Monday, December 21, 2009

A Snow Storm We'll Remember!

What a weekend! Warrenton was only a couple inches shy of two feet of snow. My husband and I were originally heading to Richmond on Friday for a Christmas party we look forward to every year. The kids were going in the opposite direction to Winchester to stay with my mother-in-law. Once we realized we probably wouldn't get home much less be able to pick up the kids on Saturday, we decided to stay home. That's when I started cheering on the weather men and hoping for more of the white stuff!

Friday afternoon at our local Giant and Walmart were insane as you can imagine. On top of it, I had Julian with me. Nev was working from home so he could attend Julian's Christmas program so we needed to be out of the house anyway. Julian sang his heart out! He doesn't talk at all in school. Unless I am there. But, he sings. And, I cried! Not blubbery, but a few tears.

After a celebratory lunch with the MIL and my folks (and my little nephew Asher), Julian and I headed to the store. Determined to have a good shopping experience with my 4 year old, he and I embraced the caos. It was one of those grocery store trips from a dream. We talked and laughed (and I bought donuts, Batman gummies and Spiderman mac and cheese). I'm sure my purchases weren't why he was happy . But, everyone in the store seemed happy, if frazzled, and pleasant. A form of camaraderie.

Around 6:00 that night, the snow started and continued until just before Nev and I went to bed Saturday night around 11:00. We watched movies, played chess, ate snow cream, drank hot chocolate and sleighed to our hearts content! My kids and I got to walk down our street to the neighbors house for a visit. Julian kept wondering if he was going to get hit by a car. Macy was just excited to be in the street.

Macy's snow pants from last year didn't fit. She had on a pair of Julian's fleece lined pants until I realized my mom had bought her a pair of insulated Carharts for those cold riding lessons. She complained and whined, saying she looked like the abominable snowman.

Then yesterday, Nev and I shoveled. And, shoveled. My back aches so bad this morning that even my morning yoga didn't ease any of the pain. But afterwards, we sleighed some more. Then I ordered better snow boots for Nev and Macy. They are due to arrive before the next snow comes on Christmas!

What fun! I know we're supposed to be in for a winter full of more weather. Bring it on!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Photo Challenged



First, I apologize for dropping off the face of the blogging world. My only excuse is that I've been really busy with kid stuff and Christmas just like all of you. My main excuse is my inability to write these days.

But, in case you guys are out there, here is an article I wrote for my local paper some time ago. Hope you get a laugh:

Recently, while visiting my parents, I understood the depths of my inability to take a good picture. As I produced my drivers’ license photo for my mom and sisters’ review, I unleashed a bout of hysteria to rival all those had in my parents’ kitchen. That kitchen is over one hundred years old and has seen four generations of my family. This was a pretty good laugh fest.

In my lifetime, I have taken only a handful of decent photos. Many of these were snapped when I was a baby and oblivious of the need to pose while still looking naturally cute. A few days preceding the above-mentioned outburst, my younger, very attractive sister stormed into my parents’ house claiming her new license picture was horrendous. Let me put this into perspective.

My sister is the most photogenic person I know. She also loves to have her picture taken. If there is a camera in the room, she is ready with a pose. Hair tossed and straight teeth flashing her fabulous smile. Throughout our childhood, she has produced multitudes of fantastic pictures.

I recall one such photo session. My grandmom had taken my sister and I to a professional. The pictures of my sister were so terrific, my grandmom had one blown up to poster size, framed and prominently hung.

My photos were snarly and unattractive. Apparently, all pictures including my mug were ruined. I think I forgot to be happy while the photographer made us smile and pose for thirty minutes. My hand fell asleep while resting oh so naturally on the side of my cheek. No pictures survive today which include my rebellious face on that very important day.

So, when I heard my sisters’ recent photo was terrible, I had to see it. After viewing what I would have considered an excellent picture, I went for my wallet. Why did I do this? I now wonder. I remember wanting to cheer up my sister. Give her a quick laugh. Even if at my own expense. After all, I was photo challenged. I knew how to handle the teasing. But, as the three of us stood in my parents’ kitchen, I quickly realized the harassment would not end quickly. The margaritas we had consumed that night didn’t help my case.

I have to say, I was eight months pregnant when the license picture was taken. Round faced and ponytail included. Also, the DMV had decided to add a nice red tan line to my neck. What is that about anyway? Do they have that built into the camera? Just in case you aren’t as nice as the DMV personnel, they can turn on the Red Circle of Doom for payback? They stand back and laugh to themselves as you’re walking out the door looking at your new license, shaking your head.

That night in my parents’ kitchen, my mom and sister kept passing the picture back and forth. “Let me see it again”, my mom had tears running down her face. My sister laughed so hard, I thought she might fall down and hurt that perfect set of teeth. And, I admit, I was laughing pretty hard myself. Especially, when one of them suggested I looked like Charlize Theron. In the movie Monster. Their advice was to have my picture redone immediately. What if I got pulled over for speeding? The cop would look at my photo and immediately take me in thinking I was a serial killer. That picture would be my demise. All three of us were crying and holding our sides.

My most recent photo experience was only a few weeks ago when I entered the Times Democrat offices to take the picture that accompanies this article. I was close to calling the paper and telling them to forget running that first article, unless I could get out of having my picture taken. I called my husband at work. “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine,” were his encouraging words. I called my mom. “Just do your best. That is all you can do,” were her encouraging words. So, I held strong. I wore a turtleneck.

Anxiety ran high as I entered the front door and met the doomed photographer in charge of snapping my shot. I quickly explained my inability to put a decent smile on paper. Poor soul didn’t seem to believe me. However, after snapping only a couple of shots of my extremely tense face, he came around. I was convinced the picture to be printed would be my very worse. Fake grin, glassy eyes and double chin.

Somehow, it didn’t turn out as badly as my driver’s license. Perhaps the graininess of the newsprint helped disguise my mug. More than likely, the photographer is to be celebrated for managing a decent photo from the photo challenged. I’m unsure of the reason, but am glad that at least the picture doesn’t humiliate me as much as my drivers’ license.

Maybe I could take this picture to the DMV and have them superimpose it on my license. I wonder if DMV will give me another chance at that photo, free of charge. Maybe I should take them some home baked cookies or perhaps just bring my kids and threaten not to leave until I have a satisfactory drivers license photo. I bet my sister would be willing to take the picture for me.

As the holiday season approaches, I have begun to prepare myself for the onslaught of picture taking that will occur. I have turtlenecks in holiday colors. My hair has been recently trimmed and well, shall we say, my natural color has been brightened.

Instead of staring straight at the camera, I have discovered my photos look more realistic when I am smiling at my children. I shall use my little darlings as props. No more than one cocktail and one glass of wine to avoid the glassy eye syndrome. And, my best finding yet, hide from the family member who has the camera hanging from their neck! There is one in every family and they are to be thanked for their work as the family historian. However, for those of us who are photo challenged, they are the grim reaper in a sports coat and tie.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SCBWI Conference Part II

How often does an unpublished writer get to listen to agents and editors talk about how to improve your writing? Unpublished, maybe never. Unless you attend a conference. And, the advice is invaluable in my opinion. While much of it seems obvious, similar to Ms. Giff's advice I wrote about yesterday, as we all know, it isn't. So much of what I heard on Saturday I have read somewhere before but that doesn't mean I don't need to hear it again. And again to make my writing better.

Agent Linda Pratt of Sheldon Fogelman Agency was the first speaker Saturday morning. And, what was nice was I could tell she was a little nervous. I can't help it but at this stage in my writing career, it felt good to see an agent get nervous in front of a group of writers! Her advice was well delivered and I appreciated it heartily.

She spoke on tension; how to make sure you have it and how to know if you don't. The most important start to creating tension is to ensure your readers become emotionally invested in your MC quickly. Then she broke down tension into picture books and novels.

Picture Books: The pitfalls for lacking tension are:

-starting from a place where you want to teach a child a lesson
-writing in a straight line
-no plot
-not having something at stake for the MC

Linda admitted that not all picture books will have tension but most should. Her "Toolbox" for ensuring there is tension:

-Less is More. Allow the text to set up the picture. The text should not tell the entire story else there is no need for pictures. The setup between text and pictures provides the tension.
-Master the art of the Page Turn. Similar to knowing how to end a chapter in a novel, the words in a picture book should end at a tantalizing point at a page turn.

Novels: The pitfalls for lacking tension are:

-wanting to protect your characters. Instead you need to be willing to hurt them and not to be afraid to have the reader dislike them or their actions.
-Don't confuse action for tension. Her example was you could have a scene where some guy hangs from a helicopter over a tank of sharks, his hands slipping. Then you can have a boy who has taken his dad's prized baseball. This baseball was one that his grandfather gave to his father before he passed away. The boy takes it to the park where it was stolen by bullies, muddied and torn, then returned just as the boy's Dad pulls up to the baseball diamond. There is more tension in the 2nd story b/c you become more emotionally involved with the boy, not that there is more action.

Her "Toolbox" includes:
-Step outside your novel to chart the character arcs. Do primary character and secondary character arcs. Eventhough we need secondary characters to develop our primary characters, the secondary ones still need to have a full arc to fullfill the reader.
-If the character's arc is not complete, play the "what if" game. Ask what if you put that character into a different situation, how could that enhance the story.
-embrace your character's flaws (and make sure they have some). Sometimes their flaws help write the story for you.
-Make sure your characters have enough emotion. Think about a time when you might have went through a similar situation as your characters to help you connect to them.
-If you're still having problems, reread works that successfully accomplish what you are trying to.

More tomorrow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

SCBWI Conference Was Invigorating!

Saturday's SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference in Arlington was a blast! As I posted on Friday, it was my first writer's conference and I can't wait for my 2nd. Last week, I felt stale and blocked. Partly because I was trying to get over the flu but mainly because I needed to be reinvigorated.

What a day! Volunteering was indeed a terrific way to meet people and have fun. I am so glad I did. I have to say children's writers have got to be the nicest, most supportive gang I have ever been around. I met so many great women and learned so much I can't wait to tell you guys all about it.

Unfortunately, I came home Saturday to a sick 7 year old and then the next morning, my son got it. Same thing I had last week and I suspect it's H1N1 but I haven't had them tested. So I'm just now getting to the computer.

I took lots of notes but want to tell you about the keynote speaker today. Patricia Reilly Giff came with her husband, Jim. The two of them sat next to each other the entire time and I couldn't help thinking how wonderfully together they seemed and how random it was to be inspired not only by a speaker's words but by their actions.

She opened with the story of how she began writing. One day she told her husband she wished she didn't have to go to work, to teach. And, when she came home, he had altered two adjacent closets into a writing area for her. From that point on, she began writing and after feeling hopeless most of the time and after throwing away the words she wrote each day, she began to research other writers.

She checked out 10 children's books from the library and read the first page of each. Ths is something that of course we all know to do. Every book on writing goes on and on about the power of reading the type of books you want to write. For Ms. Giff, this would not have been so apparent years ago.

Her words of advice were simple. To write a story, you must start with a person, place and problem. In her sweet yankee voice, she descibed choosing a character, dropping her/him in a place and finding that character a problem. You make that person move for action, talk for dialogue and you have his/her problem continue to get worse as the story goes on until it is solved at the end.

When Ms. Giff first started writing, she did as many of us do. She got out of bed 30 minutes before her kids got up and wrote. Her house was a mess and her cooking was terrible. But, she insisted that it's the work you put into it that provides you with success. Isn't it inspiring to hear a successful writer say we can all become authors as long as we work hard?!

To questions posed her by the audience she insisted that thinking about our own childhood is sufficient for drawing most characters. She lies on the living room floor and tries to remember events and feelings from when she was growing up. Her emotions become her character's emotion.

She pointed out several scenes in Pictures of Hollis Woods and explained how something very similar had happened in her own life, in her childhood. One last trick she does is to think about her two softies, her husband and her agent, reading her WIP and if she can picture them tearing up, then she knows she's done it.

Tomorrow I hope to blog about some of the other presenters. Today, I need to get back to the sickies!

Friday, November 13, 2009

SCBWI MId-Atlantic Fall Conference


Heading to the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference tomorrow in Arlington, Va.!! So very excited as it's my first writer's conference. I feel like a kid the night before a trip to Busch Gardens. A little nerdy, I know!

I'll be volunteering with the food committee partly because I almost always volunteer at whatever I do and partly because I figured it was an easy way to meet people since I only recently joined SCBWI.

I have to be in Arlington, which is about an hour drive from the country where I live, by 7:00 a.m. which means I'll be up at 5:00 a.m. On a Saturday. After a week of having the flu. Not looking forward to that but I figure it'll be a wash and go day! So, hopefully I'll fit through the door with my frizzy curls. And my cherry cough drops.

Thanks to my friend at The Virginia Scribe, I am prepared with business cards, which I frantically ordered from my local Staples having no idea they were something a writer needed. Last time I was in possession of those little goodies, I was a commercial real estate agent working in Dupont Circle and the conferences were boring updates on the exploding real estate market (too bad that's not still the case). Thanks to Jessyca at the Warrenton Staples for the 4 hour turnaround!

Can't wait to blog about the going's on and especially looking forward to hearing Patricia Reilly Giff speak. I've been reading her books lately and oh so love them.

Talk to ya soon!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Best Children's Books of 2009


Just in time to make those Christmas purchases for the children in your life, Publishers Weekly has posted their list of the top 100 books for children published in 2009.

Hitting the top spot for a picture book is Chris Barton's "The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors". The brothers developed the first flourescent paint which was initially used by the military. Illustrated by Tony Persiani, PW describes this book as a tale about following your dreams.

To continue reading, go to My Examiner Page.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kate DiCamillo's "The Magician's Elephant"

First, I apologize for the lack of a picture but my computer is winning today and insists it doesn't feel up to adding one! I'm about to kick it out! I'm diffusing now....

Who out there has eaten way too much of their kids' Halloween candy? I'm having diabetic moments and still feel the need to "help" my kids out by savoring their treats. Plus, we have a lot left over from our own supply since the rainy night made for a small crowd. I hope my daughter doesn't miss that Butterfinger(ssss)!

But, I did finish a great read recently. Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant. How does she do it? Her writing is so, and I don't use this word lightly, profound! Her characters have similar feelings we all have and yet they are not typical. She doesn't draw them by giving us a lot of detail and yet, we know them. This is such a deep talent that it sometimes brings my own writing to a halt. How can I do that? Well, we'll save the self ridicule for another blog.

Here's the review I wrote for a new writing gig I took on The Examiner. which, by the way, I don't think I'll be doing since they can't get the technical gliche I have to go away.

The True Magic in The Elephant’s Magician

Kate DiCamillo, author of the novels The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie, Tiger Rising, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as well as the easy reader stories of Mercy Watson, has once again provided her readers with a story full of enchanted verses, beautifully drawn characters and mystic longing.

From the first chapter, the reader is captured and taken on a journey through the main character’s search for his sister. Peter is an orphan who believes his sister to be alive when his fortune is told. The fortuneteller instructs him to follow the elephant to her. And, so the story begins.

DiCamillo melds action, description and character like a master weaver. As in her many other tales, we want to ingest the entire story in one helping. This is not a book to be read in bits and pieces but devoured. So strong is the need to see Peter through his journey that many a reader will not put the book down until the final words conclude Peter’s adventure.

As we have seen with Despereaux and Because of Winn Dixie, a motion picture version of this soon to be classic DiCamillo story will most likely be coming in the near future. Better to find the story in the flesh of the pages first. You can always munch on popcorn and Twizzlers while you read.

Happy sugar rush to you all!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

To The Great Blogs I Read


It's a few days before Halloween and I'm feeling a little ragged. Baking and party planning not to mention that we have been pulled out of town every weekend for something important. And, I NEED a laptop! I've said my prayers to the Laptop Gods. October has been our "not at home" month! Looking forward to November and here's to hoping my hubby and I get some Saturday's watching movies by the fire.

So, I'm a little uninspired in the blogging department. I thought I'd instead highlight some other bloggers that are writing pieces that talk to me.

The Storyqueens Castle reminds us that when purchasing those holiday gifts, BOOKS are one of the best gifts. Thanks Storyqueen. I'm a big book buyer for the kids in my life because toys drive me nutts but I may just include the adults this year.

Barrie Summy made me feel that pang of want when I saw her picture of her author's paperbacks of "I So Don't Do Mysteries". Congrats Barrie, I hope they sell like hotcakes!

Thanks to The Virginia Scribe for posting about your webcast with Kate DiCamillo and specifically for reporting that when she comes up with one of her eclectic fun names, she writes it down to save for later. I write down everything but not names. Maybe that will help!

B.A. Sanderson at The Writing Spectacle reported that many writers query when they feel their work is "good enough". Oh my! (Did that sound like June Cleaver?) I can not imagine feeling that way and submitting. Now, I can imagine the editor feeling that way when I submit!

And, here's one that makes you cry and laugh. My blogger and local Fauquierian, Susan McCorkingdale is fighting one of life's battles no one deserves. She is keeping her sense of humor. And, she can use your prayers!

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful blogs, everyday. Now, I'm off to bake cookies, ready my daughter's school project, pack the kids' and my husband's lunches and try to find the shower!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Alice and Tom are Stuck in my House!


My seven year old has been naming everything new in her life, Alice. You may recall the turtle we found in Rappahannock County and then released in the woods behind our house? She (or he as I have no idea how to tell a turtle's gender) was when the "Alice" syndrome started. That was this summer.

My four year old is following suit as he usually does but I don't think he is intending to copy his sister this time. Every new "friend", be it a stuffed animal or a rock, is named Tom. Sometimes Tommy.

I can't keep all these inanimate things straight there are so many Alices and Toms. But, it struck a cord recently. I too tend to choose the same names over and over. For my characters. Whenever I begin a new story, there is a bank of names I unknowingly go to. Favorite names for sure. My current MC has one of those names, Claire.

A week ago, while we ate dinner, it dawned on me that I'm stuck in a rut. Not that my bank of names are lame. They obviously are ones that I have liked for sometime. Some of them were actually on a shortlist in my mind for my kids. But, that's no reason to choose them for the characters in your book.

Recently, on reading the first few chapters of Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant the characters' names jumped out. What great names she dreams up!

So, I need to work on my character naming. My kids showed me this. They teach me quite a bit actually. I just hope I don't start naming my characters Alice and Tom!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Catch the Feel of Fall Before It Fades


What a great time of year!! Fall is my personal favorite. I also think the beginning of the season is the perfect time to exercise your descriptive writing. The season is fresh and even if it isn't your favorite, there are bound to be specifics that you either love or dread.

In my Institute of Children's Lit class, we had to do a 250 word description of a significant place or event from our past using all the senses. I chose a summer evening at my childhood home. The smell of my sisters freshly washed skin and the feel of the grass on our recently bathed, bare feet.

It was hands down my favorite exercise of the class. I read it to my parents and sister. They got a little teary. I think about that piece when I get stuck on my descriptions. It reminds me I am capable of hitting the nail.

When my writing tends to lean heavily towards dialogue and less towards the descriptions, I take a time out and describe the scene. Then I can pull pieces of that description and use them where it works in the piece.

I also like to keep notes on my descriptions of seasons because they jar my memory when I am writing about a season that is different then the one I am sitting in.

My goal today is to write 250 words on fall where my current MC lives. I may use all of it or none of it but I will have it just in case I'm writing about fall while it's snowing outside my office window!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Book Review Time


While my husband yelled at the t.v. and then he and the kids laughed as they did belly bumps during the Redskins game, I did one of my favorite things of all time: Read a good book while cuddled up on the couch with a blanket. aahhhhh.

The best kind of characters are full of quirks, problems and mistakes while still pulling you in and making your adore them. Joyce Hinnefeld accomplishes this with In Hovering Flight.

As the book opens, we see Tom, his grown daughter Scarlet and Addie's two best friends handling the first hours after Addie's death. Hinnefeld weaves past and present excellently to tell the story of Tom and Addie's marriage, Scarlet's childhood in a not so usual family, the hardships of Addie's friends and ultimately, the question of the book, where they will lay Addie to rest.

Birds are an important character in the book. The author does well to not give the reader too much insignificant information but enough to enlighten and add interest.

Hinnefeld laces the story with environmental issues the main characters began dealing with in the 1970's. And, we see a different side of overdevelopment and its affects on birds.

As the author says on her book's site In Hovering Flight, "It’s a novel about mothers, daughters, and art; about illness, death, and burial; about fragile eco-systems and tenacious human relationships—all explored through characters who are inspired by the lives, and particularly the songs, of birds."

This is the author's first novel.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where is Your Writing Seat?



(I'm endeavoring to get back to business. More about writing, less about personal. It seems since my vacation over a month ago, my mind has been unfocused and full of cob webs and it's flowing into this blog. Time to clean those suckers out!)

I remember reading that Stephen King mainly wrote in an office in his home. Once he became well published, he bought a very expensive and heavy desk. He didn't like it. I think this was in the middle of his affair with drugs. He got rid of it. Then, more recently and after his accident (where a truck ran him down while he was out for his daily walk) he wrote in a side area of the laundry room. He needed his wife close by.

I tend to write wherever the heck I am when I have the time. That's a function of being a parent and a writer, I am sure. It can be in the car while my daughter takes her riding lessons, in the car while she takes ballet class (if my son is not with me which rarely happens), at my desk in the kid's playroom (only really works when no one is home!), at the kitchen counter when the playroom gets boring or at one of my local coffee shops.

Most are pretty productive places but honestly, I prefer the legal pad at the coffee shop. I am more productive when I am not at home because there are no undone chores calling my name. My favorite spot right now while the weather is nice is outside a cafe on Main Street that I can walk to where it is unlikely I will not see someone I know.

Today a stranger asked me why I had no child in my stroller (well, mam, because he is at school). I had walked my daughter to her elementary school, my son to preschool and myself to get some joe. Can't get better than that! The long haired coffee guy even loaned me a pen. That's the only drawback to writing on the go; forgeting your favorite pencil!

If my husband and I ever make it back to Amsterdam, I will definately do some writing at one of their many qaint cafes like the one pictured above!

Where is your favorite spot? What places provide the best environment for your productivity? Do you require a silent atmosphere or caotic? A comfy chair or a harsh one? Are your kids running around or do you only write while they are at school or napping? Do you prefer ultimate comfortable clothing (like my uniform of yoga pants and flops) or are you showered and professionally attired? If you're showered and attired, you're admired. :) (Couldn't help myself)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Welcome, Little Nephew


It's been a while since I have posted anything and I'm feeling rather guilty. But, I just haven't had anything to write about. Does that happen to other people? My mind has been so wrapped up in my WIP that I haven't been able to make it think of anything else.

Then, and this is a great excuse, I became an aunt for the first time! My favorite and only sister had a boy on Thursday evening. She called at 2:30 a.m. to say she was heading to the hospital. She had been having contractions for 24 hours at that point. She'd even went to school that day to teach. I slipped on some comfy clothes and headed out the door to Winchester, Va. which is about an hour away. 20 hours later, my little nephew took his first breath and I was in awe. Of many things.

Of my sister and her determination to have a natural childbirth. She never really bit our heads off, not even her husband. Well, there was one time when he was trying to get her to not push and he put his finger in her face, telling her to "blow out the candle". She swatted at him telling him to get it away.

Then, after about two hours where her husband and I hardly took a potty break because her contractions were so fierce and close, her nurse told her she was only 7 centimeters. I thought all three of us were going to ask for drugs!!!

She simply said, "IWantDrugs, IWantThemAll, GiveThemToMeRightNow!". She got an i.v. first to see if that would take the edge off before she completely gave up. When that did nothing but make her loopy she yelled, "IWantAnEpidural, GiveItToMeRightNow," The nurse responded, "He will be here in just a minute," to which she replied, "NoRightNowIWantItRightNowGiveItToMeRightNowICanNotTakeThisAnyMore!!" as her possessed head moved from side to side as another damn contraction came!

The best part were all the cell phones lying on one of those tables that is supposed to resemble one you would have in your living room. Cell phones didn't seem to be as prevalent 7 years ago when I had my first. But, so many times, I would be providing updates by texting or talking with a family member or perhaps one of my sister's friends and she would begin a contraction. She would yell, "Get off the phone and help me, please!" She was so polite, saying thank you and please.

This was pre-epi. Post-epi, she was the one talking on the phone and saying, "Oh, yeah, why, I am having a contraction right now. And, look, it seems to be a big one. Ha Ha."

I'm all for the natural way. In foods, clothing, aromatherapy, etc. but when it comes to your first childbirth, bring it on, baby!

After what I think was almost 2 hours of pushing, that little head came out. And, my sis helped pull him out and lay him on her belly. After the entire day of struggling, then hours of pushing and coaching and cheering, the little buger was there. And, it was the best thing this side of pregnancy, I can ever imagine witnessing. To see your sister, your best friend, bring a child into the world, a child you will love and know and help raise, a child who will be your children's best friends (and who they will inevitably corrupt!) can not be explained. At least not by a novice writer as myself.

His little body, his small but strong cry, my sister's expession of love loaded with relief that he was perfect and beautiful, my brother-in-law's tears and my dad's pride will never fade from my memory. And, my mom. Who had been there for the entire thing even though she still has little strength from her liver transplant. Who was determined to see her grandson's first breath after witnessing both my kids' first. My mom who had almost left us when that little stinker was only 3 mos in the uterus. He had been with us, in my sister's belly, when we all were at UVA pulling Mom through the worst thing in her life. Mom looked at her newest grandson and said and I quote,

"Oh, what you have yet to go through in your life! God help you," and then she balled!

And, I got it on camera! What a great shot!

I say to my little nephew, "Oh what wonderful things you will go through in your life. What trials you will put your parents through. God help US! :)"

Because isn't that the irony of childbirth? They put you through hell to only smile and make you cry with joy!

Here's to you little nephew. I can't wait to see you grow!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Does Football Have to Ruin the Fall?


As football season officially began yesterday (at least for my household!)with the loss by the now very disappointing Redskins (please don't let it be another year of this!), I thought I'd post a column that I wrote which ran in my local paper, The Fauquier Democrat some time ago.



Win One for Me, Coach Gibbs, Please!

Autumn is here. The best season, in my opinion. Our area boasts unparalleled scenery at every turn. The apple orchards are ripe for the picking. My pantry is stuffed with all the spices for making apple butter, applesauce and apple pie. The weather is crisp, perfect for a cozy sweater and a fire. The best time of year.

Except, it’s football season. And, if your husband is a football fan, and you are not, it can be a challenging season. And, if your team is not winning, it’s going to be a depressing one. Monday mornings after a Sunday loss, oh please honey, work is calling you.

The entire week is spent looking forward to Sunday. But, it doesn’t start on Sunday. Oh no, it begins on Monday! Sonny Jergenson and George Michael meet with Joe Gibbs. What went wrong the day before? What will they do to win next weeks’ game? Who was injured, who was benched? Why did this play fail, Coach? Then, on Saturday night, it’s the Redskins Report with the same two sports critics but add two, Michael Wilbon and John Riggins. And after that, it’s the Joe Gibbs Show.

By Saturday, I’m exhausted. Even an ex-high school cheerleader who knew nothing about football can now name at least 5 players. I’m eager for Sunday just to get it over, but alas, it’s only Saturday and college football will be on today. All day.

Before my husband and I got married, my husband’s grandmother told me I should learn to love football. She took up the hobby when she married. I tried. But, who can sit and watch as two teams fight over a ball when there is laundry, lunches to be made, kids to bathe, dinner to make or just a good book sitting on your bedside table? Unfortunately for my husband, not me.

However, fortunately for my husband, he now has our two-year old son. I think the little tyke was screaming for a Redskins victory while still in the uterus. He owns three Redskins outfits, one being his favorite. Each morning, his first words are “can I wear my Ridkins outfit?” This is uttered as I am walking into his room before he has gotten out of bed or had his diaper changed. When I reply that no, he cannot wear his Redskins outfit again today, he is not happy. He repeats the question numerous times.

The inquisition does not stop until I have managed to coerce him into getting dressed, in regular clothing. Then we must choose a hat, not his own Redskins hat, but one of his father’s four team hats. Which one will my son chose today? Not sure yet. It’s a fifteen-minute debate.

And, then there is the outside world, full of Redskins paraphernalia. Let me say, I cannot go into any of the grocery stores without my son yelling, at the top of his lungs, there is a Redskins balloon within his sight. Now, everyone turns to stare at the cute kid who loves the hometown team. But, they get to leave the store. I have to stay and for the entire visit, it is all about that balloon. Or, perhaps there is another patron doting a team shirt. Well, if my son could eject himself from the shopping cart, he would stalk that person and try to convince him the shirt was his.

Recently, while in the express checkout lane, my son asked the customer behind us if he could have his Redskins hat. “Can I have your Ridkins hat?” Well, the gentleman took it as a compliment until my son immediately let the gentleman know he was not pleased that he could not have the hat with his team on it.

So, if you see my son and I in the store and you are doting our teams’ logo, I suggest you run for it. If it is game day, you’ll see us coming a mile away. He’ll be wearing that polyester Ridkins outfit with matching socks and cap and yelling, “go Ridksins!”

My husband did not do this to my son. He is enjoying it though. Except, on Sundays when my son asks if the Redskins are going to blow it again. I cringe, because I know there is that possibility and Monday morning will not be pleasant. So, please Coach Gibbs, pull out a win. And, make it a good one. Do it for me. And, to my future daughter-in-law, I sincerely hope you are a fan.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Did You Read Over the Holiday?



It's review time. I have been reading constantly but can't seem to keep up with the blog reviews! These books were recently released:

You Know Where to Find Me is Rachel Cohn's newest YA novel. It's a great story centered around a character drawn to be a misfit of sorts. What she turns out to be is the tough heroine who knows she is not going to follow in her cousin's path and take her own life. Not a particularly uplifting tale and yet I instantly became entrenched in Miles' life. She is edgy, witty and sarcastic. On her blog, Ms. Cohn describes her book as a "warm, uplifting book about grief, suicide, depression and DC statehood." I'd say that just about covers it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Goodbye Time is a middle-grade novel by Celeste Conway. Anna is graduating 5th grade and there are many other changes happening in her life all at once. She and her best friend are straddling those awkward years between being a kid who plays with toys to worrying about what boy you think is cute. Ms. Conway handles this hurdle very well.

I'll be checking out these authors previously written works! Hope everyone had a nice holiday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Vow to Love My Writing Until it is Finished


I am beginning to think writing is a little like marriage. Currently, I'm working on a project I am calling The Companion. I found what I believe to be a great story idea and character. I met that character at a party. Baby shower to be exact but there was plenty of wine flowing so I'd say it was a party.

She and I talked for several weeks until I decided I couldn't be okay without her. I couldn't and didn't really want to push her from my head. So, I commited to tell her story.

I began researching and developing the story and I met all her family and friends. I began writing a few opening paragraphs, testing the waters.

Then, I got cold feet! Now, I think she's mad at me. I started to question whether I could handle this story. Was I capable of telling her story and doing it justice? I didn't think I could go through with it and I began doing everything without her.

I started editing Homer and Rosie, AGAIN! I began piddling around, not focusing and running around on her. Now, I'm feeling really guilty. She's a great character and she has a great life story. I need to tell it. But, I can't find her. She left me and now I'm unsure how to find her!

Any advice?

Signed,

Down and Out
My character is lost!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

There's a Story Behind Every Door


I walked to the Farmer's Market by myself this morning. Foggy, humid and quiet. The kids usually go with me. But after my daughter's first week at school, they both slept in.

I had a little quiet time all by myself. A nice experience while walking amongst the old houses of our centuries old little town. I couldn't help thinking about the history that has taken place here. And, in each house. Federal style homes from the late 1700's and early 1800's; many victorians dating from the mid 1880's; numerous buildings built around the early 1900's after the fire that took place in Warrenton. The picture is from a building down the street which we believe was a girl's school but after recent renovation, is now a retirement home.

The Black Horse Cavalry was in residence here during the Civil War and there were several battles that took place in and around Warrenton. One house in Old Town held troops for a bit.

I couldn't help thinking there were stories lurking everywhere. Literally. From past characters to the current residents. So many, one writer may not be able to get to all of them in his/her lifetime.

Maybe I don't need all the "idea books" I have purchased over the past few years. All I need is to go for a walk!

What stories are lurking around your neighborhood?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm Filled to the Brim



I'm officially addicted. To iced coffee. It started this summer and I'm afraid I may not be able to kick it until my old house gets so cold, I have to write wrapped in a blanket! Then I may begin brewing a hot pot midday.

It started early summer when I had a Starbucks frappucinno for the first time since I quit my real estate job to be a stay at home mom. They are not only full of calories and fat but cost around $4.00. I've always prefered to have 2 hot coffees that don't stress me out about packing on the lbs!

But, I'd had a really bad day and needed some caffeine so I headed for the drivethru at Starbucks. I would like to say that having a drivethru at something other than a McDonalds is definately a reason to move to the country. Especially when you have small kids you have to lug into every errand you run.

As I stared at my options, I considered a sweet latte. Caramel probably. Then I saw the chilled options and I was a gonner. I can't say why I became weak that day. Maybe it was because it was unusually warm or maybe I just really needed sugar combined with caffeine. And, I gave in.

A week or so later, I made my very pregnant sister swing into the new Starbucks in Front Royal. First, I never thought my old hometown would get any kind of coffee store. Now, I'm kind of sad it did. It's resting on old farmland. But, anyhoo, I got an iced caramel coffee. With whipped. And the syrup drizzled on the top. I gave her a taste. Now she is hooked too. UhOh.

Then I realized I had to make a change or else my swimsuits would no longer fit and noone would want to see me in them. So, I started using the old coffee in my pot leftover from the morning. Each day, when my kids were having their quiet time, i'd pour coffee over ice, add a shot of 2% milk and a little of my son's Hershey's syrup. Just a little. Yum.

Now, I'm alternating between syrup and International Coffees as my additive. It's not Starbucks but it's better than diet Pepsi for my midday kick except I'm now having 2. One on my way out the door in the morning and the other after lunch. When should I get worried? When I start having one at dinner? My sister gave me a Starbucks gift card for my birthday. Maybe now is the time to worry!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder


I am lucky enough to have just gotten back from two weeks of vacation. Over a week at a little beach in North Carolina called Sunset Beach and then a few days in Richmond, Virginia visiting my husband's brother and going to Busch Gardens with the kids. So much fun!

I was able to read several good books while watching my son chase the surf and my daughter dive into the waves. The beach is a yearly indicator of how they have grown. Each year, they become more independent in the water and therefore require less supervision giving my husband and I more time to read! Which we do perched only about a foot away from the edge!

I was and still am a big fan of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. I adore stories about friends and families that are both devoted and dysfunctional but do it with quite a bit of personality and pizzaz. Ms. Wells suffers from a very bad case of Lymes Disease. I respected her before I knew this but now even more as she has written another good story while she has been fighting this crippling sickness.

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder is a beautifully written, good read. It is about one girl's journey to inner peace and love. The Ponders are not a dysfunctional family but are unique enough to be as interesting.

Calla Lily takes her lessons from her mother to find solice and comfort from her natural surroundings. The moon is a significant character and provides for spiritual guidance to the main character thoughout the story.

Ms. Wells has once again drawn interesting characters. This is a story I enjoyed and read quickly to cross the finish line. I did still have Calla Lily in my head for a few hours after finishing. She did not stay there like Vivi Walker did, holding up residence for days but I'm kind of thankful for that. I had other books to focus on as well. Later on those.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The School Bus Will Be Here Soon


We're back from a nice vacation and now it's back to school for my daughter. I'm so down about it, I have to really try to pick myself up. I'm focusing on the good things coming. Apples, Halloween and having a little time to myself. To write!

I thought I'd post an article I wrote before last summer for my local paper, The Fauquier Democrat. I don't think I'm up to writing a post about how much I will miss my little girl and the summer!

What I Learned in Kindergarten


Summer is almost here. I have looked forward to Summer 2008 since last Labor Day when my daughter headed to kindergarten. Through the winter, I enjoyed snow days and thoughts of summer break. Through the spring, I enjoyed the occasional vacation day and thoughts of summer break. I looked forward to having my daughter home with me all day to go to the park, the swimming pool or just for a picnic in the backyard.

Now, it’s here. My daughter is graduating from kindergarten, and all I now want is to go back to last Labor Day! I’m hard to please, huh? But, I can’t figure out how her first year passed so quickly? How did my first baby get to be a first grader!
I think back to the first day of school, snapping pictures as she headed down our brick walk to the school bus. Her green dress was a little too big and her new backpack drooped to her ankles.

I couldn’t get over it for weeks. I would walk with my son in the single stroller through Old Town feeling as if I was missing something important. Like an arm. Now, I don’t think I can get over the end of it! She has finally learned to tie her shoes. Who knew tying your shoes was so hard to teach? She has learned to read. That was certainly a momentous occasion.

She has gotten accustomed to doing homework first, and then playing. My husband and I got comfortable with her kindergarten teacher. We learned her school identity, bus and homeroom numbers. The cost of milk with and without lunch. Now she and I know which lunches she likes to buy, when to pack and that parents can actually eat with their kids.

She learned she loved the bus. I am glad my daughter is a fan of public transportation. But, I also found her brother and I can walk her to school on nice mornings. That’s a treasure. She has made a whole new set of friends and I have finally remembered all their names. I learned that even Kindergarteners want to go to the sock hop and if you don’t take them, they will be mad come Monday morning when their friends talk of nothing else. Apparently, there was not only disco music but dancing on the stage. I have been making up for that little oversight ever since.

I learned it’s best to find out the whole story to her school day by waiting until she is ready to talk. I was told green corduroy dresses with red appliqué ponies look dorky and to have a holiday outfit backup. “The big kids don’t dress like this, Mom. Ugh.”

Importantly, I found it necessary to ask everyday if underwear had been a consideration while dressing especially when wearing skirts.

I had to remember long vowels versus short ones. How to write correctly on lined paper and how to spell condensation. I remembered what a school cafeteria smells like, how to make a boat that will float and that kids celebrate the 100th day of school.

I have battled the inevitable introduction to things like Hannah Montana and High School Musical and come through without giving in. For now.

The desire to be independent has both grown and decreased. She insists on combing her own hair even though she may miss the bus, but somehow I am still needed to fetch a tissue, paper towel or help with a bathroom break.

She has learned how to get dressed, make her bed and brush her teeth each morning without forgetting to do one of them. This took all year. She has found she can indeed be patient with her little brother when she gets home from school. All he wants is to attack her as soon as she’s through the door. “Guess what I did today, Big Sis? And, play with me, please!”

All these experiences under her belt, I should be happy. But, I want to go back. Learn them all again. Enjoy them more. Slow down the days. This time, I will give her the space she needs to learn to tie her shoes. I found hovering doesn’t help. I will not expect Christmas break to be a real holiday vacation. It’s more like a long weekend with a lot of family trips involved to make it seem even shorter.

I couldn’t have enjoyed snow days anymore than I did because they really were the best. But, I wouldn’t want any more than we had less the school year grow even longer. Most importantly, I would not wish for summer break to come quickly.
I refuse to feel the need to have her in every possible activity during the break. I want a summer similar to my own. Long days at the pool, sleeping in the car on the ride home, and then shucking corn out back for dinner. Or going outside so early in the morning to swing that she still has on her pajamas. Mosquito bites and suntan lotion. The smell of your own backyard as a thunderstorm is looming and the feel of the grass as you lay and watch the clouds. Walking to the Warrenton Fourth of July parade while we mop our foreheads. Classic Americana. That’s what summer break is supposed to be.

My daughter will turn six this summer. My son will turn three. My husband and I each will get another year older. All this from Memorial to Labor Day. It’s a lot to accomplish.

I have learned my most important lesson this year in kindergarten. Stop wishing for the good times in the future and enjoy the good times at present. I’ll wait to introduce my daughter to Little Women for a few years and enjoy Judy Bloom with her instead. And, I’ll savor every day this summer break. At least the ones where no one is screaming, whining or complaining. Perhaps, when those inevitable moments come, I might actually be able to remember to take a deep breath, pour a nice healthy glass of wine and savor those moments too.

More than likely, nothing that civilized will happen. But, come next Labor Day, I’m sure I’ll be reminiscing and wishing for the good old days of Summer Break 2008. It will only be the good times I’ll miss. Whatever your situation, try to enjoy the heat, humidity and even the mosquitoes. I hope it’s a peaceful and relaxing one for us all!



I now commit myself to have an enjoyable Fall 2009. Here's to hoping for no fights while getting dressed for school, no mean girls in the 2nd grade and lots of fun!

I hope each of you with young kids has the same!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Vacation with the Characters


My family and I are heading to the beach today. We'll be gone for about two weeks. It's usually a pretty sad time because my daughter will start school immediately when we get back. Our vacation is always planned for the end of the summer because we spend it at my in-laws beach house and it is rented much of the summer. Not being a beach fan (I know, I'm a freak), it's not my favorite time of the summer. But, I do enjoy being on vacation with my family and having my husband off work.

When I return, I will no doubt be in a bit of a depression. Vacation over, summer vacation over, daughter back in school and my tan will fade.

BUT, I have these great new characters to keep me busy. The family from the late 1950's. For a writer, I'm having a hard time explaining how much I enjoy the writing process during the creation of characters and story.

Last night as I did some nightly reading, Sarah Dessen's Dreamland, I had to keep hopping up to write a thought in my idea book. Finally, and yes I'm a little dense, I brought the book with me to the couch where I continued to scribble my revelations. The margarita helped, I'm sure. After so much packing, it was nice to relax.

The open space to create a brand new set of characters with quirks, issues and individual qualities that will interact with each other is well, just so much fun! I still stop sometimes and pinch myself knowing how lucky I am to be doing this.

So, the 7 hour drive will be spent thinking, scribbling and trying to do a little reading without getting nauseas.

Talk to all of you in a bit. And, here's to all of you having a productive two weeks!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stinkerbutt (beware, this post is gaseous)


When my kids were babies, I would carry them around and sing to them. I have a horrible voice. Seriously. I knew very few songs, especially baby songs, so I would make up my own lyrics. Much more fun.

I also made up names for my kids. I do use some of the oldies but goodies. Darlin', Sweetheart, Sugar (pronounced shuugar). Now, when I was a little girl, we used the word stinker when we had a little gas. Being sweet southern little ladies, my sister and I would not use the word fart. I usually handled my gas in private. My sister was a different story. My mom also used to call people stinkers. In her book, if you were a stinker, you were interesting. It was high praise.

So, when I first had my daughter, Stinkerbutt became a Major original and often used in our household. "Hey, my little stinkerbutt, how did you sleep?" for instance. Or, "Don't be a stinkerbutt to your sister!". It is used as a term of endearment as well as to inform the child they are misbehaving. Somehow, my kids know how to determine my usage.

But, now my son is using the word in public. He has a very loud voice that carries. My very proper husband is appalled. He blames me of course eventhough he has used it as well. It is my fault. But, shouldn't I be able to make up words using gassy terms? And, shouldn't I be able to call my children by them? Do I always have to use the boring, sickly sweet terms like sweetheart? I mean, I don't cuss anymore (mostly). I can't even use the word jerk when someone cuts me off while driving. My son reprimands me. What am I left with except made up words that include bodily functions? I certainly don't want to be boring. That would be the highest crime!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Superior Scribbler Award



I received this award from one of my very favorite bloggers and fellow children's writer, Amy Tate. I am terribly fortunate to have received this and to have found a great blogger pal like Amy. It's unfortunate that I can't bestow the award to her myself.

I actually received it several weeks ago. But, being a novice blogger, I hadn't yet found others who hadn't received this award recently. So, I had to do a little hunting which was another perk because now I've found more blogs I love to read!

The Superior Scribbler Award:

1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy buds.
2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains The Award.
4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Here are 5 terrific bloggers (in no specific order):

1). Susan Counterfeit Farm Girl

2). N.A. Sharpe Realms of Thought

3). Corey Schwartz Thing 1 and Thing 2

4). Mama Grits ThirtySomethingLand

5). B.E. Sanderson Writing Spectacle II

Monday, August 3, 2009

Into the PTO Grind


I agreed to join the PTO last spring. After doing some volunteering here and there and a lot of popping popcorn for the kids' popcorn friday snacks, a couple of desperate pto'ers stuck my name in as secretary under the nomination.

When I first started at the elementary school, ahuhm, my daughter started at school, I avoided the PTO like the plague. I figured it was a group of moms with nothing better to do than to sit around and organize a bunch of fundraisers.

Well, they indeed do that. But, they have a lot of better or should I simply say other things to do. They are not a group of bored housewives needing fullfillment. And, being in the PTO is hardwork and I'm sure fullfilling at times. Like childrearing is fullfilling. You know the small glimpses of positivity that you get after weeks of fighting and arguing?

Throughout my daughter's second year at school in first grade, I realized there were only a few moms who do the heavy lifting. I also found they were terrific women. I appreciated them but I still didn't want to be one of them. Afterall, I need time to write. And, have coffee at Panera with my girlfriends.

But, they asked. And, I couldn't look any of them in the face and say "No, I'm sorry. You do soo much for my daughter's school but I don't have time to sit at the PTO meetings and take notes". Could you have done it?

Last night was our first meeting. Now, I love pen and paper. Well, pencil and paper. I enjoy writing on a yellow legal pad with a good pencil. Mirado Black Warrior's are my favorite and now an addiction thanks to my friend, Kat! They are smooth and erase beautifully. But after 2 1/2 hours of taking notes, I felt like a legal secretary. This is going to eat into my writing time and use up my good pencils. Not to mention all the other stuff I will end up volunteering for. It's a good thing those women are cool to hang out with!

Do you think there might be a story in all of this? I'm banking on it. I'm off to type up the minutes. See you in a few days!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Music to the Rescue


The idea I'm working on next is so completely different than my first. I can barely think of anything else. Except waiting for critiques of Homer because I am still in love with Homer the pony! Afterall, he was my first.

I enjoy this part of the writing process because the possibilities are endless. I like the setup. The creating of characters, choosing a name that fits, figuring out where they will live and what makes them tick. And, of course, their conflict. I haven't done this in about two years when I started Homer and Rosie. .

My character, I think she'll be Claire, will be living in about 1959. This is one of my favorite time periods. My folks were just kids. So, I'm doing research; finding out what movies and music they were enjoying. Specific songs and t.v. shows.

And, I'm doing what helps me "get in the mood". I listen to the characters' music. While I was in the middle of creating Homer and all the barn animals, I listened to country because after all, that is what a pony from Virginia listenes to in the barn. The burro liked opera so I had to listen to some of that too.

I haven't downloaded actual 1959 music, yet. But, I have been listening to bluegrass and other music like Simon and Garfunkel, even though they came a little later. I put on the soundtrack to "Oh, Brother Where Art Thou" the other day in the car and my daughter said, "Mom what isss thiss?" Then I put on Vampire Weekend, which reminds me of a current day S&G, and she perked up.

What part of the process do ya'll like? Is it the setup? And, are there things you like to do to get the feel of your characters?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Publishing Bandaid


I haven't sent my first book, Homer and Rosie, to even one publisher. I haven't tried to contact any agents. I've researched and made lists but I just can't seem to jump into it. I'm gearing up to start my next book to be called, The Companion, unless I change it, which is likely. I'm really excited about it. It's completely different than my first. But, still, I can't seem to begin the process of trying, begging to be published. Sure, I sent out some stories to magazines when I was taking the children's writing course through The Institute for Children's Literature. But, to date, my only publications were in my local paper. And, for now, that's off limits since they can't afford to pay anyone. Although, I've considered sending them stuff as gifts just for the thrill of seeing my writing published.

I keep telling myself, after my highschool English teacher reads Homer, I'll either continue to revise, trash it or I'll rip that bandaid off and begin to beg for publication.

And, which should you do? Publisher or Agent? Where do you start? I've seen advice that goes both ways. I was thinking agent. I feel like that way, I have an advocate before I start checking off publishers who have crossed Homer off their lists.

What have you guys done or plan to do?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Turtle Alice


A little fun, albeit badly written, poetry for your hot Tuesday. And, I changed the color of the blog background. I needed a change and thought it easier than painting my living room.


We had a turtle
come into our lives.
We named her Alice.
indeed she was wise

Oh no, Alice thought
what have I done
I've gotten myself caught
I can't even run.

we released her to
the wetlands behind
our house today
don't you think this was kind?

She is now receiving
more attention than Crys.
Chrystalena Tulip,
our guinea pig

has suffered a lack
of love and touch
when she proved to us
her preference for not much

Now Alice is lost.
She took my advice.
To flee the hands of young children
And run like mice!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Reading List at Last!





Gaze your groovy eyes to the right. Isn't there a song that says, "to the left, to the left"? hip hop, I believe. Anyway, I'm a little punchy this morning, being Monday and all. I've finally started a reading list. This is not to say that I haven't been reading ALL summer and in fact ALL the time since I've started my blog several weeks ago. But, I hadn't started the list.

Part of my problem was when I began this blog thing, I was reading very popular literature. The kind that requires little thinking and is perfect for summer. I prefer this kind mainly in the summer and it has to be southern writers with a plot set in the south. Sometimes, I will stray and consider a yankee book but if I do, it's still set on the water and reminds me of the Kennedys.

Here's a little bit about 3 of the books on that list so far:

Keeper of the Doves by Betsy Byars: a middle grade book set at the end of the 19th century. It's a lovely story about a little girl who loves words. Ms. Byars is a writer from South Carolina and I shall be reading her other works.

Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale: My fellow Fauquierian is hilarious. She moved to a big farm from New Jersey and chronicles that change. She has a real knack for hyperbole and a great wit.

TumTum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Beam: This was a great story. I should say stories but we only got to the first of three because I was reading a chapter a night to my kids and had to return the sucker. It was a new one at the library which didn't allow for a renew. But, my kids and I really enjoyed the adventures of two mice living in an odd little house.

I'm still working on that list. It's a little crude at the moment but wanted to get it up. I'm not sure which book to choose next. A kid's book, a good summer read or something more serious. Hmm?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Carpenter Who Doesn't Do Carpentry


My carpenter is a scoundrel. He is refusing to repair something I thought he had agreed to do. When he, one of my painter's crew and I walked around the house weeks ago to discuss the many rotting boards needing repair, a windowsill and another spot were on that list.

My husband was not with us as he was hard at work at The Nature Conservancy saving precious land from development (well, he was actually dealing with stock gifts but that money goes to save land). So, my better half was not privvy to the conversations. As well, he had been told by the main painter that another very big and really important board had to be replaced that was not discussed at the carpenter "meeting".

The carpenter was paid.

He did not make those repairs.

I talked to him last night to try and get a price for the very big and really important board and to remind him of the windowsill. This was after my painter called him and told him for the 2nd time that day to call me. Huh. Doesn't sound very dependable, does he? Well, no. I negotiated for twenty minutes with this froot loop. At 9:30 at night when I'm usually in bed reading a good children's book. Later on that.

When I got off, my husband looked at me with pride. Not because I had won the argument. I hadn't. The guy refused to replace that small windowsill for no charge. No charge! You wouldn't believe what he charged us! That guy makes a bundle per hour. I told him we didn't want him to come back and that I wouldn't be recommending him to anyone. And, my painter won't be either. I have started the family phone tree. My mom knows about this goof so everyone else within a 50 mile radius will too. Thanks, Mom.

I actually enjoyed the conversation with the carpenter. Well, not the losing money part. It was similar to the time I helped a girlfriend negotiate her lease for space to accommodate her new business. It came easy and reminded me of those days when I worked in D.C. as a commercial leasing agent.

After I hung up the phone, my husband looked at me with pride. He said, "Jenn, you are a good negotiator. You really need to get back into commercial real estate and make us some money." Aw, man, I wish he had said the same thing while he was reading my middle grader.

That carpenter has screwed me again!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Toast to Unplug Week


Novice blogger that I am, I have just heard it is Unplug Week. I plugged in to check a few of my favorite sites and read Susan Mills' blog A Walk in My Shoes. Thank you Susan for letting me know. Apparently, this is the time to stop blogging, twittering and posting on facebook and write. If you are a writer I guess.

So, I will see all of you in a week. By then, I hope I have found a name for my first novel (I don't understand why I'm having such difficulty since the story line is finished) and accomplished more research for my 2nd novel!

I keep hearing Tom Petty's song, "Free Falling". And, I'm feeling it!

Here's to hoping all of you having a productive writing week!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Fairy and the Transformer


Last summer, I hosted a Fairy Tea Party for fiveteen 6 year olds. Our dining room was draped with english ivy and toile. Lace and pink flowered miniature tea cups graced the table. Small silver and gold picture frames designated where my daughter chose each of her guests to sit. I drew a fairy holding a butterfly in icing on the cake. Classical music permeated the dining room from the adjacent sunporch. It was all very, well, girly.

Today, I will visit our local Walmart. I will purchase a Transformer table cloth, plates, cups, napkins, and pinata. We're only having family. I can get away with this for one more year anyway. But, we will decorate. We will all hit the Transformer which I will fill with dark chocolate. Well, maybe some other kind of "funner" candy as my little man would say. He will run around the house yelling, "Transformer, more than meets the eye" while punching the air with his little fists.

Two very different tales. Two very different kids. And, yet, my son sat at that fairy table. He drank tea and ate pimento cheese sandwiches. He giggled with the girls and yelled to my daughter from the other end.

My daughter will hit that pinata and probably be the one to bring it down. She will finish his chorus, "Transformers, robots in disquise". She will be thrilled for him when he receives his Darth Vadar light saber (after all, she has an Anikan one!). In her dress, she will have a duel Lucas would be proud to see.

I had a sister. One I wouldn't trade for the world. We tend to do things exactly alike. I mean even down to the colors in our house. Our kitchens and bathrooms are exactly the same paint color and we didn't even realize it for the longest time. It's nice and we get a lot of laughs. But, isn't it nice to have a brother? Someone who can teach you to appreciate the testosterone of life? I told my husband last night that our daughter is better prepared to receive friends in the shape of boys than I ever was. She already knows what is important to them. Heck, it's important to her too!

Oh, but one thing that concerns me. My son wants Megatron and Optimus Prime to have a battle on his cake. How am I supposed to draw that one? I can't even tell them apart!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Smell of Summer without the Car


Yesterday, I had one of those days where I refused to get in the car. I watered the garden with coffee in hand while the kids played in the yard still in their pajamas. Several white butterflies kept us company.

During my summer breaks when I was a kid, my sister and I would play outside in our p.j.s. We would climb onto the trampoline we got as a hammydown from our older cousins. Our blankets wrapped securely around us, we would jump together, often in synch. Bounce, bounce, bounce, fall. Sometimes, there was a new world waiting for us when we hit a certain height. A world full of fantasy wizards and witches or unicorns. This was the 70's after all.

After my kids got dressed and had some breakfast, we decided to take a walk. My daughter, although 7, is still light enough to push in the double jogger so I take it along for the end of the ride when they are pooped. But, initially, they have to walk. Kids just don't get the exercise they used to. As we walked up a hill and around a bend of one of our favorite streets here in Old Town Warrenton called High Street, a smell blessed my nostrils. I couldn't place it.

I stopped and asked the kids to stop. I sniffed all the border flowers but none gave off the aroma that had pulled a million childhood memories from my tired brain. Walks through the woods beside my parents' home to the Skyline Drive and a "secret bridge". Playing outside at dusk while my the t.v. filtered through the open windows. "I Dream of Jeanie". (again, this was the 70's). My parents on the porch swing while my sister and I watched a plane overhead. Sitting on the porch roof to see the town fireworks on the 4th of July. That smell was like peace, serenity, security.

The owner of the house was outside. I asked her what it might be. Honeysuckle is growing behind me she said. That had been the only part I had recognized. What was the other? I needed to know so I could duplicate it but she didn't know.

Then I settled. I knew I wouldn't find out. I'm a gardener but a fairly novice one. I had a feeling, I wouldn't soon forget that moment. Smelling that smell of my childhood while my kids walked and giggled about something I couldn't seem to figure out. How fortunate I was to experience this day. A beautiful day spent without getting in the car.

We walked home and had our usual picnic lunch on the porch.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bubble Wrap for the Butt


This past Saturday my mom and cousin, Jeff, unwrapped their birthday gifts in front of all the family, some 20 or so of us, in the very large living room of my cousin's house. He sat at one end with my mom at the other like two pillars of the room. Our heads rocked from left to right as we watched them unwrap and joke. Stand up comics, if you will.

One very large package had sheets of very large bubble wrap. Now my son, always the ham, is on fire. Partly because he hadn't had a nap, or a break all day and partly because he had eaten cake and lemonade for 8 hours straight. He had attended my sister's baby shower earlier that day. I arranged for my dad, aka PaPa, to watch him during the shower. But since Papa was working in the field just beyond the house, my son could see the party and preferred to sit inside a cool house and eat cake versus helping Papa with fixing the horse feeder in the sun. And, since I was running around doing stuff, the kid helped himself to numerous glasses of the yellow stuff and numerous mini cupcakes loaded with Red Dye #40 (us grownups had a more dignified dessert of course).

Back to the birthday party. My son was trying to help Jeff unwrap his gifts. Jeff wrapped him in the big bubblewrap. He explained to the little tot that if ever he was about to receive a spanking, he could just put on the bubble wrap. Everyone laughed. So, my son took that to mean, he needed to ham it up at which point he began to work the room. He stood in front of each person and stuck out his bubble wrapped butt for each to give it a swat. Everytime, he laughed with such delight.

It made me think of characters in books like Judy Bloom and the Pain, Junie B. Jones and Ramona. It sounded like something any of those kids might do. Bubble wrap their butts to avoid punishment. Of course this depends on your view of spanking. I'm not a fan of it although that doesn't mean I haven't tried it when all else is lost. But, bubble wrap could be used for so many things. Rolling down a hill, rolling your younger sibling down a hill. Rolling the cat down a hill, sleigh riding bubble style. The ideas are endless.

I'm saving that one for a future character!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Mercedes Cake


I know, I know, I need to write about inspirations for us children's writers. But, too much has been happening. Listen to this!

This past Christmas, my mom got really really sick. She is (or was) the healthiest person i knew. Onry and sassy. But, she picked up what seemed like a typical cold over this past Christmas. By mid January she was so sick she almost passed out in Target. By March, she was diagnosed as having a very sick liver and needing a transplant. My dad, sister Lori and I were all in the emergency room with her when her doctor told us. How does this happen? When you get the worst news of your life, the family just happens to have seen the signs before hand and gathers?

You could have hit us all with a brick and we wouldn't have noticed. My mom has always been the rock of our family keeping us together and taking care of us. I happened to be in the room with my dad when the doctor dropped this load. I went to fetch my sister (there were only 2 visitors at a time allowed) and we managed to get an exemption on the 2 visitor rule. With the news only minutes old, we started cutting up. Teasing mom about what she was going to put us through. We decided I would write a Lifetime Movie all about her liver transplant.

Now Mom has always had a thing for finding what actress everyone in her life, or strangers at the grocery store, resemble. Diane Lane would play her because she wants to look like her. She decided Dad would be Richard Gere (she's always had a thing) although he really looks like George Clooney, seriously. And, my sister, Lori and I would be played by Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Aniston, respectively, since Mom has told everyone in our town that we look like them. It's very embarassing to be compared constantly to someone who is very attractive when you don't really look like them. I still haven't written that movie.

In April, right before Easter, Mom got her transplant. She was top on the list at UVA. Scary because she was sick enough to get a liver within weeks of being diagnosed.

Mom has never thought she was all that attractive. She is though. But, she does know she has great hair. As she says, "It's my best quality". So, when she got the "call" to be at UVA as soon as she could, she made sure her hair looked great. Before the team of doctors wheeled her into the operating room, she sat up in her bed and tossed her hair to give it body. Then the doctor put one of those institutional hospital caps over it. She had a fit. "Don't smash the hair, please." She was only joking a little. The female doctor told her she'd try. "Well, it's my only good quality and I want to look good when I come out of surgery." The team laughed.

When they wheeled her from the elevator to intensive care, my family was there. It was 3:00 in the morning. Mom was in a drug induced sleep of course but we caught the doctors still laughing about her fussing over her hair.

My dad never left her. When Lori and I went back down to UVA to stay for a bit after taking a break to see our husbands and my kids, we realized my dad looked like he needed a good meal and a haircut. That he got. We tried to make Mom laugh but she was usually so hopped up on pain meds, something she has oddly never enjoyed, not to mention laughing hurt. And, her normally slender legs were literally the size of tree trunks making it hard for her to do anything. She didn't fuss too much about her hair. Unusual!

It was a strange few months. We all took care of her. Something she never before allowed us to do. Now, she's doing great. Still a worry wart and onry. More onry than before. Nothing has changed there.

Her birthday happened to be on the day of Lori's baby shower. So, I made her a cake. I had planned on putting a Mercedes sign in icing on it because Mom's scar resembles it. But, after the initial icing had been spread, the top layer of the stupid thing split. It split in the shape of a Mercedes sign!

We all joked that it was my grandmom either giving Mom a sign or helping me out. Since I was really busy with Lori's baby shower, Grandmom may have thought I could use a break. Grandmom is no longer with us. Atleast not in the typical living way.

I mused that we should sell it on ebay. Or maybe I should include this as the ending to the Lifetime Movie. We could call it, "Betty Crocker and the Liver Transplant"!

That night at my cousin's house for a family birthday dinner (it was his as well), he made a speech about how happy he was she was there to celebrate. He is her nephew and they have always been really close. He presented her with a picture of Robert Duvall, a local and certainly national celebrity. It had been signed to my mom. Mr. Duvall has been one of her very favotires. Mom has always thought the actor looked like her dad. Yet another movie star look a like. Maybe I should just title that Lifetime movie,"The Liver and the Movie Stars".

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Welcome Aboard the Baby Vessel

I haven't posted in a while. Been very busy planning my little (and only) sister's baby shower. It's today and I really hope it goes well. I usually think baby shower games are really cheesy but believe I have some good ones planned. Should be fun especially if most of the guests have a little wine before hand (which I've no doubt they will!).
I have to say, even though it is way too early to be up and I didn't sleep that well worrying, I'd much rather be on this side of things. I really disliked having showers thrown for me. I don't do well as the center of attention. I'd rather be one of the crowd that others look at and say, "hey, she's got great shoes on". It's so much better than when you're the "it" girl. And, the unwrapping presents part!! Ugh! Everyone staring at you and waiting for your response. How many times can you say, "Oh, how cute. I just love it!". Not that I didn't appreciate everything I got at all three showers. I did. But, at the co-ed shower my girlfriends threw for us, I opened the gifts as soon as my guests brought them in. That was the condition my husband made for agreeing in the first place to a co-ed baby shower. Can you blame him? What guy wants to sit and watch you unwrap ten different types of burp cloths?

As each couple arrived, I shooed the husband/boyfriends out back to where the Heineken keg was (for the guests, not me of course) and the girl and I opened the gift she no doubt picked out by herself. Then, I displayed them in my daughter's nursery for anyone who really wanted to see all that loot.

But, Lori loves to be the "it" girl. She enjoys having her picture taken as often and as much as possible. And, you'd think she was conceited. But, no way. She just likes to look great and have her pic taken. And, she's good at it. I, however, take a terrible photo. So, today, I will be taking all the shots of her.

When I threw my daughter's 5th birthday party (mermaid theme of course), I wore a sarong and sandels to be one of the crew. My sister came to help wearing, wait for it, a sarong and sandles. Now, Lori and her husband used to live at the beach. He grew up in N.C. Her baby room and, in fact her house, is decorated very beachy. So, she wanted a nautical feel to her party. We chose turqoise and blues.

This time, we've talked about what we planned to wear. She, because it's all about her for this one day. Me, because I better have it planned and ironed so I don't stress about something else. Lori is wearing white slacks and a navy top with printed sailboats on her head sarong (what is that thing anyway? Cooler than a headband but not really a scarf?). Guess what I laid out? White skirt and a navy top. Yesterday, I told her we were going to be like cruise directors on The Love Boat. We laughed and then discussed how we have done this all our lives. Woken up for school planning to wear the same sweater. Think I will be able to blend in dressed like Julie and asking everyone as they arrive if I can take their purse?

I ramble. Probably because it's not quite 5:00 a.m. so I better sail out.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Devil and the Diet


I was reading an article from a writer here in Fauquier County, Susan McCorkindale. She has found out that it is Cankle Awareness Month. Check it out. Check her out. She's hilarious. Susan McCorkindale

It sparked a memory:

I have dreaded heading to the doctor for my daughter's checkup each year since she turned one. She is consistently in the 3rd to 5th percentile. Meaning, of all the kids in the states, her weight consists of only 3% of the population. Basically, it means she's petite and thin. But, the doctors have still put us through quite a lot to prove she is okay even though they look us directly in the eye and say "we know she is fine". When it first started, she had no fear of having her blood withdrawn. Now, she cries before she sees a needle.

My directive is to put butter on everything. Up the calories in any way I can. I actually went through a phase where I perused the grocery isles looking for the fatiest foods. A very odd thing for a girl who has been taught to control her weight. I've often thought this was a farce. Especially since this country has so many obese children. And, are these children being compared to mine? I don't know but my daughter's weight has always been an issue.

So, you can understand how concerned I was when she belts out at the age of six, "Mom, I want to be on a diet!". I immediately went into hyper mode. Where was she getting this? We don't talk about weight. In fact, I'm pretty happy with myself but I also try to make sure she never hears the "f" word even if I'm just having a moment.

I knew I had to have the conversation. No, not that one but the food conversation. The one my mom had with me when I went off to college.

"Your body is an engine, Jenn. It needs fuel to run. If you don't give it fuel then it will shut down and nothing will work properly. And, then when you decide to refuel, it won't be able to process it properly and will store it as fat." Scary? Yes. So, I gained the freshman 15 instead.

I told my daughter food is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it. Everything in moderation is the way to go. Yes, you can have donuts (her favorite food) but just not too many or too often. You have to fill your body with good fuel. etc. etc. etc.

On this went. Every few days, she would reeiterate the need for a diet. Her dad and I were concerned but didn't want to make a big issue out of it.

And then. It all became clear. She and I sat on the family room floor playing a game with the t.v. on. Food Network. For someone who loves having the t.v. for background noise, I considered this channel to be a safe one for the kids. A nutrisystem commercial came on. My daughter's head turned to watch it. I watched her watch it. Then she looked at me and said, "See Mom, if you go on the diet, you get free desserts!"

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. She's just a normal 6 year old! But, it did remind me of something important. The obsessive marketing of our society. Diet commercials on a food channel? Turn the t.v. off. Now we listen to hip hop instead. My husband says its narcissistic. Man, it's always something!