Thursday, December 31, 2009

Six Word Resolutions & Goals! A Book Giveaway! And a New Year's Poem For You!


Before we get to the book giveaway and the poem, I want to share my all-time favorite New Years song with you.  Singing folk songs is one way I learned how to write poetry.  This song is by the wonderful folksinger/songwriter Bruce Phillips, aka Utah Phillips—“The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest—a legend in his own time”.  It’s alternately called Here with You or I Believe if I Lived My Life Again.  One reason I love this tender song is the setting in which we sing it: in a big circle, arms around each other, acappella, exactly at midnight.  My favorite part is the chorus:

I believe if I lived my life again
I'd still be here with you
I believe if I lived my life again
I'd still be here with you

I can’t find an easy download of the music, but the lyrics are here.

Okay…and now, on with our Teaching Authors
New Year contest and book giveaway!

Remember our post (and book giveaway) about setting goals for the new school year?

Remember your own goals?  Well, the six of us at Teaching Authors can’t wait to hear how you’re doing.  And because there are SIX of us, we’d like you to send us a SIX word progress report.   To jog your memory, here's Carmela Martino’s original post about six word memoirs and here is my follow-up post about six word resolutions.

So--how did you do with those fall resolutions?   Who or what hindered you?  Who or what helped you?  Here's the place to 'fess up!  (And remember, we writers also edit—both our writing and our lives.  So if you didn’t quite make that goal, revise it and let us know your new one—in six words or less, of course!)

Here’s my own progress report:
Writing, submitting, teaching—I’m on fire!

What’s yours?  Post it by January 13th and you could win my picture book NEW YEAR AT THE PIER, which Tablet Magazine just named it Best Jewish Picture Book of the Year!  Contest details below.

Wanna Win a Book? Rules:
1) Post one six word progress report on your writing, reading or teaching goal…or your revised goal.
2) Provide your email address or a link to your own blog in your comment so that we can contact you. (U.S. residents only, please.) 
3) Entries must be posted by 11 p.m. Wednesday, January 13, 2010 (Central Standard Time).
4) The winner will be announced by 11 p.m., Friday, January 15, 2010.
Here are the complete rules (scroll down)--g'luck!

And now for the poem...from me to you. (Please imagine that the first stanza below is four lines and all the rest are three lines...this format doesn't allow lines quite that long!)

by April Halprin Wayland

Because we lost Fred last year, because I had one last kiss from

Aunt Rose, from Aunt Cissy, from Aunt Polly, from Morrie…
because I want to hold on, hold back, hold them,
because I can’t, because you can’t, because we can’t,

because of this slant of sun on bees buzzing from their white boxes,

because of one spoonful of custard apple, because of this persimmon,
because your guitar, all wood and gut, echoes in rings around these things,

this year

let’s not miss present tense, salty pistachio, soft pianissimo,
let’s not miss sage incense, Native flute, one bite of fruit,

and let’s not miss these arms, these generous arms,

these loving arms, wrapping warm around us
this year.

© April Halprin Wayland

Two things in this New Year: remember to breathe and write with joy.

all drawings by April Halprin Wayland--please credit.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Becoming an Irrepressible Writer--Our Final Holiday Gift to You

Winter begins today for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. While this is also the season of holidays, it can be an emotionally challenging time. Holiday stress and limited daylight can take their toll on our well-being. So it's fitting that today I share a web site to help writers (and those who nurture them) get through the "dark days."

Today I'd like to introduce you to The Irrepressible Writer, a new blog by my friend and fellow writer, Carol Coven Grannick. In addition to being a writer, Carol is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. As she says on the blog, she "works with writers and non-writers who want to create and maintain more resilient, meaningful lives." Through her blog, Carol shares tips on how to stay optimistic when the trials of writing and publishing get us down. Carol's blog has become my personal secret weapon against my annoying inner critique. When I hear that nagging voice say things like, "What makes you think you're a writer?" or "You should chuck this whole thing and go out and get a real job" or "You'll never get this published", I turn to Carol's blog for insight and inspiration. She's helped me out of a dark mood more than once, bless her! For example, in today's post, Carol provides tips on learning how not to take rejection personally.

One of the things I love best about Carol's blog is that she speaks from personal experience. She knows how it feels to struggle with a writing project, to try to stay focused despite distractions, to get a rejection. Also, like me, she wasn't born an optimist, yet she's managed to learn how to be one. She gives me hope that I can do the same. If you're a writer, or you're a teacher trying to nurture writers, I encourage you to visit Carol's blog. Her welcome post is probably the best place to start on your path to becoming an Irrepressible Writer.

This is the last in our series of posts with links to some of our favorite sites, a little holiday thank-you gift to you, our readers. These and other links to helpful writing/teaching/literature resources are included in the sidebar. I hope you'll check them out.

The TeachingAuthors are taking a break from blogging until January 1, 2010, when April will return to follow-up on our new-school-year resolutions contest. (Hint, that means you'll have another opportunity to win an autographed book!)

We wish all of you a healthy and happy holiday season. May your new year be filled with many wonderful blessings.

Happy writing!

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Gift for Readers and Writers

I taught my final class of the semester on Saturday and turned in the last of my grades yesterday. Now I’m eager to pack up textbooks and handouts, clear away clutter, and make room for new ideas. Lucky me! For the month between semesters, I get to work on my own writing—as soon as I catch up on some of the urgent tasks I’ve put on hold while I focused on teaching.

I started planning today’s post by visiting bookmarks I’ve accumulated, making a short list, and thinking I would narrow it down to two or three. Then Esther’s post reminded me of one site that includes links to many sites I often recommend and much, much more. Anyone who is interested in literature for children and young adults should know about Cynthia Leitich Smith’s comprehensive web site and visit it often. I did yesterday—and lost track of time!

Cynthia Leitich Smith is an author and speaker who also teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her site's well organized home page is deceptively simple, with expandable lists leading to information about the author and speaker (including details about her books and her writing life and links to her blogs), the resources, and the site itself.

The massive Children’s & YA Literature Resources section includes interviews, bibliographies, and links to additional valuable resources: information about censorship, diversity, children’s book experts, guides for readers and teachers, state and national awards, recommended books, and writing for children and teenagers.

I often find inspiration in interviews with authors and illustrators. I always want to know more about the history and development of books. In the enormous list of interviews under “Authors and Illustrators,” quotes attached to the links draw me in to read about process and inspiration. I could spend (I have spent!) hours exploring this section of the site.

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s comprehensive web site is an invaluable gift for readers and writers of literature for children and young adults. Let your to-do-list linger a little longer. Give yourself the gift of time to enjoy this site!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One TA's Holiday Gift: A Blog That Keeps On Giving

Hurrah! Hurrah!
Fellow TeachingAuthor Mary Ann Rodman's picture book A Tree for Emmy received a CYBILS nomination in the fiction picture book category!
Congratulations, Mary Ann!

And, Hurrah! Hurrah!
Award-winning Author, Teacher and University of Illinois M.S.L. candidate Esme Codell has gifted our world with yet another Life-changing blog – Hit the Ground Running, the Educating Esme Teacher Blog (for new and high-spirited pedagogues)!

Esme describes herself as a professional readiologist ™, a woman on a mission who believes children’s trade literature is our best hope for equalizing education in America.
Her first blog, The Planet Esme Book-A-Day-Blog, is a Must Read for anyone working with and writing for children today.
Each of Esme’s themed posts is a “Three-fer.” First, she recommends a current trade children’s book title and clearly tells you why. Next, she lists other current titles that might accompany the selection. Finally, she compares and contrasts all choices to relevant titles from the existing body of children’s literature.
The Book-A-Day Blog is a veritable Children’s Literature course in Virtual Space, bringing the Best of the Best to our attention weekly.
The blog also supports her sister site where visitors can find additional reviews, thematic lists, links and “everything you need to become an expert in children’s literature.”

Esme’s newest blog, Hit the Ground Running, shines a much needed (and especially bright) light on Teachers as Writers.
Esme’s posts get - and keep - classroom teachers writing – with their students, for their students, and best of all, for themselves.
In fact, it’s safe to say, the posts get and keep any writer writing.
Like her Children’s Literature posts, each post’s value increases exponentially; her October 14, 2009 post “Write Your Own Teaching Journal” is nothing short of a Five-Fer.

I've always sung praise of Esme’s Book-a-Day Blog to all in my writing classes and teacher workshops.
But now I sing a new song, here, there and everywhere, as I heartily recommend Esme’s Hit the Ground Running.
Esme’s two blogs put the Energizer Bunny to shame.
Both are gifts that keep giving all year long.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writing by Numbers

My daughter is four and a half.  I remember being four and a half.  Now I know without a doubt that when I make her cry, someday she will recall and truly be scarred for life.  Aagh!

I had always some compunction about letting my children believe in Santa, because Santa confused the heck out of me when I was a kid.  Yes, Santa is real and you never see him.  And God?  The same.  Only God really is real, and my parents were lying about Santa and...  well, am I alone here? 

Tonight I was lying beside Kate as she drifted off to sleep, and she asked, "Mommy, how does God know what we want?"  And I said, "Well, we ask him when we pray.  He can't always give us what we want, but He always tries to do what's best for us because He loves us."  Of course I got the inevitable response: "Why?"  And I said, lamely, "Well, sometimes what we want isn't good for someone else, so God hears our prayers, but He can't answer them the way we want him to."  And Kate chimed in immediately, "Oh!  Like when when we get mad at each other... we both want different things, and we can't both have them."  Now, this coming from a child who thinks she should ALWAYS have what she wants (and is off the charts in such personality traits as intensity, sensitivity, and negative persistence) -- I was just floored that she grasped this concept.

Perhaps I am deluding myself into thinking that Kate has an unusually vivid imagination, but she told me the other day, "Mommy, I love words.  I love to write."  Ah, just what a writer mommy wants to hear!  Like all her friends, she has also recently developed a keen interest in story. 

This week she asked me why the other reindeer didn't want to play with Rudolph.  I said they weren't being very nice because he was different.  She said, "But he was shining his nose on them, and the light probably bothered them."  Hm.  The next day she was asking me about the words to "Frosty, the Snowman" (which for some reason I can never recall).  Specifically, she wanted to know about his "bloody nose."  I said, "Oh, no, honey, it's a BUTTON nose."  She said, "But that doesn't make sense.  Didn't they know about carrot noses?"  She was also very eager to know what we were doing to celebrate Hanukkah.  (I think she was very interested in the gelt.  I almost bought a dreidel but we are, after all, still eating Halloween candy.)  Recently she defined the word "warm" to me as "hottish/coldish."

These glimpses I get into the thought processes of my daughter -- and my son, and their friends -- are fascinating in that they show me:

1) How much most two-year-olds and four-year-olds are alike developmentally.
2) How little most two- and four-year-olds are like temperamentally.

I watch little kids say the same first words, tell the same knock-knock jokes, become entranced with the same catch phrases ("eyeballs" is a favorite fixation of late, among other unmentionables).  The commonality of human nature is awesome.  The difference between a three-year-old and a four-year-old is equally amazing.  Anyone who is writing for children must, at all times, be keenly aware of this dichotomy.

When I met my future husband, he was teaching fourth grade and was deeply involved in the National Writing Project.  As a former psychology major, I wholeheartedly the idea of teacher research and evidence-based methodology, of embracing what works and rejecting what does not.  As a novice teacher, I am also deeply indebted to their website:

If you haven't visited recently, whether you are a teacher or a writer -- or both -- it's a valuable bookmark to add to your collection.

Gingerbread House - Kate & Jim Ford
($10 Wal-Mart Kit; Memories -- priceless)

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa -- and congrats, Esther!!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another Giveaway Winner and Kudos to Laura and Esther!

We enjoyed reading all the great entries for our latest book giveaway. Unfortunately, we have only one copy of Laura Crawford's The American Revolution From A to Z to giveaway. And the winner is . . .
Jolanthe E. of Virginia!
Jolanthe plans to add the book to her family's homeschooling library. For those who didn't win, we hope you'll visit us again in the New Year, when we'll have more wonderful books to give away.

Thanks again to Laura Crawford for being our first Student Success Story. Also, congratulations to Laura and to our own Esther Hershenhorn. Laura's The American Revolution From A to Z and Esther's S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet have been nominated to this year's Cybils in the category Nonfiction/Information Picture Books. You can see the whole list here. Good luck to both of you!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Our Gift To You on Poetry Friday!

Below is some Not-Quite-Poetry (or is it?) for
Poetry Friday
...and a Writing Workout/
Writing Prompt / Story Starter / Lesson Plan!

Today's topic: an internet link from each TeachingAuthor...our gift to you for the holidays!

Hmmm...which one shall I wrap up for you?  Okay...I've got it.  My link is one you may already know.  It’s Smith Magazine, famous for Six Word Memoirs. 

In January we will be checking in on how you’re doing with those new-school-year goals you made in the fall, so let’s look at Smiths’ Six-Word Resolutions 

Here's one:

Start finishing first novel's last page.

~ jah 1

Here's my stab at a resolution, addressing the overly critical voice trumpeting in my brain:

Critic on shoulder?  Duct-tape her mouth! 

(Yes, this is cheating, because duct tape doesn't have a hyphen.  Or at least the critic on my shoulder told me it was cheating.)

So...what’s your six-word resolution?


Writing Workout / Writing Prompt / Story Starter / Lesson Plan
Six Word Memoirs:
Jumping Off Points for Your Story

Out of plot ideas? 
Wishing someone would drop a complete story in your lap?  You’re in luck!
There's something wonderful about having limits or sticking to a specific form. 
Not haiku...shorter.  Six-word memoirs.

Go to Smith Magazine to find one that resonates with you (there are lots of different categories, including Momoirs, Brushes with Fame, Love and Heartbreak),
or write your own,
or work with one of the seven from Smith below:

I punched monster, monster punched back.
~ emo122

Make a wish.  Nothing.  Always tomorrow.

~ Mook

A snow day would fix everything.
~ bluebirch114

Black and white life seeks color.

~ jae1390

I didn't walk off a roof.
~ Tobin Levy

How did I wind up here?

~ sisterpoet

And finally...this one just made me laugh:
Editor.  Get it?
~ Kate Hamill

In January, I'll ask you for a six-word essay on how you’re doing on those goals, so be thinking about that!

Meanwhile, write; write with joy. 
Drawings © by April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Giveaway and our First Student Success Story: Laura Crawford

 Today, it is with great pride that I introduce a new feature here on www.TeachingAuthors.comStudent Success Stories!
We hope that by sharing stories of some of the accomplishments of our writing students we will help inspire other teachers and aspiring writers. I am honored to feature one of my former students as our first Student Success Story: Laura Crawford.

Laura was a student in a Continuing Education class I taught on Writing for Children and Young Adults at the College of DuPage back in the summer of 2001. About a week before our first session, the college called to say the class had filled and to ask if I'd be willing to take an extra student. I'm normally fairly strict about the class size to allow enough time for manuscript critiques. After talking to Laura on the phone, I decided she was a serious student, so I made an exception for her. I'm so glad I did! I believe that of all my former students who have gone on to have their work published, Laura has been the most prolific. I was especially thrilled when I found out that a manuscript of Laura's that we had critiqued in class was to be published by Raven Tree Press as Postcards From Washington, D.C. The book became part of a series that also includes Postcards From Chicago, and Postcards From New York City.     

Interestingly, Laura's first published book was one she wrote after Postcards From Chicago. The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving From A to Z was published by Pelican Publishing in 2005. Her second book, In Arctic Waters, a cumulative tale about Arctic animals, was published by Sylvan Dell. Her newest book,  The American Revolution From A to Z, is another alphabet book with Pelican Publishing. To celebrate the book's release, we will be giving away an autographed copy. Instructions for how to enter our drawing will be at the end of this post.

Laura is not only a writer, she's also a full-time teacher and reading specialist who works with second- and third-graders at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Sleepy Hollow, Illinois. I recently interviewed Laura about her path from teacher to student to published children's author:

Laura, what inspired you to sign up for my class?

When I was getting my Masters Degree at Northern Illinois University, one of my teachers had recently published a book. The idea of being published intrigued me, but I didn't do anything to pursue that dream for about 3 years. During the summer of 2001, I was looking through a catalog for one of the community colleges. I saw your introductory class and signed up. I almost didn't get in because the class was limited to 20 students, but you had pity on me, and let me be number 21. Thank goodness you bent the rules, because the class changed my life.

Do you recall any specific ways the class helped you?

I remember being very nervous and having no idea what to expect from an adult writing class. I had always been a math and science person, so this was new.  In the first session, we did a writing exercise and had to decide what we were going to write about. I had plenty of ideas, but you wanted us to write the book, and bring it the following week. Yikes!  I went home and finished it in one night. And…I was ready to submit it. (Yes, I was quite the ambitious ‘newbie’). I was unbelievably nervous to share my writing--I had never done anything quite like this before. The class critiqued it, and I left that night with a much better book. I appreciated the kind and supportive atmosphere of the group.

You eventually went on to publish the manuscript you worked on in class. Did the manuscript change much by the time it was published?

Yes, that first manuscript was a mess…and now it is Postcards From Washington, D.C. I did over 30 revisions on that book. That was my first indication that I can be very wordy….the current book is about 1,200 words, and the original was about 3,000!

How does being a teacher influence or inspire your writing?

All of my books have stemmed from a need in my second or third grade classroom. I started Postcards From Washington, D.C. after doing a unit in second grade on the nation’s capital. I couldn't find a book that covered the material I needed, so I wrote one, and I had the students illustrate it. They were NOT happy to learn that their pictures were not going to be in the published book!  I did the same with the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving From A to Z and In Arctic Waters. My goal is to present science and social studies curriculum in a fun way.

In addition to teaching and writing, you blog about nature-related books for children at Wild About Nature. How do you balance your full-time job teaching with your writing, marketing, blogging, etc.?

I don’t! I have a very hard time balancing everything, so I do most of my writing on the weekends or during the summer. I wish I could be one of those people who write every day, but I’m not.  I do believe that being a teacher makes me a better writer, and writing has made me a better teacher. 

Have you taken other classes or continued your writing education in other ways?

Yes. I have taken classes with Heidi Roemer, an Illinois author. Another huge component of my writing education has been my SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) writing groups.They provide me with insights, support, and suggestions every month. I have learned so much from my fellow authors, especially those who write nonfiction or are also teachers. I would not be where I am today without my writing groups, Heidi, and you, Carmela.

Thanks so much for sharing your "Student Success Story" with us, Laura. And thanks also for donating a copy of your newest book, The American Revolution From A to Z, for our giveaway.

Readers, I hope you've been inspired by Laura's story. (By the way, if you happen to live in the Chicago area, I will be teaching the College of DuPage class Laura took in January 2010. For details, see my Web site.)

And now, as promised, here's the information about our giveaway. Before entering, be sure to first read our Giveaway Guidelines here.

If you'd like a chance to win an autographed copy of Laura Crawford's The American Revolution From A to Z, post a comment to today's blog post telling us whether you'd like to have the book for yourself, or to give as a gift. You must also provide your email address or a link to your own blog in your comment so that we can contact you. (U.S. residents only, please.)  Entries must be posted by 11 p.m. Saturday, December 12, 2009 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be announced by 11 p.m., Sunday, December 13, 2009.

We look forward to reading your comments. Good luck!
And, as always, happy writing!

Monday, December 7, 2009

More on Organizing Projects, and a Giveaway Sneak Preview

Due to a strange quirk in Google Blogger, JoAnn was initially unable to include images with her post on Friday. However, the issue has been resolved, and you can now see her photographs. If the images on your screen are too small, click on them for a better look.

Also, I posted a follow-up comment this morning with a couple of my own tips. I invite you to join the conversation by commenting on JoAnn's post with one of your favorite techniques for staying organized. Or, if you prefer, share one of your greatest organizing challenges. Maybe one of our readers can provide a solution. I'd love to learn new ways to be more efficient in the new year!

Sneak Preview: we'll be sponsoring another book giveaway on Wednesday. Do stop by to read an extra-special author interview and enter for a chance to win a personally autographed copy of a new picture book.

Happy writing!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ask the Teaching Authors Question: Organizing Projects

Mary Jo C. writes, teaches, and works for a nonprofit young writers’ organization. She asks, “How do you organize all of your projects, both the paper files and the computer files, without things falling through the cracks? How do you keep up with markets you’d like to pursue and the deadlines for submitting?”

Thank you for the questions, Mary Jo! They made me take a close look at my own organization methods. My work, like yours, is made up of a number of segments whose relative importance varies over time:
  • writing
  • teaching
  • freelance/work-for-hire writing projects
  • school visits and conferences
  • miscellaneous (blog posts, marketing, publicity, volunteer work, special projects, etc.)
For each type of work, I try to keep track of my progress and my plans. Some systems work better than others. First, the more successful ones.

My calendar functions as my short-term To-Do List. I update it and refer to it daily. I slip notes about important events such as school visits inside the back cover. I also keep a long-term list on a legal pad. I look at it and update it about once/month, when I transfer urgent items to the calendar.

I have learned (the hard way!) to stuff tax-deductible expense receipts and payment stubs in file folders as soon as I receive and record them. I keep the Income and Expense folders on top of a filing cabinet next to my desk where I can reach them easily. I also keep a small notebook in the car to record mileage—trips to the library or office supply store as well as longer research travel. It all adds up. At tax time, everything is right there.

For my classes, I keep records of attendance and grades in Excel charts and report them online. I keep textbooks, handouts, and all necessary daily records in a separate tote bag for each course and grab that bag on my way to class. Sometimes I walk out the door with a purse and several tote bags, but at least I know I have everything I might need. (I also keep library books in their own tote bag.)

For my submissions, I created a Word table that lists manuscript titles across the top and editor names along the side. When I submit a manuscript, I enter the date in the cell where manuscript and editor meet. If a manuscript is returned, I add an R after the date and submit it elsewhere. If it is accepted, I delete the column from the table. I can easily see which manuscripts are out and which editors have something of mine to consider. I keep a copy of the table clipped to the outside of a file folder that holds printed copies of cover letters and manuscripts.

I rely on e-mail to communicate with everyone: students, department chairs, people requesting information about school visits, writing group members, editors, etc. I create folders in my Inbox for categories such as teaching, writing, and work, and I add subfolders within them for each class, publisher, or project. (Documents on my computer are organized in a similar way.) I recently started using a second e-mail account strictly for teaching. I am always trying to clear out my Inbox. I rarely print an e-mail, but I do mark important dates, phone numbers, and deadlines on my calendar.

* * * * *

My explanation for the less successful methods is that I operate under the principle that I remember what I see.

Work-for-hire projects typically require research that results in many pages of printed or photocopied information. Until a project is completed, these papers tend to pile up, so I group them together in one spot, usually on the floor. What I don’t do religiously enough is sort through these piles as soon as a project is completed and file or recycle all that paper. I usually return library books in time to avoid huge fines.

My own writing in progress is stacked on a file cabinet next to my desk in a teetering pile that includes everything from scraps of paper with a few words scribbled during the night to a ring binder that holds a poetry collection I’ve been working on for ten years and several copies of a nearly finished novel. Periodically (usually after I finish something), I sort through this pile, shake my head, feel guilty for not finishing more, and pile it all up again. Once in a while, I find something that piques my interest, and I pull it out to work on. I have tried keeping track of these unfinished manuscripts, but most of them don’t have titles yet, so I probably wouldn’t even recognize the names on a list. (Aha—a revelation! Why is my most important work the least organized? Any suggestions?)

* * * * *

Now my teaching semester is wrapping up, time is running out, and papers are piling up all over my work area. I hope to use some of the coming break to sort, recycle, and file. Much of what is in my filing cabinets is obsolete. I will clean them out. I will be ruthless. I promise!

My goals for a system of organization:
  • to prioritize
  • to stay on top of everything
  • to not allow something important to slip through the cracks
  • to not handle papers over and over
  • to not spend too much time searching for anything
  • to be conscious of my surroundings, especially when papers start to pile up
When my life becomes hectic (as it is now!), I find myself using my Morning Pages to plan my day, and I find I can focus better on my work if I take this step. What I’d like to work on improving next is following up on information I’ve sent out, especially submissions and potential school visit details.

I hope I’ve answered your questions, Mary Jo. You’ve certainly inspired me to take a closer look at what works for me and what needs more attention. I’m looking forward to my semester break and hoping to get better organized. Wish me luck!

P.S. I originally posted this yesterday, but the photos would not upload. I don't know why, but here they are!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

B is for Book Tour

Since early September
I’ve been out-and-about,

Chicago and its Parks – Lincoln, Hyde and Rogers,
plus Vernon Hills,
Orland Park,
Ann Arbor,
Virginia City
and the Kidlitosphere,

learning centers and auditoriums,
libraries, bookstores,
conference centers and universities,
Veterans halls,
street tents
and blogs,
and a very lovely Bed and Breakfast living room.

I’ve shared S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet
morning, noon and night,

children’s book writers,
students of all ages,
but best of all,
Young Writers and Readers.

“Story is a gift!” I’ve declared non-stop. “And don’t forget: writers are readers!”

My tour’s final stops include this week’s second Teacher Workshop at Chicago’s Seward Communication Arts Academy, Friday evening’s Young Chicago Authors 2009 Holiday Book Bash from 6 to 9 pm at DePaul University’s Egan Urban Center at 1 E. Jackson St., Saturday’s 2 pm book signing at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at 1441 W. Webster to benefit the Louisa May Alcott School Friends of Alcott, December’s Author-to-Author visits with the Alcott School’s young writers and a December 11 "visit" with
Wildwood, New Jersey's Glenvwood Avenue School's third and fifth graders.

Visit my website after December 15 to view Kodak Moments and link to S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet book reviews, author/illustrator interviews, features and events.

It was during my first early September Seward Teacher Workshop that I encouraged the faculty to maximize publishing opportunities for the school’s Young Writers. I treasure the school’s Writing and Literature Magnet Cluster Lead Teacher Cathy Barzen’s email informing me fifth grader Oscar Garcia won the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance-sponsored student essay contest for grades 4 through 6. Oscar was honored at an October Luncheon and featured in the October 22, 2009 edition of the Chicago Sun Times.
“Thanks so much,” Cathy wrote, “for highlighting the importance of entering contests. You never know how far a teacher can touch the life of a child.”

I repeat: whether written or read, story is a gift!

Oh, how S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet continues to gift me, on tour and off.

Happy Gift-giving!
Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mangia! (Or Mang, as my grandmother would say)

In my addled state at the time of my last post, I completely lost track of our topic du week -- my favorite subject.  Food!

Since having children and losing my limited ability to concenterate for anything greater than a two-minute interval, my sole non-Nickelodeon TV viewing consists of the news and The Food Network.

A great disappointment to my mother and especially my beloved late grandmother, I am not a cook.  I did somewhat redeem myself by marrying Emeril. :)  As a child, I did not enjoy eating -- much consternation ensuing.  Of course this situation has been more than remedied now.  I may not cook, but oh, how I love to eat.

As I type this, I am listening to my husband and two-year-old son in the next room, watching an HBO concert tribute to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. The pride of a musician sharing his passion with his appreciative son is beyond words. Of course I thoroughly comprehend why my grandmother could not get over my lack of aptitude for (or interest in) her life's work. But honestly -- as a cook, she was an impossible act to follow.

Like Carmela, my family had the whole pasta-turkey-22 course Thanksgiving meal as an established tradition.  Like Mary Ann, my grandmother grew up in a home with boarders (and 10 siblings).  And scrapple (yum -- I know, I know) and stewed tomatoes (yuck) were staples of my youth. 

My mother's family hails from Ischia and Amalfi.  My mom and aunt finally visted their ancestral homeland a few years ago, and the initial plan was to tour northern Italy.  My mom nixed this idea immediately.  "We can't go there!  They eat white sauce!"  In our family, tomato is King. 

My parents dated in high school.  My dad eventually went to college, joined the army to avoid being drafted and, eight months into his service, called my mom from California (in the middle of the night) to propose.  He said that army food sucked, and he really wanted to get married so he could move out of the barracks and have someone cook him good meals.  She turned him down. :)  He called back.  They have been married for 41 years, so he must have done something right. 

My father (a "Mitigan" = American) had a favorite meal -- stew.  He looked forward to it all day on one of their first days as a married couple.  He came home and was surprised to smell something spaghetti-like.  My mom assured that no, it was stew.  He was expecting beef in broth.  What he got was hot dogs, peas, and potatoes in a tomato sauce.  My mom had never eaten or cooked a meal that was not tomato-based.   Today, she makes a mean beef stew.  However, she remains horrified that my four-year-old prefers her pasta without sauce, thanks very much.

My dad being a Korean linguist and my mom being a cook, I also grew up eating some of the very best Korean food.  I recently read a book by Paula Yoo, and as soon as the protagonist mentioned mandu, she had me hooked.  Back in the day, my parents used to watch every episode of The Sopranos (bear in mind that I have two Aunt Carmellas, an Uncle Junior, and that my mom's godmother is married to a Tony Soprano who worked in waste management).  My mom would then call me in LA to report, in mouthwatering detail, the foods consumed in each episode.  If any family member eats at a restaurant, I know to expect a ten-minute recap of the meal, soup to nuts.  Family recipes are cherished posessions, framed and hung, replicated, discussed and dissected.  Especially in a family of non-readers and non-writers, the effort to record a recipe (much of which consisted of "a pinch of" this and "add until it looks right") was clearly and act of pure love.

Reading JoAnn's post about A Wrinkle in Time, I was transported as soon as I saw the words "cocoa" and "liverwurst."  I remember those details intimately, along with the turkey dinner served at the denouement.  The word "tongue" in Mary Ann's post immediately invokes Beverly Cleary and Ramona Quimby, Age 8, as well as a Cleary description of french fries that I can recite to this day.  I was recently reading my daughter a picture book based on Little House in the Big Woods, and of course the maple sugar candies that I so vividly recalled were a centerpiece.  Buttons that resembled blackberries and even canned peaches were described in detail that stays with me to this day.  No wonder I always want to eat when I read! 

The English language is sadly lacking in words to describe tastes, smells, and textures.  Writing well about food is more difficult than it might seem.  Watch the Food Network, and you will hear the words "beautiful" and "delicious" more often than you can stand.

Many of my friends who enjoy cooking describe the activity as a satisfying creative outlet.  For me, writing about food serves the function of "creating art" more effectively than actually cooking.  After all, eating is a fleeting act; words are forever.

Check out this link for information on developing writing lessons and even entire composition courses centered on the subject of writing about food:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's Grazie-to-Marti Day!

We Five Teaching Authors hereby decree: this Fourth Thursday in November is Grazie-to-Marti Day!

Grazie, Carmela-dash-Marti Martino, our TeachingAuthors Administrator Extraordinaire!

Our holiday cornucopia runneth over with thanks, for all you do, all year long.

Please accept our Six-word Memoirs as but a small token of our appreciation.

Masterful motherly magnanimous Google Software Manipulator.
Answers questions, coordinates schedules, organizes everything.
Runs our little blog beautifully, generously.
Totally Together Teacher: tireless, thoughtful, thorough.
Incredibly intelligent, involved, insightful imaginative Idea-maker.

You are a true Wizard, working behind the scenes to create our Magic – adjusting, aligning, announcing, connecting, labeling, tweaking, scheduling, bundling.

Lucky us to call you Friend and fellow Teaching Author.

Con affetto,

April, Esther, Jeanne Marie, JoAnn and Mary Ann

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food in Fiction: Quirks and Customs

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. For most of us, that means celebrating with a big turkey dinner. However, in my Italian-immigrant family, every holiday calls for a multi-course dinner that typically consists of antipasto, soup, bread, pasta, meatballs, salad, cooked vegetables, roasted meat, potatoes, fresh fruit, and dessert. For Thanksgiving, we simply accommodate the turkey tradition by featuring the bird as our roasted meat.

I am so used to our family’s customs that I neglected to prepare my husband (then boyfriend) before he attended his first Thanksgiving dinner with my family. When my mother served homemade fettuccine and meatballs (following the requisite antipasto and soup), he assumed there would be no turkey. Being an easy-going guy, he didn’t say anything and simply ate his fill of pasta and meatballs.

(I couldn't find clip art of fettuccine with tomato sauce and meatballs, but you get the idea.)

Well, imagine his surprise when we whisked the pasta plates away and my mother brought out the bird, vegetables, and potatoes. Afterward, he told me he'd been too full to have more than a bite of turkey, and as a result, it hadn’t felt much like Thanksgiving to him. (Now he knows to pace himself, which I’m sure he’ll do tomorrow when we celebrate at my aunt’s.) Ironically, for me it wouldn’t have felt like Thanksgiving without pasta.

In this series of posts, we’ve been talking about the role of food in fiction. As JoAnn discussed, food can “ground fantasy in reality.” I agree. I also believe food plays an especially important role in historical and multicultural fiction. Everyone has to eat. Seeing what a character does and doesn’t eat can give readers insight into that character’s world, whether it’s a world of Scrapple and food rationing, as Mary Ann described in her post, or one where Christmas Eve dinner revolves around seafood, as in my novel Rosa, Sola. Because food-related customs and rituals can serve to bind people together or to set them apart, food can affect a character’s relationships, too. I still recall feeling like an outsider at lunch in elementary school. While other kids were eating peanut butter and jelly on squishy white bread, I had to deal with mortadella on crumbly, homemade Italian bread. No one ever swapped sandwiches with me!

Of course, food can be a characterization tool in all types of fiction. Like real people, characters may have quirky food preferences, preferences that can even affect a story’s plot. We see this in picture books like I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child and I'd Really Like To Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio, illustrated by Dorothee de Monfreid. But food preferences can also play a role in middle-grade and young-adult stories. After all, where would the plot of Twilight and other vampire books be if vampires craved macaroni and cheese instead of human blood?

For everyone celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, I wish you a happy and safe holiday. As you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner, I encourage you to take note of any unique food customs and rituals. And even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope the following Writing Workout will help you think about incorporating food quirks and customs into your fiction.

Writing Workout: Food Quirks and Customs 
Do you have any food quirks? Perhaps, like me, you only eat cold cereal without milk. (I just can't stomach soggy cereal!) Or maybe it's a friend or family member who has a food quirk. For example, one of my brothers-in-law will eat peanut butter on bread, or jelly on bread, but never peanut butter and jelly together on one sandwich. Try writing a scene where one of your fictional characters has a food-related quirk. How is that quirk a reflection of the character's overall personality?

Are there any food-related customs in your family, or special family recipes?
In the her last Writing Workout, Esther suggested you record a family recipe along with a memoir about the recipe's creator. Now write a scene where family members try to recreate a custom or recipe without the originator present. What happens? 

Happy writing!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Food and Fiction

      I hate to cook. Period. I have mageirocophobia,the cook's equivalent of stage fright. Just knowing that someone else is going to consume and judge what I am cooking turns me into a quivering pile of Knox gelatin. Then why do I own shelf after shelf of cookbooks?
    To me, cookbooks are literature. My favorites are the organizational fundraisers, each contributor adding a little history. ("My mama always made this milk punch for Christmas brunch" or "Uncle George used to stir up this stew on hunting trips.") Family tales aside, each recipe really is a potential story.  The ingredients form a cast of characters waiting for the right circumstances...a specific way of combining, a certain degree of become something delicious and memorable. Thank goodness my husband does cook.
     For someone who doesn't cook, food and recipes are an integral part of most of my books.  I have my mother to thank.
     I fear cooking. Mom hated it. I remember finishing lunch at the kitchen table, while Mom went into meltdown mode over supper, five hours away.  With her head inside the ice-encrusted maw of our non-self-defrosting refrigerator freezer,  Mom shuffled through frozen bricks of meat and vegetables, muttering "What can I make for supper?" Finally, she would extract a couple of frost-covered, foil-wrapped bricks and with an exhausted sigh, toss them on the countertop to defrost. Mom had sentenced herself to making yet another meal.
    Eventually I learned the source of Mom's distaste. During the Depression, my mother's mother (known as Maga to her grandchildren) ran a boarding house as a way of keeping food on the table for her family of eight.  (If this sounds like a certain fictional character from the American Girl series...well, sorry. It's the truth!) My teen-aged mom served as Maga's sou chef, in cooking vast quantities of food, not only for her own family, but for a dozen or so boarders. That meant a hot breakfast, a hot supper, and a packed lunch for everybody. No wonder Mom hated cooking.
    This also explained why all of Mom's recipes read"Yield 24".
    "Frances, are you cooking for the Fifth Army?" Dad would ask, peering into an enormous vat or skillet or roaster pan. "You can reduce the recipes."
     "Too much trouble," Mom would shrug.
     I understood.  Cooking was bad enough without adding a math exercise to the mix. Even though Mom was only cooking for three people, the food didn't go to waste. If we had hash on Monday (a good meat-stretching Depression era meal), we also had it Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. When I moved out on my own, Mom didn't offer me a file of heirloom recipes, and I didn't ask. I never wanted to eat Fried Salmon Patties or Scrapple again.

     In fact, I didn't even think of those old boarding house recipes until I was writing Jimmy's Stars. It suddenly dawned on my that Maga was running a boarding house through the World War II rationing. Sure, her boarders ration stamps helped out, but sometimes it didn't matter if you had the money and the stamps. The food just wasn't available.   It was being sent to "the fighting boys overseas."
     Aha!  This explained Maga's "meat" loaf where the main ingredient was a soy "meat extender." And Wacky Cake, made without eggs, flour of sugar.  Even my all-least-favorite-dish-ever, stewed tomatoes.
     I dug deeper into a world where sugar, butter and meat were scarce. Recipes emphasized "natural sweeteners" (like prune juice), "sweetbreads" (which are neither sweet nor bread) and "the lesser organ meats." I wondered what the average American kid thought of finding a "tongue" sandwich in his lunchbag.  I decided that in matters of school lunches, the kids' tastes haven't changed that much over time. The difference would come in that the kid of 1943 had come to realize that patriotism and sacrifice took precedence over personal preference.
    Food became integral to Jimmy's Stars because finding and preparing food was such a large part of WWII homefront life. "Use it up, wear it out or make do" inspired "Rookie Cookies" (butterless, rock-like lumps that could withstand the trip from homefront to battlefront) and "Tomato Aspic."  I had so much fun researching additional recipes, never thinking that bloggers and teachers would ask for them, and actually make them! Check out the results at Mawbooks.

     My latest picture book, Surprise Soup, came from my husband and I swapping childhood food memories, both involving our fathers. Considered too young to "sit still" in church, Craig and his father stayed home Sunday mornings, making pancakes for the return of the rest of the family.
    My dad was (and still is!) an excellent chef. He pitched in with mealmaking when he could, but as an FBI agent, he didn't have a lot of time to indulge his inner Emeril.
My favorite memories are of weekends when we would make Dad's vegetable beef soup, a process that could consume an entire Saturday.
    I sliced and diced these two memories, chopped them together, added and subtracted ingredients and fiddled with the heat. After several years of simmering on the back burner of my mind...voila! Surprise Soup!
    True, I can't really make soup or aspic or even the allegedly goof-proof Wacky Cake without scorching or botching something. But in my mental kitchen, there is always a pot of soup bubbling on the stove, a batch of cookies in the oven, and a loaf of home-made bread, rising under a clean dish towel. And sometimes, when I am lucky, my husband who is a good cook, brings my food fantasies to fruition.

Writing Workout

   Try this with your young writers.
   Write down your favorite food, whatever it might be.
    Now describe this food, without telling how it looks.
   Here are some questions to consider:  How does it taste?
Is it sweet, salty, sour, a combination? Can you taste individual ingredients?
How does it feel in your mouth? Crisp, crunchy, smooth, slippery, hot, cold?
    What does it smell like? Does one ingredient dominate the aroma?
    Do you have any specific memories of this food? Where did you eat it first? Does it remind you of any place or time or person?
    The last time I used this exercise, my entire group of middle schoolers, except one, all described the same dish...macaroni and cheese! Yet, no two descriptions were alike, because everyone had their own personal vision....from mac-in-a-box to Grandma's-from-scratch!

Reading Recommendations

    Usually I don't recommend books per se. I just tell you what I am reading. But what I am reading now fits in so well with our current topic, I just had to tell you a little about it. It is The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food--Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation's Food Was Seasonal by Mark Kurlansky. The WPA Writer's Project was compiling an encyclopedia of American food when World War II essentially ended the work. Kurlansky has compiled some of the never-published essays into this fascinating book. Some of the contributors' names are familiar...Zora Neale Hurston, Nelson Algren, Eudora Welty...and some are not. All transport us back to a time when local food meant just that. Happy reading and Bon Appetit!

Mary Ann

Friday, November 20, 2009

Food and its Functions in Fantasy

I once heard a tip about using food to ground fantasy in reality. I searched my notes from Vermont College and found this from a January 1999 workshop led by Marion Dane Bauer and Norma Fox Mazer: "Ground in reality before you can take off into fantasy—Madeleine L'Engle: start with food."

I don’t know who passed on the tip—Marion? Norma? Another student? I wish I had taken better notes, but the concept has stayed with me all these years anyway. I assume it originated with Madeleine L'Engle, so I browsed through A Wrinkle in Time to see how she handled food.

The book begins with Meg in her dark attic bedroom during a wild storm, remembering the fight she’d had at school defending her little brother, Charles Wallace, and worrying about rumors of a thief in the neighborhood. She decides to go downstairs to make cocoa. In the kitchen, she finds Charles Wallace waiting for her, drinking milk and eating bread and jam.

"I knew you’d be down," he says. "I put some milk on the stove for you. It ought to be hot by now."

When she checks the milk, she finds enough for two people. Somehow, Charles Wallace knew their mother would appear, too. Mrs. Murry, Charles Wallace, and Meg make sandwiches in the cozy kitchen while talking about being different from others and feeling left out. When the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit appears at their door, Mrs. Murry invites her in, acting as if the late night visit is nothing peculiar.

"Would you like a sandwich, Mrs. Whatsit? I’ve had liverwurst and cream cheese; Charles has had bread and jam; and Meg, lettuce and tomato."

In this opening chapter, food comforts people who can’t sleep for worrying and welcomes a strange guest.

Mmmm . . . apple pie!

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien also begins with a visit from unexpected strangers. What does Bilbo Baggins do with thirteen uninvited guests? He feeds them, of course.

"Quite a merry gathering!" Gandalf exclaims. "'I hope there is something left for the latecomers to eat and drink! What’s that? Tea? No thank you! A little red wine, I think, for me.'

'And for me,' said Thorin.

'And raspberry jam and apple tart,' said Bifur.

'And mince-pies and cheese,' said Bofur.

'And pork-pie and salad,' said Bombur.

'And more cakes—and ale—and coffee,' called the other dwarves through the door.

'Put on a few eggs, there’s a good fellow!' Gandalf called after him, as the hobbit stumped off to the pantries. 'And just bring out the cold chicken and pickles!'"

In this scene, food fortifies the travelers as they plan their long journey with the reluctant Bilbo Baggins.

My husband Gene's New Year's Day cinnamon rolls

In The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley, food keeps the fierce, ravenous, underground-dwelling Folk, who are "mostly mouth . . . wet mouth and teeth," at bay. Corinna, the Folk Keeper, draws off their anger and lists what they eat in her Folk Record.

"February 19—Fastern’s E’en
The Folk have been quiet. Today they ate:
Two small lambs
One tub of butter
One vat of kidney stew."

"March 15—Tirls of March
I have been pinched, nothing worse. The Folk have eaten:
Five dozen salted kippers
Two crates of dried beef."

"April 17—Levy Day
The Folk have eaten:
Two roast ribs
Five rounds of cheese
A barrel of smoked haddock."

Gene's homemade pizza

In all three books, food helps make a fantastic situation believable because it gives readers something familiar to latch onto. I could go on and on, but I’m getting hungry! Look for references to food as you read, think about the functions they serve, and explore the possibilities in the exercise that follows.

Writing Workout

Food can be used to celebrate a victory, to mourn a loss, or to show love or appreciation. Like music or clothing, what and how people eat can also help show time and place, not only in fantasy but also in contemporary or historical fiction or nonfiction. Descriptions of meals and their settings can help set the pace and tone of a story. Characters can eat slowly, savoring each bite, or shovel food in without thinking. Not only the choice of food but also the way a character eats can show his or her personality and emotions. Does a character gulp, slurp, pick at her food, wipe his mouth on his sleeve, eat while driving?

Write a paragraph that shows the time and place and a character’s state of mind by describing how and what he or she eats.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stir in Three Stories and Chase That Flu Away!

The minute I learned “Food into Fiction” was our TeachingAuthor topic, I could see, smell, taste and touch E.B. White’s words:
On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it.”

I think of that quote whenever I share my picture book Chicken Soup By Heart (Simon & Schuster). Rosanne Litzinger’s warm, loving illustrations set most of the story’s action in Rudie Dinkins’ kitchen as he cooks up chicken soup for his flu-ridden after-school babysitter, Mrs. Gittel. Though Rudie has but twenty-four hours to make her good as new, Mrs. Gittel was The Chicken Soup Queen and Rudie happens to know her chicken soup secret: she stirs in three very nice stories about her soon-to-be soup-eaters.

The first story Rudie stirs in is all about the time Mrs. Gittel did something nice for him, when she helped him pass his sick-at-home school day practicing counting like accountants, counting everything from cowboys on his quilt to Mrs. Gittel’s liver spots, sharing Hershey kisses each time they reached ten.
His second story is all about the time he did something nice for Mrs. Gittel, when he helped her hold her playing cards on her Gin Rummy day because her fingers hurt like crazy, sharing suckers from the candy dish with each “Gin! I win!”
The third story is all about the time they did something nice for each other, when they spent a day at the Boardwalk because both were missing family, sharing friends and a Photo Booth and peppermints.
How could Rudie’s heart-y soup-making not become a story the next time Mrs. Gittel needs to cook him chicken soup?

I cooked up this story much the same way I cook up chicken soup. First I simmered the story idea (a newspaper article about the very best ingredients when cooking chicken soup). Next I added characters, a setting, time and a problem and sprinkled Yiddish words to maximize the flavor.
But I also made sure to add a measure of me, stirring in stories of my son and his two grandmothers.
For instance, when he and his Philly Grandmom sat for hours at her living room window, counting Volkswagens.
Or when he and his Florida Nana passed rainy days beneath a pool-side umbrella, playing Rummy. (Guess who always won?)
Or how one called him her zeesah boy, her sweet boy, the other her boychik.
When I strained the story the way I would my chicken broth, removing globs of fat and extraneous pieces, I smiled wide at what remained: a heart-felt story about the reciprocity of love.

With flu season upon us, no matter the kind, what could be better than a book about friendship and a bowl of chicken soup?
Everyone knows chicken soup is a known and proven germ-fighter!
If you’re looking for a good recipe, I share Mrs. Gittel’s on my picture book’s last page.

Of course, Mrs. Gittel’s cooking secret isn’t limited to soup.
Thinking of your eaters, remembering nice times, is a nice thing to do when fixing any dish.
In fact, maybe next Thursday, while you’re stuffing your turkey, mashing the potatoes, or whipping up cream, why not add a very nice story about each of your guests?

Happy Story-cookin'!
Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to gather and notate a treasured family recipe.
Aunt Nancy’s Sweet Potato Souffle
Uncle Maury's Cranberry Relish
Cousin Jane’s String Bean Casserole
Grandmom’s Pumpkin Pie.
When interviewing the selected relative or dinner guest, record:
(1) the name of his or her food item/dish
(2) the necessary ingredients (with measurements)
(3) the ordered preparation steps (Let’s hear it for those verbs!)
(4) the suggested presentation (including an illustration or photograph)
Here’s a link to IRA’s and NCTE’s ReadWriteThink website offering How-to Write a Recipe Instructions and sample recipes.
Once you record the recipe on a recipe card, flip the card, then write a very nice story about the recipe’s namesake. Perhaps something you did for the creator, or something he or she did for you, or something you did for each other.
Think about the Question Words that shape a story: Who, What, When, Where, How and Why.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nature, Vacuums, Kitties, and Sundry Things

My week started to go awry on a Wednesday, when my son was scheduled for his 2.5-year check-up.  Our "pediatrician" is one of those mega-offices employing two dozen practitioners in half a dozen different offices.  I picked up my son from school and sat in the waiting room for 10 minutes before learning that I was in the wrong place (wrong city, even).  No worries, I was told -- they could squeeze me in.  I might have to wait "a little while."  Were I using my brain, I would have canceled on the spot.  But of course there's that Mommy Guilt.  And so I drove and waited -- 1.5 hours -- to have my son seen for 5 minutes and to learn (as I already knew) that he is perfectly healthy, even if his projected adult height is 5'2".  I missed the start of naptime at school, so Mommy didn't get much work done that afternoon. 

Thursday afternoon, my daughter had a sedation dentistry appointment for two cavities so tiny they didn't even require novacaine or drilling.  Six hours and many tears later, we were finally home.  Success!  But again, Mommy didn't get much work done.

Friday, both kids had no school.  I had a conference call mid-day and somehow acquired a neighbor child for a play date.  Five minutes into the call, my kids got into a tug-of-war over a bag of Goldfish, with much shrieking entailed.  (Of course everyone knows when Mommy is on the phone with work, it's the best time to cause much mayhem.)  The highlight came (at a moment when the phone was not muted, naturally) when my daughter exited the bathroom, shouting, "Mommy, is my butt red?"

Saturday, my daughter woke up with sniffles, rubbed all the skin off her toe at a play date, and cried when we tried to leave her with a sitter, which we ultimately did not have the heart to do.

By Tuesday, she was home sick.  Wednesday -- more of the same.  Thursday she was better but not better enough to go to school.  I dragged her with me to the community college where I teach.  "It will be boring!" she wailed.  It was a 45-minute trip, and she asked to stop twice en route to use the bathroom.  Once we arrived, she asked for cereal.  She asked for a drink.  Finally, she tugged on my sleeve and said, "Mommy, is it okay if I sleep on the floor?"  And then she lay, flat on the tile floor in the middle of my classroom.  "Maybe we'll end early," I said to the class.   On the way home, I got a call from the air duct cleaners who had previously been scheduled to try to eradicate the odor of cat urine from all our vents (courtesy of one territorial kitty).  He (the man, not the kitty) was early; he did not speak English; and he was lost.  He called four times.  We beat him to the house and quickly departed for a hastily-arranged appointment to check my daughter for a UTI.  This time we made it to the right office, but my daughter refused to pee in the cup, so all was for naught.  We were sent home with a new cup, just in time to see the air vent cleaner (yes, I left a stranger in our house alone) depart.  Our house still smells like cat pee.  My daughter, meanwhile, was so determined not to pee in the cup that she "held it" for over 12 hours.  I decided this capability ruled out a urinary tract infection, master diagnostician that I am.

They say nature abhors a vacuum.  Our vacuum cleaner is, of course, broken.  

After many days of watching me "work," Kate made me proud by declaring that she wants to be a writer when she grows up.  Or a cowgirl, she later amended.  Yee-hah! 

Someday all these crazy years will make me a better writer and not just insane, right?  Someone please reassure me if you've made it this far!  Does anyone have any tips for Butt in Chair that don't involve shaving any more hours of sleep or neglecting my children any more than I already do?  All you Mommy Warriors who have been there -- please share!  TIA and with much gratitude!   JM