aside. I can still feel those feelings when I'm faced with trying something new, but am now able to walk through it so the fear subsides. 

We can't live our lives in fear of failure.
Just as we can't live our minutes waiting.

So many times we say, "I just don't have the money for that, nor the time." Chances and opportunities slide away into the ether never to be seen again, all because we chose to avert our eyes from it. One day, having never taken chances, we'll wake up and find ourselves old in spirit as well as body. Did we use what we were given? Or did we squander it by being safe and tidy in our boxes? 

This year was a big year for me in stepping out of that neatly tied box. Traveling alone to another country only enhanced my vision for the future. I saw what I wanted and I went after it. My life has been enriched by grabbing opportunity and if I hadn't, I can only say I would be mourning the loss of unused experiences. 

I know it's easier for me now to grab those chances now that the kids are gone, off to find their lives in college and work. It's something I may not have done had I been presented with it when they were still here. I consider part of my life's work raising them with my husband, and knowing they will be productive citizens with minds open and alert. I would say, though, not to close your eyes. Fill your eyes with clarity and be ready for what comes to you. Don't brush it off and say, "No, I can't do this." You'll only regret what you didn't stick your neck out for. It will haunt you as you stay safely tucked into the familiarity of the known. 

I've found nothing more thrilling than the breeze of unfamiliar lands, food untasted that explodes on your tongue, and the knowing that the minutes of a day are yours to shape into only what you want them to be. Another year has come and gone, and it will be three years until I reach one half of a century. I claim each and every minute left in this life to live to the fullest. Don't slide into obscurity not having at least tried. 

Happy 47 to me. 
Three-hundred sixty-five days until 48.
Time to live it up.