Thursday, July 30, 2009

Web You.Oh

I'm writing a report on various online social networking/web 2.0 options for an organization to which I belong. This will basically be a summary with recommendations. What's out here, why/how it works, whether or not it would be of any value to our organization, what it would cost in terms of time and/or money to maintain and fund with meaningful content, etc.


Fortunately, I don't have to do the maintenance, just the summary and recommendations. But where to start?

A robust website with updated activity calendar is a given. I think Facebook is important. If the staffer in charge of this stuff on an ongoing basis is interested in blogging, that could be great. S/he could have a blog that feeds to Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc.

I'm prejudiced, though. I don't Twitter or follow anyone on Twitter. I also power my car by running my feet against the pavement hard enough to rotate its stone wheels.

What does your organization or business do to promote itself? I've got my opinions (as yet uncoalesced into a neat report; I have two more days to finish!) but would love any and all suggestions.

Hit me!


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Truth about Writers

The Truth about Writers

Snips from this excellent article:

We don't spend much time writing. There. It's out. Writers, by and large, do not do a great deal of writing. We may devote a large number of hours per day to writing, yes, but very little of that time is spent typing the words of a poem, essay or story into a computer or scribbling them onto a piece of paper.
To allow our loved ones to know that we are working when we are supposed to be engaged in the responsibilities of ordinary life would mark us as the narcissists and social misfits we are.

Indeed, even writers who don't write fiction are engaged in the larger fiction of imitating normal humans whose professional activities are organized into discrete blocks of time.

The article is really very funny and worth a read, especially if you write or love someone who does.

--a professional minivan driver

(cartoon credit here)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Short, Not Sweet

Oooh, a mommy drive-by, in comments right here on my very own blog!

Child Safety

It's amazing how many people will open a door for a child. At church, we have easily accessible power-assist doors that my children could operate by themselves from the time they learned to walk.

But in stores and elsewhere out in public, the existence of unfamiliar heavy doors is often the last line of defense between my children and the great wild world. Read: parking lot.

First line of defense: mommy's undivided attention. Second line of defense: mommy's shrill voice. Third line of defense: child's inability to find exit. Last line of defense: nonnegotiable door.

I have no idea how many transactions I've cut short by apologizing to a cashier/receptionist/clerk and running out of a shop/medical office/photography studio after my child, for whom some polite and well-meaning stranger has opened the front door.

Please do not do this!

(Updated to remove neighbor anecdote.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer: cramming it all in

We are having lots of fun with our out of town company, and I'm actually getting a bit of work done this week. So . . . less time for blogging. Something's gotta give and all that.

My girls like to tickle. And their aunt Anny is a wonderful victim. (Uncle Rob, sitting in her legs to pin her down, is not pictured.)

We're also having fun with train rides, carousels, space shuttles, and cousin Abby.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Perfect Weather

I would be weird for me not to mention the weather, so I guess I'll get that out of the way right now.

This has been the best summer in St. Louis . . . ever. My first full summer here was 1997 and my car didn't have air conditioning so I rolled down the windows and sweated my way from May through September.

Each summer after that seemed progressively hotter. Last summer it was so hot and there were so many bugs around that I didn't want to leave the house. Hustling the girls from the front door to the car earned us mosquito bites. It was like living in a jungle. A few of the whiny little pests (I do not mean my children) inevitably made it into the van, so I'd be swerving all over the road while swatting at them. Miserable.

This year, I prepared myself for the worst . . . and have yet to find it. This spring was amazing. So beautiful! How have I never noticed all the flowering things around me? How have I never enjoyed this time of warmth and sunshine and pretty new growth and sweet smells and few bugs? I concentrated on soaking it all in, preparing for a long, hot summer of hating nature.

But now it's late July and it's still wonderful. There are bugs, alas, but not nearly so many as last year. One day last fall, Ada and I were out dragging sticks to the curb for yard waste pickup day. We worked for less than an hour, right smack in the middle of the day, and still got eaten alive by mosquitoes. This year she and I have each had one bite; Ellie's had none. And we've been outside a lot more.

It's not just the bugs, either. It's the weather! June was lovely. July is when it gets really bad, I keep reminding myself. Right when my in laws visit from Wyoming. That might still happen - they come next week - but it's been downright cool here all month.

There was some intense heat for a brief period in late June, starting just before we left for vacation in Michigan. Perfect timing! Since then, it's mostly been in the 70's during the day. Ellie's swimming lesson was moved to the indoor pool yesterday because it was too cold outside. When we do go swim in the mornings, we have the place almost to ourselves. We left the park early tonight because Ada was looking chilly in her short sleeves and skirt. (Ellie was OK in long pants.) When I walk after dark, I'm sometimes cool until I start to work up a sweat.

So, yeah, a weather post that involved no dramatic weather. I just want to go on record with how wonderful this year has been, how much I've been enjoying the unseasonably cool weather and taking advantage of it. I'm sure it's possible to write something interesting about pleasant weather that doesn't involve complaining. I just haven't figured it out yet.

Let's just all sit outside in the breeze drinking latte and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Two Days

Ada is potty trained. When I say that she is potty trained, I mean that she's been out of diapers for nearly two months. She wears a pull-up to sleep, but other than that she's in self chosen (and named) "candy pants" full time. I keep an extra set of shorts in the car for both girls because that's just prudent, but I don't carry a diaper bag anymore.

And this isn't a situation where I put my toddler on the potty every hour or two to prevent accidents. Ada knows when she has go and does so independently. Sometimes she needs help with her clothing or wiping. In those cases she lets me know. But she gets up from board games, movies, and play dates to go potty. Sometimes she announces what she's doing and sometimes she just goes on her own then resumes her activities.

I have to admit, it's pretty fabulous. Ellie's potty bribe was a wooden play kitchen for her bedroom, an activity center both girls are still wild about. Ada's potty bribe was a cardboard mobile of the solar system. Other children recite prayers before bed. Ada and I say prayers and I recite her full name and home address. But before I lay her in her crib she wants me to carry her to the mobile where she'll name all the planets for me. Adorable.

We used the same approach to train Ada as we did Ellie. It was really really really really hard. But then it was over and it worked. Did I mention that it took 2 days? They're horrible days. And when you're in the midst of it, there's no guarantee that it will work. Certainly it didn't work the way it was supposed to according to the book (Toilet Training in Less Than A Day by Azrim and Foxx, © 1970).

A quick word about this book. It's based on research from the 1960s and is painfully dated. By this I mean that it is sexist. Mom the does training wearing heels and an apron. It is classist. Mom stays home with the children in a house with a yard, dad works a daytime office-type job. And it uses the "R" word repeatedly for people with developmental disabilities. It's clinical, rather than insulting, language in this context (the book discusses modifications to the program for toilet training institutionalized adults and developmentally delayed children) but I know that word is a trigger for some people.

But toileting itself hasn't changed very much since the 1960s, and nor has the need to teach our children to quit soiling themselves and our carpets. My favorite things about this approach are that it teaches independence. When we started, Ada couldn't even pull her own pants up and down, let alone use the potty independently. Two days later she took great pride in both accomplishments. Also, I prefer two really hard days to months of on-going, if low-key, struggle.

Paul took the first shift, while Ellie and I went to the zoo. Bath, bed, and we started again the next day. Paul went to work, Ellie was home from school for the summer. Dry pants checks every 5 minutes, practice potty trials every 15 minutes, just me alone all week with both girls, afraid to take Ada out in public. The first day was a novelty, a party. The second day was push-back. Accidents, accidents, and more accidents despite a full-time focus on the learning of independent toileting.

Day three - CLICK.

We have had setbacks. I delayed this post for a week or two because after vacation we had to readjust. But now it's been long enough that I'm confident in Ada's abilities to manage this new task on an ongoing basis.

"Mommy LOVES dry pants!"

Modifications. With Ellie we made the mistake of not forcing her to be more independent. It was hard but we required more of Ada, and eventually we got it. We did modify the method a little, though. For instance, I prefer to empty the potty chair myself rather than having her do it. Also, once it was obvious that she understood what she was supposed to do, I stopped requiring ten "practice potty trials" for every accident. It was obvious that she knew what to do, and the "potty quickly!" trials then became traumatic rather than fun. One or two sufficed on the second day. YMMV, but this was the right approach for Ada. Trauma surrounding potty = BAD. Pushing the boundaries and requiring more than is comfortable for either of you = GOOD.

Basic Anatomy

"Whatcha got der?"

Paul was changing out of his running clothes this afternoon, closely attended by Ada.

"It's my penis. Boys have penises."

"I don't have a penis. I have a hole."

Out of the mouths of babes.

More on potty training soon - betcha can't wait! - when I'm not about to pass out over my keyboard.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Normal Week Here

Ada "fixing" Ellie's hair, Ellie pretending to fuss about it

Ada sick, eating toast

Ellie hiding artistically in a cave (at The Magic House)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Long ago, I had an idea for a funny mystery, sort of Susan Isaacs-like but with a younger, married protagonist. Before I had anything like a plot, I had a title: Yeah, But Houdini Didn't Have These Hips.

That idea never went anywhere. (Clearly, I put the title to another use.)

Later on, I had an idea for an entire series of mysteries with a young, married mom protagonist. Each of these stories would share the title of a hymn. The Common Hymns Mysteries! Sure, not everyone goes to my church. But many hymns are classics with titles that are familiar well outside of the Sunday Morning organist-accompanied cultures in which they are frequently sung. And it's nice to have a marketable hook like that. Excuse, me, do you work here? I'm looking for a new mystery by that author whose books are always called after nursery rhymes/numbers/birds/flowers/cocktails/HYMNS. Right?

So I wrote the book, and I think it's pretty decent.

But it turned out to be about computer gamers. This didn't trouble me as I wrote it. See, I figured each mystery in the series would share little more than protagonist, setting, and voice. Sure, a few good friends would repeat as appropriate, but one novel might be about a scavenger hunt, the next a group vacation, yet another a dance competition, and so forth. Flipping quickly through a hymnal gave me dozens of excellent ideas for sequels.

But the gaming thing really took over this novel.

So much so that it doesn't really fit with the hymn theme anymore. I love love love my title but it just doesn't really fit with the very modern, youthful, gamer-geek-culture novel I wrote.

So now I'm in search of a new series hook and naming convention, preferably one that suggests an infinite supply of titles and mysteries. All the error messages I get from Microsoft? Things I scream at my flickering monitor in frustration?

(I do still plan to write those hymn novels one day. I just don't know if this book is the right way to start the series.)

Suggestions welcome!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mii Not Fit

So I'm trying to push our family into being more active, having a healthier lifestyle.

This is challenging when, like me, you prefer the taste of edible foodlike products to actual food.* And when you're married to a man who describes himself as sedentary. The combination is . . . deadly.

And we really have been very active this summer. Yay.

Two downsides. One is that it's going unexpectedly well for Paul. He's lost a lot of weight. Rah rah rah. You'll have to trust me (and him) that I am being extraordinarily supportive of his efforts. ("I'll put the kids to bed, you go out and run!" "Please do stop off on your way home from work and get new shoes; that's important.") But I'm also frustrated because it's not going as well for me.

Painful feet, sore back or knee, shin splints, whatever exercise I try, something hurts. I keep modifying and stretching stretching stretching and hoping that I get better. Because I'm not going to get any younger! I will not give up. But I understand why I have done so many times in the past.

*Note that I feed my children actual food, in appropriate quantities at appropriate intervals. But when they're not around . . . my eating habits are not as healthy.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Angels, Demons, Fevers, and Glass

This weekend didn't feel like a normal weekend and I can't quite wrap my head around this being Sunday night.

For one thing, Paul and I went on a date tonight (dinner followed by Angels & Demons, both of which were fine - though the movie had some impressive special effects it didn't quite mask all of the flaws in the book). Date night makes it a weekend, right?

Then there's the fact that my mom is supposed to come tomorrow, but she isn't (more on that in a moment). The weekend feeling begins to trickle away.

Thursday night, on the way home from gymnastics, Ada told me that she was "too tired" and wanted to go straight to bed. She woke up three times during the night, hotter each time. Friday and Saturday she was feverish and achy. This morning her fever was barely there and it broke during naptime. Ada was a wonderful sick person. Cheerful, sweet, cuddly. And she had no symptoms I could discern besides fever and related achiness.

Other than a trip to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon, I've been home since Thursday night. That's the longest I've spent at home in . . . years, surely. I even skipped church this morning to be home with Ada. It seems weird not to go out and do stuff on a weekend.

It was kind of fun to stay in, and I'm so glad that Ada didn't get sicker, that she seems to be well now, that Ellie hasn't gotten sick.

We're in better shape than my dad.

On Thursday morning he ate breakfast out on their back porch. As this is a screened in room, it tends to accumulate a little clutter. Like, for instance, an empty old fish tank. Which he tripped over as he carried his cereal bowl back to the kitchen.

Fortunately, he twisted his torso and lifted his arms to save the bowl. Not only did he succeed in rescuing the china, he also avoided serious injury to his hands, arms, and torso. Instead, the deepest gouges, gashes, and slices were all over his right leg. My mother drove him to the emergency room where he got countless (or at least uncounted) stitches both internally and externally. He's on crutches and is expected to heal, but will need some rehab. Scary. Lucky.

So my mom's staying home for a while to take care of my dad, and we'll get along OK here without her, though we'll miss her. It's been a weekend of realizing all over again how things can change in an instant. Your plans seem set in stone until things change and they just aren't any more. Your parent gets hurt, your child gets sick, your younger sister is diagnosed with a brain tumor right before your big annual Christmas party.

Perspective shift: click. The world looks different from over here. It's good to look at the world sideways every now and then. I'm glad it was just a small shift this time.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The City Museum

We got home from South Haven before I was ready to end our vacation.

So the next morning we went downtown to The City Museum. This place is unbelievable and indescribable. Think: art installation plus playground plus historic shoe factory plus surrealism plus petting aquarium. That's as close as I can get. There are a couple of planes suspended outside the 4th floor. And you can climb around on them.

The girls had a blast. Ada was all wide eyes at aquarium, but Ellie was really into experiencing everything. She let the Doctor Fish nibble her fingers, she climbed and crawled through the tunnels. Fabulous.

If you haven't been to The City Museum recently, there's something new. The Roof. For a few extra dollars you can climb ropes, slide impossible slides, and crawl through a school bus above the 12th story of a building just blocks from the arch. Highest of all is the new Ferris Wheel. Yes, that's right. A Ferris wheel on the roof. A rickety old Ferris wheel, of course. I got dizzy. The girls were ecstatic.

We didn't get anywhere close to ToddlerTown. And we had a blast.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Different Work in Progress

This is an improvement.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

I really wanted to hate this book. First of all, I wasn't interested in reading a thinly veiled fictionalized version of a famous person's life, especially not a currently living famous person. Second, I was not interested in a sympathetic portrayal of George W. or Laura Bush. And, third, the book was written by Curtis Sittenfeld.

I really love Sittenfeld's writing. But.

In high school, I was enchanted by the idea of boarding schools. She applied for scholarships and went to one. All my life, I've wanted to be a writer. She started selling her stories when I was still thinking vaguely about what I'd want to write someday. I love NPR. She writes for This American Life. I wasn't a feminist until I read her essay "Your Life as a Girl" in college and realized that she even writes my own life experiences better than I do. We're about the same age, but she's done everything both first and better than me. She's like a slightly younger, much smarter, hipper, and more talented big sister. Feh.

So I didn't want to like American Wife. And of course it was fabulous. Sigh.

I even identified with the main character. For heaven's sake, she was modeled on Laura Bush! Blast and tarnation.

One of my book clubs discussed this book tonight and we all liked it. My complaint: Part 4 was less powerful than the rest of the novel. I think this was partially because it was written in the present tense and partially because it was based on current events that we all know much more about and the politics got a little ahead of the story. I didn't feel the intense emotional connection with Alice Blackwell's character that I felt in the earlier sections. In fact, I found myself picturing Laura Bush's face as the narrator talked about dealing with fame. These criticisms do not outweigh the wonderfulness of the rest of the book.

It's a good book. Read it and let me know what you think!

Food Porn

Today's happy post pre-empted by three critiques I'm still drafting for my writers' group tomorrow (later today).

Instead, I offer you the insultingly named This Is Why You're Fat: where dreams become heart attacks.

Tomorrow: a book review.
Wednesday: happiness in a seat.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Monday Irritations

The next post I want to write is celebratory, so I'll just get some whining out of the way now, like a front blowing through before the sunshine.
  1. Potty
  2. My feet

Ellie was ready to potty train at 18 months. She had both awareness and control at an early age. She'd always worn cloth diapers and did not like the feeling of being wet or dirty. She was a regular sort of gal, and started depositing her morning offering into the potty chair rather than her diaper before she was even 2 years old, as long as we got her out of her crib at her request and didn't make her wait too long.

But we didn't potty train Ellie for more than a year after that, during which time we lapsed into disposable diapers, pull-ups, and putting Ellie on the potty at irregular intervals. Ellie was nearly 2-1/2 before she could walk quickly to the potty from various places around the house. She was older than that before she could pull her pants up and down by herself. We didn't want to take her out of diapers before she could toilet herself without assistance, and I'm still not sure if that was the right call or not. It certainly led to many extra months of enforcing bad habits.

The only reason Ellie doesn't have more accidents now is her iron bladder. She can hold it for hours and hours and hours when she wants to . . . until the next time someone forces her to the bathroom or she just gives up and has an accident. I'm trying to see it as a big step forward that she's been telling me when she has had an accident lately, rather than ignoring it. Our big mistake with Ellie: not making her take ownership of the process. And that is HARD to correct.

Ellie also spends ridiculous amounts of time on the toilet doing nothing except touching things that shouldn't be touched (hair on the toilet seat? why not? hands rubbing the top of the bowl? good fun!). These things make me crazy and I'm very glad that cameras do not follow me into bathrooms capturing my worst parenting moments.

With Ada my complaint list is shorter: aim. Keep it in the potty, little one! I love your independence but wish you didn't somehow tinkle over the front edge of the toilet and onto your socks, especially at Lowe's. That is all.

My feet.

I have plantar fasciitis. Basically, I have fallen arches. They hurt a lot, though not all the time. Years ago, I had to give up my two favorite exercises, cardio kickboxing and rollerblading, because I was whimpering with pain after increasingly shorter intervals of activity. Giving up the only exercises I enjoyed led to - you guessed it! - weight gain.

Militant attention to stretches, proper shoes, and taking of anti-inflammatory drugs shoved the problem into remission, though I still couldn't run, squat, or skate. But at least I could walk around without pain.

Then I spent a week on the beach, walking in sand (boo hiss) and in flip flops (nasty, terrible things). Since then I've been - as usual - carrying children around. And my feet have been hurting again, more than ever. It's terrible.

So lots of stretching and no working out for me last week, this week, probably for a few weeks to come. Which sucks.

By the way, if you've never been fat you probably don't know this. When you go to the doctor for ANY reason while fat, the doctor suggests that the fat is the problem. Your feet hurt? Lose weight! In my case, the foot pain indirectly caused the weight gain, not the reverse. Official advice for treating plantar fasciitis: stretch, wear supportive shoes ALL the time, ice, drugs, rest/avoid extended physical activities, LOSE WEIGHT.

That's a neat trick! If I figure out how to lose weight while resting and avoiding extended physical activities, I'll be sure to let you know. And I'll only charge you a few thousand dollars for the knowledge. That should pay for all my orthopedic shoes . . .

Tomorrow: good things!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Family Vacation - South Haven

Ellie loves holding babies almost as much as she loves pizza, beads, swinging, and - best of all - being in the water. (Strange angle on first shot because my niece had a tight grip on my hair.)

Ada loved the park and playing with her cousin, but really it was all about the sand. (After dinner each night the girls would drag their little plastic chairs all over the yard, periodically sitting and discussing who knows what.)

The water here was incredibly calm and shallow for a long, long way.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This month, for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm writing about Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

My first thought was: I have no idea what to say about this book. And then hundreds of words suddenly poured forth from my fingers.

I'll start with this. I didn't want this book to end when it did. I was "in" the book for days after I finished reading it, even after I'd gone on to other books. This is, to me, the mark of a really good book. Ishiguro, the English author of Remains of the Day, created a world that felt terribly real to me, enough so that I felt betrayed when the book ended.

It ended rather abruptly.

And that left me frustrated. Ishiguro is good. He was so close so close so close to a great book with this one.

I don't know how much to say about the plot, as it's intentionally left mysterious throughout the novel. The main characters are leading an unconventional life, and only gradually do they realize it themselves. At no time is there an obvious ah-hah moment for the characters or the readers, just gradual confirmation of various assumptions. That part is very very well done.

  1. Fascinating conceit.
  2. Beautiful description.
  3. Realistic: perfect pitch relating awkward situations between people, subtle interactions that I’ve experienced but never even tried to describe to myself, let alone write down.

Questions (spoilers herein!)
  1. Why didn’t they ever consider just leaving? Any of them?
  2. What were they really donating, specifically? Was there a set order? Did they take multiple organs at once? Why just 4 times? Why not eyes? Why did they keep dying after 2 or 3 times? What’s up with the “messy” surgeries?
  3. And these are just donations for the common good, not, as I at first assumed, clones of individual wealthy people as personal body farms? Who were the initial cell donors, then? And the incubating mothers?
  4. Is it the same elsewhere as in England?
  5. How was it ensured that they could not have children?
  6. How did they keep from mixing more with the culture at large as adults?

  1. Stilted dialogue, especially in the early years at Hailsham, that took me out of the story. Way too many uses of names. “Kathy, blah blah blah.” “I don’t know, Tommy.” “But Kathy,” etc.
  2. Sex. Kathy’s attitude about it didn’t seem particularly normal to me, and I really expected that to play a larger role in the story. Maybe some people are like that, maybe some women. But in my experience it’s a far from universal experience for women of sex, though that’s how Ruth presents their shared experience to Kathy in a significant scene.
  3. SPOILER The never questioning, never disobeying, never doing anything risky, never pushing limits too far, never getting truly involved in the world, all that really bugged me. What were the rumors about Hailsham escapees and Tommy’s temper meant to suggest? All that seemed like foreshadowing something big. I expected him to walk away or commit suicide, just so that he’d know for sure.
  4. (This question added later.) What was the deal with the cottages? What was that really about? Did they all go there? I believe there was mingling. What did the donors not from "privileged estates" think they were doing? Surely not writing a thesis.

And, also, what they said.

Initial reaction: pissed and cheated. Could have been so good, missed.

Weeks later: There's still far more I wanted to know. Perhaps I should seek out interviews with the author, his working notes, something like that. The world was a little . . . incompletely drawn in places. But one of my biggest frustrations - the way the characters simply accepted what happened to them and were observers rather than initiators of significant action - really was the point and was, therefore, while frustrating, perfectly rendered.

I think everyone should read this book, if only so that I can talk to all of you about it.

Check out the other reviews this month over at Barrie Summy's!