Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving? . . . Oh, wait. I mean Happy Thanksgiving!

I gave that title because of this post that says from now on I will say I'm "great." Well, I'm sorry, but on this Thanksgiving, I wasn't great. I didn't try very hard to be, either. I'm sure you all expect more from me.

Two years ago on Thanksgiving I got really upset and ran out of the room crying after a day of watching everyone in my family have their children with them - everyone but me. I didn't have any children then, but I wanted some - had wanted some for a long time. I also had just come off my first attempt (a failed attempt) at an infertility treatment. I remember how I felt. I felt hopeless.

One year ago on Thankgiving I was 23 weeks pregnant with Gabriel. We had known for about five weeks that he had triploidy syndrome and would die. I don't remember being sad, though. Skyler would say that I wasn't doing all that well, but I just don't remember that. I think it's because, from my perspective now, it sounds so wonderful to be pregnant with him - alive and so close to me. I remember what I thought. I thought I didn't know if he would still be alive at Christmas. I do remember how that felt. It felt scary.

This year on Thanksgiving I should have been 22 weeks pregnant with Tater Tot. Instead, I'm 11 weeks not pregnant with her. Nobody noticed, though. Nobody noticed that Tater Tot wasn't there. Only me. Nobody remembered that Gaby would have been 8 months old at his first Thanksgiving if he was healthy and born on his due date and I got to keep him. No one else was thinking about what it would be like to have him there or what his hair would be like or how captivating his eyes would be. Only me.

My sister-in-law asked me to say the prayer. I wanted to say no because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it, but I don't believe in saying no to praying, so I went ahead. It didn't last very long. I began by thanking God for our family and the food and . . . that's where I got choked up. I wanted to say, "Thank you for Gabriel and Tater Tot" because Skyler and I always say that when we pray. I couldn't, though, because then my family would think I was crazy. So, to keep from looking crazy, I ran out of the room crying. Yeah, that worked!

Later, my niece-in-law brought in her newborn puppy that was about to die. She wanted to save it, but it was too late. He was cold, and he was gasping for air. I couldn't take it. The tiny puppy was just like my Gabriel - cold and gasping for air.  Once again, I fled from the room in tears. I don't know why I did that. I never think of Gabriel that way, never let my mind consider that dying was hard for him. The sick puppy made me think of my baby, though. I just wanted it to hurry up and die so it wouldn't hurt anymore. I wanted to tell her to just let it go, not to prolong its suffering.

This pic is where my mind went - my precious, helpless baby, gasping for air.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mrs. Skinny's Delectable Holiday Ham

We got a few catering orders for Thanksgiving. I ended up doing all the work. How do I keep falling into that trap? Thus, I was too tired (you know, from spending two whole evenings prepping and cooking after coming home from that silly little full-time teaching job that I have) to remember to take pictures to post on this blog. So, instead, I'll give you a recipe. Actually, it's more of a method:

Mrs. Skinny's Delectable Holiday Ham
Half or Whole bone-in ham
brown sugar
pineapple rings
pineapple juice
*Allspice can be substituted for nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.

Set ham in large pan. I usually use a large foil pan, doubled to support the weight of the ham. Make a rub for the ham with the brown sugar and spices. I just eyeball everything. I'm guessing about 3 cups of brown sugar, 2 TBSP of cinnamon, and 1 1/2 tsp allspice or 1/2 tsp each of nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Rub the ham generously with the mixture, leaving a thick layer of spiced brown sugar on the ham. Cover the ham with pineapple slices secured with toothpicks. Then, pour a mixture of pineapple juice and honey over the ham (gently so as not to wash off all the brown sugar rub). Cover the ham loosely with foil and smoke for about 6 hours at 325 degrees, basting every hour.

After slicing, pour some of the juices back over the ham and sprinkle generously with more of the spiced brown sugar rub. Place fresh pineapple slices on top. Oh, man. It's the best ham ever!

Like I told you in this post, I don't expect you to actually try to make your own ham. Just call or email me, and I'll fix you one for Christmas. I know you'll love it!

BTW: I originally posted the recipe for Mrs. Skinny's Sweet BBQ Sauce, but Phat Skinny saw that and vetoed it. So, you got ham instead.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Hi. How are you?"

The other day, I had a conversation with my husband about my feelings when people routinely ask, "Hi. How are you?" That's silly, I know. Still, it always makes me pause. I work with a lot of people every day. So, naturally, I'm asked several times a day in passing, "Hi. How are you doing?" I know it's just out of courtesy, and nobody is actually asking in hopes of starting a lengthy conversation about my deepest, darkest, innermost feelings. It always makes me stop and think for a second, though. Am I supposed to say I'm fine and keep walking, or are they asking because they really want to know how I'm doing in light of my recent tragedies?

I used to respond to, "Hi. How are you?" with, "I'm fabulous!" and flash a big smile. That wasn't all that long ago. Now, of course I'm not going to say I'm fabulous. I can't really say I'm great. It feels like a lie to say I'm good. So, I've down-graded to "I'm fine. How are you?" giving a slight smile and walking on. I hate that, though. It's so boring. I feel like it's not true to myself - more like, not true to who I used to be, who I want to be.

Still, I get tired of saying I'm something I'm not. I've been doing that for a long time now. It wears me out. I'm not good or great or fabulous. I'm not fine. I'm sad. I'm tired of being sad. I'm tired of being afraid that I'm always going to be sad. I'm tired of crying all the time.

I can't say all those things, though. So, what should I say?

The day after I had this conversation with my husband, I ironically ran across an article in Woman's World (November 22, 2010) magazine titled Follow the 'Pura Vida' Secret to Happiness. It was about how a recent in-depth poll named Costa Rica the happiest country on the planet. According to the article, what is happiness secret #1? "Saying 'pura vida!'" --

"When someone asks how you're doing, you probably say "fine" or "busy." But ask a Costa Rican, and odds are she'll respond "pura vida," which translates as "pure life" but has many meanings, including "no worries," "full of life" or "going great." And by repeating that cheery phrase, everyone subconsciously reminds one another to stay focused on the positive!"

"Live pura vida yourself: Next time someone asks how you are, reply "great!" or "couldn't be better!" The brain's language and happiness centers are closely linked, says Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D., author of The Owner's Manual for the Brain. 'So positive words help keep you happy.'"

Okay. I'm gonna give it a try. No more being "just fine." From now on, I'm great, and before you know it, I just might be fabulous again, too.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Midwest Writers Guild of Evansville, IN

Last night I went to my first meeting of the Midwest Writers Guild of Evansville, IN.  They meet on the second Tuesday of each month at Barnes & Noble.  I got to meet actual published authors!  How exciting is that?  I got to tell a group of serious writers about myself, my book, and about my aspirations to become published.  How cool is that?  I also entered a 1000 word short story in their holiday themed fiction writing contest. 

It's time for me to get serious about seeking representation for my memoir.  This requires finding the right agents and sending each of them a query letter.  A query letter is basically a sales pitch and a request for them to read my manuscript.  They may request a nonfiction book proposal and/or sample chapters, as well.  Oh, I hope they do!  The tricky part, I think, is that each of these query letters needs to be specific to the agent.  I need to research the agent and the authors he/she represents and tell the agent why I think my book is a good match for him/her.  Agents do not want cookie cutter query letters.

Below is the first draft of my query letter (minus individualization for different agents).  I have done a lot of research on query letters, but I liked what Cec Murphy had to say about it the most.  Cec Murphy is a New York Times bestselling Christian writer.  He says to follow this format:  1st paragraph elevator pitch; 2nd paragraph bio; 3rd paragraph "May I send you my completed manuscript?" 

Dear Agent:

As a woman who spent four years battling infertility only to become pregnant with a child who would die in her arms just two hours after his birth and then suffer an unexpected and devastating miscarriage the same year, I know all too well the challenges and heartache that grieving mothers face. My proposed title, LETTERS I’LL NEVER SEND: MY JOURNEY TO OVERCOME INFERTILITY . . . AND THEN, EARLY INFANT LOSS, reveals the pain and eventual acceptance my husband and I experienced as we overcame both male and female factor infertility. I then tell the true story of being pregnant with a child that medical tests revealed could not live outside the womb due to a chromosome abnormality that was “incompatible with life.” The story is intertwined with letters to my infant son that offer a very intimate look at a mother’s grief and continuing love for her special baby both while he is in the womb and following his birth and death. Scriptures are added to emphasize my continued faith in God as I relied on Him to carry me through my most difficult times.

I am a writing teacher with a master’s degree in literacy, so I know how to write skillfully and with a strong voice. A 1900 word excerpt from my memoir titled Our Final Hours was awarded 21st place in the memoirs/personal essay category of the 79th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. In addition, I am the author of the increasingly popular blog Mrs. Skinny’s BBQ, Books, and Babies. I invite you to view it at and to check me out on Facebook.

I think my 62,000 word memoir would make a great addition to the Christian Inspiration section of bookstores and possibly retail outlets. May I send you my proposal or my completed manuscript?

Thank you for your consideration.

Bonnie James

What do you think?  Does this make you want to read more?  Did I hook you with the first sentence, or do you think I can do better?  Should I keep the part about my education in there?  I can't decide.  I am only considering it because it emphasizes that I am a serious writer, not just a first-timer or a one-hit-wonder.  I do want to add statistical information about the number of miscarriages and early infant deaths in the U.S. each year to show that I know the market for the book.  I need to do more research.
Agent Kristin says a memoir should be, "A world that is unbelievable but true. A world that is unique but resonates with us. A story that captures a universal feeling and the reader senses the connection.  That’s what makes the memoir powerful. And if a writer doesn’t understand the difference of what I’m trying to explain here, he/she will probably never have a memoir published.  And whether the writer understands this or not is usually very obvious and clear in the query letters we receive."  What do you think she would think after reading my query?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

From the Mind of a Child

Tonight, just after I pulled into the driveway of church connection group at my friend's house, five year old Peyton peaks into the back seat and asks, "Mrs. Bon Bon, where is Baby Gaby's car seat?" 

After taking a moment to catch my breath, I crouch down and answer, "Sweetie, don't you remember, Gaby Baby is an angel in Heaven now."

She bites her lip and looks embarrassed.  The expression on her face says, "Oh, shux, I forgot!"

"If I got to keep him, I would need a car seat, though, wouldn't I?" I reassured her that it wasn't a foolish question.

When I went inside, her mother told me that Peyton couldn't stop talking about Gabriel while getting ready for church this morning.  I already knew that little Peyton prayed for Gabriel everyday.  His picture hangs on their bathroom mirror as a daily reminder.  This morning, though, she asked questions like, "Why did God want Gabriel to be an angel?  Why not me?"

Later, as I was leaving, Peyton reached out to hug me and said, "I can't wait 'til Tater Tot gets here."  At those words, I knew I needed to sit down and clear things up with her, if that was even possible. 

I tried to be clear about explaining to her that both Gabriel and Tater Tot are dead.  I usually don't say "dead" when I'm talking about my babies, but this conversation required me to be blunt.  I told her that Gabriel was my real live baby that I gave birth to, that he came out of my "private girl area" where babies come out.  I had him, and then he died. 

"But why did he die?" she wanted to know.  I could tell she has been trying to wrap her mind around this as long as I have.

"He was sick," I told her.  "You know how you have a brain inside your head that makes you smart?"  She nodded that she understood.  "Well, Gabriel didn't have that.  His organs inside his body didn't work right, so he died."

"How old was he when he died?" she asked.

"He was newborn, just two hours old.  Two hours is how long we are at church in the morning.  It's how long I've been here tonight.  That's not very long, is it?"  She shook her head.

"Well, I can't wait for Tater Tot to come out of you," she says again. 

"No, honey," I say.  "Tater Tot died, too.  She was only this big (I made a circle with my thumb and index finger to illustrate my point).  I didn't get to hold her or put clothes on her like I did with Gabriel."

"Well," she thinks about it.  "We know what Gabriel looks like, but we don't know what Tater Tot looks like."

"That's right.  Now, do you understand?" I ask her.

"Yes, Tater Tot is still inside you," she tells me.

"No, no, no.  Tater Tot is not inside of me.  I don't have any babies inside of me anymore.  Do you understand where Gabriel and Tater Tot are?"

"In Heaven," she says, but I can tell she isn't sure.

"Now, I might have a different baby in my belly one of these days, but it won't be Gabriel or Tater Tot," I tell her, still trying to clear up her confusion.

"Maybe that baby won't die," she says hesitantly, as if it's too much to hope for.

"We're going to pray real hard, aren't we?" I say, so sad for this conversation that a five year old should never have to be a part of.

"Then you'll have three babies," she realizes, "but you'll only have to take care of one of them.  That will be easy!"  Peyton is the middle child of three girls, so she knows what she's talking about on this.
As hard as it is for adults to understand that babies can die, children cannot comprehend it at all.  It doesn't follow the natural order of things.  People die when they are old.  Babies can't die, can they?  Should they?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to REGISTER as a Follower of this Blog

Thank you so much to those of you who have already registered as a follower (and are leaving comments!) and to those of you who I know are viewing but haven't registered yet. I want to get as many people registered as possible because I am trying to use this blog to build a platform for getting my book published. A platform is a following of interested people that would give an agent or a publisher a reason to think, "Hmmm.....A lot of people are interested in what this woman has to say." 

I have 95 followers so far.  How happy would I be to see 100 followers?!

To register: click on "Follow with Google Friend Connect" to the right of this post. It is just above the tiny pictures of the followers of this blog. If you have an account with Google, Twitter or Yahoo, you can use your username and password for those accounts to register. If not, click on "Create a New Google Account." You will need your username and password to leave comments. You don't have to login just to view/read the blog, though.

Thanks a lot! Seeing new followers puts a smile on my face every time.