Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy (Little) Nashes

I haven't done an update on the kids for a while, so I thought it would be a good time.

My little Norah is not so little anymore. She's 15 months old (almost 16 months) and incredibly full of spirit. She is "so talky," as Chris says, and she knows how to make her opinion heard, and she is never short on opinions either. She has strong tastes in food (cheese: yes; squash: no) and a growing vocabulary, including (but not limited to)

What's This
A word of her own devising, which sounds like "Da!" but which means "Give me the thing I am pointing at, and make it snappy."

She also sings along with songs and quotes movies and parrots nearly anything you say, although it is hard to get her to repeat these words or phrases ever again after she utters them miraculously for the first and only time. A great example of this was two months ago when Chris walked into the kitchen holding his toy yellow Lamborghini Murcielago. Norah pointed at it and said "AMBURGEEN!" And then never, ever said it again. I suppose the thrill of making her mother look crazy is enough to encourage her to expand her vocabulary in secret, without ever displaying her knowledge to anyone else ;D

She will walk now, sometimes, with some inducement. She still prefers to crawl, and she crawls really fast. From time to time she will stand without holding onto anything, but when she needs to move quickly to steal a toy or get some cheese, she still prefers all-fours.

Chris is getting ready to turn 4 (in October), and in the past month or so his storytelling has really taken off. He tells me stories at bedtime sometimes now, instead of the other way around, and they are intricate, involving action, intrigue, and loads of imagination. I wasn't expecting such a lively imagination along with the ability to express it quite this early, but hey, I'll take it! I am constantly amazed by his powers of observation, and the way that he can size up a situation almost instantly. If he watches 5 minutes of a movie or TV show, he knows everybody's name, their relation to each other, and what they are trying to do within the plot of the movie or episode.

He also reads stories to me, not actually reading them, but memorizing the stories and telling them. He reads stories to Norah's dolls and feeds them bottles, although when they need new diapers he always brings them to me ;D

He still really likes playing with his toys from Cars (Lightning McQueen, etc.) and is going through the second or third iteration of a continuing fixation on the movie Shrek. This is mostly benign, but produces some pretty funny situations, including the scene that played out a week or two ago. There is a part of Shrek in which Shrek calls Donkey a "stubborn jackass," which, strictly speaking, is an accurate description. But not exactly the kind of thing you want your preschooler saying. Chris and Ben were play fighting and having some sort of standoff within their game, and Chris made a serious face at Ben and said "Stubborn jackets!" I love that his mind reinterpreted that phrase to something gentler. We laughed for days about that one.

Oftentimes now, Chris's pre-terrible-twos personality shines through, for an hour here or there, or sometimes (like yesterday) for an entire day. I look forward to getting to know him again without the constant public tantrums, although on days like today (end of a long week, heat index 107) I can't hold it against him if he has a tantrum or two. I'm pretty close to having one myself, and at least he has the excuse of his age.

I had a spark of an idea earlier this week to make Chris a place in the living room where he can play and be part of the action, but where Norah can't get to him and his toys. I turned our loveseat around backwards to face the wall, and it has been a hit. He keeps his most precious cars in there, and likes to play sometimes without his sisters sticky fingers reaching into his play scenarios. He seems more like Ben and more like me every day. His teacher told me something that reminded me a lot of myself the other day -- they said that when he plays in the dress-up room, the other kids dress up like firefighters, doctors, etc., but he will only wear the hard hat that goes with the builder costume, and even then, he will wear it only if he has some tools and is about to build something. This makes me smile but it doesn't surprise me -- I took myself very seriously as a little kid and I am not surprised that even his role playing has a pragmatic twist to it -- to him, the hard hat probably has a practical purpose aside from encouraging his imagination -- probably, it just seems like a smart safety precaution to take, when you are operating heavy machinery.

So often lately Ben and I spend the evening before the kids go to bed just sitting on the couch and watching them play. Their minds are expanding rapidly, and while their newly developed skills are often put to use in order to give us trouble (as in Norah's newly expanded vocabulary, which allows her to say "Mama, NO!" when I carry her down the hall to go to bed), I can't help but be proud of my sticky little smarty-pantses. They keep me hopping, they wear me out, they make me old, and they keep me young. I have my hands full for sure! :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Carrot Sticks

I am not a big proponent of "the good old days" propaganda, in which people gather in misty-eyed reverence to pay tribute to a glorious past that most likely didn't even happen.

But a recent crop of "breaking" news articles about how Americans are obese because they eat too many calories, and about how difficult it is to eat right when you rely on restaurant food, and how everyone is tearing their hair out to figure out a way to make a hamburger on a white bread bun and a little paper sack of fried potatoes into something healthy, gets me thinking about my childhood and the lessons I learned there about the value (or lack thereof) of restaurant food.

Imagine a trip to the beach or a long day of running errands in the old woodgrain-paneled Plymouth Volare. There would be no stops at McDonald's on the way, in part because there was no McDonald's on the hour-long drive to the public beach, but also because there was no reason to waste the money. It was general knowledge that we were not going to stop at a restaurant -- instead, we traveled with cheap and portable homemade food. PB&J on whole wheat (natural no-sugar-added PB of course), the ubiquitous carrot sticks, apples and oranges, and homemade cookies, and a cooler of iced tap water from home, with cups from home as well. For a treat, a watermelon to cut open and eat in the blowing sand, juice running down our chins. It was a meal that didn't take a whole lot of prep, and it didn't cost $25-$50 for the family to eat. Also, notably, very little saturated fat, trans fat, or HFCS. Or perhaps even none at all.

When I was younger I used to dread the homemade food, with its fiber and crunchiness, its lack of sugar, and envy my friends whose parents bought them Happy Meals as a matter of course. I envied them their Chicken McNuggets dipped in Sweet 'n' Sour Sauce, and when they brought lunches from home I coveted their prepackaged fruit snacks, juice boxes, and cans of soda.

Now it turns out I was being trained in a simple rule that Americans are in danger of forgetting, myself included at times -- that there is rarely a situation in which you have to go to a restaurant. With a little planning ahead and an economy-size jar of generic peanut butter, you can face down almost any kind of hunger.

It may not be shiny and glamorous, but neither is overspending and overeating.

Turns out my crunchy-granola no-you-may-not-have-Lucky-Charms mom may have been onto something after all.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My latest post on skirts

Check out my latest post on Modestly Yours.

It's about skirts, and how awesome they are. :)


I have submitted something finally to the little local mini-paper, a reflection on local business which I am very proud of (sorry... I mean, of which I am very proud). I know it's typical to say, but I have a good feeling about this one. Although, according to my reverse psychology, I should not be aiming for good feelings, but rather for the sharp sting of rejection. ;D

The more I read about writers, the more I see common patterns of trying and trying, of failing much more often than succeeding, and of really just having to want to succeed. So perhaps with my thousand false starts I am more on the right path than I think.

I find that the ideas for things to write are closer to my fingertips than I had previously thought, and that perhaps the thing to do is just keep writing the assignments that my brain gives me, and one day someone else will want to read them, too.

All of this is to say, not much has changed except my attitude, which might be the most important thing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I can't make this stuff up...

So today I have the outline of a nice little personal experience essay about my adventures at Philmont 10 years ago, with some thoughts about how useful it has been for me as a woman to have the chance for self-reliance not just in terms of emotions, but with the physical aspects of primitive camping, backpacking, hiking, etc.

I walk to the end of the driveway to check the mail, and I see lying on the ground the weekly Eastside Chronicle, a tiny local addition to the regular paper here in town. This is the publication that I was going to send the article to, probably over the weekend when I got it revised and ready. They are literally my only hope for publication at this point because they will pretty much publish anything from anyone. Although I did send them something once, which they had requested, which took me quite a bit of time to prepare, and which they never published.

I pull the chronicle out of its plastic sleeve, and see this:

Without even reading the headline, I saw those giant shale chunks and I knew this was Mt Phillips, and I knew that the ground I was going to cover in my cute little essay had already been covered here -- had just been covered here, and yet again I was foiled in my attempts to get anything I have ever written ever in my life published in an actual paper publication. It doesn't seem like it would be that hard. Joe Smith's "how to water your garden" articles are published every week. Sally Southern's mother's pie recipes appear regularly.

[Insert rant about being frustrated at every turn here.]

So, I need you to vote. As I see it, these are my options. Please vote for what I should do next. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure blogpost. I will carefully consider the votes and then write about whatever the next step may be.

(1) Send it anyway
(2) Accept that the universe hates me and give up trying to publish anything
(3) Scrap this article but send a different article to the same publication
(4) Write the article but send it to a different publication
(5) Some combination of these
(6) Your idea: _______

Weigh in and let me know.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Rejection Junction

Got another one today - grand total of 3. Working on a new essay to send around. I am thinking of sending it to a really local market this time. :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Seeking Rejections!

I have had a slow two weeks with work, which is a good thing, so I have had a chance to catch up on the housework and start thinking about writing projects and things like that. I made the claim several months ago here that I wanted to be a freelance writer, but since then I have done precious little about it. This is partially because of lack of time but also partially because of a misguided focus. Before, I was hoping to get something I wrote accepted, and so I felt the sting of rejection with each "We're sorry, but..." which would lead me to want to sit back, regroup, think carefully, and start from scratch. But I feel now that this is the wrong way to go. Instead, I should approach this like someone applying for jobs -- apply for everything I possibly can, all at once. Eventually, someone will have to call.

So I am reframing my goals. Rather than hoping to have something accepted by some particular date, I am setting the lofty (for me) goal of 25 rejections by the time I turn 31.

The guidelines:
-A response will be considered a rejection if it is stated outright (as in a rejection letter) or if a submission sits with the magazine/publisher for 4 months or more with no response at all.
-All submissions have to be sent with a genuine possibility of acceptance, no matter how remote.

Right now, here are the stats:

-2 clear rejections, one for a chapter in a nonfiction academic book relating to my thesis topic and one for a short short story. I haven't resubmitted either one but maybe now that will change. I don't know what to do with the story because I don't know if it got rejected because it is terrible or because the publication just didn't want that story at that time, or perhaps a combination of the two.

-2 things out, still up in the air -- a quick pitch to This American Life for an idea for a theme for an episode. It is really unlikely that I will hear back on that, but I had been working on the idea for over a month and just went ahead and submitted it for the heck of it, because it was an idea that wouldn't go away. The second thing is pretty much a rejection but I haven't reached the 4-month time limit nor the rejection letter yet, and that is the Query Fail which I already blogged about with great embarrassment and redness of face. (Metres. METRES!!! Aargh!)

-2 things half written and unsure where to submit them. These are the two that will be taking up my time in the next few months. I have this weird phobia while I am writing that just as I am creating a perfect article on my subject, that someone else with three times the experience, who went to private high school with the editor of the New York Times, is writing about the same thing only they are somehow including Derrida references (even though the article is about organizing your toddler's play space). As soon as the editors receive mine, probably eight days after the other author's article, the editors will sit back (they have tilty leather chairs and an office with plate glass windows overlooking Manhattan) with a brioche and espresso and rake me over the coals, and pick up the other author's article and say, "I think our choice is clear," and mine will land in the wastebasket with a metallic thud...

Or maybe that the intern who is supposed to screen the incoming queries will not like my name, or will think my idea sounds dumb even though of course the editors would LOVE it, and I will never get past that intern's desk, no matter how hard I try... my beloved piece languishing next to a balled-up post-it and some fingernail clippings... and I won't even know for sure that I am rejected until four months after I first send it... oh, hold on for a minute with me, I have to pause to cry for the imaginary fate of my future possibly-written imaginary manuscript...

I will report here my success at failure :D

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Valley

Ten years ago today I was sitting on a hillside on the far south boundary of Philmont constructing a shelter for myself out of a piece of a tent -- the rain fly, one pole, three stakes. I wrapped it around the base of an aspen tree about the circumference of my leg, laid the groundcloth down, opened my pack.

The flies were bad there during the day; over the fence, which was at the top of the hill, was a private cattle ranch and there is nothing that flies like more than some cows; the grossest thing about the flies was that when they landed, they were wet -- which left you always wondering What is making these things feel wet?

They were huge and dark black, like bumblebees without stripes. They were lazy in the heat, although this heat in the Rockies was not like the heat at home in July, which is hot and close and prehistoric. There were no cicadas here, just slow bumbling flies and then at night, mosquitoes. I devised a way of tying two bandannas around my head to hold my hair back and cover my face so that only my eyes were showing, to avoid sunburn and to keep the wet flies from bumping into me. I could see the beautiful valley and hill.

All throughout the little valley, from the top of the hill down to the bottom lay a row of fallen trees, struck by lightning in a distant storm and so their trunks were split in a corkscrew fashion with cracks formed form the sudden, instant evaporation of all their moisture at the time of lightning strike. They lay in an almost orderly fashion, one next to the other, and they made excellent balance beams for me to walk up and down as I read the only book I had with me, my Bible. I still have the same Bible I had then, worn and battered from its trip down Baldy, courtesy of a Boy Scout troop from somewhere like Illinois. I got it back and it was all in one piece but wet and battered, but by now in my valley it was dried out.

I read the stories in the Old Testament for the first time all the way through, and fascinating stories, too! Esther, Ruth, Judith. The Old Testament women were cunning and brave and I had to admit a little bloodthirsty. Thinking of our Rowdy troop, the only group to make it through with all its members, it didn't surprise me. I was probably the closest to leaving, from my constant spills on the trail to hypothermia on Baldy, but in each case my trail mates shared out whatever I needed from their packs, got me to my feet, and pushed me on. Quitting wasn't on the table.

And this was my reward. After a sweat lodge in an old canvas tent with hot rocks from the fire, water poured on top, sweating out the last of civilization from our pores, we were walked out to our solo spots, given pieces of a tent, some food, and two days with nothing to do but be by ourselves.

In my backyard right now there is a fallen tree that reminds me of those rows of lightning-struck giant silvery trunks. I ran out of film by then so I have no photos of it, but I can close my eyes and see that valley again. I can close my eyes and walk down the great fat trunks again, singing the Psalms to myself in a tune I made up just then, then look south over the fence and watch for fireworks on the night of my independence.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bootleg Ratatouille

Six days without coffee! And I am still standing. Well, right now, I am sitting, but figuratively I am standing tall.

I finally ate all of the ugly-but-delicious lentil concoction, and today I made Bootleg Ratatouille from cubed zucchini and yellow squash (crookneck and straightneck), red onion, garlic, tomato sauce, fresh herbs from mom's herb garden, and a can of rinsed black beans. Sea salt and pepper. Oh my heck, so good.

A week into my eat-constantly regimen, I can say that it definitely helps with regulating energy. I am still working out the specifics, but it seems that vegetable + whole grain + legume is a great combination for steady energy.

I am eating whenever I am hungry, but eating smaller portions than I would have before. I thought this would be kind of bad for my weight loss goals, but I have lost two pounds already! I can't really believe it. I know it will slow down later, but hey, I'll take it! That puts me back at 163 after some yo-yoing for a long time between 162 and 168. So hopefully this will push me below that 160 threshold.

Exercising just a bit, here and there. May be able to do more and more of that as I get used to the new way of eating.