Gearing up for Fall: Focus & Writing Inspiration

As the light begins to change again, my connection to childhood and the seasons feels stronger than ever.

As the light begins to dim and Eloise continues to grow, my connection to childhood and the seasons feels stronger than ever.

Childhood was intertwined with seasons. The excitement of a new school year with the supplies and smell of the classroom, the changing of the leaves with pumpkins and candy, a big parade on an old Stockton television with turkey to follow, Christmas trips to the city and then the countdown to Santa, banging pots and pans on New Years, cold rainy days inside with a puzzle and Mom, valentines from friends as the light began to change, spring rain and green hillsides, the hug of summer heat and endless summer nights, all to begin again.

It’s the same rhythm that made me love teaching. In a world of windowless cubicles there are no seasons. In a classroom everything changes with the month of the year. So it is at home. I can feel the end of summer. I must have been four years old the last time a fall went by without school or outside work. Reflexively I prepare to focus again, even if this time it is from home. It is that burst of completed effort before the holidays arrive and everything slows again. Life in synch with seasons.

Blogging fits into the cracks of life, those moments when she is asleep or in someone else’s arms. The real work of writing is the bigger projects, the ones that require more determination to keep going even when there are fewer words to say, (as opposed to the instant gratification of a quick post shared…).

I am almost ready. The trick is picking one project instead of getting distracted by five. A tired promise, but an important one all the same. In the weeks before Eloise was born I started a middle grades fiction novel about a girl named Indigo who lives next to a cemetery. I think I’ll start there, seasonally appropriate after all.

What are you gearing up to work on this fall? Maybe we can inspire each other…

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BEACON OF VENGEANCE, A Novel of Nazi Germany, CORRIDOR OF DARKNESS Volume 2, NOW AVAILABLE!

olivia:

A fantastic read– and not because we share the same last name! Started reading last night, had to put it down because it was too haunting of a bedtime story. Adeptly written. If you haven’t read Corridor of Darkness, Volume 1, start there!

Originally posted on Patrick W. O'Bryon:

Beacon front cover jpeg

In the summer of 1941 America edges closer to joining battle against Hitler’s victorious armies in Europe…but a dangerous spy game is already underway.

Reluctant former operative Ryan Lemmon disappears in Nazi-occupied France, a country riddled with corruption and deceit. Ostensibly assigned to the State Department’s Special War Problems Division, Ryan now works for America’s newly centralized intelligence office under William “Wild Bill” Donovan. His official assignment– undermine German intelligence operations across Occupied Europe.

But the first task of independent-minded Ryan Lemmon remains deeply personal–release his friends from a fascist internment camp while there is still hope for their survival.

And what ever goes exactly as planned?

Beacon of Vengeance, the new thriller inspired by my late father’s undercover life in Nazi Europe, is the second volume in the Corridor of Darkness trilogy. It is now available as a trade paperback at online retail outlets, and as an eBook for Kindle and Apple readers on Amazon.com.

For ease of ordering, just click on one of the book covers pictured in the…

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Saying Good-bye (For now) to My Little Sister

This is the face I always remember best.

This is the face I remember best.

A week from tomorrow my little sister, K, leaves for college. When I stop to think about this I tear up. Sending her off on her first journey into adulthood comes at an interesting moment in my own life, as I welcome my daughter into this world and anticipate the path that lies ahead.

My little sister gave me my first tastes of motherhood with thirteen years between us. Thinking back to K as a child makes me smile. She confounded me. I pained myself to be obedient and make everyone else happy. She would wake up and make herself a bowl of ice cream to eat with her morning cartoons and think nothing of it. She made her decisions for herself, not others. This is not to say she was not generous, she has just always known how to care for herself first.

In our family of five kids, K managed to still stand out.

In our family of five kids, K managed to still stand out, (yes, she is the fabulous little person in the middle).

It took me eighteen years to understand how this perceived rebellion was beautiful. I used to try and change her with my words, make her more like me to make others happy. Instead, she always stayed her course and others were happy still. It blew my mind. She showed me she could be her own person, less eager to please, and that others would adapt and be better for it.

While I stayed close to home and went to college in Davis, she is off to study film at NYU, on the other side of the country, a move I was too afraid to make. I only applied to California schools and UW, (which I turned down because it was too far). I have no regrets, as each choice took me to the life I have today, but I also admire her. She has always been good at pushing our family outside of its comfort zone.

My family often jokes that Eloise is already like her Auntie K. Strong-willed, focused, determined. There was a time when this would have scared me. However, as I get ready to send off my sweet blonde-haired sister, I can only hope Eloise grows to be just as true to herself and that I can be the mom who gives her space to follow her heart. As I hug K good-bye, I will feel Eloise in my arms too, making it a little harder to let go.

Good luck Auntie K, we will all be rooting for you!

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Wanted: WordPress.org Advice

Hi fellow bloggers–

I have been researching making the move from wordpress.com to wordpress.org for my other blog, Leap of Mama. Does anyone have experience with hosting a wordpress.org site? I’m looking for the simplest option that is also affordable, as I don’t have a lot of experience with site maintenance or security. Even though I like the built-in community of WordPress.com, I want more control over the ads on my site, as communities like BlogHer won’t let you join from WordPress.com.

Any words of wisdom would be much appreciated! I have read forums, but it helps to hear from other bloggers who have actually used WordPress.com as well.

Happy writing,

Olivia

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Month Five: The Leap

olivia:

A crossover post from my other blog– here’s to new adventures in motherhood AND writing! More on that second part to come.

Originally posted on Leap of Mama:

Month 6 and year 31 may be the most exciting yet.

My beautiful, present reality.

31 tomorrow. You don’t need to wish me a happy birthday. I am happy enough.

This week I wrote my letter of resignation with tears in my eyes. A blessing to choose between two good things, but hard to let go. My school has become part of my identity. Those kids changed me. My coworkers are friends. It took me forever to type. I wrote, deleted, wrote, deleted. I could not find the right words to express the difficulty of my decision. It is strange how much our jobs become entangled in our identities.

Still, my life has changed. I am not ready to leave my sweet girl for six hours a day. Maybe fewer would have worked, but I am grateful life chose for me. The words of advice that stuck with me most were about time. Jobs will be out there when she is bigger and…

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Come join me over at my new blog!

I know posts about motherhood aren’t for everyone, but in case you missed the memo, I am now blogging over at Leap of Mama as well. Whether you are a first-time parent, empty nester, or suffering from baby fever, you are welcome! Come on over, click follow and join the fun.

I'm sure you don't want to miss what is happening in the world of this cute face.

I’m sure you don’t want to miss what is happening in the world of this cutie.

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Fourteen Years.

The memory is fuzzy now, a mixture of images and emotions, pauses because I really have to think. Fourteen years. I got off work at Osh Kosh B’Gosh in the outlet mall and you were waiting on the curb with your best friend and this beautiful girl from your apartment complex. It was hot and I was giddy because I knew you had waited hours for my shift to end, your cute face appearing inside the store when there were still hours left.

The three of you followed me home in your 80’s five liter Mustang with the leaky T-tops. My dad was just getting off work in his business suit and you were forced to shake his hand in the garage. I grimaced for you. It had to be a strong handshake, your death trap of a car parked out front and that smile on your face.

We decided to drive to a party at a childhood friend’s house. You rode with me in my Mazda 626 that kept on dying when I tried to get anywhere outside of Folsom, more than 200,000 miles on the odometer. Somehow, that night, it made it. You braced yourself each time I braked. We laughed anxiously. Your friends followed in the Mustang.

The party was tame by teenage standards, if anyone drank we had nothing to do with it. Instead we talked and talked until our faces were so close together that I wondered if you always talked to girls so close and then I thought it would be less awkward if I just kissed you. Later you claimed it was your plan all along for me to make the final move. It was the sweetest, gentlest kiss of my sixteen years. I knew you were different than the other boys.

You had to leave early, but at my best friend’s house we talked on the phone, a call filled with long silences and shy laughter. We decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Fourteen years later I am sitting in bed with our daughter scribbling these thoughts into a journal with just a nightlight. Like usual, it is 4AM and everyone else is asleep. I am at my mom’s and you are home, but with our sleeping child warm against my leg, I feel like you are here.

She is the most beautiful part of us but I am also glad we had those nearly fourteen years alone together first. High school dances, endless summer nights, college weekends in Davis, trips to Europe, our Berkeley apartment, our first house, the most beautiful wedding I could imagine. So much life lived, but so much more to go.

I love you, Alex.

Fourteen Years

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The Old Lady at the Door

An old woman knocked on my front door this afternoon. She knocked and knocked and when I did not answer, she knocked some more. At first she knocked on the door and then she knocked on the window with her keys and then the door again. The dogs howled and still she did not leave. Instead she sat in one of the wicker chairs on my front porch and made herself comfortable in the hundred and ten degree heat.

Reluctant, I opened the door, baby in arms, dogs still growling. I knew who she was. She was the same lady who stops cars dead in the middle of the street for a ride. I have picked her up on the corner before, her arms waving back and forth like it is an emergency. My husband has taken her to the farmer’s market. My mother-in-law waited for her to walk up and down each isle of the grocery store just last week. When she stops you, she gives you no choice but to let her in your car. She does not budge.

So when I opened the door, annoyed because I was trying to get the baby down for a nap, I told her I could not take her. I knew she could manage for herself. Sometimes I sit and watch her stand in the middle of the road until someone lets her in his or her car. She is quite capable and here I am, standing on my front porch in the heat with a sleepy infant who does not like the car, listening. The baby smiles, giving her more fuel. Inside I groan.

There are no apologies for waking the baby or causing such a ruckus. Just a straight face and a lot of complaints. Her knee, the blazing sun, her small social security check, her need to go to the store, (which we have learned is always followed by the bank and the post-office and the…). No sympathy when I tell her the (smiling again) baby is fussy. Instead stories about her grandkids making millions of dollars and those years she worked for Harry S. Truman and how her name is Bernice.”Like our street?” I ask. She does not respond.

I look at her clothes, a wool jacket and long pants. I am sweating in just shorts and a t-shirt, anxious to get back into the air-conditioned house. I feel sorry for her but still do not have the time or energy to take her all over town. After all, I have a trip to get ready for, a messy house about to be listed for sale tomorrow, a baby who should be asleep. I accept her phone number and tell her next time I leave the house without the baby I will give her a ride but warn her it might be a bit, I am leaving tomorrow. She finally gives up.

I ask if she has asked any other neighbors, she says no. The new neighbor pulls into the drive and she yells across the yard, the girl stares back uncertain if the woman standing on my porch with me and my baby is really yelling at her. I shut the door and shake my head. I call my husband and complain. I feel bad but she makes no attempt to be understanding. She is not like the other old lady who lives down the street, the one with the old cat who has now passed, who thanks me and apologizes every time she knocks because she remembers what it was like to have a baby with barking dogs.

This old lady pushes, so I push back. It is my nature to push when pushed. But now it is 4AM and I am awake while everyone else sleeps and I wonder if just maybe I should have been a little kinder and done something for her. Growing old sucks. Growing old alone is worse. Maybe I would be that pushy too.

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Deciding to Jump: To Go Back to Work, Or Not?

olivia:

Still a little rough around the edges, but working on a new blog to separate out some of my more personal writing– I will still be blogging @ oliviaobryon about writing/teaching/travel, but also want to see what it is like to take a more focused approach in the blog world. If you enjoy my mommy posts, I invite you to follow Leap of Mama too!

Originally posted on Leap of Mama:

It's the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up.

It’s the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up.

I am standing on the edge of one of the biggest jumps of my life. Either I go back to work part-time as an intervention teacher and attempt to juggle my dream of writing into the mix of afterwork motherhood, or I take a deep breath, and jump straight into life as a stay-at-home mom and writer.

For many, the answer seems easy. JUMP. But the decision is much more layered than I expected. I love my school, my students, my coworkers. Some days I feel on the verge of going stir crazy at home. I have a part-time job waiting that may never be there again. The predictability of a work schedule, a paycheck, and good health insurance speaks to my cautious nature. Returning to work is somehow the less frightening choice.

With a face like this, it is hard to leave home. With a face like this…

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Natural Childbirth: What Worked For Me

A friend messaged me today asking for some insight on childbirth without pain meds. As I went through everything that worked for me, I realized I would have loved similar tips before I had Eloise. So, below are some thoughts on what helped me to avoid having an epidural. I don’t claim to be an expert, nor do I expect what worked for me to work for everyone. However, I really do believe natural childbirth is more attainable than most women realize. And, if you fall into the “I just want an epidural” camp, no judgment, I get it.

I chose to avoid an epidural because I have a sensitive system and I did not want my labor to be slowed down by any outside interventions, (my biggest fear was needing a C-section). When I found out I would have to be induced because my water broke a few days earlier, I was really nervous. I had heard Pitocin changes the way contractions feel. While this may have been the case, I survived, and I want other women to know that being induced doesn’t mean you will automatically need an epidural.

Here is what worked for me (and, I will be honest, I was nervous about whether I could handle the pain):

1. Research. Before Eloise was born, I read as many natural childbirth stories as possible. I also talked to everyone in my sphere who birthed naturally and watched everything I could find on Netflix and the internet. The more positive stories I heard, the more I believed in my own ability to give birth without pain meds in a hospital setting. Among my favorites:

2. Established a birth team. For me, this meant hiring a doula and deciding that only my husband and she would be present at the time of delivery. While I had other visitors before everything got too intense, I knew it was important for me to maintain my focus if I was going to keep my momentum. While I love my family, I could feel their concern as soon as they walked into the room.

Hiring a doula ensured I received support from someone who had gone through the birthing process hundreds of times. According to studies, the presence of a doula reduces the use of interventions. I could definitely see why. Our wonderful doula advocated on my behalf throughout the process. She monitored how much Pitocin was given and spoke up when she thought it might be too much, something I would not have known to do on my own.

Most importantly, the calm presence of my doula reminded me of my goal. As she sat there listening to me curse and moan, I did not want to let her down. In retrospect, I know she would have had no judgment if I changed my mind about an epidural, but there was something about knowing she was there for the specific purpose of supporting me in my desire for natural childbirth that helped me get through to the very end.

3. Exercise. This is where I could have done a much better job, but I did enough to make it to the finish line. If I have another child, I will work even harder in this department as I used every last ounce of energy I had to get Eloise out. I was really worried I would need a C-section if I had to push any longer. Had I built more strength prior to delivery, I may have been able to use a different birthing position than the traditional hospital bed, which could have expedited the process and made some of the after effects a little less painful.

4. Relaxation and nutrition. As much as exercise is important, it is equally important to be rested and well-nourished. If you eat crap the weeks leading up to your delivery, you will probably feel like crap, which is not going to help you. Likewise, if you fill your pre-delivery maternity leave with as much activity as possible, you may be wasting some of the energy you need later. I rested, a lot. I ate carefully. I spent a lot of quiet time on my own. You get the picture.

5. Birthing ball. Don’t leave home without one! I was pretty nonchalant about using a birthing ball, but once I got to the hospital I realized there was no comfortable place for me to sit and labor. I ended up spending most of the 17 hours sitting on the yoga ball my mother-in-law graciously brought with her to the hospital because I had forgotten it at home. The bonus, it made a fantastic seat for laboring in the hospital shower.

6. Flexibility. I don’t mean the physical kind, although I am sure that helps too. Birth is not a perfect process. I had to adapt to Pitocin even though it felt like the end of the world for a few minutes. By the end of labor, I did not even care how they got her out anymore. Had they told me I needed a C-section, I would have been disappointed, but it would not have mattered. I just wanted my daughter out and in my arms. This is something I did not understand before I got to the hospital. At the end of the day, all that matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mama, whether this is achieved with drugs, surgery, or just a healthy dose of willpower.

So, there you have it! I am sure there are a million other secrets to natural childbirth, but those are the ones that worked best for me. Yes, I breathed through it, but my doula guided me through the process, I didn’t practice any fancy breath moves ahead of time. I didn’t use meditation or visualization. I just focused on surrendering to the process, remaining calm, and remembering my goal. I am stubborn but not particularly tough when it comes to pain or physical feats, which is why I want to share my experience. If I can do it, I am not alone.

Should you be contemplating a natural childbirth, feel free to contact me. I am kind of obsessed with birth. It is the most amazing thing I have ever done, even if it hurt, a lot.

This is not the face of a particularly confident mother about to give birth without pain meds, but I did it anyway.

This is not the face of a particularly confident mother about to give birth without pain meds, but I did it anyway.

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Month Four: Awake.

I am awake. It is 4:16 AM. She is asleep. I should be too but instead the hum of the fan is pounding a hole straight into my head. Insomnia is not fair when your sleep revolves around someone who is four months old. I take it back. Insomnia is never fair. The sleep gods must have a strange sense of humor.

I get up and turn off the fan, worried I might wake my husband who sleeps restlessly in the Sacramento summer heat. I creep back to my spot, her small hand reaches out to make sure I am still there. During the fourth month she has shifted her preferences and now refuses to sleep in her bassinet. Instead she has to touch me. I don’t mind. I actually revel in the closeness. Her soft skin helps me sleep, her quiet breath a lullaby.

Often I feel attachment parenting is as much for me as it is for her. People like to warn us we will regret it later. We just smile. For now shared sleep buys us extra hours and strengthens our bond as a family. We know we are not alone. Many of our friends sleep with their babies. I don’t know why it is such a shameful secret. In other cultures it is normal. Separation after all those months in one body is what feels wrong, for me at least. We tried the other way. It only partially worked and was exhausting.

Without the fan I can now hear everything. My head no longer hurts but I am aware. The dog’s claws scrape the wall where he sleeps under the curtain, desperate for a little cool air from the open window. Birds chirp and then disappear. A large truck moves somewhere blocks away. My husband breathes rhythmically, the other dog snores. I listen as the dog beneath the window goes to the kitchen. He huffs. Shit. He needs water. I should get up.

The words of this post begin to sift through my brain, but I lie in bed, enjoying the feeling of her skin against my arm, listening. The other dog continues to snore as the first patters past the open window, outside. Shit. He is going to bark. I hear him huff a couple muffled yelps, his attempt at self-control. Then he lets loose. I jump out of bed and stumble into the door of his open crate. I make more noise than he does. My husband stirs, the baby is still.

I get the dog inside and give him water. He twirls in appreciation. His bowl was empty. I sit in front of the computer, 4:18 AM. The crinkle of my granola bar wrapper awakens the other dog. They both breathe rhythmically by my feet as I type, asleep again. I am the one still awake. Twelve minutes have passed. I no longer care.

I will pay tomorrow, but in this moment the price is worth it. The cycle of sleep, play, feed, repeat is the most beautiful gift life has given me, but it leaves little time for anything else. I know it is a season, a brief span of time where I am needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I feel rebellious stealing these few minutes for myself. I am like the teenager on the phone in the middle of the night when the alarm clock looms just beyond the horizon and my parents have given up on telling me to go to bed. Tomorrow I will show up to life with black circles.

Oh right, tomorrow is already here.

She often sleeps through the night now, or for eight hours at a time. I seldom go to bed with her, so somehow it still does not feel like enough before I have to pull myself out of bed to feed her. If I am lucky, she will go back to sleep and I will somehow find eight hours myself. If I am not so lucky, she will open her eyes and smile and I will still be lucky anyway because she is mine and for the moment my only job in life is to take care of her.

On second thought, I better try to steal a few more minutes of sleep.

People like to warn us we'll regret sleeping with her later because we'll never get her out of our bed. We just smile. Some experiences are just to sweet to pass up, even if we might have to do a little extra work later.

Hard not to be happy sleeping next to this sweet being.

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What I’ve Learned From Daddy’s Kitty

The cat on my front porch looks like death. Often, my husband and I stop as we pass to make sure he is still alive. His bobble head sits atop a decaying body. We are certain he has picked our home to die.

A couple weeks ago, my husband stopped a few houses down from ours and pet him for a moment on our evening walk. Since then, the cat has not left our front porch for more than a couple hours, earning the name Daddy’s Kitty.

He stays for the thirty seconds of love he gets a few times a day. We found out an old lady down the street feeds him. However, he hasn’t gone away, day after day, and we have realized maybe he isn’t going to her for food anymore. Now two small plastic dishes sit on our porch, as well as an old dog bed where he keeps watch over our home at night.

We did not want a cat. We have two dogs who bark whenever they realize he is out front. We have a small baby who probably should not be exposed to whatever Daddy’s Kitty carries on his matted fur. At first I was afraid to even touch him. He cannot come inside our house. Still, somehow, he adopted us, not the other way around.

So, each time I step outside, I look death in the face. Daddy’s Kitty is hard to look at without contemplating suffering and mortality. No one seems to want him anymore, yet all he wants is love, his old purr box still sputters to a start at the slightest caress.

Daddy's Kitty

I wish I could get a better picture of him, but he is so desperate for love that he won't hold still long enough to snap one.

I wish I could get a better picture of him, but he is so desperate for love that he won’t hold still.

Daddy’s kitty is old, forgotten, and ugly. Yet he craves love and is not afraid to show it. Last night I lay awake and felt empathy for all the creatures on this planet, human and otherwise, who are like Daddy’s Kitty. Lonely and suffering. The thought was overwhelming.

Some neighbors regard him as a pest or parasite, a metaphor for how many see the dying in our culture. Death is uncomfortable to be around. It is easier to ignore or make it disappear. But Daddy’s Kitty is still here, still living, still wanting to be acknowledged, loved, and kept company.

And, who am I to end his suffering if it is part of his journey, part of the life we all live and the end we will eventually face? I was thinking about how there is suffering in birth yet how hard we fight the suffering that comes with death. I get it, but I also wonder if somehow we are trying to avoid an essential element of existence.

For now, Daddy’s Kitty is still purring and I do not feel it is my job to make him stop. I just wish I could ease his suffering by giving him a bit more love, but my hands are literally full. I am still fantasizing about some sweet old lady who will come and rescue him to a life of air conditioned Fancy Feast.

If nothing else, I am grateful to Daddy’s Kitty. He has reminded me of life’s duality and the importance of finding peace in the uncomfortable. He has shown me that even when we feel like we have nothing else to give, the smallest act of kindness does not go unnoticed. After all, Daddy’s Kitty is still sitting on my front porch because my husband stopped for thirty seconds to acknowledge him.

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