Monday, July 21, 2014

Sandy squirrels and minor literary wins

So I had a little news that I'm excited about and wanted to share

But first, a bit of Inside Voices business. It seems like it's been awhile since I've posted about my (our?) favorite stone (concrete?) squirrel statuary. I haven't been going on as many afternoon walks of late -- the fact that Lily throws herself on the floor and writhes around like an upended june bug every time I mention the word "walk" might have something to do with this -- so I haven't happened by the squirrels too often. 

And then the times I have been by they've been wearing outfits I've already shared. I suppose there is only so much you can do to dress up squirrel statuary -- not that the squirrel ladies haven't an amassed an impressive array of ensembles. I got really excited earlier this week when I happened by and found the squirrels as such:

"Look at that!" I said to myself. "New outfits!"

And I yelled at the dog to stop dragging my arm out of its socket long enough to snap pictures and went on my merry way, excited to end our bushy-tailed rodent drought.

But alack, the sun hats, sunglasses and sand buckets replete with shovels, aren't knew. They rocked this look just last year, in fact. And I wrote about it and everything.

It's disappointing to say the least. But the whole deja-squirrel experience has me thinking it might be time to change up my walk route. Who knows what other neighbors have in store for me? So stay tuned.

Now on to the other news. 

A while back, in a moment of foolish "why the hell not" blind optimism, I submitted a short story I wrote about one horny, two-faced young Scotsman named Donovan MacWallace (you might remember him from this post) to a local literary competition.

It was the first time since high school that I'd submitted any sort of fiction/poetry/creative writing for review by literary sorts. The $5 entry fee seemed a cheap enough risk to take.

Anyway, I got a phone call on Friday that I'd won third place for the story.

Before you say it, yes, I know. I'm a pretty big deal. 

In the future, you'll have to have your people call my people to hear stories about how my 3-year-old stuffed Play-Doh up her nose and had to blow it out in an explosive puff of snot and day-glo yellow goo. 

(Shortly after reveling in my little win, I actually started conceiving of a "Waiting for Guffman"-style short story about a weary housewife whose ego becomes overinflated after she's recognized for some minor life victory.)

The contest coordinator tells me there were "a bunch of entries," so I'm just going to go ahead and assume the staff waded through thousands of top-notch literary submissions before deciding that mine deserved a tip of the hat. 

She also told me they would be having a reception and reading of the winning entries.

"Please let me know if you are available to read your piece," she says.

Aside from the fact that I feel calling a story that features the phrase "Nessie stirred under his kilt" in reference too … well you know what it's in reference to … "a piece" might be giving it a little too much artistic merit -- I'm terrified at the prospect of reading my "piece" in front of a room full of literary sorts. 

For one, I will have to actually read out loud the phrase "Nessie stirred under his kilt" (among other ridiculous excerpts) but given the fact that my main character is a grown American man passing himself off as Scottish by channeling Groundskeeper Willie from "The Simpsons," I imagine I'll have to attempt some sort semblance of an accent, too.

Ach noh.

Stay tuned.

On top of that, my britches got extra inflated today when the super-sweet blogger behind Budget Blonde and newly minted mother of twins sent me an encouraging note/kick in the pants that I could and should be doing more to building the audience for this site. 

She'd posted last week about attempting to find balance in her crazy-busy life (did I mention she just had twins? Cuz she does. Oh yeah and she just relocated. Oh, and she works from home). I related to so much of what she wrote that I sent her a note reminding her that things will get better (and sometimes worse) and that life will be OK (even when sometimes it's not). Perhaps it wasn't the most uplifting email. Either way, she didn't seem to mind the unsolicited ramblings of a complete stranger … and she was kind enough to suggest that more people might not mind the unsolicited ramblings of a complete stranger. Perhaps I should change the name of my site …

Anyway, stay tuned for that, too. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It won't be like this forever

More on this later.
It won't be like this forever. 

I've been saying that a lot lately.

During trips to the grocery store when, as we're heading toward the dairy aisle, both girls claim they need to go potty, which involves a hasty cart ride to the opposite end of the store and often a false alarm from the younger one. 

At home as they kick, pull hair, bite and otherwise maim each other over infractions including, but not limited to, pony, doll and book theft; claiming ownership of a parent ("That's my mommy!" "No!! It's my mommy!!" "NO!!!! MY MOMMY!" etc., etc., etc.); and sitting on an already occupied piece of furniture.

After the playdate when I heard my friend exclaim, "Jovie, what's that all over your leg?" and found that my 2-year-old, who was going commando in an attempt to potty train, was covered in poo (as was a throw rug, various stuffed animals and a "Frozen" puzzle). This, just after I'd cleaned up a puddle of pee on the floor. 

And especially night after night when, after putting the kids to bed at 8 or so, I flip open my laptop and work until past 11 then get up by 6 or 7 the next morning to repeat the cycle -- make food, referee, play, read, clean, more food, clean, play, work, food … I don't even know.

It won't be like this forever.

Last week we went to the beach with my family. Twenty of us total, 10 kids. I worked one afternoon and then decided not to use my laptop for anything work-related for the rest of the week. Instead, I immersed myself in family (well, except for the day or two I immersed myself in bed with a stomach bug). I went on bike rides and raced down water slides with my nephews, spent an afternoon window shopping with my niece, chatted and laughed with my sisters, soaked in all the magical moments of the girls giggling amidst a pack of cousins. 

On the last day, after a frustrating morning with my vacationed-out kids, I ran into the ocean, diving into the rising waves that previewed Hurricane Arthur. I swam and floated and meditated and then headed back to the beach, grabbed one of my sisters and brought her into the water so that we both could enjoy being cradled by the cool waves. 

In that moment, I thought I could've stayed in the water forever. It felt like it would've been easier to swim and swim and swim -- to cross the Atlantic even -- then it would be to go back to the routine. 

But I got tired eventually and went back to shore. 

Of course, I went back.

Returning home was tough. I missed my nieces and nephews and the endless bustle of the beach house. The camaraderie of sharing motherhood with my sisters. 

And I really dreaded going back to nights doing work that isn't always gratifying and that seems to perpetually be keeping me from the work I actually want to do. And we all know what that is by now.

I think some days my expectations for the 24 hours in a day are just too high.

And I feel guilty and kind of lame for whining or complaining. This is the adventure of every mom in the history of mothers, right? We love our babies and relish the time we have with them while simultaneously mourning the life before or the life more balanced. 

Some days I wish I didn't want so much to finish my book. If I wanted it less, then maybe it wouldn't be so infuriating when there's no room for it. But it's this inexplicable force in my life. 

Actually, it's not inexplicable. I recently finished reading "The Dog Stars" by Peter Heller (so beautifully written). The book takes place in Colorado almost a decade after a plague has wiped out most of humanity and what's left seems to roam around as savages. The narrator is a pilot/poet who, despite the fact that he has nobody to share it with, still feels driven to tell the story of what happened -- the loss and the horror: 

"There is no one to tell this to and yet it seems very important to get this right. The reality and what it is like to escape it. That even now it is sometimes too beautiful to bear."

and later he writes:

"The satisfaction of composing. Remembered that Dylan Thomas sometimes would set down one word of a new poem then walk down to the pub and get shitfaced in celebration. For breaking the void of silence."

So tonight I thought I'd break the void of silence. I'm tired and frustrated and defeated. But there's satisfaction in writing about it. 

I think I've decided I'm going to try to say "no" more. Each time I say "yes" to taking on a new project or extra work, I'm saying "no" to completing something that might be fulfilling to me. 

It's easier to say "yes" to everyone else. There's no guilt associated with it, for one. And of course, it's nice to contribute to the family. But if I'm being honest, it also gives me an excuse not to face the right side of my brain and the terror involved with finishing what I started and showing it to someone. Anyone.

I think saying "yes" is the Achilles Heel of most stay-at-home moms -- or moms in general. You start feeling like there shouldn't be space carved into your life for just you. Even acknowledging that you want that tiny corner for you feels very un-momlike. 

But I don't feel very mom like lately anyway. I'm a better mom when I feel like I have time to do something that's just mine and no on else's. 

It puts my life in perspective. 

It allows me to smile more at all the sweet, silly moments.

The extra hugs and kisses at bedtime. The way Jovie holds her little pointer finger beside her face when she asks a question. How Lily requests to wear a "dressing gown" like Fancy Nancy for bed every night.

How now when we drive by a field of tall, green stalks Lily shouts out, "Mo-om! Corn poppin' up!"

How Jovie is perpetually singing, off key, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and quoting the goose in "Charlottes Web," when she tries to spell "Terrific." ("I think it's T, double E, double R, double I, double F, double I, double C, C, C.")

Or, when the girls sit on the rocking horse in the living room together, hide behind the curtain and play with their princess ponies on the window sill -- chattering away and inventing whole plots and subplots.

I remind myself, it won't be like this forever.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I'm not mad Entertainment Weekly, just disappointed

Nothing spurs me to come out of blogging seclusion quite like a little ranting and this week I'm sad to say the subject of my sputterings is my beloved Entertainment Weekly.

It all started a few weeks ago when this showed up in my mailbox:

Whoa, I thought to myself, Entertainment Weekly is starting to look a little like Maxim what with the dripping, scantily clad Jessica Alba and her lusty stare (not to mention teasers like "PERFECT SEX!" and "STUDS IN SPAAAACE" accompanied by Chris Pratt's shirtless torso).

The special double issue was kind of the magazine's official summer kickoff and so, fine, it wasn't inappropriate to have a lady in a bathing suit on the cover -- especially since she's promoting the much anticipated sequel to "Sin City," which comes out in August. Inside, the magazine devoted several pages to Jessica Alba and her come hithering -- she bit her thumb and ate a snow cone and (oops!) dropped the snow cone somewhere near her nether regions (for those who need a visual there's a gallery here). It's all very hot, sultry, and yes, summery.

I just wasn't used to the sudden swimsuit edition turn in a magazine that normally looks beyond (or at least doesn't spend soooo much time focusing on) all the normal Hollywood T&A. And to EW's credit, the accompanying story discusses Alba's pragmatism when it comes to how she uses her body for business.

"Now, when Alba discusses her sex appeal, it's with a certain detachment, as if she were delineating her company's assets. She's a woman in control of her personal brand: the No. 1 shareholder of Jessica Alba Inc," the reporter writes.

I still ranted to Brad a little about it though. Does it make it any better that Alba is aware how the focus is still on what she looks like rather than what she does? Did EW really have to hit us over the head with all the bikini shots? It felt like blatant and obnoxious pandering. And if the editors were trying to be clever -- winking at their readers and saying "Come on guys, we know what we're doing here -- we're not really that magazine" -- it wasn't working. They were still catering to the lowest common denominator: sex sells. 

That issue quickly went into the recycling bin. 

Then the next week, this showed up in my mailbox:

OK. I guess the editors felt like they were on to something (albeit not anything all that original). Fine. The centerpiece was on the show "Masters of Sex," which I've seen a couple times and is an entertaining show. The nature of the show requires a sexier visual. So here's actress Lizzy Caplan with the seductive eyes and the endless legs getting felt up by a fully-clothed Michael Sheen. Maybe I was primed for annoyance because of the Jessica Alba cover. Or, maybe it was the fact that in the Jessica Alba issue they had a whole feature on how the sex scenes for "Masters of Sex" are filmed. Hadn't the show/topic been sufficiently covered? I guess not.

The next week, this showed up in my mailbox:

Phew, I thought. They got that out of their systems.

Except this week, this showed up in my mailbox:

Seriously, EW? 

I was happy to find that at least one other reader was on the same page as me in the Letters to the Editor section:
"When I received the Jessica Alba cover, I was surprised by how racy it was, but then I remembered it was the Summer Must List and it had been done before (Ryan Reynolds in 2009) Then I got Masters of Sex's equally racy cover. While the occasional pinup isn't a bad thing, having it every week degrades the quality of EW, in my opinion."
 But EW did nothing to redeem itself in my eyes in its response to the writer:

So, it's cool that three different actresses were objectified and sexualized on three covers in a month because you let Channing Tatum keep his shirt on? That's your defense? And just pages back from the cover photo where you had the talented (and beautiful) Anna Paquin pose nude. 

I wonder if Jessica Alba and Lizzy Caplan and Anna Paquin all feel that the caliber of their work still reigns supreme.

I get that I sound prude by being angered by this. That in commenting on the expectation that females in the entertainment business be willing to bare themselves for our enjoyment, I sound like a teetotaling, bible-thumping, disapproving grandma. But I'm none of those things. 

It's not that I'm anti-sex or anti-nudity or anti-raciness, I suppose that I'm just tired of seeing the same old images and perceptions of women being trotted out week after week. It's disappointing coming from a publication I respect. 

And I don't even know why I have such high expectations for Entertainment Weekly. know it's not Tolstoy or The Economist, but for a wannabe novelist, there's some useful stuff in there -- especially when they start talking to screenwriters. The magazine showcases interesting stories, interviews and graphics about the business -- giving us a behind-the-scenes look at how our favorite stories are told, plus their book reviews are usually pretty reliable. But I guess they're in the business of Hollywood, too. And Hollywood is in the business of sex. So what do I know anyway? 

The magazine can write all they want about how it's the talent and the quality of the work they really respect, but when they ask yet another woman to take off her clothes, I'm not buying it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Anthropomorphic noveling and other bits of crazy

Recently, I was talking to my sister Laura about families and whether or not to grow them. It seems that once you've had one kid, everyone feels it's their duty to ask when you're having the next one, and then after you have that subsequent child, everyone wonders about your interest in having a third.

I suppose it's natural for such a curious and social species to make inquiries about future plans for my uterus. And as a woman and mother I should accept this line of questioning with grace, right?

But with my 3-1/2-year-old treating her sister like an adversary in a roll-less roller derby and my 2-year-old  requesting to sit on the potty every five minutes (whether or not she has to go) in the hopes of acquiring more M&Ms, I have to say there are limitations to my grace. (What grace did she have to begin with? Many of you are no doubt wondering.)

And lately my thoughts have been so consumed by the possibility of wrapping up my work-in-perpetual-progress that the thought of a third child is as distant as the next time my kitchen floor will be clean (that is to say, a very, very distant thought). 

"Maybe your novel is your third child," Laura told me as I was confessing to her that maybe I wasn't going to be the mother of a giant wily brood -- the vision I'd always had for myself before I actually started brooding. 

Writing -- and especially writing this manuscript -- has sent me through a gamut of emotions -- from excitement to despair to joy to never-ending anxiety. 

I actually asked a couple of my writing friends last week during a panicked "why do I feel like I'm slowly going insane?" moment if my stress over the project was normal. Especially considering that there are no stakes for anyone but myself if it's never completed. 

Both immediately responded.

"Know that you are not alone," Megan* wrote. "Every single step of this journey is full of anxiety and doubt." 

Well that's reassuring.

"Breathe in, Breathe out. I'm sure it's fantastic" Beth** wrote (Which is exactly what I would've told her in the same moment. 

I've been picking away at this manuscript for so long that it this point, it really does feel like a living, breathing thing. Every day I'm curating bits of conversations I have or articles I read or songs I listen or people I see and trying to figure out how they might help round out a character or help guide the plot or back up a theme. And it's both thrilling and annoying to be constantly on duty as a writer -- you can't for one second stop watching and listening and connecting to the world at large at risk of missing that next perfect scene. Ever vigilant.

So while it doesn't demand cereal at 6 in the morning or won't ever need to be potty-trained, for now, writing is my third child. 

And in some ways, I feel selfish and superficial about saying that. I have children, so obviously I know the stakes are not nearly as high with my pet project as it is with their lives. I am devoted to them first and foremost.

But I'm devoted to this, too. And hopefully, by scraping together the time to pursue this beastly thing that brings me so much joy, I can be an example to them. Who better to show them the importance of doing what you love? 

They'll just have to look to someone else to show them the importance of home maintenance. 

* Megan's debut "Make it Count" comes out Tuesday -- so if you're looking for a saucy beach read -- go here.

** Beth's debut "Pack of Dorks" comes out Oct. 7. I think the title of the book should be on my family's crest. Pre-order it here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The mother of all days

OK, I know I'm cheating here because I'm blogging and not noveling, but I feel that after more than two years of blogging about noveling (and probably more than four years of attempting to novel) that I wanted to offer proof that progress is being made. So here it is:

This is  a screenshot of the current word count of my work in progress. Since 50,000 is the benchmark for winning in NaNoWriMo, I was really excited to reach this point. And, though I still have many thousands of words more to finish, it's all seeming so much more … I don't know … attainable right now. 

Of course, that's 52,157 raw, unedited and partially disorganized words that I'm half dreading/half thrilled to be able to go back and revise. But it's something.

And I owe this week's progress to my super-thoughtful husband who on Wednesday sat down with me and told me that for Mother's Day, he wanted to give me the weekend to do whatever I wanted to do. 

I've long held this secret desire to escape for a weekend and do nothing but write in some secluded, inspiring place -- so it seemed like he was reading my mind. 

While I didn't write the whole weekend, I did have two long stretches devoted to working on the novel. I kicked off Saturday with a yoga class, I wrote for three hours in a coffee shop then visited one of my best friends in Virginia -- who graciously allowed me to invite myself over and crash at her place for the night and also gave me the opportunity to eat a whole dinner without having to clean up a spill or share my plate with an always-mooching 2 year old. I woke up early on Sunday and drove up to the farm and spent another few hours writing here: 

The desk.
The view.
Then I came home. 

And the girls were so happy to see me -- which was the best Mother's Day gift* they could give me. (All stay-at-home moms need to experience being the one coming home to the delighted shrieks and hugs of their little ones, who apparently have no concept of time because even when you've only been gone for a day, they greet you as if you've been disappeared without a trace for at least six months). 

They gave me these adorable and Pinterest-worthy pieces of art (assisted by their super-crafty dad):

Suck it Hallmark.
And I haven't even gotten to the best part, which is that the kitchen floor was clean. Like, glistening, freshly scrubbed forget-the-five-second-rule,-that-piece-of-food-can-spend-20-minutes-on-the-floor (unless the dog gets it first)-and-you-can-still-eat-it clean.

It's glorious.

See, I told you Brad was wonderful. He wrangled two nap-averse kids, crafted, cooked and cleaned the house all in 24 hours. 

That's how you do Mother's Day.

So … if anyone has suggestions for out-of-this-world Father's Day gifts, I'm all ears.

 * I have to admit, that given all the mom-spending-the-day-with-her-doting-children images on Facebook, goopy Hallmark commercials, and the long line at the Dunkin Donuts Sunday morning, I did feel like a bit of an asshole spending the day on my own. On the other hand … absence does make the heart grow fonder ... 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Re-prioritizing my to-do list

Dear family, friends and various readers in China and the Ukraine who Google stats say are loyal followers (I only wish I knew how you ended up on my speck of sand in the world wide web, but alack, all of the referring sites are in Cyrillic.), I am not on a celebrity cruise, nor have I been kidnapped by squirrels or severely dismembered by my overly excitable dog during yet another ill-conceived walk through my neighborhood.

The outline: Here it is in all of it's better-late-than-never,
non-sensical, incomplete and indecipherable glory.
For the past two and a half years I've tried to blog weekly about whatever was on my mind (i.e.: whatever annoying thing the dog had done recently) as a way to keep my writing skills sharp and air out my musty brain. In the process of blog maintenance, however, I've neglected my other inside voices -- those characters in my novel that I'm perpetually whining about yet secretly miss every day. Their voices have been louder lately -- as have those of various friends who keep insisting (and rightfully so) that I just finish the damn thing already and move on with my life. 

So I'm doing that. Like for real this time, I'm doing that.

I dusted off my 'ol novel outline. Typed it up. Revised it. Highlighted unfinished parts. And now I'm going to go back and finish them.

So I'm going to neglect the blog instead of neglecting the manuscript. Which should've been the plan all along, but you know, we humans are easily distracted. 

I'm hoping future updates will detail progress and the resulting thrill of progress. In the meantime, I'll keep on typing on. Or something like that. Catch you at the end. (Well, that's not precisely true, I've already written the end. So I suppose I'll catch you in the middle somewhere … but who knows, maybe the end will change. Life and noveling is funny like that.)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Making dough with a borrowed tradition

So much of my childhood memories are associated with food.

Specifically, the food my perpetually flour-covered mother made: spaghetti and meatballs with homemade sauce that had just a touch of sweetness, cinnamony apple pies with crisp, flakey crust I'd nibble on when she wasn't looking and loaf after loaf of fresh bread right out of the oven begging to be slathered with butter and eaten while steaming.

The smells I identify most with the houses I grew up in are moth balls from my mom's closet, sawdust from my dad's workshop, the overpowering scent of jasmine from a giant plant my dad kept in the kitchen and that soul-warming fresh bread. 

I attempt to replicate some of these memories in my own kitchen -- to varying degrees of success. My pie crusts crumble and I've had epic battles with the waffle iron. But bread and pizza dough -- especially when made with the same careworn KitchenAid mixer my mom used for the endless loaves of my youth -- well, those are just magic.

Jovie learns early to double-check the recipe and that flour
is really more fun when it covers everything.
My mom's KitchenAid in the background. It's pretty old. 
Seriously. The process of putting together the ingredients for bread dough -- dissolving the yeast in warm water, or scalding the milk, or adding the flour until the dough is on this side of not sticky is a matter of timing and observation. The rest is magic. 

It has to be. How do such simple ingredients -- water, yeast, sugar, salt, butter and flour -- transform into something so universally comforting? Puffing up again and again, despite being beaten down. Bread dough is a role model for persisting in the face of adversity.

And it offers a little therapy for the baker on the side -- kneading bread dough is kind of a meditative act. 

I'm a bit of a romantic (maybe more than a bit … OK … a lot more than a bit) so whenever I make bread (which isn't often, mind you) I always feel like I'm paying a little homage to a long line of bread-making ancestors. Women who, like my mom, always had a pot on the stove filled with milk and melting butter and who had hands that were always dried and little cracked from flour's moisture-sucking qualities and hair that was always dusted in white. 

I was borne of bread makers, therefore, whether I have any confidence about the practice or not, I should make bread -- even if it's only on special occasions.

So I was asking my mom recently about whether she'd learned to make bread growing up and I was shocked to find out that no, she hadn't. While my grandmother had taught my mom that lard is the trick to making perfect pie crust, but she hadn't been the one to teach my mom about how humidity helps dough rise.

As it turned out, she and my dad experimented with making bread together early on in their marriage, hoping to replicate the loaves my dad ate as a kid on the farm he grew up in Maine.

See, here's an interesting part of my family's history: When my dad was 3, my grandmother sent him and his brother and sister to live with the Wilder family in Maine. I don't really know the circumstances surrounding why she did this -- maybe as a recently divorced mom she was concerned about providing for her kids -- but I'm only now as an adult beginning to understand the impact of this decision on our family today.

Growing up, my siblings would all roll our eyes when dad brought up Maine -- mostly because Maine was usually invoked when we were whining about something. If the house was too cold ("Well in Maine in the winter we'd sometimes wake up with frost inside the window.") If we didn't feel like cleaning ("Well in Maine everyone did chores or you didn't eat.") If you stayed home from school because you weren't feeling well ("Well in Maine when you were sick you had to stay in bed all day … there was no TV).

You can understand, then why we weren't always thrilled about Maine and its apparently unbreakable hold on my dad.

And here it comes up again. I'd assumed bread making was part of my family's pedigree -- but really, it seems, just a borrowed skill from someone else's. I was sad for a minute about this. The visions of my ancestral carb fanatics slowly dissolved in my mind's eye.

But then I thought about my young parent's in their kitchen in Florida, trying to solve the problems of too-hard bread or dough that wouldn't rise until they came up with the formulas that I use now. Kneading the most beloved parts of the real and adopted families into new memories and traditions. Creating their own flock of bread makers.

As a kid, we visited that farm in Maine a few times. The family would pile into our car and make the more than 600-mile trek, stopping for a hike or pictures of scenic vistas along the way. Once in Maine, we'd eat butter-socked lobster and stop at the enormous L.L. Bean in Portland. One time we dipped our toes into the frigid Atlantic, insistent on swimming at the beach despite our parents suggestion that it might be too cold. 

And then we'd turn inward through endless forests and come to the farm. I remember long grass, a rickety wooden garden swing (my dad replicated this for an anniversary present for my mom), an old car or two rusting in various outbuildings, a rainbow of chickens, sticky-nosed cows and goats. My sister Sarah and I loved the goats. We'd scramble out of the car to go play in the barn and pet them -- which I later learned disgusted my grandmother who was stuck in the car with us (mostly because there was always a billy goat -- and billy goats urinate on their heads to make themselves extra appealing to the ladies -- not unlike a 15-year-old boy with a can of Axe body spray -- and so after an afternoon among the goats, my sister and I smelled like goat pee. I can see why this bothered her). We looked forward to going to Maine and a day on the farm.

I still like goats. 

And garden swings. 

And dusty old barns filled with sweet-smelling hay.

Even though Maine still elicits an eye roll from time to time, I feel lucky to have these memories. 

And if it weren't for Maine, I might not have homemade bread. And I wouldn't get to show the girls how to punch down the dough and watch their little fingers sink into it with glee.

Sometimes it seems like parts of our family are running on a borrowed heritage. I suppose that's how it is for all families. Why shouldn't we incorporate the best traditions we come across in life into our own homes? 

God willing, my girls won't ever have to wake up with frost inside their windows, but if I have anything to do with it, they'll know how to bake bread.


Here's my mom's recipe for French bread -- it's really easy -- and it makes for delicious garlic toast, French toast or just regular old toast toast. 

Mom's French Bread
1 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt

Put water in a bowl and sprinkle yeast over it and wait to dissolve (you can stir to check if it's completely dissolved). Add sugar, salt, vanilla and butter. Start adding flour a little bit at a time until it is no longer sticky to the touch*. Let rise until double. Punch it down then let it rise a second time until double. Punch it down and shape it into a loaf. Cut slashes along the length and let it rise again. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Here's my dad's recipe for waffles -- which is actually Aunt Marjorie's (she cared for my dad when he lived in … wait for it … Maine!) Given my unhappy history with the waffle iron, I tend to use this batter for pancakes. 

Dad's Waffles
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
salt to taste
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2+ cups of milk (or buttermilk)
1/2 cup corn or canola oil (I use vegetable)

Sift the dry ingredients together. Mix in oil and eggs. Add milk to batter until it's not too thick. Cook!**

* Family recipes like this are fun -- because I feel they're kind of assuming you've seen what they're talking about a time or two. I found with the bread that you should add no more than 1/2 a cup at a time to make sure you don't make the dough too hard, which makes it difficult to roll out evenly. You'll probably end up using around 2 1/2 cups. 

** Here's another vague instruction. This batter is a bit on the runnier side. I usually don't use more than two cups of milk, but feel free to experiment!

P.S. In less than an hour, it will be almost two years to the minute since I first met my sweet, little Jovie -- proof that your heart always has room for one more (and anyway, how could you not fall in love with those cheeks?!)

She had no clue at this moment ...
… how tasty life would be.