Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Squirrel-o-Ween

Welcome to my 100th post! 

Given that it's Halloween and it's been awhile since I've offered up some Stone Rodentia (that'd be a great name for a band, right?!) I bring you our favorite costumed squirrels.

Check it out. The wooden deer has officially joined the growing herd of fashionable statuary. In addition to a witches hat, she's also wearing a wig. So. Getting ready for a big night.
Last year the squirrels were witches, too. But this year they got fancy new hats and adorable wee pumpkin buckets. I hope they get something yummy!

In other news, I've decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year (National Novel Writing Month). I probably don't need to explain how the month works -- other then to say that my rather poorly thought-up plan is just to stay up late a lot in hopes of writing 50,000 words by Dec. 1. Future self is laughing hysterically at me already. I think you're supposed to go into the excursion with more hope than I have. But whatever. Nothing ventured ... yadda yadda yadda.

Anyway, no, I'm not going to attempt to finish the novel I started the last time I participated in NaNoWriMo. Cuz, you know, why would I want to finish a gigantic project. Ever. 

Instead, I'm going to take a stab about jump-starting a project I'd promised I do for a friend a couple of years ago. I'm really excited about it. 

Stay tuned!

Well. Maybe don't stay tuned. What with the novel I have to write this month, I might not have a whole lot of time for blogging. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Insert shamelessly pandering blog title here

I came across this post in the interwebs this week about an e-book author who is pulling in $13,500 a month in royalties for her book. In my limited knowledge of e-booking and self-publishing, that seemed to be an unusually high sum of money for a self-published e-book. 

I've lately been frustrated by the inordinate amounts of time I spend writing things that aren't very stimulating to me in order to help pay the bills. I didn't quit my job in order to pursue another career as a freelancer -- I left in order to focus on my kids and the freelancing is a necessity in order to make ends meet. But it's hard not to feel like I shouldn't be doing more (or at least making a little more for what I do) so many days I feel like I'm attempting to build a skyscraper using grains of sand.* 

Judging from the post, this e-book writer is a hard-working mom whose family was hit hard by the recession and decided she was going to channel her frustrations by writing a book based on some ideas she had floating around her head. 

Well, I can certainly relate to that. 

Then I read the name of her book:

"The Power of the Pussy" -- a "controversial dating advice book for women" that contains some "very sexually explicit" content. 

According to the description on, by reading this book I will learn "valuable lessons" that will teach me how to: 

  • Flip the switch in your female brain, so you can beat men at their own game...
  • Have men lining up to date you and desperate for your attention... 
  • Heal from a broken heart and never be sad over a man again!
  • Become the type of woman that commands respect from men...
  • Get the proposal, the ring, and the man of your dreams!
So I haven't read the book. Given its success I have to imagine it contains useful advice that have enabled many, many woman to get the proposal, the ring and the man of their dreams.

But after reading the post I ranted to Brad about it. I doubt I will ever make $13,500 a month in royalties for anything I write ... not necessarily because I'm a terrible writer or anything but because the subject matters I tend to write about aren't all that sexy in a "Power of the Pussy" sort of way. 

That is to say, I'm all but certain I will never write or attempt to publish a book that has an equally as scintillating, eye-ball grabbing, SEO-friendly title. 

So Brad suggested I write a book called "Pussy (And Other Things I Know Nothing About)" in which I shared about my general lack of wiles, feminine and otherwise. It would probably not be the book that people searching for p-word*** related literature are looking for, however, it might be the book that people who felt they needed to read "Power of the Pussy" would relate to more.

Then tonight as I admired my evening loungeware, I came up with a sequel to my as-yet-unwritten collection of essays about frumpitude and dishelvement: 

"50 Shades of Blue: Dressing for the Man You Have" ****

I hid behind my cell phone so as to cover up
the redness from my freshly waxed upper lip --
the world can only handle so much hotness.
For those of you keeping track -- that's a striped blue T-shirt shirt I'm wearing under a two-tone blue hoodie along with blue dog-and-cat-hair-covered fleece pajama pants and blue striped socks. 

I feel compelled to note that I did not leave the house in this ensemble. Wait. That's not quite true. I did leave the house wearing this outfit with a pair of blue jeans in place of the fleece star pants -- but they were my good jeans!

Sigh. There's no hope. 

Go on without me world (and savvy e-book publishers). 

*OK, maybe there's a better analogy in there somewhere ... maybe if I were creative enough to come up with that analogy I'd be building skyscrapers with, you know, cinderblocks and steel beams and shit** instead of sand grains. 
**Not actual shit. That'd be gross. 
*** Not sure why I didn't write out the p-word there again. Actually I do know. I detest that word. It's totally creepy to me in the same way "moist" and "supple" are totally creepy and I already felt like I'd used it too many times.
****I'm sorry it's come to this Brad. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What's it cost to own the world's most adorable car?

I just waved goodbye to one of the last remnants of my 20s -- the 2001 lime green Volkswagen Beetle I bought shortly after I graduated from college.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.
The moment was cinematic: Brad drove home in his new-to-him blue Elantra and behind him was my adorable smiley face of a car, driven by the salesman* coming to collect the title and the spare key. 

I gave the the bug one last hug and watched as it rolled away down our leaf-strewn street -- a single tear gathering in the corner of my eye. 

You could almost hear strains of Sarah McLachlan in the breeze. 
Brad, Bug, tile cutter. (He's not impressed)

So many memories sat shotgun over the nine years I owned the car -- like the time I drove to Philadelphia to pick up a friend from the airport and squeezed four passengers and luggage into it -- getting lost in Camden, N.J. along the way. 

Or, driving to work across town in the middle of a record-setting snowstorm that eventually dropped almost 4 feet of snow (and getting stopped by the police who suggested the Beetle wasn't the best all-terrain vehicle -- Brad and I just flashed our press passes 'cuz the news don't quit). 

Or, using it to haul a tile cutter rented from Home Depot for a weekend tiling project (that might have been the first time a Beetle pulled up to the contractors pickup area). 

Or, driving up and down I-83 in the summer with the windows down and the radio blaring "Funeral" by the Arcade Fire. And watching countless gleeful children point at me then punch each other. 

I loved how the car smelled like crayons. How there were lime green accents in the car's interior. How there was a vase for flowers by the steering wheel. How the car looked like a cheerful little hill on wheels. And how it made me feel young and free and joyful.
Even my mom loved it! 
Here she is looking young and joyful. 
(Photo courtesy of my sister Jen)

All of these wonderful virtues almost made up for the cars' more unsavory qualities. 

Namely, the oft-glowing presence of the check engine light (and the airbag sensor light). The time the button that gave me access to the gas tank broke. Or that time a tire blew off while I was heading down a steep stretch of 322 on my way home from State College. 

Oh, and the nasty habit of various plastic components to snap off or crack as the years wore on.

Pieces that broke included: The knob to adjust the side-view mirror, a driver's side door light, a button on the radio, the passenger's side window control, a large plastic cover on the center counsel, the oil dipstick holder, the adjusters for the passenger's seat (the seat never clicked into place so a passenger could never safely sit there) and all of the cup holders.

On its last days with us, Brad took it to the car wash and the antenna and a seat handle both broke off -- leaving the employees bewildered and apologetic (on the upside, we did get a free wash!).

In an effort to soothe broken heart and expedite the grieving process, I collected all of the invoices of car repairs I'd saved over the years and tallied exactly how much I'd invested (squandered?) on my 'lil buggy.

My stack-o-bills and a Barbie Beetle (thanks Aunt Mo!).
I'm pretty sure an actual-sized version of the plastic-version of my Beetle
would be more reliable than the actual car. If that makes any sense.
The price for cute?


No, that's not how much I purchased the car for used (that number was $14,536.01). Nor is it just the amount for routine maintenance. 

That's the portion of my modest journalist's salary that I used to try to turn off the check engine light for the nine years I owned the car (I think I deserve a refund -- we traded the car in with the light still on because it wouldn't pass inspection) as well as repair or replace various hoses, belts, filters, flanges, rods, meters and other sundry mechanical-type things. Oh yeah, and the transmission. Yeah. That one was a doozy.  

Adding up the final costs I'm mortified that I spent spent so much so that I could drive a car that smelled like the first day of school and made children commit acts of violence. 

I blame it partially on being young and optimistic. I just kept thinking it would get better. That the next major repair would be the last and that we'd drive off into the sunset together, happily ever after. 

Instead, one of the biggest mistakes of my youth slunk off in broad daylight on its way to becoming someone else's problem**.

I'm gonna miss that car.

* I have to imagine that had the salesman (a Bro's Bro) known he was going to have to drive a lime green Volkswagen Beetle from Hanover to York and back that day, he would not have chosen to wear a soft pink polo shirt.

** Brad was shocked they didn't ask us to pay them to take it away when we offered it is a trade-in. The dealership actually gave us money for it!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why bookstores beat honey walnut cream cheese

This week, my mom -- perhaps sensing the desperateness simmering in my voice -- came over and watched the girls for a few hours so I could wade through growing mountain of assignments that are due in the next couple weeks. 

So usually I do all of my writing when the girls are sleeping -- naptimes or at night. It's generally pointless to try to do anything that requires high levels of brain activity at home while the girls are awake -- even if someone is watching them. 

Like the sun, mothers of young children have their own solar-system creating gravitational pull (although in a strange anomaly of astrophysics, we're not the center of the universe in our children's eyes, that job is already taken by themselves). Maybe it'd be more accurate to say that mother's are like giant, mangy magnets or vacuum cleaners or black holes. We push out the children, but they never go to far out of orbit lest they require a third reading of "The Berenstain Bears Trouble at School" or some "cheeeeeeeeese" or a hug after they learn that they won't be spending the remaining three hours of the day watching "cah-toons." 

When I sit at the kitchen table to do work, inevitably I acquire an assistant who contributes by pounding the keyboard while I write or else I have to listen to the tortured cries of "mama mama mama" from the living room as poor Brad attempts to occupy whatever child is despondent at that moment. 

Long story short, I have to leave the house.

I used head to Panera for off-site work -- they have an ample supply of outlets for laptop charging not to mention honey-walnut cream cheese (oh yeah and bagels, too. But let's be honest, the bagels are just a giant bready spoon for the real star of the show: the honey walnut cream cheese. If it were socially acceptable, I'd probably just ditch the bagel completely and order a bucket of honey walnut cream cheese and a spoon. Of course, then I'd worry about being on the precipice of Goldie Hawn's frosting gorging in "Death Becomes Her" -- I already have a small collection of cats started ...) Where was I? 

Ah yes, Panera. As much as I love Panera and its cream cheese, I have to say I always feel a bit pretentious working there. Not Lady-at-Starbucks-on-Her-Laptop pretentious, mind you. But significantly more pretentious than say, Guy-at-McDonald's-on-His-Laptop (even the super-fancy McDonald's they have nowadays that try to resemble swank coffee shops). Plus, when the lunchtime rush comes in I feel both pretentious and assholish for hogging a table while everyone else searches for a spot to set down their Creamy Tomato Soup, half a sandwich and fountain drink.

Mmm. Smell the possibilities!
So recently I've been going to Books-A-Million. While the chairs are kind of uncomfortable, and there's only one outlet in the entire cafe area that is rarely available, I have to say I kind of like it there. I think it has something to do with the smell. When you walk into a book store you get punched in the face with the smell of ink and paper. And if you're a wannabe novelist you suck in the smell and hope that you can absorb the surrounding literary brilliance and possibilities while also using the gleaming piles of books as motivation. 

You start to picture where your book would be displayed. It doesn't have to be a best-seller ... but, you know, something facing out on a shelf (a sign that multiple copies were ordered with the expectation that multiple copies would be sold). Maybe on table somewhere in the middle next to Wally Lamb or or David Eggers or Barbara Kingsolver. Hell, it'd probably be fine in the bargain section. Just so long as it's there. 

I've always loved bookstores. My first job was at a bookstore. The Crown Books in Greenbriar Town Center (once Borders and Barnes & Noble arrived with their coffee shops and giant selections, Crown didn't last too much longer). I spent Sundays there shelving, searching, organizing and reading (secretly because technically I was supposed to be doing more of the first three things and none of the last thing). 

I loved it. 

Loved picking up the picture books that were forever strewn around the children's section. Loved seeing all the potential vacation destination in the world in the Travel section. And I especially loved picking out the next novel I was going to read in the fiction section.

Bookstore patrons were an entertaining bunch as well. The regulars who came in looking for their sci-fi or romance or Western fixes. The mothers with their kids trudging behind in search of summer reading. The shady-looking guy who always skulked around the magazines. They were a nerdish, sometimes ill-kempt, but always passionate bunch whose true homes were anywhere those pages took them. My tribe.

When Crown went out of business, I got a job with Waldenbooks at Dulles airport. While the duties were the same, the atmosphere was totally different. Here the customers dashed in, grabbed the nearest New York Times bestseller, Tom Clancy/John Grisham/Dan Brown/Dean Koontz thriller of the week, latest issue of the Economist or sassy romance, and dashed out -- their rolling suitcases clicking the tiles behind them. 

The stores were tiny. The selection was limited. And it least one of the terminals, the floors and shelves were constantly blackened from the Diesel-fuel smoke wafting in from the mobile lounges. 

There was no getting lost in shelves. Or spending hours straightening a perpetually disastrous DIY section. Instead, I spent a lot of time feeling envious of people headed to destinations around the world while I was stuck behind a cash register. 

On the other hand, airports are like an endless casting call of unique characters and fodder for stories. It was heaven for an obsessive people watcher like me. So in the late morning and early afternoon when traffic had slowed, I'd write about them on pieces of scrap paper and the backs of receipts. There was no greater purpose for these bits and pieces of airport day-to-day. 

I just had to write. 

I don't think back then that I thought about having a career as a writer. I certainly didn't consider myself a writer. That term was saved for a worldly upper echelon of others whose table I never thought I'd sit at. Maybe never considered sitting at. 

But now here I am. 

And if nothing ever becomes of this hobby -- if I never finish that novel (or the ones after it); if no one more than my family, friends and random acquaintances sees anything I've written -- I still feel blessed. 

It is an amazing, indescribable feeling -- that invisible force driving you to the creative unknown. It's a gift.

And I have to believe it's buried in each of us -- ready to take you on a journey if only you'd listen to it. 

So thank you mom for all those trips to the library as a kid and for coming over this week so that I could go to the bookstore and be reminded about why I love bookstores and why I love writing and why I'm so lucky.

Photo courtesy of arwensouth/Flickr

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Loose knees sink hips (and harpies)

I had another minor epiphany during a yoga class last week.

We were doing a straight-leg stretch -- (Parsvottanasana -- don't ask me how to pronounce that) which I usually really, really hate because my ankles are always screaming, not to mention my hamstrings and I never feel like I can relax into it at all because it's not at all relaxing. 

My instructor is forever reminding us that our knees can stay loose in various positions -- especially when we're practicing balancing poses where a locked knee on your base leg will probably result in your tree falling over. She reminded us again during the straight-leg stretch to loosen our knees and take breaks to help deepen the stretch. 

In my vision of a perfect straight-let stretch the front leg is always board-stiff and straight-edge straight so as to make an isosceles triangle  that would make Pythagoras want to take up yoga. Also, breaks are for the weak! But I have no place having a vision about how things are supposed to be. I've only been doing yoga for six months, so what the hell do I know anyway?

So in the class, I threw Pythagoras to the wind and loosened my knee and hallelujah! I Parsvottanasanaed the shit out of my leg. Instead of fighting gravity, I kept sinking until I was almost kissing my knee. I don't imagine I looked much like the picture -- but that wasn't the point. I was doing what I needed to be doing and it felt really good.

And more importantly, it got me thinking about all the other areas of my life where my metaphorical locked-knees cause me unnecessary frustration and aggravation. There are so, so many places where if I just loosen the hold of rigid expectations that I might be able to dispel anxiety and just let go. 

As evidenced by this tantrum Lily threw on the garage floor --
things have been a little tense around here lately.
I think the most immediate candidate for knee loosening is in childrearing. When there is a 3-year-old perpetually testing the boundaries you create for her in the name of love, discipline or a misguided desire for cleanliness it becomes clear pretty quickly that certain mandates are going to have to be a little more amorphous. 

Like how many stories we read before bedtime, who gets to dispense the toothpaste ("I can do it all by myself!" she says. And, as it turns out, she can), or which outfit can be worn for the third time in a week. 

Cuz sometimes a girl has to gnaw on a leaf
 without her mom freaking out.**
Don't get me wrong -- there are still hard-and-fast-life-preserving rules: No bludgeoning little sisters, for instance, and no running across streets or juggling flaming swords (at least until they've had the proper training, of course). But does it really matter if she wants to take off her shoes so she can dance like "Happy Feet" in the sandbox or handle feeding the cats ("All by myself!")? I think the answer is no. 

Because while boundaries are important, feeling competent in your ability to, you know, live life and stuff is pretty critical, too. 

So I'm going to loosen my mom knees a little in hopes that next week I feel a little less tyrannical and shrill and a little more flexible.

*For the record, I never intended to be this annoying yoga cheerleader. It's new to me -- on many levels. I'd never taken group fitness classes, never considered myself to be particularly graceful or coordinated, never thought much about how my emotional, spiritual and physical health are so tied together, and definitely never thought I'd be that mom. Wearing the yoga pants. Lugging around a mat and kids. Namaste-ing. But I think that skeptical/sarcastic/judgmental part is me is a voice I've been living with since high school -- the one that sees me doing something kinda cliched or mainstream or, you know, the thing and I laugh at it in a belittling way. (the same way I laugh at others for, say, eating kale chips or growing giant beards). But I'm a grownup now, and more importantly, I'm a parent who needs to set a positive example for self-fulfillment and self-expression. So I need to acknowledge in a non-skeptical, non-sarcastic, non-judgmental way that practicing yoga continues to help me grow as a person -- making me both physically and mentally stronger. And that's that. 

** These are oak leaves, and I just read that if consumed in large quantities they can be poisonous to humans and livestock. There's no need to be alarmed though, I can barely get Lily to eat one edible green (or formerly green) form of plant life. Nibbling on the tip of an oak leaf stem (or even just dangling it from her mouth) might be the closest thing she gets to ruff age all month!