Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This blog has moved

I am continuing to post at www.fernandapowers.com
Hope to see you there.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A day in the life of a stay-at-home aspiring author

This morning I conducted what is becoming a monthly ritual in our household: the trip to the post office with the brown manila envelope in hand. Normally the girls and I walk to the post office, then stop by the park on the way back home. Today, the weather was bad, so instead I loaded the girls into their car seats and drove down the street. The post office has a big window facing the street. I parked the car there, left the motor running and went inside to mail off my manuscript. This one is My Baby Sister and its destination is the publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I've revised My Baby Sister a total of five times, making this manuscript the one in which I've invested the most effort. It's also the one I believe in the most. I think it's good enough to go somewhere and I'm going to persevere with it until it does. F, S & G will take around three months to decide if they want it. I'm hoping to choose a second publisher to submit it to well before that in the event that F, S & G rejects it. But other than that, it's time to give My Baby Sister a rest, forget about it, and start working on my next project. If I need to resubmit it to another publisher, I can take a fresh look at it.

Once I returned from the post office and unloaded the girls out of the car, the day took on a more normal stay-at-home mom flavor. Both my girls have the sniffles, so we took it easy. We rolled a ball back and forth to each other in the living room, I let L watch a sesame street movie while I took a shower. I added some rye flour and water to my sour dough bread starter. I swept and mopped the kitchen floor. Recently we replaced our fridge and the floor was showing signs of the large appliance switch. I folded three baskets of clothes, finally declaring myself officially caught up with the laundry. While folding the clothes, L got silly and started putting various pieces on her head. She saw E take off her slippers and socks and put the slipper on her head, and thought that was a riot. I pretended to make a big deal out of it, "What? A sleeper on your head?" This only made L giggle all the more. Who would have known that minutes before L was crying in my arms over some upset?

I'm a techie at heart and actually have my household chore task list entered in Outlook. I've set the tasks to recur based on my ideal for how often certain jobs, like cleaning the bathroom sinks, get done. But the task will only regenerate when I've checked it off as done. This means that when I invariably fall behind from the ideal, once I do accomplish the task, I'm automatically caught up on that task and won't see it again until the time I've set for it to recur. Each day I make a little game with myself to see how many overdue tasks I can check off. Today, I got to check off two.

For lunch the girls and I shared one of the pints of yogurt I made yesterday. I get two shares of raw milk which translates into two gallons a week, half of which I process into yogurt. Lately I've been skimming the cream off to save for ice cream, but this time I left the cream with the milk. It is such an improvement on the taste and quality of the milk and yogurt to leave the cream in. I dream of the future when we will have a family cow who produces enough milk that when we want extra cream, the leftover skim milk is considered waste--something to feed the pigs, not consume ourselves. In the mean time, I have many pints of creamy yogurt to enjoy.

I contemplate what to fix for dinner, and settle on soup using a turkey stock I made up shortly after this past Thanksgiving. I will throw in the leftover whole grains we've eaten for breakfast, the chicken, a pint of sauerkraut my husband and I fermented ourselves last month. Of course, I'll start by sauteeing some onions, carrots and celery in a stick of butter, sadly purchased from the store. I think again about our future milk cow, who will give us enough cream for me to make butter.

Many diaper changes happen before and during dinner preparation. I'm late on starting and want L to go to bed early so I feed her a couple painted hard boiled Easter eggs just in case. I also let her chew the chicken meat off the bones as I cut up pieces for my soup. Surprisingly, she's still hungry and does have a little bit of her soup, but only after Erik agrees to add some rolled oats and banana slices. As I'm sitting down to enjoy my soup, it becomes obvious that E needs to go down to sleep right now, so I move to the rocking chair to nurse her. As soon as E is asleep, my husband Erik and I help get L to sleep. We then sit down for some private time and E wakes up. Erik gets her settled back to sleep but then he can't put her down without waking her up. So I prop up a Tintin comic book to read while I consume three bowls of soup. Erik is reading another Tintin book while holding E. The soup, by the way, is delicious. Adding sauerkrout to soup gives it an incredibly rich flavor. I make a mental note that in a pinch stock and sauerkrout alone will make a decent soup--more nutritious than boxed mac & cheese.

Before I know it, it's time to start thinking about my own bedtime, and maybe I should clean up the kitchen so it's nice for tomorrow. Nah, I'd rather be blogging. Or working on one of my writing projects (I have more of those than I really have the time for). It's during the evenings after my girls are asleep that I can usually count on some concentrated time to write. I say usually, because both girls often wake up at night fairly often and need to be soothed back to sleep. Still, there have been enough uninterrupted evenings that it's not unreasonable to hope this one will be like that. Then I have to decide between writing, catching up on housework, spending some quality time with my husband, or any number of other possibilities that get put on hold day after day. What will it be tonight? Whatever it is, it will involve homemade ice cream.

Such is the life of a stay-at-home aspiring author.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Raw Milk

I set aside enough of our tax refund money to purchase two monthly shares of raw milk for the next year. Based on my research and the taste factor, I have sworn off pasteurized milk as being fit for human consumption. Today I made around 16 pints of yogurt out of the milk and am looking forward to enjoying as much yogurt as I want for the rest of the week. Several months ago, I froze a quart of my favorite brand of yogurt, Brown Cow, into ice trays, and when I need a fresh culture, I just pop out one of my frozen yogurt cubes and add it to my batch.

Other things I enjoy making with raw milk: cream cheese which usually becomes cheese cake, whey which gets used to ferment many other foods, ice cream, cultured butter. I'd like to learn how to make more types of hard and soft cheeses and kefir. I also love to just drink it straight, with all the cream mixed in. One of these days I hope to have my own milk cow.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

First Rejection

I'm a bit behind in blogging. Sometime in February, I sent four short manuscripts to Babybug Magazine. On March 29, they all came back with a form rejection letter.

So now you could say I'm officially trying to get published, and now I have the rejection letters to prove it.

I'll be finalizing my submission package for My Baby Sister in the next couple weeks. I'm hoping to have that in the mail before I hear from the publishers where I submitted my previous two picture book manuscripts.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Remembering Terri

March 31, 2007 marks the two year anniversary of Terri Schindler-Schiavo's court ordered and medically carried out death by dehydration and starvation.

Her brutal death was a sad day for America.

Blogs For Terri is the site with the most news, analysis, and tribute to Terri.

Please take some time to remember Terri and pray for her family.

Friday, March 30, 2007

To Live in Simpler Times

If you've ever read any literature by people who have become wealthy, or at least high cash flow, and want to share how they did it, you repeatedly come across the question: "So, what are your dreams?" Really, it's "What do you want to do with all the money you'll be making once you sign up for this opportunity?"

I believe it's a worthwhile exercise to seriously consider what your dreams are, and to write them down as detailed as you can imagine them. What would you do with your time if money were no object? I've been thinking a lot about my own dreams over the past few years.

Well, a significant part of my dreams is to live in a place like this.

It won't require an outrageous amount of money to pull it off either.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Go To Work or Stay Home?

I got a hold of this article through an email list I'm on. It elaborates on how the media likes to portray the situation of mothers leaving the workforce as a free choice on the part of the mothers. However, in many cases, the mother really would rather work if she could have a more flexible schedule. Many times, her employer will not allow her the flexibility to work and also meet the needs of her children. And apparently, many employers are prejudiced against mothers to the point that they will just assume a mother will not do a good job once she has two children. In any case, the article raises the question of whether the mother really chose to quit or was she forced to quit?

I've personally experienced it both ways. When I was pregnant with L, I applied for a job with the USDA, got interviewed, then got a job offer. Then I broke the news that I was four months pregnant. I asked if I could work around my husband's schedule, or if I could keep the job for the duration of my pregnancy, then quit. Federal jobs are not known for their flexibility in terms of hours, and in the post 9/11 era, altering my hours by more than a half-hour in either direction was out of the question. And there was no possibility of going part time. They didn't want to hire me for just a few months either, which is certainly understandable. If I wanted that job, I would need to put L in daycare.

In the spirit of being open-minded I actually did look into daycare for L. But I didn't have to go any further than the economics to realize it wasn't going to pay. The amount I was being offered for the job minus the cost of daycare for an infant would have netted me around $800 a month. And that wasn't counting the cost of disposable diapers as daycares will not use cloth diapers. It probably was leaving out some other significant expenses.

As I was agonizing over the decision to take the job or leave it, a colleague from a former position I'd held called me up saying that after a year and a half of my asking about it, he had a position for me. I told him my news about being pregnant, and he was genuinely happy for me. And he told me I was still welcome to work for him until the baby was born. Then we'd work it out. So at five months pregnant I went to work. He made me quit a month before my due date out of concern for me. I think he really wanted to avoid the possibility of me going into labor out in the field. And one could argue he was a bit paternalistically protective of me, but I didn't make an issue of it.

When L was around seven months old and warm weather came around, I went back to work on a part time basis. I worked around my husband's schedule, and he moved his hours around as well, and I was able to put in anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week. I got paid the exact same amount per hour as when I'd been working full time. Although there weren't great facilities for pumping milk, I made do with what was there and kept my boss out of the loop on that one. I knew he'd be embarrassed so I figured there was no point in bringing it up unless I had to; I didn't. I also did a fair amount of computer work at home.

I worked off and on for the next three years, and it was a great situation. But in the end, my boss hired one of his former student workers full time and more and more, she got the work I'd been doing. I was a major asset to the program as long as I was the only one my boss felt comfortable with, but once he found someone who could do what I did and was available to do it on the normal schedule, well, there just wasn't enough money for me anymore. I basically got replaced, though there is the possibility I could still get work thrown my way. So, even in that situation, I was gradually edged out. No hard feelings; I can certainly understand the desire to work with someone who can be there during normal business hours over someone who can't. By the way, my husband's job cracked down on his schedule after my first summer following L's birth.

So now I'm a stay-at-home mom. Would I like to work? Honestly, if I could find another situation that I enjoyed for three years I would jump on it. My family could use the income. Would I take a full-time job that would require other people caring for my children? No. Do I wish there was a way I could work and not farm my children out? Yes.

The article makes the point that the breadwinner dad coupled with the stay-at-home mom is an anomaly, a product of the 1950s when the US economy was growing like gangbusters. Traditionally, the woman has contributed economically to the household even when she was having babies. Maybe she sewed clothes, maybe she cleaned houses, maybe she sold products from the farm. Whatever she did, she did it while caring for her children, but she got paid for something. She also likely had more help as families tended to live closer together.

I have gradually come to the conclusion that even if my husband were to make boatloads of money, the breadwinner dad/stay-at-home mom is not an ideal situation, especially now where families (including my own) live far away from extended family and childrearing falls solely to the two parents, along with making a living and everything else. I just don't believe parenting was ever meant to be a two-person job, or as the reality is, a one-person job except for evenings and weekends. People have romanticized and spiritualized the role of the stay-at-home mother and I certainly believe Motherhood is an awesome calling and responsibility. But I don't think it's whining to acknowledge that being a stay-at-home mother all alone really sucks. It's not that I'd rather go to work; I'd rather my husband could be a stay-at-home dad as well. But we'd still have to earn a living. I wish both of us could share equally the responsibility of parenting and earning a living. I wish we could both do it in close proximity to our home. I wish our children could be with us and actively participating in our efforts to earn said living.

Hmm, ask me again what is motivating me to write...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Perfectionism of Convenience

Am I a perfectionist? Absolutely, but only when it's convenient. Rite now, its not conveniunt

Friday, March 16, 2007

Glorious Dialog

I'm just about finished with My Baby Sister. My fellow writers in Penpointers got to hear two versions of the story last night. Version one was my original and consisted of the first person musings of a 2-5 year old kangaroo named Juniper. Version two added some dialog in the sense that what the parent kangaroos said was presented in quotations rather than as paraphrased by Juniper. The dialog was suggested by Cheryl, who writes young adult fiction. I didn't think I'd like having that dialog, but decided to go ahead and try it anyway.

At the meeting, I had other people read each version. As I heard my story being read it became abundantly clear to me that the dialog carried the story so much better. So, My Baby Sister has quotation marks and I'm not looking back

I was also given the advice to simplify the sentences and tighten up the story some more. Something I'd never noticed about my manuscript was that the sentences got more complicated as the story went on. Juniper was sure growing up fast!

For whatever reason, around 11pm after we got home and the girls were in bed, all these places where I could shorten sentences and delete extraneous words showed up like neon and I filled my manuscript with pen ink. Today I applied those changes in the computer and the story has once again improved.

I'm hoping to submit My Baby Sister for publication in April. Although I have already submitted two picture book manuscripts, this one feels like my first real one. It's certainly the one where I've done the most revisions so far. The lucky first publisher to see it will be Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Where do they come from?

One question I can imagine readers might be asking about now is this: Why am I starting a writing career now? After all, I have two very young children; wouldn't it make more sense to wait until they are in school or something?

There are two reasons to the why now question. The first is I do not plan to stop having children anytime soon. I have two now. I want another five. At least. So, if I were to wait until the youngest one was old enough to go to school before embarking on a nonparenting dream, I could be waiting another fifteen years. That's a long time to wait. I don't have that kind of patience.

The second reason is that because I have two young children, I am constantly surrounded by ideas and inspiration for the stories I come up with. At the same time, my two sources of inspiration keep me so busy sometimes it's hard to come up with a minute to even jot down an idea. But there are so many ideas that a few forgotten ultimately won't be missed. Sure, I could just jot them down and then wait until I'm a grandma or something. But I honestly don't think it will be the same when I'm not daily surrounded by my own children. I'll forget details, the feeling, the groove.

As insane as it might seem, especially on "one of those days," I feel there is no better time for me to be an author than right now.

The stories I write down and hope to publish are variations of the stories I tell L, my older daughter. The most immediate reason for telling L a story is because she asks for one--sometimes ten times a day. The greatest determining factor of the subject matter is whatever I want to prepare her for. I use storytelling as a way to introduce a concept of good behavior, or to prepare her for a new experience.

L recently had her very first visit to the dentist. For about a month before I took her in, I told her stories about various animals visiting the dentist. The animals would come in, the receptionist would greet them, then they'd go sit in the chair, open their mouth, and so forth. I've been to the dental hygienist enough times myself that I pretty much know what happens and in what order. So, I just had all those things happen to whichever animal was going to the dentist.

So when I took L in, the hygienist told me that the first appointment is a time to familiarize the child with the process and they'll only do as much as the child will allow. They want it to be a positive experience for the child. L was a bit nervous about getting into the dentist's chair, so I helped her up. Then she relaxed and opened her mouth. From then on, she allowed the hygienist to do everything she normally does to teeth. I mean she was in there scraping plaque off, flossing, brushing--everything I normally get on a routine cleaning. Needless to say, both the hygienist and the dentist were very impressed. Of course I know the main reason is that my L is a very cooperative little girl, but I'm convinced the stories helped. She knew what to expect.

I recently took L to a different sort of practitioner--a homeopathic allergist. What the allergist did was arguably less invasive than what the dental hygienist was doing and L fussed and kicked and in general made it as difficult as possible, and not just at the first appointment. You would have thought she was getting tortured. I hadn't told L stories about animals visiting the allergist, in part because having never seen a homeopathic allergist myself, I didn't really know what to expect either. After seeing L take the dentist visit so completely in stride, it really hit home to me the importance of storytelling in a young child's life and in a mother's sanity.

I'm working on getting some car seat tethers installed in my rather old vehicle so I've been on the phone a lot the last couple days. I don't know what it is about getting on the phone, but that's when even the most independent of preschoolers needs Mommy to do about a million things right now. My short conversations were punctuated by much wailing over stuff I knew could wait--stuff that had waited quite well in the past.

After getting off the phone, I gently spoke to L about the need to be quiet as a mouse while Mommy was on the phone. She seemed to understand but the scene was repeated with the next phone conversation. I'm sure I repeated my lecture but something told me I wasn't getting through.

Earlier today she wanted me to repeat a story that her Daddy had told her using a couple characters I'd invented. "Tell me about when Juniper and Ivy got stuck in the gopher hole." Juniper Kangaroo has become the character I use when I'm really talking about L; Ivy is her little sister. I'm hoping you will meet Juniper and Ivy soon, publishers willing. I repeated the story to her, then worked in an extra part where the two unstuck kangaroos burst into the door of their home and notice their Mama kangaroo is on the phone. So Juniper tells Ivy that they need to be quiet as mice and they get out a quiet game to play together until Mama gets off the phone. Mama gets off the phone soon--I have the kangaroos overhear her close out the conversation--and she expresses great appreciation for how quiet they were and how proud she is of them for being quiet as mice while she was on the phone. Then they get to tell her about their adventure.

I have had two peaceful phone conversations since telling that story but it's hard to say if it's because of the story. It's not as if every single phone conversation before was punctuated by interruptions. Still, I think I will continue mentioning that Juniper and Ivy are quiet as mice whenever their Mama kangaroo is on the phone, and I think over the next few weeks I'll notice an improvement in the quality of my own phone conversations.

Another concept I am thinking about how to work in is sharing--especially L sharing with E. The sharing issue is understandably confusing because I don't want L sharing everything with E--certainly not the choking hazards. I also want L to know she doesn't have to share all the time. Still, I want her to share more often. I think a cute little story about Juniper learning how to share with Ivy is fomenting in the back of my mind...

But anyway, my point is that I have far more success encouraging what I would consider to be good behavior in my daughter by telling her a story detailing what I expect than by trying to stop less favorable behavior once it's started. I can yell, I can threaten to take away privileges, and I can physically force the issue. And yet it seems the most I accomplish is the get her as upset as I am. And what she learns, rather than whatever it is I wanted to teach, is how to yell and how to exert force over someone weaker, namely her little sister, not to mention the loss of intimacy between us. Not lessons I care to be teaching.

So many of my stories are deliberately meant to teach, and as I'm having success using stories as a teaching tool, I'm finding myself more willing to tell L a story when she asks for one, even if I am tired and it's only the tenth one of the day. If a story sounded good to me, and L asks me to repeat it later, I jot it down and as I get the time I work it into picture book material. Fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there gets the job done. And I do also tell stories that are just fun, imaginative and goofy. The first story I submitted back in January was such a story. L loved it. Let's see if an editor does.

It is very clear to me that the time to write and submit stories is the time when stories are practically falling off overripe trees. For me, that time is right now.