High School! Musical!

Jack and Charlie, my fourteen year old twins, started high school earlier this week.  William, who is 10, started rehearsals for Oliver!, the musical that comes with an exclamation mark at the end, no matter where in a sentence you put it, which is weird, except for the fact that we’re pretty damned excited about the whole thing, so we’ll go with the exclamation mark for now.

Those things — High School!  Musical!  – have only in common that they’re the beginning of something B-I-G for the boys involved. Lockers! Taking the bus! Open campus! Girls! (for the boy who went to a boys’ school for all those many years before high school.) Orphans! Dancing! Gruel!  (But not dancing gruel.  Those things are separated by the mighty exclamation mark.   Dancing with bowls of gruel in your hands, though, I understand that’s on the menu.)

It just occurred to me that I could write an entire blog post punctuated only with exclamation points, except I also plan to write about my own life, which tonight anyway requires the opposite of the exclamation point, a punctuation mark I just invented called the “downer point.” It looks like a downward facing arrow.  I’d add it right here, but I’m no good at that kind of thing.  You’ll have to imagine it.

Here’s the downer:  the boys are beginning new things.  But I am not.  I think I said a month or two ago that I found a really great agent to work with. Really good guy.   Sells a lot of books.  Writes books about how to write books and they make sense and are inspiring. This is so not a downer.  This is wonderful and I am thrilled.  The downer is that he won’t be selling my book until I revise it.  The whole thing.  That’s a lot of chapters, blogfriends.  All chapters that could be better and all chapters I have to think really  hard about in order to make the better.  Have I mentioned how this is HARD?  Waaah.  Plus I’m scared.  AND I’m BUSY.  I have to drive people places and work at my job and cook and clean and …. you know.  I’m whining.  I’ll stop.

Also.   Finding your locker and not getting egged by seniors and learning how to talk to girls and having to eat a steady diet of gruel and then getting sent out in the snow to be sold to the highest bidder is actually, when you think about it, way way worse than tightening up each and every scene of your book for a guy who’s waiting patiently for you to get on with it so he can maybe sell it for you.  Just look at my kids.  They get on with it.  In fact, they’re getting on with it with so much verve and excitement and mad confidence that a new punctuation mark needs to be invented for their acts of crazy, getting-out-there-in-the-world behavior.  Something wild-eyed.  That’s how I should revise  my book, don’t you think?  Like them:  full tilt, knowing it’ll all work out one way or another and whatever happens, it’ll be interesting and fun and, if you keep your head down, the chances are pretty good that you won’t get egged by a senior.

A Thing of Beauty

Thing of Beauty (n):  Boy A does a push-up while Boy B releases skateboard UNDER Boy A and jumps over him, and then lands on the skateboard, after which time all spectators and Boy A and  Boy B shout, "Man, was that a Thing of Beauty or what!"

Thing of Beauty (n): Twin A does a push-up while Twin B releases skateboard UNDER Twin A and jumps over him, and then lands on the skateboard, after which all spectators (except mother, who is frozen in place) and Twin A and B shout, "Man. THAT was a Thing of Beauty!"

We all know it’s a joy forever.  (And if you didn’t, you do now.)  But have you actually READ those lines recently?  You should.  They’re here, at the end of this post.

Can You Bake a Cherry Cake?

cherry cakeEvery week, I teach a creative writing class at William’s school.  The class consists of me, ten boys, and their teacher Brenna.  I love this class.  They sit there, their pencils clutched in their hands, squirming around in their chairs, writing wild, wild stuff.  When you’re nine or ten, you still have a fully intact imagination — most likely no one’s told you yet that your story violates the laws of physics (what would I know about that?) or that your inability to spell “rocket launcher” means you won’t make it as a writer.  I will not be the person saying those things, that’s for sure.

It’s cherry season, and the class is today at 11:30 — right before  lunch.  I’m bringing them cherry cake.  Really, it could be blackberry cake, or peach cake, or apple cake.  Basically, it’s a very thick batter with fruit on top and powdered sugar on top of all that.  I love this cake, make it all the time, and have even written about it before on the blog.  For those who don’t know about it, you really should.  Here’s the recipe.  Easiest thing in the world.

Happy Almost Friday!

Spring!

I am aware that it appears as though I’ve been loading up my  u-haul for the last three weeks in preparation for my move to the East Coast, where I will be pitching a tent in the Guilford Green and taking showers in the Guilford Free Library, because I will have no home and no job there when I arrive.

But, in fact, that’s not what happened after my recent trip to the east coast.  I got home to Berkeley.  Spring’s arrival is unambiguous.  Poppies everywhere.  Jasmine blooming in huge bunches.   Meyer lemons bursting on our bush outside.  How could I live anywhere but where I live?  And so I became distracted from blogging and everything else, and for three weeks I’ve been picking bunches of blooming things and coloring easter eggs and cooking stuff.   Lovely.  

While doing all that, I’ve been thinking about this particular time in my life.  Spring is universal and timeless.  It comes.  It goes.   Things burst into life and then they are dormant.  Against that backdrop though, my children are becoming teenagers — a season I won’t ever see again, but one I love watching from a distance.  

What I’ve noticed is that this  bursting-into-life, their spring, is actually pretty wonderful.  Adolescence is a time of big, gusty emotion, which can be a pain to deal with and can really unbalance a woman who isn’t used to that kind of drama (except when she’s doing it).  It’s also, though, a hugely fun time.  My kids are mischievous — they tease each other and me, and although I know that doesn’t sound like a big thing, I love it that they feel enough freedom to give me a hard time about listening to Lady GaGa.   I also love it that Lady GaGa, with her many weird outfits exists this spring.  And my kids are excited about being freer, about going to a big urban high school in the fall, about finding their own way — on the bus and at that school and then into the bigger world.  

This weekend, Jack’s performing in Rigoletto — he has three lines on that huge stage, but he belts them out beautifully.  And Charlie?  He’s jumping off things on his skateboard that are very big — and spinning around when he does it and then landing and looking like it was all no big deal.  (While he wears the helmet I force him to wear).  It’s scary and exciting and fun to watch them.  I love being the mother of these kids, love the way they’re stepping onto the stage and launching themselves into life.  

Happy Spring!

Shared Parenting

There was a big thing in the New York Times Magazine yesterday about “equal parenting,” which apparently is a kind of stealth movement out there in parent-land, where both parents juggle it all instead of just one parent juggling it all.

I was sort of busy revising my novel while W (my husband) was outside finishing the skateboard thing he’s building for the boys and running around town to buy Jack some last minute items for his choir tour, but I did register the thought that we’re those kind of parents. I mean, I think we are, because I didn’t have time to read the whole article and most of what I know about it comes from the captions on the pictures of people who looked awfully young to me.

The thing is, though, that the last time we were able to talk about our shared parenting (in some way other than a two second conversation about who’s going to pick up William from his drum lessons) was in 1990. Okay. Since it’s been 18 years since I last really articulated the thinking that goes into the parenting I do with W , I’m due for a little talking about it. Oh, and also, it was Father’s Day yesterday, so it seems appropriate to talk about fathering.

Here’s the setting for that conversation. Fall 1990. We were probably having a drought here in California, because it was hot, hot, hot and we had all the windows open. We were driving to Yosemite, on one of those very windy roads where to keep yourself from getting sick and to make sure the driver (in this case W) is not falling asleep at the wheel, you must absolutely bring up a controversial topic in a loud voice so you can be distracted from getting sick and he can be distracted from falling asleep.

We were about to get married, so there was a ton of stuff to talk about. (Don’t get me started on why it was that I had to wear the complicated dress, complicated both from a fashion and political point of view and he got to rent the same penguin suit thing all men wear.) The discussion I chose to start had to do with whether we were going to have children. Of course, the reason we were getting married was because we were pretty sure we’d have some children, but we’d never really discussed it, so it seemed like a good thing to bring up.

At that time, I could still remember some of the feminist theory I’d read in college. There hadn’t been a lot of stuff about parenting. In fact, the only thing I knew about feminist parenting came from Dorothy Dinnerstein (remember her? Mermaid? Minotaur?). From her, for some reason, I had drawn the conclusion that the Reason There is So Much Fighting in the World is because men aren ‘t properly parented. Which is to say they don’t have fathers who mother them and so they end up killing each other. Or something like that.

So I said, honey, I’m not going to have children unless you’re going to raise them as much as I am. Half and half, okay? At that time, W was busy thinking about whether he was going to take one of those jobs where you go to far away places and make a bunch of money as a consultant, and see your wife and family not that often. So he took this statement seriously. We drove and drove and drove on that twisty road talking about mermaids and minotaurs and consulting jobs and stuff, and by the end of it, we’d agreed — we would be equal parents. I am not surprised that he agreed to this because he is a person of integrity and fairness and he likes to work hard at things, which, it turned out, is what parenting is all about.

He bought a small company of his own, in the end, and never did become a consultant, in part because when you are the boss you get to decide how you’re going to run things. Which is to say that the single best way to institute family friendly work policies is to own the company at which those policies are in force. What are those policies, you ask? The ability to work at home is one. The flexibility to do things with your children when those things must be done, and then stay up until midnight doing the other things that could wait just a bit so you could take your child to the orthodontist is another.

It turns out, though, that our equal parenting also had a lot to do with having twins. I can see how we might not have ended up the way we did. That’s because my impulse when I became pregnant was to just take over. Look, I can carry two at once! Next, I’ll give birth to them in beautiful pain! And then, hey, how about all that nursing I will do! I had no idea what he’d do, before he started doing it.

That happened when they arrived — both of them. Fortunately for me, the babies and W, you can’t monopolize parenting if you have two babies at once and you discover all that nursing is making you really, really tired. And so, because we started off having to share, it just never ended. It’s not exact — but for both of us it feels pretty even. (Lately, W would say it is not even, and that I spend so much time writing that our children don’t know what a mother looks like, unless it’s the OTHER mothers they see way more than they see me. He might be right, you know. I wonder what Dorothy Dinnerstein would make of that. Still, equal parenting can sustain a little unequal stint every once in a while — it rights itself, I think, if you pay attention to it.)

This is what it looked like today, for example. It is summer vacation. We both work. Jack had to be taken to the airport. I took him and came into work. Charlie and William have no plans today. W arranged for them to meet a good friend at his work, and go to the park with her. (Please note that I did not make this plan. Shared parenting means being totally responsible for the planning of the days you are on duty as the parent.) I am writing this afternoon and tonight. W is taking the boys out to dinner. Tomorrow he is working at home, while they are at home hanging out. I am working, and writing. I’m in charge of Wednesday and am working on childcare arrangements for the time I will be at work. Thursday he is in charge. Next week, after I get back from a weekend away, he and I are on vacation and we will all be in charge. That is usually a very exciting free-for-all of strong willed people that sometimes ends in tears or a lot of yelling and sometimes is a lot of fun. After that, the camps I organized, and the two nice young women I’ve hired to hang out with the boys take over the childcare.

Which brings me to another important point.  We share parenting between more than  just the two of us.  Important people in our lives and the lives of our children have helped us raise our children.  I have always worked part time (except for a year or so of full time work) and W has always worked a schedule where he either does the morning shift at home or the afternoon school pick up shift.  When the boys were little, one woman — Aurelia Madrid — cared for them during the days both of us had to be at work.  It is hard to think of a name for her — she’s neither an aunt nor a nanny.  She’s a third parent, really.  She brings things into our lives that we wouldn’t otherwise have:  she has a better sense of humor than I do, she’s more easy-going, she keeps them busy really beautifully, and she loves them, as they do her.  So, you see, shared parenting isn’t a two people endeavor, not at least in our life.

And so it goes. A lot of stuff around here gets done at the last minute. Sometimes it is more W doing the child care, sometimes it is more me. We are both sometimes up very late doing the things we love to do that we did not get to do during the day because we are also parents. Shared parenting may not change the world and stop wars, but it does make people happy — both of us. My husband loves his fathering work as much as he loves being an engineer and designing amazing things, and being a windsurfer who’s very fast out there on the San Francisco Bay and a great skier and rock climber to boot. He does all these things, and feels, as I do about my own passions, that he doesn’t do any of them as well as he’d like, but at least he gets to give it a shot. So, yes, I can honestly say, 12 years into the shared parenting endeavor, that it’s a good, worthwhile thing to do. Not everyone can do it, or wants to do it and that’s fine too. I know plenty of families where one parent specializes in the on-site parenting work and, honestly, I no longer believe those children are going to go out and start a bunch of wars. The funny thing is that if people choose that sort of parenting arrangement (women mostly, I think), rather than have it thrust on them, that works pretty well too.

I can’t think of how to end this post except to say that my husband is a remarkable man, and I am lucky to have met him and married him and had those three children with him. He’s a gem. Tired, but a gem.

Short Forms

It’s been a terribly busy week, which is why, if you’ve checked in here this week, you kept seeing that post telling you it’s Friday when it’s actually NOT Friday.

There have been performances (William was the bus driver who denied Rosa Parks her seat — he played this key role in a choral performance dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King), and projects due (Charlie knows a lot about Venus Fly Traps),  and two of the boys are going on tour with their choirs in a week or two, which means you have to buy black pants that fit and also you have to find their passports, tasks that sound pretty simple but, in reality, turn out to be odysseys of epic proportions. Somewhere in the middle of the week someone managed to break two bones in his hand playing football, which necessitated three trips to the doctor for diagnosis, x-rays, and a very handsome black cast.

That is why, during the week, I have read a couple of short stories, and written the beginnings of two stories, and revised another one, and have not worked on revising my novel. The best novel writing requires that you stay in the world of your novel while you are writing and revising it so you remember what the weather is like, and the shifts in your characters’ emotional states, not to mention the color of their hair you mentioned 100 pages earlier.  That is simply impossible, I’ve concluded, when people go out of town and children break bones and I have to drive kids to school, and pick them up and work and do the dishes.

I know that writers don’t choose literary forms entirely because of time constraints, nor do readers chose poems and short stories because they don’t have the concentration necessary to stay with a novel, but I do think the reason I am writing this post this morning, and not working on my novel, or even on a short story, is because it is 6:45 a.m. and William is sitting on my bed writing, in very competent cursive handwriting, a report about Jimi Hendrix’s life and the only thing I can do while he’s asking me how to spell England and counting out the number of paragraphs left to write and losing his pen, is this blog post, about how you fit what you write and read into the life you live.

I will be so happy when school is over and summer arrives and there is time to stretch out and read novels, not to mention edit them.

Dorf:1 Angel: 0

I mean, you might think it’s the other way around and the angel comes out better than the dorf. Go here to the May 23, 2008 entry and tell me who you think comes out better in this literary exchange: William or his third grade teacher. (Two sentences! A two sentence post! A miracle of brevity!)

Okay, okay, a third sentence: I actually do read books, and I’ve updated my “reading” page up there at the top to prove it, and discovered at the very end of that update that I actually don’t like Hemingway’s early short stories (okay, I HATE them), and I’m mystified by that discovery, so pretty soon I’ll update that page and talk about that. (Whew.)

When Advil Won’t Do

Tonight, I overheard one of our children — the one who had to stay up late to work on his science project — telling my husband he had a headache. “Maybe I should take some advil, dad. Or some tylenol.” There was a pause. “Or how about some morphine?”

Clearly, it’s time for summer vacation. It’s also time to answer litlove’s questions about being a mother. Always happy to help with scientific and literary research, I provide my answers below:

How do you view your role as a parent? What are you there to do?

I’m here to keep them from being killed crossing the road, and from chewing with their mouths open when they’re having dinner with the first person they’ve ever loved. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure I should be standing out of their way, and letting them become the people they’re meant to be. Being a terribly bossy woman, I have an awfully hard time with that, but that’s what I aspire to.

In your social circle, are mothers expected to work or are they encouraged to stay home with the child?

Every mother I know well (and those are the mothers I think of as being in my “social circle”) has a sense of herself as having work in addition to her work as a mother. Even if she is currently staying home with her children, the women I know are still thinking about this work, and how to fit it in with their lives. So, I’d say, the women in my social circle are expected (because that’s what they expect of themselves) to have pursuits in addition to caring for their children.

As for physically staying at home, rather than going out to a paying job, that’s a very fluid thing in my community of friends.  There’s a lot of in and out — being home for a while when the children are very young, working part time, working from home are all common choices.  Very few women I know who have children my children’s ages (middle and elementary school ages) work full time at those terribly high powered jobs where they travel a lot and wear clean, pressed clothes — the kinds of jobs where you don’t have time to have much time with your children.   I have noticed though that as my friends’ children get older, their clothes are getting cleaner, and they are traveling more for work, and getting to put more time into the things they like to do besides raising children.  One thing I do know is that most of the women I know are too smart and too busy and too aware of how hard it is to parent and work to buy into the false dichotomy that is the stay-at-home mom vs. working mom thing. 

How do you feel about your child’s education? What’s good about it, and what do you wish could be done differently?

I have three children, and what their early educations all have in common is that they have involved the acquisition of a second language because I think that is a hugely important thing for Americans to do for reasons that should be obvious. In the case of my twins, that language was French, which was acquired at a private French school. My youngest child is fluent in Spanish, a language he learned completely free of charge, courtesy of the Spanish immersion program run by the Berkeley Public Schools. What’s good about their education is that we have lots of choices about how to educate them, both public and private. In some ways, that’s also what’s bad about their education. They don’t all go to the same schools with the children in our neighborhood and that makes their social lives a little scattered.

How do you share the childcare with your partner (if it is shared)? Do you tend towards different activities or different approaches to parenting?

We’re into being “equal.” What that means is that my husband does the morning childcare jobs (lunch making, breakfast making, dropping off at school) and I do the afternoon childcare jobs (picking up, homework browbeating, taking people to lessons and sports). I tend to specialize in instilling them with a love of reading and a little bit of religious education, despite the fact that I don’t actually believe in God most of the time. He specializes in making them fabulous skiers and windsurfers (and rock climbers). We’re nothing alike, and we think that’s probably good for them.

What are the most important virtues to instill in a child?

To keep their eyes open for the thing they love, and to figure out how to do that thing for a living — or to find a decent day job so they can do the thing they love the rest of the time. Is that a virtue? Yes, in fact, it is.

The other important virtue is a skill as much as a virtue. It is learning to really see other people — to listen to them, to try to understand why they do what they do, and in so doing to become a compassionate and loving person.

What’s the relationship like between mothers at the park and the school gate? Would someone you didn’t know help you out in a stressful moment?

I rush in and out of school so much these days I can hardly tell. I probably feel guilty at some level that I’m not participating in the mother-life of my childrens’ schools. But I feel ruthless these days about doing the things I want to do and not getting sucked into running the school auction. But yes, even though I’m not so great about school participation these days, and so am a virtual stranger to many of the mothers at my children’s schools, I’m pretty sure that anybody I asked for help would pitch in and help me. And I’d do the same for them.

What do you fear most for your child?

That they won’t ever find the thing they love to do.

How do you discipline your child and what are the errors you would put most effort into correcting?

I don’t think anybody learns anything from being punished except to sneak around and to be afraid. That said, I have the terrible flaw of yelling at my children when they fight with each other, or are rude to me, or do other stuff that bugs me. I apologize, and try not to hate that about myself too much. How do you get children to do what they should? Well, you model it, of course. Unfortunately, even though I do know this, I still lecture them like crazy. Poor things.

The errors I tend to focus on beyond table manners?  In giving freely, without expecting things in return, there is an enormous amount of happiness.  So, I try to model that, and try to encourage them to be that way.  It’s a work in progress.  I’m not always as generous as I could be, that’s for sure.

Do you think the life of a child has changed much since you were young?

Well, their childhoods look different from mine, with much more privilege and a different style of parenting, but no, I don’t think the fundamental nature of being a child — the imaginative life, and the way children develop — has changed one bit.

What’s the best compliment your child could pay you for your parenting skills?

You might have yelled at us and lectured us and never made brownies like the other moms, but we know you love us and we’d like to invite you to come see us do the thing we love. (Oh, and by the way? We know how to chew with our mouths closed. We always did know how. We just pretended like we didn’t to bug you.)

Happy Mama Day!

Aw. William made me breakfast in bed this morning. He burned himself on the sausage, thus demonstrating his utter devotion to his mother, and his willingness to risk his life for her. (He would like to say that, in fact, there’s no way he’d risk his life for me. That’s my job. That’s why I get breakfast in bed. Because I would, in fact, risk my life for him. In a pinch, I’d ask his dad to do it. That’s why, on father’s day, he gets double breakfast in bed.)

Signing off for now, using William’s favorite phrase, “Burp you later, dude!”

Ten Poops Away From a Tech Deck

Heard around the BlogLily household this morning, father to son, “Dude, you’re ten poops away from a tech deck.”

Translation? Well, we’ve instituted a little reward for doing what you should be doing anyway program — the idea is if you walk Archie ten times (over a one week period, the week being written down on a little anal piece of paper with squares for eligible walks, a picture of which I might even post at some point), then you get something called a tech deck, which is a ridiculous remarkable toy that’s essentially a small skateboard that kids do tricks with, using their fingers. That ridiculous amazing toy is the object of much desire among 2/3 of the BlogLily children, the other being more interested in getting to go to Dark Carnival, our neighborhood bookstore, and buying a comic book.

So. In what can loosely be described as an inspiration, I decided to throw in the chance to get a walk credit for every five Archie poops picked up in the backyard. Don’t work too hard imagining our backyard, okay? Some are willing to scoop poop if it means they’ll get a tech deck. Others need to be reminded. That’s what their father was talking about this morning.

Which brings me, as usual, to something profound. Okay. Profound-ish.

Rewards are not a bad thing. I mean, really, there are just some jobs that don’t float one’s boat. And there’s nothing wrong with a little incentive to get you going.

I’d love to hear about reward programs in other households. In fact, if you leave a comment about a rewards program, I’ll SEND you a reward of some kind. I have a lot of stamps. And a lot of books/cool papers/pens/pencils/rulers/paper clips/paper objects. I promise not to send you a poop. I couldn’t, really, even if I was that much of a weirdo because they’ve all been pretty much scooped up.

Happy weekend all!

Eliot Spitzer: PG-13 Version

I was all ready to give you a post about the fun weekend I spent in San Francisco with three women friends — we stayed at the Kabuki Hotel, had dinner on Fillmore Street and in the Mission, drank martinis, saw that Miss Pettigrew movie at the new Sundance Theater next to the hotel, shopped at high end stores and one of us (okay, me) went to the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, but I realize that it is far more urgent to tell you how one family (mine, natch), dealt with Eliot Spitzer’s little escapade.

I figured they’d hear about it, so I just told them. What did I tell them, you ask, reasonably enough? That it’s illegal to pay for sex. And he did pay for it. And he shouldn’t have. Plus, he told a lot of people not to do bad things, so that made him look especially stupid, the way I look when I tell them not to eat junk food and then am caught sneaking their Halloween candy. (But I was just, you know, saving you from it….)

William looked puzzled by the whole thing, frankly. But he did seem interested in making sure he understood the ins and outs of this rule. His question: “What happens if somebody says they’ll have sex with you and you’re just so happy about it that you want to GIVE them a whole lot of money? Is that okay?”

Sigh. It’s important not to get stuff and love mixed up together is what I said, a little preachily, in an Eliot Spitzer kind of way.

And then it was Charlie’s turn to get all U.S. Attorney on me and bust me for my hypocrisy — “But mom, what about that time dad gave you a bread knife for Christmas and you were so mad at him because you thought it was pearls and it wasn’t?”

Sigh.

The conversation moved on to whether we’d sacrifice Archie, our alpha rescue poodle, for a human life. (In other words, if you could save someone’s life by sacrificing Archie’s, would you?) It was not entirely clear that they would give their dog’s life for a human life, which I guess today sort of makes a little sense, given how unevolved humans seem. I kept quiet, given my issue with the bread knife that should have been pearls and my consumption of Halloween candy. (Can you say “glass house” and “he who is without sin”?)  I let them hash it out, because they are far better at what’s really moral than I am, or most adults are, come to think of it, including Eliot Spitzer and those who are up in arms about him today. They decided that they’d never have to give up Archie, but they would if they did, and then the conversation turned to why it’s not okay to call someone “gay” as an insult. I’ll leave that for another day. Eliot Spitzer has totally worn me out.

You Smell Like Disneyland

I think the people at Guerlain might have been taken aback by the conversation in the car on the way to school this morning in which there was some discussion about the lovely Acqua Allegoria floral perfume I was sporting.  It was not, actually, my intention to smell like Disneyland.  Nor was it my intention to smell, as the perfume critic/child said hastily, when he noticed my shocked look, like the “outside of Disneyland,” as though a little distance from the House of the Mouse might make that comparison less troubling. 

But at least they meant it as a compliment, which is how I’m going to take it .

This slight post, you must realize, is just an excuse to tag more planners.  (Ah, Stefanie, you thought maybe I was not going to tag you?  Wrong.  I have a Tag Plan.  It involves a happy half hour browsing through my blogroll and thinking about how lucky I am to know so many smart, funny, impressive people before choosing a group of them at random to browbeat into saying a word or two about how they plan something, anything, that matters to them.  The holidays.  Building a huge office building.  Finishing a novel.  Discovering the source of the Nile.  Getting a poem out into the world.) 

meeta, whose blog was a place where I got to write about my obsession with packed lunches, before I discovered I couldn’t keep that up and breathe at the same time.

 If you have ever run out of things to read, all you really have to do is consult the right hand side of dark orpheus‘s blog.  There is an awful lot of reading going on over there.  Naturally, I would like to know how all that gets done.

Jana, who draws and paints almost every day.  Lovely, lovely watercolors and sketches.  Some days you do not want words.  And then you go here.  I wonder how someone who is so visual makes a plan. 

I realize this is only four blogs, but what wonderful blogs they are! 

Shots on Goal

One thing I really like about children is how fundamentally decent they are, and how wise. When I told William a little while ago that I was feeling a little worried and a little bad about this literary prize my novel’s up for, he said, “You know mom, it doesn’t matter if you lose and it’s nice if you win.” And then, to buck me up, he shared one of his own writing submission stories: “I didn’t win that scary story contest at school, but I don’t care. I kind of suck at writing scary stories.” Well, I didn’t win that Fabri Prize, although I got a really lovely note from the people at Boaz Publishing saying some nice things about my book, which doesn’t actually suck, but maybe wasn’t just what they wanted.

This experience isn’t going to prevent me from writing stories and books and sending them out over and over again. It’s just one of many shots on goal. That’s something I learned from soccer, a game I do not play, but watch endlessly, and even, one night when I had absolutely nothing better to do, read an entire book about. In that book, I came across an astonishing and life-changing fact: for every goal that is scored, a player has to make ten shots on goal. I love that fact. If you keep kicking in the general direction of the goal, and pay attention to where your kicks go, and try to make them straighter, truer and stronger, you will eventually get the ball in the net. If you are a writer, you have to take hundreds of shots, but that is the only significant difference between you and David Beckham. Well, almost. And that, my friends, is the only sports metaphor you will probably ever hear from me.

Have a great weekend — and don’t forget to show me when and how you’re going to be planning your own shots on the goal.

Laying in Provisions for the Long Winter

Around here, our favorite of all the Little House books is Farmer Boy simply because of the astonishing amount of food Laura’s husband to be, Almanzo, consumed every day.  We read it out loud at night a couple of years ago and I found myself down in the kitchen every night after everyone was asleep, rooting around for provisions.  Our cellar, alas, did not look like Almanzo’s, so I had to make do, most nights with left- over pudding cups and the occasional stash of pretzels at the back of the cupboard. 

Here are the sorts of food descriptions that led directly to the consumption of pudding cups and pretzels: 

“Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth. He ate mealy-boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp, golden crust.”

and this:

“Mother was frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies.”

(With thanks to the Bookbag for those quotes.)

And that’s why the one thing we’ve decided to spend money on during Little House on the Prairie Month is food.  The idea here is not to bring any more material goods into our house, thereby enriching our sense of plenty by sharpening our appreciation for material things.  We can do that, as long as we can get somebody to make some of those spicy cakes and syrupy pies, and as long as we have some other pleasures stored up for the long winter that will be November.

Today’s Little House on the Prairie Month Report:

We went into San Francisco today, having long ago bought tickets to see Jack perform in a matinee of The Magic Flute at the San Francisco Opera.  That was one thing we’d stored up for November.  He was a sort of helper/spirit, with an awfully high voice.  Good for him.  I left everyone milling around the Opera trying to decide what to do next and came over to my office to work (blogging about it kind of counts as work), which is not only free, but actually brings money in.  As far as I know they were going to go to Crissy Field, with skateboards and kite in tow.  It’s a beautiful day here in San Francisco.  Beautiful days are completely free.  In a few hours, after they’ve tired themselves out, our plan is to …. EAT!  I’m having the biscuits and gravy, please.  And a big piece of apple pie.