Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Does it Feel to Get a Glowing Book Review?

The review of my new novel begins: “This is one of the best books I’ve read in ages.”

Reading a sentence like this brings on the exhale . . . the sigh of relief I dare say every author (who reads her reviews) experiences when a good one appears in print. Today I was honored to receive a glowing book review of Irish Twins from renowned journalist, celebrity interviewer and author, Betty Dravis

Dravis is a not only a top reviewer for, but she also has a very public persona with a multitude of websites and connections. Many know her as one of the most supportive and loved author advocates on the World Wide Web. Having her first take time to read your book, and then formulate a detailed, thoughtful and positive review is enough to make you believe maybe—just maybe—your book is pretty darn good after all!

Here is a link to her full-length review: BETTY DRAVIS LOVES IRISH TWINS

When I have the opportunity to speak to or communicate with other authors, the subject of reviews often comes up. A few years ago I wrote to the New York Times Bestselling humor author Laurie Notaro and asked her to review the ARC of my Bunko book (It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club) for a cover blurb. She said no. But she also said she knew who I was, and that’s because I had reviewed a few of her books. “Oh, I know who you are,” she said, indicating she recognized my name from a few Spotlight Reviews of her books on She continued: “ . . . And any author who tells you she doesn’t read the reviews is lying!”

Last Spring as a volunteer at the Tucson Festival of Books, I spent time with two authors, Barbara Samuel O’Neal (author of some thirty books) and Cassandra King (best-selling author and wife of author, Pat Conroy). I asked them both about whether or not they read their reviews.

“Only the good ones that my agent tells me to read,” quipped Samuel.

King, on the other hand, didn’t exactly answer the question. Instead she repeated advice she received from her famous husband, author of well-known works such as The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini. “Early in my writing career,” she said, “my husband told me that only a masochist would read reviews posted on”

My five published books have received both good and bad reviews and I’ve matured enough as an author to know that taking them for what they’re worth is all part of the job. It’s easy to tell the difference between a personal attack vs. what is constructive criticism . . . and it’s also easy to tell whether or not a so-called reviewer has actually read the book. Yes, it may seem hard to digest, but there are some people out there, who for whatever bitter reason, feel the need to present an anonymous scathing opinion of who they think you are and what they think of your book.

I write a lot of book reviews and tend to publish only the positive opinions. Occasionally I feel strongly enough about something to dip into the two-star (vs. four or five star) areas; however, it’s rare. I have too much respect and empathy for authors to potentially hurt their feelings or criticize their hard work. Turns out, you can also insult readers who liked the books you didn’t. One time I gave three stars to a book primarily because in addition to displaying average to below-average writing skills, I thought it was marketed incorrectly and suggested it would appeal more to those interested in reading “Christian fiction.” To this review I received a comment calling me “obviously anti-Christian.”


So, to all book writers and all book reviewers, I congratulate you for having the courage to put it out there for all to see . . . and for all to criticize or praise. We know everything you write isn’t going to be glowing and positive; however, is sure feels NICE when it is.

For more information about Betty Dravis please visit her website at

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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Things They Leave Behind

Stray socks. Bathing suit pieces. Cell phone chargers. Dirty Towels. Balled-up T-shirts. Stuffed animals. Pacifiers. iPods. Beach shoes. Sunglasses.

If I had to name the top ten items left behind by resort guests, all of the above would be on this list. Except for the iPods, phone chargers, and sunglasses, most people don’t notice the things they forgot to pack and take home, and we don’t get panic calls begging us to search their cabins or the grounds.

Our policy for the past eighteen years of dealing with people’s stuff is, if they call and we find what they’re looking for, we’ll pack and send. Most times we pay for the postage. Occasionally, someone will compensate us with a check for four or five bucks. But when it’s a big or heavy item, like the pair of ostrich skin cowboy boots left in Cabin #6, we sent them COD. All-in-all, I’d say we’ve spent hundreds of dollars and countless minutes packaging and driving to the post office to return items to guests. Everything unclaimed goes into a big lost and found box, which we usually end up donating to the Indian Reservation.

Dealing with the things they leave behind is definitely a resort-owner’s pain in the butt.

Over the weekend we had in another bachelor party, a common event during our shoulder seasons. From what I understand, there were about ten men in our Lodge who opted for a disc golf outing as the groom’s last hurrah. Usually our bachelor party groups are well-behaved and they don’t tend to leave the Lodge in, say, the condition depicted in “The Hangover,” (i.e. chickens running around and a tiger in the bathroom). But without the presence of women, the cabins are left a little more “used,” and there’s always crap left behind.

Today I heard from one of the bachelor-party set who was distraught over forgetting his pillow. His messages—one by phone, one by email—were urgent. “It’s in the lower level and it has a white pillowcase.”

I phoned our caretaker who located it immediately, and I asked him if it was just a standard bed pillow.

“Oh no,” he said. “It’s a lot nicer and it has a really fancy pillowcase.” And then, because he’ll be the one to have to package it and make the trip to the post office, his tone took a sarcastic twist. “No doubt his girlfriend is pissed at him because he left behind her 500-thread count, Egyptian cotton, one-of-a-kind, matched set pillowcase.”

“Send it COD,” I said. “Cotton on Delivery.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interview with Michele VanOrt Cozzens

Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Michele VanOrt Cozzens, who is here to talk about her new novel Irish Twins.


She is a former journalist and newspaper columnist, and is the author of I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner, The Things I Wish I’d Said, A Line Between Friends, and It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club. Irish Twins is her third novel. Along with her husband and two daughters, Michele is the owner/operator of Sandy Point Resort and Disc Golf Ranch in northern Wisconsin, where they spend their summers. The remaining nine months are spent in Tucson, Arizona, where their daughters attend school. She is the co-founder of the non-profit organization HerBeware, which is dedicated to educating the public about the potential dangers of unregulated herbs found in dietary supplements. Profits from book sales have gone to this cause and to Breast Cancer Research.

Michele VanOrt Cozzens

McKenna Publishing Group (2010)
ISBN 9781932172362

Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (09/10) 

Tyler: Welcome, Michele. I’m glad you could join me today. Before we get started talking about the twins specifically, what made you decide to make them Irish?
Michele: Hi, Tyler. Thank you. Your question makes me smile because I didn’t have the idea to write about twins, nor had I any real motivation to “make them Irish.” My initial intention was to write about sisters, and I wanted to base them on my sister and myself. It just so happens we are Irish Twins, and this term has been used to refer to us since we were little. You see, Irish Twins is a slang term for two children who are born to the same mother in a period of time less than twelve months. (We are eleven and-a-half months apart). When researching the origin of the term, I learned that it was decidedly derogatory, stemming back to the anti-Irish sentiment in cities like New York and Boston during the 1840s Potato Famine, when a million Irish immigrants flooded the shores of the United States. “Irish Twins” mocks the fertility of the Irish and their disdain for birth control methods. It also suggests the Irish didn’t know the true medical definition of twins, or two children conceived and born together. And while my sister and I are indeed of Irish heritage, my understanding is that this term is now widely accepted as a description of two children born to the same family who are less than a year apart, regardless of their ethnic heritage.
Tyler: I understand the novel is really about two sets of Irish twins, Anne and Molly, and Anne’s daughters, Jennifer and Catherine. What made you interested in a story about two sets of twins?
Michele: As you may have surmised from my previous answer, Jennifer and Catherine, or Jenny and Caylie, are based on my sister and me. I think we’ve had a great relationship and have always been quite close. Throughout our adult lives, we have often called one another to tap a memory—or fill in a blank. Things like: “What was the name of that girl I pushed down because she was teasing you?” Or “Where were we when you got your pinkie finger slammed in the car door?” We were certain we’d “had the same life.” That said, as our lives progressed and we ended up choosing and following very different paths, I got to thinking about how two people, who for most of their years “had the same life,” could end up in such different places. The answer is that it was about making choices. Irish Twins explores the choices made by each sister, and how these crucial life-changing choices end up defining each sister as an individual.
As far as the older generation of Irish twins, Jenny and Caylie’s mother, Anne, and her sister, Molly, many of the choices Jenny and Caylie made in their lives came about because of how they were raised. And the key figure in their life, of course, was their mother. This is why Anne is the key figure in this story. She is the narrator and the true heart and soul of Irish Twins. I liked the idea of making her an Irish Twin as well, and that is why I created Molly.
Tyler: Will you tell us briefly a little bit about both sets of Irish twins, including how they are alike and different?
Michele: In each case, the elder twins, Molly and Jenny, are the more outspoken, confident siblings. The younger twins, Anne and Caylie, admire and envy their sisters’ sense of self. Neither realizes, however, that their elder sisters admire and envy them as well—for different reasons. As family secrets are revealed and both sets of sisters learn to become honest with one another, closer and more meaningful relationships follow. There are parallels between the two sets of twins, especially where their marriages or choices in mates are concerned, and the reader may find herself wondering from time to time, if history will repeat itself.
Tyler: What do you think makes the Irish twins appealing to readers?
Michele: This is as much a story about raising children as it is about being raised. Not every reader has children; however, I think it’s fair to say that every reader has been raised. As Anne looks back on her life and the lives of her children, she experiences varying degrees of nostalgia, sadness and joy. I’m certain this story will trigger a host of childhood memories for every reader.
Tyler: Michele, just a minute ago you referred to the potential reader as “herself.” Is that an indication of whom you think is your target reading audience?
Michele: No, it was simply grammatically correct. I could have just as easily said, “readers may find themselves wondering from time to time...” I’m sure there are some men who might believe this is women’s fiction or even chick-lit, and therefore, write it off or not be interested; however, I don’t think either genre is exclusive of male readers in general, and I certainly believe this story will have meaning for both men and women.
Tyler: Beyond this being a book about Irish twins, it is a step into the afterlife with Anne when she dies. What made you decide to write the book depicting Anne’s life after death?
Michele: Two summers ago, my seventy-year-old cousin was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident. She suffered a brain injury and spent several months in a coma before she ultimately died. Throughout the summer, her son stayed in close touch with me, keeping me aware of her progress or lack thereof. I was very fond of this cousin for many reasons, but particularly because she was my mother’s favorite niece. My cousin often talked about how the first thing she learned about my mom (when my mom, who like Anne came from Boston to Chicago after the War) was that she liked her tea hot! As I grieved for my cousin, I tried to get through it by imagining my mother waiting for her in heaven with a piping hot cup of tea. This lovely idea comforted me, but the familiar feeling of the grief I experienced when losing my mother some ten years earlier made it a very difficult time. Ultimately, by creating Anne and telling the story through her—and essentially what I imagined to be my mother’s voice—it was a way of keeping my mother alive or with me. Plus, there was so much I didn’t know about my mom. So, by really spending time with her and piecing together the small things I did know, I used my imagination to fill in the blanks and create an image of her in the character Anne.
Tyler: What difficulties did you find in trying to depict the afterlife? For example, how much did you rely on sources and how much did you fictionalize?
Michele: Depicting the afterlife wasn’t difficult because I really didn’t impose any rules upon myself. Once I had the idea for the tea, the story took shape around the symbolism of each teacup. As for relying on sources, I suppose it’s fair to say my Christian upbringing and a whole lot of Catechism and Catholic school curriculum guided my thought. I considered the idea of Purgatory—and how Catholics believe you must pray for souls to release them from Purgatory and to the right hand of the Father.  My version of Purgatory, or an in-between place, was a place called Ohr. Ohr is the Hebrew word for “light,” and I liked the idea of this being a place of 360° light, which enabled Anne to shine a spotlight on her life. Each time her surviving husband or one of her children prayed, she saw them through the tea. So, their prayers, in effect, helped move her through her judgment.
Tyler: Did you consider other ways to tell Anne’s back-story, such as through a diary, discovered letters, or an old friend showing up, or was the afterlife the only way you considered? Do you think the afterlife more beneficial than one of those other means to bring in the past narrative, and if so, why? Did it enhance the potential viewpoint for example?
Michele: Considering my original idea was to write only about the living Irish Twins, Jenny and Caylie, the entire concept of Anne, her death and her back-story were of secondary thought. When my cousin died and I had the idea of the tea, however, and when I tied it to the true story of my own mother’s rather extraordinary death, I followed a path that enabled me to tell a much broader tale than I had originally planned. My mother didn’t keep a diary, nor did she have a collection of letters from her distant past. So, I didn’t have any documentation to guide me. She did leave behind several photographs and a few stories on which I could base the character of Anne. I used what little I knew and made up the rest. That’s what makes the story “fiction.” Meanwhile, using the afterlife, as you call it, was a truly effective way of dealing with my grief, and I think it’s fair to say, it was what got me through the process. Even though my mom has been gone for many years, the pain of missing her can still be quite acute on any given day. Holding her so close in thought—dreaming about her, wondering about what she would have said or done, etc.—was a way of not only getting to know her better, but also keeping her with me.
Tyler: Would you say writing about someone in the afterlife, a dead person, was restrictive in any way, or did you find it freeing?
Michele: Anne’s opening line is: “I have a little God in me.” She was/is a true omniscient narrator, and I didn’t find it restrictive in any manner.
Tyler: In our reviewer Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson’s review of Irish Twins, she says she kept asking herself what it was that set your book apart from others to make it so fascinating for her. What do you yourself feel sets it apart?
Michele: “Irish Twins” isn’t the first book to have a dead narrator. In fact, when I described it to one person, I remember her response was something like, “It sounds like “The Lovely Bones” from the mom’s perspective. I think what makes this story unique is that it’s about a family—a family unique unto itself, but not so unusual that people can’t find them relatable. What’s truly special about this story is Anne. It’s hard not to fall in love with her in the first chapter when you learn how she dies (water-skiing at age eighty is simply a very cool thing). I believe the reader can’t help but want to stay by her side to see what she sees as she journeys into the afterlife.
Tyler: What is the reaction or understanding you hope readers will have after reading Irish Twins?
Michele: I’d like to quote Anne, because I think she sums it up very well:
“I understood that all of our lives did not necessarily go according to the plans we may have hoped for or expected. And our parents couldn’t always be the people we expected or felt we needed them to be. Life offered a constant series of unpredictable events: economic downturns, wars, deaths, murders, miscarriages, stillbirths, accidents, alcohol abuse and, of course, abandonment. It’s so easy to make mistakes. But God does forgive us. 
And so do our children.”
Tyler: What kinds of responses have you received from readers so far?
Michele: I have to admit I was a little nervous putting this one out there. I wondered if readers would “get it.” So far, and much to my delight, I’ve received several really lovely reviews. It seems Anne is as loveable as I’d hoped. I should note that in the early stages of writing “Irish Twins,” Anne’s perspective didn’t carry on throughout the story. In other words, as I developed the characters, I tried out various narrators, namely the other Irish Twins, Molly, Jenny and Caylie. When work-shopping the material, however, I received a multitude of comments asking for “MORE ANNE!” So, it just goes to show you, when you listen to the intelligent critics—and sometimes that means putting your ego aside—you can improve your work. By the way, I highly recommend workshops for all aspiring writers/novelists. Writing can be very lonely work—and it can also make you a little nuts when you have characters living in your head and taking you in directions you hadn’t planned. Work-shopping takes you out of the vacuum.
Tyler: Michele, will you tell us a little about your previous two novels, and do you see “Irish Twins” as a departure for you or in keeping with your past writing?
Michele: My first novel, A Line Between Friends, poses the question as to whether or not a man and a woman can maintain a platonic relationship after they’ve each married someone else. I wrote the story from two perspectives, from both a man named Joel and a woman named Noelle. It was based on something that happened to me. I didn’t know or understand the reason why one of my college friends sent me an abrupt letter asking me to end all contact. So, I made up two characters and gave them the storyline. I let them explain it to me. A Line Between Friends won first place in the McKenna Publishing Group’s fiction contest, which, I believe, gave me the confidence to write more fiction.
It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club, my second novel, is more of a stylized comedy with eight strong, female characters. I had the idea to write about them after being part of a bunko group for a number of years. Bunko, a dice game, is played by millions of suburban American women as a means of escape or girls’ night out. The women in my group were hilarious—highly entertaining. I could only aspire to write characters as funny as them. “Bridge Club” does have a serious side as it addresses more poignant issues faced by many women, including alcoholism, caring for an elderly parent, financial struggles, and raising children.
There is no question that Irish Twins also comes from my life experiences. Writing this story, however, was a far more introspective and cathartic experience than anything I’ve ever written before. And I have to say, finishing the book was unexpectedly bittersweet. I was relieved to type the words “the end”; however, I felt like I had to say goodbye to my mother all over again. I’d had Anne’s voice—who, of course, had my mother’s tone and her delightful Boston accent—in my head for many, many months. It was difficult to let her go. Again.
Tyler: Do you have plans for any future books?
Michele: Yes. At my publisher’s request, I’m planning to write another book about the life of an innkeeper. (I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner continues to be a good seller for McKenna Publishing Group.) I’d also like to write another novel, and I’m toying with the idea of a story about youth soccer. Because I am a soccer mom—and currently both my daughters are involved with club teams—I spend a LOT of time scheduling family life around soccer. Youth sports, in general, is packed full of drama both on and off the field, and I think I can come up with a story filled with colorful characters and palpable conflict.
Meanwhile, I have a blog, ( where I post as often as I can about my daily life—which is that of an author, resort owner, mother of teenagers and great, big “beyotch.” Blogging is like exercise. It’s simply part of my routine and keeps my writing skills honed.
Tyler: Do you prefer writing fiction over non-fiction since you seem to be adept at both?
Michele: I enjoy both, but what I find really fun about writing fiction—especially after many years as a working journalist—is the incredible sense of freedom just to make things up! For example, in my first novel “A Line Between Friends,” the main reason for writing it was because when I received this strange letter from my good friend, I couldn’t get an answer to any journalist’s key question: “Why?” So, I made up the answer! I have no clue whether or not the friend who inspired the story has read the book; however, if he has, I’ll bet he wishes he told me why.
Tyler: You mentioned blogging as helping to keep your writing skills honed. What is your writing schedule or writing process like, and does it interfere with running your resort or vice-versa?
Michele: I don’t get a lot of writing accomplished at Sandy Point Resort. Running a resort on season is a 24/7 job and any time I spend in front of the computer is spent bookkeeping. But these days, since we winter in Tucson, I’m only in Wisconsin for three months. In Tucson, where I am right now, it’s a different story. After getting my teenage daughters out the door, the first thing I do is workout. (At this point in my life, if I don’t get in a good sweaty cardio workout, I’m edgy for the rest of the day!) Then I’m free to write until the time I have to get to the gym to coach the junior high volleyball team. If I happen to be in the middle of something—a book, for example, my husband is very generous in affording me the time I need to finish a thought or a chapter. He does all the grocery shopping and cooking and keeps the kids out of my hair if necessary. I’m quite sure I married the perfect man. He even sits and listens to my material as I read it aloud. He’s my first audience, my first critic, and he has helped make me a better writer.
Tyler: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you today, Michele. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information may be found there about Irish Twins?
Michele: It was my pleasure, Tyler. As for my website, I’m pleased to report that it has just been completely revamped. not only provides details about my books, including book club questions for the novels, but also information about the resort we have owned and operated for the past eighteen years, and my jewelry business, Dream Life Designs. I’m also on Facebook and truly enjoy keeping up with friends on this phenomenal social network. I always enjoy hearing from readers. Thanks again for your interest in my work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some Days I Abhor Being a Mother

Today is one of them. The Beav and I covered about four-and-a-half miles this morning in triple digit temperatures and I swear, as much bile spilled from my tongue as sweat poured from my glands. If there’s really such a thing as “going on strike” from the job of motherhood, I think it’s fair to say, this morning I declared such a strike.

I did not get out of bed before the sun. I did not wake up either of my children. I didn’t prepare breakfasts or lunches. I didn’t issue reminders to bring homework or weekend projects. I didn’t ask about upcoming tests or even about after school activities. I’m not going to do one piece of laundry, pick up a hair-tie, bobby pin or stray earring. Shoes will remain where they were kicked off. Popsicle sticks, milk rings and breakfast dishes will sit and for all I care, attract ants.

If I can no longer perform the chores of motherhood with a sense of love and responsibility—only anger and resentment—isn’t it time for me to step away from the job?

Besides saying “good morning” and “good-bye,” I didn’t speak to my children before school. I figured by not saying anything, the opportunity for them to snap back or respond to me in a disrespectful tone would not exist.

I don’t think they noticed.

Since they don’t seem to pay attention to the things I say and all that I do for them, who knows how long it will take for them to notice the absence of these activities?

Two weeks ago while in the midst of cleaning up stray socks and listening to the whining over another lost iPod—(or was it a cell phone?)—I broiled with internal rage and concocted a list containing items banned from purchase for the rest of the year and taped it to the refrigerator. The headline screams NO MORE and the list includes things my kids regularly lose or don’t take care of properly. Each item on the list is over-represented in the clutter of this household and I simply have NO MORE tolerance for any of it.

When my husband came home and read the list, he laughed. And with his sense of humor still in tact, added the final bullet to the NO MORE list:


“Very flippin funny,” said Mommie Dearest.

He’s been home for just shy of a week and to my knowledge, he hasn’t purchased any of the newly listed contraband; however, yesterday he did look at a big, black pickup truck, which he’s considering buying for our soon-to-be 16-year-old.

I’m telling you, this just might send me over the edge, because I’m caught between wanting to be released from carpool duty and not wanting to perpetuate my child’s obvious sense of entitlement.

Did I receive a car at the age of 16? Hell no. I wasn’t even allowed to drive the family car when I was in high school. And further, my parents didn’t drive me to school or to extracurricular activities. I was forced to find a ride, ride my bike or walk. And I honestly don’t remember feeling deprived. It’s just the way it was.

What I do feel right now—and I feel it keenly—is that this thing called motherhood is by far, the most difficult job I’ve ever had. The workload is tremendous, the praise is practically non-existent and the pay has left me feeling impoverished. Worst of all, there’s no vacation in site. Ever.

So for today, I’ll have to settle for a strike. And BTW, my BFF Beav says my feelings are justified. And as the mother of four, she knows what she’s talking about. As far as I’m concerned, she’s president of the motherhood union.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Red Hot Chile Peppers

He used to bring me flowers. Now he brings me chile peppers.

Harvest in Hatch, New Mexico coincides with my husband’s annual Northwoods-to-Desert journey, and in the past few years, he’s always made a stop in this quaint Southwestern village. Hatch is known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” There he picks out the longest, reddest ristras he can find, strikes a deal with the vendor, and then finds room in his packed vehicle to bring them home.

Ristras are a collection of chile peppers tied to a string and hang vertically. Traditionally they were hung this way to dry and then used for cooking.  Today, however, many southwestern homes also feature them at their entrances to welcome visitors and “bring good fortune to those living within.”

This year’s ristras are as tall as our 13-year-old (about 64”) and redder than a Santa cap. We’ve hung them at our courtyard gate, and on either side of the backyard kiva fireplace. They should last through the winter and we’ll watch as they slowly turn to a deeper shade of red or maroon, and cheerfully welcome all who enter our home.

It’s good to have our family all together in one place once again.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I admit I was pretty lenient on Friday afternoon when I let the girls have a boatload of friends over to party the way teenagers do on a Friday evening. I’ve never minded being the Kool-aid mom and still like the idea of providing a safe environment for kids to hang out and have fun—especially now when they’re at an age when substances swirl around in the backgrounds of their lives. What I mean is they won’t find any drugs or alcohol in my house.

But what they did find on Friday were all the ingredients (save the eggs) to make chocolate chip cookie dough. Since I’ve been afraid to buy eggs ever since I found a dozen in my refrigerator that had been recalled by the salmonella scare, the girls opted to call a neighbor to get the two they needed to crack into the mixture.

I liked the idea of fresh-baked cookies in the house because I wanted to bring a plate over to my kind neighbor, the off-duty cop who helped me with the dumpster the other day. Unfortunately, the smell of fresh-baked cookies never permeated my kitchen. The girls were only interested in making (and eating) the raw dough! Further, they didn’t clean up the mess or put away the ingredients. Ultimately, the bowl of leftover dough—about enough to make a dozen cookies—sat with a foil top inside my refrigerator all weekend.

So today, Monday morning, I worked on an interview prep and tried to compose an author intro—or how I want to be introduced during an upcoming program. I sat at my computer letting my fingers do the babbling, and thought I should focus on the multi-tasking nature of my “career,” or how I describe myself on this blog:

“Michele VanOrt Cozzens is an author, resort owner, jewelry designer, wife, mother, soccer mom, and great big beyotch.”

It’s true that on any given day and at any given time, I can choose one of these titles and claim it’s accurate. I am a consummate multi-tasker.

But I suck at it.

Prior to sitting down at the computer, I had removed the cookie dough bowl from the refrigerator, heated the oven and balled up a dozen blobs of dough on one of my Pampered Chef baking slabs. When the oven hit 350° I loaded the dough balls and then got to work.

Wearing one of my least favorite caps—the self-promotion cap—I wrapped my mind around describing myself as this accomplished multi-tasker, and I pat myself on the back a little bit as I considered adding things like “Kool-aid Mom” and “Cookie baker” to the list.

I got so wrapped up in describing the many sides of ME, I forgot about the cookies. And damn it! I burned them. They’re not charcoal black—just an ultra crisp shade of brown—and may possibly still be edible, if you like your cookies well done.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder what kind of title I’d have to give myself if I put them on a plate and delivered them to my neighbor. Would this fall under the category of ‘Great Big Beyotch?’ Or would I simply have to add the title: “Idiot?”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Perils of a Husbandless Housewife

TUESDAY: While driving the high school car pool on a morning with a full schedule and close to 200 miles on the day’s agenda—my front left tire went flat. It was fine when I pulled out of the garage, fine when I picked up the first kid, but flat after I picked up the second. I didn’t suspect the flat until we hit the first bump in the bumpy road. The impact was not what we had come to expect from this luxury automobile. The noticeable jolt coupled with the dashboard warning light popping on: “Check tire pressure,” made me realize I was in trouble.

First thought, just get the kids to school.

I dropped them in the parking lot, pulled over and sure enough, saw that the rubber was a little too close to the rim. With another child still at home and an air compressor in the garage, I chose to drive home and fill up the tire before taking it to the tire repair shop. Mistake. But what were my options? I already tried once to figure out the complicated tire jack during the first of three flat-tires on this car this year and, because I don’t have a degree in mechanical engineering, failed.

Things were so much easier when I drove a 1963 Dodge Dart with an endless series of $5 retread tires and a jack my 13-year-old could put together.

So, driving on the flat cost me the tire and I needed a new one. $311 later and now owing my BFF, Beav, two rescue favors, I had my new tire. And then I made it across the desert in a pounding monsoon to arrive at the Altar Valley gym in Timbuktu, Tucson with one minute to spare before the junior high volleyball game began. I pleaded with the referee, “Will you please give me an extra minute to get my lineup together?” Thankfully, she was sympathetic—probably because I’m sure I looked more like a frazzled housewife than a capable volleyball coach.

WEDNESDAY: Thank God, it was uneventful.

THURSDAY: It has become absolutely clear to me that I simply can’t function without my husband. I thought I was a capable, confident woman with adequate mechanical and technical skills. I even like to believe I’m strong and can lift things and carry out household chores without the fear of breaking a nail or pulling a muscle.

Today, however, I couldn’t even successfully take out the trash. After collecting the last bag of refuse from the house, I walked to the dumpster and tried to pull it away from the wall and into the carport to load. But it wouldn’t move. Thinking it was stuck, I checked the wheels—they were clear—and tried again. No go. Knowing I’d only filled it with two small bags of trash, I couldn’t imagine what had made it so heavy! So, I opened the lid and looked inside and, OH MY GOD! The top white plastic Hefty bag was MOVING! It stirred slowly, from side-to-side, like a fatigued or injured animal reluctantly waking up.

Quickly, I dropped the lid (lest something pop out) and ran inside. I didn’t know what to do. My mind raced. After seeing a dead javelina on the side of the road this morning, I wondered if someone had dumped a dead or dying desert dweller in there. When I called my husband, he was of little comfort. “Maybe it’s a dead body,” he said.

Thanks, honey.

Well, it just so happens that one of my neighbors is a Pima County Sheriff, and he assisted me last Spring when the house alarm went off inexplicably. Fortunately, it was merely a wind-tunnel affect causing one of the interior doors to pop open and trip the alarm; however, we didn’t come to this conclusion until he had explored each corner of house before letting me inside. And I swear, every room was trashed. The place was at its unmade-beds, toothpaste-spit-in-the-sink and underwear-on-the-floor messiest. I was safe, yet mortified.

I figured since he’s already seen me at my worst, I’d give him a call and tell him I was afraid of my garbage can. And even though he was off-duty, he came over. “I admit I’m here because I’m curious,” he said. And with that, he produced a long, black probe and cautiously approached the dumpster. He poked it a couple times, then used the probe to lift the lid. Ever so gingerly, he first peered inside and then poked at the trash.

Then he looked up, closed the lid, cocked his head to the right and smirked. “It’s water,” he said. “And you’re right. The bag IS moving. It’s floating.”

Apparently, that monsoon I drove through on Tuesday played a role in our neighborhood, too, and blew open the dumpster lid long enough to fill it with a thousand pounds of heft. “I thought these things drained,” said my neighbor. Obviously not.

Once again, mortified, I accepted his kind offer to drag the dumpster out to the street and then drove my daughter to school, where I’m sure she’ll have a good time telling the entire volleyball team what a dingbat her mother is.

And as for this afternoon’s away game in Outback Tucson? I’m taking the bus.

Monday, September 06, 2010

How Do You Women Do It?

Recently I sat in the airport at Minneapolis/St. Paul for three hours waiting for my connection. Luckily I had a book to read/edit to keep me occupied, and iPod ear buds to keep me from hearing the very LOUD small talk of a group of women who were clearly on their way to some kind of conference.

Immersed in work and music, at one point I happened to look up and to my left, and I witnessed a poignant scene. Standing some twenty-five feet away was a young family just ending their embrace. The woman had long, uncombed hair, wore jeans and a t-shirt and was slightly overweight. It was baby fat. In her arms was a beautiful child, who was about four months old. The woman’s eyes were red, her face pale and she did her best to push back sobs. The child, oblivious to her mother’s pain, looked at every light and shiny thing in the distance. Stepping away, backwards, was a man in military fatigues. The daddy. He hoisted a heavy duffle bag to his back, wiped his tears with the back of his hand, and mouthed the words, “I love you.” With each step he took toward his gate, their expressions became more pained.

“Goodbye,” I thought. “Come home soon. Come home safe.” I went back to my reading; however, for a few moments, I couldn’t concentrate. That child will probably be walking by the time he gets back, I thought. And then I shook my head and wondered, what’s the point of creating a family if you don’t get to be together?

To me, that scene defined the true sacrifice made by the men and women of our military.

This happened in the midst of our annual August to September family separation. Each year my husband and I have to split duty to tend to the business in Wisconsin and the kids’ schooling in Arizona. I take the first half of the month running the business alone while he gets the kids back to school, and then half way through, we switch places. Neither one of us can tell you which is the more difficult job. Going it alone on either end is just plain difficult. And it’s not so much about the actual work—we are good at what we do. The hardest part is being apart. It’s NOT why we created this family.

We have a shorter separation in May at the beginning of our business season and have been doing this back-and-forth thing for going on 14 years. It grew more complicated as the girls got older and their obligations more important. In recent years, cell phones, email, and SKYPE have helped, but each day I wake up truly missing my husband—my partner, my best friend.

I often think of families who are separated because of military obligations and understand they go for far longer periods of time apart then my two-week and five-week sessions. And I wonder how they get through it.

One more week to go. It’s a good thing time flies.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Group/Book Club Discussion Questions

Irish Twins
1.     The term Irish Twins, describing two children born to the same mother within a twelve-month period, dates back to the 1840s when massive numbers of Irish people came to the United States. Discuss the Irish Potato Famine, what it was, what caused it and the effect it had on the Irish population. How were the Irish treated in America and what other derogatory terms arose during this period of time?

2.     There are two sets of Irish Twins in this story. Anne and Molly and Caylie and Jenny. Discuss how each set of twins is alike and how they are different.

3.     The narrator of this story, Anne, opens the story by detailing the day of her death and her journey into the “afterlife.” Do you believe in or have a vision of an afterlife?

4.     What role did Anne’s Catholic upbringing play in her afterlife experience?

5.     Anne gives a lot of thought to how she “abandoned” her Irish Twins when she moved with her husband, Michael, to Mitten Lake on the day of Caylie’s high school graduation. What effect did her departure at this time have on Caylie and on Jenny?

6.     Nearly every cup of tea presented to Anne is different. Describe the various cups and their significances to the scenes.

7.     Discuss the relationship between Jenny and Caylie. Does it change after their mother’s death? And if so, how?

8.     Discuss the personalities of Anne’s other children, Marie, Darlene and Ronny. What kind of relationships do they have with Jenny and Caylie? And why does Anne spend more time focusing on Jenny and Caylie than her other children?

9.     At the time of her death, Anne had been married to Michael for 56 years. What were the dynamics of their relationship? Was Michael a “good” husband to Anne?

10. When Anne sees her Irish Twin, Molly, for the first time in Ohr, she describes her as looking like the “she did when we were girls—the way she always appeared in my dreams.” Anne proceeds to “visit” her children through their dreams. Have you ever felt as though someone who has passed away has visited you in your dreams?

11. Jenny’s most precious possession is the gold watch, which Anne gave to her on Caylie’s wedding day. What significance does the watch have in this story?

12. The subtitle of Irish Twins is “A Story About Life and Death, Sisterhood and Forgiveness.” What role does forgiveness play?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

"Stories That Come From the Heart Are Always Special"

Irish Twins 
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (09/10) 

I am not a twin, Irish or regular, I do not have children and as far as I know, my family’s secrets are nowhere near those described in Michele VanOrt Cozzens’ Irish Twins, so why was I so spellbound from the first page on? Sure, the book is well written, but so are many others. Yes, the subject is appealing, but it is certainly not the only one. What then sets this book apart? I kept asking myself those questions while reading, and savoring each page.

The story begins with a death. Anne Catherine Monaghan Shields, a wife and a mother of five living children, suffers a stroke while waterskiing, which at the age of 80 is quite an amazing thing by itself. Entering a new existence, she finds herself in a beautiful place called Ohr, where she is greeted by her own Irish twin, Molly, who passed many years before. Over numerous cups of tea they follow the life of those Anne left behind, particularly her own Irish twins, Jenny and Caylie, who by now are middle-aged women themselves. Many family secrets are revealed, and Anne realizes that as much as she did not know about others, she also did not realize quite a few things about herself. 

"It shines with an undeniable honesty."

It was the very last page, the Acknowledgements, which brought some light to my questions. It was the author’s mother who actually passed at the age of eighty while waterskiing, and although the rest of the story is not biographical, at least not intentionally, it shines with an undeniable honesty. Stories that come from the heart are always special, and there was no doubt in my mind that this book was one of them. When we add the life lessons learned by Anne and her family, the undeniable truth that love makes one live on in others, the fact that everybody makes mistakes and still manages to live a good life, as well as many others, it becomes clear that this is a book that will be cherished by many.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Irish Twins. The story pulled me in from the first page and it flowed beautifully. The characters were all too believable and extremely likeable, flaws and all. Although it often spoke of life lessons, it never sounded preachy or soppy. If I could find any fault with it, it would be that it ended all too fast. I wanted more, and I will definitely be on the look-out for more of Ms. VanOrt Cozzens’ work for sure.

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