Monday, June 29, 2009


There's this part of Finding Nemo when Marlin and Dory are way down in the dark near the ocean's floor. They're following a pretty light and feeling oddly relaxed and happy. Suddenly they see that the light is attached to a scary angler fish. "Good feeling's gone!" Marlin says as Dory screams. That's me and the remnants of my vacation attitude.

Anyone who figured out that we were on vacation last week and stopped by to steal our valuables (chewed up board books, furniture covered with dog hair) probably met Craig.

Craig is the nice contractor who's re-doing our "master" bathroom. He's extremely nice and seems to be doing a very good job. But I lied to myself about how much I'd notice having one room of our house out of commission for a couple of weeks.

Why should it be a big deal? Where's the possible inconvenience? He did all the demolition while we were out of town. We have two other bathrooms to use in the meantime. He's got the room sealed off so that the girls can't get in and the dust can't get out. And we settled all the details, signed all the contracts, arranged all the finances well ahead of time with the main office, not our contractor. It's a lovely way to work.

But also. There's plastic over the carpet from the side door through the family room, down the hall, and across our bedroom. (I'm glad of the protective coating, I really am. It's just a little weird.) Not quite all the dust stays in the bathroom, either. Paul showers in the basement bathroom, but other than that we're all 4 sharing the tiny hall bath. It's got a cute little shower that looks perfectly normal-sized until you try to turn around in it. Actually, that pretty much describes the whole room. And my girls are not poorly-aiming little boys, but they're still not a joy to share a toilet with. We're going through lots and lots of Clorox wipes. Sorry, Earth.

The worst is the never-ending decisions. I thought we had everything decided: vanity surface, cabinet style, fixtures, tile. No, no, there are more decisions to be made, usually in a hurry: paint, toilet paper holder, storage, and so forth.

The weather here is cooler this week; it's lovely outside. But I am not out enjoying the early summer sunshine. Oh, no. I'm hauling my children hither and yon, desperately seeking the perfect medicine cabinet, over john storage, towel bars, etc. How, exactly, did we get roped into getting all these things separately? What sense does that make? And how can it possibly be so hard?!

Next up for this summer's home improvement marathon: driveway and front porch. But at least that's outside, right? How could it possibly be inconvenient?

Sunday, June 28, 2009


We're back from vacation! We're relaxed! We had a great time!

My parents rented a house for a week in South Haven, Michigan. They were there for a couple days, then my youngest sister and her husband arrived, I showed up with my girls, middle sis drove down with her girls, Paul flew up, and my last brother-in-law checked in. Then we started the reverse process in a different order, finally checking out (almost) by 9:00 yesterday morning. Despite constant comings and goings, it was a remarkably stress-free vacation.

South Haven is a wonderful place with a quaint little downtown. Our house was only a couple of blocks from the smooth, powdery, clean beach. We were also within easy walking distance of the river, piers, shops, and a great park. We played at the beach every day, enjoyed a historic tug boat tour out on Lake Michigan, took my dad out for a Father's Day brunch, ate delicious ice cream cones, let the girls run wild at the park, and sat around an outdoor firepit drinking beer and making each other laugh as the little ones slept.

We divvied up the meals with each family taking one or two and bringing along all the necessary ingredients so that we didn't have to eat out and one person wasn't stuck doing all the cooking.

St. Louis was deadly hot last week, and I was glad to escape. It was 15-20 degrees cooler up in Michigan, but that's still pretty warm. It's no fun to walk around in 85-degree sunshine, but there's a big difference between there and here. In 100 degree weather, it's hot everywhere you go. In 85-degree heat with a slight breeze off the lake, sitting in the shade with a cool drink is just lovely.

My girls are fabulous travelers, and we made the 6+ hour drive from St. Louis with only 2 stops and no potty accidents! Woo hoo! It was the first time I'd driven quite that far with them by myself. (Paul had a meeting he couldn't skip, so he joined us mid-week.)

I'm left with the feeling that we did everything I wanted to do (swim, build sand castles, read, sleep, visit, take the girls out in a boat) but there was still so much more we could have done (horseback riding, shopping, inland nature walks, playing board games). That's a wonderful way to end a vacation: feeling good, feeling like it might be fun to go back someday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


This lack of daily post brought to you by summer. Ahhhh.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Foot in Mouth Disease

People who know me well will be surprised to hear that I've actually gotten a little better at filtering what comes out of my mouth. If this is better, you might ask, how bad was it before?

I've erupted with some real doozies. I rarely apologize for these, hoping instead that the recipient of my outburst will forget it if I never mention the incident again.

Shortly after graduating from college, I read an article about what attorneys usually make in the first few years practicing law . . . and stupidly asked a law school friend how he felt knowing that Paul - a couple of years younger and with a mere bachelor's degree - made significantly more than he was likely to make upon graduation with his JD. Hmm. I'm not very good friends with this guy anymore. Is it because we're all grown up and married with kids now? Living in different states? On opposite ends of the political spectrum? Or just that I have a long history of saying the rudest possible things to this friend?

After Paul and I had been dating for a couple years but before we were engaged, I developed a fascination with diamonds. This was not tied to any conscious desire on my part to receive a Big Ring and get married. I was just interested. I borrowed a thick coffee table book on diamonds from the library and renewed it three times until I'd read the whole thing cover to cover. Shortly thereafter, friends of ours became engaged. They, sadly, did not know of my recently acquired interest in diamonds. And it's worth noting that they were our first friends to get engaged, and neither my mother nor Paul's wears a diamond engagement ring. So solitaires were something I had very little experience with at that age.

We went out drinking and celebrating with yards of Guinness at The Cheshire (alas! How I miss ye, fabulous pub!). I have no idea where Paul was, but I was crammed into a booth with the groom and some other friends when the bride, who'd arrived late, joined us. As expected, I gushed over her shiny new ring. And then I asked how many carats it was. Right out loud! There was, of course, an awkward silence. And the groom had to answer because the bride - being much less of an asshole than I - didn't know. She hadn't asked the value of the ring before accepting her boyfriend's proposal.

I really just wanted a benchmark, but I ended up looking like the world's biggest jerk. All those people probably pitied Paul.

Paul and I did get engaged a year or so later, and he bought me a lovely ring. (In return I bought him a very nice tuxedo.) Sadly, I soon became aware of the politics and violence involved with diamond mining (ignorance was bliss in this case, and now I have a whole extra layer of guilt to carry around). I rarely wear my engagement ring lately, though that has nothing to do with guilt and lots to do with weight fluctuation and the tending of very small children.

Thinking of weight, in fact, thinking of anything that's inappropriate to mention, I'm one of those people who can't seem to talk about anything other than what I should NOT be talking about. The harder I try to fix this problem, the worse it gets.

So I'm a walking Joe Biden, and that's not even counting all the "smaller" comments I've made resulting from misunderstandings or bad guesses on my part regarding religion, politics, relationship status, fertility, education, and so on and so forth. When I met Paul's mother, she told me that she was a nurse. I asked if she was an LPN. (She's an RN.)

I'm sure many who know me could supply even more that I haven't shared . . .

But rest assured, I rarely forget these. I just let my guilt fester silently.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pitch Perfect Part 2

How to Put It Together Into One Neat Tweet.

Here are a couple I had before:

1) Seek Ye First is an amateur sleuth mystery featuring a group of twentysomethings that takes place partially within a virtual gaming environment like a mystery-themed Second Life.

But who is the main character? What is the mystery? Why should we care?

2) It’s the eve of the year’s most hotly anticipated video game release, and someone’s trying to permanently delete the game’s reclusive lead designer. . . .

Is the designer the main character? If not, that's a problem with this pitch.
Now on to experiment with the new method.

3) When someone tries to kill a secretive computer game designer, her coffee drinking, baby-sling-wearing friend tries to figure out who's trying to kill her friend . . . and stop him.

Eh. This is awkward and it's hard to tell which is the main character.

4) When someone threatens her computer geek friend, a coffee drinking, baby-sling-wearing, distracted new mom dives into a virtual world to try to figure out who's behind the threats - and violence.

This is a little better, though it still needs work. And it doesn't really describe my book very well.

I suspected some of the weak points of this novel, and seeing the results of the worksheet below confirms my suspicions.

Feel free to share your log lines here, or just comment on mine!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pitch Perfect

Log Line Pitches, or, How to Tweet Your Novel

What a fun idea! Let's give it a try.

Part I: The Homework (preparation/worksheet)

The protagonist: Coffee drinking, baby-sling-wearing, distracted new mom Clara McGregor.

The goal/reward: Figure out who's trying to kill her friend . . . and stop him.

The obstacle(s): Clara doesn't want to believe that the would-be killer is a good friend of hers.

The antagonist: Very, very clever person. Details redacted. :)

Consequence of failure: Clara's friend dies. And she might just be the first victim.

Motive: I know this. But I'm not telling!

Challenge to self-image: Until she had a baby, Clara used to think she had the happiest, most solid marriage in the world.

Inciting Event: Clara's friend is preparing for the launch of her new computer game, but she's distracted by increasingly disturbing threats.

Ticking Clock: See above re: increasingly disturbing threats. And then: violence!

Important steps taken: Keep a close eye on her friend, go to her friend's apartment and into her computer to look for traces of the bad guy, get all her friends together to figure out which of them is guilty.

Final reversal : Ack! Someone dies!

Outcome: Sadly, Clara was right. One of her friends is guilty as sin. Alas.

Now it's your turn! Any takers? For those of you who aren't currently writing a novel, don't you have that one great idea in you that you plan to write . . . someday . . . when you have the time . . . ?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

And Then the Heat Hit and I Perished

I don't know why, but this summer feels good. It just feels like summer, the way summer used to feel before we had kids.

At first, having babies felt like a year-round job, no distinct seasonal changes. If anything, summers began to feel like more work. No more nursery school, hotter weather for outings, and mommy in the water for parent/child swimming lessons, an experience that should be fun but often feels like labor instead.

I didn't expect this summer to be different. I didn't plan for it. But my children are more independent than they've ever been (their independence levels are pretty similar in a number of ways) and I'm sure that's a big part of it.

Another part of the equation might be attitude. My attitude. Whatever the cause, it's great.

Ellie's in summer school, but Ada's not. I'm not sweating getting Ellie to school on time. I'm not sweating much of anything, actually, other than the suddenly oppressive heat. We're going to the pool frequently, and the temperature seems to drop 20 degrees around all that water.

Ada's loving swimming lessons. Ellie's loving summer school. Both girls are loving our relaxing family evenings riding trikes around the block, taking a family nature walk, or going for a drive in the car and just maybe getting an ice cream or shaved ice as a special treat.

It's . . . idyllic.

Of course, there are still times we need to be places on a schedule. Like school, swimming lessons, gymnastics, church. Ada moves slower than molasses in December lately, and Ellie actually moves backwards when I try to hurry her along. (When we're running late she might take off her clothes and shoes, for example, as I'm trying to chivvy the girls out the door and into the car.)

I assure you that this isn't because I'm giving my children drugs.

So: not perfect, but pretty good.

Cake Wrecks

The two posts I had queued up for this week - the wonderfulness of my summer and my need of a new working title for my novel - languish unfinished as I laugh aloud at Cake Wrecks: When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong. The pictures are wonderful, but it's the accompanying descriptions that sing. ("'Gradutas' does sound like something from Taco Bell; it kinda has a nice ring to it, don't you think?")

The Star Wars series is unreal, but check out the video of the cake on fire. (If you're at work, my apologies to your boss. It's easy to lose hours on this site.)

I haven't made a birthday cake for Paul this year, but then, I haven't yet thrown him a party yet, either. His birthday was in May. Hmm. I'm now planning to combine his birthday party with our Harry Potter movie party next month. Multi-tasking!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Purchase Order

There's no excuse for so much exhaustion this week, but I sure am feeling tired.


Are any of you bike riders? We're thinking of buying bikes and a trailer. Any recommendations? We're thinking Jamis Coda bikes (probably 2008's but j'adore the 2009 Femme) and either a used Burley trailer or something from Target (Schwinn, InStep). Do you have any good or bad experiences to share?

Wait. Less sugar/snacking, more exercise, no mornings to myself for work and renewal . . .

Maybe there is an excuse for exhaustion. But vacation's coming! And it's a first for us: a sit and relax somewhere other than home vacation. My mom arranged for us to go somewhere there's NOT much to do, other than sit on some sand. This is so weird. And so welcome. Here's hoping that the children agree. I'm taking lots of books; maybe I'll even open them. (I read constantly at home but rarely on vacation because we GOGOGOGOGO on vacation.)

(Photo is from the Down Syndrome Association of Great St. Louis Buddy Walk last weekend. Very sunny, very hot, and right in the middle of our workout.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Key Word Search

The highest numbers of visitors who come to Yeah, But Houdini Didn't Have These Hips via keyword searches look for "athletic sex" and "baby finger sucking." The two are tied.

I'm sorry for sharing that. And sorry to all the visitors who come here only to be disappointed.

Most of the other keyword searches make sense, like, "houdini hips," "kindergarten iep," or "sarahlynn."

This post is a placeholder for the one I intended to write tonight about my improperly fitting bras. See, I shared some "slice of life stories" at church on Sunday for a group of about 35 Presbyterians, few of whom were younger than my parents. And as part of it I mentioned my blog.

Hello, fellow Presbyterians! You found me! But at least you didn't have to read about my undergarments. If only Lynn or Mary Kay blogged. Then you could be reading about NATO airmen or highland cattle rustlers. Alas! You got me, instead. And my bras.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

When Did I Turn Into My Parents?

Early one morning this spring, we left Paul's parents' Wyoming home. We had prepared the girls for the long car trip to come and were ready to drive straight through to lunch somewhere in western Nebraska. Or at least to a rest stop in southern Wyoming.

Yet we found ourselves stopped just minutes from town. We made a spur-of-the-moment decision to check out Ayres Natural Bridge Park. The trip - a few miles off paved roads - took us through a herd of bison and past a couple of ranches before we popped out into a beautiful park. The side trip was worth the delay, even if the girls disagreed.

After Sunday School this morning we rented bicycles and a trailer for another trek through Forest Park, this time exploring the park's interior paths.

And after dinner we took the girls on a nature walk at Powder Valley where we stopped frequently to admire insects, squirrels, and deer with great enthusiasm. This place is only a couple of miles from our house; how have we never done it before? (Thanks for the suggestion, Dori!)

Boring, educational side trips on vacations? Check.

Safely helmeted family bike rides? Check.

Family nature walks? Check.

Transformation: complete.

Ellie prefers to be sedentary, and we don't like to make her miserable. This has led to a rather sedentary lifestyle for all of us, which clearly has to change. (When I say that Ellie "prefers to be sedentary," please know that's very much an understatement.) We've always been big go-and-do'ers, but this summer we're making a huge effort to be more active. It's a rare occasion when we stay home all day, but even when we're out-and-about, we're usually not figuratively pushing the girls too much. We're literally pushing them a lot of the time.

While we're still taking lots of trips to the zoo this summer, we're using the stroller less and less. We'll push swings at the park, but no more baby swings. And every day brings a walk around the block, time on trikes, swimming, or some other form of enthusiastically "encouraged" activity.

I've even tried doing my own exercise while the girls are awake, though with limited success. There are strictly finite limits to my patience, after all. And we'll see what happens when the summer heat sets in for real.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's Not a Tie

Paul and Ada were walking out to the car after gymnastics tonight.

"I went to de store today wif Mommy. We bought you a present. It's white."

All true. Unprompted, unscripted, unexpected. She's only two! Not even two-and-a-half!

Father's Day is still over a week away, but Paul said that he can wait to find out what white present we bought for him at the store today. I wonder what other secrets Ada will be soon revealing. After a bit of consideration, I decided against teaching her the concept of "secrecy" just yet.

On an unrelated note, we participated in our neighborhood garage sale last weekend and still have a few pieces left over. I'm fine with that, as I enjoy accumulating stuff. But some stuff is too big to accumulate. While we managed to get rid of the matching chair and loveseat, we have not yet found a taker for our old spare couch. I can't imagine why.

(Note how nicely Paul staged the first shot in front of a garbage can to give it that extra je ne sais quoi.)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mother Earth (or, Bosoms)

A couple of weeks ago, I went shopping for some summer clothes. I came home with a dress to wear to a wedding, two pairs of long shorts, and three knit tops. All three shirts are patterns in shades of green and blue. I noticed this at the store and thought, why not? Clearly, these are the colors I'm drawn to this summer; I'll just wear green and blue until my recurrent autumnal fetish for brown sets in. And as I've been wearing the new shirts, it's not been the colors, exactly, that's bothering me.

The first shirt (not pictured) is a v-neck t-shirt. In the store I thought the wide hem at the V was a nice detail. Once I wore it out in public, however, I realized that it looks like a scrub top. Not exactly the look I was going for.

The second shirt is my favorite. I've already worn it 3 times, and on the third occasion I realized that the pattern is actually a sort of camouflage. This inspired a bit of dialogue I expect will find its way into my next novel.

"You do realize that you're wearing a camouflage shirt in shades of aqua and teal, right? Where are you trying to hide, the '80's?"

The third shirt I wore for the first time today. The girls and I were sitting on Ellie's bed, reading stories before naptime, when Ada interrupted me.

"Watcha got there?" She patted my left breast. This in and of itself is not unusual. The comment that follows is usually nursing related or basic anatomy review.

She answered her own question. "Thatsa Earth."

Clearly, she was referring more to the color palette than to actual matters of scale. Still. There you have it, folks, my left breast: the entire planet.

If only she'd been at the wedding Paul and I attended a couple of weeks ago (see first paragraph above, the dress purchase was the reason for the shopping trip resulting in the shirts, the story comes full circle right here).

I am busty, but the bride is in a whole different league. At one point during the reception I actually apologized for staring like a letch. I mean, wow. I wonder what Ada would have to say to her!

Another of Ada's favorite things to say to me is, "Whatcha got der? Thatsa belly." Ah, the age of uncensored honesty and observation.

Monday, June 08, 2009

So, What's Your Method?

Whenever I walk past my computer, I'm compelled to sit for just a moment, and when I do, words pour forth beautifully and effortlessly from my fingers. I frequently find myself laughing aloud with joy at this enchanting experience. My characters amuse and amaze me so; writing is much like reading along, for me. The story has a mind of its own and simply tells itself!

Did I oversell it?

Writing is not like that for me at all.

I enjoy the movies based on Nick Hornby's books (High Fidelity, About a Boy) and have been meaning to read the novels. His British sense of humor is very much my cup of tea. (Sorry for that one.) So I was excited to read Barrie Summy's review of A Long Way Down on her blog last week, and was thrilled by her quote about Hornby's writing process:

From the author's website, here's a description of a typical day: 'I have an office round the corner from my home. I arrive there between 9:30 and 10 a.m., smoke a lot, write in horrible little two-and-three sentence bursts, with five-minute breaks in between. Check for emails during each break, and get irritated if there aren't any. Go home for lunch. If I'm picking up my son I leave at 3:30. If not, I stay till six. It's all pretty grim! And so dull!'

Yay! Vindication of my method! OK, so I don't smoke. But I do drink coffee instead.

It's not fashionable to talk about writing being hard. It's all about how lucky one is to be able to do something so fun for a living. Writing is supposed to be like . . . play! One just sits at the computer as the muse takes over!

I believe that it's like that for some people. But clearly, not for everyone.

Hearing that it's hard, sometimes boring work for other writers feels really good to me. It's vindication. My struggles at the keyboard don't mean I'm not cut out to be a writer.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Act Active, Girls, Act Active*

Late this afternoon, we rented bicycles and a little trailer thing, then rode all the way around Forest Park.

First of all, I don't know exactly what they mean by "comfort seats," but I don't think I'll be sitting "comfortably" for several days.

Second, it was a blast.

Third, I was so tired at the furthest part from our car that I thought I might puke. (I'm REALLY out of shape; I used to roller blade around the park like it was nothing and that's harder work IMO. Today was the longest 10k I've ever experienced.) Fortunately, that was the end of the hardest bit so my jelly legs managed to get me back to our starting place. I am very impressed with Paul pulling the girls in the trailer all the way!

The girls did pretty well in their little trailer, and really appreciated the trip to the playground at the end.

Check out the bike path. We took the red one all the way around the outside, starting and ending at the History Museum, which was just about perfect. The hardest parts are near the Science Center, Zoo, and ball fields/picnic pavilions, so there are some distractions from the pain. Or at least witnesses to my panting. ("At 1,293 acres, [Forest Park] is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York.") Forest Park Forever.

We're looking for more ways to get the whole family involved in fitness. When the girls are in the trailer, they're not exactly being active, but at least we're setting a good example. And they're in the fresh air. There are lots of places to ride around St. Louis. If we do this a few more times and still enjoy it, we might consider investing in some bikes and a trailer of our own.

Finally, how cool is it that a week ago Paul was just introducing Ada to potty training, and today we thought nothing of taking her to the church, to ride around the park, and out to dinner in underpants?! (Note that "underpants" sounds like "candypants" when Ada says it.) Sunday night and Monday were HARD WORK, but paid off fast.

*The title is a quote from one of my high school gym teachers. "Acting active" was all we had to do to get in "A" in his class. The boys had to actually participate in the assigned activity to pass. This was less fun for the girls than it sounds, since dribbling a basketball in a corner for an hour is far less fun than playing a game.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Summer Break Is On

...and the living is easy...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Soup Opera by Jim Gill

"This is a drama about a man and a bowl of soup. A drama that is set to music is an opera, so this is . . . A SOUP OPERA."

This month, for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm reviewing a children's picture book by musician and author Jim Gill: A Soup Opera.

"A man walked into one of the finest restaurants in the city and was seated at the very best table."

It's not the start of a joke. Or, rather, it sort of is. But it's not the humor that makes the story. Or maybe it is.

See, a guy orders a bowl of soup, complains that he can't eat it, and escalates the problem all the way up to . . . the President of the United States. The whole thing culminates with a zinger that some parents saw coming from the very first note. (My husband, not so much.)

The story is told in a book packaged with a CD-ROM for family read-along fun. But it's even more fun to try to sing the opera yourself. Over and over and over. There's a narrator who sets the scene and makes transitions, while the dialogue is sung opera style. This is more accessible than you might imagine, as all the lines are short and frequently repeated.

"What did you say?"

"I can't eat the soup!"

My 5-year-old became fond of this book at preschool story time, and we got it for her as a "graduation" present last Friday.

Since then we've listened to it about 250 times.

Sometimes we just set the CD on track repeat and let her indulge herself. It's amazing how much she loves it. You should see her throwing out her arms and just belting out the lines.

"What seems to be the problem here?"

"I can't eat the soup!"

I'll probably have this thing stuck in my head for the rest of my life. Fortunately, it's really fun.

Plus, I'm introducing my child to CULTURE. Do I get some sort of parenting extra credit for that? Editorial Reviews:
A Soup Opera is more than just a children's picturebook - it's a sing-along opera!....Enhanced with majestic, slightly cartoony illustrations that capture the essence of stage opera, red curtains and all, A Soup Opera is silly musical fun for the whole family. --Midwest Book Review

Product Description
A Soup Opera is a richly illustrated story about a man, a bowl of soup, and the man's comically frustrating quest to eat that soup. Characters in the cast of the opera include a waiter, a police officer and the President of the United States! Each book is packaged with a fully orchestrated CD that includes the narration, dialogue and instrumentation for the comic opera. The CD includes additional tracks created for teachers and others to use in dramatizing the book with children.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Today Was About a Week Long

I'm pretty sure I had a dozen half-baked posts floating around in my head at some point. But then today happened and now I have buzzing where my brain should be.

Tomorrow is the monthly Barrie Summy Book Review Club, and I'm torn between reviewing Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Toilet Training in Less Than A Day by Azrin and Foxx.

I would really rather review the former, but I still need to finish it, and the latter keeps getting in the way for messily obvious reasons!