Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Upside of Grief

     So here it is.  This year began hard, and it made me doubt that things happen for a reason.  Or at least that they happen for any reason that I'm okay with.  I felt overwhelmed--grief, that old enemy, and anxiety, my greatest demon, had found me again.  And I was okay with it for a little while, because I didn't want to be happy--I wanted to be full of the grief because it's fucking grief, and we need to feel it, we need to be sad, and angry, and for just a minute, grief and anxiety need to be in charge because then we know that it matters.  
    Maybe they would've won this year, or I don't know, maybe I would've lost, but apparently, I'm from sterner stuff than that.  I'm determined to be the girl who reaches out and grasps the upside of grief.
     When my brother Jay died I took up tap dancing.  No, it's true. At the tender age of 29, I realized that all my life, I had wanted to dance.  And since my brother had been 31 when we lost him, I knew there was never a guarantee that life would be long.  I joined a class where I was the youngest member, and the only one with no prior tap experience.  For two years, I put on those shoes and learned how to do parididdles and cincinattis, meeting once a week with the class but practicing all week long, tapping out a reminder that life is short.  Life is short.  Life is short boom de boom.
     I wasn't a tap Goddess, but I felt alive.  Several years later, two kids and a full work-load let me forget about the shortness of life.  I threw myself into work, missing out on tap and to be honest, too many of my children's achievements.  It took two miscarriages, the death of my in-laws, and a bout with cancer to remind me again:  life is fragile.
     I found myself searching for something new to remind me that I was young, and alive, and strong enough to hold onto fragile life.  This time it was martial arts.  My kids had been attending a local studio, and the movements fascinated me.  I was overweight, and nearly 40, and the last thing I thought I would look good in was a white uniform.  But it did make me feel strong.  I felt some of my muscles used for probably the first time, and the forms held a certain kind of comfort when I did them well.  I've always been attracted to movement, and feeling my body flow from form to form as it remembered what my conscious brain did not was soothing in a way I hadn't even known I needed to be soothed.  Oh, sure, sometimes I could not convince my hands that they knew how to move the jong bong (like a bo staff) in the right direction...but other nights I felt like I was water flowing through the wind.  I continued my training until I was eight months pregnant with my youngest, and then retired my belt to once again marvel in the young life I was raising.  I forgot, again, about my own life.  I got lost in "there's always tomorrow for me."
     But last year my oldest brother died.  Grief returned and with a vengeance reminded me that tomorrow has never been guaranteed, and that if I want something I need to grasp for it now.  I need to work hard and make it happen.  I didn't go back to tap dancing or martial arts.  I already knew I was physically strong.  This time, I needed to nourish my creativity and challenge myself in other ways.  
     I wrote a novel, a fantasy, and submitted it for publication.  Pressing the send button was probably the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever done.
     I also found the Boston Superheroes, a volunteer group where members dress as superheroes for charitable events.
     You might laugh at a 43 year old (still overweight) woman signing up to dress up as Black Canary and parade around at volunteer events in a leotard and tights, especially when you realize that her anxiety disorder often prevents her from leaving the house.  I certainly laughed.  I laughed nervously while I signed up for an event, and laughed with a little bit of horror in my voice as I drove up to Patriot Place for the Cupcakes For Heroes event.  I checked my blond wig in the mirror and took several little hyperventilating breaths before getting out of the car.  I had never met a single member of the team in person.  
     But I felt like I had the entire time I was there.  I gave children high fives and made them laugh, and I was with a group of people who were diverse and interesting and down to the last wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  I had stepped as far out of my shell as I could and not felt foolish or unwelcome once.  
       This was a year in my life.  My brother will never be here again, and that isn't something I'll put away on a shelf.  It will always be with me.  But as I stress about leaving the house I'll remind myself that I can.  As a new year rolls in, I'll remind myself that the next one is never guaranteed.  And I'll write and submit, and I'll squeeze into my superhero duds, because tomorrow I might not get the chance.
   If there is an upside to grief it is that it can remind you that the end of the race isn't the goal.  The sights along the way, the skills we learn, and what we put out into the universe, those are the important things.  

Friday, November 13, 2015


I've been watching all the "thankful" posts on Facebook over the past few weeks, and most years I jump in with both feet.  There's always something to be grateful for, and I mean that sincerely. I have a wonderful husband, amazing kids, a loving mother and a ...not completely hideous brother (you're welcome, B.) But I'm still finding it hard to put all my thankfuls out there, onto Facebook and into the Universe.  

Last year in November my oldest brother was diagnosed with Colon Cancer.  I put it in caps because it's big, and scary, and a nightmare.  As many of you know, the fight from there on was quick, and nasty, and it didn't end well.  I can't seem to shake the sentiment that for all the things I'm thankful for, he doesn't have.  I have my health.  I can hug my kids every night.  And I have the luxury of whining about the fact that I have those two privileges.  

I'm thankful he got out of the hospital in time to have Thanksgiving one last time.  I'm thankful for the chance to spend so much time with his two beautiful girls.  I'm thankful for every happy memory I can give them, or better, remind them of about their Dad.  But that thankfulness is tainted by the thought that he is gone.

Im thankful that I'll have my mother, my brother B, my nieces, and (for the first time) my great-auntie and mom's cousin for Thanksgiving dinner, but the addition of guests is sobered by the fact that one is missing.  

I know; I know.  I should focus on the positives.  I am positive we will live through it.  I am positive that after each first (Thanksgiving, Christmas, anniversary) we will begin to adjust--not heal really, because the scar will still be there, but like one who has lost a limb we'll learn how to function without.  I'm looking forward to that November, where I can post that I'm thankful I've survived.  

For this month, I'll read all of the things you are thankful for--I love the positive posts.  I'll just save my own for the day I can be anything less than reserved.  The day I can release the negativity into the wind, and embrace the future with both feet.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Voice of Edward Elric

We were fortunate enough to go to RI Comic Con this past Friday, and for all the problems they appeared to have Saturday, Friday ran pretty smoothly for us and was a great time.  My only negatives were the lack of real direction--we had to ask a vendor to find out there was a whole other building; and the poor design of their convention app. Because the app didn't have any direction (the celebrities' areas were listed as "TBA"), we were left trying to find the one guy who knew everything to find the things and people we wanted to see.  

We saw the Batmobile:

Bats won't mind if I take it for a ride....

And we saw some great cosplay:

And we found some unique vendors with all of our favorite fandoms:  Marvel, DC, Firefly, Game of Thrones, and more.  But finding the celebrity we really wanted was tough.

And who did we want to see? Well, Friday wasn't a huge day for photo ops (Alex Kingston was there, but since the $65 fee only covered two people, we decided it just wasn't in our budget.)  Before we left home, Happyboy and I had discussed the fact that Vic Mignogna, the guy who voiced his favorite anime character, was going to be there.  This voice actor, amidst all the A and B-list celebrities, was at the top of our "must meet" list. (Ming-Na Wen was at the top of mine, but we could only afford to go on Friday, so I will have to pine away until next time.) 

Happyboy spent hours--I mean, hours, trying to find a perfect souvenir.  He passed by comic books (we can get those at home), action figures (nah), POP! figures (he was tempted by the imaginary friend from Inside Out, but he changed his mind), and even anime keychain figures. Happyboy has mastered the art of not settling.  We haven't mastered the art of always being patient with that, and it was almost time to go. But ten minutes before we planned to leave, he found it. A Full Metal Alchemist watch that he could have Vic Mignogna sign.

Now, let me just say, he had the idea of Vic M signing it on his own, and we were happy to pay for an autograph.  But when we got there, Vic's seat was empty. We stood there, disappointed, and a lovely lady in a Dr. Leslie Thompson cosplay asked who we were waiting to see.

The lovely Dr. Leslie Thompson 

This lady was wicked awesome, as we say in Boston.  Vic M had just arrived, and wasn't planning on sitting to sign autographs tonight.  He was checking out the floor as a guest, not a celebrity.  The RICC person who seemed to be in charge of the autographing let us know that he was very sorry, but it wasn't happening tonight.  As we left, understanding but disappointed for Happyboy, "Dr. Thompson" ran up to us and said "hold on! Where's the box, and a pen?"

She ran them over to Vic M, and we followed.  As Mr Mignogna was starting to say "And tell the little guy I said--" she interrupted him to say, "Oh, they're right here!"  

Vic Mignogna, as we found out that night, is also starring in the Star Trek series web series, Star Trek Continues, as Captain James T. Kirk--which is a pretty big deal.  He could have felt put-upon, or just plain tired--he'd literally just arrived at the hotel.  He apologized for being "all grubby" (he wasn't) and shook my son's and our hands, and told Happyboy, who was dressed in a Ciel from ElSword costume, to keep being awesome, keep doing what he was doing.  Told him he loved his costume and his blue hair, and even let us take a picture:

Super big bonus? When he mistook Happyboy for a girl and we gently corrected him, he didn't bat an eyelash, just said "oh, sorry about that, I'm so glad I met him." He said a few more words that made Happyboy feel pretty special. 

It was the highlight of the day.  He didn't even charge for the autograph or photo!  As big Star Trek fans, we probably would have checked out Star Trek Continues anyway...but after meeting the voice of Edward Elric, we'll be tuning in with goodwill and good wishes for his continued success!

Some final notes:  I have two entire other posts about meeting Chris Claremont, writer of (among many other things) my favorite XMen story lines, and cosplaying.  For now, let me share these:

Chris Claremont signed my DOFP tshirt.
Robin is smart to be wary of the Joker....
Punkgirl's Steampunk Penguin Cosplay

Friday, October 9, 2015

TV for the Woman Who Hates TV

I used to never watch tv, but in the past few years there have been so many comic-related shows,  SF/Fantasy related dramas, and even a few shows that really featured strong females that I've been spending far too much time in front of the tube (I know, it's not a tube anymore, right?) Anyway, this year in particular had me very excited, with Dr Who coming back with the fabulous Peter Capaldi and my new favorite villain Missy  (I loved the Master, but Michelle Gomez has given new life to the frenemy relationship that the Doctor & the Master/Missy enjoy. 

Michelle Gomez as Missy on Doctor Who.  Image credit: BBC

 Arrow's premiere showed us that a much lighter Ollie is the way to go, that  Felicity could go back to being herself and make the show infinitely better, and that there are surprises in store for us this year.  Agents of SHIELD's premiere focusied on plot developments and character development alike, with Chloe Bennett's Daisy/Skye becoming a leader, Clark Gregg's Coulson getting back to being the guy we know and love, and Ming-Na Wen's Agent May showing her more human side.  One or two big surprises in the episode, I won't spoil it for you. Finally, the Flash gave us a glimpse into future without yet getting into Flashpoint, and gave us a starting point for this season given the big events that happened at the end of last season.

Blindspot image credit: NBC

I loved the premieres so much that it prompted me to extend my time in front of the tv by checking out two new shows, Blindspot and Quantico, both of which promised a strong female lead.  Blindspot in particular had so much potential, with Jaime Alexander (SIf in the Marvel Universe) playing the main character, Jane Doe.  Sadly, the three episodes I watched did not live up to their potential.  I love JA as Sif...but watching her explore her sad doe-eyed look for three hours straight was more than I could bear.  While she seemed to come out of that for a few moments in the middle of the episode, back she went by the end of the story.  Her co-lead Sullivan Stapleton, who plays the tough guy with a heart FBI Agent Weller, delivers his lines with intensity, which kind of tells me that he knows how bad the script is and is trying to compensate.   Again...the premise is so good...but the writing just isn't.  The show would benefit from not only better writing, but a consultant with some kind of FBI or military background (if they already have one, they're doing a very poor job.  There's a scene with an explosive where Weller can't take the blasting caps--which are right there, in plain view, off because of some unexplained trick of the guy he just caught with it, but he can tear off bits of the plastique to make a smaller blast. Picture my skeptical face here.)

Quantico star Priyanka Chopra. Image credit: NY Times
As disappointed as I was in Blindspot, I'm giving it another shot--one more episode to iron out "the kinks."  In contrast to my disappointment with Blindspot, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Quantico.  Given that there are definitely a few spots where believability has to be suspended, I liked it much more than I thought I would.  Priyanka Chopra is oddly compelling to watch, and the twists and turns in just two episodes have been enough to keep me guessing.  By the end of episode two the show is very reminiscent of "The Fugitive", where the main character can trust no one and every step forward sends her two steps back.  I do wonder if the show wil remain that way, in which case I wonder how long it can live up to its prpmise, but for now it's definitely on my very selective watch list.

Kristen Ritter as Jessica Jones. Image credit: IMDB

Coming up:  I can't wait for Jessica Jones on Netflix.  Given the character's very dramatic and adult-themed issues and her relationship with Luke Cage/Power Man, I am looking forward to binge-watching the season when it comes up in November.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

King Richard's Faire, Magic, and Memories

   By now you know that I'm a sucker for any kind of cosplay.  That desire started with a little place in Carver, MA known as King Richard's Faire.  When I was seventeen or so, my friend Tracey asked me if I wanted to go to this renaissance festival that was really cool and you could dress up in olden times clothing, you could get this awesome jewelry that you couldn't get anywhere else...she had me at "dress up."  I immediately began to sew together a costume out of tapestries and odd materials, creating a character to go with the clothes.

     That was ahermferumpaderm years ago. I've gone off and on to King Richard's for years, but lately it has become a tradition with my kids.  This year was truly special; my brother Bill took us, along with my brother Charlie's teenage girls.  The dynamic that exists between the four teenage children is something magical in itself--while my kids love the Faire, and participate to an extent, when the four of them are together there's a bit of extra courage for each of them, as if the parts are made stronger by the whole.  I like to think it's the streak of the wild child in my brother's children tempered by the quiet creativity in my own.  Together they stretch the boundaries and made what would have been a fun time...well, as I said, magical.

     I knew it would be special the instant they started dancing when the drummers played.  Without care for who was watching, they twirled and dipped, arms flying about their heads. 
My nieces with Punkgirl and Happyboy dancing to the music.

     Off they went.  A small part of me wishes I could just follow them, and watch with glee the mischief they could indulge in.  

     But then I would have missed this:

And this:

And even this:

     Still...I did miss the children conspire with Queen Anne.  Yes, the four teens stalked the Queen, and when the Queen insisted they dance with her, they asked her if it would be easier if the King were...missing.  Now, I'm not going to go into details, but let's just say they wanted to take some of the weight off the King's the Queen's defense, she made sure that the King wasn't to be harmed, only perhaps...indisposed for a bit.  It was almost too incredible to believe that the Queen played along, until an hour later, when she came back, and I heard the exchange with my own ears.  All in all, it was a fairly magical piece of the day.
The Queen indulges the young lady with some Harry Potter "expelliarmus" action

The young misadventurers in the Queen's court

While waiting to address the King, we caught the Misadventurers on the King's was another highlight of the day, as the Missdventurers called for young children to participate, to become Misadventurers themselves.  My two nieces (let's just call them Wild Wench and Lady Who) and Happyboy readily jumped up to participate, but to my surprise, so did Rose.  Up the ramp to the stage she went, and as the show went on stopped periodically to yell, "Mom, Dad, Billy--I'm on stage!" over and over.  She's a bit of a ham.
Happyboy, Wild Wench and Rose on stage at The Misadventurers

     Again, it was a huge highlight of the day.  There were also the Washing Wenches, the Whip Show, an aerial silks show, and the Jousting events, all free of charge, as well as a tiger show that we didn't stop to watch.  These were all of the events that were included in the cost of admission, and you can, with older children, get away without paying for anything else but food or souvenirs.  However, we had Rose, so we ended up shelling out cash for the maze/slide, the rocking ship, and the pony ride:
Rose and Jessie, a friendly little gal who nuzzled my hand and consented to a pat on the neck.

     Now here comes my one complaint.  King Richard's Faire doesn't allow any food brought in, and doesn't allow you to leave and return.  What this means is that for people like Punkgirl & me, who have celiac disease, there really isn't an option to eat there.  The food service helpers are woefully untrained about allergies--they told my husband that the chicken nuggets and fries were gluten free.  My daughter ate them, and for the remainder of the day I watched for headaches, rashes, and stress.  Before I purchased my own food (because I couldn't believe they were really gluten free) I asked again. I was told no, they were not.  I stood in two separate lines, because on the website both the sausage pepper onion and the chili bowl are listed as gluten free, but as I watched them dip the ladle into the bread each time and then back into the bowl, I knew there was no chance that my food wouldn't be cross-contaminated.  I get incredibly ill if I even get a drop of wheat in my system, and since I didn't want to spend the rest of the day in the bathroom or lying down on the ground, I chose to stick to water and chance the kettle corn.  Because KRF has a food ticket system, this meant I now had $15 worth of tickets (yes, it's $5 for a Coke and between $8 and $10 for a meal--and you have to buy tickets in denominations of 5) that I couldn't use.  This was the worst part of the day, but I did pull myself through--I've been dealing with celiac since before they had gf options anywhere, so I am no stranger to just sucking it up and being hungry at big events.

     The food hiccup aside, we had a really good time.  It was expensive, because we were feeding 4 people (5 counting me--but I used my tickets to buy my mom some fudge and Rose some ice cream) and we were buying souvenirs--but for $26 I got each of the kids and myself one of these little leather notebooks in varying colors and this uber-cool pencil:

But even with those costs, the free things I got were worth far more in value to me: 

Slay At Home Mom and her little Misadventurers

The Princesses and the little misadventurers

Happyboy being adventurous 

Rose hanging out in a Sky Chair--literally.

A Sun Sprite who spent some time interacting with the young misadventurers

A fun day at the Faire for all.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Future Punkgirl and Other Lunch Shenanigans

Okay, I'm not the first person to write about making from-home lunches fun, and I'm sure I'm not the most creative, but I am the one most likely to never tell you to cut your kid's sandwich into a replica of the Mona Lisa. If you, like me, have no aptitude for making works of art out of food, then this is the post for you.

Punkgirl was diagnosed with celiac disease five years ago, and the biggest change for her (and me) was the inability for her to order lunch at school. We eat a gluten free meal for dinner (because I, too, have celiac disease, and I refuse to cook two meals), but up until that point I let the kids get their fill of gluten-filled foods during breakfast and lunch. Punkgirl was pretty devastated to find that she could no longer participate in eating the chicken nuggets, pizza Friday, or any of the other kid-friendly (read:gross) foods at school. And until recently, these things weren't readily available in gluten-free varieties. 

So I became pretty good at slapping two pieces of gluten-free bread together, but more importantly, I became great at making the kid laugh at lunchtime. It's not fun when you're eating a lunch brought from home that tastes like cardboard in tinfoil and everyone else is eating warm chicken enchiladas, or hamburgers, or even sloppy joes. Thus began Future Punkgirl and Other Shenanigans.

I write notes--not every day, because then it's too routine, but say, once every few weeks or so, though I have gone as long as a month--to Punkgirl, from Future Punkgirl (in case you haven't guessed it yet, Punkgirl is my eldest daughter, Shaelin.) 

Punkgirl was a middle-schooler when I started, and middle-schoolers are for some odd reason obsessed with gross. So the grosser, the better. They also love drama, which is why I like this one:

Today, for the first time in high school, I sent her one that said "Shaelin, something momentous is going to happen today. Be ready for it....*PS, if you don't believe me, your friend S is sitting to the right of you today. PPS If S isn't sitting to the right of you, you've accidentally changed the future by coming back to the past to warn me--you! ~F.S.

Punkgirl ruined the surprise today by accidentally going into her lunch bag in the morning, but the hysterical giggling coming from her lips tells me she still enjoys the adventures of Future Punkgirl.

I know you're thinking "that's it? A couple of notes, that's all you've got for me?" The truth is, it could be--it's minimal effort and maximum return (because we never know when future Punkgirl will make an appearance), but for those of you over-achievers out there, I have a couple more suggestions.

Be crazy. By "be crazy" I don't mean hide in the lunch room closet and spy on her to make sure she's eating okay (I mean, it will stay in her mind for the next several years when you pop out that one time and let her know that you'll keep checking to make sure she's actually eating...but you probably don't need to do that. Probably.) I mean be creative, and make her be creative. I've duck taped her dessert closed (though she wasn't as happy with that one because she put in all the effort of getting it open to find NOT CHOCOLATE inside.) I've cut a cupcake in half and placed it in one of those weird-shaped salad dressing holders, so the only possible way to get it out involved getting chocolate frosting on your fingers. And I've used milk and food coloring to paint toasted bread for her sandwich with bizarre or creepy pictures (though admittedly, that one was far more effort than I generally expend.) 

The idea is that Punkgirl gets a laugh, or a groan, with at least a few lunch meals per month. Her friends even get a laugh, as she opens her bag with care in case something some day pops out of there. Not that I've encouraged that concern...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Something Serious: Suicide Prevention Week

Suicide Prevention Week is coming up, and it has me in a serious mood, reminding me that as glorious as my life is right now, there was a time where I suffered from PostPartum Depression (PPD) and suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, I was able to get help, and if you have these kinds of experiences, I urge you to reach out if you're able.

     The first time I realized how bad it was I was driving home on I-93, with the baby in the car seat and tears streaming down my face. I had just left the Deerfield Fair, where my mother and relatives were enjoying the crisp fall air and the quaint offerings of the biggest pumpkin and best quilt contests.  
     I couldn't enjoy them, and had left my mother and her bewildered look behind, as I frantically took my five month old from her and hustled towards the car. A moment before I had been standing just past the fried dough stand, where I'd stopped to get a take-home piece for my husband. The breath had backed up in my lungs and a scream was waiting to burst from my lips as my gaze whipped from side to side. She had taken my baby.  
     That was all I could think, that they always say that it's someone close to you who steals your baby. As she headed back in my direction, I ran towards her, kneeling down to hug Shaelin and look up at my mother like a deer caught in headlights. I was terrified, and she was confused.
     "Sam, what's wrong?" She was genuinely curious, because not two minutes ago she had told me she was going to wait down at the gate. She couldn't know that the demon in my mind, the post-partum depression that I hid masterfully from view so no one would laugh at me or think I was weak, had erased that part of the conversation as if it had never happened.
     It didn't get much better when I was home. My husband had gone out with his best friend, and they had run into the friend's old girlfriend. This immediately translated to "they planned to meet her, and they didn't want me along."
     I sent the friend, who is one of the nicest guys on the planet, a nasty email accusing him of plotting to do God knows what, and to involve my husband in it, too. Even the little voice in the back of my head that was often lucid didn't stop me from pressing "send", and the next day he showed up at my work, trying to set things straight with a person who could no longer keep the demon separate from the girl. I was embarrassed, even more so as he waited an hour for me to finish work to see me. I don't remember the conversation we had--the demon was talking too loud--but I do remember telling him that my brother's death two months before had just made me a little "crazy." I tried to fluff it off, even as he tried to help, and ultimately, the demon won and I just went home.  
     Home, where I often envisioned running scissors down my arms until they reached my wrists, and the only thing that kept me from doing it was the little miracle baby who needed me as much as I needed her. She was less than six months old and was the only thing keeping me alive.
     The manic moments came more and more often. I accused my husband of anything I could accuse him of, and hid my demon as best I could from the doctor, my work, and the rest of my family. I would find myself poring through bills, trying to find something to fight about, because surely my husband didn't really want me.  
     Finally, a lucid moment allowed me to call my doctor. She only had two patients left and worked part-time, so I got her machine, where I left a teary message telling her that I wasn't me, that I had thoughts of hurting myself that couldn't belong to me. While I didn't immediately get an answer, I was sure just letting it out had helped. I felt so much better.  Later that day, when she called me at work, I let out an embarrassed laugh. "I was just over-whelmed for a minute. I'm fine, and I'm sorry I bothered you." It was Halloween Day, 2001, just a month and a half after two planes crashed into the twin towers. Everyone was ready for the world to get back to its routine, and I was no exception. Shaelin had her little piglet costume all ready for that night. The doctor ended the call with me, and did something that today would probably get her fired: she called my husband.  
     He begged, pleaded, and finally demanded that we got to the mental health urgent care department immediately. I resisted, telling him that Shaelin wasn't going to miss her first Halloween; in my mind, the demon was telling me that my husband only wanted proof that I was crazy so that he could take the baby when he divorced me.  
     I went into the waiting room with my arms crossed, my foot tapping, anger and fear at war with my lucidity. The big tattooed male nurse who talked to me made me feel "normal" for the first time in months. The therapist that came in to talk to me wanted me to admit myself to the hospital for a few days, and I explained in the only words that would pass my lips: "I will die without my baby. I'm better when I'm near her."  
     They made my husband promise to stay with me over the next few days as I set up appointments with therapists and psychologists. My mother came over when he couldn't be there. I wish I could say that I was immediately better; but the truth is that it took me a long time. It took medication to re-set the chemical imbalance in my brain, which had started with a miscarriage, worsened with pregnancy and delivery, and pushed me over the edge with the death of my brother.  
     But it did get better. The demon receded and I could finally remember who I was, could find my lucidity and embrace it. Years later, it's even easy to laugh at how "crazy" I was. But I try not to--I try to remember that in that moment, it wasn't crazy, it was my existence. I want my daughters and son to know that depression--the demon--can rear its ugly head, and that it won't be funny, they won't be laughed at, and that it can get better if they can only find the courage for one moment to reach out.  

     If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, please reach out.  Help is available. Call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Women In Comics

I had the opportunity to talk to several wonderful female comic writers & artists at Boston Comic Con.  It was an amazing experience that had me fangirling and completely geeking out...and it was featured this week on All Things Geek on The Good Men Project:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What's In A Name?

Every so often I think about the name of my blog--Suck At Home Mom.  I chose it purposely, because three years ago I was terrible at this stay at home thing.  I was incredibly hard on myself, and I was definitely lost without the constant interaction of the people I used to work with.

But over the last few months I've come to realize how much I'm thriving.  I'm able to write more than I had in years.  I'm working on a novel.  I've been published on The Good Men Project, The Huffington Post, and BlogHer.  I've been involved in writing communities, and I've gotten the hang of being at home with the kids and not needing to do something every minute.  Punkgirl remarked the other day--"You slay at this.  At being a mom at home."  I've shown my kids the workaholic mom--how could they not see it?  They were in the same school where I worked, and felt it keenly every time I chose to finish my work instead of seeing what they were doing.  

This isn't a working mom criticism--it's a working me criticism.  I give my all to any job--and that includes the one at home.  So in doing so, for me, it later came to hurt me.  Because just one comment from Punkgirl--"remember when you went out of the house to work, and you never had time to read our stuff or give us challenges or play games with us?"

That cut me to the quick.  She has begged me not to go back to work, and despite a desire to see other adults and have conversations that don't revolve around diapers or drama, I haven't.  And I failed at that at first...but now, I feel like I'm finally coming into my own.  Like I'm owning the s-a-h-m role.  Like I'm slaying it.  

So without further ado...over the next few months I will be changing my site from Suck At Home Mom's Cranky Blog...To Slay At Home Mom's Nerdy Blog.  I'm going to try to take the two things I love to do--activities with the kids, and all things  nerdy--into one blog.  Wish me luck, and I hope you'll love the new blog as much as the old!  (Feedback is always appreciated!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Make Mine Marvel" (Shoes)

     This week is DIY week at Camp Roffey, and in preparation I bought myself a nice bottle of Mod Podge.  I decided to try out a little project I've been thinking about, and with Boston Comic Con coming up in a few short weeks, I felt like it was just the right time.
     With an old pair of shoes, some Mod Podge, a sponge brush, and a free comic magazine I got at the recent Free Comic Book Day, I was ready to make myself a pair of unique, Comic Con-worthy heels to go with my "Ms. Marvel" costume for this year.

     First, gather your ingredients.  I would add to this photo a pair of plastic or latex gloves, because I used my hands a lot!  

You will need:
-Pair of shoes (I used heels, but you can use flats it sneakers too.)
-Mod Podge (I used matte, but you can use glossy if that's your preference.)
-Heavy quality comic (you can get these in the dollar bins at your local comic shop, just make sure that you get the thicker paper, not the old thin will probably work, but the colors are less vibrant and I suspect you'll need several more layers of Mod Podge.)  Also, make sure you get an extra copy to keep, so you won't feel guilty about cutting one of them up. 
-Tracing paper (I used a large clear plastic baggie and that worked fine)
-Sharpie marker
-X-acto knife (for trimming unsightly edges)
-Sponge brush for the Mod Podge
-The aforementioned gloves

I also kept a wet wipe handy for wiping off any excess Mod Poodge from the shoe...and my hands.

Step 1.  Trace the sides and front (and any other surface you plan to cover) of your shoe and cut them out.

Don't worry--it doesn't have to be perfect, that's why you have an X-acto knife!

Step 2.  Choose your "background" pieces and cut them out of the comic.  I like to leave a nice white trim around any comic panels so that it gives a nice "comic book" feel.  Lay these onto the shoe templates and cut to the shape of the template.  I don't have a picture of this step as I didn't think of it until after I had painstakingly fit the comic pieces to the shoe.  I like to try to make the colors on the outside and front of the shoes similar on both shoes, to give them more of a "matching shoes" feel.
Edit:  Step 2A:  Also cut out superheroes or scenes that you want to go on the top layer, so they are ready and you can place them on the background as you go (see step 6)

Step 3.  Apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to the shoe.  Don't cover the whole shoe--just the area where your next piece is going.  The key is to apply it evenly and try to have no big lumps or bubbles.

Step 4:  Place the cut-out comic piece on top of the Mod Podge, smoothing it out as much as possible.
I like to line the top up first, and I like to leave the trim of the shoe visible--but if you don't, you can simply apply Mod Podge inside the rim of the shoe and carefully fold the comic edge over.  Once the top is placed perfectly, I lift the bottom edge and apply a little more Mod Podge.  I smoothe the bottom down as best as possible, and use the X-acto to trim any excess.  I used my fingers to gently work any bubbles out of the paper.  It was messy but oddly satisfying.  Gently lift and re-work the paper if you need to, but make sure to put more Mod Podge on to hold it down tightly.

Step 5:  Apply a thin layer of Mod Podge on top of the chosen piece, smoothing out any bumps or bubbles.  

Step 6:  After your background pieces are on, and each has a thin layer of Mod Podge Add your favorite heroes on top.  The method is the same--apply Mod Podge, then apply the piece, then apply Mod Podge on top. If you work quickly enough, you can add the top pieces to the existing layer of Mod Podge.

You can see here I've added some of my favorite ladies on top of the bottom layer.  

Continue all the way around the shoe, applying Mod Podge whenever you add a piece to a new area.  Cover any gaps or flaws with a small cut-out hero.
"I'm the best at what I do.  But what I do isn't very nice."

Don't worry--we're going to cover that gap, and any other flaws, with more of my favorite characters.


Now, this is not a necessary step, but I found the back of the shoe to be slightly difficult when it comes to bumps and wrinkles.  I added two of my favorite characters (who I totally still "ship") to the back, and even with the wrinkles, they covered any overt gaps and made me super happy in the process:

Finally, Step 7:  Use your X-acto to clean up any edges (I'm not talented enough to do that and take a picture, sorry.)
Then add at least one more layer of Mod Podge (leaving 15 minutes before applying additional layers.  You'll know you're done when the shoe is smoothe and slightly stiff all the way around.)

To make your shoes waterproof, be sure to spray them with an acrylic spray that says "waterproof" on it.

And that's it!  Now you too can be "Ms. Marvel!"

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dear Family: I'm Not Letting You Go, It's Just Grief & Anxiety


     It's easy to think I'm fine.  After all, I've gone out with my friends here and there, I've gone on vacation with my family, I've even taken my mother to Paint Night.  I post pretty pictures up on my Facebook page of all the wonderful things going on and the accomplishments of my three children.  To the casual observer, I'm happy.  I'm moving on.
      The trouble is I'm crumbling inside.  Leaving the house is preceded by thirty minutes of heart palpitations and tension, as I try to keep it together despite the fact that a panic attack is clawing at my throat.  A text that goes too long without a response from my husband and I start worrying something's wrong.

     Something is wrong.  I got the call on January 6th, some time in the afternoon.  "Listen," my brother Bill said on the other end of the line.  "You have to go over to South Shore Hospital.  Michelle called.  Charlie sat down on the couch, then Ari came out and said Papa's not waking up."
     Everything else he said was lost as I fumbled out of the blanket wrapped around my legs and stuttered, "I'm on my way!"  My hands were shaking as I tried to put on my shoes, and my throat was stuck as my husband asked me what was going on.
     I don't remember what I told him.  In my head, I was busy re-playing the deaths of my youngest brother and father, fourteen and fifteen years ago respectively.  Re-playing the last month, when my oldest brother, Charlie, had been diagnosed with colon cancer.  Re-playing the night before, when I'd dropped him off so he could see his girls.
     I declined my husband, Chris's, offer to come with me, thinking the kids would need him more than I would, because I was just being silly. Charlie would be fine.  I would be fine.  I was wrong on all counts.
     I've been late for all three of my loved ones' deaths.  When my father died of lung cancer in 2000, I had been scheduled to take the following week off, but he died overnight and by the time we drove up to Middleton to say goodbye, he was cold, and gone.  I felt completely crushed for getting there too late--too late to see Da one more time.
              My Dad And Me
     When my brother Jay went into the hospital after a night of seizures and not being able to wake, I was too late then too.  I had stayed home to watch my brother Bill's daughter, Ashley, but as the night wore on into morning I knew I had to leave her with Chris so that I could go to the hospital.  As I walked through the halls, trying to find my mother, I saw them wheel a completely limp body past me for a CT Scan.  It was Jay, no longer thrashing but lying docilely asleep.  It didn't look like him.  His fever reached 104.5, and they transferred him by ambulance to another hospital.  He went into cardiac arrest on the way.  I'd never see Jay awake again.
     As I drove to South Shore Hospital, I knew it couldn't happen again.  How could it?  I couldn't be late again.  When I got put in the small room, I knew it was bad news--but as the doctor spoke to me and told me they were working on him still, I somehow, foolishly, had hope that I wouldn't be too late again.  She asked if I wanted to be there while they worked on him, and because I couldn't bear to be too late, I said yes.  When I got into the room, they had just called time.  I was too late to say goodbye to my brother, and my last remaining brother and my mother weren't there yet to keep me focused on someone else's grief, so I collapsed to the floor.
     When I finally managed to send a message to my husband, it wasn't elegant.  It wasn't careful.  It wasn't gentle.  It said "my brother is dead", because that was all my shaking hands could type.  
     I could tell you all about the services, or the severe flu that everyone came down with except me, or even the ride to pick up his ashes.  But the point is that the world goes on.  Those things are big moments to me, but not necessarily to the world.  To the world, it seems like six months or longer has gone by.  To me it's a day.  Maybe a week.  I put on my happy face, because neither his nor my children need sorrow, and my mother is grieving two sons the only way she can--by pretending it hasn't happened.  But for me, I want to sit down and burst into the uncontrollable sobs that just won't stop.  There's never time for that, so I let a little burst happen here or there, and then I force myself to go outside the house, no matter how much I hate it.  I would much rather spend my time inside, safe in a bubble of music and writing.
          This is my safe space 
      Invitations have been coming to family events.  I have a lot of family, and I used to go to all kinds of big events with them until my brother died.  Now the idea of stepping into a room with all of the people who I last saw at my brother's wake terrifies me.  It terrifies me to the point that I shake, and I gasp for air, and I ultimately just say no.  It doesn't make sense, but then anxiety and grief have never had to make sense for me.  
     Because I'm not ok.  All is not well.  My brother is dead, and I'm not ready to move on. It feels like if I go to a big family party, I'm admitting that he's gone, and I'm saying it's ok to move on.  It's not ok, yet.  Not for me.  So please, when I answer no to an invitation, know that I'm doing it out of love, a love for my brother that says I'm still here, I still remember, and I'm not ready to let you go.  Someday, in the way of grief, I will be.  When my tears are dry, when my sobs have finally been purged, I'll be able to think of a family gathering as just that.
     But until then, please understand, I'm not letting go of you.  I'm just holding on to my brother.