Tuesday, December 15, 2020


 Wow. I just looked through this blog for the first time in a very long time, and yikes. I feel like I've been the same forever, but I haven't. I have grown in many ways. Please know, all who read here, that 2020 Sarahlynn is a little horrified by some of what 2005-2011 Sarahlynn thought and wrote. (For example, I didn't recognize a White Savior story when I saw one and didn't understand the problems with Christians hosting Seders, among other issues.) But writing this blog for so long was an important part of my growth both as a person and as a writer. I'm glad to have this record of a particular time in my life--the time when I was having and parenting babies--and for now, I'll leave my messiness out in public.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Chapter One

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected by twelve publishers, the story goes.

Ouch. How wrong they were, we think.

But were they?

Common publishing practice recommends querying agents and editors by sending a 250-word letter introducing the novel (like back cover copy--the intent is to entice, not to give away the ending) and the first chapter.  I have no idea what Rowling's query letter looked like.  Writing engaging query letters is a different skill from writing good novels.

The world Rowling built in the Harry Potter books is wonderful, amazing, magical.  That's really hard to demonstrate in 250 words.  And that first chapter . . .


My eldest daughter is 14 years old.  She has Down syndrome and isn't an especially strong reader.  As we're heading to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter later this summer, Ellie is reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone aloud to me.  This is a laborious process for both of us.  We stop after every paragraph to discuss and make sure she's "getting" it.

I've read Chapter One at least four times before, but never like this.  And I've gotta be honest--it breaks all the rules.  It's sloooooooow.  It's really more of a prologue than a first chapter.  We start with a not-very-interesting minor character (Vernon Dursley) and follow him through an entire day.  I get why Rowling starts this way.  She's introducing the world of magic through the eyes of someone very much outside that world.

 For a fast reader, someone already invested in the story, or someone willing to give a book longer than one chapter to get interesting, this works great.  But let's be honest.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone really picks up in Diagon Alley.  That's Chapter 5.

So if publishers were wrong to reject Harry Potter (and financially, obviously, they were) it's perhaps because of the early decision model as much as any individual business decision.  It's a tricky thing to allow for a potential break-out success that breaks the rules.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Frozen Party

For Ellie's 11th birthday, she wanted a Frozen party.

I don't know how to do a birthday party except like this: I look online and save ideas I find interesting, often using them as inspiration for my own versions of games/food/decor.  I figure out when and where and who.  Then I break the timeslot down into appropriate blocks of time for each activity.  It's all about manageable chunks.  :)

1) Crafts and Photo Booth.  All three of these activities turned into Big Deals instead of ice breakers/warm-ups as guests arrived.  The primary craft I had planned was Frozen snow globe rings.  I figured some kids wouldn't be into that, so we also had recipes for glittery silly putty and fake snow.  The kids wanted to do both of the main crafts (we didn't get to the snow) and they both turned out awesome.  The photo booth was the surprise hit of the day!  Paul hung white sheets and blankets in a corner and decorated the area with white Christmas lights and some swirly glittery blue things I found at Michael's.  I thought some props would make it more fun, so I knitted an Elsa hat (glittery off-white hair and long braid), set out a few carrots, and bought some other things from the party store: long satin gloves, a glittery scepter, a tiara, sticky mustaches, blue and glittery hair sprays, and glittery/glossy makeuppy stuff.  The kids kept coming back to this station throughout the whole party!  Paul figured out how to print out photos from his phone directly to our printer and he taped them to the entertainment center so kids could grab them at the end of the party.


2) Do You Want to Build a Snowman?  As the crafts wrapped up, all the guests went outside and counted off into teams of about 4.  One person on each team was the snowman, another hustled over to a box of supplies (scarves, hats, carrots, toilet paper, and black paper "buttons" with tape on the back).  Teams raced to build hilarious snowmen. 

3) Freeze Your Face.  Doughnuts on strings!  Paul hung powdered sugar doughnuts on strings from a cord across our driveway.  The kids had to each eat their doughnut without using their hands.  Hilarious! 4) Frozen Elbow Tag.  This was really just elbow tag, which is way more fun than the more thematically appropriate Freeze Tag. 5) Snowball Fight.  I really wish I had pictures of this one!  I ordered "snowballs." Paul bought three large pieces of craft styrofoam at Lowe's.  Across the top of two of them, he cut crenelations.  The third piece he cut into four triangles to make supports for the "castle walls."  The kids threw snowballs back and forth at each other across the driveway.  Each wall was 4'x8' and we sprayed the already white styrofoam with sparkly paint to make them look more frozen.  6) The kids were ready to sit down inside for a bit so we skipped Anna vs. Elsa (red light/green light) and went inside for Let it Go (telephone) which was a perfect change of pace.7) Fortunately, that's when the pizza arrived!  We ate lunch, sang to Ellie over cake and ice cream, then watched her open her "Coronation Gifts."  She insisted on reading each card aloud, very slowly, so this took a while.  But I was so impressed and proud of her!The food - excepting the pizza - was just as themey as everything  else about this party.  We had blue and white rock candy crystal sticks, sparkly marshmallow pops, yogurt-covered pretzels, string cheese snowmen, melted snow (Sprite or water), Frozen jello ice cubes, purple grapes, and baby carrots.  The ice cream was vanilla, and the cake was, well, it was North Mountain with Elsa on top, of course!  Links to most of the food inspirations above on Pinterest.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Meatless Monday, Cinco de Mayo Style

Subtitle: a day late and a jicama short

Yesterday we were that family, out to eat at a Mexican restaurant on Cinco de Mayo. Normally we avoid this madness. I'd planned to avoid it. But we were excited by our new knowledge about the holiday (and country) and we were eager for salsa. 

This is why we decided to try out Fuzzy's Taco Shop when dinner fell apart. Fuzzy's was pretty good, and I figured that I could try again today with dinner. I did ... with limited success. 

First, the Mexican flag. I was very excited to introduce the kids to one of my childhood favorites, jicama. Sadly, the one I bought turned out to be rotten inside. For some reason it didn't occur to me to use apple as a substitute.

Second was the main dish problem, the very one that caused Monday's dinner desistance. The recipe for "cheese flautas with cilantro pesto" lies like my junior high boyfriend when it says "5 minute prep, 30 minutes to cook."  I expect a little lying in recipes, but this was ridiculous. 

Step 1) Make a homemade pesto, a 4-step process after all the ingredients are prepped/sliced/chopped/juiced. I stopped here Monday night, figuring Tuesday's prep was half done. 

Step 2) Soften corn tortillas.  I attempted to do this with water as per the instructions, but that never works. Hot fat is the only way. Then all the smearing and filling and rolling and frying. While cooking corn on the cob and putting out condiments (salsa, guacamole) this part took me an hour and the results - even after I abandoned the disastrous water plan (first photo) - were pretty ugly. Tasty, though!  


Friday, February 28, 2014

Three Is Greater Than Two

"Three is greater than two," I say apologetically when people ask me about my writing.  In other words: I'm not writing.  I . . . underestimated . . . the difference it would make in my life to move to three children from two.  Misunderestimated.  I love being a mom and I am besotted with these unique, amazing little (not so little!) people I'm getting to raise.  But I've yet to find space for myself in all the physical, temporal, and mental chaos of my life, so I'm not writing.

That's true and also incomplete.  I can write anecdotes and passionate arguments on Facebook all day.  But I'm not writing creatively.  The difference between a Facebook post and a blog post highlights the other reason I'm not writing.  The Big reason.  The Real Reason.  A Facebook update can be quick, funny, incomplete, utterly lacking in context.  It can simply be a picture.  It can be a short conversation.  It's a snapshot of a moment.  The way I blog, on the other hand, tends to be to collect anecdotes for a few hours or days or weeks or years, then assemble them into something that makes a sort of narrative or point, even if it's a very short or simple one.  Blogging - let alone writing memoir or fiction - requires perspective for me.

Perspective and some sort of connection to emotion.  But emotion is painful, y'all.  I feel like I barely get through my days doing the things that I need to do.  Children dressed and off to their appropriate places with their appropriate things (snacks, water bottles, lunches, signed permission forms, money for this that and everything else, dance gear, gymnastics apparal, instruments, music, themed hats).  Weekly schedules created and maintained.  Meals planned, shopped for, and prepared.  I've given up on cleaning up altogether.  Committees worked.  Summers planned down to the minute.  These classes, these camps, these vacations, these meals, these structured free times.  We don't do so well with unstructured time.

And as for me, I find a sense of accomplishment in managing and balancing all of this.  I call it My Life.  I also have something to pour into the space where I used to keep writing and dealing with emotions and exercising and tidying my house and whatnot.  That something is food.  I look forward to what I get to eat next.  Predictable results, etc.  But doing My Life and then eating and reading or watching TV or playing Nintendo or whatever else I do after the children are in bed and before I turn into a pumpkin (more committees) - in the space I used to use for writing or running or both (in addition to reading - there's always reading, for better and for worse) all of that allows me to mute my feelings.

And muting my feelings is a relief.  As a teenager I felt so much, so acutely, it was unbearable.  I filled notebooks with scrawls of rage and pain, pages warped by tears.  Becoming an adult - and this happened gradually in my early-to-mid-twenties - was a relief.  I could feel it happening.  I sought it out.  I called it perspective, I called it a mature ability to organize my thoughts logically, to present arguments rationally, to exist in a world with lots of pointy edges.

When I'm feeling a lot of pain, I can distract myself with TV or books or games or busyness and try to think about the pain as little as possible until a skin forms over the gaping wound, until I can examine it from afar without pressing too hard on the tender spot.  This is a coping mechanism, and it works - to an extent - but it's not conducive to good writing because to write, I have to feel.  I'm not sure I even remember how to turn that back on, anymore.

It's not that anything so bad has ever happened to me.  I've lived a pretty charmed life.  But it's cumulative, you know?  I was a kid, and I was hurt by things I'd shrug off, now.  I've had friend drama (and loss), relationship drama (and loss), family drama (and loss).  I have a child with disabilities.  She's great, but it's a lot to manage, sometimes.  I have children, and that really is sort of like letting your heart walk around out in the world unprotected.  I lost my dad too soon.  It's easier to just . . . mute that a little.  Let the skin grow closed, just a thin layer, so that light gets through but not too much.  A manageable amount.  That's how I'm living my life these days: in manageable amounts.  Later, I'm sure, there will be more writing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Slow Food

First let me say that I have a lot of sympathy with the Slow Food movement.  I make a weekly menu - and I print it out! It includes each day's weather forecast and scheduled activities.  Plus relevant clip art.  This week's menu depicts a runner because Ellie will be in the Girls on the Run 5K downtown on Saturday and a carnival because it's time for the girls' annual school PTO blast.  I buy organic when I can (when I can afford it, when I can find it, when I have time for it) and I shop around the outside of the grocery store before venturing into those processed food aisles.

But I read Emily Matchar's Salon article, "Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig" with great interest this week.  And while attempting to write a comment about it on a friend's Facebook page, I inadvertently wrote an essay.  So I decided to post it here, instead.

I'm a fan of much of what I know about Pollan's work, except where he falls into the occasional trap of romanticizing the past.  I was really disappointed to read what he said about, "genuine wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen."

I find the whole feminism connection mystifying.  Have you checked out any 1950's cookbooks?  Long before women went to work in droves (middle class women, as working class women frequently lacked the opportunity to stay home) Food, Inc. existed.  Post-WWII American society embraced processed foods and the assumed superiority of modern food technologies.  I absolutely don't get all this discussion of the 1970's as the critical problem point when people were eating their Swanson's TV dinners in 1950's living rooms.  (Pollan discusses this in Cooked, yet still comes back to feminism.)

Pollan dismissed “The Feminine Mystique” as “the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression.”  It wasn't a book that taught that; it was the NECESSITY of the daily cooking.  The difference between a passion/hobby and a chore. 

I think the workforce/time argument is a bit of a red herring. A big difference between the 19th and 21st centuries, for the majority of Americans (not just the top 1%) is leisure time and the idea that we can/should get to choose the way we spend our time outside of work hours.  Herein lies the rub with Slow Food.  Pollan's work is full of the language of virtue when discussing slow food cooking (and dissing of cake mixes, etc.).  This is far from unique to Pollan, FWIW, and is endemic in foodie and slow food cultures.

One of my favorite bits from that Salon article: "The term “foodie” was originally invented to describe people who really enjoy eating and cooking, which suggests that others do not. Yet today everyone is meant to have a deep and abiding appreciation for and fascination with pure, wholesome, delicious, seasonal, regional food. The expectation that cooking should be fulfilling for everyone is insidious, especially for women. I happen to adore cooking and eating, and nothing is more fun for me than sharing a home-cooked bowl of pasta puttanesca and a loaf of crusty bread with friends. Yet, I know for a fact that others would much rather go kayaking or read magazines or write poems or play World of Warcraft or teach their dog sign language."

As for me, I enjoy doing a little of all of that.  I really enjoy cooking.  Sometimes.  But not everyday and not three times a day, everyday.  I prepare most meals by necessity rather than passion.  And I eat out when I can.  What I wish is that there were healthier "convenience food" options and that most restaurant meals were both healthier and fresher.  (It's hard to know what's prepared on-site vs. processed elsewhere and packed full of preservatives, for example.)

And I wish we could separate out the "health" bits from the heavy "virtue" language.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gangnam Style

I am not out of touch with popular culture because I am old and sad.  I am out of touch with popular culture by choice.  More on that in a moment.  But in the meantime . . .

I chaperoned Ada's Kindergarten field trip to Purina Farms today.  Past the exhibits, petting zoo, tunnel maze, and cow milking demonstration, they put on a demonstration where energetic dogs do trick jumps for frisbees and race through agility courses.  A few minutes before the show started, they blasted some music to pump up the crowd.  And, boy, did it work!  All but about 3 of the kids from Ada's class jumped up and went to the top of the stands to do a line dance.  I was sort of familiar with the song - like I've heard it at malls or whatever - but I didn't know what it was until, suddenly, "Oppan Gangnam Style!"

"Oh, wow," Ada's teacher said.  "That's like my entire class."

"What are you teaching them?!" answered one of the other kindergarten teachers on the trip.

"Not that!"

Oh, so *that's* what that song is!  I've heard of "Gangnam Style," of course, but I didn't know the song, or the dance, or what Gangnam Style means.  Tonight, I suggested to Paul that we might not be fully human, or at least not exist in this century, if we don't know who PSY is and what the craze is all about.  So we set out to educate ourselves with the music video, then some related internet research.  While we were at it, I checked out "So Call Me Maybe" and "If you liked it you shoulda put a ring on it." (Apparently, the latter is from a Beyonce song from when Ada was a year old. Oops.)  So now I'm at least tangentially aware of some of the things in the zeitgeist. 

But I'm still not showing my kids that PSY video.  And I'm a little horrified that so many other little kids are intimately familiar with it.  If Ada gets curious about "Gangnam Style," I'll find a video of some kids doing the dance and let her watch it until we learn the moves.  It's a catchy tune and a funny dance.  But the actual PSY music video?  No thanks.

One of the parodies Paul found was a My Little Pony version of the song.  Ada loves My Little Pony and all things horse.  This video ends with one of the female Ponies presenting her backside to the singing Pony for mounting.  Pretty much exactly as the hot chicks in the real video do.

You know, I just haven't yet found the right moment to sit my girls down and have The Talk with them.  Not the sex talk or the bodies-change-as-we-grow-up talk, they get the basic gist of all that. I mean The Talk wherein I break the news to them that, as girls, their bodies are commodities and their value is weighed by how they look and how fuckable they are.  That talk.  Because that value system is clearly implicit in the "Gangnam Style" music video, and it's no shock to me that - while everyone watches the video - it's particularly popular with 13-17 year-old-boys.

Oh, the "Gangnam Style" video is not that bad.  It's probably tame, really, compared to other music videos.  But that's exactly why I've opted out of so much of popular culture, and why I'm very careful about how much and what sorts my girls are exposed to.  As much as I can be, anyway.

Some time in the late 1990's or early 2000's, I got depressed at how so much of the music I really, really enjoyed was blatantly, sometimes violently, misogynistic.  And, finally, I'd had enough.  I moved NPR to my first preset, and, eventually, my only local preset radio station.  (My other presets are mostly NPR stations in various places I visit regularly.)  I'm not up on every trend, but I don't think I'm missing anything important.  And I know I'm much happier.  I think my children are better off, too, listening to music and consuming media I find to be kid-appropriate.  They'll push back soon, I know.  But for now, we're all content. 

P.S. While Ada's classmates were dancing, she happily sat on my lap and watched (the cement stands were cold today!).  When the next song started, she wanted to go dance with them.  She had a wonderful time.  Then all the kids sat back down to watch the dogs, and that was the end of it.  Ada wasn't curious about the song or dance that got all the kids moving.  To her, the kids were just dancing and having fun.  She joined in when she felt like it.  A couple of years ago, I overheard Ellie discussing Justin Bieber with 1st grade classmates.  They were debating whether or not he was likable.  She had an opinion and fit right into the conversation, though I'm relatively certain she has no idea who Bieber is.  That seemed irrelevant to the conversation.