Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Word Picture

Yesterday we made our weekly visit to the farm to pick up our CSA box. Great Country Farms is located in Bluemont, Va, a beautfiul town that sits on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Being members of the CSA means that we get a box of produce each week and we get to pick our own produce too. Yesterday, was an exceptionally perfect day, weather-wise. For some people, it might've been a little warm, but for a Texan like me, 85 degrees and sunny is about as good as it gets in June.

As we were walking across a gravel road to the section of the farm dedicated to cherry trees, grapevines and raspberry bushes, we passed under a wooden awning that marks the entrance to the farm. As you're walking along the path, the A-shaped awning creates a frame around a stunning view of rolling hills, with a patchwork of crops growing on the steep slant of the hillside. It looks as though someone went to the top of a small mountain and shook out a big quilt, so that it covers all the foothills below. I told Emma that I had forgotten my camera, so she needed to take a picture of this scene with her imagination's camera and paint it later when we got home. She got really excited by that idea and told me that she was going to need lots of black and red paint so that she could paint the black raspberries we were about to pick. I told her she had a deal.

To get to the black raspberries, you have to pass by the sour cherry trees. If you've ever played the game "Hi Ho Cherry-o," then you can imagine what these cherry trees look like. Cherries really do grow on little stems and dangle down from tree branches just like in the game. Last week we picked the sour cherries and I was surprised by their ripeness, and how they almost disintegrated in my fingers as soon as I picked them. I tried one out just to see the level of sourness we were talking about. Pretty sour. Then I asked another mom who was picking cherries near us if these were indeed the sour cherry trees and not some other deadly, poisonous type of tree masquerading as a cherry tree, and she said they were. She showed me how to hold the low branches down so that my kids could reach up and pick the cherries and put them in their containers. We quickly learned which cherries would burst as soon as we picked them and which ones were firm just by looking at them.

This week we walked past the cherries to the rows of raspberry bushes. It was a long walk, uphill in the bright sun. Last week we were supposed to pick the raspberries, but as we were walking up the hill, past the cherry trees, the sky opened up and we were drenched. Charlie and Teddy were crying as we headed back downhill to the farm for shelter. Emma and I kind of enjoyed the drama of the situation. Ten minutes later we were eating ice cream in the bright sunshine again and wanting to go out and pick raspberries, but, alas, Charlie was no longer in the mood.

Yesterday there was no sign of rain, but there were many signs that Charlie was flagging. I'm wondering if maybe he thought we were climbing up the entire small mountain that lay ahead of us? Sometimes I have to remind myself that kids have very little perception of how far away things are and I think the raspberry bushes just seemed impossibly far to Charlie. We made it eventually, though, and I told Charlie I would wait with him while he rested in the grass. I encouraged Emma to go pick the raspberries without us. She was more than happy to oblige. She is a quick study and soon learned to look for just the right shade of deep, almost black, purple that would signal a sweet, tangy black raspberry. Raspberry bushes have thorns. "Just like roses, Mommy," Emma informed me. When did she learn about roses having thorns? Emma got stuck a few times by the thorns, but didn't cry or complain. Now that she's five-and-a-half, she's learning to put things into perspective. She's figuring out that some things are worth a little pain.

We headed back to the farm and took the hayride out to pick peas next. I am 34 years old and I've never seen English peas in their natural state. I knew they didn't come into this world in Birds Eye packages in the frozen food section, but that was about the extent of my pea knowledge until yesterday. Peas come in just about the cutest packaging you've ever seen in your life. It's a shame the Birds Eye people don't make more of this. They grow on these sweet little vines with curly tendrils spiraling out everywhere. And the pod itself is this beautiful green color, just stuffed with round, cherubic peas. At the top of the pod is a little hat-looking thing that is just too cute for words. No wonder there are so many baby/pea metaphors out there: Pea in the Pod, sweet pea, etc. You can't help but think of a baby all swaddled up with a hat on its head when you look at these adorable little legumes.

It is an understatement to say that the kids had fun picking peas. I'm pretty sure they were some of the most enthusiastic pea-pickers ever. You have to look closely and even lift the pea plant up a little to see the bounty hiding below. The best pea pods seemed to be hiding just out of sight, and you could really only see them if you took the time to look. At one point the kids sat down on the ground in front of a particularly fertile plant and harvested handfuls of pea pods.

Sitting in the dirt among the dainty peas in their sweet pods, the kids were in their element. I wanted to take a picture of it, to somehow preserve the pureness of our moment under the sun and the clouds, our brown bag so full of green peas that we could hardly join the edges together to carry it. It's hard to imagine now, but I know there is a time in our future when my kids' joy will be more complicated. It happened to me...I'm sure it will happen to them too. I wish I had had my camera with me. But sometimes even a camera is not enough to capture what I want to capture.

Monday, June 22, 2009

And the winner is....

Please excuse the sideways-ness of this video...and the messiness of our playroom.

Congratulations to the big winner!!! She will receive a copy of Tilmon County Fire by Pamela Ehrenberg. Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments on my interview with Pam! Thank you especially to Pam for enduring my many many questions, and for chiming in in the comments as well. For those of you who didn't win the big prize this time, please go out and grab a copy of Pam's book from Amazon (click on the link above). It's a fast, engrossing read. You'll love it!

Well, I better run for fishing out the fireman hat from the dress-up box (for the above video) has really opened a whole can of worms dress-up-wise (if worms could dress up as firemen/doctors and pirates/dentists). I'm hoping I can pretend to be a patient/victim and maybe catch a few zzzzz's on the couch.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Author Pamela Ehrenberg discusses her new book

I first met Pam in the apartment of my dear friend Robin when we moved to Washington, D.C. Pam had a super cute baby girl strapped to her in a Baby Bjorn and a novel she was shopping around to publishers (and another she was writing). I thought to myself, "this is someone I want to know better." I still feel that way about Pam. We have been through a lot together since that day in Robin's apartment: writing group, playgroup, we've babysat each other's kids while the other one tried to squeeze in a few minutes of writing time, we've had babies within a week of each other (twice), I've flushed Spiderman underpants down her toilet, the list goes on and on.

Pam's latest book is called Tilmon County Fire. Here's the blurb from the back of the book:

"In Tiny Tilmon County, where it seems like nothing ever happens and the most
serious crimes are vandalism and bar brawls, a mysterious fire rocks the lives
of the teenagers who live there. As the story unfolds, the lines between
truth and fiction, motive and happenstance, guilt and innocence blur. This
novel-in-stories is told in the voices of its disparate cast of characters,
including a frustrated adoptee, a gay teenager, a big-city kid who is new in
town and wishes he were back in Manhattan, a pregnant store clerk, and a boy
with autism, who is more at the center of events than he imagines."

I highly recommend this book. If you start it, you won't be able to stop. Seriously. It's one of those books that calls to you from the nightstand, saying "read me..."

So, without further's my interview with Pam! As usual Pam has amazing things to say about writing and motherhood. Don't forget to leave a comment/question for Pam. I'll put all the comments in a (fireman) hat and the winner will receive a copy of Tilmon County Fire!!! Woo hoo!!!

For the sake of clarity and to look cool, my questions have an MT in front of them and Pam's answers have a PE.

MT: You have managed to publish two novels and have two children in the past four years…First of all, WOW. Second of all, do you find motherhood to be compatible with writing? Why or why not?

PE: You're very kind. I guess I haven't found it compatible in the way I first imagined it would be, when I began my extended "maternity leave" with dreams of long, blissful hours away from a 9-5 job where I could write and write while baby cooed and played. I definitely haven't found it possible to write and parent in the same moment. But in a larger sense, I think for our kids to grow up knowing that we're people first and mothers second--and that being "people" may include being a writer--I think in that way, writing and motherhood are very compatible.

MT: Where do you get your ideas for stories? Are your stories already formed when you sit down to write them, or are you generally staring at a blank page, trying to make these people get up and walk around (like I am)?

PE: It's hard to know where ideas come from . . . I guess I'd say the stories are already formed but not yet known to me--like the characters are up walking around in their own parallel universe already, and my job is to learn what they're doing and find the words to communicate that. I haven't had much success in making my characters do anything they weren't going to do anyway (a bit like parenting sometimes, come to think of it!). I've had better luck with my characters when I stand off to the sidelines and observe them long enough that they forget I'm there.

MT: Are there some ways you have set up your life so that writing gets done? Can you share some of your tips, please?

PE: Well, when Talia was a baby, I promised myself that her morning nap would be devoted to writing, sacred time not to be used for catching-up the way afternoon nap could be. That, of course, doesn't work at all with a second child. But some other things have helped: our regular childcare/writing-time exchange was invaluable, especially knowing that if someone else (you!) was going to the trouble of caring for my child, I'd darn well do what I said I was going to do with that time. There's also the accountability built into our 7-person writing group, the knowledge that 6 people will arrive at your house one evening, possibly carrying cookies, and that someone is going to ask, "So, what have you written this month?" For a while when I was working on this book, I also had a more structured exchange with a friend from college: every other month, we'd each send each other a chunk of what we'd been working on, and in the alternating months we'd send feedback. At the moment, I'm experimenting with Twitter as a motivating force: every time the word count on my new manuscript goes up or down, I get to Tweet about it.

MT: Do you think of yourself as a writer at this point? A stay-at-home mom? A professional laundress? Short order cook? How do you identify yourself?

PE: Ha! You know, the only one of those labels that's always kind of made my neck itch was "stay-at-home mom"--I always felt like I should put a little asterisk by it that I was home for a while trying to launch this writing thing but that I knew from the beginning I would never be very good at castle birthday cakes or so many of the other things that seem to come much more naturally to people who embrace the term "stay-at-home mom." Just recently I've started to identify publicly as a writer--and still with a lot of hesitation, like, "I guess I'm allowed to call myself a writer now?"

MT: I get the hesitation, but I think you're definitely allowed to call yourself a writer. I still hesitate when I say it. I don't mind the stay-at-home mom label, though. Except it sort of sounds like I'm a shut-in. What about motherhood has surprised you most? How does this affect your writing?

PE: When I was pregnant with Talia, someone asked me what I was looking forward to about motherhood, and I said I was looking forward to the excuse to slow down, to stop and really enjoy the dandelions. What's surprised me over the past four years is how much harder I've found it to slow down enough to enjoy those moments--not always be rushing ahead to dinner, bath, bed, whatever the next thing on the kid-genda might be. (You seem to be much better than I am at this, and one of the reasons I read Mommytown is to try to absorb these lessons through osmosis. But if you ever wanted to try a step-by-step for those of us who need remediation in this area, I'd be grateful!) Anyway, I think it's the same kind of slowing down that's needed for writing--needing to know what a dandelion feels like brushing against your cheek or squished between your fingers. Learning to slow down would benefit me in all areas of life!

MT: The trick to slowing down is staying in your jammies for as long as possible every morning. : ) Can you give us a one or two sentence synopsis of what you think Tilmon County Fire is about? I have my own ideas, but I’d rather hear your version.

PE: I think it's about being part of a community, how the stories that belong to each of us really belong to all of us. Cait says at one point, "It's my life, but it's their life too. We're in this together, however we might feel about each other at any particular moment." I think community-building is what you do such an amazing job of here on Mommytown, bringing together moms who sometimes see the world through very different lenses but nonetheless are all in this parenting thing together. (Oops, that was three sentences--four, now.) : )

MT: What are your goals for Tilmon County Fire? Are you hoping to ruffle a few feathers with this book? Maybe take some people out of their comfort zone a little? Do you think it’s too edgy to be read in a high school English class? I would hope that’s not the case, but what do you think (being a former teacher and all)?

PE: Gosh, you know, it's only in the past few days that I've let myself start wondering if enough people might notice the book that someone might get their feathers ruffled. I don't think it had occurred to me that any grown-ups other than my writing group pals and a few hip librarians would ever even hear about it. Hopefully we're beyond the point where gay teens, inter-racial dating, or National Public Radio are feather-ruffling topics for many people--but if these things are in fact outside some people's comfort zones, then I guess, yeah, having identified some feathers in need of ruffling, I'd be honored to accept that as a goal. And I would love for the book to be read in English classes--the publisher is working on a discussion guide that will hopefully be helpful to teachers and other educators who'd like to use the book.

MT: Emma has a question for you: “How do you make a book real?” (She has a butterfly book she’s looking to pitch.)

PE: Hi, Emma! Thanks so much for joining in. Do you mean "real" like make people believe your story really happened? If so, my advice is to know that butterfly so well--the colors on its wings, how it looks when it sits and flies--that you can describe it so readers feel like they're seeing it too. If you mean "real" like "published," the first thing I'd say is that your story is already real--it doesn't become more real when it gets published, it just means more people have a chance to read it. But you might have fun checking into some publishing opportunities for kids--maybe Highlights magazine?

MT: Highlights! I'll have to look into that. Although if Emma gets published before me, I might just give up. Got any books you’re dying to read this summer (in all your spare time)?

PE: You know, it's only in the past month or two that I've been able to read fiction again. After my husband died last summer, there was some part of my brain that closed off and couldn't let any imaginary worlds in for about 7 or 8 months, which is the longest I've gone without fiction since I learned how to read. But slowly that's opened up again, and I'm currently reading a terrific new novel called I Do Not Come to You by Chance (by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani) about Nigerian email scams. : ) Next up I want to read Dara Horn's new book, All Other Nights. I've just learned how to reserve library books online and have them sent over from other branches--I think the library has had this capacity for a while, but it's new for me and feels very liberating. Almost as easy as ordering from Amazon, and it's free!

MT: I am in love with the library right now. I might want to marry it. Except sometimes I get sad when I can't remember what books I've read because they were library books and I can't look at them on my shelves. I spend a lot of time looking at the books on my shelves. They inspire me. Do you have any words of wisdom for moms who have the desire to be creative?

PE: Every mom I know is creative, whether it turns up in her artistic pursuits, her kids' birthday cakes, or her ability to create an ad hoc burp cloth out of conference notes. In terms of moms who ware wanting to use their creativity in some kind of "official" pursuit (in the arts, or setting up a business, or whatever), at the moment I'm all about "social networking"--not just in the sense of Lightning Question #4 below, but in the old-fashioned sense of talking to your friends' friends' friends--it's amazing how enough of these conversations invariably seem to lead to people who can be role models, mentors, and allies. And with enough practice at telling people about your project, eventually you just might start believing it yourself.

MT: Okay, Pam. Here’s the lightning round. Answer the first thing that pops into your head. Ready? Set? Go! Which would you rather achieve in a day: write five pages or have your whole house clean at once?

PE: Write five pages. (Because I can actually imagine that one--the other choice is too far outside my realm of consciousness.)

MT: How do you celebrate when you finish a draft? Champagne, marshmallows, more writing?

PE: I'm not sure I've ever managed to identify the moment when I've finished a draft. More often, I realize that this thing I'm working on has morphed significantly since I started calling it "Draft 2" and so perhaps it's actually "Draft 3" that I've now been working on. I like your suggestions, though!

MT: If you weren’t a writer, what other profession would you pursue?

PE: I keep getting stuck on this one. Is there a profession where I could get paid to travel but not have to write about my experiences or spend any time in conference rooms?

MT: Facebook or Twitter?

PE: Both! Also MySpace, LinkedIn, and GoodReads. Web 2.0 was *made* for introverts like me who are too shy to pick up the phone and call someone.

MT: Box mac ‘n cheese or homemade?

PE: Homemade. (This question is about preference, not frequency, right?)

MT: Which do you prefer writing: dialogue or description?

PE: Dialogue. Fills the page much quicker when my goal is a certain number of pages per day.

When you’re blocked, do you
A) Write garbage and then delete
B) Stare at a blank screen
C) Other

PE: A & C. Flip to a section that doesn't repulse me at that moment, and write garbage there. That's why I like novels more than short stories--less likely that the whole project will repulse me at the same time.

MT: Sleep training or personal training—which would be more useful to you at this point?

PE: Sorry--what was that? You lost me after the word "sleep."

MT: Which is harder: Revising a novel for the billionth time or potty training?

PE: Well, with potty training you kind of know from the beginning what the end result is, and it's usually clear whether what's happening at that moment is progressing toward the goal. And you've got people reminding you that no one goes to college in diapers, that everyone meets the goal eventually. Whereas there are lots more unrevised/unfinished/never-really-got-started novels out there (by which I mean on my hard drive) than I like to think about. Though that doesn't really answer the question, does it? Which--by the way--just might be my favorite question I've ever been asked. : )

MT: Would you want your babies to grow up to be writers?

PE: Only if they can't help it. Wait, that didn't sound right. What I meant was, I want them to find whatever it is they can't help being, then not try to fight against being that thing (as I did for so long about being a writer).

MT: Whew! Okay, that may have been the longest interview in history! I just couldn't help myself...I love talking to Pam! If you're still reading, then you should definitely leave a comment because you're obviously quite the reader and you would LOVE Pam's book! Pam will be reading the comments and questions, so feel free to address things to her or me. Thank you!!!

P.S. Please leave a comment! (even if you're not the comment-leaving type. You know who are.) : )

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How "De-Grating": Jon & Kate + 8 = Depressing

At first I felt sorry for Jon & Kate. Now, I think they're either sort of evil or just really, really clueless. It's hard to feel sorry for people who seem so intent on perpetuating (and profiting from) their own family's demise. I think TLC should pull the show (this will never happen) and stop the insanity. Here's an article from Slate that says things much more maliciously than I am capable of... I didn't see the show on Monday, but I don't really want to after reading this article.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

School's Out for Summer

Summer vacation is becoming less and less a time to hang out by the pool and run around outside unstructured-ly and more and more a time to sign up for various week-long camps: gymnastics camp, soccer camp, nature camp, ballet camp...I saw a flyer for handwriting boot camp just today. I mean, if everyone's just going to be in camps working on their handwriting and pirouettes all summer, then that's not much of a vacation. It sort of makes you wonder why we don't just go to school all year long, doesn't it? That would certainly benefit the multitudes of people who not only enjoy jai alai camp, but require it as a form of childcare when school's not in session.

Here's an article proposing that we have school year-round...I don't know about you, but I'm kind of thinking that more school doesn't necessarily equal smarter kids. Maybe it's just me. I think something's broken with our education system, but it's not necessarily summer vacation that needs fixing. What do you think?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kinda sorta unplugged

It's been a long time since I've posted anything. The kids are out of school now and have been for a few weeks... I was expecting to be hating life right about now, but it's sort of weird how smoothly things have been going. I've been slowly cutting back on the screen time, and at this point we are pretty much not watching TV and not playing computer games-- except for the occasional Magic School Bus episode (see the Twitter update to the right) or just today we rented some really nerdy DVDs from the library (how about that crazy run-on sentence?). I kind of feel like anything with a call number doesn't really count as TV.

Speaking of the library, the kids just got their own library cards today!! What a milestone! I remember getting my own card about 5,000 years ago and it was quite a proud moment in my life. Emma is reading (!) and so I figured it was high time she have her own card. I wasn't really expecting that Charlie would be allowed to get a card, but he was able to "sign" his name, so they let him have one as well. It is so cute to see their names scrawled on the signature lines of their cards. I want to take the cards from them and mount them on the wall for posterity, but I think they would be a little ticked off if I did that. They are beyond proud of themselves.

So we've been not watching TV and doing stuff like going to the library and to the farm to pick strawberries and swimming a little. So far, so good, Summer. You can stick around for a while.

I have been amazed at how much turning off the TV *most* of the time has improved Charlie and Emma's behavior and general joi de vivre. I was expecting to have to literally put chains around the TV armoire and throw away the key in order to try this unplugging thing, but that has so not been the case. They don't even ask me to watch TV! I feel like I'm sounding so braggy in this post. I'm not meaning to. I'm not saying my kids are little angels all day long or anything, but I'm just amazed at how much better they play and how much more stimulated they are without the TV to get in their way and do all their work for them.

Well, I just wanted to do a quick post...sort of pop my head in and say hello. I think I need to head to bed soon.

Keep checking back...Mommytown is going to be a stop on a blog book tour (think a regular book tour, except in cyberspace)!! And there might even be a giveaway involved!!! And maybe even ice cream!!!! Okay, I got a little carried away....there won't be any ice cream, but the rest is true!

Nighty night.