Friday, October 30, 2009

The first few words

I've never met a person who doesn't want to write a book. Anyone who's ever tried knows the agony of sitting down and facing that blank, empty page and waiting for inspiration to come.

Between you and me, I find it's the first words that are the hardest. In fact, when I was primarily writing magazine articles I used to dump all of my best quotes onto the page before I ever started writing just to have that sense of having something on the page.

Here's the truth. If you can get the first 100 words down, you'll probably find yourself so caught up in the story you can't help but finish.

I'm very aware of this when I write. Sometimes I watch my word count and tick off milestones in my head. But eventually, the story takes over, and I look up in surprise and find that hundreds of words have passed me by while I stepped into another world.

It's a good feeling, and I recommend it next time you're stuck.

What gets you over the hump?

Thursday, October 29, 2009


It's October. At least I think it is until I look outside. Then it might as well be December or January. Or February, March or April. Yes, I live in a place where winter can grip hard. But usually not this early.

When I looked out the window just after noon today snow was falling lightly. The large, fat flakes drifted lazily and looked lovely. An hour later, I was no longer enjoying the view: swirls of thick snow fell in angry heaps over my drooping, brown landscaping. The temperature tonight is supposed to be in the teens. Did I mention it's still October?

So I admit it, I like the idea of winter more than the actuality of it. I'm not ready to pull out the flannel sheets and buy another cord of wood. But apparently Mother Nature has other ideas.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

10 things men do that drive women nuts

OK, I write this list with hesitation because the tables can be turned—too easily—but there are a few funny things men do that drive us, pardon the phrase, batshit crazy (like it's a far trip for me!) So for your entertainment here's a tongue-in-cheek look at a few nutty behaviors our menfolk sometimes exhibit:

1. Leave the laundry on top of the hamper—even when it's empty.

2. Tools must stay out until the completion of the project ... three months from now.

3. Must have remote/iPod/Blackberry/cell phone in hand and be fiddling with it during any conversation and insist they're listening ... then ask you to repeat yourself when you ask their opinion

4. Adjust the seat/steering wheel/mirror in the family car so you can't reach the peddles. A sister behavior to this is always tuning the car radio to sports. My blood pressure rises every time I start the car.

5. Can go to bed mad in the middle of a fight and wake up perfectly happy and wondering why you're upset the next morning. (Actually, shouldn't complain about this one. That's pretty easygoing, and a little pouting elicits a nice apology.)

6. Uses every pan in the house when they're cooking. Then becomes distracted by something on the TV or computer after dinner and forgets to clean up.

7. Clothes—his, the kid's—end up where ever they were taken off. If you're lucky enough that they decide to take them to the hamper, see No. 1.

8. Are always about 15 minutes later than they said they'd be. Then watch you impatiently if you've wisely waited to start dinner until they've actually arrived home.

9. Kibitz in the kitchen. I don't care how you like to do it. I'm cooking. Probably halfheartedly, but hey, it's on. There's still enough older sibling in me to get snarky if you offer advice.

10. Never smell a poopy diaper. Feces could be leaking down the child's leg, and they will swear you have a super sniffer and they never caught a whiff. On the plus side, a little prodding usually elicits an offer to change said poopy diaper.

Of course, all of these trespasses are highly exaggerated. As I like to say, you marry someone because the most annoying thing they do really doesn't bother you that much.

Now it's your turn. What about men—or women!—drive you nuts? All comments welcome.

To know or not to know - personally - your kids' pediatrician

Depending on the size of your city, this may not be possible. I don't live in a hugely populated area. We have a few pediatric practices, and I know more medical professionals now than I did when we lived in Dallas-Fort Worth.

When your child is sick, I mean really sick, is it beneficial to know your child's doctor socially? I do. But I worry about taking advantage of that relationship. When is it OK to call his or her home number? How sick does your child need to be?

This etiquette was not taught. I don't have a good answer. But if my child doesn't improve markedly soon, I may just see how friendly the doc is when he gets an early morning phone call.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Messing around

Have you ever seen how a 4 year old cleans his room? It's a little work punctuated between long pauses of play. It would be amusing if you weren't on a mission to clean the house.

Most of the time when I'm cleaning the children are already asleep or they're making messes in another part of the house. And we all know there's a hearty amount of work that accumulates without anyone making any messes: dishes, laundry, dust, mold. We're household warriors, striking against the evil invaders that seek to make our homes cluttered and unwelcoming.

My gift to myself today is to ignore the clutter. I've got another mission—literary. The dishes can soak, the laundry can linger, and I'll be fighting other battles.

Live to fight another day, I say.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stress over finances leads to more domestic violence

I know. It's not really surprising. But it is really sad.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) states that 54% of its callers said they had a negative change in their household finances in the last year. Bills pile up. No money is coming in to pay them. Where do you turn?

Stress comes in a variety of forms. While Harvard professor Dodson once said some stress is good, too much will hamper focus and productivity...and lead to more angry outbursts. If you need help, ask for it. Here's the NDVH's number: 1−800−799−SAFE (7233).

Great expectations

It can be healthy to have high expectations for yourself if you treat it like a goal and it energizes you. But it can be a real problem when you hold others to your high standard.

For example, we were recently on a three-and-a-half hour flight with our 4 year old and our 14 month old. I frankly expected disaster. My experience is that ages 1 to 2 are the most difficult flying time because they don't get what's going on and they can't sit still.

It actually went fine. But I suspect it was more my low expectations than anything else.

The worst thing we can do is to build up experiences we have no control over—large family vacations, plans with others that we make even years in advance. Then when things don't go according to plan, the fallout can feel devestating—wasn't this supposed to be the experience of a lifetime?

I don't know about you, but I'm always much happier when things are more fun, more pleasant, more exciting than I expected. So I'm gonna focus on keeping reasonable expectations where others are involved and save the really great ones for myself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The face of the flu

With so much flu-steria going around, I thought I'd mention we have it. Well, my kids have it. High fever, headache, chills, little appetite and a general miserable feeling. According to the doctor, this is a relatively light case.

This is our fifth day and it's not pleasant, but I have to admit I was fearful of much worse. As the pediatrician pointed out, this bug's highly contagious: many, many people have it. More people have this strain than get the regular flu. So, he said, it's not surprising the higher number of complications resulting from the illness. Yes, that makes me feel a bit better -- my kids are healthy, we take our daily vitamins and amped up on immune-boosting supplements, but I still worry. Who wouldn't? Children don't have full developed immune systems. But the old prescription of rest and fluids is still the best way to fight this virus.

Anyone up for a popscicle and a movie?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Life 3.0

There's an oft misquoted and unconfirmed statistic that claims most people will have five or more careers in their lifetimes. I've always found that interesting for a number of reasons: First, because for most of my professional life I worked for the same company (and I still do freelance work for them). Also, because I've always had a dream to parlay my freelance writing and editing career into a novel-writing career.

With the current state of the economy, I wonder if the real number of jobs a person has in his or her lifetime will climb. Several of my friends have shifted their career goals, leaving the magazine industry for other (hopefully more stable) careers.

Just as manufacturing jobs have moved overseas and certain careers have disappeared (what do you think former typesetters are doing now?), I wonder if the world of print is bracing for a similar exodus. Some of us will go on to related fields, writing for Web sites, iPhone applications, and the like. Others will go back to school and seek their next career life in a more stable profession, like law or accounting.

Think I'm wrong? Could be. But I know in the last year I made 75 percent of my freelance income off of projects that will never appear in print.

When the limelight fades

Did Falcon Heene really pretend to be in a balloon for publicity? I am really hoping it isn't so. And if the family did make a point of wasting resources and causing the public to fear for a small child, well....I can't say what I really think about that here. What I will say is have care with your wishes.

I'm pretty sure Jon and Kate didn't intend for their marriage to implode so publicly. I'm pretty sure they didn't expect the smear campaign in the many tabloids that continue to drive their notoriety.

Fame has an underbelly people rarely consider. But they should. We as a country seem to love to build people up and then tear them - piece by piece - off the pedestal we made. The path to legend status is strewn with multitudes looking for their 15 minutes. I wonder, if you asked now, how many would say the limelight was worth it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daily constitutional

That's what people used to call a walk. People have known for centuries that walking keeps you fit, healthy and helps you sleep at night. But for many Americans, in our suburban-sprawl, get-on-the-highway-to-go-to-work lifestyles, walking is no longer an easy and accessible activity. I say it should be.

Even 10 minutes a day improves circulation. A quick walk can improve your mood, too. Yes, I know how jam-packed days are. I know there simply isn't time. But I say make the time. It's for your health and mental well-being.

So my gift to myself today is a walk. I hope to do 30 minutes. That's ambitious. But it'll also keep me fit. And that's worth a lot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm sick, and it's not the flu. Well it is, in a sense. I'm sick of hearing about the flu.

Before I had kids, I got a flu shot when they were available. If they were out, I didn't worry. I'm young. I'm healthy.

Once I had children, the recommendation changed. It was more important to get the shot, and I've conscientiously done that every year.

Except this year. The world is in a panic. That milder, less of a threat flu that no one was prepared for last year, has turned into the germ equivalent of Armageddon. There's nary a flu shot to be had in Kansas, which leaves my toddler one shot shy of the two recommended doses for children under two.

Fine. We're careful, we keep our kids home when they're sick, and the other kids at the preschool stay home when they're sick too. We're washing our hands more often, but it doesn't produce panic in my heart the way it does for some.

To answer a few questions that have been posed to me from those experiencing heart palpitations over this, consider this your open-ended response:

• No, I'm not going to hole up in your house if there's an outbreak. I think my house is just as safe as yours.

• No, I haven't called the pediatrician today to see if they have the swine flu yet. I'll get it when it's available, and I'll know they have it because IT WILL SAY SO ON THEIR WEB SITE.

• Yes, I've heard some people are getting sick this year and they don't know what it is. I can tell you conclusively almost every time my kids have been sick I haven't been sure exactly what they had, because the symptoms are so generic: fever, vomiting, coughing, etc. Most of the time it doesn't need a physician's intervention so I don't worry about it.

Bottom line: If you're freaking out, I'm not joining your hysteria hour. I'd rather have a glass of wine. But really, knock yourself out.

OK, grumpiness over. Feel free to resume your normal programming, and sorry for the rant.

Reading Votes for Women

This former managing editor targets exactly how it feels to want a career and home life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Growing up - just not now

Extended adolescence. Seriously, it has a name. Kids today stay kids for longer. They jump from job to job, go on long, exotic vacations, live at home after college. This is the new norm for twenty-somethings.

According to a USA Today article, "Recent findings published by the American Sociological Association and based on U.S. Census data show a sharp decline in the percentage of young adults who have finished school, left home, gotten married, had a child and reached financial independence, considered typical standards of adulthood. In 2000, 46% of women and 31% of men had reached those markers by age 30, vs. 77% of women and 65% of men at the same age in 1960."

The big question I want answered is whether this is healthy. The jury is still out. But with life expectancy of 100 for a child born in the year 2000, I'm not sure delaying your responsible years is all bad. After all, experiences - of all sorts - do shape a long at he or she does grow up. Eventually.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Babying the baby

When your kids start fighting, do you have a tendency to blame the oldest?

Yeah, it's my instinct too. But I grew up as the older child, and I'm well acquainted with the tricks and tools the youngest will use to work their wiles on parental units.

Even so, I sometimes catch myself babying my baby. It's not good for her. My son always rises to the occasion when I set appropriate expectations. But it's more of a struggle with her.

She's the baby, the girl, and the stubborn one. So she needs more structure—not less.

Have you noticed we have a forgotten generation of kids out there? Ones who never learned to make their own decisions or move out of mom and dad's basement?

I believe it starts here.

A little babying is OK once in a while--both kids enjoy an extra dose of mommying still. But, as is oft said, their smiles of achievement always come when we offer them roots and wings.

The great pumpkin (patch)

Cool breezes, leaves on the ground, and big, orange pumpkins growing on the vine. Yes, it's the day we go to the pumpkin patch. Our admission pays for a hayride, a pumpkin to take home with us (carving is in our near future), a huge "fun" slide, corn maze and petting zoo. The petting zoo consists of goats - they do not smell good.

This is an event my kids look forward to all year. It's one of those activities that my oldest is about to outgrow, which makes it even more special to go together this one last year. The hardest part of watching my child go is the blase way she treats many of the outings that once brought her so much joy and wonder. And I want to ask her to keep some of her opinions to herself: her younger sib still finds the utmost joy in running through the dirty rows, looking for just the right gourd to bring home. Like most everything else in my life, I'm finding this, too, is a balancing act. I must let my oldest explore her growing identity - which is completely separate from me - while still nurturing (and loving) those moments with my younger child.

Whoever said parenting was easy?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Balloons and a glowdeo

This year, we've made a commit: Tonight is the night we finally go to the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. What, you ask? The Balloon Fiesta. Hundreds - if not thousands - of hot air balloons fill the skies with amazing shapes and colors. This is the big time.

Tonight is a kid favorite: the glowdeo. Hot air is shot into the balloons. But this isn't just any old hot air. It's colored, and it makes the balloons - you guessed it - glow. And bonus (did you need a bonus?): fireworks. My kids are still young enough to find the entire event fascinating. And what is more fun than spending an evening with your rapturous kids?

The backpack is packed; the snacks, drinks, changes of clothes and coats are all waiting. Tonight is girls' night. And we're going to the glowdeo.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Goals—and upping the ante

It's that time. I've gotta review my goals again. I admit, I like having something on my calendar that says I'm gonna do something—even if it never happens. Because I'm oh so into the plan. Just ask my husband. If I don't have an itinerary, I'm a little adrift in the day.

For me, the hard part of goal setting is balance. How can you hit the goal that will both challenge and excite? What I mean is, it can't be too easy. If they're too accomplishable, I find myself doing just enough to satisfy the plan and quitting.

If I make my goals too lofty, they're impossible to achieve and they have the worst effect. They provoke guilt, shame, and frustration.

That's why days like these are so important. I can look at the goals I didn't meet and renegotiate with myself to find the right time and the right level of effort to inspire. Then I can look forward to the moment I can check the item off my to-do list.

What are your goals?

The Daily Log

Any time something's out of whack with my kids, I start a daily log. Are you sleeping less? Eating something you shouldn't? What has changed that makes you so cranky, unhappy (fill in the appropriate adjective for your child here).

I don't enjoy it; in fact, I'm a pretty poor logbook keeper. But the exercise typically does help me find something to work with. Which is why I keep coming back to it.

We used the log a year-and-a-half ago to help pinpoint what was causing my daughter's eczema (cow's milk). Now we're using it to try to understand why my daughter is so prone to melt downs. According to a psychologist friend, something as small as a shorter free play time can wreak havoc with a small child's psyche.

The part I find most mystifying is that the solution is typically right there, within my grasp - within my day - if I'd only been paying enough attention in the first place. And that's what the log does; I have to pay very close attention to my children. Very close.

The point is: shouldn't I have been doing so all along?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Screening screen time

When I had my older daughter nearly seven years ago, I simply knew we'd spend hours together reading, doing puzzles and other educational activities and visiting friends. TV - and videos - were not something to worry about.

Then I had the second. This child is a couch potato. She is happiest when the TV is on. A distant second is climbing in a tree. Or making mud pies (an absolute favorite activity of mine at her age).

My concern now is how to limit the time she watches TV. I work more than I ever did when her sister was this age. She is in preschool - all 12 hours - for enrichment and socialization. But it's the time when I'm on deadline that truly worries me. How did this happen? My goal is to come up with strategies that are as fun as TV (my daughter's laughing at me as I write this, I'm sure).

Here are a few of our best activities:
1.Beading - while I hate the tiny plastic colors that end up whirring through my vacuum, this is a great fine motor skill and we have lovely bracelets and necklaces
2. Baking - bread, pies, cakes. I love that my girls are learning math AND learning to feed themselves.
3. Painting - I admit it. I hate paints of any kind. Oh, the mess! But my kids love them. And I do end up with some smashing masterpieces.
4. Gak and slime - it's gooey and gross. What more do I really need to say?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Big boys do cry

My son is 4, and he is sensitive. It's a trait I love and admire in my husband, a skill that makes him gentle with animals and children. But I haven't learned yet to be the mom of a crier.

Because, let's admit it, our society is not very accepting of boys who cry. And it bothers me. Why should my daughter be able to express her feelings but not my son?

I've fumbled about with this for a while. When a boy from Donovan's class pushed him in the swimming pool at a birthday party, I let the boy's mother con my son out of crying with a string of banter that distracted him from the intentional injury her son inflicted. And I regretted it later, wishing I knew how to better soothe my son and offer his support to calm himself without reinforcing the behavior.

This is one of the toughest tasks I've tackled so far. Because the crying can be, frankly, annoying. This morning at the community center he cried because he was sword fighting with his balloon tiger and the tiger became separated from his leash. Donovan was so distressed we removed to the bathroom and then, when he couldn't calm himself, to the car to head for home. There's a special sinking feeling as you do that walk of shame out of a building. "What did I do wrong?" you think to yourself.

I'm a book person, so my first step is to head to the bookstore to learn the right coping methods to help my sensitive child thrive. I need the tools to feel in control. But I also want to act responsibly and remember, there's nothing wrong with my child. He just needs my help to deal with the high stimulation of the world around him.

Retail maven

I don't know if you have this person in your family: the one (usually) female who buys stuff. Constantly. Because it's on sale.

Now I'm not talking about items you might want or need. I'm talking about sale stuff. Purchased simply because it's under a 75% off sign. As my husband says, "There's a reason it's so discounted!"

Don't get me wrong, I love a bargain. Bargains, in fact, make me giddy. But with two small children - who seem to outgrow shoes faster than I can buy them - and a budget, I tend to be a minimalist shopper. By that I mean I do some online sleuthing and then go to the one store that has what I need. Still I have to give myself a stern talking-to about how I do not need the four really cute soup bowls that are deeply discounted.

In part, I want to say thanks to this retail maven, who is working with single-handed determination to keep our economic structure alive. But a small part of me really wants to ask what do you do with all that junk?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Out of focus

I do everything in two to three minute movements, so I rarely feel focused on one task. I'm often working to a symphony of, "Mommy, can I have a glass of water?" and the primitive grunts and leg tugging of my one year old.

So things don't always get done the way they should. The water bill gets missed in the stack of junk mail and I sheepishly discover it a few days later when I'm stacking the magazines I subscribe to but never get a chance to read. The laundry gets stacked but I don't notice the stack of folded socks until I sit on them. And if it doesn't make it on the calendar, it doesn't happen.

I like to blame it on constant distractions from my two little whirling dervishes. And I sometimes remember with great fondness the long stretches of quiet thinking time I used to enjoy at work when I shut my office door.

Still, I'd rather be getting some done with my two little distractions than checking off everything on my list while someone else gets cuddles from my babies.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where do you find the time ... ?

I hate this question, because it's a loaded one. Answer one way, and you're bragging. Another, and you're blowing them off.

"Where do you find the time to do freelance work? Write a book? Paint the bedroom?" And the unasked question, "What didn't you do so you could work/write/paint?" This immediately conjures images of laundry piles ignored and children wandering listlessly around the house, dirty and bored.

We all instinctively know what's possible during a day. And you'll never meet another person whose priorities are perfectly matched to your own. The real question is, does the family work? Is the dynamic working for everyone?

Things are easier for me this year than last. Last year, I had a newborn and a three year old who went to school two times a week. This year, my one year old naps while why four year old goes to school three afternoons a week. And I have a babysitter who comes by for a couple hours once a week so I can run the errands and do the tasks that are less kid friendly (who wants to stand at the DMV with children?)

There's been a stiff learning curve, but I'm feeling like we're finally managing to strike a healthy balance that gives me some adult time. And the trips we take to the zoo and the playground together are much more fun when I'm refreshed.

So I'm riding a high of welcome personal time and hoping it continues. And if I do laundry one less time each week to finish a chapter, everyone in my household seems to understand.

Mired in sickville

Yup. Still the sick house. Now I have the bug. But I don't get it for the same reasons as my children. I, like every other mom I know, fall ill because we're trying so hard to make those around us well.

A friend of mine told me a story of how she passed out - with just her two preschool daughters at home - from pneumonia. Why? The girls had a virus and she was taking care of them. A couple of weeks ago, a young mother succumbed to the H1N1 virus because she'd run herself ragged taking care of her two sick little ones.

What it boils down to is the need to take care of ourselves, too. Why are we so bad at that? I know, I know. Worry about your kids and spouse - who will get Jimmy his medicine in the middle of the night or hold Sally as she coughs so hard it makes her cry. Yes, as moms, this tends to be our job, no, our calling. But you know what? When we fall down (hopefully into bed), the world does not stop suddenly. Somehow, whether it's friends, relatives or a spouse, the kids get fed and the dog gets walked.

The bottom line is to take care of yourself, too. Take a warm bath, go to bed early. Just make sure you stay healthy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Are you too competitive?

One of the persistent ideas that has stuck with me from my Bible study days was the concept that some of our biggest flaws are really just gifts we’ve carried too far.

On of these gifts, I believe, is a competitive spirit. Many successful women are blessed with it, and it helps them achieve their biggest goals.

It can also make them miserable, lonely, and isolated. It’s simple. If we get too competitive, there’s no friend who wants to stick around. No colleague who wants to lend a helping hand. No relative who wants to hear about how they’re doing it wrong if only they’d follow your advice.

So I’ve always been competitive. And I have to reign myself in occasionally. But I think we can find a higher level of happiness if we direct some of our drive toward beating our own personal best. For me, this could be writing more than the day before. Learning a new jewelry making skill. Or exercising that one extra time a week when I really wanted to sit and read instead.

So if you have a competitive nature like me, I say embrace your driven spirit. But don’t let it hold you back.

Supporting deployed spouses

Portia's posts yesterday made me think about all the single military parents out there. I can't imagine the stress of spending each day - for at least a year - with a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan. These parents, who are at home to handle the day-to-day needs of their children, certainly deserve our respect. They also deserve our gratitude and help.

I looked up the numbers on how many American families have been split during the two wars, and I found the totals staggering.

Nearly 2 million Americans have been deployed since 9/11. Of those, over 875,000 are parents. But here's the kicker: 245,000 of those parents have been deployed twice; 91,000 have been sent overseas three times while nearly 50,000 have been away from their families four times.

Next time I want to whine about a late night dealing with my two kids, I'm going to think about all those military families struggling to maintain some sense of normalcy in a difficult world. You humble me.

And I thank you - deeply - for your willingness to support our country.