A Poem about Motherhood

My eyes are empty, round voids in their place.
So weak, I’m shaking
But I won’t slow down my pace.

There are two small humans that depend on me,
So despite little sleep, I maintain energy.

Four little eyes, two different shades of blue
Seeing the world as if it’s brand new.

“Give me kisses,” one says, puckering strawberry lips.
The other reaches up tiny hands to be carried on the hip.

“Go faster!” one shouts as I push him in the swing.
The other giggles gleefully at his brother’s bravery.

It’s been two days since my last shower,
But they’ll have their bath every night on the hour.

Their bellies I’ll fill, sippy cups handed out,
And before I can eat they’ll be up and about.

My food will grow cold before my first bite.
Coffee reheated not once, but twice.

Are they worth it, with all the diapers, sleepless nights, stubborn cries?
Are they worth the disfigured body and the transformation of our lives?

The Master of Creation placed two Angels in my care.
Two masterpieces, none like them, so special, so rare.

It’s worth it, every sacrifice, every moment of pain,
To love these two boys more than words can explain.

One day they’ll outgrow my lap and my stories,
But they will always be my sweet little boys.

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ROW80 Checkin: Sometimes its hard when Real Life and Writing don’t get along. It’s like oil and water – no matter how hard I try to combine them, it just doesn’t work. But I’m still pleased with how much I have gotten done this week! I’ve still been consistent with my goal of 1,000 words per day. If I miss a day, i double up the next (like today). Right now, my Fairtytale Reimagining story stands at just over 17,000 words out of a goal total of 75,000. I really like where its going, and absolutely love the characters!

Cat Chronicles, Episode #2: Trapped Like a Rat

We’d had the cat less than a week. She and Milo, the dog, were still getting used to each other. He often had to tip toe over her as she scrambled around his feet and chased after his tail.

She was certainly living up to her name: Shadow. It’s hard to get used to a creepy little ball of black shooting out from dark corners while I carry a stack of folded laundry down the hallway.

Many a stack found itself up-heaved onto the floor as I scrambled to dodge the clawed, fanged furball that detached from the shadows, attacked whatever flesh she could reach, then retreating before I could register what happened.

She was still kinda cute, despite the pointed razors at her toes that had all but shredded the skin on my hands.

Shadow was trouble from the get-go:  snagging my favorite sweaters, leaving unbelievably vile kitty bombs in the litter box I couldn’t believe her cute little body was capable of creating, and stealing the dog’s bed.

It was on the fourth of November that she gave me a scare when she disappeared for about an hour, then began screaming in the most horrible way.

“Shadow?” I called out, as if expecting her to shout back her exact location.

Wesley followed closely at my heels while Caleb snoozed away the drama.

I followed the sounds of screeching and howling and finally found the little furball kicking and struggling beneath the corner of my bed. Stuck to her entire backside was a sticky rat trap, placed there with the intention of catching the occasional scorpion by the recommendation of pest control.

I lifted the screaming kitten and tried to tug the fur loose, but it was stuck.

It was more stuck than a cheerio up a toddler’s nose.

The more I tugged, the more she squirmed, and the more stuck she became.

I’d only seen this happen one other time to a neighbor’s dog, a white cotton ball of a thing that had not one, but three sticky traps clinging to her fur. It took a professional pet groomer and an electric trimmer to shave the dog bald.

There was no way this cat would tolerate a trimmer held anywhere near her body.

I Googled how to remove a sticky trap from pets, and it appeared I was by far not the only person who found themselves in such a predicament.

I followed the instructions on my phone screen and applied some vegetable oil, but it didn’t make much of a difference.

She was still more stuck than a Lego man in a Play Doh wad.

I tried sliding a pair of rounded-tipped scissors between her flesh and the trap, snipping one little hair at a time. But for every one that I cut, six more got stuck.

More stuck than a golf ball in a home theater system subwoofer.

It finally took persistent tugging to get her free. So there I was, saving that dang cat for the second time.

To this day, she hasn’t shown an ounce of appreciation.

As of the sticky traps, they’ve claimed many more victims since.

 

 

Goodbye, brand new Paw Patrol socks.

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ROW80 Checkin: My goal of 1,000 words per day is the perfect goal. I have written that as a minimum each day, strictly on the manuscript that is a fairytale reimagining. I’ve been able to recycle old scenes from old works that fit perfectly, and match my MC’s voice flawlessly. 

The #1 Way to Make 2018 The Best Year Ever

The #1 way to make this year the best one ever is actually quite simple.

 

For most people, January means a fresh start. A new opportunity to make new changes, to improve, to break chains. To make resolutions and for once, stick to them.

According to Forbes, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s Resolution goals. I’ve most certainly been in that 92% that … well … failed.

My biggest resolution failures have been in areas I’m most passionate about. Shouldn’t that mean I have plenty of motivation to follow through? I mean, how hard is it really to lose that extra 10 pounds? (News flash: It’s HARD.) I mean, finishing that novel and submitting to agents/publishers won’t be that difficult as long as I put my mind to it and just do it. (Trust me … my mind is TO IT … and it’s still difficult as heck.) I mean, there’s no doubt I can make more time for myself as long as I’m firm about it. (Hang on. Imma let you finish, but first I need to go make my kids breakfast.)

For the past four years, however, I’ve managed to succeed with New Year’s resolutions quite well. Well, better than in years past. And the secret to success was actually quite simple.

Literally.

The #1 way to make 2018 the best year ever is to keep it simple.

At the start of 2014, I had so many ambitions. Caleb was soon to be born. I was very, very pregnant. I was looking forward to that new baby, looking forward to seeing my son become a brother. I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish that year, and started working out a plan.

First of all, I’m a compulsive list maker. I make a list every single morning to map out my day (now made easy by my beloved Focus Folder!). When I’m particularly busy, I’ll make a list of the lists I need to make.

After going over my resolutions list, I realized it was too much. How was I going to remember each of these and give them all decent effort? I was having a brand new baby, for Heaven’s sake. I would be a mom of two for the first time. Give me a break!

So I did. Give myself a break, I mean.

I sat back and studied the list, picking out commonalities among each of the items. That’s when I noticed that every one of them led to a similar end goal: SIMPLIFY.

So I chose that one word as my New Year’s resolution, and applied it to every area of my life.

Complex freelance writing work: Simplify. Let some of it go.

Overwhelm with housework: Simplify. Create an achievable system that works, and purge possessions to make it easier. Less stuff = less stuff to clean.

Schedule too full: Simplify. Pare down the number of commitments and get used to saying “No.”

It worked. I couldn’t believe it. I felt less stressed, more clear-headed, and more at peace.

I had officially discovered the #1 way to make New Year’s resolutions work!

By keeping. It. SIMPLE.

The next year, I chose a new word: Peace.

The next year, the new word was Discipline. This one backfired because it was more difficult than I ever imagined to try to apply discipline to every aspect of my life. So I changed it to Patience. Be patient with myself, my kids, my husband, and everyone around me.

The word for 2017 was healthy. Not skinny, or thin, or slim. Healthy. I’ve learned about making healthy choices physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve discovered that I love to run, whereas I used to despise it. And it’s paying off in many ways.

This year, I’m getting ambitious. I’m choosing TWO words.

*gasp*

One word that focuses on others, and one that focuses on myself.

The first one is Nurture.

This is the year to focus attention on nurturing the relationships that mean most to me. God, my husband, kids, family and friends, my home, and myself.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

I decided to start early, and drove to see a friend in Guntersville late December. Kathy and I talked for three hours about anything from making podcasts, to finding purpose, to New Year goals, to mom guilt. It was all the proof I needed that I’d chosen the right resolution word, because nurturing my friendship with her was extremely fulfilling. She is a natural-born counselor, and has a way of making people notice their own strengths. She gave me some personal challenges. I gave her some inspirations. I left her home feeling relaxed, empowered, and capable. As soon as I got home, I dove into those challenges and discovered something about myself.

I had discovered how much my life is governed by fear.

That’s when I chose an additional word: Brave.

Fear is not of God. Fear is also burdensome. Bar by bar, fear builds a cage around your spirit until you can barely breathe, much less fly.

I will no longer be afraid.

I will uncage the free spirit that moves me, and live a year of bravery. I’ll charge forward fearlessly with writing, putting fiction work out there for people to read. Blogging about whatever I want to blog about, no matter what the experts say. Hammering away at that novel manuscript, because I love it, and because I want to, not because it needs to be right or perfect.

I will no longer hide inside the safety of my nest. I will be brave, step out, and explore the life God has given me to its fullest.

Photo by Ray Hennessy

Here I go! Wish me luck. 🙂

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ROW80-Checkin: This is where I will post twice-weekly checkins for a writing challenge called ROW80, or a Round of Words in 80 Days. My goals are to write 1,000 words every day, plucking away at my manuscript of a fairy-tale reimagining. Here’s a little tip when you’re just now starting your writing for the day at 11 pm, and all you wanna do is just GO TO BED: Don’t look at the clock. Just keep writing. When you’re done, sleep is the reward. And the sleep will be sweeeeet. But trust me – you don’t wanna know what time it is when you hit the 300, 500, 800 word mark, because you’ll be tempted to throw your hands up and say, “Good enough.” Also, don’t look at your pillow. It has magical powers. Before you know it, you’ll be drifting toward it hypnotically. 

Cat Chronicles, Episode #1: The Beginning

I had always wanted a cat. I wanted a sweet, warm lap cat that would fight for my attention and curl up next to me, purring while I wrote stories. I envied my friend Crystal for her gorgeous tuxedo kitty named Felix. If I could have cloned him for myself, I would have. My husband was not keen on adopting a cat, however. We already had a dog and two kids. That was plenty for us. Plus, litter boxes. Yuck.

Little did I know how my luck would turn one Wednesday in 2014.

Caleb was only eight months old. Wesley was three. We had just dropped my husband, Kris, back off at work after meeting him for lunch. I was headed up the ramp to get onto the interstate, and glanced to the left at a man in an orange vest picking up trash with a grapple tool. That’s when a tiny black flash darted out in front of the truck.

I swerved to miss it, thinking it must have been a chipmunk or something. As we passed by, I saw a small black kitten curled up in the weeds.

My heart jumped. My mind immediately flashed to visions of a fluffy black lap cat, forever grateful for being rescued from the tires of passing vehicles.

I pulled over.

“I’ll be right outside the truck,” I told Wesley, rolling down the backseat windows. “I need to see something.”

I circled to the back of the truck, and sure enough, there sat the tiniest kitten I’d ever seen. The moment she saw me, she ran over to me, mewing loudly. I was impressed by her set of lungs in such a small body.

I picked her up and cradled her in my palm. She felt as light and fragile as a baby bird, and just as fuzzy. She curled her tail, which had chunks of fur missing, around her body and settled down. That’s when I remembered the man picking up trash. I stepped over to him.

“Do you know who this kitten belongs to?” I asked him.

He smirked. “Nah. But it’s been following me around for over an hour. She almost got ran over a couple of times.”

“Oh no!” My heart broke. What now? “I can’t just leave her. She’ll get killed.”

The man stopped in his task and shrugged. “I ain’t seen a mama or any other kittens around here, so it must be lost.”

I held the kitten out to him. “You should take it home. It seems to like you if its been following you around.”

He took a step back and held up his hands as if I’d just suggested he contract the plague.

In hindsight, I should have taken that as an omen…

“No way, I ain’t taking it.” He smirked as she began to doze in my hand. “It looks to me like you got yourself a new cat.”

He laughed and walked away, dropping more trash into his bag.

I climbed back into the truck and looked into the backseat. Caleb chewed on his fingers, and Wesley’s eyes were huge. “Is that a kitten?” he asked, unable to hide his thrill.

“Yes,” I said, “but we’re not keeping it. We’re just going to find it a good home.”

I tucked her into my lap and pulled away, making it only a few yards before she jumped down and began circling the pedals at my feet.

In hindsight, I should have taken that as a warning…

“Ok, this won’t work,” I said aloud as I reached down and plucked her from the floorboard. She loudly protested, clinging to my hand with needle-like claws.

I pulled over at the very next exit and found a gas station. Pulling up to the curb, I stepped out of the truck and called to the clerk through the open door. “Excuse me, do you have an empty box I can have?” I held up the kitten, who looked around with pure innocence. The clerk smiled and brought out a large, empty liquor box.

I thanked her, set the box into the passenger’s seat, and plopped the kitten inside.

She easily used those needle-like claws to scale the wall of the cardboard, and jumped right back out.

I scrambled around the floorboard, located her fuzzy little form, and dropped her back into the box, folding the lid down gently.

Seconds later, the lid popped back open, and she jumped out, leaped over the console, and hid beneath the backseat.

I knew if I left her beneath the seat, there would be trouble the moment I pulled away. I snaked my body over the console, stretched across the floorboard and gently gripped the kitten, pulling her free from the carpet like velcro. I plopped her back into the box and folded it shut. When there was only silence, I sighed and headed home.

The moment we reached the interstate, a tiny black claw thrust up through the center hole and waved around like a spiked periscope. It was followed by two triangular ears, and a tiny round head. She mewed at me, then attempted to climb out.

Traffic slowed to a crawl, so I took a picture, then pushed her head back down like a gentle form of whack-a-mole.

As we inched along the interstate, she tried it again, this time swiveling to look at me, attempting to use the charm of her cuteness. For a moment, the spell worked. I took another picture and laughed.

She saw her opportunity and took it.

In hindsight… well, you know.

I pushed her back into the box and held my hand over the lid the rest of the way to keep her from climbing out.

Every few minutes, she jumped up and stabbed my palm with a needle-claw.

By the time we reached our animal clinic, my hand looked like it had been attacked by Baby Wolverine.

I unbuckled the boys, held Caleb on one hip and the box on the other, and walked up to the counter.

The two women stood to peer into the box.

“Awwww, a kitten!” They both exclaimed, and took her out.

“Will you check it over and make sure it’s OK? I just found it, but we can’t keep it. Do you think you could find it a home?”

They glanced at each other. “We’re taking the weekend off, so there won’t be anyone here to watch it or feed it. Plus, it’s two days before Halloween… we have a policy against adopting black cats out before Halloween. People do horrible things to black cats at this time of year.”

Just my luck. I have found a black cat two days before Halloween.

In hindsight…

I resigned to take her home with me, but only for a few days. Once the threat of Hallow’s Eve black cat sacrifices had passed, I would find her a home. I tried not to think about what my husband would say…

The ladies took her to the back to give her a mini-exam (because what other kind of exam can you really give a kitten this small?). I took the boys next door to Dollar General and bought a litter box, litter, and kitten food. I studied the photo of the minuscule morsels on the outside of the bag claiming to be “actual size”, and wondered how she would get her tiny mouth around them.

When I returned back to the vet, the ladies brought the box with the kitten back out to me. A small paper bowl of food was at the bottom, and she was, miraculously, asleep.

“Well, here’s what we know. It’s a female. She’s healthy. She’s about five weeks old, and she was very hungry. What will you name her?”

“Oh, I’m not naming her,” I told them. “I don’t want to get attached. I can’t keep her.”

“Well, we need a name for the computer records. How about Pumpkin, since you found her right before Halloween?”

She turned and began typing.

“Uh, sure. That will work for now.”

I took the box and snoozing kitten home, set the box in the middle of the living room, and stared at it.

What now?

I called my husband.

“Um, listen, I have something to tell you…”

He was not happy. He swore he wouldn’t be cleaning any nasty litter box. He determined she had one week, tops, before we find her a home at all costs. One thing was abundantly clear: we weren’t keeping her.

That evening, when Kris arrived home, he took a deep breath and said, “Let’s see this cat.”

We looked around the room.

She was gone.

He shook his head and sat down on the couch, narrowly missing her as she uncurled from the shadows of the cushion.

She immediately climbed up his shirt to his shoulder, tucked in her little paws and tail, and fell asleep, purring loudly.

 

I held my breath.

Kris rolled his eyes.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “We can keep her. But we’re naming her Shadow.”

I turned and walked into the kitchen where I could fist pump in privacy.

Just before turning the corner, I glanced back and caught Kris reaching up to pet her.

I should have known we were simply under her spell. In the weeks to come, I would realize exactly what we’d gotten ourselves into.

Daniel

Contest entry: for short story competition, 99 words or less.

The dirt floor was cold and a draft breezed through his threadbare tunic. In the pitch blackness, a low growl rumbled. It reverberated in his chest and sent sharp chills up his spine. He gagged on the putrid odor of urine and blood. Sweeping sounds of pacing beasts and wet smacks of hungry jaws echoed in the shadows. Moist heat blasted his face as a sliver of light illuminated razor-sharp fangs.

Trapped in a den of starving lions, he did what any man void of fear would do.

He began to sing.

Fiction is great, but real life is better.

Natalie Cone | Encouraging and Empowering Women

1/4/2013

I love to write stories of all kinds. My computer is littered with scenes and words and characters that put up with whatever strange circumstance that I throw them into.

But fiction is not always what is the most fun. Sometimes… well, most of the time… it’s the REAL LIFE stories that are the most hysterical.

Natalie Cone | Encouraging and Empowering Women
Photo by Ella Jardim

Like a couple of weeks ago. We were travelling home from spending the weekend with my family. My husband played the “Where is…?” game with Wesley to keep him entertained. Kris asked where his nose was. Wesley expertly pointed to his nose. Kris asked about his elbow. Wesley held up his sweet, bent arm and pointed. When Kris asked where his gluteus maximus was, he pointed at me.

Or what about this afternoon? I was in dress pants and a nice sweater from an appointment earlier in the day. Because Wesley had been so well-behaved, I took him to a park to play. The wooden playhouse was high. Like, super-high. But I was wearing flats. And hey… I’m not THAT far past my athletic days. So I took a leap off the edge to make sure I was at the end of the slide in case Wesley decided to ride it down. I landed on my feet, but my upper body pitched forward. I did a curled-over awkward run, then tangled the toes of one shoe into the hem of my other pant leg. Doubled over, I did a sort of run-hop, run-hop, run-hop until I finally landed on my knees. Unfortunately, the playground was right in front of a fire department. I am pretty sure I will later see myself on America’s Funniest Home Videos, shot from a fireman’s cell phone.

Just this evening, my husband and I decided to crack open and take apart my HP Touchpad, after I have been having some battery charging issues. I have been stressing over this touchpad, which was a gift from Kris for Mother’s Day. I had tried everything–leaving it on the charger for days at a time, getting an inductive charger, forcing a hard reboot. Nothing. I even considered wrapping it in my hair and singing the Rapunzel Healing Incantation from Disney’s Tangled.

I was impatient to see the guts of the thing. So while we wait for the new battery to arrive, we took it apart. The battery was secured with three tiny micro-sized screws. Kris taped them to the table so that they wouldn’t roll away. A few short minutes later, the tape and screws were gone. We checked the floor. We checked everywhere that Wesley had been. I even checked my hair in case it somehow got stuck on me. I even checked the blinds behind the table to make sure it didn’t somehow blow off in some weird gust of strong wind that would unstick tape off a surface. I was bummed. About an hour and a half later, I found the tape, and all three screws… secured firmly to my sleeve.

So you see? What do fictional characters have on me? I could write a book on this stuff. And the great thing is… Life happens EVERY SINGLE DAY, with laughs embedded in every adventure. Fiction is great, but real life is better.

 

#empoweredchicks