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I was sitting next to a soft-spoken young man on the train.

He was considerate, offering me a book to read, and had that unique brand of humor that can make me laugh in almost any situation.

The conductor checked my ticket and then asked for his. He looked up at her wide-eyed—he had no ticket.

He’s my son, I explained in German, he is on my ticket.

She double-checked, and sure enough, two seats had been reserved. This is his last year of riding free on Deutschebahn.

My oldest doesn’t complain and he rarely asks for things, so when he requested a day alone together, there’s no way (aside from heart-removal surgery) I could say no.

Despite a wearying schedule and all the housework and chores and mountains I could move via the computer, my son and I took the day off.  

I do not consider it time lost but a worthy investment.

With four children in our family, being out with him alone is a rare occurrence, as one of us is usually tending the rest of the crew.

So we made the most of it: riding the train to Nuernberg, exploring the Christmas market, sipping a leisurely latte (for me) at Starbucks, and rounding out the day with lunch at a restaurant where food does not come in a box or bag.

It struck me that day just how much he has grown up, and how little time we actually have left before he’s filling out college applications.

My heart misses him already.

I have to say, however, that traveling with William now is much easier than it used to be.

I will never forget the energy (enough to power a nuclear facility), the planning (enough to design a nuclear facility), and the real-life, dripping-from-your-brow sweat (enough to build a nuclear facility with your bare hands) involved in traveling with youngsters.

During that train ride, I sat in awe of this handsome young man in the Italian leather jacket, who no longer needed Cherrie-O’s doled out one-by-one for amusement, and who could not only entertain himself by reading a battered edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but who brought an extra book—just in case his mom wanted something to read.

But before the high tide of adulthood rushes in and overtakes these placid days, I will relish each moment of his young adulthood, and savor those rich memories we have built together.

 

I have no fear about my son’s future—he will go far in life, even if I’m not there to buy his train tickets.

Fahrkarten, bitte.

Germany is foggy.

If you did not know that, then you have never lingered here long after Octoberfest.

I have become intimately aquainted with the many varieties of Franconian fog due to my early-morning jaunts into the countryside.

Running later in the day really isn’t feasible at the moment, as the daylight hours have become filled with activities, extra schoolwork, writing projects, and occasionally, cleaning the grime off things in the house. (If I could mine the deposits on my shower door, I’d be a rich woman).

The only other option, as far as running time is concerned, would be to NOT run at all, which would put my children and husband in the high risk category for emotional damage, as I would quickly burst like the button on my skinny jeans.

Which all brings me back to fog.

There is the thick, soupy fog that covers everything, making it impossible to see anything beyond the scope of the light from one’s head lamp. This blots out even the wide, dark sky, and makes you truly question your sanity, as you double-check the blinking lights on your reflective vest.

The misty fog, comprised of tiny ice crystals, makes you feel as if you’re a Gulliver, running through a snow storm of Lilliputian proportions.

There is also the fog that only becomes visible once you turn on your headlamp. At that point, you feel as if you’re in a sci-fi movie, moving at hyper speed, as bright stars (in this case, chunks of light, floating ice) rush past in white streaks.

The neatest type of fog is the kind that billows, like clouds at ground level. This kind of fog makes you feel as if you’re flying through the sky, rather than stumbling along a gravel path.

Occasionally, the clouds will part, or your head will bob out of the mist, and you can see the entire night sky stretching out all around you.

Except for the occasional gray day, the fog is mostly confined to ground level, and when it burns off later, I find myself longing for the familiar feel of the UV rays (however weak they may be) on my face.

But running in the fog has its advantages. For one thing, I always get to run as long as I like without guilt. I ran 8 miles this morning, and not even the dog, who was happily snoozing on the dirty laundry pile, noticed I was gone.

I also have the entire countryside to myself, which means I don’t have to worry about the manure trucks or gigantic harvesters, churning unbreathable things into the air.

While I do miss spying the deer, I get to experience the thrill and sudden increased heart rate when huge hawks swoop over my head.

I can also wear whatever I want, even if I look like I’m dressed for a space walk, because even if there were other humans around, it’s too dark, or foggy, to actually see any more than the lights strapped to my body.

Though it may be foggy, or cold, or dark, or all of the above, I never regret my early morning runs. In fact, they may be part of the reason I can embrace the day with a happy heart.

No regrets.

They say that to have your manuscript read by an actual human being, the first five pages need to hook the reader quicker than a pumpkin spice latte on a crisp autumn day.

While an adult may slog through an entire chapter to get to something good, kids tend to put a book back on the shelf if they’re not hooked in the first three pages. This is probably the reason that many books these days begin with the climax. Instead of a gradual buildup of story, plot, and character, the writer entices the reader with a cliffhanger, and then spends the rest of the story filling in the details.

I’ve started to see many adult novels doing this as well. It’s annoying because it used to be that I could pick up a book, begin reading, and then, to the dismay of my local library, toss it in the ‘donate’ pile if it was too dull. Unfortunately, with these newfangled climactic openings, I find myself reading duds, just to find out what happens at the beginning, or the end, rather.

I used to think it was a cheesy way to write, but now, I admit, I’m kind of hooked on the style, which is probably why my novel for NaNoWriMo this month begins with the climax.

So, I thought I would share the gimmicky, yet strangely compelling prologue of the book I’m writing about a boy who can make clouds come to life.

Enjoy!

Nimbus: Firmament

Charlie Dalton stood at the top of Mount Defiant. Stone gray clouds were stacking themselves in the sky, filling it in slab by slab. The cottony clouds were pushed out like sheep, who upon fleeing the wolf, scatter into the wilderness. 

 At his feet were the crumbling remains of a civilization that had died out long ago—so long ago, in fact, that nobody knew anything about them. There were only a few ruined pieces of what must have once been a castle. Charlie briefly wondered if those ancient people had been faced with a choice such as his. And if their final choice had brought them victory, or if it destroyed them. Could it be that they had made the wrong choice?

Cries echoed from the forest up to the barren hilltop where he stood.

They must’ve found where Liberty was hiding! he thought, his heart beating more quickly. I told her to leave when she had the chance, but she wouldn’t listen.

Or maybe, his conscience whispered, it was you who wouldn’t listen to her.

But it didn’t matter now. 

Charlie sprang forward and climbed up to the only solid remaining structure. The platform at the top of the little tower was breaking apart, like everything else, and Charlie quickly bent down and lifted the mat from the center.

“Home Sweet Home:” the mat seemed to chide him. It was ridiculous, yes, but he couldn’t think of it now. He brushed away the dust and traced his hand over the strange shape etched into the ground. A crashing came from the forest and there was a loud cry. He could hear  rapid footsteps coming up the path.

Charlie stood rigidly, tipped his head towards the sky and lifted his hands. The clouds quivered all at once, as if a great unseen wave had suddenly struck it. Then the flat stacks of clouds began to tremble, slowly at first, then more rapidly, like water simmering over a fire.

The sky was dark now. Yet through it, he could see one shape, darker than all the rest. It wasn’t the flat, cold gray of the other clouds, but it was dark, nearly purple, like a bruise on the living sky.  Charlie gasped.  A sense of dread and despair and power swept over him all at once.

The dark shape twisted itself into a long funnel, thinner than a tornado and laying horizontally just over the horizon. Suddenly, the millions of small dark clouds making up the figure seemed to pour over each other, like a pot boiling over. The shape coiled like a snake, and rose its head, as if to strike. It paused for a brief moment, though it seemed a lifetime to Charlie, and fixed its gaze on the boy.

Charlie felt sick.

Suddenly, the snakelike cloud whipped its tail, and as it rushed towards him, it seemed to grow bigger and bigger.

Charlie thought of Liberty, and her words to him—the words he didn’t want to listen to then, but seemed so significant now: “Be careful what you invite into your life, Charlie, because some things should be left alone.”

The snake was so close now he could feel the moisture from its breath. It paused before him, its mouth open in a hideous snarl.

Yes, Liberty had been right. Calling this thing into the world would be the end of them all. 

Whimsical. Sparkly. Magical. Funny. Bubbly. Beautiful. Pink.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of my youngest daughter. And on her birthday, the adjectives are amplified beyond description.

She was awake this morning (who knows how long), and when she heard the house stir, she put on a party dress and entered the birthday room. There were polka-dot packages, which matched her boldly polka-dotted dress, shiny (pink) ribbons, shiny (pink) baloons, and a cake with that magical sweetness that only ripens on a child’s birthday.

Libby brings so much joy to my life, it seems my heart can’t bear the fullness of it. Which is why it is all the more odd to recall that when she was born, I wasn’t sure if I could love her as much as I loved the other children.

Everything had been going smoothly. My mother-in-law arrived in Alaska, and twelve hours later we were on our way to the hospital. After three hours of labor, my delicate, 10 pound, meconium baby was rushed away, her lungs suctioned, and her head placed in an oxygen bubble.

When they brought her back to me 3 1/2 hours later, she didn’t seem familiar, as my other babies had. And it scared me to think that this baby in my arms would always be a stranger.

Of course I loved her. But would I love her so much that my heart would break with it?

It haunts me to think of it, but at the time, I wasn’t sure.

I know there are stories of mothers and infants clinging to life, and who are separated by medical necessity for days or weeks or months. But for me, 3 1/2 hours was long enough to make me wonder if my baby and I had missed something we could never get back.

I spent three days in my cozy hospital room, with limited visitors, nurses bringing great meals to my private room, and with plenty of time to get to know this new baby, who depended so completely on me.

By the time we walked through the door of our home, excited little kids bouncing off walls, Bushia’s home-cooked meal in the oven, with that tiny human, swallowed up by all things plush and pink, our hearts had been knit together for good.

The bonding had occurred, not as quickly as with the other three kids, but with that same familiar, unbreakable permanence.

God had a lot of women to choose from when deciding which one would have the honor of raising Libby.

I am thankful and grateful and completely humbled that out of all the mothers in the world, I am the one she calls Mama.

Happy Birthday My Darling Libby!