Writing Class

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I’m taking an online writing class, and so far so good. It isn’t my first writing workshop, but it is the first one I’ve taken online. So far, it’s been great, informative and worthwhile. While I’ve been learning a lot, I’m not sure my favorite things about the class have much to do with the class itself. The fact that it’s online might be the coolest part actually.

These are my favorite parts, in no particular order:

  • Wearing PJs during class chats. Priceless! Not having to wear a bra? Even better!
  • Watching American Idol in the background. The live chats take place on Thursday nights, during the AI decision shows. I half pay attention to those shows anyway. Since 24 ended, I don’t have much to live for – in regards to TV anyway. American Idol and Food Network are practically all I have left! Last week, the instructor switched days to Wednesday, and that’s AI performance night. I almost dropped the class. Thank God, the move was only temporary!
  • While I’m learning stuff, my husband, Jason, plays with our daughter, Lyla, for a whole hour without me. By the time the chat time is over, they’re both exhausted. Plus, he brings me drinks during class! So, it’s a win-win and sort of like being on vacation.
  • Not having to smile and nod in a room full of people, pretending I remember everything about everything they wrote. I have mommy brain. Some days, I hardly remember what I wrote!
  • I can sneak in extra minutes to write during class chats. Every minute counts! I’m writing this blog during class just to prove to myself that I can do both simultaneously! Mommies (and former event planners) are phenomenal at multitasking.
  • Getting to read some truly excellent work from other writers struggling to get published, while getting their feedback on my writing. It’s like a support group! Lord knows, I need one of those!
  • The teacher is a real editor at a major publishing house (read: the mother ship of all publishing houses). I know! I was excited too. She’s big time. Plus, she’s really nice! Her insight and professional feedback are just as important to me (probably more, but it’s a close race) as the not having to wear a bra part.

It’s only been a few weeks, but the class has been fun, interesting and definitely worth the time and the price of admission. Plus, this is so much better than how I remember college actually being. Well, the learning portion anyway. Lecture halls, prerequisite courses, labs and studying through the night? Those parts were dreadful. The other parts were awesome, if my memory serves me right.

This class has inspired me in so many ways, and I will definitely take more classes in the future. I might even consider going back to school at some point to get my MFA in Creative Writing… online, of course!

Happy PKD Day!

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Today is PKD Day. March is Kidney Month. March 12th was World Kidney Day. This reminds me of how I like to celebrate my birthday. November 11th is my actual birthday, but every day when the clock says 11:11, I have mini celebrations. Then, come November, I like to celebrate all month long!

So why not celebrate my kidneys for a whole month too?

I have plenty to celebrate. After waiting a year to take the MRI I blogged about a few blogs ago, my results came back and my wonderful doctor said my kidneys look pretty much the same as they did a year ago! Mind you, they didn’t look great a year ago. They were already each three times the size of a “normal” kidney due to swelling and cyst growth. BUT, they haven’t gotten any worse, and I’m so happy!

I feel like I won the lottery! I’ve cried several times since hearing this news. The news means so much…

It means I have more time. More time to enjoy my current kidneys, even the left one – the one I complain about regularly (it has a tendency toward being a jerk). More time to do the things I want to do and enjoy my life in its current status with my current kidneys before having to think about the possible next step. Chances are strong that I will someday receive a donated kidney, quite possibly from a loved one. Kidney transplants do not frighten me. They are highly successful and highly necessary. But, I’d still like to put it off (for me and for my future donor) as long as possible. But if and when the time comes, I will not hesitate. I love life, and I will do whatever it takes to live.

It means that if my husband and I decide to have another baby, we can do so without worrying too much about whether or not my kidneys can handle it. Now, I have a little more faith in them. Of course, that road won’t be easy. It comes with complications worth discussing. Estrogen increases cyst growth, and getting knocked up releases a flood of estrogen. Kidney infections are typically treated with Cipro (Ciprofloxacin), a very strong antibiotic that’s a definite no-no for fetuses, preggos, infants and nursing mommies. If I was to get an infection along the way, and chances are that I’d get at least three, I’d have to be hospitalized and hooked up to an IV to treat the infection. It’s a lot to think about. We haven’t decided yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

It means that we’ve been doing something right. Research shows that water is important and on recommendation from my doctor, I’ve been drinking a gallon of water a day to flush and saturate my kidneys. Also, animal protein has been linked to harming the kidneys and speeding up cyst growth. So, originally, I switched to a 100% vegetarian lifestyle. After six months or so, my husband and I started incorporating fish and important meats, like bacon, back into our diet. Let me tell you, a little bacon really makes a veggie burger sing! Now, we’ve found our balance. We eat mostly veggies and fish, occasionally incorporating meats and poultries. It works for us. And (knock on wood) it seems to be working for my kidneys.

My husband, Jason, is a Godsend. He walks with me and holds my hand through all of the crazy things this crazy life brings. He has since the day we met. Since my first Walk for PKD last year, he has been wearing a yellow “Donate Life” bracelet. He never takes it off. He loves meat (He’s a man! Plus, he’s from Omaha!), but he didn’t hesitate to give it up with me, for me. Of course, I picture him binging on burgers and Slim Jims in his car on his way to work and whenever I’m not around, but that’s OK. In similar fashion, he’d previously supported every silly diet I did back before being diagnosed, from every detox diet to Atkins (very bad for kidney function by the way!), so why stop now? I’ve said it before and I’ll never stop saying it, my husband is the most amazing man on the planet! If it wasn’t for him… well, I don’t even want to think about it.

For people with Polycystic Kidney Disease, everyday is PKD Day. If you or your loved ones have a disease, any disease, you have it and are affected by it every day. Whether or not you have PKD, please celebrate with me this month. And, celebrate YOU and your life every day. Celebrate each and every opportunity you’ve been given. Celebrate your birthday, the month of your birth, the time you were born. Celebrate sunrise and sunset each and every day. Love your life and everyone in it.

We must appreciate the wonderful people in our lives and the time we have been given to spend with them. This life is a gift, a blessing, a miracle. However you choose to define it, it’s pretty stinkin’ awesome, and we have every reason and every right to celebrate.

So, happy PKD Day! Happy Every Day!

My Brother’s Penis


My brother accidentally uploaded a photo of his penis onto FaceBook. Need I say more?

OK, I needn’t but I will.

Yes, I’m actually blogging about my brother’s penis.

This is actually a relatively old story, since it happened late December (the 25th to be exact). But, I promised (or threatened) him that I’d eventually blog about it.

Well, Frank, your time has come (so to speak)!

Think of it as a Christmas story, if you will… It was (or ’twas) Christmas Day, and we had family over for dinner. My husband cooked a huge, yummy feast, as usual. We had just said the prayer (like good Catholics, we pray on Christmas, Easter… and Thanksgiving). We were stuffing our faces and chit-chatting. It was nice, but then again, I love all events that involve family and food. Then, out of nowhere and with no warning whatsoever, my brother brought up (not out, up… well, up isn’t much better, I guess) his penis. Not exactly your typical holiday dinner conversation, he told the tale of how his penis ended up on FaceBook.

He had very recently bought a new cell phone, and he was at home alone testing its features… by, uh, sexting (unfamiliar? look it up) with his girlfriend. At her request, he took a naughty picture of himself, and texted it to her… or at least he tried. It was meant to be a private communication between two consenting adults. Harmless fun, right?

Anyhoo, the photo somehow took a wrong turn somewhere in cyberspace and ended up on his FaceBook feed. Yep, right there on his wall, for all eyes to see, was a picture of my brother’s penis!!!

At first, he didn’t even know it was there. But then, how would he? He was obviously busy at the time. He didn’t even find out until later (how much later? Minutes? Hours? I’m not sure) when my best friend (Hi, Diana!) saw it and contacted him.

Not believing her own eyes, she assumed it was some sort of virus, a hacker’s penis perhaps, certainly not my brother’s. For a bit of back story, Diana and I have been friends since the 9th grade. She was my college roommate, my maid of honor. She’s family, like a sister. Therefore, my brother is like a brother to her. When you look at it that way, it’s almost like seeing her own brother’s penis! See how I managed to make an already icky story about my own brother’s penis that much ickier? You’re welcome. Being a ‘do the right thing’ kind of girl, rather than pretending it never happened or poking out her own eyes, she notified him discreetly via email to avoid any potentially awkward conversation.

Horrified, he rushed to remove the picture.

This story would’ve (and probably should’ve) ended there. But, then he had to go and tell me!

Of course, the awkward conversation started the moment I found out, and the end is nowhere in sight. Don’t look at me like that! He brought it up. The blog on the topic practically writes itself! In all fairness, Diana would have probably never told me. She wouldn’t have wanted to cause him any embarrassment. Had he not mentioned it to me, I would’ve never mentioned it to her and she would’ve kept it a secret (at least from me) forever.

I have to give her credit for that too because I would have told me immediately!! Heck, I’m telling YOU! Because funny stories should be shared, that’s why! It took all my willpower to keep it this long. In fairness, I called her the very next day after hearing my brother’s version of the story. I needed to get the rest of the story and I’d have called her sooner, but it was Christmas Day! I couldn’t have possibly waited any longer. I needed to tell someone, anyone, everyone. I had questions. I had comments. I had jokes!!

So, I called her, and said “Merry Christmas. So, I hear you saw my brother’s penis?!!”

Funnier still? She told me that someone else had actually seen it first and told her about it! Yes, that’s correct. She was not the first or the only person to see what she saw that day. Another mutual male (not mentioning any names but you know who you are) friend saw it too, and called her about it. So, two people definitely saw my brother’s penis posting. Well, two who we are aware of, but it seems that word gets around real fast when you post your parts online!

Personally, I never saw it. Thank you, God! If I had, I would probably be far too busy with therapy sessions to write this blog.

The best thing about having a relative (especially one with a great sense of humor, like my brother) accidentally post his penis online is the fun you can have with it. Hmm, that didn’t come out right, but I hope you get what I meant. Since then, I’ve started more sentences with “My brother’s penis” than any sister ever should. It’s been three months, and I still can’t stop talking about it. My brother’s penis is a hot topic!! It’s all the rage. It’s inspirational!

It’s impossible not to somehow work my brother’s penis into practically every conversation. Humor-wise, it may just be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me and my family. Think of the endless joke possibilities! I bet your mind is already filling up with never ending innuendos. I’ve had so much fun with the one-liners, which often come to me at the strangest times.

There are far too many to list, but here’s a sample:

  • My brother told a story about his penis, and my poor mother nearly choked on it
  • I realize the topic may be a bit hard to swallow
  • But, it sure is fun to slip it in as a conversation starter
  • I’ve tried hard not to think about it, but it penetrates my thoughts and the ideas come so quickly
  • At first, it seemed like such a limp topic, but now it’s the climax of conversation
  • Realizing we’re discussing my brother’s penis, keep in mind that this was meant simply for play
  • And, please take a long, hard look at yourself (and your own brother’s penis) before judging me!

This has been huge fun. It’s been a ball, if you will. Until now, it’s been an inside joke amongst close family and a few friends. But, now you know. And, I must admit, it feels darn good sharing it with you.


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The images are inconceivable.

The pain and fear they must be feeling is beyond comprehension.

I watched a story last night about a mother and child who were washed out to sea by tsunami. I can’t get it out of my head. The young mother was doing everything in her power to hold on to her infant daughter, but she was outmatched by the power and magnitude of the waves and debris. They were eventually separated, and the baby was lost. That feeling is far too awful to imagine. Even so, I flash what if that were me thoughts in my brain. What if that was my child being ripped from my arms? I shutter and jerk, like I suddenly stepped off a curb in a dream. Then I thank God, in this moment, that she’s fine. We’re fine.

But, what about them?

There are so many stories. Breaking news plays like background music. CNN has replaced Nick Jr. in my home, and I can’t seem to bring myself to change the channel. Even if I could, it wouldn’t shut off my head.

Earthquakes… tsunami… nuclear threat?? How much more can these poor people handle? When will enough be enough? How much is too much? Haven’t we passed that point yet?

“1000 corpses washed to shore” just ticked across the bottom of the screen… 2000 more bodies found under rubble? An estimated 10,000 dead. Possibly more? When will the numbers stop?

We live in a world where anything can happen.

While we hope and pray that anything will mean something good for us and our loved ones, the fact that anything could be something so horrific makes me cringe.

My daughter is in my arms as I type this blog. I fight to blink back tears. But, I can’t.

Hold your loved ones closer, tighter today. Remind them how much you love them. Be thankful for your beautiful life and all the blessings and stresses which come with it. Appreciate your friends and family. Be thankful that you have food and shelter, and a spare blanket to keep you warm. Some people don’t have a spare anything.

There are too many malnourished, mistreated, sick, abused, impoverished, pain-stricken souls in our world. They need our help. Right now, Japan needs our help, and we must do whatever we can.

We can’t help thanking God that it’s not us. But, that doesn’t mean we should think of this as something happening to them.

In a world where anything can happen, you never know when the tide will turn, when the shoe will be on the other foot, when we and they will shift. Please take a moment out of your life and do something to help someone in need. It is our duty to help. It is our privilege. People are fighting for their lives and for the lives of their children… our children.

We are one world.

This is not about them.

This is about us.

If you want my opinion

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I broke up with a credit card company last week, and they sent me a survey. It was your basic ‘how did you like our service?’ type survey. Um, I would think it should go without saying that if I liked it, I wouldn’t be dumping your sorry ass. Do they really want to know, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much I hate them?

The world is inundated with surveys. Telemarketers call us at home, asking for just 15 minutes of our time… always during dinner, or at least that’s the excuse I use to get off the phone.

They want answers for everything: market research, political opinions, customer feedback. I don’t recall the last time I walked through a mall without someone with a clipboard approaching me for just a few minutes of my time or trying to corner me in the food court. Product surveys, service surveys? How about surveys about surveys and your survey experience? I’m sure those exist too.

Who takes the time to fill these out? Someone must, or why would they be so popular?

I’m constantly getting emails asking me to take surveys from home, promising I’ll make millions. I’m sure you get those too. I signed up for one, in my early 20s, and quickly learned that it wasn’t for me. It takes more than time; it requires stamina to fill out survey after survey on every topic imaginable. To this day, I still receive the occasional email begging me to come back and take another survey.

This got me thinking. Since we’re already such a survey friendly society, wouldn’t it be fun, or at least funny, to have a survey ready to go for other situations?

How about…

1 – First Date Survey: A first date survey would be an excellent opportunity to get feedback on your dating skills, and there’s no better way to show that you care about your date’s feelings and opinions. Of course, you’ll want to choose your moment carefully. And, no matter what you’ve been told, waiting a whole three days is not a good idea! For accurate and timely results, I recommend picking a moment near the end of the date. The question is do you hand it to your date before or after the big first kiss? Before, and not only can you find out if they’re ready and willing, but you can ask about style and technique preferences (Q: on a scale from 1 to Niagara, how much tongue is too much?), while you take time to pop a Mentos. After, and you can get feedback on the kiss itself. Either way works.

2 – Jury Duty Survey: Jury duty takes all day and they ask so many questions. Why not hand the judge, lawyers and fellow jurors a brief opinion survey and ask a few questions of your own? But keep in mind: you snooze, you lose. Different states have different rules. There’s no way of knowing if or when you’ll be randomly chosen again. And, who knows? Maybe this will somehow alter your odds of getting selected. Surely, you won’t be getting sequestered. You certainly don’t want to miss the opportunity!

3 – Neighbor Survey: If you rent, why not corner your neighbors by the mailboxes or on their way in/out of the building. If upscale is more your cup of tea, have your doorman hand the surveys out for you. Ask questions about noise level concerns or weird smells. You may be the weird, noisy, smelly neighbor, and you’ll never know unless you ask. While this would work best (or maybe worst) in an apartment building setting, homeowners can do it too. Why not hand out surveys on your block or around the neighborhood? How do you like my parking? How annoying is my dog? Or, rate my Christmas decorations.

4 – Parenting Survey: If you’re lucky enough to have your kids move out or go away to college at 18-ish, why not pass them a survey while they’re packing? Ask your son or daughter’s opinion on your parenting abilities or how they’ve enjoyed their extended stay. It’s a great opportunity to get an additional opinion on whether you should turn his/her bedroom into a home office or gym. Remember, nothing says I love you like a survey.

5 – Relationship Break-Up Survey: You get the old “it’s not you, it’s me” line. Instead of crying, pleading for another chance, begging for breakup sex or wasting your breath asking a ton of why me? questions, why not whip out a survey instead? Imagine the look on your new X’s face. Priceless!

I’m sure there are plenty of other examples.

With the economy in its current state, maybe this is an untapped job opportunity?

Personally, I’d love to sit around all day and write surveys! Wouldn’t that be fun? If you’re the one writing them, you could make them about whatever you want, and even sneak in a few subtle jokes, double entendres or subliminal messages here and there just to see if anyone’s actually paying attention. I mean, why not? You could corner the market on all sorts of surveys.

But, please don’t ask me to take your survey. On a scale of 1 to 10, they’re such a waste of time.

Lyla Calling

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When I was a teen, my parents complained that I was always on the phone. It’s the classic battle between parents and adolescent girls. My daughter Lyla is just a toddler, and I can already relate.

Last week, after searching for my cell phone for nearly three days, I finally found it inside her crib, under her pillow. She’d managed to somehow smuggle it in there and hide it. She made good use of her time too, managing to change my ringtone, make a few calls, and delete my incoming call list (leaving me no way of knowing who may have called). Last but certainly not least, she took two pictures of the ceiling in her nursery and one of her hand. While impressed, I was also grateful that she hadn’t yet figured out how to get into my voicemail. I’m sure she would have wreaked all sorts of havoc there too.

It probably goes without saying that Lyla loves playing with phones. Any phone will do. Cell phones, blackberries, land lines, mine, yours; she has no preference. She has plenty of toy phones, and she practices on them. But, she prefers to play phone on real phones.

While playing, she occasionally dials out. If you’ve called me recently, she might even call you back. Typically she dials the same people, mostly relatives and friends, usually those on speed dial, but she also likes to switch it up every now and again by pecking randomly at the caller ID list or by making selections from my contact list. She’s partial to names that begin with the letter “A.”

Whenever our home phone rings, she runs to answer it – not a problem when it’s someone familiar. But, about a month ago, a telemarketer called and she answered. My plan was to let it ring until the voicemail picked up, but she felt compelled to take the call. I assumed that the caller would realize she was too young to buy whatever he was selling and eventually hang up, but he was persistent. My daughter listened politely to his whole pitch before handing me the phone, at which point all I heard was, “can you put your mommy on the phone?” At least she listens and takes direction! Not planning on buying the New York Times, I apologized profusely and hung up.

About a week ago, we were at the pediatrician’s office for Lyla’s 18 month checkup. While she and I waited our turn in the waiting room, of all places, the office phone rang. Before the receptionist had the chance to answer, Lyla had already put her own hand to her own ear and said, “Hello?”

To be fair, she actually says, “Huh-whoa,” but still.

Whenever our home phone rings and I answer, she mimics me (or mocks me, if you will). She runs around me, in circles, with her little hand to her ear shouting “Huh-whoa? Huh-whoa!” the whole time. It’s 100% impossible to ignore.

On Friday, she was playing with my cell phone when she, accidentally or perhaps on purpose, called my husband’s cell. His is usually the last number dialed out, so that was an easy one. When he answered and realized it was her calling and not me, he expected to at least hear me in the background laughing. When that didn’t happen, he quickly dialed our land line from his blackberry (AKA: his work phone).

“Are you with Lyla because she just called me?” he asked. “She’s playing in the other room,” I replied as I promptly ran from one end of our apartment to the other. We live in New York. Believe me, it wasn’t far. When I got to her, she had my cell phone in one hand and our second house phone in her other hand. My husband voice echoed through both. Lyla had removed the land line from its cradle and “answered” it. When I entered the room, she looked up at me innocently and handed me the home phone, as if to say “it’s for you,” while maintaining her current conversation with her daddy on my cell.

In all fairness, friends and family frequently call and ask to speak to Lyla. She’s an excellent conversationalist. When her grandma calls, Lyla walks away with the phone, takes it into her nursery for a little privacy, sits on the floor and has a full conversation. She says things like “bubble” and “cookie” and “baby.” Her grandma listens intently and occasionally propels the conversation forward with questions like, “can you say puppy?” Lyla responds accordingly. After 30 minutes or so, depending on how chatty Lyla’s feeling, eventually she simply says “bye” and hangs up.

I think back to the time before Lyla entered my life, back when I knew everything. A close friend and I, both childless at the time, were having a typical conversation about kids these days, and I recall saying something like, “Well, part of the problem is that 14 is way too young to have a cell phone.”

People often say that motherhood changes you. And, maybe I’ve changed. But these days, I have to laugh when I hear myself wondering out loud, “Is 18 months too young to be added to our family plan?”

All Worked Up

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Why do we insist on getting ourselves all worked up over nothing?

We’re running late! Oh no, we’d better hurry up. And, then we get there and have to wait because everyone else is late. Now, we’re early. How did that happen? Being early is suddenly worse than being late. OK, so let’s freak out over that now, or over all the things we must be missing out on because this happened. Let’s freak out for the sake of freaking out. If nothing else, it will give us something to do, while we wait.

In the summertime, about once a week, I lose a flip-flop and I freak out until I find it. Why? It’s only a flip-flop.

Why are the little things such a big deal? Is it because the bigger, more important, life altering things are typically beyond our control?

Why do we sometimes convince ourselves that others dislike us? Or, that they are mad at us? Is it human nature to desire being thought about, even when those thoughts are negative? Sure, we’d prefer positive, but we’ll take what we can get. Or, is it simply our nature to second guess ourselves to the point that we second guess our loved ones too? We’re good enough, smart enough and gosh darn it people like us… right?? Why is that not enough?

Life is a pressure cooker, so why do we feel the need to self-inflict even more pressure? As if the pressures of adulthood, survival of the fittest and the universe combined weren’t already enough!

Last week, I found myself querying a literary agent, who I’d queried three years ago after completing the first draft of my first novel. She rejected me back then. I can’t say that I blame her. Back then, I swallowed the rejection and moved on. It was my first try at writing a novel and she was my first query. My first try at a cartwheel was just as poorly executed. The difference? I gave up on cartwheels long ago. Writing is my dream. I will not give up. Therefore, I will only get better.

Imagine yourself drunk-dialing an X – – or better yet, an X who dumped you! Yuck, I know! Unless you’re a serious masochist, why would you even consider doing that?? With that same rationale, I wouldn’t normally re-pitch an agent who previously rejected me. But, FaceBook influenced me to try again. Damn you, FaceBook!! The agent, it turns out, is a friend of a friend. Yep, FaceBook Kevin Bacon’d me. It taunted and teased me to actually “friend” her, but how lame would that be? “Um, excuse me. You’re my friend’s friend, so, uh, do you want to be my friend too?” I may be lame, but I’m not that lame…

Instead, I went another route, grew a pair and emailed her directly, pitching my second novel this time (while unfortunately reminding her of my first). Admittedly, I threw in our mutual friend’s name for good measure. Yes, I name dropped. It’s so unlike me to do that. And, even more unlike me? I did it without first telling the mutual friend. I know!!! Then, for the next three days, I freaked out over that. I imagined them sipping wine together, laughing at me and quipping, “Val who?”

After a few days, I decided to email my friend, confess and hope for the best. He wrote me back immediately with the sweetest note. Turns out, he wasn’t upset. He didn’t mind one bit. He even wished me the best and meant it. I felt great knowing I had his support. Why did I get myself so worked up??

The next day I lost a writing contest. Here we go again! Although this wasn’t my first loss/rejection, by a long shot, along this crazy and intense journey toward publishing, I got very upset. Somehow, it hit me harder than usual. Maybe I’d convinced myself that I would win. If you know me, that shouldn’t surprise you. I’m always convinced I’ll win. Why did losing this time make me feel like such a loser? It was, after all, just a contest. 10,000 people entered, not everyone can win.

When I chose to quit my day job and write novels, deep down I knew it would be hard. I knew it would involve endless rejection and that I’d need a tough skin. I knew all of that, and yet I’m only human. It’s hard not to take things personally; I’m a person.

It’s OK to get all worked up. I believe it serves a purpose. It reminds us that we are alive with passion. I’ve always been and always will be a passionate person. When I hope and dream, I hope and dream big! Yes, that’s right. I’ve got high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams, and passion for days (weeks, months, years). But, I’ve never had more passion, drive and commitment than I have right now.

I am a writer. I plan to do this forever. I might not succeed right away, but failing is not an option.

Now, where’s that effin’ flip-flop?? I know it’s around here somewhere.